TITLE: Pretty Polly
In June of 1999, Cynthia Norton relocated from Chicago to
Brooklyn, New York, and now resides in Louisville, Kentucky
as of July 2001.
Her undergraduate years were busy in Lexington, Kentucky working
under Professor Shawn Brixey at the University of Kentucky Media
Lab. Norton's work in Kentucky derived out of an inspiration
to create kaleidoscopic videos presented as video "quilts".
Performances created during this time were documented into these
videos and displayed as installation pieces. Norton furthered
her education in Chicago, receiving a Masters of Time Arts Degree
from The Art Institute of Chicago in 1995. At the Art Institute
she worked in the Time Arts department, developing her rube-like
persona Ninnie Naïve. Utilizing the kinetic, Art and Technology
Department equipment, she built a machine that cooked bread
hairdos. Norton combined performance, sound, kinetics and installation
elements to give the viewer a folk inspired connection to technological
ideas. For her innovations in sound she was mentioned in a book
by Greil Marcus entitled, "Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's
Norton communicates homespun ideas and socio-political concepts,
of form and content, into an accessible art form. Drawing from
the history of famous and lesser known female voices and personalities,
Norton creates her original vehicles of sound and expression
in which to investigate cultural and technical aesthetics.
For the last 11 years, Norton's interests lie in American folk
music history and inferring about gender technology, and as
a parallel, she to is dealing with it, building and programming
her kinetic pieces. She uses mixing bowls, lamp stands, a kitchen
table, and dresses, among other household items. Norton builds
her devices creating the sentiment that a woman, "Ninnie",
made the props from her surroundings.
Through lyrics, folk music relayed messages of social history
and the technological advances in people's lives. For example,
two songs featured in the 1994 performance, "Bun In The
Oven", and "Ninnie's" Compact Disc (Cotton Candy
Country,'95) is: "The Pill" by Loretta Lynn and "Washwoman's"
Blues by Bessie Smith. The performance installation explored
folk mythology through: music, instruments, an autobiographical
monologue, kinetics, a real-time video quilt, and bread baking.
Norton explored the way women played a major role in the history
of folk music. Women preserved the early roots of American Music
by passing down the mores generation to generation. As a result
folk music preserved the heritage that we use as insight for
our culture. Norton's performance work encompasses an aspiration
to merge aspects of technology, media, folk music, history and
In the performance installation, "Bun In The Oven",
Norton used bread dough as a medium for sculpting hairdos onto
hair school mannequin heads. These heads were put on a sculpture,
a kinetic carousel for rotating and baking, which pass under
a heating element. Hollowed out shellacked bread was also used
to build instruments entitled "Bread Badminton Blues Rackets".
The hollowed-out bread was glued to de-stringed badminton rackets.
Tuning keys were mounted on the handles of the rackets and strung
with various instrument strings. Pick-up microphones were placed
under the bridge and held into position with a clothespin. They
were played by musicians in the performance as sound accompaniment
to her monologue and singing. Technology for "Ninnie"
can be as simple as a recipe or a song.
In 1998 Norton was invited to perform internationally as "Ninnie
Naïve", at the Berlin International Performance Congress.
With a new performance video, entitled "DisContent",
"Ninnie" shows a more subversive side. She performed
a live version of the tune "Single Girl", by Ruby
Vass, a song that waivers between single independence and married
motherhood. Her Loretta Lynn tribute took on a new level of
intent with the use of temporary tattoos and a jaw harp solo.
Norton continued the ephemeral artwork for "Ninnie"
by designing the temporary tattoo. The design signifies "Ninnie's
Blues" as a Finnish artist described her. It is an image
of Ninnie as a cross between Man Ray's Violin d'Ingres and the
hat with a price tag of Minnie Pearl. This image represents
the merging of two genres and the need to look at the culture
in American historical personalities. Norton animated the tattoos
in her video, "DisContent", and used them in installations
and as performance props.
In a performance exchange with Toronto artists, entitled Eleven
Eleven, Norton displayed "Pick'in On My Heart Strings",
a two channel kinetic sound sculpture that holds an instrument
made out of angle food cake and allows the viewer to hear a
CD playing inside an old wooden record player. The instrument
is plucked by a motor while the sound is amplified. The CD playing
inside highlights two songs by Norton and others patterned after
Skeeter Davis, drawing attention to a more vulnerable yet powerful
sound adaptation. This performance installation entitled, "I'm
a Voyeur", exposed a transition between "Ninnie"
as a subject and "Ninnie" as a cultural worker.
In 2002, Cynthia has shown new work at Swanson Reed Contemporary;
Louisville, Kentucky. As sculpture she has built a moonshine
still, entitled "Emotion"; this functional object
was activated through performance entitled "Double-Agent
Workhorse". This work is an exploration of personal, political
and cultural economy. The thought of moonshiners as cultural
workers and artisans of our region are a parallel to that of
the role of artist and performance art. The still, a kinetic
sculpture, is a metaphor to describe emotional desire. It redefines
the mechanical as a metaphysical system or "gradient relationship".
"Gradient Relationship" is the title of a video loop
in the exhibit in which "Ninnie" is singing the folk
song "Single Girl" as the sound track.
In October 2003 Norton returned to Germany performing at the
9th Annual International Congress for Performance and Visual
Art. Taking on the challenge of showing at this festival she
has produced some new instruments that expresses irony through
he use of assorted traveling cases and a dictionary. Currently,
Cynthia has completed a new kinetic sculpture entitled "Dancing
Squared". This sculpture is comprised of four square dancing
dresses spinning in unison while the entire sculpture revolves.
Cynthia L. Norton
ninnienuevo AT aol.com