How Performance Art Leans Into the Unknown

How Performance Art Leans Into the Unknown
At the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival, performances by Mia Habib and Ligia Lewis stood out for their engrossing contributions to the ever-evolving medium.

By Lindsay Costello

Originally published in Hyperallergic

TBA19_Ligia-Lewis_WaterWillinMelody3_CREDITsarahmarguier-26-copy-1080x771Ligia Lewis, Water Will (in Melody) (photo by Sarah Marguier, courtesy of Portland Institute of Contemporary Art)

PORTLAND — The Time-Based Art Festival (TBA), Portland Institute For Contemporary Art’s annual ten-day festival of performance, music, food, film, workshops, lectures, and late-night events, is renowned for its intensity and commitment to the experimental. This year, amidst a strong calendar of diverse performances, two pieces, ALL – a physical poem of protest and Water Will (in Melody), stood out as engrossing contributions to the ever-evolving medium.

Oslo-based choreographer Mia Habib purposefully chose the performance location for ALL; Pioneer Courthouse Square is a frequent site of nationally-broadcasted protests spotlighting conflicts between Antifa activists and right-wing white supremacist groups. Centrally located in downtown Portland, the square is surrounded by train lines on three sides and faces Pioneer Courthouse.

TBA19_MiaHabib_ALLAPhysicalpoem_CREDITBrittanyWindsor-12-1-copy-1080x720 (1)
Mia Habib, ALL – a physical poem of protest (photo by Brittany Windsor, courtesy of Portland Institute of Contemporary Art)

In ALL, 50 performers, all local volunteers, manifest an unspoken objective. The performance consists of a series of cycles in which the group walks, jogs, and sprints in a continuous spiral. The spiral tightens and disperses; the performers find brief moments of meditative pause between rushes of extended action. Seamless transitions suggest a flowing machine generating continual energy. While cycling through movements, the performers’ expressions are neutral, their pace determined. Yet, they also communicate empathy and kindness — at one point, they touch each other on the shoulders, connoting a momentary offering of support. The performers later join in on a single note, harmonizing together as they continue to move in unison. The synchronicity intrinsic to ALL raises questions. How does the protesting body mobilize effectively alongside others? How can we catalyze lasting change together?

TBA19_MiaHabib_ALLAPhysicalpoem_CREDITBrittanyWindsor-18-copy-1080x720Mia Habib, ALL – a physical poem of protest (photo by Brittany Windsor, courtesy of Portland Institute of Contemporary Art)

ALL suggests that protest begins as an occupation of space. Bodies in space, when unified in movement, indicate an allied mission. In ALL, the continuity of bodies in motion is mesmerizing, almost hypnotic. Each performer bonds with the next through proximity and matched movement. This bond implies a commonality beyond ideology; the participants seem primally connected, their bodies melting together in a powerful abstraction of human mass. By choreographing a series of simple movements, Habib has located the force of the body as protest.

Habib has facilitated iterations of ALL worldwide. It’s been performed at a dance festival in New York City and at a feminist protest in France. Choreographer Jeremy Wade borrowed the score for a performance at a Berlin protest against the treatment of LGBTQ people in Chechnya. The performance can take place over the course of 45 minutes, as it did in Pioneer Square, but Habib aspires to someday facilitate a 12-hour durational performance of the work. Like the choreography itself, ALL is fluid, adaptable, and intuitive.

TBA19_Ligia-Lewis_WaterWillinMelody4_CREDITsarahmarguier-11-1080x771Ligia Lewis, Water Will (in Melody) (photo by Sarah Marguier, courtesy of Portland Institute of Contemporary Art)

Choreographer Ligia Lewis’s Water Will (in Melody) is a gothic, monstrous exploration of the body. The four-person piece, performed by Lewis, Dani Brown, Susanne Sachße, and Titilayo Adebayo, unfolds slowly. Each dancer peels back layers of increasing intensity and melodrama to create a deeper connection with the audience. The stage is dark, framed by dense black curtains; a thick climbing rope is the sole physical prop. Fog floats over the audience before the show begins. The room smells like fresh earth.

The eerie tone of the performance is set by Brown, who recites a Southern Gothic-style monologue about a willful child buried alive (adapted from a Brothers Grimm tale.) Brown’s costume (vinyl-covered white overalls, lace socks, and delicate shoes) suggests a stilted innocence. Her body jerks in unnatural, stiff movements. The gory image of a zombie is evoked — the embodied dead.

TBA19_Ligia-Lewis_WaterWillinMelody1_CREDITsarahmarguier-4-1080x720Ligia Lewis, Water Will (in Melody) (photo by Sarah Marguier, courtesy of Portland Institute of Contemporary Art)

An increasing sense of unease is cultivated with thrashing choreography, pulsing strobe lights, screaming, and whispers of distorted dialogue. Throughout the performance, the dancers dramatically mime expressions of sorrow, rage, and desperation. Body horror is implied in their puppet-like twitching and lurching gestures, as if they are creatures experiencing embodiment for the first time. The dancers engage in a grim, urgent fight against themselves, continually learning and unlearning how to move their foreign bodies. Yet, there are moments of comedic relief within the performance. This confusion is intentional. During a cut to Enya’s “Orinoco Flow,” the stage is lit with a rapturous white light while the dancers flitter in a brief, performatively feminine routine. After a few seconds, they collapse. Continually, the audience is left to grapple with the same sense of anxiety that the dancers experience in their own bodies.

During the final moments of the performance, water sprays delicately over the stage and humidity permeates the room. The dancers seem more comfortable in their bodies, even joyous, but a feeling of unease remains, and never dissipates. While the water creates a space of refuge, it’s also deathly, sensual, and natural, a radical shift from the inhuman distortions central to the previous sequences. It’s an apt metaphor for the changing body, both foreign and familiar.

TBA19_Ligia-Lewis_WaterWillinMelody2_CREDITsarahmarguier-8-1080x772Ligia Lewis, Water Will (in Melody) (photo by Sarah Marguier, courtesy of Portland Institute of Contemporary Art)

Water Will completes a trilogy of Lewis’s recent work, preceded by minor matter (2016) and Sorrow Swag (2014). Color played an important role in the series of works — minor matter used reds as a central palette, while Sorrow Swag used blue. Water Will utilizes black and white, reflective of the show’s themes — darkness and light, femininity and ugliness, nature and death entwined.

The performance expertly negotiates the pain, uncertainty, and desire associated with lived embodiment. Lewis’s choreography leads the dancers on a journey within their bodies, highlighting the anxiety and unhinged terror that can result from exploring this landscape. The theater becomes a wet cavern within which nods to the natural world seep through; the sound of cicadas, frogs, waves, and water dripping all pipe in at different points. In this space, Lewis and the other performers are safe to explore unruly, monstrous emotions. Water Will (in Melody) exemplifies the intentions of the Time-Based Art Festival itself; it’s an invitation to lean toward the complex and unknown.

The Time-Based Art Festival takes place at various locations in Portland, Oregon from September 5–September 15, 2019.

a situation of relations: A Conversation with Adam Linder about “The WANT”

a situation of relations: A Conversation with Adam Linder about “The WANT
Laurel McLaughlin with Adam Linder

OFFEROR: One who gives and does not receive, takes possession, of one who receives to subsist and so cannot give back.

OFFEREE: There were desires, they fell all around us and have been kicked to the ground

The WANT,” Adam Linder, 20191

Copy of 04_Adam Linder_The WANT_Credit_Andrea Rossetti
Photo by Andrea Rossetti

Towards the end of August, over the phone, Adam Linder shared the immense intellectual exchanges that contributed to his work, “The WANT.” Linder carefully parsed how value is volleyed back and forth in a “situation of relations”—rendered indeterminate amidst amorphous dual forces. Rather than a continuation of his “Service” works, Linder and his performers, Jess Gadani, Justin F. Kennedy, Jasmine Orpilla, and Roger Sala Reyner, delve into the poetics of transaction.

Laurel McLaughlin (LM): “The WANT” first premiered in 2018 at HAU Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin. What are your hopes for its West Coast premiere at TBA in Portland?

Adam Linder (AL): I think it’s always really rewarding to come back to a live work after a little bit of time. I feel that when a choreography is made, or “finished,” it is actually just the beginning. So, I guess what I’m excited about with Portland and LA is playing the work again and seeing how it shifts in that very substantial but fine work of how liveness plays itself out every night. It’s all in the micro-shifts, the flow of the performers’ energy and the vibe of different audiences. The more my works are performed, the more I get to know about them.

LM: The work is based on French playwright Bernard-Marie Koltès’ In the Solitude of the Cotton Fields, 1985—a play composed of a singular act between a “Client” and a “Dealer.” The transaction in which they engage engrosses the narrative, ultimately unveiling the struggle behind the psychological conundrum of knowing “the other.” As a means of entry to your work “The WANT,” which departs from Koltès, could you tell me about how this opera came about, and also about your interaction with Ethan Braun, who scored the work, and Shahryar Nashat who staged it, and how this developed into an opera?

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Photo by Andrea Rossetti

AL: Well, I guess, it started with an itch of mine to tackle the form of opera. My work addresses all forms within the performing arts and quite actively jumps between them. I make costume, I compose text, I incorporate vocal forms in my works, but I am a dancer at heart; so somehow making an opera was the next card to play.

As the stars aligned, I learnt of this work by Koltès and it sparked a desire to take this play that has always been performed in a conventional way—a very straight theater mode—and turn it into opera. Ethan and I met because I was looking for the right composer to work with me and, as he is an irregular fit for the classical music world, that made him a natural fit for me. Shahryar is a different story. We’ve been in and out of each other’s work for years and he’s my boyfriend. Read the BOMB article; says it all.2

LM: Could you walk me through the two acts of the opera?

AL: In “The WANT,” following the Koltès original, there’s not exactly a plot development in the conventional sense. In Act 1 there’s a raising of stakes, a facing-off between the Offerors and Offerees. This makes you think: is this about desire or a one-time encounter? Or, is this about two people from very different cultures trying to understand each other and negotiate? There’s a tension in Act 1 that gets established. And then what happens is the whole MO shifts.

In Act 2, the players start to unify, at the beginning they flirt with the signification of the historical figure of the Hassidic Jew: the archetypical merchant of Europe. It all starts to become much more fluid—in terms of what qualities are determined by what side of the argument—you no longer have this kind of division between the two sides. Somehow, everyone becomes the Offeror and everyone becomes the Offeree.

I think what also arises toward the end of the work, is that there’s an acknowledgement and giving over to a whole other kind of transaction or negotiation, which is the actual situation between the performers and the audience. And eventually the work heads closer toward abstraction, with much less solidity in terms of the characteristics of the two sides.

LM: The opera features singers, dancers, and actors, Jess Gadani, Justin F. Kennedy, Jasmine Orpilla, and Roger Sala Reyner, as “Offerors” and “Offerees”—groups which embody the client/dealer types. How does your innovation of collectivity operate in the transaction, as opposed to “the individual”?

AL: The work in its original form had just two people. My work is a very unfaithful reworking, so there is little of the original Koltès text in my libretto. It has always been staged as a two-person—two guys—play. In the way I have structured the work, Jess and Justin are the Offerors, and Jasmine and Roger are the Offerees—but it becomes quite fluid. Just like the original play, it is never determined who wants what from whom and what it is they want and what it is they can offer. It’s always meddling in grey area. But I push the grey area of sexuality, race, and gender (and spiritual identification) far more than the original.

LM: The play has been described as the process to know “the other.” How do the performers wrestle with this irresolution between client/dealer?

AL: What is revealed is that perhaps the sensibilities that seem to be in opposition between the Offerors and Offeree actually constitute each of them individually. It’s not exactly a conclusion—because Koltès’s work and my work are both very inconclusive—but I think what is understood is that neither of these sides can be defined as characteristic of any certain qualities. In the beginning, Koltès’s Client and my Offerees, are more rational, vulnerable, defensive, whereas the Dealer, or my Offerors, are more gregarious, flirty, cunning. But, in turn, both sides at one point or another, exude all these sensibilities: negotiating desire for each other, negotiating a way of seeing the world, or even how polar sensibilities can negotiate each other. I guess you could say “the other” becomes the “other” of yourself.

LM: You mentioned earlier that other texts—whether embodied or literary—were formative for the work. And your libretto references many, such as Missy Elliott and Derrida. So, could you talk more about how language functions through these samples and citations?

AL: What I did was basically take Koltès’s work and reduce and reduce and reduce so there was a very small amount of the original that would simply be the skeleton for this encounter. Then I took the skeleton and I fleshed it out by patch-working texts from various thinkers or artists that helped me get deeper into this work.

But maybe some of the most important are: a text called Living Currency by Klossowski—it’s a really complicated text that talks about desire, or what he calls the voluptuous emotion, and speculates on how it could be extracted and commodified as an economic force.3 Then there’s the Poetics of Relation by Glissant which could be understood as a text about the transactions of power, language and poetics as a result of the (predominantly) French colonial impact.4 Then there’s a third important primary text for my reworking which was, “What is a ‘Relevant’ Translation,” by Derrida.5 These three were the game-changing texts for me, but there was a lot of other thinking and patch-working that went on, like lyrical lines from Tricky or Missy Elliot. These three texts were very formative because they were dealing with post-colonialism, the fallout of the Western Enlightenment project, economy and desire, and the power of language.

LM: You’ve worked with the concept of transaction in previous works, such as your “Service” series, which you’ve mentioned, including Choreographic Service No. 1: Some Cleaning, 2013; Choreographic Service No. 2: Some Proximity, 2014; Choreographic Service No. 3: Some Riding, 2015; Choreographic Service No. 4: Some Strands of Support, 2016; and Service No. 5: Dare to Keep Kids Off Naturalism, 2019. These works made choreographic labor not only transparent, but also traced the economic terrain surrounding performance within art spaces and museums.6The WANT” feels like a continuation in some ways of this previous work, but from an interior perspective—as if we’re seeing the internal adjudications of the performers. Do you see it building on this previous work, or pivoting from it?

AL: Let’s just say I’ve dealt with questions and operations around value in a lot of my work. In the Services, there was a particular formulation of how choreography would be framed and put forward. So, I think you’re right, I think “The WANT” is bringing it person to person, or people to people. Those questions around economic value are there, but “The WANT” is not as geared toward that. “The WANT” exists much more as an affective, poetic response to these ideas, rather than a conceptual approach.

What is more apparent in “The WANT” is that the question of transaction is more a question of relations. And Koltès says—and I don’t have this quote exactly correct—that as soon as you put money into the equation, you cancel out relations. As long as there is a concrete measure of value, you diminish the need for ongoing relations between parties.

Ultimately what I’m invested in with all these works, is not “choreography is worth this, and in relation to objects, and you should treat it like this.” Yes, okay, there’s a pride for the form, but I am more interested in setting up a situation of relations that have stakes, rather than producing a form of critique.

LM: Along those lines of revealing stakes without pointing to a conclusion, could you tell me about the interaction between performer and audience? It’s been said that much of your work pushes the boundaries of the social contract of theater between audience and performer—do you see your work in this light, and namely, “The WANT” in such a way?

AL: I do not believe my work, in general, pushes the boundaries of the social contract of theater, but there is an element of addressing this contract in “The WANT.” I think my work tends to rub incongruous forms or sensibilities together with tension, plays games with conventional value measures, and blurs the edges of what performing form, or format, belongs where. I am interested in an overarching and meta question of “who can perform what?” and how categorising is a very normalising mode of value production.

1 Adam Linder, Libretto for “The WANT,” Co-production: HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, Los Angeles, Kampnagel, Hamburg. Funded by: Hauptstadtkulturfonds, 2018.
2 Aram Moshayedi, “Shahryar Nashat and Adam Linder by Aram Moshayedi,” BOMB 145, 24 September 2018:
3 See Pierre Klossowski, Living Currency, Daniel W. Smith and Nicolae Morar, eds. (London: Bloomsbury, 2017).
4 See Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, Betsy Wing, trans. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997).
5 See Jacques Derrida and Lawrence Venuti, “What is a ‘Relevant’ Translation,” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Winter 2001): 174–200.
6 For more information on Linder’s “service” conceptualization and choreography, see: Uri Aran, “‘I WANTED TO TEACH THE WHITE CUBE HOW TO TAKE THEATRICALITY: An Interview with Adam Linder,” Spike Magazine, 1 November 2017:; Emily Wilson, “A Choreographer Bills His Dances as ‘Services,’” Hyperallergic, 23 January 2019:; and Ryan D. Tacata and Adam Linder, “In Conversation// In Repose, we can hold the room: Adam Linder with Ryan D. Tacata,” Performa Magazine:

Multiple Ways to Pursue “Later Work”: A Conversation with Eiko Otake Eiko Otake with Laurel McLaughlin

Photo: Amie Lee King Eiko Otake stands before a crowd in a traditional kimono with an arm outstretched.

Photo: Amie Lee King Eiko Otake stands before a crowd in a traditional kimono with an arm outstretched.

Some people in Portland might remember seeing Eiko & Koma at Jamison Square 16 years ago on September 11…

Laurel McLaughlin (LM): Welcome back to Portland! Before we delve into the myriad works you’re presenting at TBA that encompass numerous themes, practices, and embodiments from your career, could you reflect on Offering, the first performance that you presented in Portland with collaborator Koma back in 2003 at TBA?

Eiko Otake (EO): I remember the show very well. We created Offering in post-9/11 New York and premiered it in 2002 summer, near where the World Trade Center was. We also performed the work in six more parks throughout Manhattan that summer, as well as touring it throughout Poland and other eastern European countries. Then we came to Portland. As with the other places, we asked PICA to order a mound of dirt, with which we were going to perform a ritual of mourning. Dirt was a metaphor of collective graves. But when we saw the site, Jamison Square, Koma and I wanted to perform in the fountain. The seeping and pulling tides of the water felt meaningful to us. We all come from water and our tears are water too. Water connects not only we humans, but also humans with other beings. The night was chilling with wind, water, and wet fur dresses, and that made some common memories not only for Koma and me but also for many viewers. I was reminded about that by so many people I met during my visit this past spring. It is profound for me to learn that what we did became many common memories for this group of audiences.

LM: You’re returning to present multiple works during the run of TBA19 including, an exhibition at the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, PNCA, entitled, A Body in Places, curated by Kristan Kennedy and Joseph Scheer, a solo performance in the PNCA galleries on opening night, with a screening at the NorthWest Film Center of A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life; a new three-channel video at PICA; and the TBA performance of The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable at PICA as well. Could you talk about presenting these many works and how they relate each other?

EO: Because I started to perform professionally at the age of 30, I have a long career. As you know, the most of which—42 years—was as Eiko & Koma. And during these years, Eiko & Koma performed here four times. I have been working as a soloist since 2014 and began the Duet Project in 2017. And I have been going to Fukushima through these years. So, instead of showing one recent work, I wanted to share a dialectic trajectory since Eiko & Koma, which is Eiko, “the half” of Eiko & Koma, learning to work alone, and then to also realize she learns in working with others and interested in creating “we” through art making. And my work in Fukushima grounds me in realizing how being human is so fundamentally dangerous, so I also wanted to share that altogether. People can enter to my house from different doors and be with me in different rooms, but can then be motivated to visit another room and thus get to know the whole house of this artist (though I literally do not own a house, even an apartment).

LM: The performance, A Body in Places (2014), engages with the specificities of place—and I saw part of the 12-hour performance at Philadelphia’s 30 Street Station. How does the exhibition of the same name engage with the specificities of place in other sites?

EO: Wow you were there!? Thank you. That was my debut as a solo performer!! Five years from that debut, this exhibition highlights my solo works in differently significant places: particularly Fukushima (video created from photographs), Hong Kong (prints from photos of the performances at the very site the umbrella revolution took place a year ago and thousands of people camped out to protest and block seven-lane highways), and Alfred (New York, where I danced with countless number of the moths and collaborated with a few artists). These can be seen as artifacts, created from archives of my solo performances; but these can also be seen as collaborations of different kind—A Body in Fukushima, is a collaboration with a photographer and the irradiated landscape, A Body in Hong Kong is a work that would not have happened without a particular presenter/curator and a massive, historical event, and A Body in Alfred, is the result of my newfound eagerness to seize upon possibilities of encounter, in this case with a moth specialist, printmakers, and videographers—all the members of IEA (Institute for Electronic Arts)—so they also belong to my duet projects. All of these works might look like solos; but in fact, in my long history as Eiko & Koma, I have been trained as a collaborator, so these works in the exhibition illuminate that a solo is a duet with someone whose body is not necessarily seen.

Photo: Amie Lee King Eiko Otake stands on the second floor with a large piece of red fabric hanging over the railing down into the atrium.

Photo: Amie Lee King
Eiko Otake stands on the second floor with a large piece of red fabric hanging over the railing down into the atrium.

Turning towards how you’ve used movement in the past, which might have bearing on these upcoming works, you said in a previous interview: “I am using my body as a constant.” Yet, your work inhabits many spaces that are mobile—sometimes within neoliberal structures, such as a train station, sometimes with eroding landscapes, like in Fukushima. So, how do the concepts of “constant” and mobility co-exist in your work?

EO: I can also rephrase the quote as “I want to use my body as a conduit,” or “I want to present my body as recognizably, intentionally, and aesthetically the same person… oh that is Eiko (a name here is not important), a body of the same person, a mind of the same person, who goes to Fukushima, who is in front of a viewer in Place A, who performed in place B how many days ago, and where another viewer saw her. This performer might be at first very strange, as she looks so miserable, but in time, she becomes familiar and her audience breathes her miserableness. Then through watching her body, a viewer can not only see this place but can IMAGINE other places.” So, yes, we are all sort of mobile compared to trees and mountains (and they too are of course moving ); but at the same time, I feel intentionality of performing makes dancer’s body familiar and willing, not only connecting the mind of an artist and that of a viewer but also the pains and beauties and dangers of places. And that willingness does not have to take a shape of strength. If anything, I want the inner strength in the bodies that are compromised, hurt, and in pain. I want to honor the gaze and the sense of constant with a body as it moves toward non-existence, which we all do in slightly different speeds. A body has autonomy and decision making even if it is in small ways. So, my use of constant is a life with its movement.

LM: Could you share more about the solo that you’ll be performing at the PNCA galleries?

EO: My solo at PNCA is to activate the exhibition and leaving some mental traces into the space. I make visual arts and media works from a point of being a performer. I also use my performance to make an event for people to gather. Not only might there be some people who come to the gallery because I am performing but, hopefully that is not the only time they see the exhibit. In fact, I sincerely hope, and I will say this at the opening, each viewer will come back to the exhibit, to be alone and to really see what I, the curators, and collaborators are presenting.

LM: The exhibition at PNCA will also feature a screening of A Body in Fukushima (2014–2017), which, in some iterations, features photographs by Japanese historian and artist William Johnston, that you edited, and a performance. Could you describe your dialogue with the landscape of Fukushima, and then the post-production process of editing the photographs?

EO: I conceived the project A Body in Fukushima as a photo exhibition that would tour with my solo performances, A Body in Places. While I was conceiving the solo work to be premiered at Philadelphia Station, I thought I would like to bring with me very different stations from the splendor and business of the Philadelphia Station. But even in our first visit, it became clear Fukushima is the subject itself, a large complication, an inevitable human failure and not a subject to be avoided.

And Fukushima includes many Fukushimas. There are many places within Fukushima that have varying degrees of radiation, history, and ways of life. So again, I present my body as a visitor, as a conduit between the places I performed within in the U.S. and the places I performed in Fukushima. I also felt, though I am an outsider visiting Fukushima. I am still a part of humans who assault environment and other species. It is a bit confusing, but nature looks more vibrant and powerful in the time and places in which people were gone. That does not mean they are not irradiated. Irradiated, but the things continue to grow and blossom. And, unlike humans, trees and mountains cannot walk away.

Yes, the films and photos I show become a performance, in the way that they are presented to the audience and each viewer can take what they want. This is particularly the case about my dancing in Fukushima. I cannot not bring audiences there, so I need to bring my performances there to audiences far from Fukushima. And editing is like a choreography I do for the performance. It is a preparation of a performance. For me, neither choreography nor editing is a performance. Presenting it with intention and how people see it is the performance. So, as a performing artist, I offer that and for that reason I prepare by choreographing the photos, designing and creating sound and most importantly the film uses words. This is the first time I used words in my media works. That was challenging and I wanted to create a style that weaves words, visuals, body, and time. The words I chose are important to me and hopefully people also feel that the words have been carefully selected, composed, and timed.

I consider my Fukushima work as my later work, and so are my solos and the Duet Project. Not only did these come later than Eiko & Koma, but they reflect that I am in a later period of my own life. I try to grapple with that and find ways to work. In one sense, it is my regrets that drive me to work; but the irony is the more I work I also find more regrets, so I have been even more driven.

Certainly, I would not have done this if I were younger, when our children were young and we were creating many large-scale theater productions. It would also have been different if I were younger and dancing in Fukushima. There are so many photographs of young women standing in front of the ruins… The fact that I am now 67 years old takes into account my being in Fukushima and in people seeing me in Fukushima.

When I dance in Fukushima, I do not represent the people who were forced to leave. They have their own voices. In dancing there, I think of their ancestors who lived there many decades ago as well as other species, trees, mountains and sea. Land and sea are contaminated but they are… oddly beautiful after the people were gone, however irradiated… This is not to say I have any positive opinion on nuclear matters, however.

LM: A Body in Fukushima, as with many of your other works, strikes me as pointedly urgent. But it references recent and difficult history, one society doesn’t want to face, with regard to environmental awareness. But you nevertheless improvised and danced in the evacuated and devastated terrain of the Fukushima nuclear disaster at the Daiichi plant in the town of Ōkuma. Part of this zone is referred to in Japanese as the “zone that is difficult to return to” (帰還困難区域)— during five different trips to the site with collaborator William Johnston. The resulting photographs, register these affects of urgency and difficult return, and I’m hoping you can speak more about this.

EO: These photos have ranges of different urgencies. First, nuclear matter is urgently dangerous and morally wrong. I feel strongly about that. Nuclear power is a Pandora’s box. So, being so close to the site of the meltdown is itself a highly emotional experience. Radiation does not have color or smell. So, the knowledge of high radiation is unsettling and upsetting. And I know I should not be there too long and I should not put my body in that exposure. All of these concerns make me move more urgently, faster in some cases, more intensely in other cases. Often upon arrival to a place, I am first muted. Then I begin to observe and make notes. Then I begin to dance. Sometimes it is minimum movement, and other times I move faster for longer distances, in ways I never have done on stage. This is a lot to do with the fact I am in dangerous places and I am emotionally exhausted. I also return to the same place to notice the changes and sense of the time passed… so I return to Fukushima to notice more, to breathe more, to think more…

LM: A new three-channel video work will be on view at PICA during your performance, The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable for TBA. How will these two works interact in the same space?

EO: I am actually not sure yet how and if they will be continuously shown. The important part of this new Duet Project is upon arriving in the space, I redesign the contents and how contents are placed and sectioned. So yes, I hope I can keep the media works but I cannot promise. The good thing is I am the director so I can always betray my past decisions and plans…

LM: And how would you characterize your Duet Project—what was your intention for creating the work?

EO: I work with a diverse group of artists, living and dead. Collaborators come from different places, times, disciplines, and concerns. Together, we try to maximize the potentials of our various encounters so as to reaffirm that distance is indeed malleable.

The Duet Project does not result in a set work that tours in the same shape after its premiere in July at the American Dance Festival. As is the case at PICA, future performances of this project will be designed specifically for the performance site and community that the project travels to. Not every artist I had an “encounter” with has become a named collaborator, nor will I share with the public every duet that I experiment with. Every encounter, however, regardless of outcome, allows me to live my life with the concept of The Duet Project. I learn a lot from each of the encounters, even when such experiences do not lead to actually having a duet I bring to the audience. And some learning can apply to how I can process the next encounter. This endeavor is as much about conversation as it is about self-curation, developing instincts, desires, strategies, and tools for encounters with or without words. It is also about developing urges, hesitations, and resistance by looking at each other and taking time. Being physically and mindfully together is memory making. Every encounter is to affirm living and also to prepare for one’s inevitable leaving. My body is always leaning forward to the next encounter.

LM: Keeping with that particular work, The Duet Project activates a “practice” of dying, that’s manifested in your body and outside of it with your collaborators. How does this practice evolve, especially as sometimes death is thought of as an end?

EO: Not many people enjoy thinking about death. But it is a fact and one of the few common, equal realities we have. One can die a difficult death or a relatively good death. And while one can die alone, I also saw it is often helpful to have a help in dying. When I say I practice dying I, I mean I can imagine dying as an inevitable destiny. Though I love living. But when I work with, and become friends with younger artists, and have honest conversations, I recognize deeply that I should go first. Let us keep the order. So, working with younger people is one way to practice/imagine dying.

LM: The Duet Project performance also conjures a juxtaposition between eternal stillness and the movement that is the world. How do you see these two impulses unfolding?

EO: In my work, as it is performed, there is no stillness. There might be relative stillness. That is relative… and yes, the world is moving and in that way I feel a bit panicky. So, through not being still, I use certain movements, might be impossible to be recognized as movement, to calm myself down so I can observe and think… both are the reality and every life is moving toward non-existence. The problem is some of us, and humans as a whole, make tremendous damage in the process of disappearing.

It’s all a soup: Anthony Hudson/Carla Rossi

by Laurel McLaughlin
Looking For Tiger Lily by Anthony Hudson/Carla Rossi | Hollywood Theater | 2016
This introduction is already a failure. But are we okay with that? I don’t want to assume for you; but for my part, I’ve never been more okay with it. If introductions are supposed to “set the tone,” contextualize, or provide grounding of some kind, then forget it. The following conversation, composed over emails (too many from me), with the generous, wickedly witty, fierce wielder-of-pen-and-paper Anthony Hudson/Carla Rossi tunes its own tone, historicizes its own voice, and levitates to grounds of its own imagination—only to twist all of our expectations in the best, most necessary way.

Laurel McLaughlin (LM): Carla Rossi and Anthony Hudson will be performing Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo) in TBA19 in collaboration with Risk/Reward. The TBA festival is known for the way in which it brings together local and international performers. So, before we get into the work, could you share your thoughts about performing in the same place where you make work?

Anthony Hudson/Carla Rossi (AH/CR): I love touring and am tickled I’ve gotten to take my work to Dartmouth, New York, Canada, Australia, and more places on the docket, but I’m a Portland clown through and through. I’m from here (OK, “true” Portland natives would say I’m from Keizer, but I’d ask them what Tribe they’re from). My Kalapuya and Chinook ancestors were here thousands of years before that. I’m tethered to this place in a way, and Carla’s tethered to Portland’s whiteness. It powers her and gives her something to talk about, like fuel. If Portland is a lighthouse of white privilege and fragility, she’s the beacon burning within.

LM: You have a history of performing in the Portland community, could you share what’s been formative for you and perhaps share impressions from previous TBAs in which you’ve partaken?

AH/CR: TBA19 is wild for me in how full circle it is as I approach ten years as Carla. I’ve wanted to be a TBA artist since I started going to shows as a PNCA freshman in 2009. One of Carla’s first big nights out was at TBA’s Art Party at The Works in 2010, back in the Washington High School days—Carla jumped on stage (much to my present-day self’s horror) during Light Asylum’s set and, luckily, got asked to stay. From 2012 to 2017, I was ecstatic to collaborate with my bestie Pepper Pepper as their video maker (videatrix?) for Critical Mascara, and to open Critical 2013 on a ladder lipsyncing a Bette Davis monologue from All About Eve. Carla got to send off Critical in 2017 with a tribute to Valerie Solanas, Aileen Wuornos, Divine, and Satanic witchcraft. Now I’m bringing my international solo show back to Portland for the first time—and for the last time—since its workshop in 2016, back to where this whole story began at TBA.

LM: Turning to Carla Rossi more closely, she identifies as a “drag clown,” a Coyote trickster—which refers to both a lineage of Native theater and innovation within the drag form. Could you share more about this moniker of identification?

AH/CR: I’ve never done drag to “put on” woman or femininity, whatever that may mean. Yeah, sure, I auditioned for RuPaul’s Drag Race once, years ago, and that experience showed me how little interest I have in “female impersonation,” even if I see a power in some performers’ ability to channel and challenge that illusion. Carla’s a clown because I’m not trying to be a woman. I’m trying to explode gender and negotiate my own gender confusion with her. For her, she absolutely is a woman, she’s trying to be a woman, but I like to think of her as a shapeless form, a blob, a Mr. Potato Head of Lies. I think of that scene in The Man Who Fell to Earth when David Bowie takes off all his human drag—clothes, hair, eyebrows, pupils—and comes out as a naked alien slate. That’s like Carla. She’s a trickster spirit—my trickster spirit—who’s made itself up to look like a clown, and, hey, clowns and tricksters happen to have remarkably similar objectives: saying one thing while doing the opposite. She’s spent all of human history trying to become something special, something important, and in today’s world in Portland, Oregon, she thinks that special something is a famous white woman.

LM: Keeping with Carla then, you said she is a “persona, body of work, and occupation.” So often within art or festival contexts, the drag form is reduced only to critique; but given the storytelling that you engage as/with Carla, in your writings, and your Queer Horror screening series, there’s so much more to this work. Could you talk about the vitality in Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo)?

AH/CR: I regret ever calling Carla a persona, and I’m trying to find other words for what she is. I read an interview with Taylor Mac where the interview brought up that word—persona—Taylor responded that “‘persona’ is a misnomer,” and that, instead of a persona, drag is what happens when Taylor’s insides explode outside. I couldn’t have found better words for it. I fought the idea that Carla was in any way or shape me, or something more than a character, for years. Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo) has flashes of this—she opens the show, then I take over, then she haunts me here and there and challenges me and my qualifications as author/performer (after all, she’s “the famous one. Nobody even knows who you are!”). It’s taken Tiger Lily for me to realize that Carla, like Taylor’s drag, is my ultimate form—my ultimate gender expression. She’s when I feel the most me—who or whatever that is—and the most free and fearless. The play version of Looking for Tiger Lily, making its world premiere at Artists Repertory Theatre next May, is even more about this. It opens with Carla and I breaking up, and my whole sense of self and reality goes out the window as she takes the world by storm. In other works, like at Queer Horror, or my performances of Girl with a Cigarette at the Portland Art Museum, Carla becomes sort of a hybrid—I look like her, but I break character to flesh out the world of the performance and the commentary I can offer. The lines between us blur and we wax and wane from one to the other. Carla’s not smart, but I am, and sometimes I have to come through to add footnotes and context. And sometimes she has to come through to make a doody joke because I’ve been pontificating too long and the audience has fallen asleep.

LM: But let’s also talk about the critical edge to Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo)—because it’s present, but I wanted to acknowledge the complexity of it with you. For instance, the work lampoons the 1960s production of Peter Pan, which features Sondra Lee, a white woman, as the “Indian Princess” Tiger Lily, which you said you saw as a child, alongside a host of other harmful cultural references. It’s layered. So, how do you compose this critique? What’s your process?

AH/CR: This show started as a dare—I was afraid to perform without the clown paint, and I also enjoyed a degree of anonymity. I’m fairly private, or I try to be as private as a public person can, and not many people knew anything about Anthony until Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo). They only knew the clown. People would boo at cabarets when Carla would make jokes about being the ghost of white privilege or the whitest woman this side of Lake Oswego. So, I made this “coming out” show about myself and my family and what it meant to grow up looking white but also being Native and queer, and I knew I had to start with Mary Martin’s Peter Pan, my four-year-old favorite. That was the root of it all—the “Indians” in that show are played by white people who looked more like my Mom and me than my Dad and my Grandma and Aunties and cousins. I loved it as a kid, but how did that image impact my own sense of self, conflated furthermore by how people project whiteness onto me? In setting off in this story about confronting one of my favorite stories, and wondering what to do with it—and redface—I knew I had to confront the rest of the American canon of redface. Actual Native representation is so limited in pop culture, and most Americans don’t even know Natives are still alive—instead they think of Westerns, Disney’s Pocahontas, Cher’s Half-Breed (another childhood favorite), Coachella headdresses, and cigar store statues, and that history hasn’t just invented an American myth of the Indian, it’s invented a whole Bizzaro-universe funhouse mirror that constantly hangs over the self-image of so many Native Americans. It’s all a rich and imaginary and fucked-up history, and in Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo) it becomes a candy store for Carla and me to draw from.

LM: Keeping with this rich critique, your work also particularly features whiteness—in all of its privileged glory. Carla seems to portray, as Jenna Lechner wrote, the “awfulness” of it. It’s awful in its subjugation of difference. And yet, it’s awe-full, as in, charmed by itself. How do Carla and Anthony negotiate this?

AH/CR: Carla’s line that always used to get me in trouble (and sometimes still does) with particularly fragile audiences is, “I’m the ghost of white privilege, and that’s hilarious because white privilege will never die.” Carla isn’t white, and she isn’t human, but she wants to be. She’s taken “white” literally and paints herself like a clown. In Looking for Tiger Lily (solo), I explore being Native from the perspective of also being half white, and feeling less-than because I grew up without traditions, and because people walking down the street encounter me and address me as a white man, because of visuality—because we’re hunting animals who see another and have to identify it—regardless of what I may actually be. And in Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo), I talk about wishing it could be that simple, and wanting to be one thing: wanting to be a pretty white girl like Lana Del Rey, wanting to be a vaguely-ethnicized white woman like Cher, wanting to be a worldly, pan-cultural (in collection at least) white woman like Madonna. White is treated as default in American society, and anyone who isn’t, or who is more than, constantly measures themselves against this default. That’s double consciousness. It’s not just Carla’s aspiration—sometimes it’s mine. She’s my way of lampooning whiteness and its awfulness, the violence and the dehumanization that it’s caused, but she’s also my way of holding myself (and my place in it) accountable. After all, my brothers are much darker than I am, and they grew up and still live on the Rez, and I’m living a very different life. The way I look has absolutely opened doors for me, I’m sure of it. So, I take that as a responsibility to act as a sleeper agent, a Manchurian Candidate, an infiltrator, whenever I can. I hear the terrible things white people say when they think “the others” aren’t around, and all that gets transmuted into the coal I shovel into Carla’s mouth.

LM: This awfulness is “charming” because we recognize it. In Carla’s critique, does she offer a way to address it? Call out? Combat?

AH/CR: Everything she says, even when she’s “sincere” (it’s an important character note that she’s incapable of sincerity, and everything she says is a fraud, an act), is meant to point to its own failure, to expose the cracks in whiteness, myths of racial purity, and essential, fixed identities. When we opened Queer Horror’s screening of Candyman, she told Kimber Shade “I’m not a racist! I’m colorblind. I listened to En Vogue once.” A thinking audience should hear the satire in that line, even if Carla’s convinced herself that she believes it. She’s kind of like Trump in that respect. Every word he says should be a parody of itself, but for some reason people believe in it and empower it and inflict violence at its call. But critical thinking is dying in the age of Russian bots and headline journalism, and some people bizarrely take Trump’s words as fact. I guess he’s also not in drag or in clown makeup, which benefits my aims if not Carla’s—drag tells people, or at least it should, that what we’re seeing and the tools we’ve been taught to see with are lies and illusions and constructions, so that definitely helps drive the point home.

LM: Doubling back to a point from earlier, Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo) recounts your childhood experience—what is it like re-performing that formative time each time on the stage?

AH/CR: On one level, it’s bizarre. I’m casually obsessed with the idea of memory and the fact that no memories are truly real—they’re always reinventing and reconstituting themselves each time we “remember”—so I sometimes wonder how much of this show actually happened (it all did, right?). On another level, it’s also a tribute to the child and teenager I used to be, each very different people in their own respects, and I’m grateful for having this space to honor them; in many ways they’re braver and much more creative than this version of me will ever be. Back to the bizarre end, the play premiering at Artists Rep is a trickier beast—it’s semi-autobiographical, and a fiction taking place after this piece, but still set in the past—and in that version Carla starts as a clown doll belonging to young Anthony. As a kid I remember pretending to go to Neverland with my stuffed animals, but as I was writing and rehearsing and workshopping the play’s script, I found myself wondering if that actually was Carla’s origin—did I have a doll of her that eventually became a chunk of my psyche?—even though I knew it wasn’t. I’ve spent a decade writing and charting this history of Carla’s existence throughout time, and sometimes I wonder if she is actually a trickster spirit who’s tethered herself to me. Being an artist is always going to be weird because we create new and alternate realities for the world. Whenever it gets autobiographical things get even weirder because we’re creating new and alternate realities for ourselves, new and alternate versions of ourselves. I find myself losing track of these things as I get older—the play is also entirely about this—but I’m also less obsessed with keeping track, and more welcoming of not knowing, of doubting and questioning any idea of an origin or core or truth. It’s all a soup.

LM: Vital soup. You’ve discussed the difficulty of Looking for Tiger Lily (Solo)’s reception, as white progressive audiences can “share in a vulnerable moment and feel like they’re part of the solution—that they’re doing the work.” How else could you envision its reception? Perhaps as a practice?

AH/CR: I was feeling particularly salty the day I wrote that, that white audiences feel like they’re championing a cause by watching me talk about identity confusion. But to the flipside of that saltiness, to some extent they are. White, or straight, or otherwise “normative” people (or Baby Boomers) who come to this show—and do the work of listening—are challenging themselves to connect to someone else’s experiences. That’s challenging for any of us. That’s empathy. And empathy’s the only way we’re truly going to get out of the mess we’re in (it’s also what the Internet is teaching us to ignore, and what Trump is trying so hard to make us forget as he shocks-and-awes his way across all forms of government, policy, and ways of living). When I was first developing this show, I always worried over who could possibly connect with this piece. I worried you’d have to be a half-Native, half-white, from a small town, gay, gender confused, queer, fat kid obsessed with Peter Pan and Cher to get anything from this show. But when I first performed the workshop here as a preview at Risk/Reward and then as a premiere at the Hollywood Theatre, so many people told me I was telling their story: they were bi but they felt invisible; they were Mexican but they inherited their father or mother’s fairness like I did; they didn’t know how to identify, like I don’t. They all felt less-than. And so many of us feel less-than. American capitalism tells all of us—truly, all of us, except maybe a few campaign donors at Mar-a-Lago, and even then who knows—that we’re less-than. And I think acknowledging that less-than and questioning what motivates it and where it comes from—and what power is telling us we’re less—is a crucial step to building ourselves and each other back up.

LM: This last question might sound trite, but it’s totally real if we’re really thinking about transformative experiences: What is Carla’s wildest dream for TBA?

AH/CR: The year is 2050 and the earth feels like it’s on fire. Carla descends from the heavens on a giant hot dog blimp above the open-air stadium of TBA50, wearing a Follies-style headdress made entirely of hot dogs. Calliope music and a jolt of wailing electric guitar heralds her arrival as spotlights cut back and forth across the sky. She lifts a microphone to her lips while the water-scavenging iPeople of DisneyWorld™ scurry on the ground, anxiously awaiting a declaration that she’s come to save them, their future, and the earth. They drag dry tongues across chapped lips hoping for precious water to miraculously pour forth from her sausage zeppelin. Instead she takes a breath, instantly chokes on her own saliva, drops the mic, fumbles for it, and slides right off her blimp, hurtling breathlessly toward the ground and belly-flopping onto the barren soil with a SLAP and a clown horn. Her impact triggers the supervolcano at Yosemite, the sky erupts into flame, smoke suffocates the earth, and everything turns to char. Millions of years later blue skies break out of the clouds and a body of water below reflects this spectacular hue. Just off the shore, the hopeful squeak of a tiny beast tells us it’s found its food, and something green sprouts out of a clown-shaped crater.

Anthony Hudson (Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde) is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, performer, and filmmaker perhaps best known as Portland’s premier drag clown, Carla Rossi, an immortal trickster whose attempts at realness almost always result in fantastic failure. Together they host and program the bimonthly Queer Horror—the only exclusively LGBTQ horror screening series in the country—at the historic Hollywood Theatre. In 2018, Anthony was named a National Artist Fellow by the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, a Native Launchpad artist by the Western Arts Alliance, and an Individual Artist Fellow by the Oregon Arts Commission in 2019. Anthony’s first solo as Carla Rossi since 2014, Clown Down: Failed to Mount, will premiere at PNCA this November, and Anthony’s first professionally-produced theatrical play—a multi-actor version of Looking for Tiger Lily commissioned by Artists Repertory Theatre—will make its world premiere in May 2020.

Laurel McLaughlin is a writer and curator from Philadelphia, currently based in Portland, OR. She received degrees from Wake Forest University, The Courtauld Institute of Art, and Bryn Mawr College, and is currently a PhD Candidate in the History of Art at Bryn Mawr College. Her research examines the intersections of contemporary performance, new media, and migration. She has presented her research at the University of California, Berkeley, the College Art Association, New York, and the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present, Hong Kong, among others. Additionally, she has held curatorial fellowships and research positions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Slought Foundation, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the ICA Philadelphia.

TBA 2019 at First Presbyterian: Kara-Lis Coverdale’s Quiet Swells of Sound Demand Reverence

by Robert Ham
Originally published in the Portland Mercury

Robert Ham

Robert Ham

It’s impossible to do anything quietly within the Portland’s nearly 130-year-old First Presbyterian Church. Everything inside is made of wood: the pews, the seats, the floors, the doors. And that wood creaks and groans with the slightest shift of your body. Or if you want to leave the sanctuary unobtrusively—after listening to an hour of experimental music on the church’s massive pipe organ, played by composer Kara-Lis Coverdale, as part of PICA’s Time Based Art (TBA) Festival.

Coverdale didn’t give those folks much concealment either. Rather than overwhelming with booming drones and huge triumphal swells of sound, she played with the instrument’s subtleties and emphasized overtones that emerge when otherwise conflicting notes and chords are played simultaneously.

Her composition, titled “DIAPASON,” was written specifically for First Presbyterian’s organ—which was custom built in the ’90s from designs first conceived in the 17th Century. It wasn’t clear whether Coverdale knew the specifics of the instrument before she arrived in town, but whatever the case, she coaxed some delightfully unusual tones from it.

In the opening section, her left foot held down a pedal that drew out a low throbbing drone, like wind pressure on the ears when driving with a window cracked. She played cycling melodies that shifted and adapted throughout—dropping a note here, adding a few there. They effect sounded synthetic, as if sampled from a Perrey-Kingsley album or Messiaen’s ondes Martenot. The work swung like a slow pendulum between those two poles, with long drones that utilized as many single notes as her fingers could reach, and lighter more fluid segments that combined rather nicely with the noise of traffic and crows outside the church.

Coverdale treated the pipe organ with reverence. She sat down on its wooden bench with care and just as carefully removed her body from it 90-minutes later. Every movement of her hands and arms looked fluid and meticulous. At the same time, she put her whole body into the performance, swaying back and forth or rolling her head and shoulders in response to the smoothly sweeping chords.

The audience (those who stuck around past the 60-minute mark, who were the majority) responded with an equal amount of piety. They leaned forward to rest their heads on the back of the seat in front of them or, in some cases, laid down completely in their own pews, but they were rapt. So much so that, beyond the occasional cough or the whine of wood, it was pin-drop-quiet in the church’s nave. I’m not sure Coverdale was expecting that, and between two movements of “DIAPASON” she sat silently, twisting her hands in circles on the organ’s bench. Was she waiting for applause, or for the audience to give themselves over to coughs and mumbles? Neither arrived, and it lent a quiet tension to those brief moments, which unraveled the moment her hands landed on the keyboard.

When aesthetic, ethical, political, and poetic dimensions coincide. A Conversation about NEXUS 1 with Adela Demetja

When aesthetic, ethical, political, and poetic dimensions coincide. A Conversation about NEXUS 1 with Adela Demetja
Adela Demetja with Laurel McLaughlin

Over a shared document, Adela Demetja and I had the chance to collaborate on the following conversation. Back and forth, we sent one another edits, rephrasing, and commenting on various portions of the conversation—at other times, pausing to consider a particularly resonant concept (many times for my part). What was not occurring in real time for convenience sake, was imitating the kind of expanded performance that Demetja implements within the exhibition structure of NEXUS 1, featuring the work of Dante Buu, Raluca Croitoru, Adela Demetja, Emily Henderson, Adrian McBride, and Selma Selman. The contours of the conversation, much like the oft-presumed temporally linear, individual, and medium-specific borders of an exhibition, were reconceptualized outside of their normative bounds, in disparate times and spaces, individually and collectively.

Laurel McLaughlin (LM): Could you tell me how the collaboration of NEXUS 1 began?

Adela Demetja (AD): NEXUS 1 emerged conceptually in this constellation in the beginning of 2019. I just had gotten back from Portland, where I spent 5 weeks in a residency at PICA. During my stay in Portland, I had the chance to meet a lot of artists and curators, and visit different institutions. Among the practitioners I got to meet were Portland-based art historian, curator, and writer Emily Henderson, and sound artist Adrian McBride. With both of them I had done a small collaboration for the project 9 Hours Away that I presented at PICA in November 2018, where I combined together in a 90-minute program, four video works of European artists Silva Agostini, Chto Delat, Anna McCarthy, and Damir Očko, part of an installation by American artist Abigail DeVille, and an audio conversation between Emily and me. At the same time, I had just met Raluca Croitoru in New York, as both of us where part of the Artslink International Fellowships organized by CEC Artslink, an amazing program that offers to artists and arts managers/curators from overseas countries a five-week residency at an established, non-profit arts organization in the U.S. Through a call for projects, CEC Artslink gives former fellows the opportunity to apply for co-production support to undertake projects in the United States as a way to continue and deepen the relationships that emerged during the residency. I saw this call as an opportunity to continue the collaboration with PICA and the artists that I met in Portland; and this time, to involve Raluca Crotirou, Dante Buu and Selma Selman as well, whose practices I knew, but had not had the chance to work with directly yet. While thinking about the nature of this project, I looked for a definition that would reflect the process and the nature of this undertaking. The Latin word “nexus,” meaning “a binding together,” “a connection or a series of connections linking two or more things,” was, for me, the perfect definition for my conceiving and curatorial approach. NEXUS 1, therefore, is the format or the structure in which the practice of these European and American art practitioners and different media of performance, video, installation, sound, and language bind together. In terms of content, it was important for me to combine the works of these specific participants in NEXUS 1, in order to create a piece that would reflect on relevant issues for both the current situation in the U.S. and Europe.

Nexus 1 artists working together
Courtesy of the artist.

LM: NEXUS 1 also emerged from a residency—at PNCA and PICA. What were the structures, aims, or questions that the residency posed?

AD: NEXUS 1 was put together for the stage during a 10-day residency where all the participants came together to Portland to create in collaboration the final presentation. For me, NEXUS 1 functions structurally like a group exhibition, where different art works come together and need to be placed in space and, in this case as well, within time. I call this format a time-based exhibition. For example, Raluca and Selma are participating with performances that they have created and performed before, but here, they had to make a different version of it. Dante Buu has developed a new performance which he will be showing for the first time in Portland. Apart from the performances, I have asked Selma, Dante Buu, and Raluca to create or adapt video works, which are projected in the space. Some of the video elements have been developed during the residency as well. With Emily, I have been developing a written conversation, and during the residency we continued to write together in order to include thoughts more related to the immediate experience and we finally recorded it. I asked Adrian to create a soundtrack which has been prerecorded and runs in the background of the entire piece. During the show, he is intervening live with instruments and, during the residency and the rehearsals, he had the chance to develop his approach in relation with the movements of the other performers. In a way, during the residency, we had to combine and re-adapt all the pre-produced elements together, while including new ones that emerged during the process and supporting each other technically. It was important as well that all the participants get to know the practices of one another and meet in person. Taking into consideration that the piece combines the format of exhibition and stage, the Mediatheque at PNCA and its experimental environment, offered the right conditions for us to meet and to rehearse during the residency and the final shows.

LM: What was your curatorial methodology for this project?

AD: My curatorial approach combines and explores interdisciplinary methods of working together and gives priority to collaboration, exchange, and process. I believe that it is possible to have a curatorial practice that is not based on a specific methodology but on performative discourse while aiming at producing meaning. Through my practice, I aim at breaking with temporary and unique features of the contemporary exhibition and propose enduring ways of working together. I am interested in the idea of an exhibition in flux, that continuously keeps developing and changing in time.

LM: Could you discuss your processes of collaboration with the artists and perhaps give us insight into their working processes with one another?

AD: An important aspect of the collaboration has been the concept that each artwork/element should keep its identity and integrity. By this, I mean that each of the elements in the piece is developed so that it can function by itself even if taken apart. When combined with other elements, it contributes to a greater meaning and understanding.

The first layer we concentrated on has been text/language and content; the second layer was moving images; the third layer was movements on stage; and the fourth layer has been sound and music. For these four layers I have discussed, exchanged, and collaborated with each of the participants separately so they could create the single elements first. During the residency in Portland, we then all worked together as a group to bring the single elements together according to a script I proposed. Each overlapping or interaction between the aforementioned layers is the result of a collaboration between the participants.

For the most part, the collaboration happened on-site during the rehearsals, where the shared stage has served as container where each of the participants had to perform his/her own work while respecting the others. By having worked on a set of elements separately, we also have the possibility in the future to combine them and rearrange them every time different and in smaller groups. For example, the soundtrack, combined with the audio conversation with Emily, and video material, can create a new work. Collaboration, therefore, is presented and understood as an option not an obligation.

LM: The exhibition then culminates, in a way, in a singular work by all of the practitioners. As such, it challenges the concept of authorship, but medium-specificity as well. Could you describe their collective and intermedial approach?

AD: My idea from the beginning on was to create an exhibition for the stage and one of the questions that I was interested in was, how to include different performances as part of one exhibition. Most of the time, performances are not really part of exhibitions but events in conjunction to it. My interest in performance is due to its power to communicate, transmit, and inspire, especially within the engaged art discourse. When I invited Selma, Raluca, and Dante Buu to perform simultaneously in the same space, they were challenged by the idea but saw this as an opportunity to try something new. By proposing an understanding of authorship as a collective act, the piece does not challenge the concept of authorship per se, but its relationship with hierarchy. What I like about NEXUS 1 is the intelligibility and transparency that it enables, while at the same time being an exhibition made of different works/elements and a singular work/piece. The “singular work” though becomes such only through its enactment—its performativity in time and space. And it is through this enactment that the binding and a unity (rather than a singularity) is achieved. The practice of all the involved practitioners evolves beyond the post-modern, medium-specific discourse and so does NEXUS 1. For us, aesthetic ethical, political, and poetic dimensions coincide.

a person lies down on the floor, another one cradles their head.
Courtesy of the artist.

LM: The artists come from the United States (specifically Missouri and Oregon), Montenegro, Romania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The concept of international exchange is salient, and even radical, within the project. Could you discuss this strategy historically within SEE (Southeast Eastern European) countries and what you hope a “binding” exchange can bring to this exhibition situated in the turbulent and divided U.S. context?

AD: Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, international exchange, collaborative projects, and initiatives have been informing the cultural scene of SEE and Europe in general. Especially in the independent art scene of countries like Albania, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Romania. They are independent and financed solely from foreign international exchange project grants. There is still a lack of structures and financial support on national levels, which makes survival for young and emerging artists difficult. While within Europe, the commune culture policy of European Union makes it possible to keep international exchange alive, but it is much more difficult to find ways to collaborate with U.S. artists and institutions. CEC Artslinks is one of the few initiatives in the U.S. that fosters the collaboration with overseas countries, especially with Central and Eastern European countries.

During my first visit to Portland, I was very surprised to realize that socially and political people here are facing similar problems as in Europe, although the context may be different. This is a fact that we can use to connect and unify in fighting, resisting, and overcoming these problems together. We hope that through this collaboration we can use the different perspectives brought up by the participants to communicate with the public while creating awareness and inspiring viewers. We hope to continue this collaboration and strengthen it in the future, involving other colleagues and institutions from the U.S.

LM: How does the project resonate with TBA19’s missive to celebrate artists of our time, collectively gather in real time, and venture into the unknown?

AD: Taking into consideration the form, content, and process of NEXUS 1, as discussed above, I feel like we are at the right place and at the right moment in time. PICA and TBA put a lot of effort in supporting engaged and experimental artists and productions. By being open and visionary they have become one of the most important hubs for engaged contemporary art discourse. We are happy to be sharing and experiencing this gathering with a great number of other practitioners. In this coming together, and through practicing what we believe, we unite, reaching our potential in the present, and creating our future.

LM: How does NEXUS 1 align or deviate from your curatorial work as the Director of the Tirana Art Lab—Center for Contemporary Art, Albania, and independently?

AD: At Tirana Art Lab (TAL) our curatorial and managerial approach is based on the concept of the rhizome. With our program, we try to resist politicization, polarization, and neo-colonial practices in contemporary societies. Therefore the curatorial practice of TAL takes into consideration various approaches like inside-out, bottom-up, polyphony, transparency, and inclusion.

In NEXUS 1, I have used similar approaches and have been interested in creating a relevant conversation binding together the voices of European and American practitioners. The voice of the artist of Romani origins, Selma Selman, is representative of her life struggles and the struggles of her community. The voice of Dante Buu is rooted in intimacy, and addresses today’s brutal sociocultural environment and questions concerning gender roles, identities, sex, and stereotypes. Raluca Croitoru’s voice reflects upon individual and collective corporeal memory and the social symptoms of neoliberal capitalism. The voice of Emily Henderson reflects poetically upon our relationship to nature and the intangible. The “voice” of Adrian McBride, in the form of sound/music, functions as an abstract connector and creates harmony between all the other voices. Although NEXUS 1 is the first in the series, and it was derived from a similar format that I initiated at Tirana Art Lab under the name of the Performative Exhibition. This format intends to disclose exhibiting and to make public through performativity not only the processes of artistic creation and curating, but also find ways to include in the exhibiting process the means of production behind and beyond the event itself. NEXUS 1 is intended as a series that I will continue to produce in different constellations and contexts.

LM: How do you hope audiences will encounter NEXUS 1?

AD: I am very happy that an experimental collaboration, bringing such different perspectives and characters, has been welcomed by PICA and TBA, and we hope as well that the public will appreciate it the same way. To me, as a curator, and for the all the practitioners, the public and relationship we build with them are crucial to our work. In NEXUS 1, the public sits in the middle of the installation and, in this way, it becomes part of the piece. To be acting and presenting publicly is both an honor and an obligation to use the exhibition as wisely and carefully as possible. We have the opportunity to communicate, to inspire, to empower and we hope to be able to transmit an uplifting experience.

a foot hovers over a wood floor, artists working in background

LM: Your thoughts were so insightful and I’m very grateful for your participation in this interview project. I think TBA audiences will really value the chance to read about your perspective in depth here.

AD: Thank you dear Laurel, for your challenging and inspiring questions and point of view.

Adela Demetja is a curator and author born in 1984 in Tirana, Albania. She holds a Master’s Degree in Curatorial and Critical Studies from Goethe University and Städelschule, Frankfurt/Main, Germany. Demetja was first trained as a painter and studied from 2002 to 2006 at Academy of Art in Tirana, Albania. She is the director of Tirana Art Lab–Center for Contemporary Art, Albania’s leading independent art institution, which she established in 2010.

Laurel McLaughlin is a writer and curator from Philadelphia, currently based in Portland, OR. She received degrees from Wake Forest University, The Courtauld Institute of Art, and Bryn Mawr College, and is currently a PhD Candidate in the History of Art at Bryn Mawr College. Her research examines the intersections of contemporary performance, new media, and migration. She has presented her research at the University of California, Berkeley, the College Art Association, New York, and the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present, Hong Kong, among others. Additionally, she has held curatorial fellowships and research positions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Slought Foundation, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the ICA Philadelphia.

Vulnerability Required: A Conversation with Nexus 1 Collaborators Adela Demetja, Raluca Croitoru and Emily Henderson, with Lucy Cotter

By Kyle Cohlmia

Lucy Cotter, artist, curator, and writer sat down with Adela Demetja and collaborators Raluca Croitoru and Emily Henderson to discuss their upcoming performative exhibit, Nexus 1, which also includes work by Dante Buu, Adrian McBride and Selma Selman. The conversation was held at NW Documentary on Tuesday, September 10th, 2019 at 12:30 p.m.

During the conversation, Adela Demetja, artist and curator currently based out of Albania and Frankfurt, dove into to the collaborative process of her most recent project, Nexus 1, a time-based exhibit including herself and four other artists from Europe and the US. She outlines this experimental exhibition as a “development of my work over the last ten years,” and an expansion of the traditional exhibit format. Raluca Croitoru and Emily Henderson followed to introduce their involvement with the project.

Demetja met Croitoru, visual artist and performer from the Netherlands, in New York last year during Croitoru’s residency. The project includes Croitoru’s performative work, as she describes as a mix of choreography as an aesthetic practice and social commentary. Additionally, during her residency at PNCA and PICA, Demetja developed a relationship with Henderson, art historian, writer and curator from Portland. The exhibit will include an auditory layer of the conversation-turned-long-form-poem between Demetja and Henderson that discusses their public and personal lives as well as art in the context of their current locations.

Two other Nexus artists were in the audience, Dante Buu from Rozaje, who stated that he utilizes embroidery to symbolize the importance of storytelling in otherwise voiceless communities and Selma Selman from Bihac and NYC, whose work, she describes as, connecting to the theory of quantum physics called superposition, representing her own identity and the possibility of all people existing in all spaces. Not present was Adrian McBride, an artist and musician from Portland, who was at the site creating sound for the performance.

The term nexus is Latin for binding or binding together. Nexus brings together these artists, a “constellation of individuals,” as Cotter expressed. Additionally, Cotter explained the process of creating this unique form of exhibition, whereas the five artists have six days to collaborate intensively with the starting piece that they initially brought with them; the final product working collectively, while each piece can separately exist on its own.

While listening to the four women on stage discuss their work, the direction of contemporary curation and the collaboration of Nexus, I kept thinking about the term vulnerability. For the artists, the vulnerability to step into the space of uncontrollability (Croitoru illustrating as, “at times, the work controls me,” and where Henderson expresses as the “not knowing”) positions them into a new realm of artmaking where their work is not only ephemeral but contextually dependent on one another. Additionally, curator, Demetja invites vulnerability by creating a non-traditional exhibition form, pushing against old artifices and leaving behind long-established notions of how and how long artwork should be displayed. For the public, the viewer can be vulnerable to experience something new, the additive layers of text, movement, aesthetics, sound, and poetics, combine the practices of these artists whose perspectives come from various locations and socio-political contexts but simultaneously collide into one piece.

This delightful and inspiring conversation between Demetja, Croitoru, Henderson and Cotter was saturated with the theme of vulnerability, which is required by all to collaborate, curate, and view this exhibit in totality, to take in the separate and multifaceted layers that expand and contract into the embodied experience that is Nexus 1.

Nexus 1 performances will take place at Pacific Northwest College of Art on Thursday, September 12th and Friday, September 13th at 6:30 p.m.

Eiko Otake: A Body in Fukushima

by Ellen Robinette

Prior to the film screening, Eiko Otake takes the stage to speak a moment. She gives context to her project, of the tragedy experienced by collective populations and her personal witnessing — the incidents of September 11th in the US and the triple disasters that hit Fukushima. Otake had participated in an artist residency, located in one of the Twin Towers, just a year prior to 9 / 11. “Seeing the towers fall… I actually lost my mind, entire body to the floor”. She speaks steady, with an occasional pause, but with a passion behind her words. “The things we build are bound to break and no one expects it”, Otake says of human structures; that we don’t carry the same expectation for smaller things (ie. radio or dishes) but expect it of buildings. Two years later, on March 11th, Fukushima was hit with a tsunami, an earthquake, and a nuclear accident. It was, as Otake describes, the “second biggest shock, not as a surprise but because it happened”.

The film begins, consisting of a series of photographs taken at disaster sites in Fukushima. The name of the location and distance from a disaster point is listed on the screen at the beginning of each sequence. There is some additional text between that is narration, personal insight from Otake. Many of the shots included Otake, laying, dancing, interacting with the space. Her movement is implied by the positions captured and the speed the photos are changed. Playing throughout the film, there is a soundtrack made up of ambient sounds coordinating with the images. It includes insects buzzing, birds chirping, the wind and other elements, string instruments, machinery–a mix of nature and man made.
Otake visits sites such as the remains of a home (both in 2014 and 2016). She is dressed in traditional japanese robes, with bold patterns and often bright colors. When she returns at the later date all evidence of the house is gone; once a pile of rubble and ruins now just a pile of dirt. Otake wonders if it has been buried underneath, or demolished entirely. She does this for all the locations, coming multiple times over the course of years to bear witness to the changes. A transit station (2014 then 2017) — “My body remembers this place. My body remembers the remorse” reads in white text on black, then shows Otake laying alongside the platform, heaviness to her body.
Entire towns were destroyed, never to return to their entirety. Photos show their lifespan, first decimated by disaster, then cleared / decontaminated, and sometimes repopulated; or more often, not and left to sit baren. Later in the film, it is explained that unused land not common in Japan, so there is significance of empty fields, and abandoned spaces. Photos of Otake play, eyes downcast as if mourning, a sadness running through her whole body. She is standing near a tangled mess of boats, the sound of waves crash, as text informs that the water is contaminated. “Things humans create resemble humans” Otake notes. The remaining structures standing are described with words like ‘exposed belly’, ‘ribs’, and ‘spilled guts’. A shot of Otake, red against blue sky, on a station platform where nothing else remains. A makeshift memorial has appeared, grows over time / with each visit, and a garden is planted. A few years later, in 2016, it is all gone. Otake moves through the empty space with a dance that appears to grieve loss, and loss again. Another year passes, and an entire new station has been built. Text flashes: “staging normalcy”.
Otake’s figure appears, dressed in all white against the backdrop of a wall built of black trash bags. Later, an inverse shows as Otake stands in a dark robe against a pale wall holding contaminated debris. Her smallness is evident, magnified by the mass amounts of ruin. In the final sequence of photos, Otake is on beach 4 miles from one of the fallen power plants. She is dangerously close for exposure, acknowledged in her narrative text that she should not be there. Her body seems slightly more calm here, in her expressions and poses. The alternating text reveals Otake’s thoughts on human desire and praise to make things quickly without thoughts on consequences. “We are breakable” she reminds — a description of our structures as well as our individual selves.

Afterwards, Otake shares a little more about her process. The red cloak seen in the film is silk, dyed a vivid vermillion hue, and was made from ancestor’s kimonos with help from her mom. The photos were taken by William Johnston, and were never staged or posed. She danced / moved, and was documented in the act. Otake’s hope was to bring Fukushima to the public so no one would have to go themselves. She understands the severity of the situation, the risk of radiation. She is very serious and sincere in her intentions, but also displays her sense of humor, and is self-claimed to be ‘timid’. Nothing is rehearsed or pre-planned — “Going to Fukushima is my choreography”. Otake explains that somethings you can only know by going to the place, to feel remorse. Other things you don’t have to see for yourself, and are not necessary if it can spare you harm. That we need to trust others and what they say, to stay informed; that reading is an experience. Otake made the film for people to experience, and for her it was a chance to process loss and regret.

Miguel Gutierrez’s This Bridge Called My Ass Seeks to Destroy the Relationship Between Bodies and Objects

Miguel Gutierrez’s This Bridge Called My Ass Seeks to Destroy the Relationship Between Bodies and Objects
by Andrew Jankowski

Group of performers in colorful fabrics and interacting with one another.
by Andrew Jankowski

Searching for a way to connect choreographer Miguel Gutierrez’s performance This Bridge Called My Ass to the book from whence it takes its name This Bridge Called My Back, I found myself returning to a poem in the collection by Donna Kate Rushin, “The Bridge Poem.” “I’ve had enough,” Rushin declares, “I’m sick of seeing and touching / Both sides of things / Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody.” This Bridge Called My Back was a groundbreaking 1981 anthology by women of color, critiquing white feminism. Both the anthology and Gutierrez’s work clearly express frustration. Gutierrez uses the language of theatrical dance to convey the anthology’s ethos with light, sound, body, fabric, stools, electric power strips, clamps, and Mac laptops. It’s a challenging work—two people walked out of the performance I attended—but if you give it a chance, My Ass has a lot to say about the weariness of building impermanent connections, borders, and boundaries.

Performers Alvaro Gonzalez, John Gutierrez, Xandra Ibarra, nibia pastrana santiago, and Evelyn Sanchez Narvaez open the presentation by chanting in Spanish. They’re all clad in varied day-glo negligees. They alternate between stripping down—some changing into new garments—and dragging objects across PICA’s theater stage. With six bodies to focus on, its up to the viewer to prioritize order of observation. The dance is frenetic and the dancers are never dull—whether they’re dragging fabric with their feet, climbing through step ladders, slapping themselves, or humping speakers playing a mix of atonal noise, folk, and Pitbull. What matters is how you interpret these happenings—and in my case, I saw the laborious decontextualizing of how we understand the body’s interactions with objects and other bodies.

Color quilted fabric on floor while performers all look at each other and are interacting.
by Andrew Jankowski

My Ass contains moments where nude bodies interact in ways that are normally coded as sexual (like rubbing bearded faces on asses), but on the stage they lack eroticism. The forms of nude brown bodies and multicolored fabric is reminiscent of queer LA photographer Rakeem Cunningham’s work. As the lighting cues switch from blue-white tones to bright lights to seconds of total darkness, the audience sees Miguel Gutierrez and his fellow performers work in vain to form new connections between their bodies and cloth strung from the ceiling. Like the speaker in Rushin’s poem, Miguel and the other dancers are constantly at work: forming communicative labors, sick of seeing and touching, but unable to stop.

by Andrew Jankowski

Not even death marks the end of My Ass. In the last third of the show, the performers restore the stage by laying out the wrinkle-free fabrics like a politically-colored map and taking on lines that sounds like telenovela dialogue. As the audience is deprived of context, it’s hard to know what’s going on. Earlier the the audience laughed at scenes that didn’t seem humorous. This final scene seems like the most appropriate place for laughter. Every character dies by gun violence as they profess the undying connection of eternal love. A dog made of industrial clamps is slowly dragged across the stage as an esoteric, humorous monologue plays.

Both My Back and Miguel Gutierrez’s My Ass are immersive works, rich with meaning that will likely resonate deeply with viewers who aren’t traditionally represented in the world—not just literary and performance communities. While there’s an undeniable absurdity throughout My Ass, it’s not a work of comedy. It makes us question how we’ve built the values that have gotten us to this point, and leaves the viewer almost as weary as the performers—but better for being so directly challenged.

In Concert: Laura Ortman with Marcus Fischer

In Concert: Laura Ortman with Marcus Fischer
By Laurel McLaughlin

TBA19 Co-Artistic Director Erin Boberg Doughton welcomed the ample audience gathered in Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall to this opportunity to see musician, composer, and artist Laura Ortman (White Mountain Apache) and Portland-based musician and multimedia artist Marcus Fischer. When asked to perform for TBA19, Boberg Doughton recalled, Ortman was given the opportunity to work with a collaborator and immediately chose Fischer.

Laura Ortman play violin in front of yellow and red lights at TBA:19 Festival
Photo by Sarah Marguier

I had seen works by Ortman and Fischer on view at the Whitney Biennial—Ortman with My Soul Remainer, 2017, a 5-minute video from her album of the same name, featuring Apache violin improvisations in the Southwest terrain with dancer Jock Soto (Diné), and Fischer, with a monumental sound sculpture, Untitled (Words of Concern), 2017, that recorded artists’ reactions to the inauguration of Donald Trump, layering their words on a monumental reel from floor to ceiling. Both artists are known for their collaborative approaches, and indeed Ortman would be joined by long-time collaborator, composer and installation artist, Raven Chacon (Navajo), for the next TBA performance, but, as with all improvisational collaboration, I wondered beforehand about this seemingly simple idea of being in concert—supposedly aligned.

Marcus Fischer at TBA:19
Photo by Sarah Marguier

Together, the two walked on stage in darkness, approaching two separate sets. Ortman’s had a rug, armchair, looping pedals, microphone, loudspeaker, violin, bow, and wooden flute, and a variety of amps. Fischer’s had a synthesizer table, drum set, electric guitar, a spinning reel, and microphone. Wielding tuning forks, they began to “tune” the amps, bringing them into a gravely harmony against a neon pink, orange, and yellow background. With Ortman’s whispers and the grating of her bow against the electric violin, Fischer seemed to respond, echoing her with the strumming of his guitar strings against drumsticks. This echoing exchange continued, layering a kind of fabric between the two. Permeating beyond an alignment or echo, their concert ebbed and flowed in directions beyond two-dimensional metaphors. At times, a lyrical interlude from Ortman would cut across and through the undulating tapestry with that Fischer maintained throughout. In other moments, the two would speak in polyphony—Ortman over a loudspeaker and Fischer vibrating the edges of a spinning cymbal, looping back on one another. Having just relished Thomas Tallis’s 16th-century, 40-part choral work, Spem in Aliem in Ligia Lewis’s work Water Will (in Melody) an hour before, I couldn’t help but return to that bodily feeling of a wash of sound—one that displaces the artifice of concert and audience. One that, like the performers’ negotiations on stage and contrapuntal interaction, manifests within the vibrations seeping into my ears, despite my rational thought or not. One that when it ended, when the amps hummed as the only audible noise on stage, I was not left with the deafening silence of my own thoughts (thank goodness). It was one that two, and that was many, in countless directions, through limitless directions, and heard, felt, and experienced differently by every person in the room.

Laura Ortman and Marcus Fischer at PICA's TBA Festival, playing in front of red lights on stage
Photo by Sarah Marguier

Hospitality: On Food, Festivals, and Art

by Kala Zanis

Sunday’s panel on hospitality, moderated by Spencer Byrne-Seres, began with an acknowledgment of the native land on which PICA was built. Multnomah, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Cowlitz bands of Chinook, Tualatin Kalapuya, Molalla and many other Tribes were displaced by seizure and violent colonization. The displacement extends to the present. The warehouse space where the panel took place was introduced as a space that wasn’t designed to regard the human body as assembly and individual, but as a warehouse made for large trucks. Panelists remarked on the ongoing effort to translate a space for all bodies as an essential practice towards cultivating a sense of safety, hospitality, and belonging.

Beyond minimal accommodations legally proposed for the body, the directors and guests described their commitment to honoring the artistic body, singularly and communally. A crucial component of curating a space which expresses respect and reverence for bodies requires a critical look at the labor economy in artistic institutions from the people who administer them. The hope is to initiate artists, audience, and community into the space. The phenomenon of belonging is realized by an institution’s success in embodying an unconditional positive regard and sustainable interdependence with artists. The specific groups that panelists consider in this process include facilitators, museum audiences, and artists.

Panelists expressed a value for decentralizing power in institutions, moving forward through curation with “as little hierarchy as possible.” The task of curating artistic spaces in residential homes was said to present a sort of crisis in communicating the artistic intention of the space as the dominant mode over the domestic functions. The legitimacy of the domestic space seemed, to some, as a failing foundation for artistic community. Other community art directors discussed how they source and use second-hand material to furnish otherwise substandard spaces, like a dark basement, as spaces that welcome the body with all its needs, all its creativity.

A central effort in shifting the gaze of institutional hospitality has been offering communal meals and increasing access to food and personal goods throughout programming. The festival convenience store, open during program hours, was created to cater to miscellany and essentials. Historically, artistic institutions are spaces that cater exclusively to the white mind and body. The directors discussed their effort to solicit feedback from marginal communities that have been widely underserved and separated from integrating their experience in designing and participating in programming. Contemplating this insight was important in developing an idea of how the bodies of oppressed people read space, and how the resulting understanding either facilitates or hinders connective experiences.

Looking towards the future of hospitality in art, the directors questioned what the exact qualities of contemporary gallery are and who assumes the role of “arbiter” in establishing these norms. The imprint of such norms can be seen in the homogeneous publicity materials mailed out from museums. An imagination for hospitality in institutions is one step towards diverse, accessible, and nourishing creative spaces. As the panel came to a close, Director Roya Amirsoleymani addressed the audience and the panel, asking everyone to take what was discussed and use it to influence the spaces they occupy. The audience applauded before entering the festival’s outdoor common space. They gathered to sit at lunch tables, sheltered together, sipping cheap drinks in the rain.

Dystopian Cyberpunk Interpretive Dance With Notes of Blade Runner: Ligia Lewis’ Water Will (in Melody) at TBA 2019

Dystopian Cyberpunk Interpretive Dance With Notes of Blade Runner: Ligia Lewis’ Water Will (in Melody) at TBA 2019
by Ben Coleman

Photo by Ben Coleman

There’s a scene in the 1982 film Blade Runner where futuristic bounty hunter / cop-with-a-cool-jacket Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) shoots Pris (Daryl Hannah), a renegade “basic pleasure model” android with a penchant for violent gymnastics. In life, Pris is animated, sensual, and dangerous. But in the moment of her death she is reduced to a writhing tangle of jerking limbs, a broken toy wrapped in artificial flesh. If you have ever felt like that segment could be expanded on with (say, an hour of) interpretive dance, boy do I have the show for you.

Water Will (in Melody)‘s staging is kept to four women dancers on a black stage: choreographer and director Ligia Lewis performing the work “in creation with” Titilayo Adebayo, Dani Brown, and Susanne Sachsse. The set dressing is a single climbing rope. The lighting direction employs strobes, backlit fog, and even the house lights on occasion. The dancers wear a range of outfits: silk robes to plastic coveralls. They writhe and pirouette in harsh spotlights, moving through a series of routines, and occasionally interjecting a bit of spoken word here or a musical interlude there. At times, the performance felt frustratingly enigmatic—in particular, an extended German monologue that felt like a parody of high art obfuscation. But, in general, Water Will moved quickly, and few segments overstayed their welcome.

Most of the performance’s parsable dialogue has the quality of a DJ fixated on a particular sample: seemingly innocuous words and phrases looped and progressively distorted to hypnotic effect. There’s an element of performative femininity to many of these sequences, with the dancers spontaneously adopting chirpy voices, wide eyes, and mechanical smiles—as though they’ve temporarily become malfunctioning beauty pageant robots. Layered onto that mix is an almost Cronenbergian obsession with mouths, groins, and distorted physicality. The dancers move and are moved, often against their wills, displaying expressions of panic and disassociation in their eyes. They writhe on the ground, groping themselves in ways that might seem sexual if they weren’t so mechanically off-tempo.

Water Will is described in the program notes as “dystopian,” but I’d go a step further and say it’s distinctly cyberpunk. It invokes the image of a landfill for malfunctioning female bodies who were designed to be used up and discarded. Many are resigned to their fate, others are terrified, and some are seemingly complicit. The dancers wrestle, scream, pull hair, and reach for guidance, all of this inter-cut with frequent mechanical, inhuman tics and jerks.

Teasing out a narrative from a mostly non-verbal and, at times, deliberately abstract movement is either the fun part of interpretive dance or what makes it impenetrably vague. Water Will probably won’t make any new converts on that front, but there were some interesting through lines that even I, a relative neophyte, found intriguing. On a technical level, the dancers were agile, emotive, and either in concert or deliberately out of step with each other. The incidental music’s Brutalist baseline, sometimes augmented with angelic choral elements, complimented the mood of the piece effectively. The rope I could take or leave, but I don’t think it got in the way of anything.

Workshop: Vogue with PDXBall

by Ellen Robinette

People slowly trickle into a studio of cream walls and golden wood floors. They either take a seat or begin stretching / moving about slowly. Chatter flows freely, a friendly air established. As more join the space, it feels like a performance in itself as people scatter in various locations and poses. Daniel Giron enters and assembles everyone in a circle for an icebreaker — asking for people to share their name, preferred pronouns, and why they are there. A range of answers are given; some people love voguing and the culture, or come from a dance background; some are a part of PICA and were curious, while others come with a history in the club scene, and even some to perform in the kiki ball that evening.
Giron is dressed in a black sleeveless tank, patterned 80’s muscle pants, tube socks, and a gold chain. His voice is warm, his body expressive as his hands and arms gesture about gracefully.
He gives a history of ballroom and vogueing, distinguishing the two by explaining their origins. The three styles practiced are Old Way, New Way, and Vogue Femme, which is Giron’s expertise. After, everyone is led through a group stretch starting with the neck, rolling out the shoulders and chest, and finally arms out and down into a yoga-like lunge. Music is playing, people begin responding to it with free form movements as they observe themselves in the large mirror extending the length of one wall.
Giron pauses the music and takes a moment to acknowledge the privilege to learn vogue; something born in the streets and from marginalized groups that is now learned in a structured environment. He encourages people to be informed, to check out growing resources available on the culture. Giron is careful to explain everything — from the breakdown of the body going through poses, to the history of the poses themselves. He stresses that moves need to be made with intention and identity.
Hand mechanics consist of circles, taps, and waves. As Giron introduces each one, he is mindful of the differing skills levels while cracking jokes to keep the atmosphere fun. The room is filled with beautiful ripple of synchronized arms. Everyone practices the various mechanics with quiet focus, only Giron’s voice sounds with instructions or encouragement. He explains that you use movements to form a narration, maybe tell about yourself. “That’s what you can play with, and then you can tell a story with it.”
Music on — people start to wiggle to find their groove, starting at the hips per Giron’s lead. Arms alternate between out and tapping the shoulders, first slow then double time. Expressions on people’s faces are of concentration mixed with joy of moving, learning, pride, and energy found being a part of a group. Smiles crack as people really start to get into it, then reset into serious focus as new moves are introduced. Now comes the catwalk. Giron demonstrates by moving forward, slightly crouched and on tip toes, popping out a hip with each step. The participants are instructed to line up on the back wall, opposite of the mirror. The line moves forward in unison, a wave of snapping legs and pointed feet, until they reach the mirror to turn around and catwalk back. Each passing lap brings more comfortability and confidence, individual personalities come forth. The group is then broken up into threes to walk, with immediate support in response from those observing through clapping, snapping, and whooping.
The next piece taught is the duckwalk, in which you sit in a low squat and pulse / move to the beat. As people navigate the new move, or opt to sit out, Giron proposes to see who can last the longest while duckwalking. He explains that competition often is where the real magic of vogueing can occur. After the last participant is left ‘standing’, a water break is called. Music is left on and people openly move about, practicing, feelin’ themselves. Giron encourages “If you’re having fun with it, you’re doing it”.
Moving on to floorwork, which utilizes all of the body on the ground, Giron pushes that this is experimental and to try out anything. He demonstrates a slide / dive move that is met with a mix of confusion and laughter; people testing the boundaries of their body and mind. Giron notes that femme queens were also commonly sex workers, so you can see floorwork appear in other acts such as stripclubs. But floorwork is about confidence, not neccessarily sex appeal or being sexy, and he encourages to do what feels best. His demonstration of his personal floorwork style is met with ‘oos’ and cheers. Music on — the floor is open for free practice and a medley of different movements transpire. They are free yet calculated, again returning to that mix of focus and playfulness.
Lastly are dips, the sudden drop people are often familiar with in vogueing. Giron teaches them how to safely go about the move, gradually from standing to deep squat, a pivot, then lowering the rest of the body down with one leg and arms extended. People follow, cautiously but determined to reach the full dip. Once everyone is down, someone asks “How do you get up?” — to which another responds, “You never get up”. Giron is careful to show many variants / modifications to the move to have it be accessible. In the few remaining minutes people drop into their dips, and eventually it melts into movements encompassing the entire lesson. People are tired, but still eager to push on and continue expressing themselves through their newly learned vogueing practice.

TBA 2019: Photos of Cannupa Hanska Luger at c3: initiative

TBA 2019: Photos of Cannupa Hanska Luger at c3: initiative
by Briana Cerezo

Photo by Briana Cerezo

Last night Cannupa Hanska Luger’s A Frayed Knot, AFRAID NOT exhibition opened at downtown art gallery C:3 Initiative as an offsite performance/installation, presented as part of this year’s Time Based Arts Festival (TBA). Luger is a New Mexico-based artist and was raised on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. He works with mediums as varied as ceramics, fiber, steel, cut-paper, sound, and video in his installations and performances. Mercury photographer Briana Cerezo captured images of the performance at the installation’s opening and the installation itself, which will remain on view through Friday, October 18th.

Photo by Briana Cerezo

Photo by Briana Cerezo

Photo by Briana Cerezo

Photo by Briana Cerezo

Photo by Briana Cerezo

Photo by Briana Cerezo

Noche Libre DJs at TBA 2019: There’s More to This Multi-Disciplinary Collective Than Meets the Ear

Noche Libre DJs at TBA 2019: There’s More to This Multi-Disciplinary Collective Than Meets the Ear
by Sebastian Zinn

Colorful photograph of DJ in center frame.
Photo by Marin Hesely

The opening night, late-night performance of PICA’s Time Based Arts Festival (TBA), featured three members of the Noche Libre—a radical Latinx DJ collective—spinning records and new sounds for two glorious hours, throughout PICA’s cavernous mainspace. Festival attendees danced with friends and strangers after a long day of engaging with challenging performance art from the likes of Cannupa Hanska Luger, Eiko Otake, and Holland Andrews.

The three DJs representing Noche Libre were DJ Mami Miami (Chicana writer and regular Mercury contributer Emilly Prado), DJ Lapaushi (Ecuadorian DJ and visual artist Inés Paulina Ramírez), and DJ La Cósmica (writer, artist and DJ, Dez Ramirez). You can read their mission statement, discover upcoming shows, and find a full list of their members on their Facebook page. Stellar visuals for the performance were provided by Anabel Uyana (AKA Mofractal) a 2D and 3D motion graphics artist.

Group of individuals dancing in low colored light.
Photo by Marin Hesely

Speaking with Prado (a founding member of Noche Libre) a few hours before the show, Prado told me that the collective’s mission—to create space for Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, both on stage and among their audiences—extends beyond the DJ booth. All of the group’s members have aspirations besides DJing, but being part of the collective gives them a platform to support each other in other aspects of their lives. “Knowing you have a community, that has your back, makes us more powerful,” Prado said.
Around the world, dancehall music scenes try to create space for people to share embodied experiences safely, regardless of barriers like language, race, ethnicity, age, or gender expression. The members of Noche Libre, which translates roughly to “free night” or “night of freedom” strive to expand that endeavor and that “free night” to their audiences. Noche Libre’s eight members include writers, visual artists, entrepreneurs, activists, and music industry professionals. Their performance, opening this year’s TBA Festival, provided the perfect opportunity for them to further their expansive socio-political project: fostering diversity and inclusivity in all of their creative circles.

Photo by Marin Hesely

Good Food and Good Conversation: Two Essential Ingredients for a Block Party

Good Food and Good Conversation: Two Essential Ingredients for a Block Party
By Christine Gwillim

TBA Opening Night BBQ

TBA Opening Night BBQ
Photo: Mallary Wilson

What does it take to transform dinner into a party, and a party into a block party? For this year’s opening night at TBA, it was affordable tickets, BBQ, and some loud energetic tunes playing at the festival’s yearly half-block street-turned-beer garden. I showed up early, notebook in hand, expecting vendors, games and other usual block party activities. Instead, I met a simple buffet line, eager attendees, and electrified PICA staff for a simple, communal meal- and it was perfect.

TBA Opening Night BBQ

TBA Opening Night BBQ DJ: VNPRT
Photo: Leslie Vigeant

The food was filling and tasty, there was plenty of seating, and most importantly folks were there to be with one another. Strangers sat alongside one another at long wooden tables, groups of friends convened in pockets near the bar and water cooler. Everyone talked, even when the music was so loud we had to yell. We smiled at one another through bites of coleslaw and ribs (or jackfruit) trading plans for the festival and sharing how and why we came to the festival.

TBA Opening Night BBQ

Photo: Leslie Vigeant

A long, steady line snaked through the tables well into the party. At 8:30 there were still folks waiting to exchange tickets for a plate of BBQ. A person sat down next to me shortly after with a plate full of jackfruit, beans and rice and salad. I mentioned that I had eaten earlier, he asked if there had been meat- or if it was a vegan BBQ- there had, but it was gone- and he seemed fine with it.

I imagined a BBQ in my home, Austin TX, envisioning enraged attendees begrudgingly eating jackfruit instead of ribs. We talked about how we’d come from far- Texas and Arkansas, or near- Seattle and Portland locals- and why we came- to see new performances, to perform, to work, to stretch our imaginations. We were excited that the opening night meal was affordable, casual, and made space for us to meet people to connect with for the rest of the festival- and maybe, hopefully, beyond.

running, walking, standing: A Conversation with Mia Habib

running, walking, standing: A Conversation with Mia Habib
Laurel McLaughlin with Mia Habib

Group of individuals close to each other and interacting. Nudity.
Photo: Yaniv Cohen

Sitting with Mia Habib at Tiny’s Coffee near PICA, she tells me about ALL – a physical poem of protest. As she speaks, her curved gesticulations at one point embody the circle that she tells me is the operative choreographic shape of the work, and her voice automatically tunes to the background music—incrementally louder when the shop was rocking out, and settling quietly when languorous vibrations took over—micro-adjusting based on environment and people. These seemingly everyday gestures of sociality actually compose the real-time negotiations at the crux of Habib’s choreography. And in our conversation, I liked to think that perhaps these performative movements opened an iota of the bodily “micro-politics” of running, walking, and standing amongst the community performers in ALL – a physical poem of protest.

LM: At TBA19, you’re presenting ALL – a physical poem of protest at TBA:19 in collaboration with Shantelle Courvoisier Jackson, Tommy Noonan, and the Portland-based artist collective Physical Education. How did this this work come about, and how has it manifested in other spaces?

MH: The work originates from another work that premiered in 2015 named A song to…, where we worked with 16 professional dancers and 30 to 50 extras. So, we were about 60 people on stage. That piece for me, began when I was living in Tel Aviv when I was doing an MA in Conflict Resolution and Mediation. And this was at the same time when the Arab Spring started and the Occupy Movement began in the United States, and in southern Europe there were protests there as well. So, the summer of 2011, the protests started in Tel Aviv for social justice. It was a special moment because it was the first time that Israeli society openly said that they were positively influenced by the Arab world, and inspired to protest. So, people were out in the street and it was interesting to see how the protest turned into spectacle. And there was this belief that by being together and doing together, we can actually change something. There was this energy going on and I got interested in that energy created by the mass and bodies coming together in a physical space. This energy, then, is possible in a mass and is not possible with just a few bodies alone. I was fascinated in questioning what can a theater be, and then a performance, what space can that have when what’s going on outside is so powerful.

So, I started to work on a solo work at that moment, of trying to see how I could use what was going on with this energy that was going on outside and move it into a small theater. Then I was wondering how I can I find some ways of working with this that would create energy when the protests were over. That turned into something I called a mass solo, where basically it’s a solo that begins with one body in a two-space theater—there’s a stage and there’s an audience—and then it ends up being a one-space built-down theatre where the solo performer’s body is gone and the audience has taken over the performance. It’s called HEAD(s). With the terror attack on the 22nd of July in Norway, I saw these thousands of people coming together in public space and grieving, so I shifted my focus into the power of the mass, coming together in public space not only for protest, but the urgency to grieve together when the collective grief is, in a way, personal and collective, and they start to merge.

So, while working with the solo, I realized that for the next piece, I wanted to start with a mass on stage. That was the beginning, which led into A song to…, where I felt that a mass could be 16 dancers on stage. Then while we did some auditions, and at one point we had about 50 people running on stage, I was like, “Oh wow, we need at least 50 people to get this feeling that there could be hundreds or thousands more together.” These were the emerging points—the energy, the protesting body, and this ping-ponging between the singular and the mass—and this led us into thinking about the mass as being monumental.

It’s so big that somehow the human is erased, and it’s not about the nudity. The mass becomes abstract when you zoom out, it has a shape, then when you zoom in you see the different individuals. In the zooming out, it has this unifying, mass of lines and movement. The most unique we have is our bodies. The body is then like a projection screen where, through this repetition and ongoing insistence on this one score, for the audience there are many associations with which to travel when there are naked bodies, such as schools of fish, abstract lines, images of naked bodies—some of which aren’t pleasant historical images. But it’s this flow of association. In France when we did it, we had Kurdish female activists. And nudity there would’ve been an exclusionary choice. In some cases it makes more sense to be clothed, to be more inviting to more people. So, in looking at the monumentality of the mass, I also started to work on monumental body ideologies, and how these ideologies from the ‘30s and ‘40s, such as the New Soviet man, the New Jew in Zionism, the Übermensch in Nazism—they are these bodies that cannot be defeated. These ideologies that are coming back into focus. I think there is a way to touch these body images and crack them up somehow. There is a park in Oslo called the Vigeland Sculpture Park, and it opened in Norway during German Nazi occupation. It opened in the ‘40s and it portrays the monumental moments in life, like birth, death, aging, through these sculptures that portray the body ideology of the time. I worked with this question of: what would this park look like if it were made now? In a way, even though it’s stone, it’s white bodies portraying an older version of Nordic identity; so what would it look like if we worked with that information and really wondering what is the vulnerable body? What does the multiplicity of bodies mean? What about different bodies that are in the world, and what happens if those bodies build these monoliths that are so different from those from the ‘40s. Because this park is really seen as the jewel of our national heritage. That’s a lot of information, but those are the strands that came together for it.

And the end of that piece, there is a score that could go on forever—we call it the “radar”—and it’s a spiral that could keep on going for a long time. Doing the end of that piece, it has the potential to generate energy, and people both doing and watching it have very emotional reactions to it that can only happen when there are a certain amount of bodies. So, I chose to isolate that score and make this into the piece we have here now, which is ALL – a physical poem of protest. And the title, in some places works and in some places is maybe provocative like, “who is all? What does that mean?” In some ways, I have a problem with the title and I’d like to keep it that way. It doesn’t add up in a way. What for me is very exciting with this work is the fact that the work changes depending on every place in which it comes in contact with. For me, it’s research. It can be 10 minutes long, or for longer. Here, we’ll try it for 3 hours at PICA. So, first, it’s the duration. The second, is the placing of the audience—we’ve done different things, looking frontally at the work, around the work, or participating inside it. And third is the place—it can be in a gallery, as part of a protest, and then in other public spaces. We never know the work before it happens; so, in that sense it’s a premiere each time. It touches an urgency that occurs in public manifestations. You know, you don’t rehearse public manifestations—you can facilitate. You’ll see, it’s quite formal, with a clear shape. That also relates to calling it a physical poem—creating this distance to think about what a public manifestation can be. But within that formality and pre-set score, there is real-time negotiation with those that are participating. And I will say, that it is really a negotiation of difference, because we are gathering people who we don’t know in advance and many of them don’t know one another. Even though we follow the same directions of walking, running, standing, we walk differently, we have different perspectives of speed, and we take information differently. So, there’s really a real-time negotiation between strangers of doing this together and accepting that we do it differently, but allowing ourselves to build this energy together and engaging in something bigger than ourselves. And then we leave each other, and we’re still strangers to one another. We still don’t know each other. That’s very interesting in looking at public manifestations. There’s this huge emotion and belief that the world can be changed in a second, and then we leave each other and that was it somehow. Of course, change can happen, but in that moment, it’s something else. This is what I’m hoping the piece can tap into.

And then, by going into different contexts, it’s the idea that we connect to local artists and there’s a trace of each place that way. Here, it’s Physical Education with keyon gaskin, so there is a sense of bringing community into it, and of course, also PICA. When we did it in New York, you could see the Movement Research community, also with Shantelle Jackson’s community. In Europe, in Bordeaux, we’ve been a part of a feminist protest outside the opera. There it was serving under a cause. Then the American choreographer in Berlin, Jeremy Wade, and another artist, Jo Koppe borrowed the score and protested against the treatment of LGTB people in Chechnya. So. they did it in front of the Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park, and also in front of the Russian embassy. There, the score was the protest. The extreme opposite was when we did it at the Théâtre de la Ville, where we did it for 10 minutes. It was a performance where people were sitting, where you come in and then go out. From that I realized that that’s not the frame I’m interested in for this work. It’s clear to me that it needs another kind of meeting in the community, so I’d say more and more that it’s a kind of community project. This took me time to realize because it came from A song to… and that was a performance on a big stage. So, we’re discovering what this piece is and what it cannot be, in a way. One of the exciting things about being in Portland and working with PICA, who has this amazing festival project, my work might fit very well.

Two individuals in choreographic rehearsal for artist. Leaning on each others forearms.
Photo: Sarah Marguier

LM: I think they’re complementary situations. And you’ve delved into the work so beautifully here, so thank you. I’m curious about the language that you use in the title that you mentioned. Could we return to what “ALL” means and embodies for you? I use both terms in the dual sense that Susan Leigh Foster does when referring to social choreographies—in that we cannot parse thinking from the body, or physicality from thought.1

MH: If you think of the physical aspect of it, when we did A song to… my initial idea was just, “we need 50 more bodies on stage,” and I thought, “Oh, they should look different,” as if the body and who the person is are different. Then when people arrived I thought, “Oh, it’s people, with histories, who talk differently, take space differently, move differently, have different communities, have different conceptions of society.” And slowly, that took over for me, who people are, rather than what it looks like. Through doing A song to… in different places, we had some amazing experiences that, in the beginning, was just a default. In Germany, for example, we had a homeless man and then a former policeman running and walking together and we didn’t realize until after. We had, for instance, also at some point, several performers, and then those that are isolated from people. Somehow there was a large variety of backgrounds of people and how they function in society. That became important. Then also how people negotiated the space. And then also bringing in people who perceive the world and information differently, like someone who is 55 but lives at home—but not to point this out as different, but finding a way of facilitating the group—to find a language for everyone, rather than doing something special. So, in that work of negotiating difference and creating space that wouldn’t signal out people, that became the methodology. Bringing in the word “all” became about who can that person be. In the world of dance, when you have different bodies on stage, I hear my colleagues saying, “wow, it’s so diverse.” And I say, “What do you mean, ‘diverse,’ when everyone on the stage is between 25 and 35, and just because they look a little bit different—what is diversity? It doesn’t take much before we say, “Oh, they’re all on stage.” But I think no, which bodies aren’t on stage? So, I thought bringing this word “ALL,” makes you think of those that aren’t on stage, because there is always someone who is not on stage. You will never get everyone on stage. How wide is that idea of who that can be? Also then, when it comes to nudity, since we’re naked on stage—there is this thing in dance that even within dancers there are certain bodies that are more easily undressed on stage than others’ bodies. In a way, we should be past it but we’re not. There are still questions about what dancer’s body should look like. You can be trained as a professional dancer all your life, but still not look like some idea that people might have. With the idea of a dancer or body in general, there are so many bodies that are hidden, or choose to hide themselves because of this pressure from society. That’s important in this work—not pushing that, but allowing it. Then to take the problematic side of it—an example of the failure of it in a way—was when we did it in Paris. We had to find the volunteers in Paris ourselves, but the outreach part of it wasn’t strong enough. So, we ended up with mainly only white bodies on stage. And in the European context, Paris especially, has had many protests concerning how non-white bodies are treated. You cannot, not anywhere, and especially not in Paris, come and show a piece called ALL – a physical poem of protest, and only come with white people. That’s not acceptable. However, in a way it becomes a mirror of a society, and who the network of these venues are. but on the other hand, in that sense the title was problematic. I wanted to cancel the piece, but it wasn’t possible. In retrospect, I really thought about how you manouever that. I don’t have an answer, but it’s to give an example of when the title is a bit dangerous.

Group of people during choreographic performance leaning in on each other
Photo: Sarah Marguier

LM: This notion of collectivity begins in the workshop phase, so could you share your working methods and strategies with volunteers and collaborators?

MH: Before we start working, we lay out some rules, which worked out great since Physical Education read them out loud, so it almost became kind of a performative act, which I thought was really nice. In a way, it might feel a bit strict to start by mentioning rules, but it’s a way of setting up a safe space and protecting people from each other, so that they can really feel safe. It’s simple rules about what’s acceptable and what’s not in the space. Then, what we do is that we work in a circle from the beginning and do something that might look like a folk dance step, and we talk while we do this. I talk about the piece a bit. This holding hands, creation of a circle, and talking, is about how we can only do this together—it’s not possible to do alone, or with two, or even, I would argue with three. Then part of it is also that when we do this, we will always step on someone’s feet. It implements a space of “it’s okay,” we’re not here to do it perfectly or synchronize it, but we’re opening spaces, and taking down certain nerves in the space. Slowly we work through the different elements in the piece. Sometimes we try to give as little information as possible so that it’s more through doing, and slowly, for the group to grow with it. The main tool we work with is listening. So, if you can listen to the group, you’re good, and you can just do it.

LM: And, what does a “physical poem” mean to you?

MH: I think that for me, there is something about the piece being only bodies—there is no sound—only our breath and feet, and repetition. This relates to something I didn’t mention yet, but the locomotive of protest is walking, standing, running, and that’s the basis of the piece.2 Through the physicality of all of these bodies, the audience can transcend into different places. They can associate and see and get into different states. But it’s all through insisting in physical action. Then also, because of its formality and basic physical actions, it turns into a poetic space. Through time, it opens onto many other spaces. It’s not pointing directly at something you should look at. This word of poem can speak to how there’s not a direct link between protest and cause. It’s not one cause.

LM: Could you discuss how you’re envisioning that this physical poem will unfold within the space of PICA, and perhaps more largely within the city of Portland?

MH: First, I think why I think it’s interesting to come to the U.S. with it in general with it, is this history that the U.S. has with protests, coming together, and community dances. The history here very interesting to see how the people join in contrast to Europe. And then the political moment that the U.S. is in now—it’s not a coincidence that many people from the U.S. have an interest in this work. It’s the work I wanted to come here with. I’m not so interested in coming with a random piece and touring it, but somehow, from what I understand from a lot of curators here, is that they want to use their spaces as an act of protest. They want to give visibility to those that the current leadership works against. So, I think that maybe this piece, rather than being about Mia Habib coming, that actually the piece can offer a frame for people who are already here, so that they can take space. For Portland specifically, my interest was not about the city specifically, but about knowing keyon gaskin. He worked on A song to… and since I started working with dance, I like to tour to places where I get invited. I like to go where I’m invited and where I know someone—to go with this idea that things can come of connections and friendships that are not purely professional. I’ve been curious about Portland and the TBA festival because of keyon’s work. Then I also got curious about PICA, and understanding that they have a certain generosity in how they operate. That interests me, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, these spaces that are interested in more than just showing the work, but links to the local community and this generous inclusive approach. And now I’m understanding as well, more about the protests in Portland too, and the history here with its hippie roots.

LM: Yes, the history here is multilayered and merits embodied investigation in terms of its protest histories, especially in light of recent protests by Antifa and the alt-right group Proud Boys. So, turning to protest, I read that some of your operative words for the workshop are notions of plasticity, mobility, site-sensitivity, and soft borders. Thinking of these ideas and hearing you speak about the work, it seems that ALL – a physical poem of protest carries much relational weight that then affects the political and social realms and I’m hoping you can elaborate upon this directionality of protest.

MH: I think this comes back to the practice that I’ve developed over many years in other works, through insisting on an action or physicality, this develops a micropolitics. Through this pointing at something political through a very clear or simple action or intervention, which for me, always comes through a body, but maybe from the outside it’s not always apparent that it’s from the body which is there. It might trigger or reveal some power structures that are already happening outside. A very obvious example would be my work from 2007 with two other artists that’s informed a lot of what I do—it was with Swedish Indian dance artist Rani Nair and French Palestinian artist Jassem Hindi—on a project called WE INSIST. I still work with Jassem Hindi on a project called Stranger Within, but one of the things we did was make a mirror installation on the border of Mexico and the U.S. in 2009. It was in Mexicali, and we thought that we were going to do something with our bodies, but when we were there we wanted to stage another kind of intervention. So, we put these 3-meter high, 6-meter wide mirrors on the border wall, it look as if there was a whole in the wall, with the image being distorted because there were different mirrors. That was the installation, but it was more the act of making it and what happened around us in making it that was important. Even though we had a permit, I remember this moment when I was hanging over the fence to drill from the American side, the American border police came in a helicopter and hung over me. They wanted to show that this was not okay, even though we had a permit. From this action, we got in close contact with the neighbors and we also saw these professional jumpers crossing so that others could do that too. It started conversations for the people living there. Our presence created a kind of third party—like a mediation or stretch—where people could talk about something in a slightly different way. This is something we’re exploring in different ways—Jassem and I just did research in the north of Norway where we traveled in a camping car and we performed in people’s houses during dinner. So, we perform and they cook for us and then we eat dinner. We come into the house and the performance is always on the verge of the unknown, or an uncomfortable place for the people who invited us. It’s kind of unsettling. Then during the dinner, because it’s unsettling, it opens space for completely other conversations. In one house we started talking about witch burning after 5 minutes into the dinner. So, it’s this working with opening spaces where other conversations can appear. So to answer your question, it begins with a micro interaction that can open something which touches macropolitical or social questions. Then, sometimes other works begin with the big questions, but they’re all concerned with the physical somehow.

LM: How do you imagine the audience’s relationship to the work in this iteration—that perhaps views, stands alongside, or is in solidarity with the work?

MH: We’re talking a lot about it. What I’m understanding here is that the audience can be quite participatory and active, so for now with the inside version, we’re imagining the audience not sitting frontally, but surrounding the performance a bit. Then, how or if we’ll work with participation—we’ll work out over the next few days. There’s so many ways to open that up and we don’t know yet. This, for me, is what’s both scary and great, that we have to make it again. But I would like to get to a place of participation.

Black and White. Individuals blurred out walking around.
Photo: Kaare Johannesen

1See Susan Leigh Foster, “Choreographies of Protest,” Theatre Journal, Vol. 55, No. 3 (October 2003): 395–412.
2For more on the everyday movements in the work, see Gia Kourlas, “A Protest Dance of Everyday Moves and Volunteer Nudes,” The New York Times, 1 May, 2019:

Portland Monthly’s Top Picks for TBA 2019

Portland Monthly’s Top Picks for TBA 2019
by Kiva Hanson, Fiona McCann, and Conner Reed
Published in Portland Monthly

Nudity, group screaming sessions, and an intense soundscape
Nudity, group screaming sessions, and an intense soundscape: This Bridge Called My Ass is pure TBA.

Ready for some mind-exploding, head-scratching, gloriously boundary pushing contemporary art and performance? Then you’re in luck: TBA is here and has all manner of goodies lined up for its 17th iteration. Bringing in bold work from all over the globe, this year also boasts oodles of local talent: catch Anthony Hudson/Carla Rossi’s Looking for Tiger Lily—Cher, Pocahontas, Peter Pan, and more—while YGB Portland’s Feeling of Home features art installations, video projections, live performances, and lounges, reconstructing “what home and healing can feel like for local, intergenerational Black and Brown artists and communities.” And if you’re mourning the loss of TBA’s long-running and beloved Critical Mascara, you’re not going to want to miss Brandon Harrison’s Back to School Kiki Ball, showing off Portland’s bold and beautiful ballroom scene. Beyond that, we’ve perused the program and picked out the five shows that have us pumped this year.

Holland Andrews (Like a Villain), Hello, I’ll See You Later
9 p.m. Thursday Sept 5, PICA (15 NE Hancock St), Free
TBA opens with the ethereal soundscapes and eerie, vulnerable vocals of composer, vocalist and erstwhile Portlander Holland Andrews. Electronic ambient music, operatic vocals, and a clarinet meet with the solitude of Andrews on stage, like some indie film dream sequence. Get ready to get vulnerable.

Fin de Cinema: Marcel Camus’s Black Orpheus
10 p.m. Fri, Sept 6, PICA on Hancock, $9–15
Marcel Camus’s 1959 Oscar and Palme d’Or winner relocates the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice in the favelas and carnival streets of Rio de Janeiro in glorious high drama. Famed for its bossa nova soundtrack, the film gets a new live score from local musicians Amenta Abioto, POPgoji, and Akila Fields with Noah Bernstein.

Miguel Gutierrez, This Bridge Called My Ass
8:30 p.m. Sat-Sun, Sept 7-8, 4 p.m. Sun, Sept 8, PICA Annex (15 NE Hancock St), $16-$20
Inspired by the anthology of feminist essays by women of color, This Bridge Called My Back, this performance grapples with identity, Latinx cultural tropes, and the white avant-garde. It’s got LOTS of nudity, group screaming sessions, and an intense soundscape. We aren’t entirely sure what’s going on, but the telenovela ending, done entirely in lingerie and complete with choreographed fight scenes, seems worth the entrance price alone.

Ahamefuele J. Oluo, Susan
6:30 p.m. Fri-Sat, Sept 14-15, Winningstead Theatre, $20–25
The Seattle musician-slash-standup takes on his mother in a new musical “about the failings of men and the endurance of women.” Now I’m Fine, Oluo’s last stab at musical theatre, earned high marks from Ben Brantley at the Times, who called it “dizzying,” “engaging,” and “a grand hybrid” of comedy and autobiography. Susan promises “a tragedy about the most comically optimistic person on Earth,” set to original compositions by Oluo and other members of his band Industrial Revelation.

Kara-Lis Coverdale, “DIAPASON” for Pipe Organ
6:30 p.m. Sun, Sept 8, First Presbyterian Church, $20–25
Wanna hear a Canadian shred on the pipe organ in a High Victorian Gothic church? We thought so! Coverdale is a bona fide genius (a student at Toronto’s Royal Academy of Music since she was five years old) and her last full-length LP (aptly titled Sirens) is a treasure chest of drippy, time-bending delights. For TBA, she’s hauling out an all-new composition written specifically for the First Presbyterian Church’s Jaeckel pipe organ.

We don’t have illusions that absurdity isn’t the ground floor: A Conversation with Miguel Gutierrez

We don’t have illusions that absurdity isn’t the ground floor: A Conversation with Miguel Gutierrez
By Laurel McLaughlin

Miguel Gutierrez spoke with me over Skype about his forthcoming West Coast premiere of This Bridge Called My Ass for PICA’s TBA19. Act 1: Neon lights, stretched spandex, furious typing, skin rubbing against the contours of the floor; Act 2: a telenovela with twists on twists—these were just some of the riveting and disparate movements that I half-expected to slink in the corners of the screen as we spoke. Miguel generously shared more than a modicum about this elastic work that generates connectivity in the room amongst performers and viewers alike, while also clearing the ground floor for the possibility of disconnections, and even absurdity.

Paula Lobo for The Chocolate Factory

Paula Lobo for The Chocolate Factory

Laurel McLaughlin (LM): This Bridge Called My Ass, 2019 was co-commissioned by The Chocolate Factory, Centre National du Danse in Pantin, PICA/TBA, The Walker Art Center, Wexner Center for the Arts, Bates Dance Festival, Kelly Strayhorn Theater, and Montpellier Danse, and premiered at the American Realness festival this past January. What are you looking forward to in this iteration at the TBA19 festival? And how might this experience differ from your previous premiere, Last Meadow, at TBA in 2009 with the Powerful People?

Miguel Gutierrez (MG): This is our first tour in the U.S.—we did the piece in New York in January and then France in June—and what was very apparent for me in performing this piece in Europe and France specifically, was that for the first time in my work, this is a piece that lives inside of its own terms. Without putting too fine a point on it, or using this language in a trendy way, I was definitely aware of the way in which the work resisted or confronted a colonial gaze and confounded that gaze. Or, at least, that’s my perception—maybe I’m projecting. I don’t know what people in the audience actually thought. But the way that the audience was in France versus New York, the work was existing in a realm of values that is “other” than what those audiences normally see.

Ian Douglas

Ian Douglas

To then bring it back to the U.S. and then go to Portland is a really interesting shift. It’s been about 6 years since I performed at TBA, and so I imagine there’s been a demographic shift in Portland, but I don’t know. It’s rep is that it’s a really white place and I’ve been sniffing a bit through social media to see if I can identify at least a Latinx community—which it seems like there is one. I hope they’ll come to the show! And even if they don’t, there’s both a kind of conceptual expansion that occurs by bringing the work to different audiences and then there’s the logistics of a spatial expansion in a space that’s quite different from where we did it in New York. That was part of our bringing the piece to Europe—learning about how we can adapt the work.

LM: This next question segues into something you just mentioned—the legacy of colonialism. So, in the work, Alvaro Gonzalez, John Gutierrez, Xandra Ibarra, nibia pastrana santiago, Evelyn Sanchez Narvaez—are “mapping” an “unstable terrain of bodies,” as you say in the description. The first action, “mapping,” struck me as a colonialist impulse—as a means to contain or circumscribe within Western knowledge—and yet, the work composes a prescient resistance with its instability. Could you discuss these concepts of mapping and instability?

MG: Words that came up a lot when we were working were landscape, ocean, islands—these land or terrain-like terms, or earth-based terms. A lot of that was coming from Stephanie Acosta, the dramaturg, who was in a privileged position of watching us, endlessly, through a zillion improvisations that we did and continue to do—because the first chunk of the performance is improvised. I think that for a while now, independent of this piece, I’ve been getting at a practice improvisationally and choreographically that is about reframing values or expectations about what a conventional visuality might be. I think earlier in my career I was position-y, or saw this as my platform or whatever, but now I just see it as my work. And so, I think there was already an interest in illegibility.


Ian Douglas

With this piece, because it was about bringing this particular group together really consciously, and the way in which that was, for lack of a better term, a turning point, it foregrounded Latinx identity and very quickly the conversations turned to, “well we can’t force unity amongst us.” One of the strange histories about the history of that term “hispanic,” is that it’s a governmental term almost, which is about conglomerating disparate cultures within one term, inside the political and social context of North American convenience. That’s true, but it’s also true that I’ve looked to other Latin American people and cultures for affinities. So, there’s that double bind when you’re existing in a minoritarian culture where you’re fucked by the terms available, but also you use them and you work in and across them. Something about that kind of inability to arrive at a singular representation of identity, or to arrive at a singular representation of people being together—that became critical to have in the piece. And, you’re not asking this, but I’ll offer it, my own desire to move past—that’s maybe insulting or patronizing maybe—but my desire to situate my relationship to these questions outside of a conventional discourse of testimony, or pride, or resistance in this kind of way that, let’s say This Bridge Called My Back really claims, and really necessarily so, was important—and in the way that all minoritarian identities have these discourses running through them where people assert a certainty from another position. I have a lot of understanding of that, and the appropriateness of the time and place for that discourse; but inside the studio and inside the art-making practice, it becomes more confusing for me to live in that certainty. Everything about my relationship to artmaking has always been about taking an idea and knocking it off of its podium.

LM: Going back to the term hispanic and how that was an impetus or departure for the work, you mentioned in the context video for the piece that you all recognized failures or ruptures in the term, which was then followed by unbridled “play” in rehearsal with boundaries and limits. Do these negotiations take place prior to every performative iteration?

Ian Douglas

Ian Douglas

MG: Yeah definitely, it got woven into the piece. I pushed us into an improvisational practice. I resisted directing in a conventional way—to the chagrin of the performers. I think halfway through the process when we were finishing up a residency in France last summer there was definitely a pushback from the performers when they were like, “No really, what are we doing? What are we moving towards and what is the shape of this?” And what I was sort of interested in, and what kept coming up was, that I didn’t want to shape it, or that I didn’t want to put my hand on it in this legible way of a choreographer. It felt important to me that we could live, in as long as we could stand to, in the hell of not-knowing. In doing that, ironically, what did happen, because we did the practice so many times, was that these other systems of communication came up and took over. Within that, I could make distinctions between this and that. And we came up with a list of words that led the improvisation. And for each run we focused on four or five of those words, and then the next time it would be another set. They’re not esoteric terms. They’re really action-based. And that was coming out of me observing what we were doing with each other, not what I was demanding of the group. I would watch and think, “Well it seems like we kind of lean into this action and that,” so let’s foreground that. It was this reverse engineering process. Part of that was being a person that performs in the work—for better or worse—I can’t hold a compositional sense of the whole thing, ever, when we perform the first chunk of the piece. It’s always a bit nerve-wracking taking that chance, but also liberating. It’s not about me dictating, but us negotiating in real time, the possibilities. In that part of the piece, we’re committed in engaging this practice, not about arriving at a singular image—and this can be confusing for an audience. We kind of have that, but it doesn’t resolve. For me, that felt beautifully analogous to the experience I was having, of irresolute searching that’s committed to itself.

LM: Part of that searching came through the atmosphere that’s created by the fabrics connecting and disconnecting performers to one another, and the neon lighting, designed by Tuçe Yasak, that cast sickly and simultaneously beautiful glows across the performers. How did this set—or terrain—create a sense of chaos, but also understanding among performers?

Paula Lobo for The Chocolate Factory

Paula Lobo for The Chocolate Factory

MG: The materials and fabrics came out of a response to our first rehearsal space in New York and people were using yoga mats and covering themselves. And I thought that was interesting. Then we were rehearsing across from ABC Carpet & Home, so we did a field trip one day and I noticed that carpets and shags that were very colorful really compelled all of our attention—I mean that’s what the store fucking is! And then the next day I said, “Okay, let’s meet at Spandex World,” a fabric store in the garment district in New York and we spent a couple hours there thinking about the color palette. We wanted materials to feel like little territories—they’re abstract enough but really tangible. I had written this essay about abstraction and I was at war with myself and continue to be about abstraction and content as this binary. So, I was interested in that in the fabrics. I was resistant to using the materials in this graphic, beautiful way. There’s a version of the piece where we could’ve made it beautiful, but I quickly was like, “No, I don’t want to have some stupid reverence.” It’s not about intending to destroy, but it’s not about some stupid, body-object thing because we’re people with stuff, and it showed a negotiation between us and the world. I really hate fake objectification of “the body”—even that term makes me nauseous. So, it evolved and you know, you just follow it.

LM: Turning to the title of the work, it comes from This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, a third-wave feminist anthology featuring scholarship by Audre Lorde, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, the Combahee River Collective, among others, and edited by Cherrie Moraga and Anzaldúa. The anthology challenged the preceding legacy of white, heterosexual feminism. How does This Bridge Called My Ass build upon, react to, or depart from this pivotal scholarship?

MG: Well it’s funny, I went to see Cherrie Moraga read a couple of weeks ago and I mentioned my show and she was like, “Huh,” and then was like, “send me information,” and I still have to do that; but I was nervous. It’s a fraught question for me. I’m a dude citing this feminist text—let me be really clear about that—but I used to walk around San Francisco as a 19-year-old, carrying that book around. Pre-phone, whenever I had a moment, I would just sit and read things. There were certain people in that book—for example, Audre Lorde with “Open Letter to Mary Daly”—who were so powerful for me. This was inside of a context when I was super involved in queer activist stuff and there were particular delineations around race, identity, ethnicity within that city. My sister was involved with a very butch, Mexican dyke, who was really embedded in the Chicano queer scene. I was kind of lost, I think, in the world of white punk queerness. So, there was a lot happening, and I was trying to assert myself in that world, but I was also confused and 19. But some of those feelings and questions continue to roil me and the culture.

Ian Douglas

Ian Douglas

I was aware a couple years ago, with the phenomenon of the Facebook rant that some people employ, that this language and writing has been with us for some time now. And now, as a 48-year-old fag, I can read this rant, both as testimony and the reality of what this person’s experiencing, but I also see the art historical, cyclical nature of it. And a lot of that is because shit’s still fucked up. And part of it’s that we have a narrow conception of how to talk about certain things. We’re limited by language, while at the same time it gives us voice. And working in dance and performance, I incorporate language into my work, and I don’t see dance as non-verbal language. I see dance as a mode of perception, and a way of enacting multiplicity and interiority. And my experience with my interiority is that it’s conflicted all the time. I’m always in a sturm und drang internally and emo all the time. So, I can be in the studio and imitate a million voices and dance like a pig and all of these kind of things at once and there’s a kind of lawlessness for me in the studio practice. And I also understand that that idea is critique-able, because who has the right to think that they can do anything? But I think it’s incumbent upon me as an artist to hold an awareness of how these conversations exist in culture and also be aware of my own feeling about it. A lot of times when I align myself with certain political positions, it’s a strategic solidarity. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, but for all intents and purposes I stand on the fucking line and try to understand the nuances. I’m always in this conversation about how these things co-exist because there’s a way in which politics is extraordinarily un-imaginative and extraordinarily boring. So, there’s only so much of that kind of thinking or enacting that I’m interested in, before I get really fucking crazy, and I want to take my clothes off and poop on the floor.

LM: Alongside that anthology paratext, the work also incorporates Latin-American songs and the melodramatic form of telenovela in what I believe is Act 2—could you share how these operate in the work?

Ian Douglas

Ian Douglas

MG: Sure, well the songs are really present in the first chunk because we use the computers to generate the soundtrack in real time and we manipulate them with DJ programs and Ableton. Then the telenovela is in a section where we arrange the space in a different way and do the telenovela. It’s often the case for me that I really hold these two different perspectives on something. I’m a triple earth sign, so I’m very blunt and unsubtle about the way I think about things and I’m interested in something for the way it can be blown apart, and then also for the way it can be sewn together. I see these both as fictions, and frameworks for presenting something. And I mean fiction, not as a lie, but a way of telling a story.

And, you know, while all this is happening in the studio, my boyfriend, who is not Latino—he loves Mexican telenovelas. And he often watches an hour a day just to practice Spanish and I started watching one with him. My mom watches telenovelas and I used to watch when I was younger, although they were never a huge part of my childhood. And I just started—I was into the ridiculousness of it, because it’s so stereotypical with gender and power, and also it was so wonderfully absurd. This also happens in American soap opera, but there’s an extremity in telenovela—for example, this motherfucker was broke and now she’s rich, and she fell from a helicopter, and landed on a coffin, she stays alive, she wears a wig, she escaped the thing, she shot her captor who she had a kid by… So, there’s these insanely elaborate choreographically complex narratives that just really don’t trouble themselves with reality or continuity sometimes. And I thought, this is a really amazing avant-garde text. Here’s a perfect example of this incredibly weird cut-up, but it’s so situated in identity, language, form, and role. We all know, the actors know, the audience knows, that these are all just roles. But we surrender to it. And again, there’s this double-consciousness when you engage with it, and this is a pretty sophisticated mode. It’s not as simple as suspension of disbelief where this person becomes that thing, because it’s ridiculous and we laugh. Some of the old ones are really nutzo, pre-CGI, and really thrilling. So, I felt strongly about honoring that legacy of absurdity that exists in Latinx culture and that I hold within me.

And, I haven’t foregrounded this aspect of myself in previous work, but I’ve always felt that that kind of interest in magical realism or ridiculousness is a kind of outgrowth of my Latin American identity. I mean, if you’ve ever driven in Bogotá, you’re aware of the disorder. There’s no lines and everyone fends for themselves. It’s a logic that I understand. I get that insanity. If you’re in Brazil and you stop at a red light, you go, why would you wait? If you’re in any Germanic country in Europe and you do that, they look at you like you’re the anti-Christ. For me, this ridiculous logic reflects the world. And for me, the logic of North America doesn’t hold. Any South American or Latin American person is so not duped by overbearingness of imperialism. They’ve experienced it first-hand and been fucked-over by it. So, it’s like we don’t have illusions that absurdity isn’t the ground floor. Like here, people are like, “Oh my God, Trump, things are so crazy.” But it’s like, bitch, things were always crazy. And yes, this is next level crazy, but it was always here. Sorry, I’m going really far away from the question, but it felt interesting to me to welcome this literal product of Latin American culture into the room because it was a way for me to address and acknowledge the dynamics that were happening within the room. Instead of avoiding, I was just like let me exaggerate the fuck out of it. And again, Stephanie asked, “What happens if you take literalism to its end point? You’re back in abstraction.” And it really landed when she mentioned that one day in rehearsal. I completely heard that and it felt really generative.

Ian Douglas

Ian Douglas

LM: The combination of these references you’ve described creates a dense spatial, embodied, and temporal configuration—oscillating between exhaustion and pleasure, exhausted pleasure, and pleasured exhaustion—for both the dancers (I would imagine), and the audience. So, could you tell me a bit about this interplay between audience and dancers, exhaustion and pleasure in This Bridge Called My Ass?

MG: Yeah, that’s interesting. I don’t know that everyone is pleasured in watching! I definitely never use the word exhaustion in the process, even though it does happen in the practice. I don’t use it intentionally because it’s tempting to perform exhaustion as a kind of marker, or value, or effort, in dance.

I delight in the audiences that are delighted and that stay with it, but I feel like it’s important for each person to have their own ride and that includes being pushed away from what they’re seeing. In this particular piece, it’s literally because one of us has draped a big, stupid curtain in front of them. And again, that’s very intentional. That’s an ethic of the piece. Not to frustrate the audience, but to acknowledge that you’re not going to see the whole picture here. We don’t even know what the whole fucking picture is, so neither do you. So, I think for the person who thinks dance is a series of images, it’s a very confusing piece. And I think for the person who wants to understand the piece, it will be confounding and I hope it will be confounding. This idea of audience—it’s always moving. We look at the audience and sometimes it’s playful, sometimes it’s seductive, sometimes it’s just looking back. Sometimes I feel, especially after doing the show in France, really aware of the ways in which I don’t want to make assumptions about the audience, and I’m really committed about the practice of the group together. So, there is this real feeling of, you are invited to observe, witness, and if you feel like it’s including you—cool. Maybe that inclusion exists across cultural, ethnic, or racial lines, but I don’t presume that it always does. I know Latin Americans who saw the show in New York and they were like, “Oh my God,” and then I know there were some who were like, “meh.” In a weird way, I’d love to say that every Latinx person who would see it would be affirmed, but I don’t think that’s true. It isn’t meant to be a universal Latinx piece by any stretch of the imagination. So, it’s a dynamic question and I don’t have one answer for it in the same sense that I’ve ever felt that any one audience has one response. The ecology of the audience is so different from show to show. And this piece really foregrounds that, even though it’s always true. There are going to be the people who are with it and the people who are like, “what the fuck.”

LM: Your point about certain things being available and others not for the audience, and the variance within that, feels revelatory to understand about contemporary performance.

Ian Douglas

Ian Douglas

MG: Definitely. As we’re seeing so many artists of color claim their space within the avant-garde—for lack of a better term—the inclusion and exclusion gets really heightened, but those questions were always there. When the white avant-garde was claiming universals, we know that this is a naïveté, we know this is a fiction. For me, it’s not as simple as, “I’m only able to identify with this kind of work and not that.” No. Because I think desire is really hard to legislate. And there is plenty of super-fucking white art that is gorgeous, and I claim as a forebearer to my practice. But I also understand that the value assigned to a certain way of being within a form has everything to do with power, has everything to do with supremacy, has everything to do with tradition, and has everything to do with who was the critic at that time, or who was the hot dude who everyone wanted to fuck at that time—or woman that everyone wanted to fuck. I understand how art unfolds in the world. That is playing out in the audience, too, in each individual person’s conception of what they were coming to see and what happens when they actually see the work. Whether their idea of illegibility is an open space for interpretation or their perception that illegibility is a wall—all of that’s in there for me. I don’t need to land in one place about it, but the audience might.

The Five Visual Arts Shows We’re Most Excited to See This Fall

The Five Visual Arts Shows We’re Most Excited to See This Fall
By Shannon Gormley
Published in Willamette Week

Mia Habib's performance ALLa

Photo courtesy of Mia Habib

Time-Based Art Festival

Every year, Time Based Art Festival floods Portland with 10 days of wild contemporary art. This year’s lineup is a characteristically eclectic mix of performance art, workshops and installations. There’ll be choreography inspired by protests, a kiki ball, an atmospheric pipe organ concert, and a play about a psychopomp in a trailer park. Various locations, see for full schedule. Sept. 5-15. Festival passes $45-$500, individual tickets available.

Downstream a Shining Wire

Portland artist Tabitha Nikolai creates virtual worlds that address unexpected subject matter with a deep sense of empathy. Her exhibit Utopia Without You turned a Pearl District gallery into a disheveled gamer’s den, and looked at video games as a means of isolation and a necessary retreat from a hostile society. For her next exhibit, Downstream a Shining Wire, she creates an interactive game set in a now-demolished shopping mall from her hometown, where players can act out a Lord of the Flies-inspired scenario. Open Signal, 2766 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Sept. 17-Nov. 1.

Future Ancestors

Earlier this year, Portland artist Lisa Jarrett and Santa Rosa, Calif.’s Lehua M. Taitano co-founded Art 25, an international collective aimed at examining the history and future of black and indigenous art. For Future Ancestors, Art 25′s first exhibit, Jarrett and Taitano collaborated with Honolulu artist Jocelyn Kapumealani Ng to create a series of large-scale portraits and audio recordings that document the artists’ cross-cultural conversations. Ori Gallery, 4038 N Mississippi Ave., Oct. 5-Nov. 24.

A Thousand Cuts

BG Osborne’s A Thousand Cuts depicts pop culture’s pervasive misrepresentation of transgender people to dizzying effect. Across three screens, the video collage plays 10 minutes’ worth of cisgender actors playing transgender characters, including David Duchovny as Denise Bryson in Twin Peaks and Carrie Bradshaw referring to “transexual hookers” as “half man, half woman, totally annoying.” The fact that at least half the clips end in a laugh track makes the deluge of offensive tropes even more sobering—the title of the piece doesn’t come from the number of clips, it’s a reference to the phrase “death by a thousand cuts.” Fuller Rosen Gallery, 2505 SE 11th Ave., Suite 106, Nov. 16-Jan. 10.

Being Present

Portland Art Museum is hosting a fabricated, untruthful retrospective of one of this city’s most legendary art institutions—the short-lived, long-defunct Portland Center for the Visual Arts. The center showcased the likes of Robert Rauchenburg and Andy Warhol, and helped spark the city’s regional art movement. This won’t be the first PCVA retrospective, but unlike previous tributes, this one will be made up entirely of fake archival material, created by iconoclastic curatorial duo Triple Candie. It will also grapple with the less-flattering parts of PCVA’s legacy, including how it failed to live up to its own progressive ideals. Who knows how much one of the city’s largest art institutions is actually willing to dig into contemporary art’s messy history, but hopefully it will at least break through the seal of reverence. Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave., Nov. 16-Jun. 14.

Portland Mercury’s Top Picks for TBA:19

Our Picks For TBA 2019
by Robert Ham and Suzette Smith
Originally published in Portland Mercury

TBA:19 artist Myles de Bastion stands with an "all the senses" t-shirt in the middle of a blue lit room with dynamic lighting
Myles de Bastion WILLIAM DODD

If this is your first TBA, welcome! Everyone has a first. Mine was in 2008, and I just followed someone I had a crush on for the entire event—a fine approach. One of the reasons I love the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s (PICA) Time-Based Art Festival is that, year after year, they always strive to mix academic, fine conceptual art with fun, challenging performances that deserve to be included in our considerations of “art.” Last year there was a big emphasis on recognizing food as art. This year my psychic art senses feel a strong intention toward exploring bodies in space—be they human or heavenly. Here are our picks! And keep an eye out for our Time-Based Art (TBA) blog,, which will review the festival’s performances as they happen. -SUZETTE SMITH

Eiko Otake
The return of Eiko Otake to TBA is a centerpiece of this year’s festival, as evidenced by her multiple performances, a screening of photographs documenting her work, and—easiest to identify—her presence on the darn festival program cover. Otake performed at the first TBA in 2003, as a part of Eiko & Koma, her longstanding performance duo with Takashi Koma Otake. But in 2014, she branched out into a solo project called A Body in Places, of which she has performed variations at more than 40 locations, most notably in contaminated landscapes impacted by the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Otake’s dance isn’t butoh, although Eiko & Koma studied with Kazuo Ohno (an early butoh figure) and cited him as an influence. Otake is known for her ability to move slowly, with critics noting that, in her solo work, her slow gracefulness feels even more intense. Otake will perform A Body in Places on TBA’s opening night. Later in the festival, she will unveil an iteration of her newest work, The Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable, with choreographer Ishmael Huston-Jones, poet Mark McCloughan, and filmmaker Alexis Moh. (A Body in Places, Thurs Sept 5, 6 pm, Center for Contemporary Art & Cultures, 511 NW Broadway, FREE; A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life, Mon Sept 9, 7 pm, Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park, $8-10; The Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable, Thurs Sept 12-Sat Sept 14, 8:30 pm, PICA [Annex], 15 NE Hancock, $20) SS

TBA:19 artist Eiko Otake stands with her white jacket open, a projection of outdoors lighting up on it

Back to School Kiki
Last year House of Flora father Brandon Harrison gave out a serious education in ballroom dance as he emceed the late-night TBA show The Beautiful Street. Locking, popping, waacking, vogue fem, dancehall, and even krumping were included in his tutorial. If what I wrote doesn’t make any sense to you, then this Back to School Kiki is something you need to see. Best known thanks to the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, or FX’s celebrated TV show Pose, balls and ballroom culture have long been a home for queer communities to showcase their fashion, dance, and performance art. This year, Harrison hosts a Back to School Kiki (drag or ballroom gathering) and benevolently invites “spectators and first-time ball attendees to join in the fun.” Read the whole invite and don’t be late for class. (Sat Sept 7, 10 pm, PICA [Mainspace], 15 NE Hancock $5-15 sliding scale) SS

Kara-Lis stands with a black jacked under a bridge

Kara-Lis Coverdale
While Kara-Lis Coverdale’s studio works are conceptually grand and musically spellbinding, some of the Canadian composer’s most fascinating and gorgeous material has been site-specific—determined by the instrument or location. That’s why her appearance at TBA, facilitated by the curators of sound art gallery Variform, should be one of this year’s festival highlights. Coverdale will create a work specifically for the First Presbyterian Church’s pipe organ, which was custom built in the late ’90s by Dan Jaeckel, using designs first conceived in the 17th century. If the sound of the organ and Coverdale’s previous recorded work are anything to go by, the music will be huge, soul stirring, and skull shaking. (Sun Sept 8, First Presbyterian Church, 1200 SW Alder, 6:30 pm, $20-25)

Anthony Hudson
When I see Looking for Tiger Lily at this year’s TBA it will be my third time seeing an incarnation of Anthony Hudson’s drag/dance/spoken-word exploration into his First Nations identity, which Hudson says was formed somewhere between watching keynote presentations his father gave as a social worker for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde and repeated viewings of the 1954 Broadway musical Peter Pan. Hudson was especially impacted by the song “Ugg-a-Wugg,” which featured a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Sandra Lee as Tiger Lily. It’s a curious and dynamic show. Watching Hudson incorporate his drag clown persona, Carla Rossi, into the fine art world (the idea that she’s a white lady from Lake Oswego kind of fits with the concept) has been fascinating and I’m grateful for his perspective, which is so entertaining you almost forget it’s an education, too. (Thurs Sept 12-Sat Sept 14, 6:30 pm, PICA [Annex], 15 NE Hancock, $20) SS

Myles de Bastion
For the past five years, Myles de Bastion and the braintrust behind Cymaspace have been developing technology aiming to help the deaf and hard-of-hearing access music and sound art through their other senses. You may have seen their delightful LED piano at OMSI, which translates the sound of someone playing the keys into light, movement, and color, or the sound-reactive light display that twinkled behind Esperanza Spalding when she played on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2015. For TBA, De Bastion and Cymaspace will present a night of experimental music that will hopefully carry on the spirit of their recent collaboration with sound-art gallery Variform, which made use of low-frequency vibrations to help any and all feel the music being played swim through their muscles and bones. (Thurs Sept 12, 10:30 pm, PICA [Mainspace], 15 NE Hancock, $5-15 sliding scale) RH

TBA:19 artist Ahaamefule stings with a brown tweed suits at a microphone

Ahaamefule Oluo
In 2015 Ahaamefule Oluo unveiled Now I’m Fine, an autobiographical live show focused on his relationship with his absent Nigerian father and the year following his father’s death. (You may have heard Oluo tell a side story about his long-lost half-brother showing up at his wedding on the “Put a Bow on It” episode of This American Life. Now I’m Fine was hailed with rave reviews for its combined elements of stand-up comedy monologue and live jazz music performance (co-written by Oluo). Oluo’s new work Susan is his next foray into his family history (a family that includes his sister, author Ijeoma Olou, and his wife, Lindy West) this time focused on his white, Midwestern mother. (Fri Sept 13 & Sat Sept 14, 6:30 pm, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, $25) SS

Takashi Makino
In his statement announcing the creation of Memento Stella, experimental filmmaker Takashi Makino writes that he titled this work “to remind me to ‘remember the stars’ and ‘never forget that we too reside among the stars.’” Like Carl Sagan’s reflection on Earth being nothing more than a “pale blue dot” floating in the cosmos, it immediately cuts the ego down and makes one feel light-headed at the immensity of the universe we reside in. That comes alive in Takashi’s new film through gorgeous abstract images, soundtracked by stirring ambient music. For Memento Stella’s West Coast premiere, PICA and Cinema Project are offering up two different screenings: one, with an original score provided by the director, and another with a live soundtrack by composer, pianist, and experimental artist Reiner van Houdt. (Sat Sept 14 & Sun Sept 15, OMSI, 1945 SE Water, 4:30 pm, $8-10) RH

Liz Harris’ latest project Nivhek arrived in this world much like her music, with minute but concentrated intention. Her recent album After its own death/Walking in a spiral towards the house was a surprise, dropped without forewarning, but it immediately beguiled anyone who fell into its orbit. Not a far cry from Harris’ work as Grouper, Nivhek leans deeper into soundscapes—drones, pinging bells, and tape hiss swimming together. To close out this year’s TBA, Harris reckons with the ancient region of Mesopotamia through new Nivhek compositions with Requiem, her collaboration with fellow sound artist January Hunt, and visuals by LA artist Dicky Bahto. (Sun Sept 15, PICA [Mainspace], 15 NE Hancock, 6:30 pm, $20) RH

Robert Ham
Robert Ham is the Mercury’s Copy Chief and writes regularly about music, film, arts, sports, and tech.

Suzette Smith
Suzette Smith is the Arts Editor of the Portland Mercury where she writes about books, comics, performance, and anything else that looks like it might be art if you squint at it right.

8 events that stand out at Portland’s 2019 Time-Based Art Festival

By Amy Wang
Originally published in The Oregonian/OregonLive

This year marks the 17th annual Time-Based Art Festival, hosted by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. TBA19, as it’s called, will showcase artists from across the globe who will present contemporary performance, music, visual art, film and more in events throughout the city Sept. 5-15.

Here are eight TBA19 events that caught our eye.

cd7_poshinesribschickenhushpuppiesPo’Shines Cafe De La Soul, an ebullient eatery in North Portland’s Kenton neighborhood, will cater this year’s TBA opening party. Pictured here: Ribs, chicken and hush puppies. (Eder Campuzano/Staff)

TBA Block Party BBQ & Noche Libre Collective

In the past this welcome dinner has been invitation-only, but this year it’s open to the public. The Block Party BBQ will feature cuisine from Po’Shines Café De La Soul. After dinner, members of the Noche Libre Collective – DJ La Cosmica, DJ Lapuashi and DJ Mami Miami – will spin a free show that spans genres from cumbia to dancehall.

Dinner 7 p.m., music 10 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 5, PICA, 15 N.E. Hancock St.

f58_blackorpheusA still from the film “Black Orpheus.” (Courtesy of Erik-Anders Ni/Advance Local file photo)

“Black Orpheus”

French director Marcel Camus’ 1959 film retold the Greek myth of doomed lovers Orpheus and Eurydice in a 20th-century Rio de Janeiro at Carnival time. The Academy Award-winning film became renowned for its bossa nova soundtrack; local musicians have composed a new score that will be performed live as the latest installment of Holocene’s “Fin de Cinema” live film score series.

10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, PICA, 15 N.E. Hancock St.

Ligia Lewis

Brooklyn-based artist Ligia Lewis brings her critically acclaimed devised choreographic work, “Water Will (in Melody).” This work embodies “entanglements of nature, the feminine and Blackness” and features themes from the Brothers Grimm.

6:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Sept. 6-8, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway.


PDXBall, a collective that’s a key player in Portland’s ballroom nightlife, will present “The Back to School Kiki Ball.” The kiki ballroom scene centers LGBTQ and black and indigenous participants and voyeurs in an environment of free expression. Anticipate decor and costume that matches the “back to school” theme while contestants compete in various categories.

10:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, PICA, 15 N.E. Hancock St.

Kara-Lis Coverdale

Kara-Lis Coverdale, an experimental composer who works in acoustic and electronic media, has written not just a site-specific but an instrument-specific composition: “Diapason,” for the Dan Jaeckel pipe organ, hand-constructed with 17th-century designs, at the First Presbyterian Church. An experienced church organist, Coverdale will perform the solo acoustic piece herself.

6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, First Presbyterian Church, 1200 S.W. Alder St.

d8e_eikootake1Eiko Otake. (David Michalek)

Eiko Otake

After the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, photographer William Johnston made thousands of images of artist Eiko Otake amid the devastation. The photos became a film, “A Body in Fukushima: Reflections on the Nuclear in Everyday Life,” which is part of a two-part presentation in Portland. Eiko Otake: A Body in Places” runs Sept. 5-Oct. 24 at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, with Otake performing a solo during the opening reception at 6 p.m. Sept. 5.

Film screening: 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9, Whitsell Auditorium, Portland Art Museum, 1219 S.W. Park Ave.

Carla Rossi, the drag persona of Portland performance artist Anthony Hudson. (Nancy Mankin)

Anthony Hudson/Carla Rossi

Later this season, Artists Repertory Theatre will present the world premiere of Hudson/Rossi’s new play, “Looking for Tiger Lily,” which relays their experience of growing up as a “queer mixed Native person” in an America where a blue-eyed blonde could portray an “Indian princess.” Get a sneak preview during TBA.

6:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 12-14, PICA, 15 N.E. Hancock St.

Time-Based Art Festival 2019

When: Sept. 5-15.

Where: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, 15 N.E. Hancock St., and other venues.

Tickets: Festival passes start at $60; individual tickets range from free to $25; or 503-224-7422.

A Protest Dance of Everyday Moves and Volunteer Nudes

A Protest Dance of Everyday Moves and Volunteer Nudes
By Gia Kourlas
Published in New York Times

Walk with a loose neck. Take steps without making a sound. Try acknowledging another person using only your eyes.

In preparation for Mia Habib’s affecting “ALL — a physical poem of protest,” 16 performers sat in a circle in a studio at Movement Research in the East Village to talk about the choreography they had recently learned and rehearsed: a mix of walking and running in a circle. It seems simple. But as with all things in contemporary dance, the magic comes from approach, subtlety, nuance.

“How can I move in a soft way?” Ms. Habib asked the participants, all of whom are volunteers. “When there are soft feet, a softness enters the rest of the body.”

The choreography is a mix of walking and running in a circle.CreditGeorge Etheredge for The New York Times
The choreography is a mix of walking and running in a circle.CreditGeorge Etheredge for The New York Times

“ALL — a physical poem of protest,” which opens on Friday as part of the La MaMa Moves! dance festival, explores what Ms. Habib, 38, refers to as “the protesting body.” It can be performed for up to 12 hours, though the New York iteration will clock in at a brisk 45 minutes. And there’s one other integral component — all the performers are nude. For Ms. Habib, a Norwegian-Israeli choreographer based in Oslo, the result illustrates group strength: What is the power of bodies meeting together in a public space?

The work, intended to showcase people of all ages, focuses on the pedestrian actions of walking and running. While repetitive, it’s not robotic. Shantelle Courvoisier Jackson, a dance artist who is helping to stage the production, told the performers, “Your natural movements are welcome”; don’t treat “them like they shouldn’t be seen.”

In the end, the group effort is meditative. “For me, what’s really exciting with this piece, but really scary, is letting go of control,” Ms. Habib said. “I never know when I come to a new place: Will there be enough performers? Is someone going to cancel at the last minute?”

But giving the work over to strangers — stage experience is not required — is part of the piece, too. “And that’s also what we do when we meet in a public space to protest or to grieve together,” she said. “We share this moment with strangers and we leave and we’re still strangers.”

Ms. Habib recently spoke about the work, her United States debut. What follows are edited excerpts from that conversation.

“The longest we’ve done it so far is only three hours,” said Mia Habib, the choreographer. “I’m waiting for the moment.”CreditGeorge Etheredge for The New York Times
“The longest we’ve done it so far is only three hours,” said Mia Habib, the choreographer. “I’m waiting for the moment.”CreditGeorge Etheredge for The New York Times

What is so powerful about walking and running?

It’s something we share with almost everyone, so it’s very primal and very basic. We can experience something together, which can quickly bring us to another energy because we don’t have to concentrate so much on this action.

Why is it important that they’re naked?

For me, the nudity serves almost as a projection screen. The viewer can create an association with schools of fish or bird or animal flocks in one moment; and there are the hard collective images or memories we have from the Second World War. When you zoom out, the multiplicity of naked bodes has this ability to almost become abstract — as if it just becomes lines or moving shapes.

And when you zoom in?

You see really unique details — our bodies are the most individual things we have, right? But when you zoom out, it all looks the same and I think that’s really interesting: A mass unifies, but it still consists of these singular personalities. But having said that, it’s also very important that the context and communities come first.

How so?

In Bordeaux, we had a Kurdish women’s activist group join us and that was more important than the idea of being naked. So we did it clothed. It’s not about nakedness. That’s just one layer of it.

What does this piece come out of?

From 2010 to 2012, I was living in Tel Aviv and I was doing an M.A. in conflict resolution and mediation. That was exactly the time when Occupy Wall Street was here. The Arab Spring started and the so-called protest for social justice in Tel Aviv was happening so people moved out in the streets.

How did that inspire you?

I got really interested in what the role of theater can be in times when the spectacle is taking place outside. What is that energy? Also, what’s going on in the belief that together we can change something and what happens when these structures fall? At the same time, there was a huge massacre in Norway. People gathered together in a public space but as an act of mourning.

What forms has this production taken?

It’s been a part of protests. It can go on for many hours in a theater space. You can be sitting all around or watch it frontally. There is also this idea that the piece can serve different causes.

How has it?

In Bordeaux, France, it was part of a feminist protest. In Berlin, the choreographer Jeremy Wade borrowed the score and did it as a part of a protest against the treatment of L.G.B.T. people in Chechnya.

Where have you done a 12-hour version?

[Sighs] That’s still a dream. The longest we’ve done it so far is only three hours. I’m waiting for the moment. Here in New York, I actually had a dream of doing it for 12 hours in Judson Church. [Laughs] Maybe we’ll have an Act 2.

A version of this article appears in print on May 1, 2019, Section C, Page 2 of the New York edition with the headline: A Protest Dance With Everyday Moves. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Like A Villain: Artist Holland Andrews’ Boundless Emotional Range

Like A Villain: Artist Holland Andrews’ Boundless Emotional Range

by April Baer

Published on

To see Holland Andrews perform is to witness the channeling deep reserves of light and darkness, for the benefit of audiences battered by all manners of emotional trauma.

“I am offering a prescription with my music,” Andrews said, “to help the potential unease in their life at that moment. What do I have that you need?”

A composer, vocalist and visual artist, Andrews (who uses they/them pronouns) is one of the most beloved figures in Portland’s contemporary performance scene. Over the past 11 years, they’ve performed in gallery settings, clubs, even with the Oregon Symphony, making Portland a base for international touring. Their extended vocal technique, which can pivot from soaring operatic runs to a feral growl, can bring audiences to a standstill. Even those who don’t count themselves as fans of avant-garde music will follow Andrews on their music’s emotional journeys.

After spending the last 11 years in Portland, Andrews (a California native) is preparing a move to New York City. But not before one last performance kicking off Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time Based Art Festival.

The date, Sept. 5, is also the vinyl release one for a new Like a Villain album, “What Makes Vulnerability Good,” on Accidental Records.

Andrews has made several albums over the past decade, but calls this the closest yet to replicating audiences’ live experience of Like a Villain.

“As an artist progresses, you get to see them unfold. And I think that happened with me. I think that shows in this album,” they said.


Holland Andrews performs as Like a Villain, fusing extended vocal technique, composition, and visual elements. Courtesy of Accidental Records

Andrews recorded with Arjan Miranda at Color Therapy Recording Studio in Northeast Portland. The challenge they faced, Andrews said, was conveying a recorded performance that could carry the same depth and emotional power fans have grown to expect at live performances.

“Doing one line out of my [effects] pedal chain and a room mic just wouldn’t have really cut it,” Andrews said. “We were thinking of ways that transform and keep the listener interested without sacrificing who I am as an artist.”

The answer included some synth effects and bigger arrangements with guests like saxophonist Joe Cunningham (Blue Cranes).

Touchstones for this emotionally charged collection of songs range from intimacy and connection (“My Hands”) to emotional liberation (“Free Now”) to several songs drawing on the fraught life and death of Andrews’ mother.

“The relationship with my mom was a little challenging. She was someone who was diagnosed schizoaffective and struggled with alcohol abuse, drug abuse, bulimia,” Andrews said. “I would see all these things as a child — and I would also see a sense of love and caring I’ve never felt from anyone else alive.”

Andrews was 16 when their mother committed suicide. While much of their songwriting has been informed over the years by this erratic, complicated history with someone so loving, so musically gifted and yet so profoundly ill, they say it was only recently that these experiences manifested as specific songs like “You Got It” — a searing expression of the fury Andrews’ mother felt at losing custody of her children. “What Makes Vulnerability Good,” Andrews promised, is only the tip of the iceberg. They expect to spend a lot more time exploring the relationship on their next record.

“Having an opportunity as an adult to excavate my growing up with this incredible women who was just as much loving as she was dissonant in her own way, I possess that as well,” Andrews said. “I can express these states within music.”

As Andrews comes near the end of their time in Portland, they call this time both sad and exciting.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity I had here, the community,” Andrews said.

Andrews has moved into composing for dance artists and theater, and hopes the proximity to the intense concentration of performance artists in New York will make possible new collaborations.

In Portland, at this particular time in their musical development, Andrews said, “I couldn’t have had it any better. And because of that, I am now ready to move on to someplace different.”

Female Disruptors: How Kristy Edmunds has shaken up contemporary art

Female Disruptors: How Kristy Edmunds has shaken up contemporary art

While it may sound cliché, artists disrupt our conscious and unconscious tendency to feel complacent about any number of things going on in society writ large. They can do so by challenging, rather than reinforcing, formulaic approaches to all kinds of fixed assumptions. Their efforts can result in a sublime interference that asks for reimagined […]

By Authority Magazine, Stories that are beautiful to the mind, heart, and eyes.

Black and white photo of Kristy Edmunds,  Founding Executive and Artistic Director of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) and the TBA Festiva

While it may sound cliché, artists disrupt our conscious and unconscious tendency to feel complacent about any number of things going on in society writ large. They can do so by challenging, rather than reinforcing, formulaic approaches to all kinds of fixed assumptions. Their efforts can result in a sublime interference that asks for reimagined possibility, or a provocation to reconsider a firmly held position, or, it can take the form of an advance warning that inspires empathy and change.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristy Edmunds. Edmunds was the Founding Executive and Artistic Director of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) and the TBA Festival (Time Based Art) in Portland, Oregon. She served as Artistic Director for the Melbourne International Arts Festival from 2005 to 2008, and was appointed the Head of the School of Performing Arts at the Victorian College of the Arts/University of Melbourne, and after one year became the Deputy Dean for the College. Concurrently, Edmunds worked as the inaugural Consulting Artistic Director for the now critically heralded Park Avenue Armory in New York (2009–2012). Curating the initial three years of programming, she established the formative identity of the PAA with commissioned work by artists such as Ann Hamilton, the final performance event of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company; the Tune-In Festival with Philip Glass and many others. In recognition of her contribution to the arts, Edmunds was named a Chevalier (Knight) de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government in 2016. She is the Executive and Artistic Director of UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, one of the nation’s leading presenting organizations for contemporary performing artists.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path

Part of carrying a surplus of creativity is that you find the process of identifying solutions to problems deeply energizing. In my late twenties (living in Portland, Oregon as an artist and emerging curator), I recognized that the art institutions at the time had settled on mission-priorities that would follow the conventions of art-historical successes which were long proven and regionally familiar. This left a rather large gulf between the ideas and work of living artists, and the towering significance of the established canon.

I was motivated by the idea of catalyzing the role of contemporary living artists and making a platform that would elevate the visibility of their work. So I rolled up my sleeves, enlisted the simpatico-passions of others and we invented an organization dedicated to bolstering the impact of contemporary artists across all genres. It was a creative collaboration with everyone I knew or could reach, and we used the ethos of the city itself as the framework for the organization (as well as its empty warehouses and available theater venues). My learning curve for establishing and leading a not-for-profit was directly vertical and I was regularly advised against taking the risk of trying. As an artist myself, I was necessarily undaunted by the ample obstacles. PICA (Portland Institute for Contemporary Art), exists to this day and has made an indelible mark for nearly 25 years. In creating PICA I inadvertently assembled the professional bona fides of an Artistic Director.

Image of Kristy Edmunds with two people,  Founding Executive and Artistic Director of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) and the TBA Festiva

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

While it may sound cliché, artists disrupt our conscious and unconscious tendency to feel complacent about any number of things going on in society writ large. They can do so by challenging, rather than reinforcing, formulaic approaches to all kinds of fixed assumptions. Their efforts can result in a sublime interference that asks for reimagined possibility, or a provocation to reconsider a firmly held position, or, it can take the form of an advance warning that inspires empathy and change. Because I work at a high level with artists in all art forms to support their projects and practices, along with the impact their ideas can usher forth — the organization that I run has to work within the same spirit of acting from the position of integrity, compassion, and the usefulness of disruption.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share how they made an impact?

Long before we access a professional mentor, there are those who forge the elemental foundation of one’s character and it’s facility. I don’t think we mention this time in life often enough, but I think it is the period that sets you on a course for what you will become. On that front, the women in my family have been the unflinching mentors in the fiber and weave of my life. As I entered school and then university, I encountered several reverse role models — those who demonstrated everything I did not want to be — which in my case was a form of mentorship because I embraced the value of not becoming that (as learned from the women in my family).

I had a softball coach in the 8th grade who had no arms. He drove his car, ate his food, and kept statistics and scores on written notecards with his feet, which taught me that there is always a way forward. He was derided when we would have games in communities that didn’t know his formidable capacity, which taught me to never underestimate the potential of anyone — ever (while introducing me to ignorant cruelty). He led us to championships by inspiring us to use what we had uniquely within us. That technique and skill unto itself was not the sole arbitrator of achievement. Rather, there is a caliber of the heart to exercise fully. It can shatter statistical odds.

Professionally, I had a professor who introduced me to a world of artistry and global creative heritage that made me realize I was aligned to maverick sensibilities from decades and centuries earlier. By showing me their contributions, I recognized that the popular and iconic culture of the day, however, celebrated and economized, was not always the signature hallmark for leaving an enduring mark. I apply this recognition regularly.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“Tonight there will be someone that has come to the theater for the very first time and we perform for them. There will also be someone when tonight will be their last, and we perform for them.” — Arianne Mnuchkin.

“The most political decision you make is where you direct people’s eyes.” — Wim Wenders

“Tell the truth.” — ubiquitous

photo of Kristy Edmunds,  Founding Executive and Artistic Director of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) and the TBA Festiva

How are you going to shake things up next?

We have recently purchased a small theater and are raising the money needed to put a long-dormant cultural asset back into use in Los Angeles. How we are shaking things up, is that instead of expanding the profile, economy, and footprint of CAP UCLA, we are establishing partners to conjoin us in sharing the venue for our collective work. Instead of growing our organization (the “go big or go home” expansion principal), we are using the venue as a stop-gap against market pressures that put other organizations and emerging artists at risk. It’s a form of collaboration with the ‘competition’ that reduces everyone’s economic vulnerability in service to sustaining the long view of culture as an accessible right. A form of affordable housing that sustains ideas that are meant to be shared with the public on stage, rather than an investment in a property that drives expansion and gentrification.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Lewis Hyde. Everything that he has written.

Brain Picking- this is a website/blog/newsletter that is a dose of useful genius every single week. I am not overstating the word genius here — what she does is a measure above the word, by her use of words.

Marvel Comic books from the 1970’s — Frank Miller’s “Daredevil” epics, the X-Men era now being depicted in the film but staggering in the print edition, and the complex collaborative (yet flawed) dynamic of the Avengers (then).

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I am not convinced that the most important movement we can inspire towards “good” would be grounded in the idea of benefitting the ‘most amount of people.’ The prompt above implies that human beings should inherently benefit if a movement is “good.” But in the spirit of your question: My movement would have humans benefit less, in order to radically reduce the unbridled pressure upon everything else on the face of the earth. The natural world would be my acute priority — which requires a reduction in catering to human greed, exploitation, comfort, and an irrational sense of unevenly distributed progress.

I’d start with the redistribution of the US military budget by at least $2Billion per year — and funnel the moola into education as a principle INALIENABLE right.

I’d stop robbing Patricia to pay Paul.

I’d develop a platform for the 1% to re-direct half of their annual monetary accruals into deeply inspired purposes that leave a profound legacy.

I’d make sure that there was an artist in residence in every bureaucracy we’ve established to date.

I’d ensure there are seeds, water, air and the generous predisposition to share them with others along with song, dance, paint and shelter.

Kristy Edmunds, Founding Executive and Artistic Director of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) and the TBA Festiva

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I was at a definite fork in the road at a particular juncture in my early career — one that would inevitably cast the die for what color and contour my life’s work would take. I sought the counsel of a respected patron who had been instrumental in my work, as she had been involved in the arts for many decades and I knew that she not only understood the weighty contexts for the professional decision I found myself having to make, she had perspective and I, at 28 could not possibly claim. Her response was not a linear nor pragmatic answer to my conundrum. She did not say, “If I were in your shoes, I would do ‘x’.” Instead, she provided me with a far broadened scope than my lens of consideration was focused on. An enduringly relevant adage that I had not encountered. She said, “A life well-lived is the greatest revenge.” I instantly knew what to do.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

— Published on August 12, 2019

First Encounters: A Brief Interview with Performers of Through and Through and Through

First Encounters: A Brief Interview with Performers of Through and Through and Through
Written by James Knowlton

In a passage from OVER-BELIEFS, the book of essays and interviews published on the occasion of Gordon Hall’s Through and Through and Through at PICA (June 8 – August 10, 2019), Hall states,

“the space between, where the furniture meets your body, that little gap that closes when you sit down or touch something– that’s what I get excited about. With this object, I didn’t go out searching for a bench. It’s like having a crush on someone or the way you can imagine exactly what the body of someone you’ve slept with feels like even when they’re not there.”

The sculptural pieces serve as active participants that encourage movement and dialogue in relation to them, as well as potential future and past memories. The experience of wandering through sculptures that are indicative of thresholds, rest spaces, moments of encounter with an object before the entry and exit of a space– all these points of contact help us question how the materiality of our daily lives impacts us.

This passage–and the anticipation of a water fountain’s offering right before it hits your lips in mind–made me think it would be interesting to conduct an interview of sorts about a performers “first date” with one of the sculptures. It is with an understanding of the anxieties that come with a first meeting; the hope, desire, and anticipation that can be found in the moment before the encounter that Gordon hopes also can reveal an opportunity for care. Gordon often speaks about care, and how it “is an articulation of an ethos for encountering one another.” The interview questions are meant to be silly, didactic, and ultimately utilize a contemporary sense of dating to get to a deeper understanding of the work. As a performer with some of the works, I’ll also engage these questions.

An image of Gordon Hall sculpture at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art Opening Reception

Gordon Hall Opening Reception, Photo by Tojo Andrianarivo

First Date with Takahiro Yamamoto, Maggie Heath, James Knowlton and Anonymous

Why were you drawn to (SCULPTURE) initially? What were the physical, mental, or emotional attributes that drew you towards wanting to meet them?

T: Parallelogram Bench (for Dennis) looked familiar. Probably because I’ve seen a similar structure from past projects [of Hall’s]. I was curious about the [previous iteration of a similar sculpture] past project, so it was making me want to get to know more.

M: My first encounter with Facing Ls was after a long night on a red eye to New York. I was sleep deprived and over stimulated by being in the city. We had extremely large sandwiches that we brought into the building that Gordon had been staging his sculptures in. I was overwhelmed ordering the sandwich and was trying to appear professional and friendly. The building was a disaster, but Gordon’s room was peaceful. It was some mixture of cemetery and sanctuary. The room must have had lights, but I feel like when we first walked in it was more cathedral like. Though maybe I was too tired to really remember. Everything in the room looked like it had been asleep and covered in dust.

J: I saw Stoop Ornament from afar first, I wasn’t sure if they could see me, but I certainly saw them. There was something about their height that drew me to them. I really appreciated the circle top, the curly hair upon their head.

A: I tap on everyone I wanna fuck, but I knew after seeing their [Floor Door (For Freds)] photos and reading their profile that I really wanted to meet them. They seemed like a fun person to hang out with, not just bang and go.

What were the thoughts and emotions that arose when you first saw them?

T: Geometric is a very peculiar way. I could not place any logic, spatial logic to it.

M: I immediately saw Facing Ls. They seemed so tender together. I thought they were pale blue. Gordon explained they were painted two shades of grey. They really looked blue.

J: I was nervous to talk to them, I always am to meet a new Stoop. I felt uncertain how they would respond to me. I felt shy about engaging because they seemed so put together, held, and astute.

A: I think the usual – how do they look so cute? Do they like Tim Hecker? Who’s topping?

How did you work through any initial anxieties, in order to approach and introduce yourself? If you didn’t feel nervous to meet them, how did you find that confidence?

M: They sat on the opposite side of the room from us. We on the empty canvas “rug”, the Facing Ls with the rest of their sculpture friends on their canvas “rug”. I didn’t take off my shoes and saw footprints I left from the dirty warehouse on the linen and immediately tried to brush them off. I was still holding a giant sandwich. I kept looking over at the Facing Ls which felt as though they were in forever suspension of wanting to nestle in with one another. Lovers in anticipation? Or of anticipation?

J: I realized that although they looked pretty stationary, life is so fleeting and I didn’t want to miss the chance to communicate with them. It helped that I knew they were leaving town in a month and this would be my only chance.

A: Chatting on an app helps with that awkward anxiety about chatting with someone initially. It also helps to gauge someone before you agree to meet them. I don’t think I can truly feel 100% confident about meeting someone, especially when you have internalized so many expectations about how to appeal to someone or get their attention. You kinda just have to dive into it and see what happens. That’s what it’s all about, right? Just figuring it out as you go along.

What did it feel like to first talk with (SCULPTURE)? Who spoke first? Did they seem interested in the things you said? Were you interested in what they had to share?

T: The piece spoke first, telling me how the size is not what it seems from outside. Also, it spoke to me how fragile and precarious it is. That’s when I realized that my involvement (the involvement of my body) is more of a conversation than one-way approach.

M: They looked so sleek… but when I went over to inspect them I was pleased to see they had so many hints of a human touch on them. Not in fingerprints, or obvious markings. But in … ugh… I don’t know how to say it. The way you try to sculpt something out of… say… clay. And you try to make it smooth with your hand, but maybe there is a little bulbous moment that happens? Which lets you know it was made from human not from machine. It strives towards that machine finish, only it will always show its human-ness by that one bulbous moment. Does that make sense?

J: I approached first. They were so still, I didn’t know who would speak first. I decided to introduce myself. They didn’t seem particularly interested in what I had to say, it seemed more they wanted to be close with me in silent ways. I was interested in their fortitude and I learned that they had held so many people before through this exchange.

A: Kinda like before, there’s always anxieties about initially chatting with someone. There’s a big difference between messaging someone and chatting with someone in person. It’s nice though when it moves from being more formal and proper to us just sharing memes.

Did you have physical contact? What did that contact look, feel, taste, sound like?

M: We ate our sandwiches.

Afterwards, we began to pack up the sculptures. Moving them from the secret warehouse into the truck that felt like some sort of hibernation chamber once they all were strapped in. I expected the Facing Ls to be lighter than they were — they seemed to defy gravity. But of course they are made from concrete, so really, what was I thinking? I didn’t pack them, though I felt I wanted to protect them more than the person who was packing them did. I really didn’t trust that they were secure. I was too tired to put up a fight that wasn’t worth it, plus, worrying when no one else is, is a sure sign you might care a little too much. They seemed to travel fine.

Packed up, they sat next to one another, L next to L. No longer Facing. No longer holding that tenderness they once held as they sat in that apprehension, that tension, that suspension, with that space, that gap, that slit between them. Their tenderness turned into something else. Less like lovers and more like companions. How fast a relationship can change, just by how we stand opposed to one another.

J: Consent is vital. I learned that they wanted me to delicately touch their head. I slowly let my hand graze the spirals and curves of their body. They responded by showing me their shape and materiality.

A: Yeah we did. Don’t feel comfy going into it but we did listen to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

Would you say that this contact was driven by desire? If yes, please explain. If not, what drove the physical element of your relationship?

T: It’s always a negotiation. I was nervous every single time I got in contact with it; however, I also knew that the costume, the socks, looks great with it, which motivated me more to be in contact with it.

J: I would be lying if I did not want to touch them from the moment I saw them. There was something about their shape and their ornateness of face, while having a minimal and strong body that really compelled me toward them.

A: Define desire.

How often do you think about this first date?

T: It reminded me of the first date every single time I was in contact with. Quite lovely.

A: Pretty often. I enjoy a fun fuck.

Would you go on more dates? If yes, what would you like to do with them? If no, was this a matter of chemistry? Or simply, why not?

T: Yes sure. I would be careful, as much as I can. :)

M: Though I came into direct contact with them in installation and though I desired to know them, and perhaps even do know them with a different type of intimately than some, now that they sleep in PICA’s warehouse they feel more off-limits. As though, it’s better to look from afar, always in relation to, orbiting around, adjacent from the Facing Ls and never with.

J: I appreciated what we shared in those moments, but I feel that the more they’re experienced in this way– the duller they potentially get.

A: Probably not, since they kept saying “spirit animal” during the date.

An Intimate Dance of Objects: Gordon Hall

An Intimate Dance of Objects: Gordon Hall
by Lucy Cotter
Published in Mousse Magazine

New York–based artist Gordon Hall’s new exhibition THROUGH AND THROUGH AND THROUGH, on view at PICA (Portland Institute for Contemporary Art), offers an encounter with objects that invites us to reexperience the (gendered) body.

“Through and Through and Through” at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, 2019
Courtesy: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and Evan La Londe

“Through and Through and Through” at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, 2019
Courtesy: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and Evan La Londe

Gordon Hall’s sculptures are small delicacies, placed ritualistically in space like carefully punctuated words on a page. To encounter THROUGH AND THROUGH AND THROUGH without prior knowledge is to be pleasantly surprised by an invitation to be intimate. This overture bypasses thought and nestles itself comfortably in the elongated curve of an arched foot, the cavern of an armpit, or the crevice between two buttocks. Although presented in the rational object-derived language of abstraction, Hall’s work is intensely sensual, with its sherbet-colored palette and softer-edged vocabulary of serious play. It speaks back to Minimalist sculpture in ways that overlook the commercial reification of the interim period, embracing instead its early phenomenological dreaming. Their oeuvre dreams further, however, asking questions that speak to the transforming corporeal imaginaries of the present moment: If an object holds a body and a body is not a thing, how might we move or be still together in the same space? Are you curious about my being? Can I imagine you to be everything you are, with no boundaries? Can you see me, too, as an open-ended possibility?

Hall’s sculptures act like a successive iteration that unexpectedly summons the floor of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, calling to life the traces marking the building’s former uses as a site of industrial fabrication, skateboarding, and art making alike. This all-encompassing drawing in space invites viewers’ encircling bodies into a collaborative dance, echoing the way that each sculpture has been developed from the exploration of a body with a found object. In fact, Hall first trained in ballet, moving into gestural abstractions accompanied by increasingly precise and ambiguous costumes and props until there were no bodies left in the dance. In their writings, published as a collection for the first time on the occasion of this exhibition, Hall recalls that this transition took place in parallel with a more personal and political transition into ambiguity.

Gordon Hall performing for Sitting (Brick Object) (III), 2019, “Through and Through and Through” at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, 2019
Courtesy: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and Evan La Londe

Gordon Hall performing for Sitting (Brick Object) (III), 2019, “Through and Through and Through” at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, 2019
Courtesy: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art and Evan La Londe

While all of Hall’s “extremely precise objects of ambiguous use” imply movement and demand a response by bodies, the exhibition opening is interspersed by moments in which the crowd grows silent to watch solo performers engage in physical exercises; small corporeal vignettes that act in parallel to, or directly engage with, sculptures in the dancers’ environs. In one such performance, local dance-trained artist Takahiro Yamamoto balances his body on the triangular edge of a sculpture base resembling a low lectern. In another, Payton Barronian gently holds two feet in midair so that the body becomes a triangular form that meets the floor on its axis, echoing a nearby graphite-covered wedge. These performances will continue at intervals throughout the exhibition, following the tradition of Hall’s recent shows at the MIT List Visual Arts Center and the Renaissance Society.

Echoing the subtle material sensibilities of Richard Tuttle’s assemblages, the works gather a range of tactilities that have a poetic persuasion. Their titles—Stoop Ornament, Kneeling Object—mingle utilitarian objecthood and human interactions, which resonates in turn with their making process: cast concrete, carved brick, waxed poplar. And yet, even in their titles, the memory of touch and the fact of human presence are near. Floor Door is for Fred; Parallelogram Bench is for Dennis. One of Hall’s earlier works involved them seeing the photo of a handmade bench in a friend’s grandmother’s home and traveling there to replicate it. Months of research confirmed that the bench was the work of artist Dennis Croteau, whose AIDS-related death in the 1980s lends Hall’s work a melancholic layer. In their book, Hall writes about their grief at the unbearable vulnerability of the nontraditionally gendered body and suggests that the pushback against misrecognition, objectification, and aggression lies in care. THROUGH AND THROUGH AND THROUGH cares for objects in ways that offer us a renewed experience of the (gendered) body, “so that in the moments we encounter one another, we are actually able to see differently than the way we have been taught.”1 The exhibition, too, is the result of care, following the artist’s three-year conversation with its curators and the collaboration of many. The radiant result makes this labor of love worth every ounce of effort.

[1] Gordon Hall, “Reading Things: On Sculpture, Gender and Relearning How to See,” in OVER-BELIEFS: Gordon Hall Collected Writing, 2011–2018, ed. Spencer Byrne-Seres (Portland, OR: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art with Container Corps, 2019), 9–13.

Gordon Hall: THROUGH AND THROUGH AND THROUGH, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA), Portland, Oregon, June 8–August 10, 2019, commissioned and curated by Roya Amirsoleymani and Kristan Kennedy, artistic directors (with Erin Boberg Doughton), PICA.

at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
until 10 August 2019

At ADF: Moving Performances by Eiko Otake and Friends

At ADF: Moving Performances by Eiko Otake and Friends
By Andrea McKerlie Luke
Published in CVNC

July 8, 2019 – Durham, NC:

Guest performer Eiko Otake appeared at the 2019 American Dance Festival in collaboration with painter Beverly McIver and Otake’s students-turned-collaborators. The evening was performance art at its most intense, a personal expression of Otake’s loss of her mother as well as outpourings of confusion, disillusionment, anger, and love by her collaborators. While the works played with the relationships between physical and emotional space, each duet challenged our perception of love, loss, silence, art, history, and interpersonal relationships. Otake is known for her site-specific works, and although this iteration of Distance is Malleable is performed in a relatively standard black box theater with a thrust stage, elements of it certainly could not have been possible at any other location. The collaborators had worked to integrate painting, movement, music, and video in interesting and sometimes challenging ways, and their performance certainly was interesting – and, at times, challenging.

This episode of Otake’s series The Duet Project was born organically out of Otake and McIver’s friendship and then filled in with collaborations with others, but the overarching theme is Otake’s loss of her mother. The piece opens with a recording of McIver, discussing a phone call she had with Otake concerning Otake’s ailing mother in Japan, whom she needed to move out of the nursing home and into hospice care at Otake’s home. McIver was struck with the everyday ritual of the process and decided she needed to come to Japan. While Otake’s mother passed before McIver could arrive, Otake and family opened their home to her and invited her into the ceremonies of a traditional Japanese funeral.

Images McIver saw and photographed from this experience led her to paint, and McIver’s paintings led Otake to conceive a performance art work. Much of the piece is intensely personal to Otake, and, as she confessed during the post-show talkback, seeing McIver’s paintings of her mother’s funeral “obliged” her “to deal with it.” During the show, she spoke about how her mother had “a good death,” surrounded by family, flowers, and the meticulous ritual of helping someone die. Otake’s movements throughout the show are therefore usually measured and solemn, representing the lingering of a long, illness-wrought death.

The two women entered the stage in slow, deliberate movement, flanked by several of McIver’s paintings displayed in the performance space. McIver’s work is colorful and realistic yet stylized. There is a scene from the funeral: a colorfully shaded image of Otake’s mother in an open casket, surrounded by daisies, with faceless mourners gathered behind her in all blacks and grays. Other works appeared later on, sometimes on easels and sometimes shown in videos taken by Otake in McIver’s studio. After a brief duet of slow, magnetic movement between the women in which they ceremonially shared sips from a large bowl of water, McIver sat, and Otake took the stage for a beat before performing a variety of duets with Alexis Moh, DonChristian Jones, and Mark McCloughan, punctuated by intense solo time.

Moh, a filmmaker concerned with global issues like climate change, has been creating dance films and video installations with Otake since 2015 and now appears in a video portion as well as onstage in a live performance in The Duet Project. Moh and Otake introduced themselves as Korean-American and Japanese, respectively, briefly touching on what that means to them and discussing the relationship of their generations; one generation has passed down apathy towards climate change to the younger, one generation must carry on the older one’s legacy. Moh’s narration was understated and matter-of-fact – it was easy to tell how uncomfortable the filmmaker was in front of a camera – but it came from a place of honesty and genuine concern.

Jones played a more visual part in the performance, participating in a duet of movement with Otake that ranged from the slowest possible gestures to frenetic running in large circles around the performance space. He lent his plaintive voice in fragmented song that evolved throughout the duet until he was lost backstage and his voice could barely be heard. The use of incredibly slow movements permeated the evening, and it was especially beautiful to appreciate the inconsistencies of the human body: the slight hesitations, wobbles, and twitches were a part of the aesthetic. The performers demonstrated beautiful motions and also uncomfortable, awkward positions, illustrating life’s many unpleasant and uncertain emotions, along with the pleasant.

From Jones’ duet, McCloughan emerged immediately for another movement-based duet, featuring their scrawling words on large sheets of paper while Otake gathered them up to either hand to the audience or interact with. The pages contained statements and poetic fragments, such as “I refuse,” “I know,” “White flowers,” and “You Can.” Both performers interacted with the paper sheets in different ways: McCloughan carefully gathering them up like precious treasures before exiting, Otake waving them and hurling them up at the screen upstage. They shared a moment of movement together that appeared to reflect first Otake comforting and raising McCloughan up, then McCloughan taking on Otake’s weight as Otake gradually collapsed. The show ended with Otake as a soloist, often very plaintive in her speech and movements, but she did release primal, guttural wails in grief.

There are more important moments in the show other than these, but it does no good to analyze every single one. Watching all of these outpourings of such complex emotion was not easy, but sitting back and taking in each moment as it came ignited just as many varied emotions, based on the current space, cultural context, and personal experience. There are moments of empathy scattered heavily through the work, and some of them emerged through something as simple as watching an old woman drip water over a young man’s face. As one audience member commented during the talkback, “it was scary, it was cathartic, it was everything. I’m going to sit with this for a long time.” Otake’s work is about opening up to another person’s experience, which is how the performers challenged each other and now challenge us, the audience.

Motherhood, Memory, and Mortality in Eiko Otake’s “The Duet Project”

Motherhood, Memory, and Mortality in Eiko Otake’s “The Duet Project”
By Linda Belans
Published in Indy Week

“Meeting Eiko” by Beverly McIver, a painting in impressionist trill of Eiko and Beverly eyes closed, putting their heads together

“Meeting Eiko” by Beverly McIver, photo courtesy of the artist


Monday, Jul. 8 – Wednesday, Jul. 10, 8 p.m.

Rubenstein Arts Center, Durham

Eiko Otake and Beverly McIver had never heard of each other until a mutual friend, American Dance Festival director Jodee Nimerichter, suggested that the New York City-based dance artist and the Hillsborough-based painter explore the possibility of working together. After a whirlwind first encounter that included a viewing of McIver’s work at Durham’s Craven Allen Gallery, their intuition said yes. But they had no idea what form their collaboration would take, because Eiko had to catch a plane for Japan. The process would reveal itself through twists and turns on two continents and result in The Duet Project: Distance Is Malleable, commissioned by ADF and co-presented by The Nasher Museum of Art. The piece is a collaboration with McIver and three of Eiko’s former students: visual artist, rapper, and singer-songwriter DonChristian Jones, dancer and poet Mark McCloughan, and filmmaker Alexis Moh.

In the thirty-five years I’ve been writing about and conversing with Eiko, from her early work with her husband Koma through her solo work, it has always been clear that she interrogates big human ideas. This new work is anchored in questions including, “How can two artists collide and return changed but whole? How can two individuals encounter and converse over their differences with or without words? How can we express both explicitly and implicitly what each of us really cares about?” Eiko thinks and speaks like a poet, and whether her work occurs in silence or is accompanied by sound, it has an inherent score. McIver speaks with the same clarity and boldness found in her paintings. I wanted to capture the music of their collective spirit in anticipation of The Duet Project’s July premiere at The Rubenstein Arts Center.

Duets with the Living and the Dead


“Another sense of otherness.” —Beverly McIver

Snow drifts over the procession. Onlookers line the path. White flakes slowly blanket their umbrellas, the wooden box, and the people who carry it. Eiko walks in mourner’s cadence among them. It is scored by silence.

Perhaps Eiko Otake has been preparing for this all her life, combining the existential drama of forty-seven years performing with her husband Koma (who is in the procession) with her more recent solo series, A Body in Places, where she interacts with elements in unexpected spaces: in Fukushima. On Wall Street. At the Durham Farmers’ Market. Except this is real life. This is the street in front of the family home in Japan. This is the death of her ninety-three-year-old mother.

Beverly McIver is no more astonished to be part of this intimate family procession than the neighbors who respectfully stare at her. It is particularly astonishing because she and Eiko (pronounced A-koh) had only met for forty-eight hours in Durham.

McIver’s paintings of this experience will be integrated into The Duet Project: Distance is Malleable, which premieres at ADF in July. Eiko tells me: “I have lost many important friends at sixty-seven. Working with younger artists helps me practice my dying. I don’t want to die anytime too soon. When I work with extremely young people, it makes sense. I die first. In order. If they die first, it’s a tragedy. I miss my mother. It’s not a tragedy.”


“Thrusting forward is contagious.” —Eiko

Collaboration for Eiko requires a conversation—usually an animated one, often over a meal that she prepares in her tiny, well-stocked New York apartment kitchen, where a hunk of ginger sits next to the constant pot of rice. The meal is consumed at a rectangular table in the small adjacent dining room that also served as Eiko’s video-editing station for A Body in Fukushima. Eiko: “Sometimes talking makes it harder to jump over the distance.”

So, the conversation might spill over into a sudden improvisational movement session on the well-worn parquet living-room floor, a surprising oasis of open space in the otherwise fully lived-in apartment she shares with Koma. It also houses a piano, a lifetime of costumes, videotapes, computers, nests of cords, memorabilia, and remnants of their two grown sons whom they raised there.

Or, the collaboration might begin at 10:45 p.m. on the Hillsborough doorstep of McIver, who greets her in pajamas. Eiko was making a quick detour on her way to see her mother. But first, she is following ADF director Jodee Nimerichter’s intuitive suggestion—that these two artist and scholars, who have never met, should work together.

Eiko, who brings the same intention to relationships as she does to her art, has a long history with ADF. I can still conjure Eiko & Koma’s 1984 Reynolds Theater performance of Elegy, their naked bodies drenched in pools of water and light, all dripping and luminous. And the gasping impact of what they did with all that rice in Grain. The duo returned frequently over the years, performing in a Duke Gardens pond, under giant oaks, and other outdoor settings. Always with glacial slowness.

Eiko began her solo work a few years ago when Koma injured his foot. (He has since recovered and performs his own work.) It is her trusting relationship with Nimerichter, whose vision brought A Body in a Farmers’ Market to Durham one May morning in 2016, where Eiko interacted with people and produce, darting through startled crowds.

McIver had never seen her work. What might she make of Eiko’s four-hour mesmerizing Fukushima film where she illuminates irradiated ghost towns and immerses herself in radiation-soaked water? Coming from opposite sides of the world, experiences, and cultures, at first glance, the two couldn’t seem a more unlikely match.

Eiko chose to drop out of college in the 1960s to join Tokyo’s political revolution. Her work is ephemeral and transitory. She asks people to fill in what isn’t there. “We develop our imagination to get smarter,” she tells me. My own experience with A Body in a Farmers’ Market became stronger as time advanced, compelling me to write about it for no one but myself. And, for Eiko.

Fifty-seven-year-old McIver was born into activism in Greensboro’s housing projects, where the Klan infamously killed five people in front of her house. She was seventeen. Her portraits, permanently visible on canvas in thick, bold, here-I-am strokes, confront us with identity and unify us with family, sometimes at the same time.

Eiko describes herself as frugal: She carries her futon prop on subways and flies economy. McIver refers to herself as high maintenance: She lives alone in a large house in the woods and flies first class.

What connects them is their willingness to be vulnerable through their art. Their fearlessness about confronting death and dying. And their mothers. That’s where their stories converge.

McIver: “I do get called to do things. I must pay attention even if I don’t understand it. But this was probably the most extreme.” Two days after meeting and departing, she felt compelled to photograph Eiko’s mother. But she died two days before McIver arrived.

“In some ways, it was like reliving my mother dying [twelve years ago]. Eiko was just how I was at my mother’s funeral. She cried. But for the most part, when my mother was sick and dying, I decided I was going to be an artist and make paintings. I was not going to be emotional; I could capture this moment with some sense of clarity. Eiko was like that. It was easier for me to direct than to be a daughter. Eiko and I are similar in that regard.”

“Collaborating with the dead.” —Eiko

“In the afterlife.” —McIver

Eiko coached McIver on the Buddhist rituals of kneeling, chanting, bell ringing, and incense. She also fed the community who came to pay their respects. The body was at home, packed in dry ice, waiting five days for cremation. There was no embalming. The grieving daughter made sure her mother’s body was never alone, instructing McIver: “Go talk to my mother.”

“It’s the closest and most time I have ever spent with a corpse,” McIver says. “No one gets this noble honor.”

At the cremation, McIver’s English-speaking partner instructed her to pick up a remaining bone with chopsticks and place it in the urn. But she had never held chopsticks before. She managed the moment by resting hers on the bone with her partner’s and following it to the urn. At dinner, the urn was placed at the head of the table. There was laughter and storytelling.

McIver photographed her entire experience, including the body, family-crafted origami, photographs, and other non-metal objects to accompany Eiko’s mother into the afterlife, as well as the cotton slip that Eiko bequeathed her when the two women cleaned out the apartment. And the food. McIver will transform some of these into paintings for the performances.


“My mind is going forward so my leg is going forward.” —Eiko

Eiko says that she has become bold. Become. What might we expect moving forward from this fearless woman who has been naked in performance, who plunges into nuclear-disaster water and renders it exquisite. Who stops Wall Street pedestrians in their trading tracks. Who perches atop buildings and crows over the city. Who stands nose-to-nose with a stranger and holds their gaze. Who challenges us to reconsider definitions and boundaries. What will “bold” look like for this woman who will be written about long after she’s gone?

Eiko: “When I die, I don’t need a Buddhist funeral. Just show the Fukushima movie and have a good meal.”

Ligia Lewis by Catherine Damman

Ligia Lewis
interviewed by Catherine Damman
Published in BOMB Magazine

The recent conclusion of the choreographer’s trilogy, Water Will (in Melody), employs mime, gothic imagery, and a Grimm tale, to consider entanglements of nature, the feminine, and blackness.

Ligia Lewis in Water Will (in Melody) at Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, 2018. Photo by Studio Julien Barbés. Courtesy of Hebbel Am Ufer.

A theater is perhaps a kind of vise, a mechanism for durational holding. The best artists working in the form understand that whatever is placed between the proscenium’s jaws—sound, light, language, bodies, movement—is so clutched to facilitate the material’s irrevocable transformation, often via brute force. Ligia Lewis is one such artist. She has spent the last five years at work on a monumental trilogy, comprised of Sorrow Swag (2014); minor matter (2016); and Water Will (in Melody) (2018), which will have its US premiere at Performance Space New York in May. Dominican-born and Florida-raised, Lewis made these works while living and working in Berlin, and from this vantage, has made something that I can only call distinctively, brutally American. This is not least because each of the three is saturated in a hue wrung from that nation’s flag (blue, red, and white, respectively), and because they foreground transformation, illegibility, and diaspora, but even more so, because of the enormity of their ambition, itself scaled to address the vastness of the country’s immiserating project.

To borrow from Gertrude Stein, each work alone manifests “a single hurt color”; the triumvirate is, together, a spectacle and everything strange. Sorrow Swag, drawing on Samuel Beckett and Jean Anouilh, is built around the melancholy wailing of a single performer, a white boy who spars with everyone and only himself within an ultramarine fog. minor matter features three performers, including Lewis, in a fiery blaze of entanglement and exertion. Together, they are an unstoppable force in the face of an immovable object. In her most recent work, Water Will (in Melody), Lewis appears alongside three other female performers for an exploration of melodrama, demonstrative gesture, and the limits of legibility. Within the notion of will, expressions of futurity, inevitability, and desire are nestled together, however uncomfortably, with the faculties of determination and transformative action. We spoke about the power of black thought to work within and against spectacle, the possibilities of antagonism, and the urgency of collectivity.

Performance view of Water Will (in Melody) at Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, 2018. Photo by Katja Illner. Courtesy of the artist and Hebbel Am Ufer.

Catherine Damman
Tell me about your latest performances of Sorrow Swag at the studios of the Kaaitheater in Brussels.

Ligia Lewis
Sorrow Swag is so dark, but the last two nights made me fall in love with it again. It’s interesting to revisit this first part of my recent trilogy. I have a different performer now, Andrew Hardwidge. My twin brother [George Lewis Jr., also known as Twin Shadow], who arranged the music, joined on this occasion and played live. It was everything.

This spring, you’ll be touring all three parts of the trilogy individually at different venues in the US and Europe.

Yeah, this is the first time they’ll be playing simultaneously. Each piece attends to the theater in different ways. There are definitely overlapping sensibilities, light being the most obvious. I have a fantasy of one day staging the whole trilogy back to back, in one evening, maybe in a warehouse, somewhere slightly off the grid of the usual touring circuit.

Yeah, you’d need a massive space. I was just watching footage of Sorrow Swag and the second part, minor matter, as well as an earlier work of yours, Sensation 1 (2011). You’re so attentive to what the proscenium does and can do, and what you and the performers can do to it. Particularly in minor matter, the use of the perimeter of the theatrical space, especially upstage and downstage, is crucial. There are these great moments where the performers come toward the audience or retreat away, staging an encounter of proximity and charge.

I always consider the audience when I construct a work. And I’m very busy with the feel of it, how it might be experienced. My work indulges in the sensate and operates through this field of perception. The first work I made was Sensation 1, a sculptural choreography with the gesture of singing rendered mute. The gesture of song animates the seemingly static body, giving form to an intensified interior and exterior space of the body. Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” the VH1 Live! version, plays in the dark, after the choreography is performed. I was playing with a sensorial choreography, illuminated by sight and sound, presented separately.

After that I decided to work more theatrically, fully assuming the theater as dynamic and supportive of experientially rich work. I continued with my interest in figuring the body in space and time, which is visible in the rest of the pieces of this trilogy. I’m interested in how bodies come to mean something or make things meaningful, together. In minor matter, we used the walls of the black box as another arm or leg, another body of support for us to climb. Sorrow Swag is more isolating, so the body kind of appears and disappears in the fog. My framing devices are informed by the space I have to work in. The theater, which feels distant and cold, at times overdetermining and overwhelming, also invites the potential to create transformative work. Charge and retreat, saturation and intensity, and the unruly unfolding of activities and embodiments allow me to deal with the hardness of the theater. The interplay of light and sound are crucial.

Your work unseats the position of mastery that a spectator in a proscenium theater might assume will be given to them. That’s achieved through these moments of illegibility, where perception and knowledge slip away. Scenographically, dramaturgically, or choreographically, movement gets interrupted or shifts midway; just at the moment the spectator is starting to get a handle on what’s happening, something dissolves or transforms.

I like producing a slippery relationship between the audience and performers. How do I build a fugitive choreography, one that’s always in the process of escaping itself, then coming back to reaffirm itself, only to slide away again? The act of interpreting a choreography is made live by the performers, which is the invitation in my work. I’m fortunate to work with brilliant performers, and this kind of dynamic interpretation is present in the pieces.

Alongside their interpretations, there’s a logic for how movements or embodiments unfold in space and time. Light and sound undergo a similar process. In Sorrow Swag, light and sound produce qualities of immersion, and at times distance or disappearance. And in minor matter, light and sound offer a feeling of seemingly endless unfolding. In Water Will, light is more hypnotic, fantastical. The unsettling qualities emerge out of different choreographic proposals that always include sound and light. I like when something familiar suddenly touches upon the uncanny, or a series of activities or movements is interrupted, or sonic and visual shiftiness disrupts the flow of things and creates a hiccup in perception.

I indulge in nonlinear thinking and allow myself to riff or go in multiple directions in a piece. This lends itself to going sideways versus straight forward. I’m an intense reader of my own work, but not in an analytical sense. It’s an intuitive process.

Your work is a kind of theoretical object in its own right. You’re a keen reader of Saidiya Hartman, Hortense Spillers, and Fred Moten, among others. How do you see your work in dialogue with the discourses of black studies?

Tiran Willemse, Jonathan Gonzalez, and Ligia Lewis in minor matter at HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, 2017. Photo by Martha Glenn. Courtesy of Hebbel Am Ufer.

That’s an incredible bunch. Saidiya Hartman and Denise Ferreira da Silva are among many inspiring thinkers and writers who particularly move me at the moment—beyond my comprehension, beyond my possible illustration, and at times to tears. I don’t want to force a relationship between theory and dance because the practice of dancing is already producing its own theoretical framework, its own sets of rules, and its own ethos, coherent to itself.

In my work, I often start with something more obscure, like an image or a sound, or a sense of movement. Maybe later I’ll invite texts into my process as a way to elaborate further on what I’m intuiting. Having a strong political will, as I do, often sets me up for failure and lots of creative impossibility. Being able to think next to a text or another person becomes crucial to understanding how I want to be working. Within this trilogy especially, the oscillation between hope and hopelessness inspired me to think more deeply about my practice and what I wanted to privilege inside of it. The pieces work through so many of my own thoughts, experiences, affects, and impressions, and those of my collaborators. Additional texts that seem conducive to the work are also present. A key component of this trilogy is its antagonism toward white supremacist logics—the logics of empire—and their hold on the body. The audience becomes witness to this.

Your work is antagonistic, yet it also gives so much.

Thank you. Last night my brother was like, “The people here are really loving your work, which is cool. It might not be the right people, but…” And I just had to laugh. I could be busy with the fact that a large portion of my audience is white bourgeois viewers. It’s something I wrestle with. But at the same time, generosity enables me to take hold of the space and try to make it mine, even if only for a moment.

Generosity acknowledges that the work doesn’t have to be for everyone. You can speak to and with different audiences, beyond those in the performance space.

I used to have this naive and romantic idea about making work for a general public, having had a kind of populist disposition. I wonder about that now. (laughter) I think I was attracted to this idea initially because I wanted to avoid making dance only for a community that specializes in it, which is not so exciting to me. But as you said, different audiences are meeting the work, which doesn’t neatly fit into the category of dance, and all of this is important to me. Also, through my work, I’ve met other artists and folks who are really inspiring, and ultimately that’s what it’s about.

Who have some of those encounters been with?

So many, but to name a few that ended up in collaborative processes: Nkisi, founding member of NON Worldwide (with Chino Amobi and Angel-ho), a DJ collective comprised mostly of members from the black diaspora. I joined her and NON a couple years ago on a project at Hebbel Am Ufer in Berlin, and since then we’ve maintained an artistic dialogue. She and I also contributed to the work of visual artist Paul Maheke, for a video entitled Levant. Working with Wu Tsang on the film We Hold Where Study was pretty amazing. And of course I continue to work with my brother, Twin Shadow. I joined him at Afropunk; he joined me for Sorrow Swag, and we’ll continue to work together. I have an upcoming commission at the High Line, and he will likely be part of it.

Oh, importantly, a young scholar and performance maker, Mlondi Zondi, and I have a very fruitful exchange. He wrote about minor matter, picking up on things I would have potentially overlooked. It’s rewarding to have my work interface with such brilliant people.

What were some of the things that came out of these dialogues?

With Mlondi, we’ve been tripping a lot on the limits of what choreography can do and be in relationship to politics and representation. As this is all very complicated, he and I reflect together—he as theorist, me as practitioner. I’m busy trying to enact these limits; he reflects deeply on them.

How does one respond to this seemingly intractable problem of institutions wanting the work without doing the work when it comes to black artists? All in the name of “diversity” or “inclusion,” with the motivation being at once exculpatory—a way to atone for previous exclusion—and rooted in the logics of cultural capital, wherein blackness is trendy or cool. This is not a new phenomenon.

Well, I have a kind of allergy to visibility politics. I take a pretty pessimistic view toward institutions, particularly those that don’t enter a space of self-reflection, or more importantly, self-critique, when they program work by artists of color. Friends share their stories of dealing with institutions both in Europe and the US, still having to explain things that seem obvious. Like, do people think we’re silly enough to believe that our own visibility is actually the goal? I’m critical of visibility politics because it’s in the name of inclusion, often in a bland liberal project that I don’t want to be committed to. I’m curious what will come of this moment, how it will be written about, and what else is to come. Hopefully more noise.

Perhaps one antidote is to luxuriate in specificity, so let’s turn to the specifics of your work. Rewatching the Bolero scene in minor matter this weekend, I was thinking about Maurice Béjart’s ballet and how you—perhaps not destroy, but definitely transform it. The movement is the original choreography, yet it also becomes a groove that’s not present in, say, Sylvie Guillem’s performance of this dance.

I love Béjart’s Bolero; it’s epic. I prefer Jorge Donn’s version to Guillem’s. His uniquely queer articulation is more fascinating to watch. Approaching Bolero, I wanted to imagine a version that’s not about the soloist, so my version quickly transforms into a trio, an ensemble work. Our syncopated rhythms as performers meet the syncopated rhythms of Carl Craig and Moritz von Oswald’s ReComposed, Vol. 3, featuring the Bolero. Something happens when I’m busy with rhythm. Both the body and the performative situation operate together in a way that I don’t experience as autonomous or unique. CDYou’re also drawing on the tradition of stepping, among other things.

Andrew Hardwidge in Sorrow Swag at Kaaistudio’s, Brussels, 2019. Photo by Dieter Hartwig. Courtesy of Kaaitheater, Brussels.

Yes, the choreography is derived from step, which we understand in America as something performed in fraternities and sororities. But it finds its root in Gumboot, the South African folk dance that also became a protest dance. This might be the most iconic moment of minor matter; but, I think it’s great in large part because of what succeeds it—the virtuosity of Thami Manekehla’s soliloquy, precariously placed in the periphery of the black box. It’s beautiful to see diaspora enacted in real time: Thami’s performing this as something he learned as a folk dance, and then Jonathan Gonzalez, an American who studied step, is performing his version, while I dance alongside them. Its value emerges out of the process. Performers Corey Scott-Gilbert and Tiran Willemse have since joined the tour, and I’m so grateful for their energetic contributions. I see this moment not just as a cultural referent and what it signifies, but for its material potency and its blur, created by the sound score that moves from Ravel’s Bolero (Craig and von Oswald’s version)—which slides into a house track, with samples from Donna Summer to Arthur Russell—to more obscure musical inserts introduced by musicologist Michal Libera. I can’t think about this dance moment outside the sound score, its energetic push and pull. The piece was conceived through how sound would operate within it—an investigation in futurity.

It becomes social, collective. At the end, you’re all wrestling and sparring, and these precarious reconfigurations of extreme exertion start to crumble and begin again, up the walls and in different places in the arena. You end on these different ways of being together, leaning on each other, and trying again and again.

The last section is called “Apocalypse.” It’s my favorite part. (laughter) The house lights come up; you hear the clamor of us—jumping off one another and falling, really falling, and trying to get back up, basically building these precarious, and at times impossible, assemblages that lend themselves to falling. The clamor is important because the sound has been so active throughout the piece, and then suddenly it’s just us and our laughter and our—I wouldn’t say pain, but sometimes it does hurt. You’re like, “Damn, you just hit me,” and someone else yells, “No, you did!” And all of that becomes part of the play. This section disassembles the fantasy of the body as whole and organized. I was trying to get to the point when a body transforms into flesh. How do we read flesh versus a body? In this clamor and noise, there’s the capacity to understand flesh as vulnerable yet binding. Our bodies falling up against the walls of the black box builds this complicated relationship between us and the object we’re up against and, in part, supported by. I was interested in the instability of that.

That collectivity is necessary and urgent in the face of what Hortense Spillers would call the “zero degree of conceptualization”—these kinship structures that exist outside or before the white supremacist recognition of subjecthood.

Yes! And it’s really difficult to be together. I definitely felt that in the process of collaborating with Thami and Jonathan. It was challenging. What was beautiful was that we were all committed to the process. Consensus erases a lot of possibility. Maybe I’m posturing toward anarchy.

Tell me about your newest work, Water Will (in Melody), which concludes the trilogy.

Well, it’s an ambitious proposal—I’ve reinforced the proscenium with a Victorian style theater curtain adorning the stage. It’s the opposite of Brecht’s vorhang—ours is used for its more sensual qualities, although its material presence does heighten the fiction. Reflecting on the dubious entanglements of nature, the feminine, darkness, and blackness, this piece uses the “nature” of the theater to think through such themes. It’s gothic, erotic, and borders on the absurd. A black and white melodrama ensues through mime. We basically mime for our lives. (laughter) The work is a hybrid, sort of nineteenth-century Southern Gothic meets German Romanticism meets early silent film. It uses the Brothers Grimm tale “The Willful Child” to think through notions of willfulness and when this is rendered legible or illegible. And of course, this is gendered and more importantly, racialized. The use of the fairytale was inspired in part by Sara Ahmed’s reflections in Willful Subjects. The piece departs from there and moves relationally into a poetics I’m very excited about, with the audience being the general will and wall against the four performers onstage, Susanne Sachße, Dani Brown, Titilayo Adebayo, and myself. We perform with incredible light design by my oft artistic collaborator Ariel Efraim Ashbel and sound arranged and designed by S. McKenna.

How do you join these disparate elements—the fantastical, the history of terror, and the playfulness?

In the first half of Water Will, everything is made explicit, exteriorized, exposed. Mime functions well for this. There’s an oversaturation of signifiers, so the work operates on excess and abundance. Overlapping speech stutters, chokes, and swallows itself, becoming a sonic screen from which our bodies are either further exposed or later veiled. Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead, the primary source of music, is made unrecognizable—droned out, at times pitched and slowed down—to the point that it sounds as if submerged in water. This music plays overtop parts of the illegible speech, which is the opaque counterpart in the piece. Through these choreographic procedures, the work becomes monstrous, tragic, and strangely beautiful.

Through this trilogy I’ve been processing all of these different things in relation to race, asking how can I bend the theater to my liking in order to create space for something else? I don’t think that question will ever disappear.

The Select Equity Group Series on Theater

Catherine Damman is an art historian and critic. Her writing on experimental dance, theater, film, music, and the visual arts can be found in Artforum, Bookforum, Art in America, Art Journal, and elsewhere. She is currently an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Wesleyan University’s Center for the Humanities.

Meet Marcus Fischer, the Portland Sound Artist Invited to the 2019 Whitney Biennial

Meet Marcus Fischer, the Portland Sound Artist Invited to the 2019 Whitney Biennial
by Robert Ham
Published in Portland Mercury

Detail of Marcus Fischer's "Canopy/Harmonic Chorus" PHOTO BY PAUL RIEDMILLER

Detail of Marcus Fischer’s “Canopy/Harmonic Chorus” PHOTO BY PAUL RIEDMILLER

Marcus Fischer’s sound installation art is as impressive to look at as it is to hear. His piece “Canopy/Harmonic Chorus,” which was on display at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) last year as part of The Snake exhibition, ran tape loops from floor to ceiling and through small plastic spindles suspended in the air. The syrupy and intoxicating looped sounds—an overlapping array of guitar harmonics—broadcasting from small round speakers (also hanging) lent the installation a resemblance to a beautifully balanced Alexander Calder mobile.

“Canopy/Harmonic Chorus” was Fischer’s latest step away from recording and performing music, and toward creating site-specific work. It was the piece that likely tipped the scales for Fischer, and got him invited to participate in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, the prestigious modern art exhibition that happens every two years at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art.

“I still don’t quite know how they found me,” Fischer says, over beers near his home in Northeast Portland. “I almost deleted the email they sent, letting me know that one of the curators was going to be here in two days [and wanted to meet with me]. I didn’t have time to get stressed out about it, even though I’ve never had a studio visit from a curator before. From there it was a series of emails and Skype calls. No one addressed the elephant in the room until they offered me the spot [in the Biennial]. I’m still in shock in a lot of ways.”

The nod from the Whitney was a well-earned imprimatur for Fischer. Since moving to the Northwest in the late ’90s, Fischer has become one of the region’s most celebrated experimental artists. His albums are beautiful and enveloping, evoking widescreen images of the natural world and revealing deeply personal expressions. On his 2017 record Loss, Fischer uses degrading tape loops, watery guitar chords, and crackly samples to wrestle with the passing of his father and, as his label 12k Records put it, “the permanence of absence.”

Marcus Fischer's "Words of Concern" which will be at the Whitney Biennial. PHOTO BY JIM GOLDEN

Marcus Fischer’s “Words of Concern” which will be at the Whitney Biennial. PHOTO BY JIM GOLDEN

Loss was completed during Fischer’s stay at the Rauschenberg Residency, a Florida property once used by celebrated painter Robert Rauschenberg. It was there that Fischer also finished one of the two sound art pieces that will be in the Whitney Biennial. As the 2017 inauguration loomed, Fischer recorded other artists at the residency reciting their chief concerns regarding the then-forthcoming Trump administration.

“I collected all these voices,” Fischer recalls, “and wound up making edits so that, if everybody said the same thing, like ‘the environment’ or ‘sexism,’ I would stack the voices. It was like a chorus.”

The finished piece was a three-minute tape loop that ran from the floor to the ceiling. Fischer played it nonstop in the residency’s main studio space on Inauguration Day in 2017, so people could wander through and meditate on these issues. The piece will also play during the entire five-month run of the Biennial.

The Whitney also commissioned Fischer to create a sound piece for the museum’s stairwell, which runs from the sub-basement to the building’s fifth floor. The work, called “Ascent/Dissent,” will feature 10 channels of audio, broadcast from 29 different speakers attached to the stairwell. The sound changes as the audience walks from the bottom of the stairs to the top, the tones bleeding together along the way.

“Depending on which elevation you’re at, there are different kinds of tonalities,” Fischer says. “The sounds below are subterranean and more earthy. As you get higher, it becomes more ethereal. It’s a little bit about the path of life, whether you enter and rise up, or you go into the ground.”

While recognizing that the Whitney selection will likely open doors for him and his work, Fischer seems surprisingly reticent to leave his day job as a photographer and photo stylist to pursue art full-time.

“I feel completely fine working in order to live and have my creative endeavors separated from it,” he says. “I kind of fear what would happen if I were to turn art into something that I would have to depend on.”

Robert Ham,
Robert Ham is an arts and culture writer and a regular contributor to the Mercury.

Manuela Infante Makes Space For Ideas

Manuela Infante Makes Space For Ideas
The Chilean theatremaker, now touring the U.S., works at the intersection of spectacle and philosophy.

Marcela Salinas in "Estado Vegetal" (Vegetative State)." (Photo by Fundacion Teatro a Mil)

Marcela Salinas in “Estado Vegetal” (Vegetative State).” (Photo by Fundacion Teatro a Mil)

A municipal guard walks onstage and starts describing the causes of an accident involving a motorcycle and a tree. He somehow manages to blame the tree for the accident—or, more precisely, he singles out the dissonance between the temporality of the tree and that of the life around it as the cause of the collision. The speed of the world surrounding it, the guard suggests, made the tree’s slow movement almost disappear. “A tree takes centuries to grow, it is slow…so you could say, ‘You should have seen it coming….The storm was coming.’ But I could say, ‘Yes, officer, but you could not see it, this is a coming that cannot be seen.’”

So begins Chilean writer/director Manuela Infante’s Estado Vegetal (Vegetative State). Is this a procedural thriller? Are we going to find out more about the accident? Not exactly. Instead, like that tree, the play slowly starts to grow in multiple directions, bringing onstage a polyphony of voices in a very controlled chaos. While exploring the nuances of the accident through the eyes of the many involved, Infante mines a quotidian anecdote for what it says about the limits of human perception and knowledge, the coexistence of species on our planet, and the possibilities of non-human communication.

A mixture of simple anecdotal events and deeply philosophical inquiries is a signature formula Infante has developed throughout her career, and in the more than 10 plays she’s written and directed. American audiences are getting a chance to see for themselves as Estado Vegetal makes the rounds of several U.S. venues, starting with Austin’s Fusebox Festival (April 17-18), FUNDarte in Miami (April 20-21), Portland Institute for Contemporary Art in Oregon (April 26-27), New York City’s Baryshnikov Arts Center (May 2-3), and Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (May 9-12).

Infante, a leading voice in Chilean theatre for nearly 20 years, began her career with the company Teatro de Chile, then went solo when the troupe disbanded in 2016. She is among a cohort of Chilean theatremakers, which also includes Guillermo Calderón, who mark a generational shift. Born during Pinochet’s dictatorship, which ran 1973 to 1990, she and her peers started their formal artistic education during the first decade of the transition to democracy, and began producing plays by the dawn of the new millennium. Positioning Infante’s work within recent Chilean theatre history not only provides context for her productions; it also serves as an entry point for unpacking her artistic language, her philosophical questions around mimesis and representation, and her explorations of non-human entities.

She made a splash immediately with Prat (2002), her first work as a playwright and director. Indeed the show remains a milestone for Chilean theatre, chiefly because of the scandal that dogged it, making it the most polarizing piece of theatre in recent decades. The play is a fictionalized version of the historic events of the Battle of Iquique in 1879, in which a national hero, Arturo Prat, gave up his life at the age of 31 for the motherland fighting the Peruvian navy. Though the eponymous character is a historic figure, Prat does not aim for historical accuracy, depicting Prat as a frightened teenager on a ship, where he faces the decision to sacrifice himself for his country.

The play evolved from an exercise performed by a group of young acting students, and won a college theatre festival in 2001; only then was it developed into a full-length play with the help of public funding. While very few people actually saw the show, its less-than-hagiographic portrait of a purported national hero generated an intense public debate on national TV and in Congress, sparking questions about the value of an identity based on a militaristic past, the heteronormative construction of historic narrative, and the fragility of the transition from dictatorship to a democracy. When Infante and her colleagues later dubbed their company Teatro de Chile, the official-sounding name was meant ironically, and the subject matter of their subsequent work was less concerned with the nation per se than with some of the same questions they’d explored in Prat.

Juana (2004), for instance, underlined the fictional invention involved in writing history. Set in France in 1920 on the day that Joan of Arc is canonized, the play depicts a gang of poor children who decide to play a game in which they pretend to be the French martyr and reenact moments of her life. Through this trifold mediation—moving the action to a different country and epoch, telling the story through the eyes of children reflecting on their country’s past—Juana, like Prat, interrogated the construction of national myths, the role of history in creating nationalism, and the effects of war in the lives of simple people.

ESTADO VEGETAL de Manuela Infante

For Infante, theatremaking sits between two other interests: philosophy and music. She received an M.A. in cultural analysis at the University of Amsterdam, and in 2010, she formed the indie-pop band Bahía Inútil. “I think theatre brings together music and philosophy,” she told the writer Alejandra Costamagna in 2018. “Because theatre is pure rhythm, it happens as an unfolding of rhythm through time and space, and at the same time theatre is pure idea. Theatre is a complex system.”

Infante thus conceives of plays as a way of thinking, a path to an irresponsible philosophy that puts intellectual discourse to the test onstage, making it sensible—in the Kantian sense of apprehensible, legible. A specific mixture of complex ideas explored through bodies, rhythm, and storytelling onstage often results in compelling and attractive scenic compositions that can tackle philosophical questions without didacticism or preconceived answers, inviting the audience on a journey of performative thinking.

This intellectualized physicality, or physicalized intellect, if you will, was the driving force behind another very ambitious project by Teatro de Chile. Using a system of collaborative creation that the troupe had developed over the years, they embarked on scenic research about Jesus as a historic figure that was heavily mediated through writing, visual arts, and film. The result was Cristo (2008), which on the intellectual plane set out to test the limits of reality and representation, thinking through the ideas of such philosophers as Jean Baudrillard, Gilles Deleuze, and Jacques Derrida. On a performative level this was delivered in an anecdotal tone, via naturalistic acting, making the play highly diverting, visually attractive, and relatable for audiences.

As you can see, Infante’s intellectual references are mostly European philosophers. But her relationship with Europe and theatre has been built primarily in practice: in touring, receiving multiple commissions from European entities and festivals, and doing artistic residences at international cultural centers, such as Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center in New York in 2011 and 2015. In 2012 she was invited to create a play in Germany on the occasion of the bicentennials of several Latin American countries. Infante and Teatro de Chile produced Don’t Feed the Humans, a play mixing theatre and lecture performance (as they had a year earlier in Loros Negros) in which a scientist brings the last surviving specimens of a fictional tribe from the south of Chile to Germany. The play premiered at Berlin’s Young Latin American Theatre Festival, alongside the work of other Latin American theatre artists, including Argentina’s Lola Arias, but it challenged the very frame of its presentation. Don’t Feed the Humans suggested uneasy parallels between the colonial practice of creating human zoos and the contemporary international circulation of thea-tre from non-European countries. In 2013 the play Zoo expanded on one aspect of this comparison, looking squarely at the history of those human zoos—i.e., exhibitions of Indigenous people in cages in Europe and the U.S. at the turn of the 19th century. Zoo zeroed in on the paradoxes and limits of theatrical representation, the place of language in the production of knowledge, and the construction of Otherness.

The company’s last play was 2016’s Realismo, which emerged from a series of artistic residences, including one at Watermill. Realismo began to point the way to Infante’s current preoccupations. In attempting to address the question of how theatre might be done within a post-anthropocentric paradigm, Realismo connects different generations of a family by means of a serial dramatic structure. Each scene deploys variations of the realistic acting tradition, while the disturbance of what can be understood as reality gradually escalates, until the final moment, when humans are displaced from the stage and the scene is fully controlled by inanimate objects.

Marcela Salinas in “Estado Vegetal” (Vegetative State).” (Photo by Call the Shots SIFA 2017l)

Marcela Salinas in “Estado Vegetal” (Vegetative State).” (Photo by Call the Shots SIFA 2017l)

Even when Infante was billed as the playwright and director, the methodology of Teatro de Chile was deeply collaborative. The dramaturgy of the troupe’s spectacles was the result of scenic exercises, explorations, and improvisations by actors under Infante’s guidance. While this might be understood as a natural consequence of her using the stage to reflect on and test ideas, it also means that her plays contain a multiplicity of voices.

After the dissolution of Teatro de Chile, Infante started writing texts for other people to direct: In 2017 there was El corazón del gigante egoísta (The Heart of the Selfish Giant) and Ayudándole a sentir (My Condolences), both directed by Juan Pablo Peragallo. And she in turn has recently directed plays by others, such as Luis Barrales’s Xuárez (2015) and Roland Schimmelpfennig’s Idomeneo (2019).

Even without her longtime Teatro de Chile collaborators, Infante has continued to push the limits of an epistemology centered on the human experience in performance. It was during a residency at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in 2016 that she began to create Estado Vegetal, a one-woman show in which actor Marcela Salinas brilliantly incarnates the array of characters, human and non-human, involved in that motorcycle/tree accident. Expanding on the writings of Michael Marder, whose work focuses on phenomenology and environmental philosophy, and the plant-neurologist Stefano Mancuso, Infante has created a performative reflection on pressing and timely questions—about the challenges of living on our planet, understanding the human species as just one among an infinite number of species on Earth, the existence of non-anthropocentric languages, the production of knowledge by species other than humans, and the improbability of communication between humans and plants.

You might say that her work, cultivated over years in many kinds of soil, is continuing to grow.

Fabian Escalona is a Ph.D. candidate in theatre and performance at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

Originally published in American Theatre
A publication of the American Theatre Group

Peter Simensky Revisits Gold in “unearth”

by Ellena Basada

Peter Simensky has a longstanding obsession with gold. His 2015 project Surface Contents 1 & 2 uses 14 karat gold in a series of materials and actions that are meant to exploit gold as a literal marker of value and influence. Simensky’s latest project unearth is a continuation of his critical dialogue around gold’s influence in American history and culture. Inspired by a collection of old photographs published in the Sandy Gazette of ill-fated mining expeditions in the Oregon wilderness, Simensky aims to recreate gold’s seductive yet deceiving allure. Miners in this region were drawn into the depths of the earth by glimmering flecks on stone’s surfaces. Years of intensive labor and even death only exploited these miners’ lives and resources—as the mineral they chased was not gold but pyrite, also known as ‘fool’s gold.’

PICA’s black box theater doubles as a cave-like mirage, in which Simensky creates an abstracted simulation of the desire and loss that haunts the unearthed mining archive. Two large screens play video captured by Simensky’s collaborator Rubén García Marrufo, portraying manipulated clouds of gold glitter comprised of pyrite dust caught in the light rays that stream down from holes in a cavern’s ceiling. The footage suggests the manipulation of air, as the clouds of fool’s gold morph and swirl inorganically. Marrufo’s filming objectifies the spectral, documenting the shimmering clouds as something more sinister than fleeting. Accompanying the ephemera on screen, Jesse Mejía formulates live ambient sounds that resemble the sounds of stone and metal colliding.

Photo by Mario Gallucci

Photo by Mario Gallucci

A break in the complementary visual and aural display forces the audiences’ eyes upwards to the ceiling of the “cave,” where small reflective stones rotate in spotlight, emulating disco balls. It is unclear whether the stones are handcrafted or organic, which further entrenches the audiences’ sensibilities in both mystery and illusion. Mejía’s pause in sound making leaves the room silent, except for the sound of the machinery behind the rotating disco ball rocks. The mechanical sound in combination with the transitory spectrals of light reflected by the rocks’ surfaces only suggests further a greater system at work beyond the allure of sparkles.

A performance begins at the curtain situated at center stage. Projected onto the curtain is a rock formation illuminated by neon lights: yellow, magenta, deep blue. Dozens of fingers decorated in red glitter gloves emerge from small holes worked into the fabric of the curtain. The fingers dance sensually, evoking phallic imagery, which pairs with the concealment of the performers to produce a glory-hole effect. The evocation of the glory-hole speaks to the lecherous nature of the desire for gold. Also, as glory-holes maintain the anonymity of the participants, Simensky imitates the desire of the miners at the beginning of their journey, when the golden flecks represented an entire body of potential pleasure.

Photo by Mario Gallucci

Photo by Mario Gallucci

The denouement of unearth is a solo act of two gloved hands that represent the master and orchestrator of the fingers. The two hands, belonging to performance artist Allie Hankins, create a display in front of a microphone, generating ASMR-like sounds as they rub glitter on glitter, forcing shivers to run through people’s spines. Through theatrical movements, the hands evoke laughter. The interactive, response-driven aspect of this last act plays on our own instinctive desire for spectacles. As the show comes to a close, as dance music begins to play and the rocks hanging from the ceiling become actual disco balls, Simensky employs the absurd to reconfigure the cavern into a dancefloor. The reimagining of the space still maintains it as a location for gluttons, but it also obscures the locus of desire with noise. This move suggests that perhaps noise is all there is and that the endeavor to obtain the object of desire will always be a Sisyphean one.


Ellena Basada is a cultural critic, writer, and editor based in Portland. She received her BA in English from Pomona College and is an MA candidate for the Critical Studies program at PNCA. Please email her at ellena.basada[at]gmail[dot]com for questions, comments, or criticism. Find her on Instagram @_ellenanelle_ and Twitter @vaginihilism.

Recent Press on Abigail DeVille: The American Future at PICA

Abigail DeVille: The American Future

Exhibition closes: January 12, 2019
The American Future by Abigail DeVille is a monumental installation, or as the artist puts it, “a model for reflection” comprised of foraged materials, publications, time, labor, uprooted histories, research, politics, and poetry.
Gallery Hours:
Wed / Thu / Fri, 12:00 – 6:00 PM
Saturday, 12:00 – 4:00 PM

OPB, Artist Abigail DeVille’s Critique Of The American Paradox

Street Roots, Portland’s Story of Oppression Through Art

Oregon Arts Watch

The American Future is generously supported by The Robert Lehman Foundation, Jeffrey Thomas and Laura Cooper, Sarah Miller Meigs and Andrew Meigs, and PICA’s Visual Art Circle.
PICA thanks Street Roots, Outside the Frame, and the filmmakers of Arresting Power for their openness to partnership and collaboration.

pyramid_yz8a8753_1541286583748 Image courtesy of OPB

Kristan Kennedy in new Paper Monument Publication: As Radical, As Mother, As Salad, As Shelter: What Should Art Institutions Do Now?

As Radical, As Mother, As Salad, As Shelter: What Should Art Institutions Do Now?

In light of recent political shifts across the globe, have you sensed a change in the position of the art institution vis-à-vis political activism?

Can an art institution go from being an object of critique to a site for organizing? How? Should the art institution play this kind of role? What other roles can or should it play?

What other institutions, curators, or publics do you look to in formulating your own institution’s position?

Recent controversies over curatorial choices have foregrounded the different ways in which institutions envision their audience(s). In your experience, is this process changing? How should it proceed?

How can an institution address the dichotomy between art as cultural entertainment and art as political inquiry? What is the role of the curator in mediating this? How does this compare to the artist’s role?

How can art institutions be better?

With contributions by: Regine Basha, Chloë Bass, Dena Beard, Zachary Cahill, Ken Chen, Lori Cole, Anne Ellegood, Anthony Elms, Deborah Fisher, Zanna Gilbert, Namita Gupta Wiggers, Larissa Harris, Pablo Helguera, Megan Heuer, Kemi Ilesanmi, Mary Jane Jacob, Alhena Katsof, Kristan Kennedy, Alex Klein, Jordan Martins, Amanda Parmer, Risa Puleo, Laura Raicovich, Sara Reisman, Chris Reitz, Nicolás Rodríguez Melo, Stephen Squibb, Elizabeth Thomas, Gilbert Vicario, and Anuradha Vikram

Available now at

pm_rmms-front-kennedy Image courtesy of Paper Monument

The Pedagogy of Black Queer Struggle and Joy

By Andrew J. Brown/Sister James

jumatatu m. poe has long been interested in the vocabulary of J-Sette dancing not only for its presentational exuberance, but for the seemingly contradictory energetic qualities of the movement—a tension created by big, explosive energy articulated through sharp, contained, precise gestures. This tension is perhaps doubled in the spatial context of J-Sette performance, which is traditionally performed by groups of cisgender women at historically black colleges and universities in the South in the confined bleachers of large football stadiums. The movement has simultaneously been taken up by black queer men performing in intimate domestic spaces and eventually on gay club dance floors. In prior interviews, poe has discussed first discovering J-Sette through homemade YouTube videos and expressed his fascination with “this huge, combustive energy in these really small spaces…the garage, the living room with the table pushed back, the kitchen sometimes, or in the bedroom, behind the bed.” At the same time, in this tension, poe sensed and experienced joy. poe’s current performance series Let ‘im Move You develops out of this fascination and out of a creative partnership formed with one of these YouTube dancers and captain of the renown J-Sette line Mystic Force, Jermone Donte Beacham.

These qualities of movement and spatial contexts are referenced throughout the two sequential pieces of the Let ‘im Move You series shown at TBA—This is a Success and A Study. At the level of the body, poe and dancer William Robinson repeat phrases of J-Sette movement in rounds to the point of near exhaustion. Between each round, the performers’ affect drops from the forced smile of presentational dance to a focus on recuperation and preparation for the next round of movement. Together, these breaks in the emphatic polish of the choreography reveal not only the affective, emotional and physical labor of performing, specifically performing black joy and virtuosity for a primarily white audience, but simultaneously the ways in which the body is physically conditioned by such performances—literally through choreography and metaphorically through the everyday performances of excellence demanded of black people and the perpetual struggle to carve out moments of black joy within such contexts. Spatially, the performance begins in a black box arranged in proscenium style, then ambles through and between multiple spaces in the performance venue, until eventually exiting the venue altogether, finishing outside and in doing so, connecting this exploration of the struggle of/for black joy to the institution of primarily white performance venues as well as everyday environments.

During our public conversation about the performance at TBA, poe and Beacham reflected on poe’s experience of learning and Beacham’s experience of teaching J-Sette movement. They recalled one particular evening when Beacham took poe to a gay club to practice his J-Sette skills in public. poe, still relatively new to the form, was nervous as these public demonstrations typically take the form of battles in which individuals or small groups try to out-perform one another on the dance floor. He remembers, however, the relaxation and joy he felt when the entire club eventually joined together in performing the same phrases in rounds all facing the same direction—a unified J-Sette line performing for no one but themselves. As they learn from each other and from their past repetitions, they simultaneously strengthen their technical skill set and manifest a shared joy, even within the potential difficulty and fatigue of the movement. J-Sette choreography, then, allows for the intentional engagement with the ways in which black queer bodies are conditioned in relationship to confinement, intimacy, visibility, and consumption while also facilitating a visceral and shared joy. This is perhaps the contradiction of conditioning suggested by the Let in Let ‘im Move You—through form comes both a restriction and a release.

Form allows for repetition. Repetition through rounds is built into the J-Sette vocabulary with one individual initiating a phrase and repeating it until the entire group is performing in unison. And, this is reflected in Let ‘im Move You when, at the end of the performance, a number of local performers join poe, Beacham, and Robinson on stage one by one, repeating and expanding the movement in bodies and space. At the same time that J-Sette’s combustive energy accentuates the conditioning of the body, it also demands a collective, pedagogical spatialization of the body. Through J-Sette, the performance carves out interpersonal and embodied approaches to black queer joy even within the everyday institutional and social architectures that are built to stage black queer joy only as a validation of black queer pain or as access to knowing, claiming and consuming a proximity to blackness and queerness. Yet, in Let ‘im Move You, the shared struggle for black queer joy itself facilitates a king of black queer joy that is palpable throughout the space. And, while this pedagogy of both struggle and joy or perhaps joy through struggle is not for white audiences, it does perhaps have something to teach us if we let it.

Andrew J. Brown/Sister James received their PhD in Performance Studies from Northwestern University and is Assistant Professor of Performance Art at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Western Washington University. They are currently working on a book project titled Staging Statelessness: Queer African Refugees and the Limits of Belonging, which draws on seven years of in-depth performance collaboration with queer asylum seekers in South Africa and argues for quotidian and aesthetic performances as strategic practices of unbelonging that propose alternative configurations of citizenship, subjectivity, and community. Their work has been published in Women and Performance,Theatre Survey, Performing Arts Resources, and Theatre Research International. As a research-based performance artist, their practice ranges from ethnographic, socially engaged ensemble work to conceptual solo performance to question and trouble conventional delineations around what is human, animate, natural, or valuable. @sisterjames

Six Moments and Sounds from Robin Deacon’s Vinyl Equations

Vinyl Equations is an experiment in non-fiction narrative and storytelling; an opportunity for reminiscence and nostalgia; and a moment of genuine appreciation for sound and physical media. It illustrates our multi-faceted relationship to music and its role in the life and development of the artist. Summarizing storytelling is like slowly deflating a helium balloon, so instead, here are six memorable moments and sounds heard during Robin Deacon’s Vinyl Equations presented at the Winningstad Theatre as part of PICA’s 2018 TBA Festival.

Clicks and Crackles
The clicks and crackles heard throughout Vinyl Equations are intentional grooves that the artist put on the record used as background noise. A metronome, a ticking clock, a dripping noise, or an allusion to sleep, as Robin describes falling asleep while listening to records as a young man and dreaming over the leftover sounds at the edge of every album. A reminder that everything we are hearing is in the past and bordered by noise. The present is always dissolving away; the future has yet to arrive, and so our lives are made out of the days they’re made of and nothing else.

Paying homage to Isaac Hayes, who spends a whole eight minutes talking while a simple bass riff plays and a ride cymbal rings and sizzles against that deep and iconic voice, right before he starts singing “By the Time I get to Phoenix.” The clicks and crackles heard during Vinyl Equations are the foundation upon which the performance is built. A reminder that even what is happening on stage is a version of the past and the only way the artist’s past can be shared with an audience in the present is as artifact.

“I am not a dancer”
At the beginning of the performance, Robin speaks into the microphone and says, “I am not a dancer,” and later follows, “but you will watch me dance on this stage tonight.” Watching him run around on stage while listening to Joy Division like some amped up teenager, and very much channeling that energy, serves as such an effective reminder that for many of us the beginnings of our relationship with music were utterly visceral. Much of what we remember has little to do with knowledge or record keeping. That before any of that knowledge existed, most of us, including Robin, just wanted to jump up and down and run around.

From Soulful to Soulless
There is no pleasant way to bring up Richard Nixon. If the present ever creeps into Vinyl Equations, this is when. As we listen to Mr. Nixon say, “Last June 17th…” one cannot help but wonder what other awful things happened on that date this year. Or any other year in American history. When we think of offenses forgiven. Of individuals pardoned. And the war crimes of America in Vietnam and elsewhere, we are reminded that all of this has happened before. And will happen again.

A standalone tone arm and stylus allow Robin to play Richard Nixon on top of Isaac Hayes. So we hear Nixon’s speech over that same bass riff and ride cymbal. No amount of good vibes can undo Nixon’s voice. Some sounds, it seems, are impervious to artistic intention. Yet the soulless drone of Nixon’s voice fits in with everything else in the performance as a whole, because everything in the past is already written and must be accepted even if profoundly unpleasant.

Climbing the Furniture
Physical media is front and center in Vinyl Equations. Imagine a room, a table, a record player, and a tall shelf with a small collection of records. Vinyl Equations reminds us that physical media isn’t just about the act of holding a record, or playing a record, or adjusting a turn table. Physical media reminds us of the physical activity that comes with having a personal relationship with music. Even if it means literally climbing on the furniture. So watching Robin climb atop the shelf holding a microphone is a reminder that one’s visceral relationship with music can be rekindled at any time. Furniture not included.

Oh no, is he really going to cut that record in half with a circular saw? Yes, yes he is.
Earlier in the performance, we watched Robin take sand paper to a mint-condition reissue of Nina Simone’s Black Gold. But it was not until Robin retrieved the clamps and the circular saw from the opposite side of the stage that I realized how unique and hard to replicate this performance was. Like our memories, analog media is so finite and yet its resolution is endless. And so our relationship with media used to be not only physical, but inherently material. It is here, in the material world, that we can recognize that power tools and a little elbow grease could ruin a record forever. In our current relationship with media in the digital era of copy-and-paste culture, digital rights management, and cloud storage, it is important to remember that art used to be something so frail that you could break it.

Memory and Story
Deacon himself introduces Vinyl Equations as “the pathetic nostalgia of a forty-five year old man.” Yet, he delivers specific moments and stories that feel so important and lived-in, being mixed-race, having a mother from Trinidad and a British father, his mother leaving Trinidad a year before it gained independence from Britain. All without explaining what any or all of it means, Vinyl Equations centers less on the history than on specific moments of lived-in life and the sounds associated with it.

Watching Robin tell of his desire for an individual story. Him wishing that the album of Trinidadian Folk Music he found on an online auction site, would feature his mother as a soloist, only to discover that she was part of a choir or group, and that her voice is buried along with the voices of so many other women. This longing for individuality against the collective is a null desire, a moment in belonging rather than standing out, a reminder that the past, especially the past before our own birth, belongs to everyone, not only our ancestors.

A.M. Rosales is a multidisciplinary artist from Cochabamba, Bolivia presently based out of Portland, Oregon. They hold a Literature degree from George Mason University and their favorite rodent is the capybara. A Pride Foundation Scholar, a Teacher Apprentice at Writers-In-The-Schools, and an MFA Fiction candidate at Portland State University, they draw on the liminality of their immigrant and transgender experiences to create visual, written, and performed works of art.

CONTRALTO: A Taste of Dysphoria

A Note from PICA Staff: PICA accepts and honors a multiplicity of interpretations and responses to our curation and presentation, including feedback, critique, call-outs, and call-ins, in addition to affirmation and praise. A.M. Rosales’ response to TBA Festival performance Contralto, with lead curation by Third Angle New Music Ensemble and co-presented by PICA, is unpacked below with eloquence, thoughtfulness, criticality, rigor, and generosity. Their sentiments toward and critiques of the piece are shared and have been conveyed to PICA by many others in the trans community and by audiences at large. While we support artists’ freedom of expression and curate with the understanding that not every project, performance, or exhibition will be received identically or event positively, we will specifically strive to more carefully consider in future how we present, describe, discuss, and price/ticket work by trans artists to a majority cis-gender audience, and invite trans community members–including artists, audiences, and advocates–to be part of that process with intention, ethics, and care. We appreciate that Rosales’ assessment of CONTRALTO is wide-ranging, and that while they had sound criticism, they also found many aspects of it to empathize with and praise. Finally, we wish to acknowledge the time and labor that went into writing this piece for Rosales. While we do provide modest compensation to our writers in exchange for TBA blog posts, the education and emotional labor that trans individuals and communities provide and perform on a constant basis to cis-gender society is impossible to compensate or economize, and we wish to name this and express our gratitude for it.

- Roya Amirsoleymani, Artistic Director & Curator of Public Engagement, PICA

A Note from the Author: Before responding to this performance, we need to reconsider how art venues and festivals curate, promote, and present art and artists that draw from the transgender experience. The experiences of transgender people – our identities, our gained insights, and our lived-in moments – are experiences that we carry in our bodies and exact effort from us every day of our lives. Monetizing these experiences comes with a high risk for exploitation. When such performances and events become inaccessible to the trans community itself – especially trans women of color who empirically face a lot of barriers to financial stability – it contributes to the radical othering of trans people. When this performance was first announced, tickets were set at $35. This in spite of local corporate sponsorship. Contralto, as it was initially offered by Third Angle and the PICA’s TBA Festival program, was an exploitation of transgender experiences.

When members of the trans community voiced these concerns, including Kerry Yamaucci, an accomplished vogue performer and a feature of the local ball room scene, PICA responded by engaging the co-presenters, establishing a sliding scale, and offering comp tickets to members of the LGTBQ community. While this was swift and corrective action, it came a day before the first performance was scheduled to occur and no doubt left many members of the community scrambling. It is necessary for Third Angle New Music Ensemble, PICA, and the composer Sarah Hennies to seriously reconsider why this event was initially curated as it was and be very concerned for how this work may be presented in the future.

- A.M. Rosales

Contralto is an experimental work of music and film with a score for percussion and strings and a non-narrative documentary element with a cast of transgender women performing a series of speech feminization therapy exercises. The work of composer Sarah Hennies, a trans woman herself, was co-presented by Third Angle New Music Ensemble and PICA as part of the 2018 TBA Festival.

Contralto exists outside the confines of traditional music; it is inherently anti-capitalist by rejecting commercialization. Sarah Hennies belongs to a whole subset of musicians that ask the audience to reconsider songs and consider all intentional sound as music. The score relies heavily on repetition and endurance and offers a dense sound palette. Its instrumentation features a collection of found percussion and a deliberate use of strings that mimic the vocal exercises being performed by the women on the prerecorded footage.

The sound vocabulary in Contralto is enigmatic and certainly contains allusions and associations. Some of the percussion used include: keys being tossed (doors, locks, travel, cars); coins being dropped in a bowl (money, cost, expense); paper being crumpled (drafts, mistakes, bills, receipts); cards being shuffled (chance, luck, randomness); a chain being picked up and dropped onto a metal plate (attachment, confinement, burden, weight) among others. The strings appear to mimic the vocal exercises, as they play specific notes and tones – a cold reminder of the brutal exactitude of our idea of pitch and key. I enjoyed the contrast offered by the two-dimensional movements of the cello players against the three-dimensional movements of the percussionists, although a cluttered stage obscured the element of music as choreography. All of the sounds in Contralto work in conjunction with the sounds made by the cast of trans women. These are sounds not commonly found in performances, recordings, or the public space. These are the sounds of trans women undergoing vocal feminization therapy. The title Contralto is a reference to the lowest female singing voice as socially constructed in the classical and liturgical traditions of western music (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, and bass) although no single system of voice classification is universally accepted.

The women in the footage are projected onto the screen, their faces detached from their bodies, in a documentary view that borders on voyeuristic as they repeat these sounds, bits of phrases, and tones. The performers on stage provide all of the physical movement dislocated from the facial expressions of the women on screen. It is this iconic and problematic feature that perhaps would take Contralto out of the realm of experimental music and onto wider audiences. It is impossible to witness the footage of transgender women performing exercises designed by speech pathologists to “feminize” the range, resonance, and intonation of their voices without calling attention to the long history of pathologization of the transgender community.

It may be useful to establish a timeline, so that we can summarize quickly. The Stone Wall Riots occurred a year after the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was published. It is crucial to note that while “homosexuality” was removed from the manual four years later in 1973, various clinical criteria to diagnose and treat “transvestism,” “transsexuality,” or “gender identity disorder” remained in the manual thru all future editions until 2012. One cannot watch these women on screen without acknowledging that the modern gay rights movement was launched by trans women of color, the very same women that would not benefit from the psychiatric normalization experienced by the gay community in the early 70’s. Those women would be subjected to a variety of “therapeutic interventions” rife with mistreatment, abuse, and violence for an additional forty (40) years. While the medical community, including speech pathologists, have recently acknowledged that transgender identities are a matter of diversity—not pathology—progress has been slow and many forms of clinical intervention remain as intrusive and as problematic as ever. In a society where artistic expression is often the only means by which marginalized people can participate in the social discourse, it is artistically irresponsible to present Contralto to a majority cis-audience without any context.
The subjects of the film are so vulnerable, yet unable to verbalize their stories. They exist in the words of others, in the words of pathologists. I wondered, where is the composer’s voice? Where is Sarah Hennies’ voice? Why are these women recorded instead of performing with the musicians? As I watch these women on screen, their humanity hangs by a string. I wondered, have those women found community? Are they being compensated for sharing their likeness? Are they being paid as much as the performers on stage? I was especially concerned for trans women of color. Do they have stable housing? Have they found a source of income? Are they safe?

Contralto arranges these women and their voices as just another component of its score, which centers percussion at the core of its arrangement. As a sound composition, it carries a lot to its merit, but art that centers trans people needs to acknowledge that transgender people exist in every culture, come in every shape and size and every skin tone, belong to congregations of every faith, and are born to families of every social standing and economic position. Our community as a whole intersects and samples the most diverse range of human experiences – but especially amplified experiences with the ills and injustices of our society. If poverty is harsh, it is harsher for a transgender person. If having a disability is tough, it is tougher for a transgender person. If racial profiling is bad, it is worse for a transgender person. If immigration is hard, it is harder for a transgender person. If the industrial prison complex is brutal, it is even worse for a transgender person. It is even more brutal. And if the inclusion of transgender artists and their voices is an attempt to include and center trans people, then that work must come with some deep introspection about race and equity because these matters aren’t marginal or peripheral for the trans community.

With 80% of Americans reporting that they do not personally know a transgender individual, our community is not very visible in the public eye; certainly not in our own terms. Beyond stories of awe and shock-value reserved for daytime television, our community is often the subject of documentary features that offer us the same reverence afforded a defunct cult or a species of sea slug never-before photographed in the wild. I can think of no other group in the history of digital media that has been more publicly vilified than transgender people. Our humanity is constantly being called into question, with trans women being projected as proto-rapists during election cycles all over the country, regardless of which party controls our political institutions. Progress has been so slow largely because of that long history of pathologization. And while transphobia hurts us every day, it is this culture of indifference and callousness towards trans people that in the end kills us. It is important that we come together, have conversations, and struggle collectively, in order to acknowledge that the intersectionality of our experiences does not come from sharing a label, but from encountering, surviving, and enduring the brutal hurdles that come from living on the underside of American life. Contralto fails to address this is any meaningful way.

As for me, a transgender immigrant from South America, I wondered where speech pathology could take me. If exercises created by pathologists could transform my accent, a tell-tell sign that English is my second language, and allow me to speak perfectly unaccented Standard American English like they do on NPR; and if exercises created by pathologists could feminize my voice so perfectly – what would I sound like? And what does a transgender immigrant from Bolivia sound like, anyway? And what is this relationship we have with ourselves, our trajectory through life, and our voices?

Sarah Dougher, professor of music and gender studies at PSU, interviewed Sarah Hennies, on Thursday afternoon and I was able to hear some of their exchange. I found myself learning about Hennies, and empathizing and identifying with her experiences. I, too, survived my adolescence by making sounds. I spent hours recording an old guitar on a four-track recorder with a cheap microphone. As I picked up other instruments, I too developed my own unique and intentional relationship with sound. When I was learning to play the drums, I remember practicing rim-shots on my snare drum. I would just sit there for a long while. Counting in time. Repeating this motion. Attempting to produce the right sound. Time after time. Day after day. Week after week. Those of us who also developed a relationship with performance, with rehearsing something until it becomes completely natural to do it in front of strangers, must ask ourselves: when did we discover that we were musicians? Do sounds have a gender? And what does every instrument sound like? And aren’t our voices just another instrument? And what is to be said about our difficult relationship with silence? For most of my adolescence, I was speechless. I had just emigrated from Bolivia and I couldn’t speak English, I was essentially voiceless in America. But even in my native Spanish, I couldn’t very well explain in words how come it was that I was transgender. Even to myself. All I knew is that I was profoundly unhappy. It is here, at this very personal level, that I connect with Contralto. This musical composition comes to me as a profound meditation on voice and a prolonged exercise in discomfort. Which is an apt and very valid metaphor for dysphoria.
As for the cis gaze – what would I want the general cisgender audience to take away from this performance?

I hope they heard something that unsettled them, that unnerved them, that maybe even unhoused them a little. Because there is no new knowledge created, no maturity or growth gained, without an intense experience of discomfort.

A.M. Rosales is a multidisciplinary artist from Cochabamba, Bolivia presently based out of Portland, Oregon. They hold a Literature degree from George Mason University and their favorite rodent is the capybara. A Pride Foundation Scholar, a Teacher Apprentice at Writers-In-The-Schools, and an MFA Fiction candidate at Portland State University, they draw on the liminality of their immigrant and transgender experiences to create visual, written, and performed works of art.

An Exercise in Getting Well Soon

By A.M. Rosales

NIC Kay’s PUSHIT! [exercise 1 in getting well soon] is a mobile performance, an endurance ballet, an hour and a half demonstration of resistance and struggle presented thru the streets of N. Williams Ave, as a reclamation and re-occupation of spaces that were once the hub of Black life in Portland.

NIC’s performance begins in the residential area near the intersection of N. Rosa Parks Way, where moss grows silent on stone-fenced yards and Pacific madrone and poplar trees still line the throughway. Along its three-mile journey down to the PICA space, we will encounter uneven sidewalks, narrow cross-streets, and red-shingled hints of the Spanish Revival colliding with the invasion of New Urbanism, mixed-use buildings, and designated bike-lanes. It’s the end of summer. The breeze offers a nice contrast to the warmth of the sun with an occasional patch of shade. NIC’s performance is moving theatre. The audience that amasses and huddles itself to follow along is amorphous as a whole, but takes on the role of a curtain, or a stage prop, as the performance advances. NIC’s most distinct prop is a set of helium balloons, one of which looks like disco ball, all tied to a string, which remains securely tied to their neck. Secure, like a choker necklace or a noose. The crowd, too, follows in step, enjoying the safety of numbers. Safe, like a religious procession or a lynch mob.

As the performance continues, NIC’s body expresses through a series of movements and contortions. Sometimes they walk. Sometimes they strut. Occasionally, they float as if the balloons tied to their neck were being carried away by the breeze. Volition or happenstance. These are soft, lilting movements that become abruptly disrupted by running. Along the way, NIC stops at specific intersections and sets each of these moments in the performance against the various urban landscapes of North Portland.

Past the intersection near N. Ainsworth, we find ourselves walking past yards where the corners of the lawns have been yellowed by the summer sun. Leaves are strewn about. Fall is inevitable. From the driveways, all-wheel-drive wagons and pickup trucks are witness to the performance as much as they are a background. Along the Craftsman and Foursquare style houses we also see the occasional Tudor or Dutch Colonial home. NIC’s movements are intentional, precise. They squat in place to drink a bottle of water. Hydration. It’s not posing, their movements are restrained, but calculated. Motorists and residents out on their porches look bewildered. “What’s going on?” They ask.

“It’s a performance.” I answer with the same voice that I would use at the library.

By the time we cross N. Skidmore, the backdrop has changed dramatically. NIC’s performance, for all its variety in movement, hasn’t changed, but the five-story mixed-use complex with a modern brick facade shines in contrast as if the building had been recently unwrapped by its owners. Luxury cars beep their doors locked or unlocked, their engines start quietly and efficiently, as the performance party joins the weekend foot traffic with expensive bicycles cruising along its passage. ”What’s going on-did something happen?” A shopkeeper shouts. He demands to know.

“It’s a performance.” I answer, a little annoyed this time. Worried perhaps, that a crowd of mostly white people following a black performer along a busy street, could trigger a police call.

One of the last “stops” before arriving at PICA is the empty lot near the intersection at N Russell St, a reminder that not long ago, Albina Park was nothing, but a dirt lot. One can project pain and suffering on NIC’s facial expressions, but I am not sure if that’s what they are. Maybe they are simply tired. The length of this performance is the average length of a ballet, but the word ballet feels inertly less serious than this. Even if I fail to find the right words to describe each step. Each movement. Each contortion. Every time NIC inches or lunges forward. They creep. They tumble. They fall. They struggle to get up. Their work is labored at this point. By the time we enter PICA, there’s music, a stage, and all the impossibilities of an art festival. Here, while I am sitting down, I begin to recognize their movements as something akin to modern hip-hop. Here the expectation is to watch NIC dance to the music. So the crowd does. Finding their seats. Arranging themselves into the shape of the last prop. A sitting audience. But all performances must come to an end and so this does, too. Instead of a curtain it is the mechanical warehouse door that drops down after NIC Kay has exited the stage. The performer is seen no more.

Paramount to witnessing this performance is that we ask: how are black bodies allowed to exist in public in America? When, how, and how come have black bodies become suspect? Are we complicit in normalizing or enticing that suspicion? And what specific meaning is one to glean from following NIC Kay along the length of N. Williams Ave, to watch them hold the space between the curbing and the wall of a gentrified neighborhood? Perhaps the same that we are to glean from any street, or neighborhood, where black bodies have become suspect amid new luxury apartments and the threat of police that looms with boutique employees and restaurateurs. Perhaps we ought to consider that murals and electronic kiosks do not replace a living culture. Perhaps we ought to ask when exactly will America stop prioritizing the boutique wants of wealthy whites against the basic well-being of black folks.

A.M. Rosales is a multidisciplinary artist from Cochabamba, Bolivia presently based out of Portland, Oregon. They hold a Literature degree from George Mason University and their favorite rodent is the capybara. A Pride Foundation Scholar, a Teacher Apprentice at Writers-In-The-Schools, and an MFA Fiction candidate at Portland State University, they draw on the liminality of their immigrant and transgender experiences to create visual, written, and performed works of art.

Dohee Lee’s MU/巫 : Reverberations of the Singing Body

By Dao Strom

A woman in white walks down a New York City sidewalk. Her dress is a construction of paper strips, fragments layered into a plumage, each strip inked in Korean script. The woman is Korean. As she walks she performs a ritual that involves waving red paper. She moves down the street toward a building. A building with an alleyway. Bystanders turn their heads. She kneels in the doorway, in the alleyway. She seems to be wrestling with the red paper, either to wrest something from it or signaling with it. She appears emotional. A police vehicle arrives at the end of the alleyway. This is when the woman gets up from her ritual and walks off down the sidewalk.

In 1982, another woman–also Korean-American–walked down the same New York City sidewalk. She was an artist. She had moved to NYC a short time before from the SF Bay Area, where she’d been developing her practice as an experimental writer, video-maker and performance artist, working in the hybrid arena between genres, in the poetic area between shores and losses, languages and cultures. She was 31; her career, one might say, was on the rise: a book about to be published. She couldn’t yet know, but in a decade this book would go on to be quietly seminal among scholars of Asian American avant-garde and for other women artists like herself: women of color, working between established spaces. This artist was Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. On that evening Cha was on her way
to meet a man, her partner, at a certain address. She reached the address but didn’t make the meeting. Someone intervened; her life ended that evening, tragically.

Dohee Lee’s MU/巫 theater performance opens with Lee, in her white costume, beating on a set of traditional Korean drums beneath a video projection of the performance ritual she conducted in front of the building where Cha was murdered nearly four decades ago. That Cha’s body was violated and then strangled, and that Lee uses her own body and voice as vessel of invocation, now, are no coincidence. The lineage of Korean diasporic women making art in the Americas is a short one, and traceable to a diasporic circumstance connected to decades of violations, namely involving U.S. (and other) military presences in Southeast Asia. In this New York City sequence, Lee picks up the truncated thread of Cha’s life and art, acknowledging the cost and also the invisibility of it. Her
ritual in this location is a gesture toward repair: revisiting a site of trauma, wearing on her body Cha’s poetry, she mourns and vocalizes in front of the very building where (we might surmise, if we believe such things) Cha’s ghost may still be caught. But now Lee is calling to the spirit, letting it know it is heard. As evidence, as provocation, she wears the dead artist’s words on her own live, vividly expressive body. Then the police car arrives at the end of the alley. The police car has shown up several decades late perhaps; but time is mysterious. As is ritual. At this point
Dohee gets up from her movements on the sidewalk, her work in the alleyway done.

I begin this essay reflecting on Cha, and Lee’s place in the Korean diaspora, because much will already have been said about the most dramatic and apparent delights of Dohee Lee’s performance work, her sheer power to engage performers and audiences alike, and her immense range—musically, vocally, bodily. Over the past year I’ve had the pleasure of several conversations with Lee in which I’ve gained greater insight into her art and intentions. The way she absorbs her surroundings while retaining the potency of her heritage is singular. In one conversation she mentioned that when she first began playing music in the Bay Area she would improvise Korean percussion with Bay Area jazz musicians, for instance. As a performer Lee is a force—able to rouse, engage, adapt. She is warm and fiery, humorous and provocative, vulnerable and deeply, clarifingly emotive.

For myself, another woman of Southeast Asian descent, I find Dohee Lee’s dialogue with Cha’s art to be an apt context through which to understand Lee’s performative ritual work. She is an Asian-bodied woman making art in America; the history of this relationship—U.S. presence in Southeast Asia—is rife with transgressions, violations, military occupations, and violence. The existence of a Southeast Asian diaspora in the U.S. cannot be separated from this complex web of political and war-related histories. Meanwhile, Lee has arrived carrying with her a deep vein of spiritual-aesthetic tradition, from her Korean ancestors and a musical-performative tradition rooted in Korean shamanism: a tradition that recognizes the power of spirits, and communing with them. Art in this vein
isn’t merely for consumption or vanity or glory, nor just storytelling. The purpose, rather, is rooted in relationship: between people and land; people and ancestry; people and other people. On Dohee’s native Jeju Island, the keepers of this tradition perform rituals to promote harmony between people and the environments they occupy.

MU/巫 is still a work-in-progress, Lee tells me, and may be different wherever performed. In Portland, Oregon for the TBA:17 Festival, she enlisted a small workshop of volunteers to join her onstage for the group-drumming parts of the show. Within three hours, she taught us not just a fairly complex choreography, but also impressed on us the true motivating aspect of this performance form: to tap into a connection, a conduit if you will, to one’s ancestors, whomever they may be. The point is not performing to be seen, but a participatory process by which your performative actions open—something—into the space. Later, over breakfast with Lee, I learned that her process for working with communities is usually spread over weeks of ongoing workshops. This culminates in a
community and audience engagement that is deeply felt and personally realized. In the Bay Area she works with immigrant and refugee groups, communities with, doubtless, many wounded ancestors. What we experienced as her Singing Body workshop participants in Portland for TBA:17 was just a glimpse of the wider net this work casts.

Lee’s MU/巫 performance embraces elements and elemental directions. The piece evoking water—built on a vocalization of weeping—is especially striking. Lee begins this sequence kneeling onstage reading a scroll, which unfurls from her skirt. Is this a history of violations she is reading, we wonder? At first she is just a single voice weeping, but then, through the use of vocal effects triggered wirelessly via hand movements (her gloves are rigged with sensors), the gesture of an arm raised or lowered, fingers spread or closed, build her weeping song into a tsunami of sorrow-sound, layers of echo and delay that transform into an ocean—a whole population’s sorrow perhaps, yet harnessed and orchestrated through a single performer’s body. Lee inhabits several more characters, including a bird-like being who seems to traverse seduction, trepidation, mirth, fear; to the final personage we meet, in a multi-colored garment and striking red-feathered headdress. This character breaks the language barrier—the whole show has so far been conducted in Korean—and addresses the audience directly in English. Her message desperate, adamant: The mountain is on fire. Do you understand me? Several times she repeats this: Do you understand me? She is challenging the audience about our environmental consciences, no doubt, but in this I glimpse, too, a shove against perceptions of the inscrutability of ‘the Other’, a stereotype that has plagued countless Asian/Western interactions, and been used to excuse western excesses in many non-western parts of the world.

In short, Lee doesn’t let the audience rest in the comfort of spectatorship. As one of the volunteer performers in the last act, I observed from the stage as Lee moved through the rows, the audience looking silent and stunned, and I admit at first I doubted Portland, I doubted us, feared we might choose to stay in our seats rather than stand up. But in the end Lee’s magnetism won over. The room woke to its collectivity.

The message in Dohee Lee’s art is in truth quite simple: Reconnection—connection itself—are crucial. Between ourselves and others; between ourselves and all the bodies of the earth. And Lee suggests we can start by paying homage to ancestors—in our own cultures, in the land. We can start by recognizing what has been wounded, and hear it sing.

Critical Mascara

by Sara Lyons

Photo by Eric Long.

Photo by Eric Long

Subtitled “A Post-Realness Drag Ball,” Critical Mascara celebrated its fifth and final presentation at Time-Based Art on Saturday night with an expansive queer showcase of vogue, drag, and fashion. Previously a competitive drag ball, this final installment was decidedly a celebration, featuring a showcase of previous ball winners followed by performances from local vogue houses and drag stars. “I feel full and empty at the same time…which is sexual, morose, and precious, just like all of you,” producer and host Pepper Pepper crooned into the mic at the top of the evening. This slippery sense of simultaneous celebration and grief flowed through the entire program, carrying the leather-and-lace-clad audience through waves of irony and sincerity, political despair and euphoric sexuality, embedded histories and queer futurisms.

Critical Mascara has clearly been a mainstay of Portland’s burgeoning vogue community in recent years, collaborating closely with a small group of artists who are working to bring the dance techniques, competitive balls, and history–driven by and for primarily trans women of color–to Oregon. Throughout this family affair, House of Luna, House of Ada, and House of Flora offered performances rooted in the technical roots of vogue femme, while asserting a contemporary queer ethos expanded to include some ciswomen and a range of racial representation. This broad spectrum of femme performance inspired by the legacy of vogue femme continued to be a highlight of the evening. Critical Mascara’s high concept fashion showcase included artists of many genders experimenting with looks ranging from classic high femme glam to off-kilter pop-culture irony to unapologetic confrontation to sexual hyperreality.

The drag performances that followed ushered in a glittering, raw, fabulous mess of American identity, with the most powerful numbers harnessing the sublime aesthetic power of drag towards sharply critical, unapologetic political commentary. Horror queen Carla Rossi’s satanic ritual of a performance urged the audience to BURN IT ALL DOWN and MAKE ART. Kourtni Capree–who is African-American–brought down the house with a startlingly raw and explosive a cappella performance of The Star-Spangled Banner. “Grieving is a skill,” Pepper instructed us near the end of the show. And with all that queer people, folks of color, and women have to grieve in this moment of American history, Critical Mascara was simultaneously our communal catharsis, salvage carnival, and rallying call to–as projections repeated to audience members dancing into the night–“Get Sharp, Be Loved, Stay Critical”.

Sara Lyons is a queer feminist artist working as a director, writer, and occasional performer in theatre and performance. Recent projects include an original adaptation of “I’m Very Into You,” the published 1995 email correspondence between Kathy Acker and McKenzie Wark. She is currently a John Wells Directing Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University.

Dead Thoroughbred

by Ashley Stull Meyers

Photo by Leah Kiczula.

Photo by Leah Kiczula

What if TBA were a space for rage? Dead Thoroughbred (Portland artists sidony o’neal and keyon gaskin) propose the question through a beautifully gestural performance in PICA’s newly minted annex.

The performance begins with silence and dark—the audience steeped in a coded anticipation that is never quite alleviated through the entire hour of the work. o’neal and gaskin, stacked, form a towering figure that enters the room with an otherworldy air of grace and superiority. They saunter, methodically but improvisationally, appearing barely to notice the packed house of onlookers underfoot. o’neal cautiously dismounts gaskin’s shoulders, transforming from a queered, stilted, androdgyne to the posture of a horse—a thoroughbred. The two continue their mazed movements, o’neal leading a blinded gaskin, until they separate—o’neal becoming language and gaskin becoming form. The two halves of a whole use the environmental self-consciousness they’ve created through the dark to work in tandem, giving body and word individual utility within the shadows.

As Gaskin dances, o’neal recites verse that proposes (among other things) that PICA’s annual Time Based Arts Festival could fulfill its critical and experimental mandate should it also allow space for rage. The language, movement, and deafening sound require an unquestionable endurance from both artist and audience, as the majority of the work takes place in near pitch Blackness. Many audience members shifted in their sets, covered their ears, and squinted—attempting to force their eyes to better see something they were being denied. The subtlety of Black bodies moving in collaboration with the darkness is beautiful in both aesthetic and refusal. The crowd’s necks craned in frustration—mine included. But, this bodily anxiety is what Dead Thoroughbred produces best. The innate refusal in their work is a physical admonition that not every gesture of Black creativity, Black labor, Black physicality or Black publicness should be accessible for the price of a pass. What we received instead is the rhythmic whisper of o’neal’s voice, obscured by warbling static and ear plugs distributed at the annex door. We get gaskin’s elegant frame, floating and crawling through negative space with only the faint scent of lingering smoke as proof of where they’d been.

The duo exit, unceremoniously, and take the darkness with them. Their audience is left in a stupor—blinded by the harshness of yellow lights and ongoing noise that’s lost its substance. Rage within Black performance work manifests most radically as defiance; or in Dead Thoroughbred’s words, “evasion”. Dead Thoroughbred is “post-ratchet”; and post-ratchet is what is left when the institution is only given the ephemera of the turn-up.

9 Notes from 4 days of art experiences at TBA 2017

by Keith Hennessy

TBA 2017 gave me 10 to 14 hours of art experiences each day. I drank it up. With friends, festival performers, and guest scholars we discussed and debated, questioned and re-considered. Certain moments will never be forgotten, including the free outdoor performance by Bouchra Ouizguen’s flock of women in a compellingly repetitious trance ritual of female power and grief. Others will be not so much forgotten as woven into a lifetime of memories of performance viewing and making. Here are a few thoughts or observations I had along the way.

1. Exaggerated version of an exchange between TBA guest scholars Lydia Brawner and myself.
Lydia: I am not a fetishist for live performance over the document. You don’t have to be there.
Keith: I am a fetishist for the live performance. You have to be there. I am a dissident in relation to those who fetishize documentation especially when they deny that it’s what they’re doing.

2. A friend talking to his mom in Florida as Hurricane Irma approached:
Mom, you have to evacuate.
Mom: The goddess will protect me.
Friend: Irma is the goddess.

3. Racial segregation is always happening but it seems that current activist and artist scenes are marked by an increase in temporary separatist spaces – POC only space, Black only space, queer/trans only space. In response there is also a new wave of intentional white only spaces for working through issues of racism and anti-racism without expecting BIPOC folks to do the intellectual and emotional labor, again, unpaid, for white people’s consciousness raising. During TBA I wondered about the limits of our allegedly liberal/neutral but almost always predominantly white spaces as sites for critique and debate of Black art, blackness and anti-blackness in art and art production. When Black and Black queer artists and scholars are more than multicultural tokens (one or two out of 50), another discourse and sociality emerges, where centering Black aesthetics and Black lives is less exceptional, more nuanced, and for some white or non Black folks, more disorienting.

4. Listening to dramaturg Katherine Profeta I thought: Maybe I’m going to add a part time career as dramaturg. Will anyone hire me?

5. Witnessing the panel on Dance Dramaturgy it seemed like I was watching the end of an era, a becoming irrelevant of previous canonical modes of supporting performance makers. The casting of the panel set up a series of binary frames with respect to age, race, gender, and culture. Two middle aged white cis women sat in conversation with two younger genderqueers of color. The former were both trained academically as dramaturgs to ground their work in history and written text. The latter did not identify their specific training but both exhibited a more cultural studies approach, in which their own bodies and experiences of difference ground their critical reading of performance. I don’t intend a totalizing misunderstanding here. Both of the trained dramaturgs resonated with the contributions of the younger artists, who were more intentionally and tactically ambivalent about identifying as dramaturgs, and it was evident that all of the panel are broadly engaged in critical reading, writing, thinking. I wondered how the panel might have been different if there had been a younger person of color with specific academic training in dramaturgy, and/or if one of the older women had been a more post-disciplinary queer outsider. But all these considerations aside, it was like we were watching a polite version of a generational shift characterized by the increasing redundancy of text based modes of analysis, and of white and cis analysts (and historians…), expanding the critical perspectives that emerge only from the participation of Q/POC histories, bodies, readings.

This is just one of the thoughts I had during KP’s talk and the following panel, both of which were smart, generous and generative. Other insights and points of departure:
Research in the tension between library and laboratory.
The artist as professional mourner.
The invisibilized gendered and racialized labor of everyday dramaturgy in situations of white supremacy and anti-blackness (sidony o’neal).
The problematic potential of foregrounding not knowing or not fully knowing, especially for white liberals who can’t distinguish cultural appropriation from intercultural inspiration.
Write with your whole bod (Suzan-Lori Parks).
If we’re fucking, and reading or seeing work together, when I’m working on a new piece, then that person is also a dramaturg (sidony o’neal)

6. Fragments from Morgan Bassichis’ Daily Meditations
• Ex’s, a growing community.
• We want you, even when it’s hard.
• A song:
I know you’re scared.
I’m scared
But lover
look what we can do

7. At the very beginning of Notes of a Native Song, a musical theater performance by The Negro Problem, Stew came out on stage, sitting at the edge as close to the audience as possible, and said something like, “If you’re sensitive, please take this time to move to the aisles so you can walk out with disturbing anyone else.” He waited. No one moved. One man called out, “I’m not going anywhere.” Later some people in the audience clapped when Stew said (or sang), “This isn’t a safe space.” I’m troubled by these moves and what they mean, aware that they don’t mean the same thing to different people and from different social positions. Since Trump’s election I’m acutely aware of how distinguishing oneself from the politically correct, from the politically “sensitive,” is a point of pride and identity. I wanted Stew to find another way to say that he was pissed about certain critical readings of his work, or that he wasn’t going to soften his positions just because they might challenge or offend someone else’s. Instead he affirmed a Trump-ist practice that eschews criticality and nurtures macho tribalism. The terms “sensitive” and “politically correct” are primarily used to dismiss and ridicule critical challenges grounded in anti racist, queer, and feminist activism. How is it not obvious that “sensitive” (as a qualifier of someone’s political position) is misogynist and/or anti-gay?

This is not a review of an otherwise complicated and generous performance in which an artist works through his ambivalent relationship to the legacy of James Baldwin, especially within Black communities. The song tribute to Trayvon Martin was particularly poignant, troubling, righteous.

8. There were so many good moments in the conversation between Lydia Brawner and Will Rawls that I’m tempted to transcribe all of my notes. I expect that PICA recorded the conversation and will make it available online or at least to those who ask. Most of the following was said by Will, or something close to it.

What is time?
Why be precious (about your life)?
I am an unstable material.
How can this malleability be present.

Performance is work.
The racialized history of (dance) labor in this country.

How do I put the mark of my body in a mechanized process?
How do I reveal my hand in the work.

Audience person:
I was horrified. Then I almost started crying. I thought, this is the end times. This is the end of the performance. Was this the political part?
Will responds:
How to die on stage?
How to die by one’s own choreography?
I would like to choose how to die on stage
All choices are political.

Jump the gap.
Every time.

9. Following the extraordinary communal expression of Critical Mascara (a post-realness drag extravaganza!) on Saturday night there was a beautiful and inspiring conversation hosted by madison moore, featuring an all QPOC panel of vogue and ballroom artists from Portland and Seattle. Critical Mascara founder and diva host Pepper Pepper gave a brief intro to the project and then gracefully bowed out. Pepper’s 5 year (etcetera) contribution to the underground queer, drag, trans, and ballroom scenes in the Pacific NW is the stuff of legends.

Critical Mascara has been a gateway. It exploded a fire inside myself. (Brandon Harrison, Father of House of Flora)

If you’re not going to get vulnerable you’re not going to grow. That’s just the T. (Yuko)

Ballroom and vogueing saved my life. I owe a lot to the culture. (Jade Vogelsang)

How to help?
1. Teach financial literacy.
2. Help transwomen access healthcare and health insurance, traversing the landscape of survival.
3. When a transwoman is broke, give or loan her $20.
4. Makeup is expensive and some of us need it for survival.
5. Show up. Buy a ticket. Don’t be disrespectful.

100 Years/100 Paintings

by Tyler White

Kristan Kennedy introducing Bob Nickas' lecture at PICA. Photo by Kirsten Saladow.

Kristan Kennedy introducing Bob Nickas’ lecture at PICA. Photo by Kirsten Saladow.

Making my way up the elevator to the PICA office, I envisioned the doors opening and a dramatic scene from Portlandia would be on full display—a multigenerational meeting ground of old art connoisseurs and young millennials on their latest culture trip. Instead, I was greeted by two sincerely genuine and engaged women. Roya and Kirsten introduced me to their space.

It was quite odd to think of an art institution dedicated to providing a space for the untraditional artist to express the experiences of a life more nuanced than the narratives reinforced by a narrowed presentation of their lives across media platforms. But such an art institution lives in PICA. This seemed to be encompassed in Bob Nickas’ 100 Years/100 Paintings.

The event was started off by the fantastic, longtime PICA Visual Art Curator, Kristan Kennedy. Her mention of putting on shows as early as the spring of 2017 in PICA’s new location at 15 NE Hancock, surely struck a chord with the audience, along with myself. To imagine a major art institution, having roots on Portland’s east side, especially in North Portland, is not quite hard to fathom, given the recent barrage of gentrifiers, but instead, the new space is large and inclusive. Roya and Kirsten explained to me their meticulous establishment of the space. Starting as a donation, there is a sense of responsibility to uphold the history of the physical warehouse, that the space is occupying, but also to be transparent with the surrounding community. For so many of us there, we would now be able to enjoy an abstract dance interpretation without having to cross a bridge.

Nickas crossed a plethora of bridges, transitioning from one year to another. He dived straight in. Beginning with a lead painting, that had been the face of the screen for the initial mingling moments before the program had begun, by a black female artist in the White House and one of the only present by artists of her identity in the President’s home. Joking, Nickas made a comment, saying, “hope the painting is still hanging next year.” One must keep in mind, this was the Monday before the election, and the results had not been solidified. Now they are. And Nickas may be right, it might not be hanging next year.

100 Years/100 Paintings is Nickas’s collection of some of the most personally resonating and memorable art pieces from 1915 to 2015. In some way, each piece conveyed a greater sense of significance to the curator than many others of the time. Deferring from the clichés, Nickas incorporated pieces from some of history’s most prominent artists that few had been introduced to. For me, the incorporation of Grant Wood’s portrait of the sheer simplicity of the American landscape, with distant and near rolling green hills, transported me to American Midwest. I was able to envision life in the 20th century, in the rural foothills of Iowa.

Defying strict, structured time periods and artistic movements, Nickas provided a visceral truth: “all art is made at all times.” This resonated with me. Forced me to question, what made this 100 Years/100 Paintings list? Who decided each artistic movement and categorized the raw, indicative representation of that artist’s world, that artist’s self? The late Jean-Michel Basquiat—an abstract weaver of political and social artistic architecture—who was a dear friend of the equally, but more prominent, visionary Andy Warhol—was not taken seriously during his tenure as an artist. To this day, almost no major museums or institutions hold his work. MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art, turned down his work on numerous occasions, until recently, when they purchased some of his pieces for 14–15 million dollars. Yet, they refrained from purchasing his 1980s work. The irony of this situation plagues me. At the time of gaining success and popularity, Basquiat could not be taken seriously. His work was not thought of as worthy to MoMA, until it was. What caused that shift? Who has the power to dictate the popularity of artists? Basquiat is not considered in some artists’ movements, and yet is considered an artist. He himself created a reality. One that did not need the validation of a traditionally white field to verify a young black man’s expression on a condition true to him. A similar sentiment is shared by Norman Lewis. Lewis entered the list in 1947, with a piece that took well over sixty years to receive its due recognition. Occupying the identities of being black and an artist, prove to continually contradict a place of recognition in the artistic canon.

Stories like these are the ones so widely left out of the conversation. Nickas opens this space up.

1927 was dedicated to Frida Kahlo. Her portrait of a grand, white woman, beautiful and starkly set against her dark background was an outlier of Kahlo’s work. Usually professed her paintings as being of herself, self-perpetuating. This painting came before Kahlo’s fame, illustrating Nickas’s notion that artists always produce their best works before they reach fame. Kahlo further embodied Nickas’ idea that Frida would not make it in the art world.

Commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller in 1933, Diego Rivera was asked to create a mural for the Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller himself had been asked, as the third artist consulted after Matisse and Picasso could not take on the project. Rivera created a mural or fresco, by the name of Man at the Crossroads. Before its completion, Rockefeller ordered the piece to be destroyed. One would wonder why, of course. Man at the Crossroads was an anti-capitalist mural that was composed of strong multicultural themes, featured Engels, Marx, Trotsky and Lenin, possessed complex examples of human’s influence on civilization, humanity’s progress, and throughout time, the destruction of war, as told through the impacts of World War I, encompassed people of all shades and backgrounds. The beauty and individualism of each character is almost other-worldly. Rivera’s talent is strongly conveyed in this piece. However, the pieced was covered and destroyed by the dismayed Rockefellers. Not deterred, Rivera finished his mural in Mexico City, renaming it Man, Ruler of the World. The piece lives on as legacy, as a physical embodiment of not conforming to the ideals of the majority, of those in power.

The pieces of Georgia O’Keefe, Picasso, and others contained a level of complexity. O’Keeffe’s The Lawrence Tree of 1929 provided great confusion over its orientation. When she came across it at an exhibition, she discreetly turned it to its correct position. The confusion ceased. Picasso’s work of 1923, which featured a solider, caused many to question whether or not it was unfinished. The other paintings featured criticism from Nickas. The 1941 Grandma Moses painting, Catching the Thanksgiving Turkey, was said by Nickas as having a great upper half and the bottom being less than.

Throughout his lecture, Nickas made a point to further explain the less conventional story of the artist. Many masterpieces came from troubled Mexican women, Cuban cubists, Black men who had no place in the canon of contemporary art greats, artists devoted to using their talents to comment on their current social climate and paintings misleading in title, but inclusive in interpretation. I found myself continually questioning whether or not I was hearing from an art historian.

Nickas, a more than well-accomplished figure in the art world, made every word and idea so accessible. Having had very little formal experience in the language and verbiage of art, I was able to follow along. Beside the occasional mention to ‘pre-realism’ art or ‘post-modernist paint strokes,’ I could connect ever so easily with the story of the painting projected on the slide. Once again, PICA has come to defy the usual art event as being the stigmatized paintings of random red lines, followed by an overly complex analysis of its meaning. Instead, I could follow. I could understand and even, learn. How amazing of an idea.

With the depth of each painting and year, it was almost impossible to understand every aspect of each respective painting in the two and a half hour lecture. Yet, each piece has a distinct place in my memory. The years harmoniously come together into a symphony of art’s dynamic power, to heal and anger, to articulate and interpret, to orate a story that has yet to be told and told differently with each person. That is the power of art.

Thank you, Nickas.

What we do can’t happen without you. We need your gift today.

What we do can't happen without you. We need your gift today.

As 2016 draws to a close with the world changed, we remain steadfast as ever. PICA is and will always be a sanctuary for people of all faiths, nationalities, religions, and gender identities. We’re always working to present artists, host community events, and be allies to those who need us. The world needs art more than ever, and we need you more than ever to help us present it.

Thank you for being a loyal friend to PICA. Please take a moment to look through at the momentous, unique, and always eye-opening work we presented in 2016 with the video below. Then, use the link below to help us bring important work like this to the Portland community in 2017 and beyond with your gift before the year ends.

Click here to give now ›

Precipice Fund Project Update: People’s Homes

As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with a few groups from our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. This update comes this month from People’s Homes, a collaborative project from Molly Sherman and Emily Fitzgerald.

Precipice Fund Project Update: FRONT Ed.05

As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with a few groups from our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. This update comes from FRONT Ed.05 in June 2016.

FRONT Ed. 05 in print

What’s up, PICA blog? FRONT Ed.05 is out in the world, so grab a copy if you see it at PICA, FLOCK or PWNW.

Dancers in White

For our fifth edition, FRONT invited five leading US-based choreographers to reformat a period of artistic creation past into a series of questions now. The result is a publication with the spirit of a toolbox, through the lens of contemporary dance. The text—veering from poetic to pithy to peak muse—is set in an elegant, toothy bifold and wrapped in a glossy fold-out poster. The poster is a geometry dosed collaboration between photographer Chris Lael Larson, FRONT’s fabulous Ed.05 designer Justin Flood and four beloved Portland dancers.

We released on January 30th at FLOCK, where Danielle Ross and Robert Tyree had a blast leading an all-levels Question/Dance workshop. The workshop was sprung from the format, content and spirit of our recent edition. In addition to movement and writing prompts, participants were guided through the question-based reformat exercise that Ed. 05’s core contributors used as the basis of their writing for FRONT. Basically it was writing and thinking and moving and good times! In February, we also went to LA to sunbath—and offer the Question/Dance workshop at Pieter Performance Space along with an evening of performances by Danielle Ross and Robert Tyree (team FRONT) and FRONT contributors Milka Djordjevich (Ed.05) and Jmy Kidd (Ed.01).

Figure on black

For the remainder of 2016, and with our whopping $100 of remaining budget, we plan to strategically roll out an online iteration of FRONT Ed.05. Presently, we have an awkward web presence between Robert’s portfolio archive and a tad outdated Tumblr. In the fall, will begin to host Ed.05 content. Sign up to our email list here, and you’ll be the first to know when we go live!

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Precipice Fund Project Update: home school

As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with a few groups from our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. This update comes from home school in June 2016.

home school is a free pop-up art school in Portland, OR founded by Victoria Anne Reis and manuel arturo abreu. The project honors the casual rigor of the etymology of “school,” from the Greek skholē, meaning leisure, rest, free time, in order to create welcoming contexts for critical engagement with contemporary art and its issues. We want to provide a diffuse, vernacular alternative to marketized art education. Our curriculum consists of classes, talks, exhibitions, poetry readings, and more.

We were inspired first by the low-stakes resource sharing that can often characterize online friendships, and second by previous alternative arts education models like BHQFU, Anton Vidokle’s Night School, Conceptual Oregon Performance School, University of Trash, and others. However, unlike many of these projects, which identify as art (and thus potentially subsume pedagogical concerns under aesthetic concerns), home school is not art. Our hope is that this increases the project’s pedagogical usefulness and centers the experience of whoever identifies as a home school student. We also stream every event in order to provide distance learning opportunities.

Performance by Victoria Anne Reis and Giovanna Olmos for home school launch at composition, Nov 2015.

Performance by Victoria Anne Reis and Giovanna Olmos for home school launch at composition, Nov 2015.

We launched at composition in November 2015 with a pop-up group show accompanying a set of performances and a screening of Hamishi Farah’s marginal aesthetics (2014). After receiving our Precipice Fund grant, we did our first poetry reading in January (online), then began the first semester of our 2016 curriculum in March. Our first event was a remote talk by Melbourne-based artist Hamishi Farah delivered in the workshop of Creative Paper Crafting, titled Better than Jordan. For April, Eunsong Kim skyped in from San Diego to Duplex to deliver her talk, Whiteness as Property & Found Object Art.

Eunsong Kim delivering her remote talk at Duplex, Apr 2016

Eunsong Kim delivering her remote talk at Duplex, Apr 2016.

The first semester of home school featured two classes which met monthly. The first is Victoria’s class, Mom Art, which invites participants to imagine and examine Mom Art, a counterpart to Pop Art. In her call to center process over product and the everyday over the epic, Victoria reorients the oppressive erasure of reproductive and domestic labor both in and outside art. Classes took place at Lightbox Kulturhaus, the Northeast Portland home of Prequel facilitators Alexis and Ryan, Compliance Division, and a friend’s house, in Damascus, OR.

Mom Art session 1 at Lightbox Kulturhaus, Mar 2016

Mom Art session 1 at Lightbox Kulturhaus, Mar 2016.

The second class of first semester was Contemporaneity: building a better white supremacy. In it, manuel details contemporary art’s racially exclusionary practices, how the art world adapts to/exploit the ascendancy of identity, and how to circumvent this paradigm. Classes took place at their garage in Southeast Portland, the home adjacent to fellow Precipice grantee Cherry & Lucic (where two of its directors live), and the Creative Paper Crafting workshop.

Contemporaneity session 2 at the Cherry & Lucic house, Apr 2016

Contemporaneity session 2 at the Cherry & Lucic house, Apr 2016.

In May, home school worked closely with Compliance Division, a project space in an Everett microloft. We curated a group show there for first Thursday called snap, and they hosted a remote talk called Trauma Cache by Rosemary Kirton, as well as an in-person artist talk by Demian DinéYazhi.

June featured the concluding sessions of Victoria and manuel’s classes, as well as an in-person talk by Jamondria Marnice Harris at Duplex, titled toward a decolonizing poetics. We also hosted our second online reading. Semester 1 concluded with an artist talk by LA-based artist Jasmine Nyende, Marble.

documentation from snap at Compliance Division for First Thursday, May 2016

documentation from snap at Compliance Division for First Thursday, May 2016.

Semester 2 of 2016’s home school curriculum ran from July–Oct 2016. It featured a class titled project space industrial complex, co-facilitated by Carmen Denison, Eleanor Ford, Devin Ruiz, and Chloe Thompson,. Sessions took place at the Cherry & Lucic house, dCompliance Division, and the Yale Union Neighbor’s Open Studios. Semester 2 also featured as well as a movement-based class taught by Portland performance group Physical Education (keyon gaskin, Allie Hankins, Lu Lee Yim and Takahiro Yamamoto). Sessions took place at Lightbox Kulturhaus, LACUNA, and the People’s Food Co-op. Semester 2 also featured talks from Devin kenny, damali ayo, Giovanna Olmos, and Winslow Laroche. We also hosted our third reading, this time in person at LACUNA.

Upon the conclusion of the 2016 curriculum, Victoria and I reflected on the successes and failures of the project. We accomplished our goal of navigating Portland’s project space scene and the fraught politics that accompany this; however, the rigorous weekly schedule drained us and, to some extent, impeded our ability to seamlessly facilitate aesthetic engagement as time went on. Nevertheless, we feel very happy to have explored the pedagogical potential of the emerging event economy in an increasingly austere and speculative art market, and to have widened the scope and context of artistic practice in Portland by showcasing local talent as well as bringing in outside voices.

The work and contexts we are facilitating for our 2016 curriculum would not be possible in their current forms without the help of the Precipice Fund, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the Calligram Foundation / Allie Furlotti. The grant is has not only allowing allowed us to realize our project in the scope we imagined, and pay everyone involved; it also provides us room to experiment and discover a sustainable model for the 2017 curriculum, for which we are not expecting funding from anywhere. Thanks!

Our tumblr serves as our site. We’re also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Precipice Fund Project Update: The Global Table

As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with a few groups from our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. This update comes from The Global Table in May 2016. To learn more about The Global Table, visit their website or download a copy of their recipe book as a PDF.

Photos by Anke Schüttler

Photos by Anke Schüttler

When we create a meal together, we open up a sacred space to connect with others who on the surface might seem very different from ourselves. Through breaking bread together we share our stories, our knowledge, our strengths, our struggles, and our talents. Gathering around the table we lay the foundation for a resilient community.

This project grows from friendship and the recognition of the power of food and community. Our communities are stronger when we can all work together toward a shared goal, but we often lack spaces to meaningfully come together and connect with people who are different from ourselves. A thoughtfully prepared meal and setting can provide that space and invite us to sit down, open up, and learn and share with those around us.

Our hope in curating these dinners is to create and hold space for folks to come together. These dinners invite participants to share our (food) story, find commonalities, and learn across differences. It is a collaborative process and one we hope will continue beyond this series.

The Global Table is a series of four performative, programmed dinners in East Portland created in collaboration with chefs from local cultural communities. Each menu is formed and prepared by two chefs from recipes that are personally and historically significant. Activities throughout the series include ceramic plate glazing, directed conversation, recipe swaps, shared rituals, and the forming of a small publication. The Global Table seeks to create an opportunity for creative practice, dialogue, and community building between groups who may not typically have the opportunity to engage with each other. The project explores familial food narratives as a way to view our own migration stories, celebrate our community’s knowledge, and begin to address larger systems of access in Portland.

The project is a collaboration between Krysta Williams and Amanda Leigh Evans and was presented throughout East Portland, OR in 2016. It was produced with community chefs Farida Hadid, Blanca Hernandez, and Paula Hernandez. Photos by Anke Schüttler.

Photos by Anke Schüttler

Photos by Anke Schüttler

List of Dinners​

April 2

Led by Krysta (California) and Amanda (California)
​​Menu: BBQ lemon pepper chicken, beans from central California, Norwegian lefse, and sides dishes
Activities: Breaking bread & glazing of handmade plates with our food stories
Location: Performance Works NW

April 16

Led by Blanca (El Salvador) and Paula (Oaxaca)
Menu: Tamales, wrapped in hoja de plátano, tacos de barbecoa, and sides
Activities: Sharing recipies & food stories
Location: Zenger Farm

April 30

Led by Farida (Algeria)
Menu: Algerian Arechetta pasta, berber couscous, and side dishes
Activities: Sharing recipies & food stories
Location: APANO Jams

May 14

The Global Table Finale
Led by all chefs
Menu: A tasting menu of items and recipes from the previous three dinners
Activities: Exhibition of plates, live music, recipe demonstrations, sharing stories, and release of recipe book
Location: Zenger Farm

Photos by Anke Schüttler

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Precipice Fund Project Update: Projection of B-Format Signal Set Waves Into Cathedral Park

As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. The update below comes from Projection of B-Format Signal Set Waves into Cathedral Park in May 2016. Their event, described thusly on their Facebook, was held for 10 hours in Cathedral Park on Saturday, August 20:

Utilizing contemporary techniques in acoustics and sound design, seven artists have created sound installation pieces meant for a six-speaker array. The speaker array will be located in Cathedral Park, filling the space as well as interacting with its architecture. Attendants are welcome to stay for the duration and enjoy the pieces within the tranquil setting of the park’s landscape.

The poster for the event, from the group's Facebook page

Our project is currently wrapping up the bureaucratic stage of project planning. The date for the installation will be August 20th, a Saturday. Just last week I met with the Friends of Cathedral Park Neighborhood Alliance to present the installation, and was warmly greeted with enthusiasm for the project. Our next stages for the bureaucratic side are presenting the installation, with Neighborhood Alliance approval, to the North Portland Police precinct, then sending all of that information to the insurance agency representing us during the event.

The members of the project are well underway in composing for the installation. A few weeks ago some of us took a field trip to complete the site map for the speaker array, as well as testing the acoustics of the space. It helped inspire composition, and we are getting more and more excited to show our work!

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Precipice Fund Project Update: Women’s Autobiographical Artists’ Books

As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. The update below comes from the team behind Women’s Autobiographical Artists’ Books in May 2016.

"A picture of the book we're basing this project on and our first mockup/small edition of the book from our Flying Object residency last year"

“A picture of the book we’re basing this project on and our first mockup/small edition of the book from our Flying Object residency last year”

Women's Autobiographical Artists' Books

Women’s Autobiographical Artists’ Books Project is currently nearing the end of its research phase, which, without a self-prescribed deadline, would never end! Sometimes it feels like we’re just scratching the surface, and as we dig deeper, so many new avenues of research and conversation re: autobiography and artists’ books open up. Finding more experimental works has been so exciting in how it challenged what we initially thought was a pretty straightforward genre. Finds like In Memory of My Peelings by Jessica Susan Higgins has pushed a lot of new blood into our search for compiling this book.

This research has led to new discoveries, discourse, and questions regarding the reach and scope of women’s artists’ books. It’s been so rewarding to speak with some of the local and national artists and learn more about their process or intentions for making artists’ books and and their impact. The definitions or parameters of autobiography and for the artist book are wide, and we’re trying to be as open as possible in our inquires and inclusions. We’re starting to organize and develop a website to serve as a public reference point, and are already well into laying out the book. The process of creating a physical object through material practice is so different than the research phase, but it all seems to be so perfectly cohesive—making an artists’ book reference point book compiled of artists’ books.

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Precipice Fund Project Update: echo/hecho

As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. The update below comes from echo/hecho in May 2016.


echo/hecho has resonated deeply with our community, across cultures and generations. Since the inception of this project we have been interviewed by several radio series, including but not limited to KBOO & OPB with the intention of outreach and promotion. These interviews have also presented themselves as a platform of process for our collective; what challenges we have met and the actions taken to successfully move forward considering capacity & community engagement.

We released our first podcast for echo/hecho on Friday, February 14th. This day in the U.S. is observed as Valentine’s Day but in many Latin American countries the 14th is celebrated as ‘El dia del amor y amistad’, which translates to the day of love and friendship. Since then we have released 4 podcasts, 3 of which include guests from the community that were invited to speak on their practice and/or activism and how that intertwines with our manifesto: a Queer Xingona Theory. What we are hoping to accomplish with these podcasts are ways in which artist collectives can cultivate & sustain not only their collaborative work but how they can support one another as individuals living in a capitalistic, patriarchal society.

The trailer

As of the first week of April we have purchased an RV trailer, about 18ft long to begin the 2nd phase of echo/hecho, with the intention of having a mobile gallery with curated exhibitions throughout the summer. We faced some challenges in regards to parking and neighborhood complaints but remodeling has now begun after the relocation of our vehicle. We hope to have the RV ready for exhibitions in July. We will hold a call for submissions to our community by centering work done by women, people of color, youth and those that identify as LGBTQ. The purpose for this is to showcase the work of individuals who are largely underrepresented in the art canon and/or who have not had the space or means to have their work exhibited. In regards to our end of the year event, we have confirmed that S1 will be the site for our final exhibition, which will include music, visual work, and performance. We are so thankful for all the support and encouragement we have found along the way. But most of all we are thankful for the support and validation expressed from PICA members, local artists and the other 2015 grantees.

For more information about echo/hecho, like their page on Facebook, follow them on Instagram, or visit their Soundcloud to listen to their podcast.

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Precipice Fund Project Update: Cherry and Lucic

As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. The update below comes from Cherry and Lucic, a curatorial project based in NE Portland at 4077 NE 7th Ave., from the beginning of summer 2016.

The Henry Codax exhibition being installed.

The Henry Codax exhibition being installed.

Cherry and Lucic began its second season of programming with the first-ever Pacific Northwest exhibition of monochrome painter by Henry Codax. For 2016, the artists Arnold J. Kemp, Lydia Rosenberg, Emily Goble, Matt Morris, MK Guth are presenting projects at the gallery. Each project is accompanied by print ephemera, which is usually presented as a takeaway artwork for our audience. We provide documentation for each artist’s project with the help a stipend that is awarded to photographer Cristin Norine.

Ephemera from the Codax exhibition in-process

Ephemera from the Codax exhibition in-process

In late 2015 we were invited to participate in the 2016 Portland Biennial as an artists/curatorial project. For the biennial, we are presenting a project in collaboration with British artist Merlin Carpenter. In early 2016 we auctioned off a curatorial project at PNCA alumni art auction, helping to raise scholarship funds for students at the school. For our part of the auction, we are developing a one-month exhibition with Jordan Schnitzer for at an undisclosed space. Artists Claire Redman, Alisa Bones, Naomi Reis, and Paula J. Wilson are participating in this project.

Finally, part of our Precipice funding has gone to support printmaker Sammie Cetta, our print coordinator at Cherry and Lucic. Sammie is responsible for the production for all print ephemera at the gallery. In 2016, Sammie will head up the production book projects on behalf Cherry & Lucic—helping to print a novella that will accompany Merlin Carpenter’s exhibition for the biennial. Sammie is also working collaboratively with artist Hayley Barker to produce a limited edition book that will be released at the end of our 2016 season.

For more information about Cherry and Lucic, visit their website.

An exhibition in the gallery

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Precipice Fund Project Update: LIKEWISE Bartender-in-Residence Program

As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. This report comes from the LIKEWISE Bartender-in-Residence Program at the beginning of summer 2016. Want to learn more about the program? Stop by LIKEWISE at 3564 SE Hawthorne Blvd. in Portland Tuesdays–Saturdays from 5–11 PM.

Roz Crews' "Neighborhood Research Institute"

Roz Crews’ “Neighborhood Research Institute”

LIKEWISE is very please to report on three Bartender in Residency projects that were made possible through our Precipice Fund grant.


In February, Rory Sparks returned to LIKEWISE after her previous residency to help complete a goal set durning her tenure in October, 2015. On a notebook page in our OLCC log/idea book she had scribbled “2.) Turn LIKEWISE into an airplane”. A team of artists and regulars was built, and the fuselage of plane was constructed inside our narrow space. Tickets were sold and patrons became part of an interactive four hour performance piece where they gleefully, willingly, enacted parts dictated by their seat number. The event included white noise, showings of Airplane (I and II), a hot meal and towels, turbulence (the whole fuselage was supported by 25 casters) as well as overhead lights, custom glassware, letter pressed napkins, barf bags and a Likewise Airlines SkyMall brochure. Rory Sparks, Ben Paus-Weiler, Mitch Dec, Nancy Prior, and Adam Moser were the crew for “Likewise Airlines”, a delightfully organic and memorable piece of participatory theater.

A Letter from Zachary Schomberg's project

Our second residency funded by Precipice was Zachary Schomburg’s “BEFORE YOU WERE HOME; Writing Letters to the New Owners of the Old Addresses We Care About”, a month-long project that engaged with the rapidly changing landscape of Portland through the art of the personal letter. By sharing personal histories and stories of certain places that no longer exist, or have been irrevocably changed by demolition and construction, Before You Were Home reconstructed the city via memory for the benefit of a property’s new owner. The project was an opportunity for previous owners, inhabitants, neighbors, or patrons, to pass on their love of place. Through the month of March our visitors were continually invited to write letters to the new owners/inhabitants of any address (anywhere) that was of personal significance to them. Heartfelt letters of reply have been arriving at LIKEWISE and a public reading will be scheduled this summer.

Beers from the Neighborhood

Our final residency to be funded by Precipice is the “Neighborhood Research Institute”. A collaborative project between Roz Crews, Adam Moser and Nancy Prior, the NRI seeks to create a living archive of the Sunnyside and Richmond neighborhoods. Research is primarily collected through social engagement with and between neighbors, but the researchers are also sifting through archival and secondary data to learn more about the formation and maintenance of the neighborhoods. By using techniques that encourage neighbor directed learning and word of mouth, the project so far includes a sampling of beers donated from our neighbor’s refrigerators, a weekly potluck, and a weekly artist talk by an artist who resides within the two neighborhoods bordering LIKEWISE. Special events, like “Jason’s Sidecar” and field trips are also in the works. Most exciting for the researchers is the opportunity to introduce neighbors to each other, and experience the gracious hospitality of these neighborhoods as we borrow and install toilet paper collections, mow grass, and give and receive lessons. The NRI is still in progress and will attempt to document the growing archive and memories in book and film format.

Please see our website and Instagram for more documentation. We are thrilled to have been able to host and participate in these projects and work with these artists.

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Precipice Fund Project Update: Portland Museum of Modern Art

As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. The update below comes from Portland Museum of Modern Art (also known as PMOMA), which was also featured in TBA:16, from mid-May 2016.

An installation shot of The Shadow is Offended by Johanna Jackson and Dana Dart-McLean

An installation shot of The Shadow is Offended by Johanna Jackson and Dana Dart-McLean

Since receiving the Precipice Fund Grant in 2016, The Portland Museum of Modern Art has mounted two exhibitions featuring exceptional female visual artists from New Mexico, Australia, Los Angeles, and San Francisco: Navajo Folk Artist Mamie Deschillie, Aboriginal artist Sally M. Mulda, and a traveling exhibit from LA gallery Human Resource by Johanna Jackson and Dana Dart-Mclean.

"Sad Night Live" poster

We continue our programming next month with a solo exhibition from folk guitar legend John Fahey, who began painting late in life. In late summer we present a show from New York-based Raul De Nieves, who was recently featured in PS1’s Greater New York, in collaboration with LA artist Joy Fritz. This will be their second show together, the first being in 2008 at Galerie Giti Nourbakhsch, Berlin.

In addition to our visual arts programming, we have continued our collaboration with Hollywood Theatre offering a music and film lecture series, and have hosted multiple performances and musical nights in conjunction with our exhibits. A standout event this spring was Sad Night Live, featuring sad songs and stories from Jon Raymond, Patrick DeWitt, Michael Hurley, Dragging an Ox Through Water, and Shelley Short. PMOMA has benefited greatly from the support of the Precipice Fund for the execution of our recent programming as well as what’s to come.

For more information about PMOMA, visit their website, like their page on Facebook, follow their Tumblr, or visit them at 5202 N. Albina in Portland.

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Precipice Fund Project Update: My Scion Gallery

As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. The update below comes from the team behind My Scion Gallery, a “miniature gallery located in a small shelf within a 2006 Midnight Blue Scion xB, usually in Portland, OR”, during May of 2016.

The shelf during Taryn Tomasello's exhibition

The shelf during Taryn Tomasello‘s exhibition

Since getting our grant, MSG has had monthly openings staged at different locations around Portland. We have hosted the work of local artists as well as outside of Oregon, and we are proud to say of our five shows, four have been female artists. All of our shows have included work installed in the car as well as an interactive drive mapped by the artist. Many have created installations existing outside of the car in natural settings as well. Some artists have utilized the Scion sound system by creating tracks or vocal effects to play as their work is being viewed.

We are excited to leave next week for a week-long trip to LA, where we will be hosting a performance with LA-based artist Jasmine Nyende, curating an all female conceptual market for Sky Village Swap Meet at High Desert Test Sites in Joshua Tree, and finally we will have an opening with Institute for New Feeling. This is a manifestation of our original mobile, gallery-on-tour idea, and we have even made special edition MSG t shirts to honor this tour.

Here you will find our website:

Jasmine Nyende in MSG

Jasmine Nyende in MSG

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Precipice Fund Project Update: Pushboard Portland

As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. The update below comes from Pushboard Events Weekly from late May 2016.

Pushboard's current site and design

Pushboard Events Weekly continues to grow and grow beyond our wildest belief! After many preliminary talks with local developers and webmasters, we have decided to move forward with a planned full overhaul of the look and feel of the Pushboard e-mail itself. There were be increased functionality, calendar options and the potentiality to include more pertinent event details. Because the website is secondary to the newsletter itself, we have decided to re-do the site to be completely mobile friendly, and weekly Pushboard events to be viewable there as well. We will be designing and releasing sets of artist-designed postcards to help get the word out about Pushboard, so that we may continue to see events be user-submitted and therefore more serving the community.

New design to come! Due to the nature of Pushboard, it is hard to view at a standstill and is a moving thing. We have grown to over 700 subscribers! We have not missed a single week’s update since we started over a year ago.

To submit an event to Pushboard or subscribe, visit


Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Precipice Fund Project Update: My Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy

As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third round of funding and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. The update below comes from the team behind the “experimental ‘filmed zine’” project My Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy in late May 2016. Along with their update, they delivered a trailer for the film.

Jen likes heroin is a 5 minute animation of two teenaged girls’ introduction to heroin addiction in Riot grrl era Portland. The animation is part of an experimental documentary hybrid centering around the death of Molly 16, Portland feminist and troublemaker. Molly took her life at the age of 19 after struggling with homelessness and abuse. The story is taken from Molly’s zine, Rock n Roll Fantasy, also the name of the film. Jen was a homeless street worker, who offered “Free Drugs” to anyone outside of the all ages rock club one night. 16-year-old Amber and Molly took her up on it.

The animation takes place in front of the X-Ray Cafe and inside the Howling Frog, two long gone haunts in Old Town. Amber has been writing the script with a final deadline of May 31. Willow has drawn initial character and location sketches. Actress Samantha Turret has been contacted in New York and we are all excited to collaborate in motion in June!

To learn more about the project, visit their website or like their page on Facebook.

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Precipice Fund Project Update: Character Plant

As we approach the end of Precipice Fund’s third grant period and get ready to announce our Round 4 grantees on December 13, we’ve been checking in with our current round of grantees to see how their projects are progressing. The update below comes from the Astoria-based project Character Plant at the beginning of summer 2016.

The gym under renovation

We are in the process of renovating a gymnasium in Astoria to create a performing arts venue and gallery and preparing our first show. Renovation issues have delayed the process by a few months. We are now planning to present our first show (“Y-Stories”) in October 2016.

Character Plant's new gas heater

Initially our main renovation priority was to paint the gym. We have shifted our attention toward a few other big-ticket items. We had to do some electrical updates and install a new gas heater but the biggest challenge so far has been replacing almost a dozen huge old rotten windows. This will keep moisture from seeping in and triple the natural light in the space. We also just finished putting in a new restroom that can be easily accessed from the gym. Painting has been pushed back due to this other work but it’s still in the pipeline.

Beyond all this renovation work we have also begun the interview process that will generate the fodder for our first show and publication. We have connected with local history buffs who are excited to help us comb through the building’s records and archives. We are also looking forward to hosting PICA for a Round-4 Precipice Fund info session later this year. Hopefully all the work we have been doing to the space will make everyone feel welcome.

Our website and mailing list are up at

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Traveling Light – An Evening With Ivo Dimchev

Ivo Dimchev’s “Songs from my Shows” radicalizes the notion of the archetypal cabaret, presenting a gorgeous line-up of songs buried within his existing shows freed from the burden of context. The fifteen [plus] songs in Dimchev’s show largely follow a chronological arrangement, beginning with his 2004 show Lili Handel and closing in a preview of his current projects, punctuated by anecdotes and moments of captivating candor between Dimchev, his accompanist, and audience.

In “Songs from my Shows,” Dimchev showcases the breadth of his performance art. Stripped from the nudity, character, and narrative that has come to define Dimchev’s previous work, we are left with the opportunity to consider his brilliance as a choreographer in totality: the precision with which he holds a note in his lungs, the unaffectedness with which he commands the stage.

‘Choreographers are inherently a bit stupid,’ Ivo Dimchev quips as he introduces himself to the audience of the Winningstad during PICA’s Time-Based Art festival, ‘much to the benefit of their art form.’ In reflecting on the experience of his show, it is hard not to think of the ways in which “stupidity” acts as an asset in Dimchev’s work. A self-taught orator, Dimchev’s voice has the capacity to inhabit the adenoidal warmth of an Aaron Neville ballad just as easily as the bright coloratura of Cecilia Bartoli. The songs he has authored throughout his prodigious career are as hopeful as the musical theater arrangements present in the work of Andrew Lloyd Weber and as ironic as John Cameron Mitchell’s iconic “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” However, despite the fact Ivo Dimchev’s work is flooded with influences as disparate as La Traviata, Antony Hegarty, and Sarah Vaughan, his work is referential in a way that is simple; an exercise in beauty, a delicate rendering of immense skill.

This simplicity appears throughout the original compositions Dimchev curates for “Songs from my Shows” as well as reinvented versions of standards that accent his performance (namely, “Amazing Grace,” “Summertime,” “You Are My Sunshine,” and “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair”). Reminiscent of his song “One Day” from his 2009 show Some Face, Ivo Dimchev’s “Songs from my Shows” is a collection of pieces Dimchev puts back together in front of us with titillating vulnerability. Dimchev takes a song and returns it to us as a concept. He takes a much-exhausted art form and transmutes it into an evocative, minimalistic, ars poetica.

– Shayla Lawson

Interview: Kemi Adeyemi and Sidony O’Neal

This interview was conducted after TBA:16 Guest Scholar Kemi Adeyemi and Sidony O’Neal sat on the Black Queer Feminist Performance NOW panel during the 2016 TBA Festival. The two had a brain meld and needed more time together. After the interview was conducted, there was still more to be said, so Kemi asked Sidony to annotate the transcript.

Kemi Adeyemi: I feel like one of the reasons I wanted to keep talking was because, well, there was a lot of bouncing off happening at that panel. One thing you said in particular was about condensation—you were talking about porousness.
Sidony O’Neal: Yes.
KA: What were you saying?
SO: Yeah, it’s coming up a lot for me: pores, passages, the opening and closing of passages and how that can be something that’s either voluntary or not voluntary. But, specifically, a project that I’m working on right now called Counting Devices where I’m dipping porous objects in resin—so, sealing them—and thinking about how porous objects will still collect a surface, in the context of shine, like we were talking about; a sweat. But that surface, wetness, or that moisture that can build up depending on environment isn’t always produced from within. So the body sweating, right, the porousness of my body, my body producing sweat because I’m exerting a physical or cognitive or emotional energy, is one process. But if I’m thinking of myself as an object that is non-porous in so many ways, that is working to protect a certain level of opacity, then that moisture, I’m reading it differently. It’s not a sweat; it’s more like a condensation on a dense black object.1
KA: So then what is the work that that does? What does that help you think about? Why are you thinking about that?
SO: I think that the work that that does just in the space of performance is to allow me to inhabit the performative. I’m not by any sense of the word comfortable working through an embodied sense of blackness or whatever it is that I’m taking up. Like, I would much rather—I think my first instinct is to put it on a page. Is to put it in a video. Into a soft sculpture.2
KA: There’s a lot of things I’m thinking right now. Do you think that’s also a conversation about abstraction versus representation?
SO: Deeply, deeply. Which is always on the table, right? I find myself looking for something, a mode, a way of working that collapses that, because I don’t know that, necessarily, working with blackness as material or medium. Sometimes I feel like I can sidestep questions of representation entirely by being like, “This is material, this is disposition, this is attitude, or approach,” not like some fixed jumping off point.3
KA: Yeah, so, do you feel like you—I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrases “form and content.” I hear you sort of saying that maybe you’re interested in form and genre and mode, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not interested in content because you’re also obviously in conversation with a conversation about representation and the ways in which black artists are assumed to be making representative work or work is about narratives of representation, you know.
SO: Yes.
KA: So I guess I would sort of push you a little bit: you are also working—
[in unison]: —in representation.
SO: Sure, maybe “in conversation with representation” or “in refusal of representation.” There’s this moment in, I think it’s Pope L. talking to some people at the Met or something like that,4 where he’s, like, laughing because he’s like, “There’s nothing that I do that isn’t dealing with this conversation of representation. You’re not getting out of whatever ontological realities or harm or whatever that’s happening to us. We’re not getting out of that just by working in installation or working abstractly.” Sure, it’s always there, but I think what I’m interested in refusing or resisting is this way that narratives get, or representational narratives, get taken as a new universal or replacing5—I’m not interested in contributing to an archive cleanly.
KA: Well, I also think we’re talking a little bit about what does a contemporary black—what is the canon? Because there is an aesthetic.
SO: Deeply.6 And its heavily weighted towards representation; it’s heavily weighted towards recovering and re-situating black bodies in spaces that have historically been not for us. Yeah, a lot of it I think has been pushed that way for awhile and it’s easy to see why, you know?
KA: [asks question that anticipates readers, because she already knows all about it] Well, why is it?
SO: I think living, being just on GP [general principle] being a black contemporary artist is kind of, like, an a-historic or it’s like a non-thing, you know. So when you say “I’m a black artist, I work in contemporary art,” or something, you’re already speaking about your absence in this way that’s—you’re pushing up against something already. And so what I think tends to happen and has happened is this sort of flattening of, you know, perspectives and representations of blackness, of black people in order to create some sort of linear timeline or whatnot of our representation.
KA: That ties to a question that I had—or, the way you’ve been speaking right now is reminding me of one of the questions—which is, I said: “Let’s talk about your relationships to institutions, discipline, and training,” and those were three separate question I had but they are related. So, what kinds of disciplines, academic disciplines, do you see yourself in conversation with. How would you think about training? What is your “training”?
SO: Um. Shit. Yeah. So, I have a story that institutionally is just full of fuck-up, right? I went to school to be a linguist. I wanted to be a translator, and in that I wanted to translate poetry, diaspora poetry. And I have a language background, I speak a lot of different languages, and that was my early, I guess, practice if you will, was translating and working through it that way. I wrote a lot and I think when I left school and I did a bunch of traveling, really, and never went back and was living all over for maybe two or three years. But in that time, I mean, training has happened mostly through meeting other artists. I keep a pretty a pretty aggressively rigorous reading schedule that has nothing to do with shit else except these are the books that I pick up and I’ve always had that reading practice.
KA: Well what do you mean? Do you actually have a schedule?
SO: Yeah! Absolutely.
KA: What does it look like?
SO: Yeah. I mean, it looks like several thousand dollars worth of book-buying every six months, and then a schedule that’s like: if I’m working through these three artist monographs, these three, you know, these three theorists whose work I’m interested in putting into conversation, and then I’m producing, you know, hundreds of pages worth of notes that then I’ll work from for the next six, eight months.
KA: So how are you organizing—you’re basically making yourself syllabi?
SO: Yeah, absolutely.
KA: Are you like, “Over the course of these couple months…” Talk about that planning process.
SO: So, making syllabi—
KA: [Growing increasingly overwhelmed by the magnitude of what's being said] Like, do you actually make a syll…like, are you actually like…—
SO: [Sustaining eye contact to convey said magnitude] I am actually. I keep lists a lot. I’m a lister. And so what it looks like is a series of readings, articles, you know, lectures that I’ll watch or, real talk, listen to while I’m—I’m a grant writer by day—while I’m at work writing grants I’m listening to two or three hours worth of lectures. Then I’ll go home and I’ll take my notes from that and I’ll sit with whatever text that I’m working through. It’s nice now I feel like part of the reason I can’t leave Portland is because I have so many good people who are also doing similar work that I can chat with. So I build that in. I will have lunch or dinner meetings with folks and be like, “Hey, I know this is your work because you’re a professor of Black Studies,” or, “You’re working as a practicing translator or performer,” or whatnot. “Can I run some things by you?” So the training is really happened on that level.
KA: What are your thoughts on it being so self-directed?
SO: I don’t trust it sometimes. I have to push back. Obviously it’s harder for me to pick up something that I wouldn’t want to read.
KA: Yeah, yeah.
SO: I think being in institutions you’re made to—formal, so-called formal education—you’re made to read things and encounter things that you might find uncomfortable but you grow from it, you know? So sometimes I try to push myself in that sense. People have started giving me texts and materials to look at and work through and so that’s also a way that I can kind of hedge my own self-direction. But, real talk, I think sometimes people talk about the value of institutional education or formal education being a mentor relationship, and I don’t have those for very long, if at all, you know?7
KA: But you just said that you also are creating those informal conversations.
SO: Now! In the past it was really searching for the ideal balance of me looking at work, going to see work, picking up texts, and having folks that I can feel in community with around that.
KA: I’m very interested in how people learn and read because I’m also a very regimented: I can read very quickly, I have a very particular reading practice. How I read is very particular and intentional. And I have always operated on a 9 to 5 schedule. I’m talking a bit specifically about grad school, but I start at 9 o’clock and I’m done at 5 o’clock. Or, more usually, actually 6 am to 2-3 pm. And having that stopping point is very important. So I’m hearing you talk like “I’m self-directed” and I’m thinking like I actually need to hear more about your schedule.
SO: Yes, yeah.
KA: And, like, literally how many texts you’re trying to get into a day, what time do you start and stop. How do you read? Do you read and take notes on the side? Do you highlight? All of that stuff is what I want you to talk about.
SO: Yeah. So, I am weekly probably putting in two to three books, five or six articles, and at least a lecture or two that’s related. And that’s a seven day week.8 I count my weekends. I’ve never not worked through weekends in some capacity. And in that there is, you know, the reading that is very intentional: highlighters are coming back into my reading practice, but it’s always been a pen. I’m a marker. I need to mark my books. They’re dog-eared. There’s food in them sometimes. But the notes happen, I’m writing them and I’m also later transcribing passages into a document. So this summer I spent the summer in Finland in a residency where I had a document running that was all my reading notes from that period because I was doing research for a specific project, and so everything goes in there with a very specific citation. I can call up certain trajectories that I want to keep following and even outside of that, a selected bibliography from other things I was looking at.
KA: And that’s all in a Microsoft Word document?
SO: That’s in Google Docs, I use Pages a lot, and then I’ll put it on my drive.
KA: I find when I am reading I also take notes but I also for a long time was forcing myself to, as soon as I was done with whatever text, I had a template where I had the bibliographic reference, cut-and-paste the thesis or the main point, and then what’s the methodology of the text—
SO: Yes, yeah.
KA: —I was making like a reference section but for each text though. So I have folders and folders and folders; just in terms of searchability, I found that really useful. Because also when I was doing one long Word document I wasn’t able to return to it. And I also have a little bit of a photographic memory and so I needed some bold moments to check.
SO: I use color. I definitely use color in my notes. I think it’s interesting what you say about pulling out a text’s methodology, pulling out…the things that we choose to pull out from the text and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about methodology and thinking a lot about how that’s really muddy for me. Sometimes I wish I had this really lucid clear way to be like “This is the framework that I’m working in and this is how I approach every single text or piece I’m working on.” And sometimes that’s not clear even within some of the texts that I’m working in, but having that much—I already feel like I have too much structure behind what my readings are and whatnot. I feel like I am around people who are doing the exact same readings, digging into the same work, but they’re like, “I mean, cool. Whatever stuck. Whatever impression I got.” And I’m like, “You mean you don’t have that citation from page 79? And this section where it goes to—” You know? Like that’s how I think about text, which is also how I think about books in a way that’s probably unhealthy [laughs].9
KA: Why? Say more about that?
SO: I mean, like, books and a physical—like I’m still one of those people that’s like…I need the tactile quality of the text. And so that probably accounts for 80% of my personal effects at this point in time: books.
KA: So if you had to describe your methodology, how would you describe it? Even if it’s messy. Because you said, “I don’t really have a methodology.” But I see it, and so I wanted to hear you talk about it.
SO: You see one?!10
KA: I see it, but I want to hear how you see it.
SO: I’d be curious to hear how you see it. Yeah. As in, which formal traditions I’m working in in terms of research?
KA: [how can you temper the sound of the word "no" when written? What does a generous exchange via "no" look like on the page"] No, no. I don’t want to overdetermine…
SO: I would love to hear it because I sat down with a friend recently and I think it’s important to me to be able to point to something because people are so ready and looking for that. Like, I don’t know how I’ve managed to not come to that, or not have a bio that I rely on for instance, because it seems so important to opening conversations up. And still I’m feeling like it’s not there.
KA: Yeah. Okay. Let’s talk about this question, because I think is the question I’m asking you: What does that moment look/feel like when your reading/writing practice turns into, or needs to become, performance? Let’s say there’s a passage that’s really sticking with you and it’s in your head and you can’t let it go, you can’t let it go, so you’re like “Let me sit in that moment in a different way, through a different mode.” Or is it like epiphany-style and you’re reading and this project will come to you—which relates to my initial question of are you crafting your own syllabi. That’s research. It’s not just “I like to read and I have a life of the mind.”
SO: It is a research practice.
KA: My question about method is—what’s interesting is it does, though, seem without a target.
SO: I don’t think that there is a11—okay, let’s go back to this moment of what does it look like when a passage or something that someone said becomes—I mean, sometimes for performance it literally comes out of what I’m doing when I am listening to a lecture, watching something. The actual physical action. If I’m folding clothes while I’m listening to, you know, Rinaldo Walcott give a lecture at Antipode and something about, you know, the institutionality of white childhood just sticks in my body as I’m folding these clothes in this way that I’ve folded them since I was a child, and reflecting on my own non-childhood as a young black…Yeah, in that moment then the performance is I’m sitting here folding these clothes until I can’t fold them anymore. I feel like this summer I wrote a prose piece about the limits of candy eating, and candy-eating is something I’ve done on and off since I was young to excess when I’m nervous and stuff. And so I was sitting there and I was eating this candy and I had this, like, “I’m going to eat this candy until…” and it turned into this prose piece, but it turned into a prose piece from, like… [trails off in thinking]. What is that little thing?! [laughs] That moment there is probably different than the moment I described, but yeah I hear you. Sometimes it’s both, right? Sometimes it’s like—I stray away from inspiration; I don’t necessarily feel like…inspiration to me has a lot to do with breath and taking breath and being animated in a way that I don’t necessarily feel like I am all the time. I think the process is pretty grave. It’s not very—you could be around me when it happens and not even know. It wouldn’t excite me to have decided that a text is becoming a performance now, but it would be more like a gear-shift. Like a necessity. Like I need to go from 60 mph to 75 in order to feel this way about a thing.
KA: When you said that my question was “what are the stakes?” Which is also a question of pacing. Is there an urgency? Which is…yeah. Leave it there.
SO: The urgency comes from certain material constraints. I feel that a lot. I feel like things build up and they keep recurring, you know, like a thought will keep coming up and a feeling that I need to realize a thing this way. And then it’s the wait; it’s the collecting of the materials. Sometimes I have to pull up really hard on what is initially a really exciting, a moment that maybe feels exigent in a way that’s almost irresistible. But I don’t know that I necessarily trust that feeling. So I’ve made projects span a year just so I can sit and “Do I still feel this way about it a year later.” And that takes me places. There might be a lot of detours in the work for that reason. There also are times when I don’t have enough time to sit in things for as long and I have to put something out, and the urgency behind that is a feeling that I’ve been fighting against.
KA: When you are, because you are reading and writing is so much—you’ve talked before about writing, but I’m actually really interested in the reading practice—do you feel that when you’re writing or when you’re performing, do you feel like you are responding to the writing? So, for example, in the Academy, 78% [completely arbitrary number] of what we’re writing, we’re directly responding to other people—and that’s about a citation practice. An “ethical” citation practice. It’s very visible on the page. We are also in conversation with those texts. Do you feel like you are responding to the text, or do you feel like you’re thinking about them?
SO: I feel like I’m responding. I feel like the texts that make it into the actual meat of a piece aren’t the parts of the text that are maybe the most…I don’t know. I feel like lately I’m noticing that the parts of the text that I’m considering really formative to how I think, I’ll be talking about them to some people who are like, “Oh yeah, this part. Everybody knows this part of the text is where we go,” and I’m in some other part, and that’s what became the most, the central, the focal point for whatever piece I’m working on, and I think for me I treat the text like I’m talking to a person, you know?
KA: Yeah I was going to say that that moment right there sounds like the difference between a self-directed practice and a formal, institutional “I’ve been to grad school, everybody reads these two chapters.” Like, that, what you just described, is for me the distinction of what is opened up when you’re not working in an institution.
SO: Yeah. Yeah. It’s possible to have read all the same texts as someone who’s gone through a graduate program or has an MFA and to come out with a completely different course of action or set of vibes.
KA: Which is where I think the conversation where we started on, porousness and condensation. Well, I see you; intellectually I can kind of “house” you. I can see how you would be an academic star.
SO: Ha!
KA: I’m not trynna stroke your ego! But what makes stardom is what a very fundamental, palpable curiosity, but also “original thinking.” [laughs] Like, whatever. We’re talking about innovation—which I want to pause and earmark because I want you to talk about inspiration and gravity. Actually, just go there.
SO: [laughs] Yeah, inspiration. I think from my back in the day I’m like a young kid interested in, whatever, French mathematicians writing poetry with algorithms. Like, that’s kind of where I was early interested in writing. French theorists who were talking about, “Oh, we need to absent hope, we need to absent inspiration from the text. There’s not sort of divine line [mimes a pulling a line from the air/heavens to the brain] but all there are is this set of guides that we can then manipulate and see the traces of their manipulation.” I was there for much of my late teens, early-20s and you get to this place where you’re like “That’s a lie.” Like, the set of rules is permeable, is porous, is shifting; is heavily influenced in this case by white supremacist ideals of masculinity and whatnot. I think now, lately I’m open to thinking through inspiration through breath, mostly, and how every time I’ve been told “You inspire me,” for instance, I literally think of someone like, “I have taken a piece of breath from you and I hold that.” And sometimes that upsets me and sometimes I’m like, “Right on, have that.” But that when I think about being inspired to make work, that is an inhale, you know. And maybe that’s part of some process but that’s as far as I get with it. Gravity and graveness and lowness and the things that I think an anchor come up a lot—in the sense I think, too, I talk a lot about what happens when we de-center hope, what happens when we de-center progress, we de-center linearity in a process—and I think gravity or graveness comes back to be the way that I think that I’m perceived to move through certain spaces, right. Graves with all of the death connotation, but just that I consider myself to be maybe grave, I don’t know, like theoretically, even, you know? I don’t know. There are a lot of ways I think that we can talk about the process of thinking as being one that is jubilant or ecstatic or something, and I guess I’m willing to take the idea I’m maybe a little bit more seated.
KA: Right. Yeah. For me the next obvious question—I hate it, and I don’t…—but to what extent are you thinking about Afro-Pessimism.
SO: Yeah. Right. Um. I think to this moment right here [mimes drawing a line directly in front of her on the table and laughs]. Yeah, okay, thinking about Afro-Pessimism that’s like, “Sure, I’m thinking about it.” I think I am treating Afro-Pessimism as one of many dispositions, maybe, that I can take on at any point in time. I feel like it’s one of things that now I’ve been exposed to, I’ve been around, I’ve thought in it for some time now to where I can be like, “Okay, I can put that on for a second and look at a thing, or I can put that on for a second and relate to a thing, but I think that part of what is understood to be Afro-Pessimism is not listening to any of that noise. To what extent am I influenced by Afro-Pessimism has also come for me several times as like to what extent am I influenced by my parents who raised me in a way that is deeply what might be considered Afro-Pessimist. Who raised me in a way that embraced a sort of grave, non-linearity, anti-progress failure narrative from just the specific places that they came from, and that I was raised in this house where it wasn’t—when I started encountering these texts, these Afro-Pessimist texts, so-called Afro-Pessimist texts—I wasn’t surprised. We talked about In the Break and Moten’s work briefly two days ago or whatever, and I grew up with a sense of black cultural producers that were doing the weird thing, that were doing the thing that was refusing virtuosity and/but were being praised for their virtuosity and their refusal. That was a normalized thing. I think within Black Studies maybe Afro-Pessimist are exceptionalized in their sort of “new” characterization of their anti-hope or their disavowal, but that’s been a consistent mold for me.12
KA: This question is hard to ramp up to, but I’m really curious what your theory of blackness is. I mean, I feel like as somebody who studies performance and works on everyday performance, to me it’s so commonsense—people are constantly surprised, my students are constantly surprised, when I talk about race as performance.
SO: Yes! Michelle Wright has this lecture that she gave before Physics of Blackness came out, and she was like, “There are tons of blacknesses.” Her argument about where blackness, maybe the origins of blackness are located—whether that’s the sea, the checkpoint, or the border, this and that—realizing that all of those are blacknesses and that we can talk about blacknesses, black spaces, black bodies. And I think that was blow mind for a lot of the people in the audience because they realized they located themselves in a narrative that she had listed! Like, “Oh! It’s not that I don’t know, but this is mine.” And I was listening to it again recently and I was like, “But what is mine? What is my epistemology of blackness? What is my thinking through this performance or the mutability?” For awhile I’ve been bracketing the “b” in “black” and “blacknesses.” Thinking through passages and lacunae and lack. It starts there, maybe, but I think the work that I’m doing is maybe amounting or could amount—like if it has any aspirations or if I have any aspirations [laughs] for the work, it’s that at some point I’ll look back and whatever that lack is, I will know.

  1. the other day adee and keyon and i were talking and adee’s shirt said “very black” or something like that and that got them talking about some material that had recently been discovered, we couldn’t find the name in that moment, but it is supposed to be the blackest material ever. i love that. i’m obsessed with bitumen— which is a byproduct of petroleum distillation that is super viscous and black as fuck. it’s pretty dense and awful for the health of literally everything living. i have a line in a poem for a lover that i was feeling disconnected from. i posted it on instagram, it’s like “is this bitumen shit really growing in our gaulois field.” and it’s there now. the idea of a finite field, a discrete nominal category for whatever the fuck is going on between a couple, the bitumen is in there obscuring, short circuiting, fucking it all up. i know it’s exhausting.
  2. this is funny because i actually have very little clue as to what kind of work that does sometimes. i mostly focus on where that work is done. the preservation of opacity is about articulating my objecthood with my own hands. and that objecthood has so much history to it— thinking about women in my family that have literally been vessels and brooms and homes and shit. so like on the panel, ariel osterweis asked me how i can turn into/remain an object/self-objectify and not worry about OBJECTIFICATION. i feel like being concerned with folks (especially white folks who, when this question is asked, are often cast as the desirable objectifying subjects) interpretation of me, my body, my work in the sense of working extra hard to prevent some abstract OBJECTIFICATION from happening is not a thing. in that frame, it’s never not happening. it CAN’T not happen. but maybe it’s not about escaping the black object to “become white subject.” i’m like, i can still open and close the door though. i can circulate the smell of myself in a way that’s less about the internal origins of sweat and more about the audience’s purchase of a temporary ornament for a room.
  3. sidestep, talk out my neck, go nowhere.
  4. it’s him at renaissance society
  5. replacing older narratives in a discourse of “progress”
  6. i say “deeply” so much in this talk. wow.
  7. maybe what i mean is people who are comfortable engaging the work i do without needing it to mean something about goals, degrees, stability. when i have had “mentor” relationships in the past they have always been about forcing direction onto what is errant, and that isn’t what i’m about at all.
  8. reading this and laughing at myself because of the way i seem so intent on communicating the volume, the numbers, the math of the research. the way that mimics so much of the flattened and essentialist ways blackness is often communicated in an archive: statistically, in decibels, charts, inventories.
  9. musical notation is involved.
  10. !!!!
  11. i mean…
  12. this question makes me think of how often i am talking about theory but not afro-pessimism or existing but not afro-pessimism or blackness but not race (nahum chandler is bae). how we decided that we both hate this question. how i am explicitly talking about blackness and not “afro” anything in the context of my work. how my relationship to criticality when it comes to my race or my gender or my queerness or my art or whatever is usually marked by exhaustion and not giving a fuck, but how the translation of that exhaustion returns with heavy sentiment. like why did i need to talk about my parents to dismiss afro-pessimism as exceptional? but also notice how stoked i am to be the object of an interview up until this question lol.

Interview: Dylan Mira In Conversation With Ashley Stull Meyers

Tonight is Dylan Mira’s last performance at TBA. Don’t miss her at 8:30 PM tonight at 15 NE Hancock.

Ashley Stull Meyers: I’d hate to spoil it, but what can you tell me about “Woman Under the Influence of a Woman Under the Influence…”? Is the title a Cassavetes reference?

Dylan Mira: Actually, the title of my project is “Duty Free” but looking at the catalogue I would think the same! It’s interesting because the piece is all about these different connections being made, challenging perspective and assumed knowledge. Some part of me wonders if the description is misleading and another part of me is like, “Oh, that’s actually so appropriate.” The line you mention does reference the Cassavates film. I’m interested in “woman” as a hole in the symbolic order and how signs fall out of order. In the film, Gena Rowland struggles with how to live up to this idea of mother and wife. She keeps being told to be herself but she’s institutionalized for that very behavior. She’s falling through the hole! My piece weaves an associative history around Opium (the perfume) and what it connotes—the scent of a drug, the scent of the “Orient”, the scent of a woman. I follow these codes through time and space, trying to unravel how they’re built and how they function. Scent is our sense that is most attached to memory, so the associations I make just went from one thing to the next really fast. It’s a personal poetical theoretical speculative ecology.

ASM: We’ll come back to bodily association in a moment, but while we’re on the subject of the work’s title—You’re intently engaged with language and the sometimes disorienting nature of repetition. What’s at the heart of that exploration? What does it bring to light when giving words a bodily connotation?

DM: Yes, I’m interested in repetition and difference! The word orientation actually comes from The Orient, so I am working with this literal configuration of how the body is perceived and perceives from this demarcation of colonialism and history of trauma that is woven from a line in space.

ASM: What came first for you… the writing or the interest in the performative? When did you decide they should be married and to what affects?

DM: In my 2013 video Untitled (Agua Viva), my father reads aloud from this feminist experimental book by Clarice Lispector and keeps yelling, “This is bullshit!” Stubbornly, though, he continues to read. What came as a surprise for me was that he ends up embodying the text. He is very sick during this time and that fact brings this precarity and vulnerability to it, which I think is precisely what he hates about the book. My mother also appears and brilliantly argues with him about the book and her language is transcribed into titles alongside Lispector’s. In large part, it turns into poetry in conversation. This got me interested in what happens to text in speech and what sorts of language challenge power. The whole video was unplanned, so I started to trust chance in my process more. In some way, the performance is always already happening. I began practicing automatic writing shortly after that, which like this video, was something already in motion. It was language that I didn’t think onto the page. It was like finding keys at the bottom of my pocket, and when I read it out loud it goes back through me. My first performance of this was called Irredeemable Tender. I like that the exchange value of poetry doesn’t add up—it isn’t data, it’s viscera.

ASM: You recently had a show at Artist Curated Projects called As Above So Below Zero Zero Zero, where you invited guests to consume a bust of you, made from butter. As a performance artist, I have to wonder what sort of criticism you were making about consumption– and particularly the consumption of the female body.

DM: There’s a lot associated with that work. It was shown with my video A Woman is Not A Woman which goes into the history of the little mermaid statue in Copenhagen, which was decapitated by a Situationist in the 60′s. He admitted later he did it because he was angry at his girlfriend. Sexist aggression gets celebrated in art and politics because the feminine is always framed in service to spectacle or capital—old news. Eat me! The piece is called Butterface, so there is the joke “she has a nice body, but her face…” I was in Seoul just before the show and found this phrase in my English/Korean slang guide, so I was thinking about it a lot. Meanwhile, people I met on my trip kept asking if I was Russian. I’m mixed race Korean and white and rarely pass as Korean in Korea. There is the saying in Asia that white people smell like butter. I kept picturing my face melting. The body is always failing the idea of the body; we’re not passing in all kinds of ways. I want to restore the mermaid’s head. I want to look like myself, whatever that is. But, like Gena I’m falling through the hole. I’m losing my head. So, I am interested in what we can do with dispossession and abjection. In that video I also talk about how one of the oldest mermaid sightings is also the first written document of a European in Korea where women have been deep sea diving for centuries. Who gets to be human? Maybe it’s humanity that’s the mythology.

ASM: There’s another work from the ‘As Above’ show that reads in part, “I don’t believe in form but I would like to know my body better”. Is that sentiment a thread that runs through your entire practice? It’s a lovely one.

DM: Thank you! Yes, like I was saying before, this is a problem I’m always bouncing around. My practice is intangible, time based, ephemeral, like life—but there is a danger of getting stuck in my own head. This is why soma tics and poetics and performance have really made their way into my practice: because the body is a constant learning process. For me as a queer body, a feminine body, a raced body, these things can be a site of trauma and simultaneously possibility. There is so much radical thinking right now that brings potential back to the body outside this limited rubric of huMANity, coming out of Sylvia Winters and Hortense Spillers’ notion of the flesh and Sarah Ahmed’s phenomenology keeps cycling through to me as well. So, I’m trying to show up and let go.

ASM: Lastly, There’s no way I can ignore a work titled “Twerk, Bounce, Booty, Shake, Sexy, Dance, Clap”. Images appear to show a looping YouTube video and a real space component involving balloons. Tell me about your use of imagery from and the aesthetic of the internet. Again, it’s interesting to think about the tensions between the page (or webpage, in this instance) and a transference to a bodily experience.

DM: The more I’m interested in decolonizing knowledge structures, the more I’m interested in process entering the performance. I realize that process is a particular action that we’re often trying to hide. It’s interesting/terrifying for me to work with research as material, and sometimes that appears as found footage of the Internet, screen recordings of my computer failing, or my editing. I’m not super focused on the Internet as a subject per se. I’m maybe more interested in how we are the Internet. The information networks are user driven. its people’s content that makes the net. I’m interested in the diaristic form, because you see thoughts as they arise. It’s an exciting space for me to witness how the parts come together in that moment. Meanwhile, I am shy and awkward so it feels like a very conscious act to share these live moments, to be nearby and not know! I think that’s how I can tell it’s a performance—I start breathing faster.

Dylan Mira moves image and text recording language through body. Her recent projects have been presented at ICA Miami; The Drawing Center, Performa 15, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, New York; and 356 Mission, Museum of Contemporary Art and LACE, Los Angeles. She grew up between the Midwestern U.S. and East Asia, and now resides in Los Angeles.

Ashley Stull Meyers is a writer, editor and curatorial collaborator. She has curated exhibitions and programming for the Wattis Institute (San Francisco), Eli Ridgway Gallery (San Francisco), The Luggage Store (San Francisco) and the Oakland Museum of California. She writes for DailyServing, The Exhibitionist and Arts.Black, and has been in academic residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art (Omaha, NE) and the Banff Centre (Banff, Alberta). Most recently, Stull Meyers has been an adjunct professor at Wichita State University (Wichita, KS). She is currently based in Portland, OR.

Interview: Alessandro Sciarroni in conversation with Jesse Hewit

Last year at TBA, I had a big old storm of a time with Alessandro Sciarroni’s FOLK-S. It challenged so many of my usual modes of watching and responding to work, and it took me a solid 48+ hours to settle into how important and beautiful the difficulty of it really was. I wrote about the work in a kind of round-up of all I had seen at TBA:15, which happily led me to a sweet and invested online conversation with Alessandro. This year, my anticipation of his UNTITLED_I will be there when you die is palpable. He and I wrote back and forth a bit about “virtuosity”, dynamics of solitude/groups, and what it means to obsessively do stuff that a lot of people might consider a waste of time.

JH: After seeing FOLK-S last year and reading about UNTITLED…, I am seeing in these works what I interpret to be a strategy for altering the experience of looking at virtuosity, through duration. It’s like the body fades in and out of subjectivity, and over time, we realize that the real action we are seeing is just time itself. Because of the lapse of time, actions go from showy and super-human, to hypnotic and sub-human, and then finally to desperate and post-human or even just non-human. And somewhere in there, we also see simply the human…OR SOMETHING. It’s a bit theoretically epic, right!? Can I ask what your interest is in re-framing virtuosity? Does it reflect a personal relationship to success/failure or perhaps to discipline?

AS: What you are saying is very interesting. My interest for what you call “virtuosity” is anthropological in nature…I would say biological. As child I would spend hours staring at the movement of ants on my balcony: they would walk in a straight line and they would all move towards the same direction. I would ask myself “how do they do it?” “Why do they act this way and how do they know to walk in the same direction?” Today I have the same feeling when I happen to watch a group of people performing a practice based on a skill, on a virtuosity that is foreign to me (such as a folk dance, juggling, certain types of sports….). When I witness these actions, the farther these are from me, the more I discover in them something that speaks to me… I identify with some of the details. Considering the practice of juggling, we tried as much as possible to leave behind the entertainment aspect that is normally associated with the traditional circus. In our show, juggling turns into a metaphor for the performative act, of being here and now, a sort of meditation. And so, it also speaks to the fragility of existence.

JH: I love that. I didn’t know about your outsider status in approaching these skills, and knowing that feels major because suddenly I really feel like you are looking at these things alongside me, and alongside others who are, in some way, amazed by them. And I like thinking about the fragility of the action and even of the doer of that action. On that thread, I have another question: FOLK-S and UNTITLED… both show mostly male bodies (I think, at least…) in these acts of practiced “virtuosity”, and track their ability over time. Among the many strains of meaning and sociality that I found in FOLK-S, there was a faint but distinct masculinist and/or competitive kind of showmanship that popped up now and then in the durational attempt to keep going. Is this male push to succeed that I am interpreting part of what you are considering or working with in these works?

AS: For my part, there is never a conscious choice in regards to the gender of the performers with whom I work. I try to choose people based on their sensitivity, ability and on the thought of me and them as part of some sort of extended family. I need to imagine that we would be able to live together. But I understand what you mean; in the works you mention, it is possible to open up reflections about gender. To my great surprise, FOLK-S, for example, featured in a festival of queer culture. It is also true that I have done works starring only women. The reality that I bring to the stage generally resembles the one we live as a group. And so, yes, in the moment I set in motion an action that has an extension in time, all kinds of questions relating to resistance come into being, and when these questions arise in a group sooner or later we start noticing “who” has more resistance and who has less. But the acceptance of one’s limits is part of the research I do in my work, specifically in this work on juggling where the jugglers are forced – after a few minutes of relentless repetition – to “make a mistake” and let the audience see that they have failed. In that moment, the other performers create an empathic relation with the one who made the mistake, in this way trying to “save” the choreography, trying not to weaken it. In FOLK-S. instead, the rule we gave ourselves was that when you feel you are not physically and mentally present on stage, you need to be honest with yourself and with the group and leave. At first, it was very difficult for the dancers to take this rule on, but afterwards, we understood that by leaving, you release a lot of energy to the ones who stay on and you re-power the entire mechanism. Basically, to answer your question, I think I can say that this thing you have noticed might be there, but it’s more meaningful for the audience than for the performers themselves.

JH: Yes, I can imagine that. The schisms or differences can be profound, between what is experienced by the performers and how the mechanisms of representation work on that experience as it travels to an audience and becomes another experience altogether. I really like what you say about the performers in FOLK-S leaving the stage and releasing energy to those still there. The leaving is thus an act of community or support in the same way that staying is. Within another context of “community,” these works read to me often as performative poems about time, where the audience gets to spend time with exhausted and disoriented bodies on stage. What is your investment in showing the failing body? The body that walks away? The body that persists?

AS: There was a moment during the 1970s connected to the phenomenon of Body Art (of which I am a great fan), followed by a second wave in the 1990s, during which it was important to perform the artist’s discomfort in regards to the contemporary. These actions – often very extreme, aggressive, at times painful – sometimes wanted to hit the spectator, wake them up. Today we are living different times with different needs. I feel I want to encourage the spectator to leave their house, and I want to think that the theatre, the location of the performance, is a space of encounter. One of the characteristics of the performers I work with is the interest in the pursuit of pleasure. Repetition, the effort, even if at first it may seem absurd, needs to be accompanied by a desire to last in time, by a desire to take care of the practice. In my works, you can often see the performers smiling on stage, and it’s not a theatrical smile, or a choreographed one, it’s a way of collecting energy and moving forward. In the case of the jugglers, it is particularly interesting for me that they are insisting against the force of gravity, a force that they will never defeat. I find this extremely generous, crazy, touching. The body under stress in my case creates an empathy with the spectator, a proximity, an accessibility, rendering the virtuosity at the same time vulnerable and pleasant.

JH: YES. I’m so into this, Alessandro. I feel that so much of Western culture is obsessed with comfort to an almost deadening extent. I find there is so much to experience (and feel joy in) from discomfort, exertion, and difficulty. These smiles you talk about make perfect sense to me. That said, in relation to the presentation of self in both works – or the entertainment value perhaps – I wonder this: It strikes me that the repeated actions in FOLK-S and UNTITLED are traditional folk dance and juggling, respectively, which are both cultural forms that have been relegated to the realm of entertainment, and are not necessarily viewed as “productive” actions for the body to participate in. Therefore, in contemporary times of such hyper-capitalism, there might be something particularly political and even sacred about this agreement between performers to push their bodies to continue doing these tasks/actions. Would you agree? What do you see as the importance of practicing things for the very sake of practice?

AS: As I said, yes, you are perfectly right, but in my works I’m not interested in pointing fingers at something, but instead I want all levels of reading to be possible and present without judging or presenting a one-sided vision. The folk dance of the show you saw, for example, is connected to a certain hyper-conservative tradition that it would be very easy to attack or make irony of. I like to leave the controversy as it is and put the accent on what is not coherent, apparently without meaning, crazy, useless. In this sense, to be obsessed by the manipulation of objects, to wish for oneself a life of “playing” with clubs, means choosing a very radical life, looking inside oneself and accepting who one is, recognizing that one is different from others. Many jugglers, for example, begin this research process alone, then they move to bigger cities in search of a community that will accept them and allow them to continue playing. In this respect, I’m interested in putting a frame around this activity. I’m happy to show actions that don’t produce any value. I’m very interested in all this effort spent towards something that many people consider a waste of time.

JH: I think this subverting of a certain system of values around “time” and “spending” it is…extremely important. We could talk about THAT forever. Moving away from this particular work, how does your practice feel these days? What’s hard and what is sustaining you? What other artists or thinkers or projects are lighting you up right now? What do you care about most intensely right now?

AS: When I was younger, I was very influenced by contemporary art, by exhibitions more than theater, specifically by photography. The work of Diane Arbus, discovered when I was a little over 20 years old, was a great inspiration, as were some novels. My eye today is slightly more cynical with regard to art, which I regret, but times, I can still be moved by the work of others. For the rest, I’m never inspired by theoretical or philosophical texts. To get an idea, I need to see something that strikes me. It was like this with juggling: by chance, a few years ago, I was looking at the show of two jugglers, and I looked at one action seen hundreds of times before, in a different way. In reality, lately, I’m very focused on my personal life, on life beyond theater, on personal relations, on spending time with people working in fields that have nothing to do with mine. This inspires and regenerates me.

JH: Well, that absolutely resonates for me, too. I recently took a 6-month, full-time cooking job to simply add real variance to how I am/was forming my life. The people and experiences I am having outside the art and performance world are actually knocking me over with goodness. I feel grateful.

Okay, Alessandro: lastly, what do you want to do while you are in Portland? There is so much food to eat and so many people to love. What ever will you do?

AS: Last year, I had the opportunity to experience the pleasures of the kitchen and the beauty, kindness and friendship of the people of Portland, so I’m sure I will not get bored at all! For the rest, I hope I’ll have the opportunity to spend time with someone as special as you!

JH: (……………faints dead cold from blushing and breath-taking swoons…)

Maya Mikdashi on Carlos Motta’s Deseos / رغبات

Deseos / رغبات was presented on Monday, September 12, 2016 at the Hollywood Theatre as part of PICA’s 14th annual Time-Based Art Festival.

“Deseos / رغبات” is a film and research project that is grounded in transnational and interdisciplinary histories that may or may not have happened. Our stories emerge from archives and fantasy, history and fiction, the 18th century, 19th century, and 21st centuries, theory and in feeling, and from Beirut and Bogota. The film was written and conceived by myself and by Carlos Motta, who also directed the film. In our independent fields, both Carlos and I are interested in archival research and theory, legal systems and their moral and institutional frameworks, and in the social, political, and epistemological possibilities of desire. Bringing these interests, histories, and ultimately, our characters Martina and Nour together, Carlos and I were moving across our own institutions of knowledge production and of creativity— institutional worlds that rarely converse but that often turn to each other for inspiration: art and academia.

Throughout the film project and its making, we work through several themes that orbit desire. These themes are not only related to the sexual registers of desire, but instead are directed towards thinking about the multiple ways that desire structures every day life, research, and academic and artistic production. We think about the presence and need for desire and fantasy in relation to the archive and its absences—particularly archival absences related to “unnatural” female-bodied desire. We ask if the object of desire must be embodied, and if it could instead be an affect, action, or relation that one can orient oneself towards. Can the object of desire be a desire for an archive, or for history itself?

We suggest that the unnatural order—including what we today refer to as the “queer,”-structures the so-called natural order of law and of society. How can we use the concept of the unnatural, and of unnatural lives and bodies and desires, to teach us about history, about law, about archives, and about both individual and shared life? Throughout the film we also insist on avoiding the trope of tragedy that is often used in conjunction with the telling of queer and “unnatural” lives. Joy, friendship, and intimacy—and the desire for these relations and emotions— are political and radical acts. This is particularly true for lives and desires that are constructed as selfish, miserable, and lonely by technologies of law and archiving, and discourses on family, morality, society, and the “natural”.

We present law and history as a space of negotiation and as a lived temporal and multi-dimensional framework. Law is a cosmological and moral site where multiple actors— institutional, relational, or individual—may find both an aporia and a cage, both possibility and repression. Some of our guiding questions are: What are the possible lives and travels of desire? How can we think and write and represent desire in history while actively trying to dodge the historical stickiness—the assumed trans-historicity— of sexuality? What is the role of fantasy in history, in theory, and in art? Can we not imagine that the body—that desire—has its own logic, one that cannot be captured or understood by thinking about desire?

There are no answers to these questions. The lives of desire, both in history and in the contemporary moment, are perhaps not knowable as much as they are approachable. Through this film and our writing, we approach desire, and the telling of history, as one might approach a lover: with tenderness, wonder, anxiety, anticipation and urgency.

“Deseos / رغبات” fantasizes the every-dayness of a correspondence between a person accused by her female lover of being hermaphroditic in late 18th century Colonial/Catholic Colombia and a female bodied person in Beirut who is navigating life, love, and desire for a female bodied person in the late Ottoman, Islamic/Arab context. Their names are Martina and Nour. These characters do not have desires that are considered “natural” by their surrounding worlds, and yet these unwelcoming worlds form the terrain of their intimacies, their capacity to love, to be in pain, and to be social actors. This estrangement from the worlds you are closest to—the worlds that make you— is familiar. This estrangement, moreover, cannot be captured by the analysis of an oppressive apparatus or the fantasy of an autonomous individual who is the sum of their rational thoughts, an individual who can be uprooted without being severed. Rather, this estrangement from the worlds that make us is melancholic: it is productive, it is compulsive, and it is passionate.

Critical theory teaches us that there cannot be a normative sexuality or desire without a queer or unnatural one, no “good life” or “fulfilling life” without a “bad life” or a “wasted life.” The “unnatural” is the structural condition of the “natural.” The myth of the social contract is in fact the moment of the “unnatural”—the pledge to live together within the unnatural state of law. It is a queer coming together of disparate interests and personalities in the desire for order and social reproduction. Here, “queer” is not an embodied form or sexuality, but rather the disavowed condition out of which society, social reproduction, and kinship emerge. The disavowed queer condition of the natural and of society, and of the naturalness of society, is what engenders and disciplines both normative and non-normative sexualities and genders across different historical periods and locations.

In thinking about how people live, and have lived, “unnatural” desire or lives, we are inspired by the Sylvia Rivera Law Project prison post-card/letter writing initiative. The SRLP matches letter correspondents with one of the most incarcerated, and most alienated and vulnerable to violence while incarcerated, populations in the United states— queer and trans youth and adults (particularly non-white queer and trans peoples). This prison writing initiative insists on the political potentials of solidarity and friendship. Thinking about the world making potentials entailed within connections between people who are often alienated from the promises of the “good life,” we asked ourselves to imagine a history of the desire to have a correspondent, an intimate, a friend.

“Deseos / رغبات” imagines historical pleasures of this sociability—of knowing one is never solitary with their desires. The social life of unnatural desires—what we call in the contemporary moment “queer life”—is not (only) anchored or made possible by individual will, or the thwarting or fulfilling of sexual desire and love. Rather, it is made possible, given a life, in the moments when one can share our lives without explanation or metaphor or analogy—the moments when our desires become mundane, the background picture of our conversations and intimacies, not the substance. Queer life is made possible by those starved and inadequate words: friendship, family. Desire, whether “unnatural” or “natural,” is never alone—although it often feels lonely.

Carlos and I wrote letters to each other in character as Martina and Nour over a period of months, producing pages of correspondence that were eventually pared down to a script. As we wrote to each other, we were corresponding through a historical longing, enacting a desire for history itself: Our desire for a world that was always inter and transnational, for alternative archives. We were writing our desire for historical presence, for a historical resonance of our own feelings of rooted out-of placeness.

Attuned to ways our own historical longings structured “Deseos / رغبات”
we worked against the notion of “unthinkability” as it relates to histories that would, in the present moment, be called “queer.” This unthinkability is magnified when discussing desire between female-bodied persons. The majority of historically inclined academic research on non-normative desires focuses on male-bodied persons, with notable exceptions. The same holds true for artistic production and circulation. This trend is related to the historical record itself, a record that is gendered and classed. History, through technologies of recording and archiving, has always been a site of privilege. This is true for both the formal (state, religious, imperial archives) and informal (family records, historical/travel accounts, correspondence) registers of history. Still, the presence of categories such as “unnatural” are records of power and of the very constructed-ness of the natural, much more than they could ever be a record of lived life. What happens if we refuse that the measure of history is the presence or absence of historical/written documents? How might we read absence in the archive as narrative, and what is our responsibility towards people, lives, arrested in the archive? The choice of the word “arrest” is not accidental. Our character, Martina is twice arrested. She is arrested by colonial authorities on charges of having an unnatural body. She—her life—is arrested again by the archive, caught within a discourse of the natural, of criminality and of the state. A researcher’s pull towards the archive is not coincidental. This pull, this desire, is itself melancholic. The archive is a temporal order: what we find in the archive, what we want to find in the archive, shifts as what it means to be a reader, a researcher, a person in the world, changes.

We refuse the logic that a life ends when a case file ends—that the person is no longer knowable because a state or a courtroom has reached a decision. The closing of a case is not the end of a person’s historical or contemporary significance. In Deseos we approach these files, and our characters, with the ferocity it takes to insist and to dwell on the fullness of lives and desires considered “unnatural.”

While finishing the script Carlos and I were surprised that somehow we both insisted on that unexpected and surprising thing: happiness. After the fact, we realized that imagining joy and avoiding the trope of tragedy—particularly for desires constructed by legal, medical, cultural and religious structures and discourses as “unnatural”—can be a political act. As artists and as academics and as researchers interested in sexualities, desires, and their histories, we often find ourselves studying non-hetero-normative desires, sexualities, and sexual practices through the lenses of criminality, regulation, and oppression/repression. The social lives of unnatural desires, and the lives of queer people in the contemporary moment, are too often constructed as unhappy, as anxious, as saturated in disappointment and as disappointing and discomforting to families, friends, and social orders. We are attuned to these lenses and structures, we live within them— but throughout the making of “Deseos / رغبات”, we choose to imagine—and fantasize— otherwise. Our characters live lives that are ordinary, and full: filled with joy and tragedy, friendship and solidarity, love and heartbreak, passion and fulfillment, oppression and opportunity, ecstasy and pain.

References/Further Reading

Ahmed, Sara. The cultural politics of emotion. Routledge, 2013.

Ahmed, Sara. Queer phenomenology: Orientations, objects, others. Duke University Press, 2006.

Amer, Sahar. “Medieval Arab lesbians and lesbian-like women.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 18, no. 2 (2009): 215-236.

Arondekar, Anjali. “Without a trace: Sexuality and the colonial archive.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 14, no. 1 (2005): 10-27.

Babayan, Kathryn, and Afsaneh Najmabadi. Islamicate sexualities: translations across temporal geographies of desire. Vol. 39. Harvard CMES, 2008.

Berlant, Lauren. Desire/love. punctum books, 2012.

Berlant, Lauren. Cruel optimism. Duke University Press, 2011.

Butler, Judith. “Melancholy gender—Refused identification.” Psychoanalytic Dialogues 5, no. 2 (1995): 165-180.

Butler, Judith. “Is kinship always already heterosexual?.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 13, no. 1 (2002): 14-44.

Edelman, Lee. No future: Queer theory and the death drive. Duke University Press, 2004.

El-Rouayheb, Khaled. Before homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic world, 1500-1800. University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Eng, David L. “Melancholia in the late twentieth century.” Signs (2000): 1275-1281.

Foucault, Michel. The history of sexuality. Allen Lane, 1979.

Foucault, Michel. The archaeology of knowledge. Vintage, 2012.

Foucault, Michel. “The Ethic of Care for the Self as a Practice of Freedom: An Interview with Michel Foucault on January 20, 1984 in The Final Foucault: Studies on Michel Foucault’s Last Works.” Philosophy & social criticism 12, no. 2-3 (1987): 112-131.

Freeman, Elizabeth. Time binds: Queer temporalities, queer histories. Duke University Press, 2010.

Habib, Samar. Female homosexuality in the Middle East: histories and representations. No. 13. Routledge, 2007.

Halberstam, Judith. The queer art of failure. Duke University Press, 2011.

Million, Dian. “Felt theory.” American Quarterly 60, no. 2 (2008): 267-272.
Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising utopia: The then and there of queer futurity. NYU Press, 2009.

Povinelli, Elizabeth A. “Notes on gridlock: Genealogy, intimacy, sexuality.”Public Culture 14, no. 1 (2002): 215-238.

Steedman, Carolyn. Dust: the archive and cultural history. Rutgers University Press, 2002.

Stoler, Ann Laura. Along the archival grain: Epistemic anxieties and colonial common sense. Princeton University Press, 2010.

Interview: Allie Hankins with Jesse Hewit

Allie Hankins is a friend of mine. I’ve tried to recall the moment when we first met 4-ish years ago, but I can’t do it: too much juice and fun and life lived in tandem since then. My guess is that it was either in a workshop somewhere, or in a karaoke booth somewhere. Whatever the context, she was (and is) a stealthy thrill of a person, and we have since done all kinds of art-shenaniganing together. Her new work, better to be alone than to wish you were, will run during week 2 of TBA:16, and from the works-in-progress I’ve seen and the things I’ve read from Allie about it, it’s gonna be tricky. Allie and I wrote back and forth about…well…edging, about the depleting nature of lust, and about faggy rockstars we’re going to embody together really soon.

JH: I know that parts of your piece are funny…and are kind of intended to be funny, or maybe they’re intended to take “funny” and use it as a tool to expose things that really aren’t necessarily funny at all. How are you feeling/thinking about connections between humor and desire? Like…is humor a way to throw your hands up and say “yeah, cool this is nuts i give up” or is it maybe more…strategic than that?

AH: The humor came about pretty organically–like, maybe before I even knew that this piece was more or less explicitly about “desire.” You know me, so you know a little bit about my awkwardness and social anxiety, and one of the ways I’ve combatted that over the years is through humor, surely. I was just explaining this to someone else, but it is applicable here, too: I have a tendency to hide behind this Carefree Clown persona–this woman with a biting and sarcastic humor, twinkle in her eye, and a loose grip on the world. Of course what I’m hiding is someone with a near-detrimental tenderness (which I’ve calibrated to a less detrimental degree over the years) who wants to control ALL the fucking reins ALL the fucking time, and whose feelings you’ve probably already hurt because she’s hella sensitive. So while making this piece I was really mining this thing about me, and what emerged was this persona who invites the opportunity to be the butt of a joke–a joke that emerged by her own construction. She invites the messiness that occurs in the throes of desire. And she is also inviting catastrophe inside of the performance itself. She thinks it’s all pretty fucking hilarious, but she’s on the verge of throwing up her hands and diving head first into a pit of sweeping romance and despair, but not before she implicates you (the audience) in this puzzle as well. She plays with you, seduces you, attempts to make you fall in love with her, but she always pulls out the rug at the last second. I think of her as always almost on the verge of overflowing or being overwhelmed, and she gets off on riding that edge. None of this is overt, of course. It’s more subdued and energetic—it’s a certain tension. It’s kind of a hypnosis disguised as lecture disguised as stand-up comedy. Maybe. There is also a lot of potential for The Anticlimactic in jokes–the build up, the rhythm, the expectation, the anticipation of the lovely release of the perfect punchline–I think incorporating this hushed, stand-up comedy element allowed me to fuck with desire/expectation in a strategic way.

JH: Okay so this is insanely titillating for plenty of reasons, but namely, from what you say here, it seems the location of power in the work is really and truly obscured. Which is…thrilling.

On another note, in reading your description – and particularly seeing you name “the anticlimactic futility of lust”, I have a really warm and affirming response and think: YES! THAT is the best thing about lust: its futility and illogic. I mean, in a time where everything has to serve some kind of consumptive-productive purpose, lust is this outrageous and perfect antidote to it all. Is there some kind of statement about the nature of lust in this work? Do you feel alluded by its wonders and usefulness? Is there something you’re getting at about the nature of how the body/your body becomes a hilariously misplaced site for desire and/or lust?

AH: I’m not entirely sure what my relationship is to lust, so maybe you hit the nail on the head–maybe it’s something that eludes me. I don’t know. I think the degree of urgency to which people pursue what they are lusting after is super rad, but also very unsettling. Like the frenzied and hasty tearing away of layers is super thrilling in the moment, but ultimately, I fear it just leaves everything feeling a bit prosaic and deadened. I realize this sounds very curmudgeonly, but whatever. So sue me. I don’t know if lust leaves any space for the deliberate and measured establishment of familiarity or intimacy that turns me on. I mean, yeah, quite simply: sometimes you just wanna fuck. That’s that. But the charged pursuit almost always fizzles out. So I guess that’s consistent with what you’re saying–it’s totally not generative, not productive, it’s actually only depleting…? I think that depletion/deflation is a rich fucking territory. It’s very evocative for me.

JH: Ha. Yes, AND…I feel like we’re making qualitative guesses about the nature of lust that are in the same language and set of values, but actually end up suggesting very different things. Also, it seems there is both a critique of desire and lust, and also a kind of challenging offering-up of yourself simultaneously. I’m excited to get tossed around a bit by this, because that’s how critiques within the changing fortunes of time actually unfold, right? Any thoughts about that? Are you interested in playing with contradiction?

AH: YES CONTRADICTION. One very influential work for me while making this piece has been Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson (we still need to do our Anne Carson-inspired performance festival, Jesse!!!). Also Sexuality & Space edited by Beatriz Colomina. In Eros… Carson talks a lot about contradiction as a means of illustrating/bemoaning/celebrating the impossibility of desire. Like “the tree is completely bare. And on the highest branch hangs one apple” (I’m totally paraphrasing/butchering that). She also talks about puns as this way of making meaning that brings forth a sort of stereoscopic view of reality, of a “truth.” And while my body does not exactly serve as a pun in this work, I am conscious of its ability to create conflict or discrepancy or to become (as you said earlier) a hilariously misplaced site for meaning-making or desire–I’ve been thinking that maybe when it is placed in certain situations inside of this context, it can illuminate an absurdity of a pre-existing construct, or maybe it can throw all past associations or expectations into sharp relief, and hopefully we can all laugh at how limited our thinking was, and feel some relief in knowing it doesn’t have to be so limited. Colomina talks about the home as theater. She offers examples of hidden rooms or spaces in houses where the occupant can view intruders (or guests) without being seen, and how that position is so fucking powerful because it is hidden in plain sight. I thought this could be an interesting way to be on stage. Fully visible, maybe even fully naked, but not AT ALL vulnerable.

JH: Wow. yeah. It’s really thick to think of the body as a house in that context. I’m gonna work through that one for a bit…

In other thought realms, I assume that certain things about working with an all-female production team have been basically incredible. How did that pan out so far?

AH: It’s been really great. I mean, I don’t really know how to talk about it without making too many sweeping generalizations about gender–that’s not so much what I’m wanting to do. All I know is that many female-identified artists I talk to, including the ones I’ve been working with, understand this degree of extra hard work it takes to “prove” themselves in a patriarchal society. We’ve all been talked down to or condescended to by directors/producers/presenters/curators because of our gender, and as a result, we employ a different language or way of expressing ideas in these male-dominated contexts. I’ve found that (at least for me), with this all-female team, I have been able to access a previously elusive confidence and directness (even inside of my inquisitiveness), and that has yielded a work that feels sharp and resilient even as it tackles some precarious and delicate subject matter. It just feels possible to really MEET each other on THE LEVEL. Does that make sense?

JH: It makes sense, and it also is one of those too-rare conditions (both the structure of the all-female team AND its effect on your ability to make the work) that just makes me sigh and wanna work harder to realize those spaces more often. Yup.

So, lastly. I can’t wait to see you and hang. A few final questions: what duet will we sing at karaoke (even if karaoke is just impromptu belting at the TBA biergarten)? Where will we go to be secret introverts and hide from people and eat something good? What was one of your favorite total MOMENTS of life this past summer?

AH: I’m excited to see you, too! I always love a Jesse Hewit visit in PDX. I think we should definitely sing “Under Pressure” to try and embody the otherworldliness & fabulousness of Bowie & Mercury, and also: topical. I’m definitely going to take you to Cardinal Club for a stiff cocktail and chill vibes. I only ever eat the grilled romaine there, but I hear their other food is good, too. :) And omg let’s talk about how so many of my favorite moments from the summer involve our mutual beloved RACHAEL DICHTER. I’d say that performing our duet in progress in Berlin a couple weeks ago is up there. Few things make my heart dance like making Rachael Dichter laugh.

JH: Grilled romaine and glam faggots it is, my friend. And LONG LIVE RACHAEL DICHTER.

TBA Interview: Sampada Aranke with Ashley Stull Meyers

Ashley Stull Meyers: I want to ask you first about “Style Wars: Shades of Cool”, the short form essay you wrote in which you discuss “cool” in varying forms as a methodological approach to critique and revolution, and not just a hollow aesthetic. You made an incredible case for the ways we can trace this in the political movements of Blackness, and I wonder if we can identify a similar tactic for Queerness?

Sam Aranke: I definitely think there are similar kinds of aesthetic modes of intervention that queer subjectivities produce that are grounded in radical histories. Part of what “Shades of Cool” was trying to attempt to do was to provide a mode of approaching a history of ‘the cool’ that tracked its relationship to African diasporas. I was hoping to crack open a conversation about how this thing we call ‘cool’ now is very much indebted to Black diasporic aesthetic— and one that is grounded in resistance and survival.

I think that in the case of queer histories, we can understand that ‘queerness’ as it’s used now is a term that has roots in radical political movements. Those histories that span everything from the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Uprising to the film Criminal Queers— that’s the kind of queer resistance and aesthetic that calls into being a legacy of past social movements, non-normative desires, and the potent potential of rage. Those kinds of approaches to ‘queer’ force us into a conversation about how homophobia and transphobia are embedded within systems like white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism.

ASM: To be both Black and Queer unfortunately demands the creation of its own spaces for making and publicness. Hyper-traditional or conservative arts institutions are only just now beginning to grapple with what that sort of space can look like, and not always well. What are some spaces or initiatives you think can serve as a model? Is TBA one?

SA: This isn’t necessarily a public space— in fact, its intentionally not— but Black Artists Retreat out of Chicago is a space of both gathering and discourse that I think is worth thinking about. It’s organized and initiated by Eliza Myrie and Theaster Gates and is a space where Black artists, curators, arts administrators, academics, and critics come together over a theme, set of readings/ provocations, or topics. It’s an interesting model in terms of creating spaces that are separated from the demands of mostly white spaces. Conceptually, I also think it troubles this idea of a stable “public” or “community” because just because folks come together under this umbrella of Black artists, it definitely doesn’t mean everyone agrees. It’s a real testament to a notion of a community of/in difference.

I also think spaces that are intentionally collective, DIY, and grounded in an explicit alternative to profit-based models are great. Because I tend to think historically, I think about 848 Community Space in San Francisco, which was founded in 1991, as a great model. It hosted everything from dance performances to prisoner letter-writer campaigns. Presently, Omnicommons in Oakland is trying to think more expansively about how to create a space that houses a range of collectivities, communities, and events in a shifting city landscape. We all know that the rapid intensity of gentrification in West Coast cities means that Black and queer communities are some of the first to be pushed out. In a place like the Bay Area, where I live, I am interested in those spaces that are aware of this reality and make explicit their desires to resist such pressures.

ASM: TBA this year is being held in a brand new space… large and intentionally (for the moment) unfinished. The team at PICA sees a lot of possibility and conceptual generosity in the void of what the space has yet to become. Is this ideal for time based art? In general, is this strategy less historically troublesome than a “white cube”?

SA: I love the idea of an intentionally unfinished space, but I think that’s about my own romance with the raw, exposed, and unbridled feeling of a space that is just that— uncurated, unmanicured, and filthy! Tom Finkelpearl has this great essay in the exhibition catalogue for David Hammons’ 1991 retrospective Rousing the Rubble at PS1. The essay is called “On the Ideology of Dirt” and in it, Finkelpearl contextualizes Hammons’ show in relation to Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, which was being rapidly sterilized and “cleaned” in an attempt to make it a New York City tourist hub. I love this essay especially because Finkelpearl locates the transgressive and foundational history of dirt in the history of contemporary art, and suggests that Hammons’s practice— which, in some ways, was all about the possibility of dirt— is a response to such desires to cleanse, sterilize, and package grit.

I raise this piece of writing because it really allows us to think about how “clean” spaces of display are so highly racialized and often tend to be incompatible with modes of experimentation, risk, and failure— three things that are crucial to ‘time based work’ broadly and definitely performance and body-based work specifically. I’m not done with the white cube and its potential by any means, I just think a little bit of dirt does a lot of work.

Dirty or not, there might be some interesting ways to manipulate this new space and to think its limits in relation to the works presented. As someone who is not an artist, this is the most exciting part of my job— I get to wait and see how folks will work to charge that space full of meaning and anticipate its future potential.

ASM: You’ve also written about Black bodies in the space of art making being subjected to a lasting connection between Blackness and objecthood. Can we talk a little about that and whether the genre of performance also suffers from these (even unintended) valuations? There is still a sort of “consumption” at play here, and the gaze in PDX is primarily White.

SA: Yes! I love this! I know earlier I said I’m kind of a romantic, and maybe it’s because my PhD is in Performance Studies, but I have no allusions to the romantic potential of performance. Most theorists of performance are invested in its ephemerality— that quality that suggests “you have to see it to understand.” Maybe its because I’m a historian, but I just don’t buy it. For me, performance is also about a certain kind of relationship to the object broadly and the art-object more specifically.

Helen Molesworth has done some incredible work on charting the rise of performance in the 1970s and how it coincides with the rise of the service industry in an emergent neoliberal landscape. In other words, with the “disappearance” of the art object as a primary emphasis for artists (with the emergence of Process Art and what Lucy Lippard so poignantly called the “dematerialization of the art world”) coincides with outsourcing of object-based economic production and the emergence of service-based employment as a foundation for the U.S. economy. This analysis throws into crisis something like Bonnie Ora Sherk’s 1973 performance “Short Order Cook” which is framed like a piece of performance in which she works as a wage-laborer at Andy’s Donuts in SF. This dispersion of performance into the everyday, the banal, and the quotidian makes us rethink the allure of performance as merely a highly contained piece of ‘art.’

I think you’re definitely on to the consumptive prerequisite of performance, and its uneven application to non-normative or racialized bodies. There’s a quality to performance that can veer into something like event or spectacle or even entertainment. But because I don’t believe that all is lost, there’s also a potential for performance to activate something quite unknown or at least unrealized for folks— I just don’t think it’s as different as seeing a Mark Bradford painting or a Wangechi Mutu collage.

Sampada Aranke (PhD, Performance Studies) is an Assistant Professor in the History and Theory of Contemporary Art at the San Francisco Art Institute. Her research interests include performance theories of embodiment, visual culture, and black cultural and aesthetic theory. Her work has been published in Art Journal, Equid Novi: African Journalism Studies, and Trans-Scripts: An Interdisciplinary Online Journal in the Humanities and Social Sciences at UC Irvine. She’s currently working on her book manuscript entitled Death’s Futurity: The Visual Culture of Death in Black Radical Politics.

Ashley Stull Meyers is a writer, editor and curatorial collaborator. She has curated exhibitions and programming for the Wattis Institute (San Francisco), Eli Ridgway Gallery (San Francisco), The Luggage Store (San Francisco) and the Oakland Museum of California. She writes for DailyServing, The Exhibitionist and Arts.Black, and has been in academic residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art (Omaha, NE) and the Banff Centre (Banff, Alberta). Most recently, Stull Meyers has been an adjunct professor at Wichita State University (Wichita, KS). She is currently based in Portland, OR.

Interview: A.K. Burns with Jesse Hewit

I met A.K. in New York in 2012 because she was a guest artist in a work I was touring with, Turbulence: a dance about the economy. A.K. was warm, wicked smart, and thrilling for us to have in the shows, as she came from a more visual art and social practice-y vein than many of the performance-based folks who were in the show. Also, I was already a big fangirl of a project that she had made with A.L. Steiner (Community Action Center) so…it was all kinds of a pleasure. Equally great news was her inclusion in this year’s TBA Festival Visual Art program, with A Smeary Spot. I caught up with A.K. on the internets and we talked a bit of shop about the new work, about what the hell ‘queer’ means anymore, and about beef liver pate, of course.

JH: In A Smeary Spot, you seem to be making a protagonist out of place and space, which I find to be a striking strategy for somewhat de-centering humanness. There is, as you know, some great materiality/new materialism theory and thinking out there (much of it contextualized as feminist) that pushes the political necessity of getting to a post-humanist state in our thinking and acting on the world, the land, and each other. Do you consider A Smeary Spot to be a political work?

AB: All my work is constructed from and through my own political sensibilities, but I wouldn’t inherently categorize it as political art. I mean, the work does have a political agenda (although it’s abstract in its approach). And you are correct that new materialist politics are central to the making of this work.

JH: I appreciate that a lot. After all, politics are kind of maybe just the things that happen in the spaces between intention and outcome. That said, are there any potential effects of the work that you imagine?

AB: Honestly I don’t know… I can’t predict, nor do I wish to dictate the outcome or reception of my work…and I think this work is very dense, so it could take awhile for anyone to unpack it (if they so desired). I think it’s a highly entertaining ‘slow burn’ if you will, i.e: I’m ok if someone just walks away and enjoys it on a very surface level…and for others it may resonate more deeply around various issues, like resource allocation (waste vs. use value), violence or mechanisms of power and the political potential of unfixed and transitional spaces & bodies.

JH: I’m excited for the slowness of that burn. :)

Something else in your description that hits me in a strong place: You write that this work “reorients the audience within a speculative present.” When I see “speculative present,” I think of the implicit and persistent liminality of so many kinds of queerness. Do you imagine this work as inviting or necessitating a queer or queered lens for being seen and experienced? Do you feel like maybe the work itself queers the act of looking?

AB: Somewhat. Maybe I don’t know, or should I say, I don’t trust this term “queers the act of looking.” I’m skeptical of its over-use, and I wonder: what do we really mean when we ’queer’ something? Since it seems to get attached to anything that we want to mark outside the ‘norm’. In the age of Caitlyn Jenner and many aspects of cultural homo-normativity, queer and LGBT are no longer synonymous. And then I think: who is this guy ‘norm’? How do we define him? And I just don’t know if I know what norm is any more than I know what queer is. Because to me, a conservative Christian perspective is queer — as in strange, incomprehensible or not normal. It’s really only normal for a certain population. Homosexuals, feminists and liberal thinking is ‘normal’ to me. So then I wonder if ‘queer’ is a completely subjective term and all it acknowledges is a perceived difference in perspective. But I also acknowledge that patriarchy is very real, and very persistent, and that I prefer the term ‘queer’ when it is used and aligned with a particular kind of libidinal, resistant and celebratory ontology.

I digress.. Mostly to say.. I don’t know if this work ‘queers the act of looking’. Do you feel it does and why/how?

JH: I mean…I have my own ideas about the importance of changing the consumptive nature of looking at things and people, but…I guess we’ll just see how I feel after I look at the work next month. Also, I love the interrogation of the overuse of ‘queer.’ YES.

AB: What I can say is that I was interested in the idea of a ‘speculative present’ because I see the present as the most active space. The present is always becoming past and future simultaneously. At every moment it is rarely its-self— or it is always all three— past, present, future. And I believe if you want to use science fiction or surrealism to look at political potential then it should be situated in the present not the future (as it often is) because the only way to make an alternate future is to work on an alternate present. Possibly this is a very queer idea!?

JH: Frankly, I do very much think so. Re-centering the present over the future (or the past) almost implies – to me – a kind of collectivist responsibility for what is happening now, instead of an individuated concern for one’s own trajectory. In the face of current trends, I’d say that’s hella queer.

And speaking of current conditions, let’s talk about surrealism! You describe the presence of a “surreal narrative of bodies” within the work. Why do you choose to compose with surreality? What does it offer the transmission of the work, and/or what is important to you about invoking surreality?

AB: Because it’s more fun! I chose to work around the genre of science fiction because I wanted an excuse to think through the political body— which can be awfully dry at times— through an eccentric, elaborate, impossible and fantastical lens.

JH: Oooooh I so HEAR THAT. yes.

Okay, so moving away from this particular work, how does your practice feel these days? What’s hard and what is sustaining you?

AB: This project, A Smeary Spot, which is ongoing, is the first of five chapters/episodes that include drawings, sculptures, a series of publications, and a record LP I’m working on. It goes on and on, so it is both the hardest thing I’ve done because it’s so epic in scale and will likely consume me for the next decade, but also more sustaining than anything I’ve done because it continues to unfold, and I discover new things about the project as I produce it.

Because it’s so sprawling and large scale and therefore expensive (even with how DIY I work), I can only create this work as I get the resources to make it, so things are taking shape based on my resources. Like with the next episode, the Body chapter, I’m working with the New Museum, and they offered me the residency space next door. This old dilapidated Bowery building next door to the museum that they own. And so I got really fascinated by this quickly evaporating, very old-school New York kind of space, and decided that the whole chapter has to exist within that building. Hermetically sealed. And this interior/building is one of the Bodies represented in the work. The whole building, basement, stairs, bathroom, closets all parts of this Body. And before I was offered that space, I had no idea that chapter would end up taking shape around a building in NYC, especially since the whole project started in the deserts of Utah. Anyway, it continues to surprise me, and that keeps me engaged.

JH: Yeah, working within – and responding to – the conditions you’re in is super resonant for me, and I’m sure a lot of others. I hope the site specificity stays weird and generative, and it sounds like it will. Sounds like your excellent curiosity will keep it lively.

…Hey, What are you reading?

AB: The news. I’m a New York Times junkie. We are spiraling as a nation – and world-wide – in so many ways, and it’s both the best pulp (non)fiction soap opera you’ve ever read and a quagmire of a horror film, full of political intrigue. But A Smeary Spot was inspired by Karen Barad, and I’m still hacking away at her monolith of a book, Meeting the Universe Halfway.

JH: Oh, the news. Yeah. That’s a whole other bag of chips. Whoa. Chips. I want a snack. So lastly: what are your three favorite things to eat right now? (I’m a cook…this is a massive part of how I understand people and how/what they are doing.)

AB: I love food, too! Cooking and food are also so important to me. I’ve been binging on beef liver paté and pickles made by an old friend of mine, Eden Batki, who recently cooked the food for my wedding (aka the ‘yoni union’). The paté was left over, and although I generally hate paté (I consider myself a bold food person, I’ll try anything, but I’m a total wuss about paté), I’ve completely turned a corner with this homemade pleasure—-it is sweeter, thicker, and less gamey than most chicken paté I’ve tried. Also it’s summer time, so lots of sweet corn on the cob..and my morning routine, chevre and Nutella on toast.

JH: That is a really extraordinary morning routine, A.K.


Precipice Fund Project Update: Church of Film 2016

Church of Film 2016, a project by Leslie Napoles and Matthew Lucas, is a 2015 recipient of a Precipice Fund grant.

The new laptop Church of Film purchased with money from their Precipice Fund grant.

Church of Film is humming along this season with some esoteric cinematic gems to expand the minds and horizons of the greater Portland community. We’ve been packing the seats at the North Star Ballroom and the Clinton Street Theater every Wednesday (Clinton St. has “never seen crowds like these on a weekday”); continuous word of mouth extends our cult status each week. With our Precipice Fund grant money, we were able to buy a new computer and software to ensure the best quality production, removing the constant fear of total technical collapse! It’s an enormous relief to have reliable equipment and we are so grateful to be able to continue our free admission policy at the ballroom.

In May, we explored the theme of “Lost Worlds”, an often hallucinatory, soul-searching trek to the fringes or finales of civilizations and religious faith with four uniquely poetic existential examinations from Ukraine, Italy, Chile, and the Czech new wave. In June, we celebrate gay pride with the rest of this vibrant town with a program titled “Different From The Others: Gay Cinema”, screening the films Pink Narcissus, It Is Not The Homosexual Who Is Perverse But The Society In Which He Lives, Willow Springs, and Madchen In Uniform.

In the near future, we are plotting a collaboration with the Ace Hotel to wow their guests and lucky downtowners by transforming the lobby into a Night of Nico, screening two very hip experimental films by Philippe Garrel, starring Nico or Nico-related-inspired, and then we’ll create an accompanying soundtrack with Nico and her contemporaries’ music. Should be great visuals and great sounds and a cool vibe all around in the SW.

We are also planning an anniversary party (fundraiser?) for August (3 years of COF!), collaborating with Killingsworth Dynasty where we will show two magical silent films from 1917, Il Fauno and Rhapsodia Satanica, on their big screen next to a dance floor of ethereal slow-dancers swaying to the sounds of Church of Film veteran DJ Vera Rubin.

For more updates from Church of Film, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Precipice Fund Project Update: NEW WORLD UNLTD

NEW WORLD UNLTD, a project by GWC, Investigators, is a 2015 recipient of a Precipice Fund grant.

The cover of NWU3

GWC, Investigators received funding to support the publication of NEW WORLD UNLTD. A biannual journal published to coincide with the northward and southward equinoxes, NWU features work by artists, writers and thinkers who delve into those realms of thought often considered science fiction: those places where technological fantasy begins to bleed into reality, where consciousness expands into the Oort cloud and language and form are pixilated, time-warped or moving faster than light. While the cost of production is still covered by GWC, Investigators, with support from the Precipice Fund we have been able to offer modest honorariums to our 2016 contributors, many of whom generate new work for publication.

The third issue of NEW WORLD UNLTD, released March 20, 2016, features contributions from Ariel Jackson (contribution pictured), Andrea Arrubla, Jen Shear, Eileen Isagon Skyers, Sydney S Kim, Tyler Dusenbury, Chase Biado, Brody Condon and Madame Ennui. A release event was held at Molasses Books in Brooklyn, New York, featuring performances by Andrea Arrubla and Lorelei Ramirez.

Ariel Jackson

The fourth Issue of NEW WORLD UNLTD will manifest Thursday, September 22. We are currently in the process of seeking out contributors and finalizing projects for publication. A celebration of the release of the fourth issue and two years of publications will be held in late September in Portland, OR, at a venue to be decided. Past issues, including NWU3, can be purchased at release events or through To stay alerted to developments of the project, keep your communicators tuned to & @GWCInvestigator.

NWU3 is available for download here

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Precipice Fund Project Update:, a project by Ellen Lesperance and Conan Magnuson, is a 2015 recipient of a Precipice Fund grant.


Half-way into the grant year, I am happy to report that is operating very successfully. The battle-axe emblazoned sweater, which is being loaned out on-demand to people willing to do courageous acts, is totally booked through September 2016. There have been seventy participants to date; many of these people have been Portland-based, but the sweater has also been shipped out, postage-paid (thanks to Precipice), to Washington, California, Arizona, Texas, New York, Michigan, Maine and Minnesota. People have used it for scary doctor appointments, for public protests and declarations, private rituals, and many, many confirming acts of self-determination.


The project’s Instagram feed is a good place to see the participants’ images and read about their stories. The website is a good place to see images and check out the sweater yourself, but it has not yet been redesigned in a way that best displays the project. This will happen later this year when the rental of the sweater winds down.

The project will be featured in an exhibit this summer at The Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, CA. Not only will the sweater be available for check-out at that site throughout the summer, but all of the images generated by the project’s participants will be printed and displayed (and added to as the summer progresses). I am hoping that by the fall, there will be 100 images of courageous acts documented by renters and that the project——can be made into a small editioned book.

Precipice Fund is administered with lead support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti, as part of the Regional Regranting Program of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.