In the lead-up to the 2010 Time-Based Art Festival, Artistic Director Cathy Edwards will be posting about some of the artists, projects, and ideas that inspire her in this year’s program. Our final week of preview coverage (we really are that close!) focuses on the personal histories and global displacement presented in Emily Johnson/Catalyst’s The Thank-you Bar.
Emily Johnson, The Thank-you Bar. Photo: Jamie Lang.
Contemporary art encompasses a vast diversity of media, theories, and aesthetics. And yet, the “arts of our time” still share some distinctive and common concerns; intimacy, physical scale, localism, and close connection between art and viewer are especially resonant for many contemporary artists. In seeming opposition, many artists today also share a commitment to investigating personal identity in the context of globalization and post-colonialism. Emily Johnson’s The Thank-you Bar is a hybrid dance-music-storytelling experience that engages with exactly these two contemporary interests: the global and the local/personal.

Johnson, originally from Alaska and now living in Minneapolis, is of Yup’ik descent. She describes herself as emotionally tied to the landscape of South Central Alaska, where she was born, and to the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta, where her father’s family is from. “The Thank-you Bar” itself is a reference to Johnson’s grandmother’s roadside bar and home, The Que-Ana Bar (quyana is the Yup’ik word for ‘thank-you’), the site of many family gatherings during Johnson’s childhood. In The Thank-you Bar, the audience joins Emily and her musical collaborators on stage. Amidst the swirling pulls of our own itinerant lives, a small group of people sits together and conjures a time and a place in a story that is by turns fantastical, animalistic, musical, and physical. To experience Emily’s work is to be drawn into her dialogue about place, distance, and travel; her performance acknowledges the presence of our current moment, as well as the past that informs it.
Emily’s interest in her Yup’ik heritage–and in how cultural connections and contradictions can be stitched together to link place, story, movement, and sound–also forms the impetus for her newest piece, Niicugni (listen), currently a work-in-progress. I traveled to a grange hall in Southern Vermont over this past weekend to watch Emily and her collaborators show parts of this newest work. I was transfixed by the soundscape, in which varied audio sources were planted throughout the hall, windows were thrown open to the sound of the violin and almost unhinged vocals, doors opened to unexpected guests, and Emily’s fierce physicality set off vibrations that were felt across the room. Her piece staged an intimate reflection on a very specific, immediate space, while also broadly considering the layers that comprise our personal identity in a global era.
The Thank-you Bar will be performed 12 times over the course of the TBA Festival, but each performance has an audience limited to 35 people. So make your reservations and buy your tickets now to be part of this truly intimate experience. And make sure to catch two related programs: This is Displacement, a series of short films and video works reflecting on Native American perspectives that will show at the Northwest Film Center as part of the ON SCREEN series, and the duo BLACKFISH (James Everest and Joel Pickard), who provide the musical backbone to The Thank-you Bar, who will be in concert on September 19.
More details and tickets available on PICA.ORG