BODY MEDIUM: Artist Annika Rhea's Interdisciplinary Performance Project

Annika Rhea is a visual artist and performer (known for her work in Brooklyn’s nightlife scene) whose traveling multimedia project BODY MEDIUM has found a new home in Brooklyn at the Box Factory. Cell Vision correspondent Sylvea Suydam caught up with the artist in her studio.

Equal parts action painting, performance art, music collaboration, and interpretive dance, BODY MEDIUM is Annika Rhea’s hybrid creation coming to life at the Box Factory. Recently named the industrial studio building’s first artist in residence and invited to produce their inaugural event on June 17th, Rhea will create large scale dance-paintings made in concert with live musicians at her upcoming show, and an open studio exhibit of her work.

I first knew the artist as a fire dancer and nightclub performer, a regular at House of Yes and other venues around NYC, but over the past few years, Rhea has developed a new project sort of splicing Isadora Duncan and Jackson Pollack. In her cavernous studio at the Box Factory on the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood, she’s been keeping busy in preparation for the event, inviting musicians and videographers to collaborate and adding finishing touches to some pieces while cutting others down to stretch onto smaller canvases. I visited the artist in her studio to talk about BODY MEDIUM and her upcoming show.

CELL VISION: As a dancer and performer in various capacities, you've been involved in the arts for quite a while. What led you to create this specific project?

ANNIKA RHEA: One of the things I love about flow arts is the freedom to create in the moment and to be honest and authentic with your movement. It’s a constant process of following the energetic flow, which guides you to discover new movements. I grew up performing choreography nationally with several companies, which was very limiting. You practice the same piece over and over for months for a few performances, leaving little room for error or for your true self to shine through. I created this project to give myself a space to be truly free in the moment with movement and to capture the imprint of that moment on canvas. I also love flowing with props; most of my choreography and productions include props.

CELL VISION: Props like Carrot Top?

ANNIKA RHEA: Ha, no, like a spinning chair, or a big door frame, any sort of extension for the body. And that’s a big part of why I love working with paint; because I have such a physical relationship with it, it becomes an extension of me.

CELL VISION: You’ve done BODY MEDIUM pieces on beaches and other remote places. What do you like about performing outside?

ANNIKA RHEA: The thing I love about these destination pieces is spending time in the place and gathering the colors of the surrounding area. I’ll spend time dancing at the destination to embody the energy of the place—the wilderness of a jungle, the flow of the ocean.

CELL VISION: Where are some of the places you’ve brought BODY MEDIUM?

ANNIKA RHEA: With my videographer Javier, we’ve done pieces on the lawn of the Elms mansion in Newport, RI. We did a couple destinations in Costa Rica, one [of which] was on this beach called Buena Vista, and another day, I made Javier hike a mile up a river with me to the top of a waterfall, but I ran out of body suits, so I was basically in my underwear for that one. The thing about doing them outside is the unpredictability of the weather. Once, we spent two days preparing for a piece, and I pulled all the colors from these little flowers and the surroundings, mixed the paint, and we had everything ready the night before, and as soon as soon as we were ready to roll the next day, a huge rainstorm came pouring in, and we had to drag everything inside, and we couldn’t do it. But each piece was an adventure, and Javier’s been a great creative partner.

CELL VISION: You’ve also collaborated with musicians on a lot of pieces. Can you tell me more about what it’s like working with instruments and vocalists?

ANNIKA RHEA: Recently, I’ve worked one-on-one with all the musicians who will be performing at the show on the 17th and created pieces with them. I chose these three because they play their instrument or use their voice how I use my body, their soul speaks through it. Daisy Press is a classically trained singer and uses crystal singing bowls. When she sings and plays, everything stops, and goosebumps come out; it's a spiritual experience, and I feel like her voice opens the crown chakra. GROOOVYBLOSSOM is also an incredible singer who practices in the healing arts and has a very powerful, grounding voice. And Memhet Aydin is an incredible viola player who uses loop petals to give an otherwise classical instrument an ambient, haunting sound. My body loves his music; he really plays from the soul. These three playing together on the 17th should be a magical experience, and I’m thrilled to see how our creative spirits play together. I'm honored to be embodying the music these masters are bringing to the event!

CELL VISION: So when you perform outside, do you have music?

ANNIKA RHEA: No, I listen to the sounds of the area and move freely. Performing with musicians is great, but I’m very much a pawn to music, so when I dance, the piece, the painting, is also controlled by the music. When it’s just me in the space, it’s totally free.

CELL VISION: When you’re doing a piece, what’s going on inside your mind?

ANNIKA RHEA: When I’m truly in flow, there’s no room for thought. Flow state is a state of being when you are fully energized in the moment and your sense of self dissipates and you can let the moment take you wherever it wants to go.

CELL VISION: It’s meditative?

ANNIKA RHEA: Totally, and that’s how I work. I allow the moment and energy to guide my body, and my body to guide me, and just trust in the flow. I’ve finished pieces before and felt really good about it, and I’ve finished pieces where I don’t feel great about it immediately. Other times, I need to see the video, and that’s what [videographer Javier Alvarez] does, he films the creation of the pieces. He and I partnered to produce this event together. There’s the performative aspect to my work, but each piece yields several works of art, the video that captures the process and the physical painting and bodysuit.

CELL VISION: What are your goals with BODY MEDIUM?

ANNIKA RHEA: Well, I’d like to perform globally. I’m very interested in partnering with charities and using the energy from art creation to do some good in the world, which is one of the reasons why, for this event, the painting from our performance is being auctioned off to benefit the Rema Hort Mann Foundation, which assists artists with cancer.

CV: Anything else you’d like people to know?

AR: We are following COVID safety for the evening, and it should be a really fun time for a great cause.

The opening for Annika Rhea's BODY MEDIUM is June 17th, 7-10:30pm, with a performance at 8:30pm. After that, the exhibit is open to the public June 18th- July 17th every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 12-7pm. You can RSVP for the opening via the link below.