The Performance Artist Revolutionizing Reading
Sister Sylvester is a performance artist, director, and self-taught microbiologist who uses first-hand research and digital technology to create essay films, lecture performances, and other collaborative works that bend the rules of traditional theater. She has a unique ability to captivate audiences and create collective awe — and sometimes discomfort. In an interactive work she describes as “kind of like dialogue karaoke,” for example, Sister Sylvester asks you to not just deliver lines, but also sing “Purple Rain” and kiss the screen. With roots in both New York and Istanbul, Sister Sylvester travels the world delivering her interactive readings and expanded documentaries and has had notable residencies at ONX Studio, membership in CPH:DOX Lab, and a MacDowell Fellowship in 2019.
This year’s Archive of Desire, a nine-day festival at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust theater dedicated to the work of poet C.P. Cavafy, opened with Constantinopoliad, Sister Sylvester’s communal reading of handmade books, inspired by the poet’s journals as a teenager fleeing Alexandria. Set to a live score by Egyptian musician Nadah El Shazly, the performance explored themes of alienation, queerness and migration. An earlier theatrical reading (also at the National Sawdust) in January 2020, The Eagle and The Tortoise, told the story of a Turkish woman and leftist resistance icon inside a sound installation — and had the audience don custom-made, Wi-Fi controlled headlamps. During the pandemic, Sister Sylvester collaborated with Turkish director Onur Karaoglu to create Read Subtitles Aloud, an interactive soap opera where the viewer (from the comfort of their home) becomes a participant by reading the subtitles aloud.