Artist Taps Almodovar Muse Rossy de Palma to Reincarnate Famed Globetrotting Reporter Nelly Bly

Rossy de Palma stars as the intrepid 19th-century reporter.

Jessica Mitrani, Traveling Lady. Courtesy of Jessica Mitrani.
Jessica Mitrani, Traveling Lady. Courtesy of Jessica Mitrani.

In 1889, international sensation Nellie Bly captivated the world by successfully circumnavigating the globe in less than 80 days, a record previously held by Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg. The young reporter’s remarkable achievement—Bly made it in just over 72 days—will be immortalized by Colombian artist Jessica Mitrani in a multimedia play at Dallas’s Soluna International Music & Arts Festival. The performance stars actress Rossy de Palma, best known as the muse of filmmaker Pedro Almodovar.

Art, film, performance, music, and history collide in this piece titled Traveling Lady, which will see de Palma—the star of such films as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and described on Wikipedia as “a Picasso come to life” for her angular features—materialize on stage in character as Bly. “It’s almost like you see the film, and the film comes alive once in awhile,” Mitrani told artnet News earlier this year at her New York studio.

She discovered Bly some years ago in a book by Giuliana Bruno, a professor of visual and environmental studies at Harvard University. Mitrani was immediately intrigued. “Nellie defied expectations to stay at home,” she explained.

Jessica Mitrani, <em>Traveling Lady</em>. Courtesy of Jessica Mitrani.

Jessica Mitrani, Traveling Lady. Courtesy of Jessica Mitrani.

Mitrani’s main inspiration was the reporter’s practical, compact luggage—Bly broke female stereotypes by packing light, but she was still sure to carry her trusty cold cream. Mitrani was fascinated by the idea of trying “to reduce one’s vast femininity into the smallest possible compact.”

In connection with the performance, she’s created a series of sculptures of Bly’s traveling case, carefully stocked with essentials such as sunglasses, a teacup, and something Mitrani calls the “perfect pill.” The performance also presents a commercial video for this handy traveling kit, because “if Nellie Bly existed today, she would be a brand.”

“There’s a whole thing of commercialism and identity, especially as a woman,” Mitrani added. In many ways, when she looks at Bly, she can’t help but think about how little has changed for women: “The roles are still so fixed, despite talking about gender fluidity…. I still feel that institutions have failed feminism.”

Jessica Mitrani, <em>Traveling Lady</em>. Courtesy of Jessica Mitrani.

Jessica Mitrani, Traveling Lady. Courtesy of Jessica Mitrani.

Because fashion design is an important part of the artist’s practice, the work also features what Mitrani believes to be Bly’s take on the little black dress: a garment that can be folded and worn in different ways to maximize versatility on the go. The gown was created in collaboration with avant-garde fashion collective threeasFOUR.

Multiple versions of the dress will appear in the piece, including one worn by de Palma and another eight-foot-long one that will be donned by a dancer in roller skates. Some of the dresses will double as projection screens for the work’s digital animations created by Alex Alexczetwertynski.

Jessica Mitrani, <em>Traveling Lady</em>. Courtesy of Jessica Mitrani.

Jessica Mitrani, Traveling Lady. Courtesy of Jessica Mitrani.

Soluna, founded by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 2015, has previously featured works by artists such as Pipilotti Rist, Yael Bartana, Monte Laster, Anton Ginzburg, Mai-Thu Perret, and Paola Pivi. Traveling Lady, which was previously shown in different iterations in New York in October 2014 and at the Miami Film Festival in March 2017, will be staged this evening, June 1, at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre.


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