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Viva Soudan and Bailey Nolan, the eclectic performance artists collectively known as "Buoy."



This Performance Duo Will Use Madonna To Inspire You

There exists in New York a certain mindset—if you’re not busy, you’re doing something wrong. Rent prices are up in “the city that never sleeps,” and most are working hard just to get ahead, navigating a competitive landscape. You have to be busy, it seems, not only to make a living, but simply because everyone else is.

“I think there’s a stigma in New York where it has to be hard to be an artist,” says Bailey Nolan, who, along with creative partner Viva Soudan, makes up the duo known as “Buoy.” On their website, Nolan and Soudan describe their work as “a live experience of an idealistic reality,” but that’s only half the picture. Imagine intense feats of body sculpture and interactive dance, and then add elements like purple-tipped wigs and (sometimes) even the singing of Madonna tunes, and you’ll get a better idea. For example: crawling through (and dancing on) members of the audience while feeding them kombucha.

Engaging and mesmerizing, wacky and weird, their performances are often interactive, and always manage to precipitate giggles and ecstasy alike. It’s all about creating joy, and providing both the audience and their fellow artists with the encouragement that can seem to come only so often. “It is hard to be an artist,” Nolan continues, “but it’s more of a mindset.” Adversity exists both outside of us (the things that may befall us), and within (our neuroses, attitudes, and perspectives on life). But, while we can only do so much about the former, the latter is completely within our control.

This is where Madonna comes in: Buoy’s last performance concluded with a group chant of her single, “Ray of Light.” If you think that that sounds silly, it’s because it is, but art doesn’t necessarily need to be serious to have an emotional impact, right? Case in point is the fact that almost everyone in the audience actually joined along in singing the chorus, at one point screaming, “I feel like I just got home.” “We are inviting, we are absurd, and we are comedic,” says Soudan: learning to find laughter and happiness, even where it may not be expected (I certainly didn’t, going into the performance), forms one approach to Buoy’s core focus on self-care.

The other is “BuoyRR,” a weeklong program in Deep River, Connecticut. Now in its second year, the combination residency and retreat invites self-identified womyn artists to create a site-specific work in the woods while providing them with yoga trainings, meditation opportunities, and vegetarian meals. With all the distractions of the city taken care of, the artists can focus not only on making work, but also, and perhaps more importantly, sisterhood. “We’re creating a setting so that you can see other people’s work, you can learn from other people’s work, and you can start a dialogue that’s not a competition,” Nolan says. “[It’s] an exchange between one artist and another artist, one woman and another woman, establishing a larger, broader sense of the word ‘community.'”

24 hours and #buoyrr is already off to an epic start. join us July 10th for a very 💦🍌🌳🤗🍄🎭🏕📸 experience! 👀 L͙͛I͙͛N͙͛K͙͛ I͙͛N͙͛ L͙͛E͙͛ B͙͛I͙͛O͙͛ 👀 #rechargeher @iiindiiia @clairechristerson @babyskinglove @vivasoudan @wesleyfresh @fluct_monica

A video posted by [email protected] (@artwerk6666) on

An old-fashioned residency this is not: making art is only one half of the program, one of the “Rs” in “BuoyRR.” “We wanted to have this duality of the ‘retreat,'” Soudan explains, “where you get to go away, unplug, and focus on self-care.” This year’s is aptly called “RECHARGE/HER.” Yet, despite the yoga and catering, BuoyRR isn’t just glamping for artists. Residents are asked through workshops and collaborations to tackle the themes of “confronting control,” “exposing the self,” and “realizing extremes” for a public performance on the last day. “The clock is on,” says Soudan: “you’re not just going to Costa Rica for a week.” Last year’s nine residents (there are 17 this year) produced a panorama work that spanned the RR’s 13-acre plot of land, incorporating canoes, tents, and waterfalls. Sorry if that sounds vague: there’s no concise way of explaining such a multifaceted experience, complete with nymphic characters, smoke bombs, and Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.”

The choice of song, of course, is intentional: New York is probably the easiest place to suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’—the feeling that you don’t belong. It’s easy for the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” to instead become the maze for the world’s largest rat race, and it’s easy, when chasing The Dream, to become ungrounded, and awash with loneliness. In their work, however, Nolan and Soudan seek to provide their contemporaries and audience alike with their namesake buoys: markers to find your way back to happiness, authenticity, etc. As Nolan explains, they seek to “give people skills so that they can go away and then come back to the chaos of New York, full of distractions, full of competition, and full of… hardships, having a little bit more confidence and tools to follow through with making genuine, truthful art.”

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Singing Madonna with Buoy is shockingly therapeutic.

Yes, even singing Madonna or Pat Benatar can be truthful, unless you’re just lip-syncing. “We’re trying to create performances that are real,” Soudan says. “Even if there are wigs, and costumes, and Ray of Light‘s blasting: we’re still really singing ‘Frozen,’ and you are right there with us. I want the audience to join in, if they want to: to come in with this.” It’s a terrifying idea: if you’re not a trained singer, then the prospect of singing in front of others is probably one of the most terrifying out there; however, that’s exactly what Buoy seeks to overcome—to inspire in you the confidence to open your mouth and make a noise, (conventionally) pretty or not. It’s a universal message, and one that they describe as “post-feminist:” coming from a feminist perspective, but appealing to all. “It’s about our personal struggles, as people,” explains Nolan. “And those people happen to be women. And we’re interested in relating to other people who have had these similar struggles.”

To expose your personal struggles, even as an artist, can be extremely difficult, and to lead others in what amounts to basically a group therapy session can be even more so, but Buoy insist that they don’t suffer much anxiety. Their whole mission is to tap into the feelings of their audience—to be the spark that ignites the conformity of inaction. Soudan explains that, while they originally may assume the guise of Madonna, by the time the performance is over, “It’s fully me. It’s the realest moment of myself.”

Come see Buoy this Sunday, July 10th, at 2 PM in Deep River, CT. Tickets are available here

Stay tuned to Milk for more sneakily inspiring performance artists.

Photos shot by Charley Parden, courtesy of Buoy. 

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