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 Naive. 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 Basement Tapes".
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 storytelling.
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
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 the 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