Dual Identities

Tom Block
Tom Block

LABA Fellow, Tom Block, is a multi-dimensional artist presenting a premier play and art sponsored by LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture. His artwork is being shown in the Gallery at the 14th Street Y and his multi-media play “La Bestia: Sweet Mother” is making a premier at MOTHER: Creator/Destroyer on January 25th at 7:30pm at the Theater at the 14th Street Y.

Tom is letting us into his dual life as a father and an artist.

Q: You have an installation in the Gallery at the 14th Street Y, you had a staged reading of an original play in December, and now you are presenting a premiere play with dance and music at MOTHER: Creator/Destroyer on January 25th here at the 14th Street Y. WOW! What inspires you to work in so many mediums?

A: I find that different mediums reach different audiences, so the short answer is that the more manners of expressing myself, the greater audience I can find for my work and ideas.  Additionally, different media touch people in different ways.  By working with one theme across a variety of media, I can add depth, nuance and complexity to the message.  With a subject matter that is so near and dear to my heart as Mother as Creator/Destroyer (not only do I have a mother, and am married to a mother, but my personal theology is based on that exact moment when nothingness is destroyed by creation — and the desperation that the original Creator — i.e Mother — must have felt to undertake such a radical departure from perfection), I want to explore the subject from as many different angels as I can muster.

Also, I love creating.  I live to create.  If I am not creating something which attempts to be sublime — at the intersection of pain and beauty — I feel empty.

Q: Tell us about where you currently live, your family, and how you find the time to make so much new work?

A: I live in Silver Spring, MD and have a wife and two girls, ages thirteen and nine.  I actually live kind of a dual-personality life — at home, I am more or less a stay-at-home father (my wife works in the county government), getting the kids off to school, picking them up, getting them their afternoon snack, gently reminding them (!) of their various obligations.

However, I also (in my own eyes, at least) am a New York artist, and all time not occupied with my family, I am writing, painting, noting, sketching and creating.  I find that each half of my personality feeds the other.  A delicate but, in the best of times (which the LABA Fellowship era certainly represents) a wonderful and inspirational balance.

Q: How has LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture influenced your work?

A: Tremendously.  It has given me profound fodder (to put it in horsey terms) for the exploration of specific theological and philosophical themes with which I have been working my whole career.  The sessions with Ruby, Ronit and Elissa have stirred up many ideas and emotions, and the interaction with the incredibly talented and passionate collection of fellows has energized and inspired.  I am creating my first truly multi-media piece of theater as part of the fellowship and would not have had the inspiration or support to do so without the LABA Fellowship.

Q: Your new work premiering at MOTHER: Creator/Destroyer, “La Bestia” has spurred the creation of a play with original music, dance, and a series of original art with a Latin influence. How did you get a Latin vibe from your work with LABA and the texts you studied?

A: Well — hmmm.  By “Latin vibe,” I assume you mean basing the narrative of the theater piece (and title) on the freight train “La Bestia” (a real conveyance) which illegally brings illegal immigrants toward the US border from Central America.  Since I was working with the idea of Mother as Creator/Destroyer, this seemed like an ideal metaphor: not only is it literally a snake (think: Garden of Eden and the original mother, Eve) in its physical appearance, but it is also an object that gives new life (the hope that awaits in the United States) as well as takes it (many who board the train in Arriaga never make it to the US border, due to the dangers of the conveyance itself).  Additionally, it helps particularize the mythological and theological themes that I am working with.  As the French poet Baudelaire noted, “true beauty is a combination of the particular and the eternal.”

Q: Is there anything else you want the readers to know about you and your work?

A: My work is an ongoing artistic and philosophical exploration of what it means to be human — to be cast into this world with enough of a consciousness to know that something is going on, but not enough to be able to figure out exactly what it is.  At the heart of every work I produce, in all media, is a question mark, not an answer.

To learn more about my painting, writing and theater works, please visit: www.tomblock.com

Tom Block will be presenting “La Bestia: Sweet Mother” at MOTHER: Creator/Destroyer on January 25th at 7:30pm at the Theater at the 14th Street Y.

Click Here for Tickets and More Information

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