For decades, Sean Griffin has been a leading figure in the contemporary music, performance and art communities of Los Angeles and abroad. Griffin has composed, directed, and conducted new operas, intermedia works and created new musical experiences bringing to life dazzling, challenging interpretations and complex histories to the stage with his opera design and performance consortium called Opera Povera.
Opera Povera’s productions, recordings, live performances, and designs have been featured at MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, RedCat, LACMA, MAK Center at the Schindler House, the 56th Venice Biennial, Chicago’s MCA, Ostrava Days in the Czech Republic, the 2017 Ojai Festival, The Broad Museum, and the Torrance Art Museum. In the recent 2018 Berliner Festspiele’s MaerzMuzik, Griffin presented his 2008 libretto referencing Julius Eastman and premiered a new composition by George Lewis for Elaine Mitchner’s voice, Lewis on electronics and Griffin on harp,
Recent collaborative projects included performance development and directing with LA Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella Series curated by John Adams with performance art legend Ron Athey. Griffin and Athey’s opera ritual called Gifts of the Spirit premiered at the cathedral of St. Vibiana in January, 2018. Commissioned by the Mike Kelley Foundation and the Broad Museum, Gifts of the Spirit was an operatic version of Athey’s automatic writing autobiography-performance in which a hypnotized chorus of movers and vocalists ritually produce a spontaneous libretto that is then performed live on stage.
With Opera Povera, Griffin wrote and directed 2 of his own operas and directed 6 unique stagings of the opera, Afterword by George Lewis including at the 2017 Ojai Festival. In 2012, Opera Povera created an algorithmic operatic staging for the ground-breaking 1971 composition for light and sound called To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation with composer Pauline Oliveros featuring Juliana Snapper. The consortium formed during the production of Griffin’s celebrated EMPAC commission called Cold Spring in 2010.
Griffin’s wide-ranging avant-garde musical activities include being the first curator to reconstruct and program a composition by Julius Eastman, 12 years after his death for the Hammer Music Series in 2002. He recieved a Getty research grant for his work on David Tudor. In 1997, he conducted the West Coast premiere of Yves Klein’s Symphony Monotone and has premiered many other compositions, experimental theater and improvisation projects throughout the world.
Having spent years working with actors, dancers and musicians, Griffin has established a unique form of physically based, interdisciplinary theater creating large-scale works through which diverse performers enact layers of collaboratively devised behaviors in large vocalizing and instrumental groups. Often strikingly costumed, Griffin has worked closely for years with designer Stacy Ellen Rich. Innovative choreographic and rhythm-based performance scores in conversation with interactive technology and archival video characterize much of Griffin’s work from 2000-2015.
For over a decade, Griffin worked with Charles Gaines to arrange, orchestrate, record and perform his celebrated Manifestos 1 & 2 and Sound Text pieces with Opera Povera at the Hammer Museum, REDCAT, MoMA, MAK Center at the Schindler House, the 56th Venice Biennial and Chicago’s MCA. They began their collaboration after they met during the creation of a 2-channel video and music installation with artist Edgar Arceneaux called Snake River at REDCAT in 2005.
Beginning in 1996, Griffin collaborated with artist Catherine Sullivan. Together, they created a string of theater works and operatic, installation-based film projects including The Chittendens, D-Pattern and Triangle of Need. Their critically acclaimed works were featured at Volksbühne, Secession Vienna, EMPAC, Chicago’s MCA, Tate Modern, Royal Academy of Arts, Gwangju Biennial, Seoul’s Festival BO:M. Sullivan developed Lewis’s Afterword with Griffin during a Gray Center residency at the University of Chicago.
Often involving intricate choreographies mixed with improvisation, dense text collages and stagecraft, Griffin created an internationally celebrated body of small-scale devised percussion theater works with the Taiwanese-Canadian percussionist, Aiyun Huang. Their collaboration has resulted in a series of percussion and technology experiments including early use of video scores employing international media and pop culture sources. Huang and Mexican percussionist Ivan Manzanilla premiered Griffin’s well-know composition, Pattycake in 2001.
Griffin is an award-winning and prolific visual artist creating among other things 4 complete remakes of Goya’s 80 Los Caprichos and a collection of experimental notation designs that were recently exhibited at FOCA in Los Angeles and the Beall Center in Irvine. Griffin frequently activates photography archives and historic collections of objects in his assemblage-based set designs and installations.
Griffin received an MFA from CalArts and a PhD from UCSD. He has taught at UCSD, CalArts, University of Chicago and recently taught digital and sound art as Associate Professor at the University of Guanajuato, Campus Irapuato-Salamanca, Mexico.