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 Presently, we have an awkward web presence between Robert’s portfolio archive and a tad outdated Tumblr.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.

PICA has a new home

A new home for PICA

Major Donor Allie Furloitti Purchased A 16,000 Square Foot Building for PICA in Northeast Portland

PORTLAND, OREGON ––– The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) has a permanent home in northeast Portland thanks to a generous donation from philanthropist Allie Furlotti. Since 1995, PICA has been an integral part of the arts landscape in Portland and the purchase of this building helps solidify its future in a rapidly changing city.

Furlotti, PICA board member and the president of the Calligram Foundation, purchased a 16,000 square foot building at 15 NE Hancock in Portland, Oregon and has generously offered PICA a long-term, low-rent lease as the primary tenant. This building will provide greater stability and allow PICA to focus their energy and resources to better serve artists and support their work.

“PICA needs a secure home and spaces for large scale projects. For example, their annual Time-Based Art Festival is endangered in the shifting Portland landscape. I don’t want to know what Portland is like without PICA. They have been providing a critical civic and cultural contribution for 20 years and I want to see it extend into the far future,” said Furlotti.

PICA was originally founded in 1995 as an itinerant model — programming performances and visual art exhibitions in underutilized spaces throughout the city. For the past 20 years, PICA has pioneered a practice that has challenged the site-based institutional model, presenting projects in diverse neighborhoods and spaces throughout the city including the NW industrial area and the Pearl, the Broadway-Weidler corridor, and the Central Eastside and Buckman – locating TBA at the former Washington High School (now Revolution Hall) for four years. As Portland has grown, places for the kinds of experimental art practices they support have begun to disappear.

“This opportunity comes at a perfect time for PICA. A long-term home that serves our current programs and gives us room to accommodate our artistic ambitions has been a strategic priority for some time. Our nomadic model helped us build community and establish relationships in neighborhoods throughout the city. It allowed us to serve our programs and the artists we present while retaining low overheads. However, this practice is no longer viable in a rapidly growing Portland. A stable home is the next step both in the evolution of PICA and the city. At 21, we remain committed to our mission and our community and look forward to a new future,” said Victoria Frey, Executive Director of PICA.

The Hancock building will accommodate the PICA office and open-to-the-public resource room library and will also provide a large-scale flexible space suitable for performances, exhibitions, residencies, public programs, community gatherings, as well as a separate annex space that will allow additional programming opportunities. The new home will house year-round artistic and educational programs, Time-Based Art Festival (TBA) programming, and TADA! annually.

“It has been apparent to me in my five years as artistic director of PICA, that the radical and imperative thing for this organization, known for bold artistic interventions and one-time transformations of space, is to secure a long-term home in order to truly serve our mission of supporting artists,” said Angela Mattox.

The Hancock space will serve many of PICA’s programming needs and solves the issue of availability and rising costs, but it will not serve all of their artistic needs or ambitions during the TBA Festival. PICA will continue to activate the city of Portland using a variety of theaters and sites for TBA programs as a way to ensure art radiates through the city. Additionally, PICA’s new building will never be a fixed proposition, they will always let artists lead them to new forms of presentation.

“Hancock is about relationships, it is about expansive and flexible programing, this won’t change PICA’s mission, but it will help us change our reach. In our younger years, we were running alongside a growing city. This building helps us stay local. It cements our future, but not our ambition,” said Kristan Kennedy, PICA’s visual arts curator.


The Calligram Foundation was established to help passionate and dedicated artists create new work with limited barriers, allowing direct support to artists with unlimited flexibility around their needs. Calligram is committed to building relationships with artists and their communities. Allie Furlotti / Calligram Foundation partners with the Warhol Foundation as a major donor to the Portland Institute For Contemporary Art’s Precipice Fund, has subsidized studio rent for artists with Falcon Studios, and has been responsible for commissioning artwork from Jennifer West and Emily Roysdon as part of the Portland Institute For Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival.


Portland Institute for Contemporary Art acknowledges and advances new developments in contemporary art, fostering the explorations of artists and audiences. Since 1995, PICA has championed the practice of contemporary artists from around the world, driving vital conversations about the art and issues of today. PICA presents artists from visual and performance backgrounds and embraces those individuals who exist at the borders of genres and ideas. Through artist residencies and exhibitions, lectures and workshops, and the annual Time-Based Art Festival, PICA constructs a broad platform for contemporary art.


Precipice Fund Project Update: Free Spirit News

IMG_5550Since receiving the Precipice Award, Free

Spirit News has published two new issues of the paper, the “Future” issue and the most recent “Use yr Nude Illusion” issue. Precipice funding has allowed for a doubling of our print run (2000 rather than 1000), increased distribution & mailings, as well as new promotional materials including two fancy new Free Spirit T-shirts and a re-designed web site and official domain:

During this period, Free Spirit has also continued to grow our base of advertisers, as well as finding and featuring new work by local and international artists. With each new issue, our community of featured artists & business grows, and this it seems the overall visibility and accessibility of the paper to new communities and individuals grows as well.

With this, a few struggles remain. We are behind schedule for the next two issues of the paper, which had originally been slated for completion before the end of the year. While staying on deadline is not a new struggle for the paper, it is a problem we need to overcome if the paper is to grow as intended. There are many gears within this wheel, and the challenge going forward is to make them turn together on the same axis.

Distribution is another area which can be improved upon and streamlined in the coming year. We plan to continue to reach a wider reading audience and thus much continue to find new & creative ways to distribute the issues to the widest readership possible. This year has seen improvement in this area, but there is always more room to grow.

Creatively, our collaboration has solidified and unified over the course of the past two issues. With each issue the process of working together has become easier and more fluid. The appearance of Jeff Kriksciun back on US soil marks the first time we have all been in the same room working on Free Spirit related material since the project began! For our upcoming issue “The Very Experimental” issue, we plan to explore printing and layout more-working more closely with Gary Robbins of Container Corps to explore new approaches to color, size & paper stock. Other future experimental issue ideas: a issue on a free vinyl record, a issue printed on tshirts, and an ephemeral issue made up entirely made up of vibes and essences. Stay tuned


Precipice Fund Project Update: Environmental Impact Statment

2452616_origENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT exists to amplify threats to public lands through creative projects and by connecting artists and arts audiences to watchdog environmental groups. We have been bringing dancers, visual artists, writers, sound artists, and musicians to areas of Mt. Hood National Forest that are proposed to be logged or developed. Artist work created in response has been presented publicly with the goal of increased public awareness for protection of wildlands and increased engagement with environmental activism within the Portland arts community. The name of the project is derived from the required documentation that the government must collect to show potential impacts on the environment before development occurs. This process has been increasingly dismantled by industry and removed from public involvement. EIS seeks to reimagine and redefine the form, scope and potential impact of an environmental impact statement through artist research and response. Through this process EIS has created spaces for expression and conversation around ecological, social and political issues central to public land management on Mt.Hood. The project also questions the role of the artist in the debate of managing public lands.

Environmental Impact Statement is led by Lisa Schonberg, Amy Harwood and Leif J Lee. Participating artists have included Alison Clarys, Danielle Ross, Sam Pirnak, Virginia Marting, Tim Brock, Gary Wiseman, Kim Zitzow, Jodi Darby, Jodie Cavalier, Heather Treadway, Ryan Pierce, and Daniela Molnar.
Since the project began in February 2015, the three coordinators have met several times a month to allow for thoughtful evolution as the original idea moved through feedback from audience and participants. An early invitation to talk about the project as part of Central’s Peripheral to What? symposium at HQHQ gallery was a helpful step in articulating our idea. We initially invited about a dozen artists of different disciplines to commit to joining us for one hike to Mt. Hood forests over the summer. We scheduled several dates and also connected artists to Bark, the watchdog group for Mt. Hood National Forest. Bark offers a free monthly hike to the forest while sharing information about current threats to the forests and rivers.

Over the months, a core group of the original invitations formed. While we continued to engage with all of the artists, we began to develop opportunities to highlight participating artists’ work. In July, we brought together a show at Surplus Space. The show featured visual work from Jodi Darby, Gary Wiseman, Leif J Lee, and Amy Harwood. The opening event included performances by Heather Treadway, Alison Clarys, Danielle Ross, Sam Pirnak, and Lisa Schonberg. The opening event was also a “Welcome Home” party for OR-25, the wolf that crossed through Mt. Hood forests this past spring. It was the first time a wolf has been in the area for nearly 50 years.

The second opportunity to highlight participating artists was Sound Management. In an effort to connect the project to other conservation efforts, we collaborated with the Mazamas, a longtime mountaineering club with a large event space in SE Portland. This unique venue for an art event was an exciting way to bring new audiences into the project. The show highlighted music, puppeteering, participatory work, and the presentation of a new trail established on Mt. Hood by artist Ryan Pierce.


In an interest to highlight the connection of art and activism, we have most recently developed the project Visual Quality Objectives. One the proposed logging projects that we have visited on the north slope of Mt. Hood, the Polallie Cooper Timber Sale, is currently open to public comment period. In the Forest Service’s environmental analysis, an evaluation of the impacts to the “visual quality” of the forest is always incorporated into the required analysis. We have posted a Call to Artists on our website, asking people to imagine on-site and inspired art projects that would be not be possible if the visual quality of the forest was impacted by the proposed logging. These project ideas will be submitted as part of the legal record, forcing the Forest Service to respond to this loss of future cultural resource. The best project idea will be given an honorarium towards realizing the project.

Additionally, we are wrapping up documentation of our cumulative work in an upcoming print publication. This piece will also include original writing from several participating artists. We plan to host a final event at the Bark office, further connecting our growing group to future opportunities to be involved in advocacy for Mt. Hood forests and rivers.


EIS website/Visual Quality Objectives:

Portland Mercury article:

Surplus Space exhibit:

EIS Facebook:


Precipice Fund Project Update: They Said Don’t Bring Her Home

Since being awarded a Precipice Fund grant in December for “they said don’t bring her home,”

we have made several major changes to the structure of the event and the ways in which we

plan to execute it. We moved the dates of the festival to January in order to accommodate

these changes. At this point, we are doing work to intentionally curate a varied and

intergenerational audience for these screenings, discussions and workshops in order to best

represent and serve the communities of Black femmes in Portland. Since receiving the grant,

we have been actively searching for spaces to house the project. The difficulties that we have

encountered in finding locations that are accessible, affordable and safe for a project created by

and centering black femmes has also played a large role in our reconfiguration of the series.

In terms of the structure of “they said don’t bring her home,” we have decided to replace the

staged reading of Lorena Gale’s Angelique (1999) with a series of performances by

Portland­based Black femme poets. We will commission these artists to produce pieces on the

themes of agency, respectability and desirability as inspired by the Carmen films. We have

reimagined this performance segment in part due to our closer readings of Angelique, and

deciding that the work that this play does in translating Black female bodies into historical and

political sites did not provide as stark an interruption to the erasure of Black female agency we

hoped to highlight in this series. In soliciting the work of contemporary, Portland­based, Black

Precipice Fund Project Update: Muscle Beach

151002 MB JH install 01 copy

Into Muscle Beach’s second year of programming we were graciously awarded PICA’s 2015 Precipice Fund. In our first two years we operated as a transient gallery. Instead of having a home, we preferred to program shows out of temporary galleries, as well as act as guest curators within existing art galleries. Muscle Beach averaged two shows a year in the first two years, each show growing in complexity, and ambition. In applying to Precipice Fund we hoped to expand the regularity of our exhibitions, discover better programming spaces, and help to fully support the artist who work with Muscle beach.


Since 2015 we have held four exhibitions in two gallery spaces. Our first of which, Gate E, was a group exhibition hosting artists from across the United States as well as artists who live in Portland. This one time exhibition led us to find a more permanent home in Southeast Portland, where we have shown three solo exhibitions. Each show is accompanied with an letter sent in the mail to our viewers. By the end of the year we hope to have one more exhibition in a Seattle satellite location. We are grateful and blessed to have had the support of the Precipice Fund to carry our programming through 2015, and give us momentum into the new year.

Precipice Fund Project Updates: At The Drive In


At The Drive In PDX successfully completed its summer programming on August 20th 2015.
As proposed, At The Drive In was a four part film/ live performance series spanning 6 weeks in the summer of 2015. Each evening was curated by a different local art focused institution.

The first Night of performance/screening was hosted by the group Weird Fiction. In typical Weird Fiction fashion, it started out with a strange presentation. A fictitious media archaeologist named Irving Bleak gave a lip synced lecture on the relevancy of the film being screened while Da Video Tape created a visual display of live edited video content that was shown on several CRT televisions. Weird followed by weird, David Chronenberg’s film Videodrome was screened.The 50-60 people in attendance were awestruck by the intensity of the film they thought they had seen years ago but never did. You would have remembered seeing that strange movie. A small collection of art cars were in attendance to add to the weirdness.

IMG_7898The Second screening two weeks later was hosted by the Group BCCTV. They screened several shorts created over the last year in collaboration with people who have or are currently experiencing homelessness. As their live component, they created a film from scratch, plot and all, throughout the evening. Conceived, written and filmed before the first video was on the big screen, the crew edited the short while the audience watched the program. The newly made short was screened as the last film in the series. Audience members were excited to see themselves on the big screen as part of the film they shot just hours before. Attendance was about 80 people.

The third night was hosted by the store Francis May. The film screened was the somewhat cultish film, One crazy Summer. For that screening, there was a giant green lawn made out of painted cardboard created for comfort and to give the parking lot a bit of a face lift. As an interactive component, FM set up a bank of TV’s that rotated through images uploaded to a hashtag that was relevant to a part of the film. #fmfacefreeze has a few remaining images lurking on the web somewhere. The attendance was about 180 people. adults, kids and pets.

The final screening was hosted by The Portland Museum of Modern Art (PMOMA) They took the opportunity to make the screening a celebration of three years of programming. The opening act was a performance by the group Grand Style Orchestra. An old fashioned liquid light show made for a groovy backdrop to the interesting instrumental and dance performance. Wanting the crowd to have a feel good experience for the birthday party, PMOMA chose The Original Muppet Movie to be screened. Making use of the green lawn Francis May made for the previous screening, a giant Kermit head was easily constructed from the left over pieces. The estimated attendance was roughly 230 people. And there was a birthday cake!

All four screenings, had a sensible snack bar / lounge that was close by for guests to quench their thirsts and satisfy their movie going needs.
Popcorn, ice cream and hot dogs were available for those needing to munch and watch. An outdoor bathroom with sink was also available. Each host received an honorarium for their efforts. Each night brought its own fan club but there were some regulars who kept coming back because they enjoyed the experience of watching a free outdoor movie while learning about local artists and art spaces. Many asked about next year’s programming. We will see…

Nothing Is Actually Okay…(and other reflections on TBA:15)

Almost two weeks ago, I was up in Portland for 4 days for TBA 15. I want to write about what I saw and felt, via four different artists and their work: Holcombe Waller, keyon gaskin, Alessandro Sciarroni, and Okwui Okpokwasili. Just so you know, my writing is situated in the reality that – for me – seeing work is a completely social and physical experience. Like…it happens in a time and place, with particular people around, and the experience of it depends on what I ate that day (biscuits, duh) or who I ran into or avoided, etc. What I’m wearing matters. It all matters. This is all just to say: this writing will be a wonderland of unadulterated subjectivity.

So this writing is about four artists, what each of them made, what was made in lieu or spite or relief or in the periphery of what they made (according to me), curatorial imaginings, and…also…you know…living and dying. It’s the whole sha-bang. Here we are.

*Important note: While I may invoke criticism of my own self, I will not invoke much criticism when discussing the work of my fellow artists. I already wrote heady and taking-to-task treatments of each thing I saw, and in a moment of divine intelligence, threw them the fuck in the garbage because…I DON’T KNOW SHIT. Also works like these (and artists like these) exist in ecologies that need illogical amounts of reparation and love, as they trudge along in the vapid wasteland of our hateful and “critical” cultural economy. Life’s a choice, people. And within that, so too is how we choose to prop eachother up. I love art for what it does well. Let’s talk about that.

Chronologically speaking, the first thing that I did in Portland was meet up with my friend, M, and go eat the damn good food of Portland. There were cockles in cream and tarragon and there was chewy grainy bread with some heavenly white cheese spread on it and then little edible flowers and paper thin radishes and stuff on there. That happened. Then we went to Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, and we saw Holcombe Waller’s Requiem Mass: LGBT/Working Title.

The thing about entering the festival context as a fellow maker, and rubbing brains and opinions and insecurities with the brigades of other makers there, is that it can be hard to keep it light enough in your own critical body to actually feel anything. Too often, especially in New York and Berlin for some reason (this is actually no mystery at all, but I won’t go into it here…), festivals create a culture of hatred for art. Heady critique becomes the way people shake hands, “compare and despair” becomes the dominant mode for watching work, and the whole thing just gets loftier and loftier until everyone is just tired and miserable and no one can figure out why. PICA has always been particularly good at averting this crisis with their warm and accessible contextualizations of work, and their incredible community outreach efforts. That said, what Holcombe made needed no discursive xanax to keep it on the ground.

In the first 5 minutes, we experience a beautifully purposeful collision of professional and non-professional performers invocating us with outstretched arms and voices, all at varying degrees of confidence and “skill.” To immediately surround us with real fucking people who have trembling conviction about what they are doing, and to not need it to be at all clever or conceptual…I felt held and ready. And I felt like: this is important. I wasn’t watching another contemporary performance work that awed by disorientation and intrigue (like the ones I toil away at making). Instead, I was watching a proud and buzzing community meeting, set to insanely intricate music and sweetly campy visuals. There was shimmering sequined purple draped over surfaces, and a massive balloon sign reading bluntly “LBGT” hung over our heads. Sold.

There are alot of conversations about race/gender and representation that need to keep happening, as people make work about queer ancestry and elders…especially in largely white communities and audiences. But the feat of Requiem Mass: LGBT/Working Title – to me – lies in the way that it so tenderly occupied a liminal space; one that didn’t strive to be ultimately correct or really at all universal.

Holcombe, a highly accomplished and geekily rigorous musician, made super-sophisticated songs with edgy and difficult lyrics, and handed them over to a choir who wasn’t ever going to technically perfect them, but instead, would make the expression of them perfect. This teetering of high art content, mixed with an ensemble of excellently familiar and tangible bodies and voices, made Requiem… a shifty, delicate, and honest work.

In my limited understanding, the ways that queers have interacted with notions of religiosity and faith throughout history has been fraught with the worst kinds of ostracization, shame, and self-destruction. It has also produced a stamina and uniqueness in the ways that queer people have held on to their religious practices, and Requiem… literally shook with the power that has been cultivated by this determination. Ultimately, the work showed its inner mess, its inner perfection (Holcombe’s musical compositions are extraordinary), and a sprawling array of beautiful contradictions, very human misses, and also very very human catharses. I was grateful to sit inside of it all and just swish around.

Okay. M and I then left the cathedral and jetted over to Bodyvox, to see what the fuck keyon gaskin was up to.

keyon is a friend of mine, and we met through collaborating on a project that is fraught with racisms, as they are linked to economy (as if any aren’t). The way that I relate to keyon was initially through high-intensity dance/physical improvisation. With him being black and me being white, there are some really concrete things that we each carry that we cannot pass back and forth/share. Luckily for us, we are dancers, and while a vocabulary of dancing doesn’t supercede any socio-political reality about racisms between keyon and i, it has at least given us an opportunity to throw off some of the totally failing language about racisms, and to instead deal with ourselves and eachother through smashing our bodies up against one another…literally…and really hard. These days, besides dancing together, we talk about hard things when and where we can. I experience keyon as having a razor-sharp and advanced intelligence, and his ability to stave off the throbbing cultural desire to MAKE.THINGS.OKAY is like….what is up. He necessarily interrogates hope, effectively rejects the commodification of the artist body (like actually manages to hurl it back at people with an often-calm “NO THANKS”), and sits squarely in a too-hot-too-cold-NEVER-OKAY ocean of contemporality. He might say that this is not a constructed strategy of his, but instead an imposed reality of living blackness. He might not.

Not A Thing basically operated – for me – as a clear and fantastically-composed manifesto. It quickly laid out the rules of engagement: We were going to do as he asked, but we were not going to get to disappear under any kind understanding of what we were doing or seeing. Within this premise, it was excruciating and utterly powerful to watch that audience FALL THE FUCK APART. keyon turned a crystalline mirror onto the voraciously deadening social contract shared by this largely white audience, and it was like looking into one of those horrendous magnifying mirrors. Our pores were dirrrrrrrty.

I was actually super distraught throughout this work, because what keyon did was so successful…and by that I mean that I was furious that I had to stay in the room with these people who just could not work to transcend their discomfort and sit with what was happening. (There’s my privileged white dissociation popping up again…yup) Instead, I was in a room where a black man was cycling through a series of impeccably constructed performative scores about racism in all its hysterically complicated permutations, and people just smiled. People laughed. Lots of people. People rejected that this was something that they had to feel too; they rejected keyon’s expression of pain and power and insanity as human, and thus worthy of deep consideration. Now…I know that alot of folks – maybe even keyon – would scold me for scolding people for their reactions. “They are just expressing their discomfort in the only way they know how!” Fine. okay. Not good enough. nope. sorry. This is MY writing, so I get to say what I want, and I call catastrophic bullshit. xoxo

So yeah…keyon. When I initially knew I was going to write about this work, I was prepared to just write in snorts and sounds and conceptual poetic blips…so as not to contextualize or inappropriately de-complicate what he is doing. But I think there’s an important opportunity here to pull this work into a larger conversation about what I thought was so crucially strong about TBA this year. keyon moves directly into a landscape of non-answers, non-images, and non-SENSE. Racisms (and phobias against LGBT folks, as in Holcombe’s work) and the ways that they recapitulate the precarity of certain bodies, are truly complete and utter non-sense, and yet they have always pervaded, and continue to. So work like keyon is making requires a certain departure from form, from thing-liness, and a certain insistence on a wide, tragic and disastrous experience of total liminality.

Not A Thing.

After Holcombe and keyon’s works, I started to feel a big and watery (but also bravely focused) thesis begin to emerge from the nooks and crannies of my TBA weekend. More on that later and as we roll along.

The next night, I saw Alessandro Sciarroni’s FOLK-S, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

To directly answer Alessandro’s question: yes, Alessandro, yes I will still love you tomorrow. In fact, I ended up loving you even more the day after we had our evening affair.

Angela Mattox, the curator of performance for TBA, and the Artistic Director of PICA, had talked up this work big-time. She almost twitched a little, when she told me – upon my arrival in Portland – how much I NEEDED to see this work. So, of course, I was dubious; not out of any questioning of Angela’s taste (which I almost always line up with quite closely), but because I felt like, in seeing it, that I was holding some key to her curatorial lens, which I have fanatic respect and curiosity for.

So…In the beginning of FOLK-S…, one of the six performers gets on a mic and tells us that the six of them are going to do Bavarian folk dances…and that they will keep doing them until they all leave or we (the audience) all leave. So, that they did.

They did Bavarian folk dances.

And then they kept doing Bavarian folk dances for really a very long time. The dances were beautiful and militaristic and formal and stabilizingly/destabilizingly repetitive. Sometimes they would pause to look around, seemingly having a brief moment of critical consciousness and negotiation about whether they were going to actually choose to keep doing this.

And then they just kept doing Bavarian folk dances.

And then things started to happen…

There was an element of the experience of being in the room that started to feel like we were sliding into some realization that we were at…a sporting event? As the dancers and the audience members started dropping out, one-by-one, the piece became a kind of a dare on both sides; a contest even. Gender dynamics started emerging (and really caught me by surprise actually), as people started cheering for the men (the one woman was the 2nd body to leave the dance) in a way that one might bolster up their favorite running back at a football game. (Wait….is running back a thing? I don’t really know….wait! QUARTERBACK! right! I mean quarterback, I think…).

The effort – having been in effect for soooo long – started to form this thick and excruciatingly humble weight over the whole thing.

These people were still doing this thing together.

The poem of it suddenly hit me, not unlike a ton of bricks. All weird european gender stuff set aside, these people were showing me – through the sheer power of time – their choice to keep reconvening, to keep saying yes to hurtling their bodies through this dance, to keep coming back together again and again and again. It was overwhelmingly romantic! It made me think about my partner, my family, my commitments to community! I was floating!

But then… I was suddenly sinking, because maybe most importantly, the work offered up absolutely NOTHING in terms of an articulated value or any sort of prize that was being won by these folks for this act of trying and trying and trying. Relationships are hard. So is family. So is community. They can actually be atrociously hard…so hard sometimes, that the idea of them being functional and feeling good is just…mythic.

Like the synapse-splintering repetition of the dancing, the sweetness of my little poetic revelations kept shifting in and out of focus. My state of being was all over the place, and every time I thought that I had settled into some way of thinking or feeling about what was happening, their duration of effort would shove me over some kind of line, and I was back in liminal space; existential blue-balls? Eh…something like that.

Finally, two were left, and in a staggeringly UN-grandiose gesture, they kinda-sorta held hands and walked off, in just the most non-descript and unremarkable way you could possibly imagine. They had made the thing happen. They had taken us down the rabbit hole of what commitment and exhaustion and doing-things-for-the-sake-of-doing-them could mean and could look like; and then they had dropped it unceremoniously, like an old shoe, and left.

When I left the work, I felt grey. I recalled being moved, but it felt like a dream that starts to slip away as soon as you leave it. I didn’t know how to talk much about what had happened for me. I even stumbled over my words when I saw Angela later (sorry, Angela!), and reverted to talking emptily about gender representation or something (ugh). But I was just doing that thing, where I talk about whatever, because my feelings are actually just so not yet rendered yet.

The next morning, when I was waking up, I had this phenomenally delayed catharsis. The sky absolutely fell and the ground got pulled out from underneath me. The poem of what FOLK-S… actually was resurfaced, came over and quietly and steadily sat down next to me and nodded, “hey. so this.” This work was about not just the choice to keep getting together, keep looking eachother in the eye and saying “yes.” It was also about how that convening and convening and convening may or may not make its importance clear at all; how most things that take time, actually take time, and how, for all of our diligently high-brow processing and gestation of art works, the good ones just will not be hurried…in their delivery or in their effect. And I felt grateful about that.

TIME BASED ART, people. right.

The last work I saw at TBA was Bronx Gothic, by Okwui Okpokwasili.

and holy fuck.

Bronx Gothic is one of those things that an artist shares with an audience, and the occurrence of that sharing actually feels impossible. Like…the sheer extent to which Okwui conjured and stirred and turned herself inside-out, all feels just really not possible. But I was there. And she did. So…

As a bit of background, I have been moderately/not-at-all-moderately obsessed with Okwui since I saw her work in Ralph Lemon’s massive and maybe perfect How Can You Stay in the House…, about 4 or 5 years ago in San Francisco (thanks, Angela!). She is a physical prophet inside of a body inside of a spirit inside of a machine and most definitely inside of a heart. She sweats liquid power and emotion steams off of her at the same time. She’s my favorite kind of performer. ALL IN.

In Bronx Gothic, the audience enters a dark and small space, as Okwui dances/works her body – back to us – in a corner. This dance that she is doing is very clearly (at least to me) one of creating a channel. I have had some experience with conjure art myself (I use this term conjure art as it is put forth by the artist Amara Tabor-Smith here:, and what I witnessed in this opening was Okwui traveling over a spiritual line, into a territory where she was ostensibly gone, and her body was simply housing/channeling whatever Bronx Gothic needed to put across. In my opinion she stayed over that line for the entire performance, and in doing so, I just kept following her further and further inside of this impossibly personal, impossibly painful, and impossibly reverberant story.

I guess you could call Bronx Gothic a play. There was text and there was blocking. But because of what Okwui had conjured, it felt distinctly like a ritual.

The story that she told was one of alienation from her black girl’s body; one of the condemnation and pervasive socio-political hatred of her black girl’s body and then that of her black woman’s body; one of the losing and gaining of a body; the erasure and explosion and disappearance of her body; the shaky and dangerous emergence of her body. In contexts of general cultural legibility, she translated nothing, rounded no edges, offered no insight. Instead she just told and read things that had happened, things that had been written and said.

A sentence/provocation that she kept coming back to in the text (and absolutely in the physical vocabulary as well) was : “Ask yourself: Am I awake?” The compositional placement of this command-question – as it landed around various stories, physical scores, and other exorcisms/mournings – kept making me dizzy with the consideration of how presence (in its multiplicitous meanings) is somehow the crux of being in a politicized body. It is presence that the abused and raped and marginalized body cannot afford at times, and yet it is presence that makes the body wake up to itself; makes it fight back; makes it notice beauty and – contentiously – worth.

Being awake endangers certain bodies. Also, being asleep is maybe the nail on certain coffins. Neither seemed to have particularly saved Okwui. I also doubt that she invests much in something as concrete as “being saved.” She appears well travelled in the rules and realities of liminalities of all kinds.

Like the other works I saw, Bronx Gothic aggressively asserted that we are alive during a truly – I’ll say it again – impossible time; a time when negotiation is the only constant. It is 2015 and YES, our whole fucking world is decrepitly sick with racisms and sexisms and all kinds of complicated systems of greed and inequity. We’re fucking everything up, constantly. And that is not likely going to shift with any sort of even-barely recognizable flourish during any of our lifetimes. This suggests that the thing to do is not to try to solve the problem, but instead to be brave enough to just get squarely inside of it, and to listen really really closely.

I experienced the exercise offered up in the curation of things that I saw at TBA 15 as an attempt to move away from the static and the legible, and instead to move toward the unknowable, because this shit that people are making work about – queer marginalization, racism, exhaustion, presence, and the pure danger of having a body – is all shit that arches back far before any of us were here, and will continue to weave its complicated web well into the future, in ways that we necessarily cannot imagine.

In that, this curation said to me:

Try to keep recognizing one another.

Try to move past your first response.
Try not to rely so much on making sense ( trace the ways that sense will clearly kill you faster).
Try to interrogate language.
Try to imagine the body as all that there is.

Try to keep recognizing one another.
Fucking try try try try try to keep recognizing one another.

Thanks, TBA. Thanks, PICA. Hell yes, I’ll try.

- Jesse Hewit

The grit and taste and smell and sound and delight

Cinnamon (right? or was it nutmeg?) flying through the air. Repeated gestures at the corner of the square stage area. Smacking: on his legs, his head, his butt, his thighs. Some sarcastic glances and playful aloofness with the audience. Spending the whole time thinking, “I have food allergies and there might be some things I’m allergic to in this dish, I can’t possibly eat any of it even if he gives us a chance,” and then eating food anyway, in the name of art. This is what I’m left with from Radhouane El Meddeb’s show Je danse et vous en donne à bouffer and might even be what I carry with me most from this year’s TBA festival.

Let’s get this out of the way: dance and movement pieces are the hardest for me to process. It’s a bit of a creative wall for me, and one of my favorite things about going to TBA year after year is just trying to get better and better at understanding these performances (while also just being able to use a pass and go to a show on a whim; that makes it a lot easier to take a chance).

So for me, part of this show was spent thinking, “why?” I had so many questions:

  • What do these gestures convey?
  • What makes him switch from making food to dancing and back?
  • Why is the music so, so loud, and why is there one English language song in the middle?
  • How does this music relate to the cooking, and what are these singers singing about? What about the choice to control his own music through an iPod touch, an object that became a part of the performance a lot more than perhaps intended?
  • Why are there two different (but similar) pots of couscous being cooked, and what is the significance of the cooking implements?

About halfway through the piece, though, I remembered that so much of performance is just taking it in, taking it all in. Not worrying about the why’s or even necessarily the how’s, just watching what’s happening in front of me. El Meddeb got more playful with the audience, and as the food was more and more ready to be eaten, the pace picked up. And when he started adding spices to the mix, and finally grabbed a bowl of cinammon and ran around the room with it, we all were there with him, filled with delight.

As the smell of the cinnamon and the actual grit of it hit me, I was reminded of how often my grad school instructors dared us to use all five senses, but how smell and taste and touch were not the easiest to include in a performance. Yet here we were, watching him make a meal, seeing the footprints he created through the cinnamon on the ground, anticipating the moment when we’d get to eat the food he made.

When it came down to it, although my nut allergies scared me a bit, I finally decided: you know what? If I get sick, or someone needs to call an ambulance because I ate something I shouldn’t have eaten, at least I did it for art. I chowed down on my portion of the meal, burning my mouth a bit on a too-large-for-plastic-utensils piece of beef, and considered the odd generosity of spending an entire long performance cooking food for your audience. It capped my personal first night at TBA with spicy goodness and a sense of awe; i knew then that thinking of him as “the couscous guy” (as people kept calling him) diminished so much of the magic of the performance. I’m glad I was able to see (and hear and smell and taste) this one.

— Jim Withington


The dead dads of the Winningstad

Early Morning Opera & Preparation for the Obsolescence of the Y Chromosome: Two very different performances filled one stage with a shared topic told using some similar and strange strategies.

Sorta the same:
▪    Tech-savvy-licious sets: The opera’s neon lighting is a transformer that the performers turn from ceiling, to diagram, to cage, to floor plan, to dance partner. The backdrop of the Y Chromosome is an elaborately built out web domain.
▪    Stories of personal loss told through the lens of something other than the personal: Lars used state surveillance practices from world war 2 to the present, Michelle used scientific research in genetics.
▪    Both stylistically resist much overt emotion, even seeming glib as they build their sideways approaches to grief.

MichelleEllsworth_01_event                  LarsJan_hero

Rather different:
▪    The characters in Lars’ show stay cool and unfazed in their glowing white suits, whereas Michelle warmly bumbles around in her charming neurotic persona bumping into herself and and revealing that the pattern on her dress is a bar code sending secret love notes to any scanners that might be watching.
▪    Michelle only reveals in the last moments that personal loss has motivated her whole project, and while for some audience members that admission created empathy and explained her anxious obsessive behavior, for me it narrowed down the scope of the show from a broader reflection on gender to the artist’s individual experience of loss.
▪    With Lars we learn near the beginning that the show will be an exploration of a somewhat complicated relationship with a missing father, even though rarely was emotion the mode of communication. Yet as the story built it fleshed out this one incidence of death and opened up to be a mediation on the lasting impact of political trauma and an unsettling critique of contemporary surveillance society.

Both were a pleasure to watch. I loved witnessing Michelle’s jittery, sweet, barely keeping it together way of being in charge, even if I left feeling the show was a little deflated by the its turn toward her private loss. While I was interested throughout Lars’ show, it left me somewhat unaffected until the conclusion.  At that point the intimacy and distance between father and son was fused through animations made of the father’s body through MRI imaging found after his death. The weight of their unresolvable relationship crescendoed into something greater through mingling those cold, intimate images with the performers chants on our chances for whether the world is becoming a better place.  Their loud static-y voices echo:  worse, worse, worse.

- Ariana Jacob

Theatre of the Melancholy Volkswagen

Imagine a troupe of earnest and childlike French theatre philosophers decide to form a heavy metal band, but instead of using instruments they are let loose in a warehouse full of stagecraft technology, and instead of rock concerts they create installation-like amusement parks that look like whimsical winter wonderlands.
At first Quesne’s piece plods along at an almost unbearably pedestrian pace, as we see a group of metal heads in a beat-up Volkswagen Rabbit drinking cheap beer and goofing off while listening to excerpts of dated music.  The guys pictured here look like half the dudes I went to high school with, and its hard to see how they fit into the grand vision of a French theater artist.  The pedestrian pace continues, but it becomes increasingly charming over the next hour, as our expectations are broken by the sincerity and sweetness of the performers, and the truly impressive scope of their stage tricks, which are revealed simply and reverently.  At first I was frustrated that such impressive stagecraft was being wasted on a script and a group of performers that could not match the theatricality, but by the end it became clear to me that this was the point:  We can be lured into a world that is transformative and magical and simultaneously very real and without pretense.  The piece ultimately invites us to see the wonder and playfulness of our everyday experiences.  Unlike the performances that most of us are used to, where text or movement or live actors are the main channel for communicating meaning, here the set pieces become like puppets, guiding us into the true depth of the experience.
- Kate Holly
photo (3)

[Melting Together Even If We Don’t Want To: We Just Can’t Help It]

Sweet, salty, lucky Sunday. Hot, liquid, ceaseless sweat.  We are gliding our way down the slippery perimeter of a three scoop ice cream cone.  Suniti Dernovsek/Leading Light, Luke Gutgsell/The Self Possessed and Okwui Okpolwasili/Bronx Gothic.  One stacked atop of the other–melting together, dripping down the sides, rudely touching.  Excuse me, do I belong here?  Excuse me, am I really alone?  Tell me–am I truly separate from you?

Suniti Dernovsek’s Leading Light is multi-vectoral.  Her arms curl back, changing directions as she advances across the floor-turned-stage.  She steps in fluid, emotionally saturated rhythms, seamlessly alternating fast and slow.  She is in many places at once.  She operates in many cadences at the same time.  She smiles, cavalierly and brazenly staring the audience in the eyes as she parades (and claims) the space.  All of it, she marks all the air between our passively participating bodies as she traces the perimeter of our shared space.  We share it, but she holds the space–pelvis curling, wide legs bending, and arms cradling the overhead light.  We all see in the darkness and she lights the way.

Luke Gutgsell’s The Self Possessed multiplies our love.  A queer narcissus, a romance that turns the inside out.  Luke Gutgsell and Nicholas Daulton’s movements are premeditated.  Their strategic gestures are revelatory at best and tentatively aggressive at worst.  Love and hate growing ever closer. And I shouldn’t fail to mention the third actor in The Self Possessed play:  a mirror.  Is it you?  Or that person sitting next to you?  Or the whole of us, indecipherable?  Gutgsell and Daulton both, in fraught moments of admiration, desperation, self criticism and rage turn the mirror outward.  The audience staring back, faces transposed upon faces.  We all take turns switching places and changing clothes, only to prove that two (or three?) can never really meld together or truly be close enough.  What does it mean to be apart even when we are all here together?

Okwui Okpolwasili’s Bronx Gothic tells of two teenage girls corresponding in blood, sweat and tears.  Sticky, evaporating anger that appears on Okpolwasili’s body seemingly out of nowhere and then disappears, faintly traced on the floor and her saturated purple dress.  She reads letters inscribed by smoke curls, brief yet steady gazes and heavy burdens.  Okpolwasili’s dually voiced words glide over these tensions–cool and calm as the ocean.  This dialogue/monologue illuminates the tenacity of friendship and it’s power to hold us together as we break apart.  They/she speaks through sexuality, duality, memory, and honesty.  Two arms, two legs, one heart.  Who am I without you?  Who am I because of you?

- Jackie Davis

broken sentences and opaque spaces as political resistance

incomplete thoughts on broken sentences and opaque spaces as political resistance

At the Gloves Off panel discussion hosted by Portland’s Black Creative Collective the artists opened by stating they would not take any questions at all. They turned their tables toward each other in a wide open angle so they could be somewhat facing each other, rather than just facing down the audience. Then they let there be a very long silence where we simply stared at them and wondered what would happen if they never spoke to us again.


Gloves Off panelists were: Eileen Isagon-Skyers, Jibade-Khalil Huffman, keyon gaskin, Samiya Bashir, Sampada Aranke and sidony o’neal


But they did speak, and they said a lot. To me the key idea that they shared was about the importance of opacity for black artists. Opacity as in not needing to translate themselves for white audiences, not needing to try to make their work transparent and universal. They claimed the space of opacity as something they get to keep for themselves, something dominant culture can work to learn if they want to understand. Black artists do not need to go out of their way to make themselves understandable for white audiences. I felt lucky to be there and hoped the panelists didn’t feel too much more uncomfortable than we did sitting there watching them converse.

Later that night talking to friends about that panel discussion while in the crowd at Critical Mascara we wrestled with how conflicted it felt for the panelists to have shared the idea of opacity with us in that setting. On the one hand the artists had set up a situation where they could have a conversation among themselves rather than cater to the audience’s needs in their discussion. On the other hand they actually provided us, as a largely white audience a privileged access to witness their black cultural experience. And within that they also offered us a tool to better understand their work by presenting the idea of opacity as a key concept for us to think with. Did we as the white audience maybe still end up getting more out of that event than the black artists did? Is there a way out of that catch 22?

The next morning I went to the group artist talk at the visual art space, which was dealing with seemingly totally unrelated topics from the day before: formlessness and poetry. But the talk ended on the idea that not making clear sense might be one of the only possible political resistances to capitalism’s all encompassing appetites, which then jolted me back into the conversation around blackness and opacity. Maybe not making clear sense is a deeply political instinct in these times. If capitalism can digest and commodify almost everything, even the protests against it, and we live in a society where everything we do and say can be tracked and sold back to us, how can we speak freely other than in broken sentences which offer no sense to be made into cents by the mechanisms of the market? While the art market may be the perfect allegory for resistance getting turned into exponential profit, poetry just doesn’t make money the way art does.


Artist talk was about the collaborative project Commonplace by Karl Larsson and Pascal Prosek with Morgan Ritter and Gary Robbins


But again it feels like this line of thought loops back on itself. I so appreciate the artist speaking about how he sees his work as broken sentences made to resist capitalist assimilation. From those words I am able to feel and think into the politics of his work, to question what can be protest in these times, to go a little deeper in my understanding of the implications of the idea of opacity from the day before. And yet what that means is he provided me with access to a more shared meaning, to something that made a lot of sense. I don’t think I could ever survive a politics where the relatedness of making sense with each other was actually negated, though I am really interested in all this generous talk about the power of resisting shared understanding.

-Ariana Jacob

Church for the New Believers: Requiem Mass: LGBT

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 11.57.01 AM


The TBA festival was launched in 2002, a few months after I moved to Portland, as if in answer to my artistic prayers.  Somehow it feels fitting that the launch of the 13th year should be in a grandiose church.  Trinity Episcopal, it turns out, is an old-school house of god, a giant brick building that offers refuge while also celebrating the beauty of life with its arching ceilings, hanging candelabras, and stunning floor to ceiling pipe organ.  I love being in spaces like this, but can’t bring myself to enter alongside weekly worshippers.  It was my great joy to enter tonight, alongside the community that I worship with, a community of artists and art lovers.  It was particularly delightful to see Angela Mattox appear at the pulpit to welcome her believers, and soon after to see Holcombe leading his choristers down the aisle looking like Jesus, with a scruffy beard and priestly robe.

I have head Holcombe talk about this project on two prior occasions, so was prepared for the nature of the choir itself: a diverse crowd of people who want to sing and be part of the community that he is building, regardless of their vocal training.  The result was an opening number charged with the vulnerability of real people summoning performative courage.  You won’t get the smooth polish of experienced performers with every piece here, but the joy and enthusiasm of the community shines brightly.  Holcombe’s music is gorgeous, and interspersed with some history and context on the suffering of the LGBTQ community, as well as a sung lecture on the history of the term itself.

The piece is structured much like a church experience, with sing-alongs and call and response text, and in this setting each audience member plays a true believer.

Requiem Mass is a reminder to us all that there is still much work to be done before we can call ourselves a tolerant society, and that healing from the wounds of homophobia is only just beginning, and will be a huge process unto itself.

When I got home I remembered that our Air bnb guests were a lesbian couple from the South, and had already told me they were considering a move to Portland so that they could be in a more tolerant and open-minded area.  I excitedly recommended that they see this show, which truly creates a space of community, celebration and much-needed healing for its audience, and I predict it will be unlike anything they have ever experienced.

Kate Holly is a theater artist and educator based in Portland, OR.  She holds an MFA in Contemporary Performance from Naropa University, and is a co-founder of Fever Theater and Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble.


Please tell me what to do

keyon gaskin pouring blacknesskeyon gaskin – its not a thing

At first when we arrive he puts himself at our service. We are all waiting for him but he is waiting on us, serving each person a little blackness in a glass and branding each of us with his kiss. Mostly it is that awkward feeling of just standing around in a bright room looking at each other, not quite knowing what is going on, stumbling on remembering who the person next to you is even after you thought you had, while sweat drips down your leg. Then he stops serving and commands us to go into the other room – okay now the performance will begin and I will get to be the audience rather than this body uncomfortably aware of not quite knowing what to do with myself. Front row seats, darkened dance floor, audience chit chat. And then slowly a dead space grows in the middle of the wall of voices emanating from the back of the room, pulling us around and we shut up. He is looking down on us from a balcony above the back row of the audience. Just staring and surveying the scene of our seated selves. Eventually he climbs down into the audience, his black backpack swaying at our faces.
Again he commands us to move, to get out of our seats, take our belongings, and never come back – filling the dance floor with our milling bodies.

I’ve seen two versions of this dance before, once in a dirt pit slated in be a new development in NE Portland, and then in the extravagantly expansive room upstairs at YALE UNION (YU). And yet that prior experience didn’t provide me with much of a sense of being in the know, each time I feel on edge, not sure quite when the performance begins, what will happen, how to be the audience that is needed for this show, or when it has ended. That feeling of not knowing how to be the audience was especially present at this TBA version. Or maybe what I mean is that we were much less able to just watch him do his thing, because we as audience were all in the way of each other, blocking each other’s view and even the sound of his voice as he moved through the crowd, sometimes sobbing with what looked like fear, sometimes knocking into us, sometimes swinging a cast iron pan within inches of someone’s head. Or maybe what I mean is that this time he told us what to do more than ever before, and yet instead of that settling what our role was within his performance it put our presence even more into question.

And more than ever before I thought about the contrast and convergence of theatricality and presence. The conundrum of realness. We know what feels real, but sometimes even what our senses feel to be the most real, present and sincere is a kind of fronting – not fake but constructed for affect. I deeply believe keyon as a performer, I feel him living with and responding to everything and everyone who is in the room with him in each moment. And yet especially in this version there were elements, like the sobbing, that felt both acted and real. That gnaws on my Quaker upbringing’s purist definition of real.

With his repeated audience orders he brought out the complicated power dynamic of a largely white audience trying a little extra hard to follow the commands of a black artist so we can ensure we are not agents of racism. When he asked for helpers we rushed to do what we were told, to be given that chance to do right. Would we have tested his authority a bit more if we were not a touch afraid of being racist? In our eagerness to do what he told us are we leaving him to continue carrying the weight of our racist history? By pulling us to pay attention to our unreconciled relationship to race as it manifests in our jumpy desire to be a good guy he is offering a generous and yet uncomfortable gift to this NW nice audience.

20150911_205122The audience looking at their reflection.


-Ariana Jacob

photos by Mack McFarland

Precipice Fund Project Update: Composition

Composition is an alternative arts space that focuses on bringing together unlikely combinations of art forms to create a necessary dialogue between contemporary visual arts, performance, video, music, fashion and writing. composition is also an incubator for new projects, emerging and established artists and curators.

After being open for a year, composition was awarded The Precipice Fund from Portland Institute for Contemporary Art via The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and The Calligram Foundation/Allie Furlotti. This grant has enabled composition to have more expansive and experimental programming such as ‘wut guise’ a performance art fashion show that was curated in the Historic Ford Building. Upcoming shows include “IN FEAR OF A TRANS PLANET” a touring group of trans poets, “The Clay Will Show Me What To Do Next” a social sculpture event by Amanda Evans in conjunction with Assembly 2015: a co-authored social practice conference. And “Dragcessories: a one queen show exploring glamour and fragility” with Kyle Smith

Precipice Fund Project Update: RECESS / Moving Out


A pilot still

RECESS  is a collaborative arts initiative based in Portland, Oregon, developing and supporting projects that rupture the experience of everyday life and inspire new social possibilities. Since losing our headquarters in 2014, RECESS has been exploringthe effects of rising rental and real estate costs on arts workers in major cities along the West Coast of the US and Canada, focusing on how the resulting nomadic lifestyles and dispersed communities shape artistic production. With Moving Out, we intend to foster a new sense of regional identity by showcasing artists and projects that respond to these conditions both directly and indirectly. Our collaborators in this project include organizers at other alternative spaces and artists facing and addressing economic pressures.


soledadreleaseThe book release and performance marking the publication of Again the search, Another disappointment: a translation work by Soledad Muñoz Fiegehen, produced in-house by RECESS, was the first event in our programming. We also presented Seeing It Through, a rotating selection of video works by West Coast artists presented in collaboration with Composition Gallery, where we are guest-curating the storefront window from May to July. Other events included A Pilot For A Show About Nowhere on May 12th, a performative lecture by Los Angeles-based artist and conceptual entrepreneur Martine Syms, and a release on May 30th of an untitled sci-fi novel about debt by Bay Area artist Cassie Thornton.



Precipice Fund Project Update: Boom Arts


Pigintubmedium (1)

Boom Arts, based in Portland, Oregon, is a boutique presenter and producer of contemporary theatre and performance from around the world. They aim to serves diverse audiences with extraordinary arts experiences from around the world, illuminating crucial issues and ideas of our time through theatre, performance, and dialogue. In January, Boom Arts brought to portland, Rodrigo García’s one man play, I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me of My Sleep Than Some Other Son of a Bitch.  It was preformed at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, and featured in  featured  in the portland monthly magazine.


“Discernment and Confusion in I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me of My Sleep Than Some Other Son of a Bitch” By Robert Quillen Camp, Department of Theatre, Lewis & Clark College


“…This production not only highlights and develops the thematic material of the play (the claims of traditional European culture against the encroaching monolith of American consumer capitalism, the emotional and psychological effects of widespread economic instability, and especially the emotional challenges of parenting) but it also introduces new formal confusions: first, it is being staged in a space that is primarily devoted to the exhibition of visual art, and second, the actors playing the children in this production are piglets.

These two interventions work with one another to subtly disrupt our spectatorial experience – hemmed in by a small picket fence, the actor and the piglets are on exhibition like the Goya paintings at the center of the narrative, and the pleasure that we take in the display of an actor’s virtuosic theatrical skill (provided by the accomplished Ebbe Roe Smith) becomes confused with an altogether different kind of pleasure, the joy of watching piglets just being piglets—no skill involved—their utter lack of pretension to being anything else constantly threatening to overwhelm the world of the play. Traditional theatrical wisdom recommends against the casting of animals (with some notable exceptions – Annie’s Sandy comes to mind), because the fact that we know that the animal isn’t really obeying the laws of the fictional world puts too much pressure on our suspension of disbelief. Famously, the disastrous performance of the dog cast in the 1891 premiere of the symbolist playwright Maurice Maeterlinck’s play The Blind sent its Parisian audience into hysterics at what was meant to be a moment of tragic recognition. But here, in this production, the confusion is productive. Not only because it generates the self-awareness often found in experimental theater (we all know this performance is a performance) but because, as the play’s protagonist argues, confusion is a necessary component of an authentic experience. Otherwise you might as well be at Disneyland. Here our experience is troubled, multiform, and radically incomplete.”


Precipice Fund Project Update: The Portland Pataphysical Society


The Portland Pataphysical society, is a “private social club”, that hosts exhibitions,presentations and performances in an alternative arts space now located in downtown portland.

In January, we moved the PataPDX from the living room of our second floor apartment to a live/work storefront space at the corner of NW 6th and Everett. Our new space is the most visible gallery in the Everett Station Lofts, with 10 large windows looking out onto the street. Funding from our Precipice award allowed us to build out our new gallery space, completely refinishing the floors, creating a new library area, adding storage, buying a video projector, and installing a 14 foot church pew from the early 1930′s (see image 1). Once build out was complete, we launched the first exhibition in our year long programming season: Michelle Blade’s If the Spirit Moves You (see image 2). That exhibition was followed by a solo show featuring Eugene-based artist Julia Oldham (see image 3). Oldham’s work at PataPDX received a very positive critical reception, including mentions in Port, The Willamette Week, and the Portland Monthly.


PataPDX also presented an exhibition in May that brought together a diverse group of collaborating institutions to support the work of Brooklyn-based artist Christine Wong Yap (see image 4). In conjunction with to her exhibition at PataPDX, Yap participated in a 2 week residency at c3:initiative, installed a satellite exhibition in the Project Window of PDX Contemporary, and participated in Portland State University MFA Art & Social Practice program’s 2015 Assembly conference. We have used funding from our Precipice award to pay artist fees, offset shipping expenses, and for commissioning new arts writing about our projects.









The Radical Imagination Gymnasium is both a fitness regime aimed at exercising the underused muscles of the radical imagination and the community that spontaneously arises when people do these workouts together. Through a series of collaborative, emergent, and experimental workouts throughout May, the Radical Imagination Gymnasium provided a space to reimagine new ways of being together in the world: Walidah Imarisha’s workout facilitated collective science fiction visioning/writing on social justice issues; Tamara Lynn’s workout participants collectively imagined living 24 hours in utopiaCarmen Papalia established an open working space dedicated to the consideration of our agency in public and institutional settings; and Renee Sills guided participants through an embodied exploration of commoning.

The Radical Imagination Gymnasium is a project by artists Zachary GoughGuestwork, and Patricia Vazquez Gomez. All workshops and events were all free and open to the public. 

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Precipice Fund Project Update: Random Access Tape / Stream Room

Stream Room is a collaborative multi-channel musique concrète sound installation by deepwhitesound, an online label of free experimental audio. Hundreds of micro-compositions produced by dozens of international sound artists and musicians are randomly sequenced and broadcast via wi-fi to handmade streaming units. Each collected composition is designed to be played simultaneously as an immersive sound installation, recently exhibited at FalseFront in Northeast Portland.

streamroom-03The result is a cacophonous, randomized bombast of disparate experimental recordings, playing over and against each other, an aural metaphor of the chaotic and over-stimulating nature of the internet itself. The discord of battling sound sources and quickly transitioned content creates a type of meditative experience. Rather than aiming to reach transcendence through minimalism, senses are bombarded and inundated in a type of maximalism. The dissonant nature of the installation draws allusions to the overwhelming qualities of the internet, social media and the information age. Stream Room serves as an appraisal of this condition, an errant signal celebrated, a space for enthralled annihilation.

Random Access Tape is a 30-minute, two-sided audio cassette that serves as documentation of the project, a physical artifact from the first iteration of this never repeatable, randomized exhibition.Random Access Tape is distributed under the Creative Commons license, which encourages free redistribution and attribution of the tape, to organizations, individuals, collectives and broadcast centers who wish to aid in making the work available to the public. The physical and non-commercial circulation of work designed for digital, streaming media is a symbolic gesture meant to call attention to the very real and present role of digital media in the delivery of innovative artistic endeavors and to further the idea that free art is not forgettable art.

streamroom-01Stream Room and Random Access Tape are produced by DB Amorin for deepwhitesound, with support from a grant provided by the Precipice Fund. Visuals and printed media design by Dana Paresa. Programming consultation by Matthew McVickar.

deepwhitesound (DWS) is an international online label of experimental audio operating since 2005. Featuring multidisciplinary sound art, experimental music and composition from disparate geographic locations, deepwhitesound supports the diffusion of media and digital distribution. All work featured is offered without charge as full-release, artist-constructed digital downloads under the Creative Commons license. deepwhitesound values diverse local and net-based community, using social media as a platform for collaborative projects and communication between artists, organizers and curators.

For more information, please visit:















Random Access Tape / Stream Room

Precipice Fund Project Update: SENSINGFEELINGPERCEIVING / Exquisite Corpus

Exquisite Corpus was a collaboratively designed and facilitated workshop that provided visual and interdisciplinary artists interested in materials of performance–time, space, presence, physicality and voice–a rigorous place to study, experiment and practice. The project was made possible with the support of a grant from the Precipice Fund.


RESPONSES from PARTICIPANTS AROUND the question: What would you like someone else to explore in their performance?

“Follow your own interest. This can pertain to anything we have explored in class-going deeper into past homework assignments or anything else that has come up”:


agency. choices. Curiosity. Motivation – what motivates a person (you or someone else) to perform? – explore this.


Two parts:

1.  I’d be curious to see to being ‘on’ or ‘performing’ at 100%, 10%, and neutral.

2.  I’d also be curious to see being ‘off’ or ‘not performing’ at 100%, 10%, and neutral.


This being performed in relationship to an object.

The object has personal meaning to the performer.


What does it mean to blend, or show a range from being on to off, to go from neutral, to performing, to then not performing, in a performance?


We are so accustomed to frontal, face-to-face communication. I’d like to know more about ways of sensing, feeling, perceiving, connecting with, and communicating with the audience when performing with your back


I am curious whether or not self consciousness is the same thing as being in a performance state.


I wonder if performance can ever be turned “off”.


I am curious about presence and awareness, that internal measurement of sensing your own presence and the presence of others, when you’re “on” in terms of performing. What breaks that sense of awareness and presence? Are you able to hold it? Do you forget you are “on” while performing and if you forget but still engaged with others or the space, does that mean you are still “on”?


What are the ways in which an audience’s attention is directed?


I am curious about how one can stay “free” within their performance to make choices that both surprise themselves (and keep them interested) as well as keeping the performance “fresh” for the audience.




























Precipice Fund Project Update: Arresting Power

Arresting Power: Resisting Police Violence in Portland, Oregon is a feature-length documentary film that provides a historical and political analysis of the role of the police in contemporary society and the history of policing in the United States through personal storytelling as well as interviews with community organizers past and present. It provides a framework for understanding the systems of social control in Portland with its history of exclusion laws, racial profiling, red-lining, gentrification practices and policing along lines of race and class. It serves to uncover Portland’s unique history of police relations and community response. The project was supported by a grant from the Precipice Fund.

ARRESTING POWER: Resisting Police Violence in Portland, Oregon


US, 2014, 90 minutes


Precipice Fund Project Update: FRONT

FRONT provides a print-based representation of Portland dance artists while fostering conversations between local creators and national and international peers in the field of contemporary dance. The publication serves as a design-forward visual object as much as a collection of critical writing on dance. On November 22, FRONT released the fourth edition of its annual newsprint publication dedicated to contemporary dance, the production and printing of which was supported by a Precipice Fund grant.

Ed_4Poster_Final_GRAPHICS copy

ED4: BUOY focuses on dance practices and processes untethered from performance presentation and emphasizes conversations between West Coast dance makers. The newly released publication pays homage to two champions of the social potential surrounding performance: Performance Works NorthWest (PDX) and AUNTS (NYC). A brand new section, Notes from the Field presents a trove of artifacts from the creative lives of contemporary dance makers. From Houston, Rachel Cook of DiverseWorks delves into her curatorial vantage in a commissioned essay, while FRONT offers a glimpse into its recent Resource Room Residency at PICA.

 Hosted by Ristretto Roasters on Couch, the release party for ED4: BUOY was attended by friends from Portland’s arts communities as well as passersby and members of the media new to FRONT. Since the release, FRONT has mailed BUOY to contributors across the US and abroad and sent out a number of mail orders—notably for archival purposes in the libraries of Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. In the coming months, FRONT will participate in the Publication Fair via Publication Studio (12/14, Ace Cleaners) and have on-site presence at the American Realness festival and bookstore (1/8-1/18/15, Abrons Art Center, NYC).


















Get a BUOY today!
front2 front4





Precipice Fund Project Update: Weird Shift Storefront

Supported by a grant from the Precipice Fund, the Weird Shift Storefront was open for six months in 2014, from April through October. In that time, they hosted more than 25 events, displayed the work of 15 artists/non-artists directly, and featured over 16 presenters in the various evenings, workshops, and our signature “Micro-Talk” sessions, at which anyone who wanted to could come and share their marginalia research to a curious and eager audience. With 30 hours of regular open time per week, in addition to those events, Weird Shift was able to showcase visual, performance, video, and sound art from Portland-based, national, and international artists. Weird Shift Storefront made a space available that anyone could enter, not just an “art” crowd, and think, discuss, and experience different ways of sharing interesting material with other people.

Weird Shift1 Weird Shift4 Weird Shift3 Weird Shift2







































Weird Shift Storefront



Precipice Fund Project Update: Resident Residency

Supported by a grant from the Precipice Fund, Resident Residency invited artists to participate in their respective neighborhood association meetings as a context for developing participatory public artworks. Over the past year, six artists-in-residence worked as organizers, researchers, activists and fellow neighbors to create projects that were engaging, playful, and thought provoking in their own Portland neighborhoods.

At the end of the project, Resident Residency published a book documenting the project. The book includes writing and project documentation from each of this year’s six artists, an essay by Travis Nikolai, and a group interview about the idea and practice of Resident Residency:

Portland Neighborhood Map

“The artists of Resident Residency … recode our perceptions of where and what we call home. They draw us outside of ourselves, outside of our homes, by constructing reasons to linger in spots just beyond the boundaries of our personal property. They make us loiter. And whilst loitering create circumstances in which we exchange our peculiarities or partake jointly of the idiosyncrasies of our surroundings. In Linda Wysong’s “Sabin Now and Then”, the exchange is a formal one, where longtime residents relate watershed moments in the neighborhood’s history. In Khris Soden’s “Buckman Wonder Wander”, smaller changes and personal places are examined on a casual stroll. Ariana Jacob’s “Piedmont Neighborhood Walk Swap” turns the dérive inward as she pairs residents off for walks in ways designed to burst our “filter bubble”: the phenomenon, heightened by information age over-saturation, to seek out that which is already attuned to our particular sensibilities. Mack McFarland and Katy Asher’s piece Tug O’ War: North Portland Knockdown is less verbal but offers discourse through physical competition where audiences can know one another through victories, losses, bumps and bruises. Last, Krista Connerly’s “Reprieve From Infinite Bustle” creates an intimate exchange through shared silence in the vulnerability of a communal nap in a public place. By activating audiences through varied forms of personal exchange in spaces often delineated by private reverie, the artists endeavor to make us distinctly aware of the boundaries we place around our communal spaces, ourselves, and each other.”

- Excerpt from Where is a Place by Travis Nikolai, an essay in the Resident Residency Book

For more information and documentation of Resident Residency, please visit





Resident Residency



Precipice Fund Project Updates: Stream Room, M.A.S.S., and Spreading Rumours

As part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, with additional lead funding from the Calligram Foundation, the Precipice Fund was instituted last year as a grantmaking initiative designed to serve independent and collaborative visual art projects, programs, and spaces in Portland, Oregon. Administered by PICA, the program is now in its second year, with the newest round of awards (2014-15) to be announced in early December.

In the meantime, 2013-14 grantees have been busy executing their Precipice-funded projects, which span exhibitions, gallery spaces, performances, publications, residencies, workshops, free schools, televised plays, sound installations, an experimental film and media festival, web-based curatorial explorations, and political interventions in public space.

Below are updates on three active projects: Stream Room, M.A.S.S., and Spreading Rumors. Please scroll to the end of the post for images from Spreading Rumors’ most recent interventions.

Stream Room by deepwhitesound

Exhibition Artists: Dana Paresa, Matthew McVickar, DB Amorin


Hundreds of micro-compositions produced by dozens of international sound artists and musicians are randomly sequenced and broadcast via wi-fi to handmade streaming units. Each collected composition is designed to be played simultaneously as an immersive sound installation.

The result is a cacophonous, randomized bombast of disparate experimental compositions, playing over and against each other, an aural metaphor of the chaotic and over-stimulating nature of the internet itself. The discord of battling sound sources and quickly transitioned content creates a type of meditative experience. Rather than aiming to reach transcendence through minimalism, senses are bombarded and inundated in a type of maximalism. The dissonant nature of the installation draws allusions to the overwhelming qualities of the internet, social media and the information age.

Stream Room serves as an appraisal of this condition, an errant signal celebrated, a space for enthralled annihilation. On view through November 2nd at FalseFront (also a 2013 Precipice Fund grantee), 4518 NE 32nd Ave.


M.A.S.S. Curatorial Collective announces M.A.S.S. IX, the latest edition of their interdisciplinary events series at Alberta Abbey, featuring performances from Grouper, White Gourd, and writer Tyler Brewington.

Saturday, November 1
7:00 PM doors; 8:00 pm performances
Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St, Portland
[email protected]

About: M.A.S.S. (an ambiguous acronym) is a bimonthly music & performance series set in the beautifully resonant 350-capacity sanctuary of Alberta Abbey, a historic church turned mixed-use venue. Using exceptional sound engineering and equipment provided by Tim Westcott (SIX music series), the series aims to provide a contemplative environment for group and/or anonymous reflection, while cross-pollinating local and non-local artists, musicians, writers, and performers.

Spreading Rumors

Project Artists / Collaborators: Garrick Imatani, Ariana Jacob, Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen
Images of Participating Artists’ Work: (see below): Confetti (“No Jail”):
Calder Gray Paulsen; Confetti (“overseer – officer”): Joel Sjerven; Confetti (“reasonable and necessary force?”): Maddy Freman; signs by Sharita Towne and Stephanie Syjuko.

Spreading Rumors is a series of collaboratively produced experimental project platforms designed to create new modes of distribution for artistic and political purposes, and to intervene in existing communication circuits. These forms are activated by invited local and national artists and activists and targeted at strategic publics throughout the city of Portland. The series aims to create more space within Portland’s art community to support the production and sharing of explicitly political artwork, as we have noticed a lack of discourse around this work. Spreading Rumors will consist of four platforms, each using a different form designed by the collaborative team and with aesthetic and conceptual content by invited artists, writers and activists.

Spreading Rumors was recently featured on two blog posts from “MLK in Motion”:


Confeti1 Confetti2 ConfettiProductionParty1 ConfettiProductionParty2 SharitaTowne2 SharitaTowneSign1 StephanieSyjuco1

Precipice Fund Project Update: C.O.P.S.

C.O.P.S. (The Conceptual Oregon Performance School) is a free, artist-run, experimental summer school, with a focus on contemporary art and performance strategies. Its mandate is to engage participants in the methodologies, critical theory, and dialogue surrounding the discipline, while investigating its social and cultural role. Participants will experiment with a myriad of contemporary performance strategies, based upon formal and informal lectures, seminar-based dialogue, and structured group critique.

Supported by a grant from the Precipice Fund, the C.O.P.S. 2014 season took place over three summer weekends, with daily sessions  hosted by visiting artist/instructor teams, who gave lectures, assisted in marathon critiques with students, and facilitated collaborative projects that culminated in an exhibition at ROCKSBOXCONTEMPORARYFINEART.



Many Many Women as read by Many Many Men – C.O.P.S. – Session 3 – A Collaboration

Web: &


Facebook: conceptualoregon.performanceschool

Instagram: conceptualorperformanceschool

Audience Response to Super Nature by BodyCartography at TBA:14

Typically, my favorite parts of a dance performance are the costumes, the sleek bodies and the elegant presentation of precision. I appreciate the way the body can move within the limits of choreography, but I frequently feel so distant from the dancers. The space between me and performer, whether it is a few rows of auditorium chairs or several hundred rows in a stadium setting, is almost always enough for my attention to wane. I can easily drift away from the present moment as the dancers express passion and energy between one another on stage. My experience with the installation Super Nature by BodyCartography Project was quite the opposite. When I entered into the installation space, I felt an immediate responsibility to engage. I was immersed, intrigued and invigorated. I was part of the installation, and my energy collided with the performer’s energy in a way that made me feel relevant and alive. I want audiences to feel enveloped by the work, reflective and engaged by the performers or the experience. The directors of BodyCartography Project describe this installation as an opportunity to train audiences to be present and available with their emotions when they engage with a performance.

BodyCartography Project describes Super Nature on their website:

An intimate installation functions as part one. It is built for a gallery space and an audience of one. In an empty gallery, one member of the public meets one performer and has a non-verbal interaction. Both performer and audience have agency to transform the energy of the space through their behavior and social interaction, sometimes very subtle and sometimes extreme. The evening length theater work functions as part two.

I have not experienced the evening length theater work, and this post only considers part one of the work, an intimate installation which was installed at THE WORKS at Fashion Tech in Portland, OR as part of PICA’s annual TBA festival. For those of you who didn’t experience the Works this year, Fashion Tech is a 30,000 sq. ft. warehouse that once housed an interior design supplier. Super Nature was installed in a small, cinder block room that was most recently used as a studio for a spray paint artist. The space has a large vent coming down from the ceiling for ventilation and a heavy, sliding wooden door that leads into one of the main hallways of the building. BodyCartography Project installed a wooden floor painted white and had the walls painted a warm gray. The room had one light and speakers installed.

Photo 1 (5)

Otto in the Installation, photo by Chelsea Petrakis for PICA

During the installation, a single audience member is asked by a docent to “please remove your shoes and turn off your cell phone, feel free to be anywhere in the space and when the installation is finished, I will come open the door for you.” The exact language of these instructions is important for creating ambiguity and not dictating the audiences viewing response. Next, the docent opens the door, and audience of one enters the space to find a solitary performer. After approximately 15 minutes, the docent comes to open the door for them. When I served as docent for this piece, I waited for the participant to naturally emerge from the space before I closed the door behind them. If someone had nervous energy or expressed feelings of anxiety, I stated explicitly that they could leave the installation at any point if they felt uncomfortable. Uncomfortable interactions can lead to empathetic reactions that are sometimes unreachable in other realms; however, it is important that nobody feels trapped during the installation.

Super Nature is unique because both the performer and the audience member are alone in their role, and the performance is an interaction that unfolds, dependent on the energies of both people in the room. The tension between the social and intuitive body creates an immediate confusion about the role of the audience member. The experience questions whether the audience is a participant, a spectator, a collaborator or a witness to the performance. In my experience, I felt a nonverbal invitation to exchange with the performer. I felt agency to affect the situation, and I felt responsible to respond to the performer in ways that I would not under different spatial (ie. a larger room) or social dimensions (ie. more audience members). The relationship that Super Nature builds between audience and performer is special because of the metaphorical light that shines on the solitary audience member. From my perspective, the audience member is part observer, part participant and part collaborator.

As part of TBA’s public conversation series hosted at PICA’s downtown office, Olive Bieringa (co-director of BCP), Otto Ramstad (co-director of BCP) and Michael Sakamoto discussed the installation in terms of its intended impact on the audience. Sakamoto, artist and faculty advisor in the MFA-Interdisciplinary Arts program at Goddard College, describes his experience with the installation as if he were “being danced.” He felt there was an immediate meeting of a shared moment during which he “was being danced.” His ultimate takeaway was the dialogue with himself that happened as a result of the experience with the performer. When the audience enters the space, they have to choose where to be, how to respond, and how they want to absorb or reflect on the situation. Some feel enlightened and inspired after leaving the space, others feel disquieted or uncomfortable with the silence or close proximity between performer and audience. Ideally, this piece opens up the sense of discovery for the audience and gives the audience a space to practice reflexiveness in their own body.


Roz (left) and Olive (right), photo by Chelsea Petrakis for PICA

I spoke with a lot of people after they exited the installation, and frequently, people felt like voyeurs or had strong empathetic reactions, both physical and mental. I wondered why, in this more intimate setting, people felt specifically like voyeurs especially when compared to a more traditional setting where audience members are exclusively spectators. As an audience member at a stage performance, I have frequently felt myself disappearing into the crowd, but in this installation, my position as the audience member was more within myself than it is in a big theater. In some instances, audience members felt the desire to disappear and not disturb the performer. The option to disappear or interact is a spectrum for each person who enters the space, and some people may experience a moment where their relationship to the performer shifts. For many people, this shift came close to the end of their time in the installation when they began to open up their metaphysical energy to the experience. This type of experience gives the audience and the performer the opportunity to learn something new about themselves in relation to a stranger. Regardless of what behavior the audience chooses to enact, they affect the performer, and in a sense, the distribution of agency during the performance is constantly in flux. In some cases, audience members felt like they had little to no agency to transform the environment.

Anna and Roz

Anna (left) and Roz (right), photo by Chelsea Petrakis for PICA

After people exited the installation, I tried to give them a subtle, nonverbal invitation to share with me about their experience. Many people responded to the invitation, and I have transcripts of a few conversations to share with you. I tried my best to respect people’s need to be with themselves directly after the installation, and as a result, some of my conversations occurred hours after the audience member’s experience with Super Nature. Each of the following interviews took place in Fashion Tech where the project was installed, and all participants gave consent to be recorded. All names have been changed for the privacy of the individual.

Conversation with John from France
Right after he came out of the installation

John: There’s this thing about a relationship with someone, with the body, we’re just breathing the same air. Because she’s a dancer, she has a very different body, and it renews the gaze that I have on the body.

Roz: Was there a breakthrough moment for you in the piece?

J: It was just a tidal wave, it was coming, and it was disappearing, coming and disappearing. The fact that you can change your orientation in the room is making it like real life. You don’t have to feel the gaze of other people in the audience. This big, deep, profound intimacy with someone that you don’t know, that you probably will not know after this experience, it’s just great.

Conversation with Sophia from Portland
Right after she came out of the installation

Roz: How was the experience for you?

Sophia: It just feels really good. I just really enjoy when I connect with somebody.

R: Did you feel like you connected with her [the performer]?

S: Oh yeah. We rolled around on the ground some. It’s a thing of trust. It’s all about that. Letting you understand. Every other person who is in there is going to have a different bond or reaction. Some [audiencers] might be like “stay away from me” and freak out or just watch. Some will want to be with you, whatever you’re going through.

R: What about the interaction made you feel like you had connected [with the performer]?

S: I don’t know. It’s just about accepting somebody. It’s like, “Okay, you can lean on me, and I can lean on you.” Then there was a big smile. There were moments with eyes closed. There was a lot of allowances. I don’t do a lot of contact stuff, it’s weird.

R: Me neither, I’ve never done it before this experience.

S: I’ve seen so much dance in my life, and I have a lot of dancer friends. It’s nice to experience. I need more of that. It’s not my thing. I just like to learn other things, letting go.

R: Would you consider practicing contact dance after this experience?

S: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I should start going to Conduit [dance studio in Portland]. I need to roll around with people more. I like the lighting. The space makes you feel like you can just be.

R: And be however you want.

S: Yeah, you can be light. It’s just so beautiful. I’m really glad I came down.

Conversation with Emma from Portland 
Immediately after she came out of the installation

Emma: By coincidence, I was standing in this corner right before it was over. When you started to open the door, the weight [used as part of the door’s opening system]…

Roz: Oh no…

E: And then I realized, I thought it was coming down from space, but it was actually connected to the door. It was really interesting. I could tell it was ending and for some reason I had just put myself in that corner at the very end. It was a neat coincidence.

R: I’m glad you didn’t get hurt. I ended in that same corner once, too. I almost got hit with the weight, too.

E: [laughter], that was interesting. It felt like a complete closing in that sense.

R: What other experiences did you have there?

E: Well, it was interesting because it was so intimate that there was quite a bit of discomfort. I think I felt a little uncomfortable because the performer/viewer relationship is somewhat upset. Not upset, but it wasn’t as clear.

R: How did you respond to that ambiguity?

E: Well, I just kind of went with it. I found when he was on the ground, I sat on the ground because I didn’t want to be over. That felt too hierarchical. In a sense, I kind of moved around a bit in relation to his movements.

R: Did it make you feel like you would like to move around in a larger theater setting? To gain different vantage points?

E: Well, I’m not a dancer. I did kind of have a sense of where it would be interesting to mimic and respond to his movements.

R: Did you?

E: I didn’t really. Except, I moved up and down. I thought, “oh, that looks like my yoga pose, I could do that…I could do that.”

R: What held you back from doing those things you were feeling?

E: Being in this place [gestures towards the building and larger space around her].

R: Being in the audience role…

E: Right, you’re not supposed to move. Right? I mean, I moved around a little bit. Also, when you do it, you don’t see the other person as much.

R: Totally.

E: So, that was kind of interesting, too. I’m not sure where the word cartography comes from because I didn’t really feel there was a lot of mapping going on.

R: This project is called Super Nature and the artists are called BodyCartography Project.

E: Oh, okay. Yes. The soundtrack was interesting. So industrial. So hot. I feel so bad for the guy. There’s no air. That’s not a heady discussion. I expected it would be more tactile. But, it wasn’t.

R: Do you think you had agency to make it tactile, or not?

E: I didn’t feel like I did.

R: Interesting.

E: Because of the spotlight. And because of his movements, they were very dance movements. They weren’t pedestrian movements at all. So, you had a sense that he was being a modern dancer and you were in a small room watching him. I felt that I had a certain agency, but not…if his movements were different, I would feel more agency.

R: Thanks for your reflections.

E: It was interesting, thanks a lot.

After TBA, the first participant at the Portland installation asked to share feedback about the experience via email. Here are his remarks:

Hello my name is Andre Middleton, Community Services Coordinator for the Regional Arts and Culture Council, and I was fortunate to the be the first participant in the BodyCartography Project’s Super Nature performance at the 2014 PICA TBA festival. I knew very little about this participatory performance experience outside of what I read in the description.

Let me start by saying that the stark grey walls of the room in which it took place were very prison like. As I entered the room and the door was closed behind me I felt as if I had stepped through a portal that removed me from the world at large. The silence that enveloped me soon gave way to an atmospheric rumbling that came from a single speaker suspended from the ceiling. The lone male figure in the room seemed poised, almost coiled with potential energy. I was unsure if I or he was to be the instigator of the performance so I started to move. I can’t recall how I moved, but I do recall that I wanted to avoid limiting myself within the space. I wanted to have the right to touch all the walls, I wanted to break down my personal bubble and therefore establish a presence within his as well. As we moved closer, the normal walls we often build around ourselves were shattered as we touched. In an instant I thought about the taboos of male on male contact. I wanted to let the dancer know that he was welcome in my space, so I didn’t retreat from his touch. I also wanted to acknowledge his contact so I simply rotated my hand as we continued to move now in tandem. When we parted it was not a separation of sorts but the next phase of the dance. soon our eyes made contact. In a way, this next phase was even more intimate than our physical contact. Our gaze lingered for what felt like an eternity. By the time our eyes parted it felt right, not rushed or hurried. Our bodies had somewhere else to go and of course our eyes followed.

After talking with audience members, I realized that there are a lot more outcomes and variables to this installation than I thought after experiencing it myself, and I wondered how the directors have decided to measure success for the piece.

The following quotes come from an email correspondence that I had with Olive and Anna, one of the performers, after they left Portland and returned to Minneapolis. My goal was to give the performers a platform for describing their intentions during the installation, to share the vulnerability and practice that goes into such a performance.

Email between Roz and Olive from September 25, 2014:

Roz: During the public conversation at PICA’s downtown office, you described your work in terms of creating opportunities to form relationships. Can you explain how a relationship develops between the audience and the performer in Super Nature?

Olive: I’m interested in engagement. I’m interested in identifying the moments we feel connection with each other. I’m interested in how a changing relationship, in this case between performer and audience, can manifest in a dance. I’m interested in how our attention can be deeply focused on this feedback loop between ourselves and another person and the information passing between us. I’m interested in the gap of attention that this provides thereby allowing the unknown potential of our body to unfold. I’m interested in how we can be present with each other.

In the Super Nature installation, we get to practice being present with a complete stranger. Practice being vulnerable. Practice feeling our own inner melodrama. As an audience and performer I need this practice.

We had considered the installation as a potential training for our audiences before coming to the Super Nature stage show.

R: You jokingly mentioned during the workshop that you were trying to get the word in the dictionary, how do you define “audiencing”?

O:  Audiencing – verb, to practice being an audience, to be in the practice of being an audience???

I’m interested in the active engagement of our audiences. The job of viewing or experiencing good art work is not a passive role of consumption. How do we honor peoples time when they make the effort to come out and see our work? By honoring the choices they make while experiencing it [the work]. By giving audiences agency. By letting them have enough space to create connection and meaning. With the Super Nature installation I’m interested in creating an opportunity to practice audiencing in a tight frame where we can all feel the causal effect of our actions. It is a dense feedback loop.

R: Do you think it is possible to define a successful audience in Super Nature? A successful performer? How are the parameters for success different for this installation than they would be for the same piece performed on a large stage with 200 onlookers in chairs.

O: A successful audience for the installation is someone who is up for the challenge of being present with a stranger. For some people the room is too claustrophobic, or their expectation of seeing something “good” gets in the way of their ability to perceive what is happening.

A successful performer for the installation is someone who can attend to themselves and the audience and allow the performance to unfold in the space in-between. Inviting their whole body to be seen, 360 degrees, in detail. Receptivity and transparency are critical. Finding the balance between doing and being is where the dance begins.

We don’t perform exactly the space piece on stage for 200 people. The Super Nature stage work is a radical ecological melodrama with fifteen performers onstage, a live sound score by Zeena Parkins and mobile set design my Emmett Ramstad.  The installation is a close up with the same performers and content unfolding in an improvised frame. In both versions we have attempted to choreograph empathy. This plays out very differently with the different scale of each work.

Performer of Super Nature, Anna, also responded via email on October 1, 2014:

Roz: Do you think it is possible to define a successful audience in Super Nature? A successful performer? How are the parameters for success different for this installation than they would be for the same piece performed on a large stage with 200 onlookers in chairs.

Anna: I don’t think there is a specific successfulness. There I feel like my natural sense of evaluation after a run, as the performer, goes to a thinking that is similar to that of my pedestrian life, remembering what I offered, rethinking their ideas with more space and objectivity, I feel like I have less of the Merde-like blasé or the learned confidence I might feel in another performance setting, I do feel a bit more of that with the stage version. But I also feel or remind myself that it is one small, and first encounter, as I might remind myself when first meeting someone. There is a desire to put forward the best things, in this area; the openness, an ease in mutual understanding translated through physicality and the body, a certain honesty, but it’s a two way street, and there are many factors that might interfere with my desire. The important thing is just the exchange, or the meeting, or the opportunity. I think it would be the same for the audience, though without some of the preparation and fore-warning, which might come as both a hindrance and a benefit.

Photo 4

Roz (left) and Olive (right), photo by Chelsea Petrakis for PICA

In their email correspondence with me, Olive and Anna both describe a necessary openness from the audience and the performer that is key to the work’s success on a performance-to-performance basis. The movers are trained in choreography that aims to induce empathy and highlight the kinesthesia in the audience, but as Anna describes, the intention is not always met. People experience this artwork by engaging or not-engaging from the perspective of an audience, within this experience is an inner dialogue and an outer interaction which becomes the artwork. No documentation or final product is necessary. In my experience, the level of intimacy and openness that I was able to achieve with the performer was genuine and felt like the most authentic response I have ever had to a dance performance. I attribute that authenticity to the performer’s capacity to meet me halfway. This setting provides a space where audience expectations can be deconstructed through movement, quiet observation or dramatic nonverbal communication. This piece allows the willing audience member to engage directly with the energy of a stranger and experiment with how that energy is affected by their presence. Each person who enters the room, audience and performer, have a responsibility to respect the emotional atmosphere of the other and help each other find comfort in the discomfort of the unknown.

Essay and transcriptions by Roz Crews. Roz is currently a student in the Art and Social Practice MFA program at Portland State University.
You can email her at [email protected]



Dance Party Evelyn, Chanticleer

there was a breeze of disco in the air and men in jumpsuits and high heels, while a rush of disco undercurrent washed all in gathered glamour. Upon the still waters of a tranquil culture, the liquid color explosion of Evelyn splashed all in neon invention. Where are the stylish jet setters of Portland? Some wonder as they watch the pleasantly rotund denizens often seen comporting themselves amidst donut shops. My friend they were there. At Evelyn. In the night racing through dance and changing the face of the night. They mingled in scintillating outfits, stitched with mirrors, dripping with bangles, sleek in leathers. Women wore shoes of tangerine while men dressed as bashed disco balls flew past on roller skates. Outside the sonic umbrella of force field party music, the outside terrace gathered those who contrived to light a cigarette and mix. Ideas and gossip flew on tingling wings of informative instance. There was light. Faces and visages revealed themselves. Beautiful eyes. Strong chins. Lush hair. There were the elbows and shoulders of a crowd in full swing, permitting one to navigate their modest yet fabulous midst, just barely. The art of tomorrow careening through their blood, the songs of beyond dancing in their minds, this bunch of gathered beauty and humor and sly what-have-you impressed upon me the thought that tomorrow will be forward fabulous, retro informed and stellar. huzzahs in multitude to you beautiful ones and twos….   Hugh Gallagher

Speech and dance

There’s only one person on stage in Jack Ferver’s Mon, Ma, Mes, but the work is modeled on dialogue. There is dialogue with the audience, first of all, as Ferver begins the show with a forced Q&A session. And there is also plenty of dialogue in Ferver’s own speech, as he constantly refutes or modifies the details of a life revealed to us in spurts of energetic performance.

All these dialogues are simulations, however. The questions are scripted, openly so: the audience members chosen by Ferver (spontaneously, it seems) are handed notecards with a generally adulatory and leading question on it. The exchanges are funny, the way it’s funny to overhear a bad date or a pedantic museum conversation. But the equally simulated dialogue that Ferver carries out with himself grows decidedly less funny as the work goes on. In conversation after the performance was over, the question came up of when exactly I thought the tone changed. After all, the show began with loud and repeated audience laughter, but these moments gradually faded as it progressed. I thought, maybe simplistically, that the change had come when Ferver said the word “rape.” But this isn’t exactly so, as Allegra Jongeward pointed out to me, for there had been a previous moment when Ferver responded to an audience question with a long silence that led into his first dance performance. Both the pause and the dance elicited plenty of laughter, but in retrospect they foretold the improbable mix of lightness and gravity that would follow.

We might miss it as it’s happening, but this foretelling becomes retrospectively evident in another dance sequence, this one in the middle of a therapy session in which Ferver mimes both shrink and patient. I don’t want to talk about that, says the performer in response to some question he’s asked himself, I just want to dance for you. In isolation, this desire might be silly, but in the context of a work that constantly unveils the solipsism and insufficiency of language, it feels more serious. It places two forms of expression, speech and dance, in relief, and I think it holds the latter up as an ideal.

I think so because of the way that Ferver’s narrative runs from self-indulgence to absurdity. We all need to talk about ourselves, but from the outset—already in the title of the work (three French translations of my) and definitely in the simulated Q&A—Ferver is ridicules this societal norm. It is common tic among pundits today to chalk excessive self-involvement up to new technologies of the self like social media platforms and front-facing cameras. But to be thorough we’d have to go farther back, starting with the introspection encouraged by Freud’s talking cure and before that Catholic confession. Michel Foucault has even traced the phenomenon of parrhesia—etymologically, saying everything—back to the ancient Greeks. In short, narcissism isn’t the invention of the millennial generation. When Ferver sings about being the only person in the room, he’s tapping into a long history.

And in the structure of the work, no manifestation of narcissism is as evident as therapy—both as a practice and as a diffuse cultural form. A barely mentioned trauma gives a nearly absent baseline to the performance, and Ferver’s monologues are reminiscent, for me, of classic SNL characters like Jack Handy (self-affirmation: good enough, smart enough) and Mary Catherine Gallagher (anxiety: hand and verbal tics). His intent seems to be not to mock therapy, but rather to incorporate its structure of feeling into the show as a way of revealing the insufficiency of speech.

In this way, Mon, Ma, Mes can be contrasted with Germinal, a show I had seen the night before. Here also the construction of the self is placed on stage, but its comic effect derives from the futility of things like the drive to categorize and the inescapability of the dialectic. It shows how absurd it would be to arrive at where we are today through a careful consideration of all our options. Its funniest moment was when the characters had the opportunity to order a starter kit for existence via phone. Germinal’s foils or sources seem to be Hegel and Derrida, while Ferver’s—more refreshingly, I think, because Hegel and Derrida are cold thinkers and terrible writers—is the more eloquent lineage that runs from Freud to Oprah.

That lineage gives the context of Ferver’s work, but he’s not in thrall to it. If telling one’s truth always involves some level narcissism, dance takes us elsewhere, outside ourselves. At least that’s the hope I saw in Mon, Ma, Mes. Not only does dance come in when speech becomes difficult, but it also provides the only occasion for real coexistence. About halfway through the work, Ferver asked a dancer in the audience to join him on stage. Initially, their interaction shows a one-sided collaboration, ridiculing the egomania of Ferver’s character. But when they begin to dance, the task he carries out—following his partner’s hands with his own, turning the other’s horizontal palms into the letter T with his own vertical hands—is vulnerable and soft. He follows instead of leading, as the two become engaged in an elaborate game of Twister in the air. The scene represents an alternative to both speech and narcissism: bodily movement and entanglement with someone else.

Craig Epplin is an assistant professor in the World Languages and Literatures Department at Portland State University.

sexy deconstructed

Double feature, Death of the Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer by Eisa Jocson

I get great satisfaction from both being a part of and watching an audience who is negotiating whether or not they have been intentionally been made part of a performance. Comfortable or uncomfortable, it is thrilling to be in the moment and let the experience happen, as opposed to controlling it. Being surprised is part of the fun. That’s what TBA does best – surprising us at every turn, inviting artists to blow open their corners of the world and hone in on their point of view for us to see. Eisa Jocson’s audience on Saturday was rearing to go. They were excited and fully invested in whatever was to come.

Ms Jocson, a contemporary choreographer and dancer trained in ballet, with a background in visual art, asks us to examine relationships between the economics and cultures surrounding pole dancing and Macho Dance – (a subgroup of sexualized dance for men in the Philippines). It is interesting that she chose to investigate these two marginalized forms of dance.

The performance of Death of the Pole Dancer began in the smaller of the two studios at BodyVox and we, the audience, filed in forming a circle around the middle of the room, creating an anticipatory space for a pole and a dancer that had not yet materialized. How was this going to work? Where was the pole? A pole didn’t seem like a movable prop. Shouldn’t this sort of thing be set up before hand?

While waiting for the show to start, lots of questions started to come to my mind. I thought about audience expectations and how much power that has over an artist, especially when there are economic stakes.  And, isn’t money always at stake? What exactly is objectification, and does it happen more often than we realize? Are we each guilty of objectifying someone? Objectification is treating a person as a thing or tool without regard for their dignity, disregarding their feelings and experience and taking away their autonomy. Ms Jocson was making us wait for her. Was she intentionally creating space for us to reflect? Was she objectifying us? Was this the audience participation part?

Eventually, Ms Jocson – donning six inch, bondage inspired, black patent leather heels, dressed in black short shorts and a halter-top – entered the room carrying a rectangular black nylon bag on her shoulder.

With an expressionless face and long black hair cascading over her shoulders, she knelt down, laying the bag on the floor. With crafted precision, she opened it taking out the different components of what was to become the pole and its mechanics in a ritualized choreographed manner. Four metal tubes – two long, two short, two round bases, one Allen wrench, one metal rod, three towels – one pink, two white, one small spray bottle, two band aids and one pair of fingerless leather gloves. Two moments of attentive self-care surprised me in how they revealed Jocson’s humanity and fragility. The first was when she took a moment to adhere the two Band-Aids to her palms before slipping on the gloves; the second was her use of the towels to protect her knees while assembling the pole. These both provided an interesting juxtaposition against the steeliness of the metal pole and her demeanor.

I am calling this a post-modern distillation of the act of pole dancing, its relationship to the audience and its emotional impact on the dance. It was brilliant! Even though she was dressed in a sexy, alluring outfit, it did not change the fact that she was executing a task. This was not a sexy task. It was one as mundane as unpacking a suitcase or rebuilding a car engine.

What is sexy? Why isn’t this sexy for me but it is for others? What makes this sexy? Who created this particular idea of sexy? Why has this particular image of what is sexy for women become the norm propagated by the media and clothing manufactures like Victoria Secret? What happened to individually based preferences? How do stereotypes shape a form?

Over the course of the performance, there were two overtly sexual moments which made me question who was in control and who was being objectified. Was it the performer or audience or both? One was when she was shining the pole with a cloth and the other was when she first promenaded around the pole. Her energy changed and for a moment her movements were sexualized and then they weren’t. It is a tool that can be turned on and off.

After the pole had been affixed to its central location in the room, Ms Jocson began walking around it shaking it vigorously to test its strength shaking it so violently that it jerked her body back and forth flinging her hair up into a crazy cloud around her head. The pole would bend in the middle but never break. She began building momentum with a series of repetitious movements pulling her in towards the pole and banging her chest against it. This energy propelled her off the ground and around the pole into a series of beautiful feats of amazing strength. Swinging around and around until her energy wound down and she slid off the pole onto the floor and finished in a heap of disheveled hair, with the pole haphazardly remaining between her thighs. It’s a rough image. We are uncomfortable and don’t know if she is finished. We stand silent for some time until a brave soul begins to clap and we follow suit. We file out of the room leaving her lying on the floor.


Eisa Jocson- Death of the Pole DancerEisa Jocson- Death of the Pole Dancer


Macho Dancer

Eisa Jocson’s second dance, Macho Dancer is the culmination of her time spent with a small group of young Filipino male dancers who perform in nightclubs. Their style of dance is culturally specific and distinctly Filipino. It is designed to appeal to both men and women and is a social construct of what is thought to be strong, sexy, cool and masculine.  It is a series of strutting, posing, hand gestures, flexing, body stroking and knee crawling that Ms Jocson performs flawlessly in a pair of cut off jean shorts, a tank top, cowboy boots and black knee pads.

“By emulating and simulating the macho dancer, she investigates social, cultural and economical conditions that ultimately unveil this perfect, normative body as a constructed body.”

Even in the “normative” state of our daily lives, doesn’t the body continue to be a construct of whatever environment we are a part of? Are any of us ever really free from such societal constraints?

This gender loop that she created as a woman performing as a man is so convincing that I easily loose track of the fact that she is a woman even when she pulls her top off and is bare chested.

Ms Jocson, with the help of a fog machine and spectacular lighting, brilliantly re-recreated the atmosphere of a nightclub, adding an array of music choices to facilitate the full exploration of emotions and movement within the form.

Her ability to shape shift and completely let go of her own body construct and adopt that of another was astounding.

She is fierce, raw and honed. She is smart and deliberate. I am moved, inspired and invigorated.


Eisa Jocson- Macho Dancer


Jamuna Chiarini is a freelance dance artist, producer and dance writer, writing regularly for Oregon Arts Watch in Portland Oregon.


Making A Living and ‘A Living Documentary’

Cynthia Hopkins, A Living Documentary. Photo by Thomas Kochie.

Cynthia Hopkins, A Living Documentary. Photo by Thomas Kochie.

I’m so glad that I read Kate Sanderson Holly’s post about Cynthia Hopkins’ A Living Documentary before I began writing mine. One of the coolest things about people blogging during the festival is that you get to hear some of the thoughts that are happening in the theater with you. As Kate was wondering if this performance had meaning to someone who wasn’t an experimental theater artist, I was questioning what the experience of the piece was for its inner circle audience, those who could intimately relate to Cynthia’s story. I am not an experimental theater maker, but A Living Documentary still echoed with my experiences as a young person trying to figure out how to make my way in the world.

So many of the questions raised in this piece are questions I ask myself. Replace ‘theater’ with ‘writing’ or ‘poetry’ or even ‘queer,’ and it seems these spheres aren’t so distinct. These questions about art making may not be universal, but they are certainly relatable. There’s particularity in grant writing and theater lights, but in Cynthia’s work there’s also the applicability of how incongruent our desires are with our ability to make a living and survive.

I’d argue that Living Documentary’s ability to highlight these commonalities and parallels is fostered part and parcel by the humor and quiet with which Cynthia presents herself. Her piece was equal parts dark penciled eyebrows/wigs and naked guitar solos, getting me with both her ridiculous facial expressions and tranquil tones.

She spoke candidly (in her way, through recorded tape and characterization) of what it is like to move away from traditional ideas of artistic and financial success, to fold your nonprofit theater company, to stop paying unemployment tax on an enormous team of designers, and to envision a different freedom for yourself: freedom where artistic expression isn’t predicated on debt and fancy theater lobbies.

In humor and in nakedness, when some of the artifice of art is stripped away, when we’re just in a theater with one another, there’s a space of relatability. When Cynthia removed her makeup and clothes and stood with a guitar in low light, I was a wholly disarmed viewer. I was ready to hear her story and enjoy its intersections with my own.

I’m left wondering about the socioeconomic and biographical influences on the form of this work. Cynthia is the daughter of two English teachers, and she only very briefly experienced the spending power of financing extravagant works with her own money (which even then was tainted by its inheritance from her abusive grandfather), so when she speaks about survival, she is speaking about real survival, about how to make a living that is sustainable and safe. The intimate scale of Living Documentary amplifies the humor and honesty, but it also drew me in with its honesty about how much art costs and how much an artist needs to get by.


Olivia Mitchell is a Whitman College alum, cat-lover, and writer. Sometimes, she even writes about art. She lives in Portland, OR.


Eisa Jocson, Can You Help Me?

The dancer in Eisa Jocson’s Death of the Pole Dancer says, “Can you help me?”  These four words are the only audible words of the whole performance, and each one punctuates the silent stage with an affect of doubt.

Can we help her?  What is in our control?  Who is in our control?

Jocson’s 25 minute piece masterfully presents a dancer (Jocson herself) dressed in impossibly high stiletto heels and a leather bikini.  In a concert of silence, the dancer spends the majority of the performance assembling, shining and aligning the chromed stripper pole, which she stakes directly in the heart of center stage.  The last portion of the performance exhibits the physical effort of the performer, visible by sweat and labored breath–both halfway covered by an invasive pop song beaming from overhead speakers.  The end (oh, the end?!?) finds the dancer face down on the floor–legs dangling around the unresponsive pole.  To complete Death of the Pole Dancer, the audience must exit the performance space, leaving our performer alone and sprawled on the floor.

After Jocson’s performance I overheard many viewers in the lobby expressing the desire to ask the prone (“dead”) dancer if she was okay or if she needed assistance.  Eisa Jocson’s dance elaborates on the notion that the audience can help–that the audience can do something about the uncomfortable mess on stage.  But what exactly are the actions Jocson asks us to take?  The audience members’ expressions of pity, of shame and of insecurity point to the core of Jocson’s piece:  Jocson exposes a dynamic out of balance and a relationship between performer and viewer that needs care and assistance.

Something dies in Jocson’s piece, and Jocson herself is the assassin.  A woman in total control of her whole performance, she kills the presupposed power of the audience over her body.  Jocson tops from the bottom.  She inverts the audience’s gaze.  Really, who is powerless in Death of a Pole Dancer?  The dancer or the audience?


Jackie Davis is happy to be alive in a time where art can be beautifully ugly.  She is honored to walk this Earth surrounded by so many creative geniuses.

Dear Cynthia Hopkins


Dear Cynthia Hopkins,

You may not remember this but I met you once in Gary Grundei’s music composition class at Naropa University.  I was there getting an MFA in Contemporary Performance, and you were there writing the music for a production of Trojan Women.  The women who sang your piece rehearsed in the studio next to mine, and every time I heard it drifting through the hallway I would freeze completely, because I didn’t want to hear any sound except for that song.  It was, and remains, one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard.  You came to our class one day and listened to our songs.  In my piece I harmonized with myself, played two instruments that I barely know how to play and sang about wolves.  Gary told me later that you really liked my work, and knowing this carried me through a good chunk of the following year in my artistic life.  Being someone who went to all the trouble to get an MFA in Contemporary Performance, I am clearly in the target audience for your new piece, A Living Documentary.  I am so much the target audience that I can’t really assess whether the piece would be enjoyable or have any relevance for anybody else, but I want  you to know how profoundly meaningful it was for me to witness.

Once I had a dream about the theater director, Anne Bogart, one of my artistic heroes.  She was waiting at the end of a long line, like a guru, and each of her devotees got the chance to bow before her and ask one question.  I wasn’t sure what I would ask until I got in front of her, but as soon as I opened my mouth I burst into tears.  I wailed “I gave my life to theater, and theater ruined my life!”  I guess I was hoping she would offer me some comfort, or wisdom, but instead she looked at me horrified, mouth agape, as if I had just spoken the unmentionable phrase.  I cried so hard in the dream that I woke myself up, and never did hear her speak.

I was reminded of that dream tonight as I watched your piece.  So many times I have shared the feelings and thoughts and frustrations that you expressed, but it is hard to find an audience to air those grievances to.  With my own collaborators there was a need to keep an optimistic spirit.  With my non-artist friends and family there was a gap in understanding–the response would be something like “Well you shouldn’t have gone into theater if you wanted to make a living”, or just a sympathetic smile that you might give to an astronaut talking about how rough space travel is–they want to be supportive, but they will never know what its like.

For me, this lack of understanding came to a head this year when I realized that my own husband no longer supported my artistic aspirations, because now I have somebody else who has to share my debt, my mortgage payments, and my stress.  These last few months are the first in my adult life when I have not been working on a theater piece, and it does feel something like a drug withdrawal.  For the most part I suffer silently, and I don’t talk about that part of myself because I don’t know that anybody can really understand.  But tonight you gave me something that the dream guru Anne Bogart couldn’t–you showed me that there is somebody who understands what I have gone through.  Not only do you understand, but you have made an entire brilliant, brave and wildly entertaining musical about it so that maybe some other people who haven’t been there will also understand.

As I was wrapping up my graduate education I went through a phase of being determined to “succeed”, and one of the things I wrote in bold permanent marker on a poster on the wall was “Play the Game”.  I have always been reluctant to play the game that was created by others, and seemingly for others, but I knew that I wanted to make a living as a “slightly experimental” contemporary theater artist, and so I decided I should try my hand at The Game.  That was four years ago, and while I haven’t yet succeeded in the way I wanted to then, and by most accounts it could be reported that I dropped out of the game, I have found tremendous freedom in my life since.  In your closing song you sweetly lilted “You are free to play whatever game you want to play”.  That is a conclusion that I have also come to, but I assumed that I would never land on the TBA stage (one of the ultimate markers of success in my world) unless I played somebody else’s game.  Your piece was a refreshing reminder that playing somebody else’s game is never what TBA is about–its about courageously sharing your authentic truth while also bringing the full force of your professionalism to the stage, and you pulled that off in spades tonight.  Thank you, and bravo!


Kate Sanderson Holly

former founding member of Fever Theater and Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble, currently free-floating yoga studio owner with a toddler

p.s. I will totally buy you coffee.  E-mail me, girl.  [email protected]

Sound as ventriloquist

Cinema is primarily a visual medium—silent film exists, invisible film doesn’t—but the experience of watching movies has almost never been without sound. In the silent era, single narrators or entire troupes of actors used to lend their live voices to the muted speech of onscreen dialogues. Orchestras or lone pianists provided music. Film’s early period was full of attempts to coordinate speech with speakers and music with musicians.

This context was on my mind during the Friday performance of Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook of the North. A vocalist who works in the tradition of Inuit throat singing, Tagaq took the stage alongside Jesse Zubot (on violin and viola) and Jean Martin (on drums), and the three were accompanied by the recorded music of Derek Charke. Behind the performers, a large screen played Robert Flaherty’s 1922 film Nanook of the North. Almost a hundred years separate us from that film, but this juxtaposition of sound and image didn’t feel unnatural. I often found myself falling into what seems like the natural division of the senses—eyes on the screen, ears attentive to the music—until I’d catch myself and remember that there was a really riveting live performance happening on the stage in front of me. In those moments of forgetfulness, I was reliving what lots of early filmgoers experienced: visually captured, sonically enveloped.

But the point of this music was something other than to accompany the moving image. Rather, the musicians aimed to reframe Flaherty’s narrative. In this sense, the performance worked like a second interpretive layer atop the first one, which is already present in the film through its intertitles. For just as film has almost never gone without sound, it has just as rarely been without language. Images mean lots of things on their own, but since the early days of cinema the inclusion of words has served to orient the viewer toward certain aspects of the image track and away from others.

Thus a key sequence in Nanook of the North—which begins with the arrival of a group of Inuit men and women to a trading post and ends with a supposed demonstration of the workings of the gramophone—is interspersed with constant intertitles that instruct the viewer how to interpret the scenes. We learn that the group has arrived at a trading post, that they have skins and furs to trade, that they are proud of their dogs, one of whom is named Rainbow. And beyond this contextual knowledge, the words on screen also convey specific ideological and affective positions. The first one puts quotes around the words “big igloo,” which is the term, it is implied, used by the Inuit to refer to the trading post. The inclusion of this term responds to more than simple utilitarian purposes. Rather, it is meant to exhibit the filmmaker’s intimacy with the culture he is representing, even as it emphasizes its foreignness from both himself and his intended audience.

This emphasis on difference—the supposed exoticism of the Inuit family—runs throughout the intertitles. Their function seems to be to domesticate the image track, ensuring its smooth insertion into the racist clichés of settler colonialism. Over this initial interpretative layer, Tagaq and her collaborators introduced new layers of meaning. They did so sometimes by giving certain sequences an epic quality, the music building and quickening, but also through straightforward uses of language, as when Tagaq repeatedly heaved the word “colonizer” into the microphone as Nanook, the film’s protagonist, was being schooled in the operations of the gramophone. Her intervention reminded me of Walter Benjamin’s demand for revolutionary photographers, which was to give their images captions that would wrench them out of “fashionable clichés,” giving them rather a “revolutionary use value.” Over the visual captions present throughout Flaherty’s film, Tagaq added her own (vocal ones, in this case), reinterpreting the nature of trade and race relations in Canada.

Cinema scholar Rick Altman once compared the screen image to a ventriloquist’s dummy. Sound, in this scheme of things, rules the production of meaning in film. This concept can help us understand the force of this performance. That is, the sonic puppet show performed by Tagaq and her collaborators gives the characters in Nanook of the North, itself already a mash of word and image, new agency and vitality. The music—pulse or roar, or some other unnamable effect—eclipses Flaherty’s often condescending intertitles. In the process, the daily routines depicted in the film acquire a sense of heroism and dignity that the original film denies them.

Craig Epplin is an assistant professor in the World Languages and Literatures Department at Portland State University.

TBA vs. Toddler


I have been going to TBA every year since its inception, for most of my adult life.  The festival started in 2003: I was 23, fresh out of college, with an experimental theater degree and many big ideas about the potential for live performance.  TBA did not disappoint–it quickly became the most important event in my year.  I learned that the festival is best done through total immersion, so I would plan months ahead to make sure that I could get time off of work, clear my own rehearsal schedule, and avoid any major commitments during TBA time.  I became a master of the puzzle of the TBA schedule, finding a way to see every show.  I attended almost every workshop and artist talk and went to the Works every night.

As the festival gets older, so do I.  In the eleven years since its inception I have gotten married, had a kid, and bought a house many miles from the center of the city.  As with most new parents, my husband and I have had to put on hold many of the interests which used to define us.  But for me, the TBA festival is non-negotiable–it is the last shred of dignity in a life that has become consumed by juice boxes and Curious George.  It never occurred to me that I should take a break from the festival–my first festival as a mom was in 2012, and my son was only 8 weeks old.  I did “slow down”, by planning only one show per night instead of my normal pace of 2 or 3.  I still have the collection of panicked text messages that I received from my husband during most of those shows.  I left early from almost all of them, in total defeat.  This year, my son is 2-years-old and I am determined to get back to my old pace for this festival.  Here’s how my first attempt panned out:

2:30pm I pick up my son from preschool

3pm Arrive at home, tempt him out of a post-nap tantrum with promises of juice and television time

3:30pm Jump in shower, try to find something to wear that doesn’t have holes or stains.  TBA is, after all, a place to see and be seen.  I settle for yoga pants with a dress over them–fancy!

4:30pm Coax unwilling toddler away from the television.  Start the ultimate juggle: Prepare the car and the toddler for departure, get my bike to magically fit in the back of our small wagon while keeping toddler from dashing off to play in the street.

5:30pm Finally we are ready to go.  Pull several sketchy traffic maneuvers to get to my husband’s workplace in Sellwood by the time he gets off

6:05pm Arrive in a panic, super quick car and toddler pass-off and I am on my bike, headed downtown for the 6:30pm Samita Sinha performance.

6:15pm Remember that I have not regularly bike commuted in over 2 years and that Sellwood is actually kind of far from downtown.

6:30pm Wheeze past a tandem bike on the Hawthorne bridge, still imagining that I might get there on time.

6:41pm Arrive at the Winningstad, defeated.  Toddler 1, TBA Zero.

6:52pm Arrive at the Raven & Rose to enjoy a Manhattan, resolved to at least get an excellent seat for the 8:30 performance of Tanya Tagaq.

8:10pm Arrive to the pass holder line at PSU’s Lincoln Hall.  Notice that the couple in front of me brought their 7-year-old.  Eagerly interrogate them about the experience of bringing a child to the TBA fest.  It turns out they saw the Samita Sinha show at 6:30.  They report that the 7-year-old laughed uncomfortably through parts of it and made faces, but by the end was singing to herself as they exited, which her mother declares a success.  They tell me that the show was “beautiful”, and I resolve to juggle the rest of my weekend around so I can see it.

8:20pm Sit down in my excellent seat, 5 rows from the front, and enjoy hearing the people behind me talk about how they have been attending TBA since the beginning.  I am in good company.

8:34pm The show starts…

Tanya Tagaq comes out, barefoot, in a short and flowing dress.  She smiles coyly and charms the audience with exclamations about how cool our city is.  We are about to find out just how meaningful this statement is coming from an artist whose mother was born and raised in an igloo.  The movie that unfolds before us reveals the stark landscape of the Inuits in the early 1900′s: Water, ice, wind and snow.  The summers are cold, the winters are much colder.  The food is raw meat, the only variation is in whether it comes from fish or mammal.  Nanook of the North, we are told, is the first documentary ever made, but also controversial because some scenes were staged.  Staged or not, I don’t think I have seen a movie this visceral, authentic and affecting in some time.  Of course, the experience is colored by the strength of Tanya’s live soundtrack, and my focus is continually split between the remarkable, raw, humanity revealed by the film, and the remarkable, raw, humanity in Tanya’s wails, flails, rocks and shrieks.  Amidst the starkness and intensity there are moments of humor.  In my row I may be the only one who laughed knowingly as a mother tries to wipe her naked baby’s face with a seal skin and Tanya squeals with empathy for the unwilling child (apparently face wipes are universally reviled amongst toddlers).  The movie does leave me with one unanswered question:  Where do these babies poop?

The film announces “Tia Mak” (The End), and several moments go by as the artists and audience wind down from the other-world.  Someone whistles loudly, and from there the audience erupts.  I have a bike and I am seven miles from home, but as I chase a MAX train for 20 blocks through downtown Portland I realize how much of the wild courage of the film has gotten into me.  I find myself maneuvering pedestrians, tracks, and traffic stops fearlessly, like an Inuit in a kayak on the choppy waves.  I fly through the doors of my train in the nick of time and settle in to enjoy the aftermath of human effort, adrenaline and the ever-pulsing drive to live, deeply embedded in me by Tanya’s piece.  I am reminded that it was never easy to have a 2-year-old.  If I think its hard to make it to TBA on time, imagine if I had to spear a seal and build an igloo in just four hours of daylight.  photo

Kate Sanderson Holly is a theater artist, yogi, mother, long-time TBA press corps volunteer, and former founding member of Fever Theater and Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble.  She can currently be found teaching yoga and movement arts at her studio, Yoga Refuge.

T:BA:14 haikus and other poems No. 1

 For this years festival I am going to endeavor a few poetic responses (literally) to the work, the audience, the ambiance, etc.

The first of these are coming in the form of haikus.

Opening Night

Bright Moon with design
Confabulations arise
People. Our people.

Stacey -Wynne Greenwood

Voices everywhere,
heads too. Reenarchivement,
an exorcism

The rest were written collaboratively in an exquisite corpse style with some inspiration from Mallory Mason.

Tanya Tagaq in concert with Nanook of the North

One known quantity
knees back, hand up, wailing on
Dogs, and we with chills

Tanya Tagaq in concert with Nanook of the North No. 2

Wow! Slam! Bam! Hypnotizing
Making the stage home.

Mack McFarland is the Curator for the Pacific Northwest College of Art.



Eisa Jocson, Macho Dancer by Giannina Ottiker

Eisa Jocson speaks about gender performativity, choreographing the gaze, and much more in an interview with dance scholar Clare Croft.Clare Croft (CC): I wanted to talk about the choice to put these two pieces, Death of a Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer, together on one program. They have, I suppose, obvious potential links as physical performances of gender and sexuality. Is it interesting for you to have them both on the same program?

Eisa Jocson (EJ): The two works are situated in the same marginal spectrum of night work in the Philippines, but at the extreme opposite [ends of that spectrum] in terms of many things, mainly because of their clients [and] the gender relations [between dancer and client]. [Pole dancing usually features a female dancer with male clients, whereas macho dancing features a male dancer with both male and female clients.]

CC: You came to pole dancing as a hobby in a fitness studio, and you came to macho dancing as a spectator.  How did it shape your process of creation to come to one form of dance as a participant and another as a spectator?

EJ: With Death of the Pole Dancer, the work came about because of my experience with pole dancing as, first, a hobby. In the Philippines, I was one of the first few women to take the pole-dancing class. Eventually I was also teaching, and eventually I was also kind of a co-director of this pole dance academy. I think that during that time there was a lot of stigma during the beginning of pole dancing in the fitness [studio] or in the dance studio. [What] was very interesting for me [was] the shift from the strip club to the fitness studio—the space, the context. Somehow this shift didn’t happen immediately in society: [this] acceptance and awareness of how [pole dancing] could be appropriated as something else by women outside of the club–that it could be actually used to empower [women], or as a hobby, or for fitness. [What pole dancing means] depends on where you’re coming from and what your intention is.

Death of the Pole Dancer was not actually about the movement vocabulary of people dancing in general, but it was more of an investigation of how we’re seeing the way we’re seeing. You have a universal stereotype of a pole dancer. Somehow it interests me how much I can deviate from [that stereotype], and how much general perception can’t make the shift, too. With Macho Dancer, the challenge for me was to actually embody the movement vocabulary. I did not have the movement vocabulary of macho dancing prior to working on it.

CC: How did you go about acquiring the movement vocabulary of macho dancing?

EJ: I went into macho dancing because I wanted to challenge this embodiment of the female vocabulary that I’ve learned through this fitness space–pole dance for fitness. [I wanted] to actually force myself to embody the complete opposite [of pole dancing]. In this way, [I set out to] learn a gender performativity that is situated in an opposite context of pole dancing.

Learning [how to do macho dancing] was definitely [a] more difficult process. There wasn’t any macho dancing school to begin with. It wasn’t something that was being taught—just performed in macho clubs. What I did [then was to] go to macho clubs on a regular basis and really scout for the good [dancers] and ask [them] if they could actually teach me macho dancing.

In the beginning, when I was first asking if this was possible, the macho dancers would say, “What would a girl do with such a dance?” They didn’t take me really seriously. They thought I was trying to build the relationship with them for other reasons. When they saw that I was actually serious, most of them appreciated that they were being acknowledged for their skill. And [then] the relationship with the macho dancers became more of a student/mentor relationship. I found that quite endearing in a way. This relationship could exist outside of the macho bar.

At some point I decided to go to the gym, and when I went to the gym I realized that—or at least I felt that the movement made much more sense in my body—because I found the awareness of muscle groups, the form that you actually accumulate when you go to the gym. Gym culture is actually part of macho dancing. [It’s] basically choreography of muscle and form and showing off, and it’s a lot about narcissism—appreciating your own body.

My first entry point to macho dancing was this fascination with the movement and what were the conditions that actually made this dance possible–culturally, socially, and economically. What notion of masculinity are they [the macho dancers] performing? It’s very specific to their clients, who are male and female. In the beginning, their clients were more gay, and eventually when the economy started to become more liberated and women in the Philippines started to occupy higher positions, the clients became more equalized—so now it’s more men and women. And so what is being performed is actually, I guess, a projection of a certain notion of what it is to be male in Philippines society—to be desirable as a man for that clientele. The movement vocabulary itself says a lot about the condition of the Philippines context.

CC: What has it been like for you to be exploring forms that are so explicitly economically motivated? You’ve spoken elsewhere about how these forms have a relationship with the Filipino economy and the feminization of labor in the Philippines. Hearing this, I thought about how many forms of performance have an economic exchange, but we separate the performance from the monetary element—you pay for a ticket and then go to another room, whereas other forms of performances—often those seen as less “highbrow—don’t make that separation. The economic exchange is very explicit: someone in the audience has money in hand.

EJ: The exchange that [usually] happens in contemporary dance is definitely not [about] prioritizing economic exchange. The exchange that is constructed in contemporary dance is more in the level of discourse and the level of many [other] things: I would say [its] more [of a] multi-dimensional exchange—not just economic, not just cultural, not just social. Contemporary dance doesn’t favor one layer of exchange.

The language [in Death of a Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer] is appropriated from its original context, and then placed in a different platform. The signifiers of the language shift: what does it mean for this body to move this way? It actually opens up the contemporary dance form to give space for a new discourse about this language and not just to see it as the language of dance by macho dancers. What does [macho dancing] tell beyond [its] situation? Can you actually locate it in the global discourse of economics and not just look at it in that [macho dance club] context?

CC: What has it been like to perform the piece outside of the Philippines where are less likely to have the referent of the macho dancer?

EJ: There have been stages and different ways of seeing, especially if it’s one culture to another. Even though they don’t know the language itself, it’s so stereotypical that basically you can recognize small traits or forms and positions in popular culture.

[It’s] been very interesting to tour both works. They don’t really come as a package most of the time. Macho Dancer has toured more than Death of a Pole Dancer. So, I have more feedback with Macho Dancer. Put together in a double bill, both works shift meaning as well. It really depends. I think Death of a Pole Dancer by itself poses more of a problem with people because somehow my physical appearance clearly fits the stereotype of the pole dancer. Then with macho dancer I have more of a distance from the actual image of a macho dancer—being a woman, not having the physique of an actual macho dancer, [etc.]. There’s more space between me and the vocabulary. Somehow people can somehow reflect on this absurdity [more readily]. With Death of A Pole Dancer alone—without Macho Dancer—it takes people sometimes longer to break the stereotype that is being presented, or [they] can’t separate the performativity and the actual visuality of the body.

It really depends on the individual, [and] on the feel of the festival where it’s being presented. It’s been read in so many ways—especially Macho [Dancer] because it’s been touring. The work and myself matures and grows with each performance. I’ve been touring Macho Dancer for 2.5 years, and each time I perform it I realize something new with the work. Sometimes I have these revelations. I actually feel like I get the work now after touring it.

CC: Most American audiences who’ve seen your work have seen it programmed in the Queer New York International Arts Festival in New York. Do you think of Death of a Pole Dancer or Macho Dancer as “queer”?

EJ: I never really framed the work as “queer” or “not queer.” [Thinking about this work among] the [contexts] of dance, performance, –visual arts even, [these works] kind of escapes a certain framework. They might fit nicely into dance or theater or visual art performance, so in a way that’s a strength of the work. It can really go from one [area] to another. But, as well, it cannot be put in a box. A lot of dance programmers would not say it’s a dance work, but a lot of theater people would say it’s a dance work. A lot of dance people would think it’s a theater work. It really depends on who’s talking.

For the queer context, I think it’s the same. It’s a framework that’s placed [around the work]—a way of seeing into the work. I’m not actually familiar with what a “queer” framework should be. I guess “queer” is a bit of a definition defying [word].

CC: I think that’s sort of both the pleasure and the problem of the word.

EJ: This is probably the same with the work. Maybe the work shares the sense of vagueness of what it means to be queer, because it’s a work that doesn’t fit nicely in one genre. And of course you can say [these works] tackle gender performativity, and what is normal, and what is a stereotype, and what is fixed and what is changing.

CC: Watching Macho Dancer, I was so struck by your gaze. I’m thinking specifically of you walking downstage, chewing gum. There’s some about you walking towards the audience and almost receding at the same time. How do you think about the gaze in this piece?

EJ: I think that the gaze is one of the most interesting elements in both performances. It’s a choreography of gaze. In each section of the piece, the gaze shifts and, of course, the relationship also shifts with the audience. There’s always this gazing “in relation to.” It’s a very powerful element within the work—I would say even central for both. It’s this act of seeing, how you position yourself, and the way you see what you see.

Death of the Pole Dancer and Macho Dancer





TBA Interview: Clare Croft with Luke George

Luke George, Not About Face. Photo by Nick Roux.

Luke George, Not About Face. Photo by Nick Roux.

Luke George and I sat down face-to-face (via Skype) to discuss his work, Not About Face, fake belief, and how to keep dancing while being watched by an audience of people looking at you through long, white shrouds.

Clare Croft (CC): What was it like the first time you began dancing this piece, looked out, and saw the audience under the shrouds?

Luke George (LG): [Laughing.] I started inviting groups of people into . . . the space where I was developing the work quite early in the process, because it became very clear that I couldn’t spend the whole development of the work imagining this interaction without actually having the opportunity to experiment with it and to see how it would go.

I actually spent a lot of time making the work in a gallery setting—so not in a private studio setting. I had a residency at a gallery in Melbourne called West Space. So the gallery was open, and so people during the day would come in and look at visual art: work that was hung on the wall or installed. I had a small gallery space that I was working in the whole time, so already [I had] the sense of being visible while I was working—to people and to eyes that I didn’t necessarily have a whole lot of theatrical control over or time-based control over.

Then I did this week of experiments where, for half-an-hour each day, people were coming by to be with me in that space. That ranged between one person to five people. It was a very small space, very intimate. That very first time the thing of intimacy really came forward. I guess it was because of the nature of the very small space. These shared experiences came up, which is something that I hadn’t [expected]. I wasn’t sure yet in the piece whether I was going to be standing onstage performing something or being amongst people. It hadn’t really presented itself, but the nature of the space meant we had to be amongst each other.

So the theme of intimacy came up. And then also the possibility [arose] of my confusing or problematizing that situation of intimacy. What is actually happening between me and the person who comes to this thing?

The very first time I had more of a crowd was the end of that week of experiments. I had thirty people coming into the space, and I decided I didn’t want to see them to begin with. I wanted to close my eyes and let them come into the room, and I’d be standing in the room with the sheet over me. I was kind of working in a sensory practice . . . and moving with my eyes closed.

Then I, at one point, opened my eyes and through my eyeholes saw all these sheets standing there with gaping eyeholes looking at me. And I can definitely count it as one of the most terrifying performance experiences I’ve ever had. [Laughing.] And I thought, “What have I done to myself? This is going to be awful.”

CC: Why do you think it was so terrifying?

LG: I realized how much—I already knew this and I think this is why the shrouds were happening, why they were being brought into the space—but I realized how much I, as a performer, rely on or need to be able to see the people that I’m performing to. It’s always been really, really important to me to be able to see people and to be able to look at them and to feel and sense their experience of what is happening through being able to look at their faces.

And I also think it’s some kind of need that I have as a performer as well. Whether that’s vanity or it’s about reading people, I’m not sure. But suddenly for there to be this faceless group of people and bodiless group of people. There was something about these eyeholes with no expression, just intently facing me where I was, which was kind of frightening. But [that] ultimately became the most thrilling thing to explore about the piece: if I can’t tell what you’re thinking or feeling by looking at you, [what do I do]? Similarly I realized that I was under a shroud, so they [the audience] may be having the same experience.

CC: How have you continued to think about intimacy as you’ve performed and developed the work?

LG: I guess intimacy has come up specifically in this piece [through] actual physical intimacy: actually touching or asking for touch, asking for physical closeness.

Something that’s been coming up in the piece a lot, which I never really planned, is how people are watching each other watching in the piece. You put on the shroud, right? And you would expect that you just kind of lose yourself or something. You lose yourself and you become fascinated with what’s beyond yourself. But what I think is that people actually have a stronger and deeper sense of themselves because they’re in this capsule. They’re having this more intimate experience of their own bodies, and their own feelings, and their own sensations. It’s happening quite privately, because that’s not being viewed so much. I’ve noticed this kind of freedom or agency. People are moving around and moving away from things. They’re making noises. They’re chatting—like during a show having a little chat with their friend!

But then [they] react [to me performing]. I feel reactions happening in quite unusual ways. Sometimes it really throws me because it [has] not [been] as polite as performance audiences often are. I’m really noticing people having this experience of themselves that is quite different. During the show, people are moving around so much. I keep changing positioning, too. I keep changing the configuration of the room. Or I go somewhere. People may follow it; they may stand back. They may stand back to look at the whole thing. There are all these degrees of watching happening. Watching each other. And so their connection to each other becomes part of the piece, too. And I feel like that has something to do with this sense of intimacy: that we have this heightened sense of ourselves and each other.

CC: An audience always brings with it certain expectations about how it’s supposed to behave, based on maybe what we call the work or the signals of the space. Do you feel like the physical space affects people, or does the shroud somehow overwhelm their expectations?

LG: The shroud is caught up in everything I do.

Very simply the shape of the room has a huge effect. If it’s a square, or if it’s a long rectangle. You know this sounds so simple, but it actually changes things quite a bit.

I’ve tried a number of lighting situations as well. And just very simply working with a lighting designer where we were like, “Well, in a performance situation you point a light in a certain direction, and the audience will go towards the light, but they won’t go into the light.” They’ll go to the light but only to the edge of the light, because what’s in the light is what’s to be looked at.

We wanted to explore gallery white-wall-type rooms where the light is usually on the walls—because the thing to look at is on the walls. It was this question of where to focus the light. Right now when we’re getting to a space we try to light every single inch of it so the entire room is brightly lit and everything is equally in plain sight. I mean that’s a big challenge: that’s a lot of light.

But then also in the piece we do change the lighting of the piece to enter into something a bit more theatrical, but more of an altered state. By that time I’ve been able to physically corral the audience into a certain space and hold them there, so they end up being in the light themselves. And they end up being the sculpture in the room, or the set in the room themselves.

One more thing: I found out really early in making the piece, if it’s a room that has a lot of features—a lot of architectural features or if it has objects in the room—those features or objects become so loaded and so in focus.

I was so lucky at the space that they gave us [when we performed] in Sydney. It’s this incredible gallery space—this beautiful white space. It’s pristine. And a polished concrete floor. Just stunning. That’s not necessarily the pinnacle space to do it in—perhaps it’s a little too perfect. I felt so lucky, though, that I didn’t have to think about incorporating other things. Objects are really tricky. People keep looking at me and looking at it [the object], and are like “Tell us the meaning of this thing. What is it about this thing?”

CC: Speaking of other bodies in the space, how your collaborators have informed “Not About Face,” particularly Hillary Clark [who will be performing with you at TBA]?

LG: Hillary and I met through developing Miguel [Gutierrez’s] piece, [And lose the name of action, which TBA audiences saw in 2013]. I [had been] aware of Hillary for a long time: seeing videos of her and looking at choreographic works of Tere O’Connor and thinking, “She’s super interesting.” And then getting to work with her in Miguel’s piece, we had this instant rapport with each other. Instant. Exciting. Halfway through that process we started working on “Not About Face.”

I started making the piece in Australia with a group of three collaborators: Nick Roux, Benjamin Cisterne, and Martyn Coutts. Nick comes from a sound and video technology background. He was bringing all that knowledge and that skillset into the room, [but] we also resisted working with those materials for a long time. He was just working with me on ideas everyday: being a watcher, being a participant, or being a doer. The shroud was actually Nick’s idea. I kept covering my face or covering his face or blindfolding myself, and then covering/kind of wrapping myself in things. And he suggested the whole sheet one day. We got one sheet for me, and one sheet for him. [Then we realized,] “Oh, we can’t see. Let’s cut holes in it like a Halloween costume. It’s funny.” And then we both put sheets on and we were [thought], “Ohhhh, this is really interesting.” So it was really through the connection with him that the thing about the sheets and being together—audience and performer under the sheets—came about.

Martin Coutts was weaving in and out of the process, visiting the process as dramaturg—feeding in and out. A little bit later Benjamin Cisterne came in and really started talking about space and lighting and building. So I worked with all those guys for quite a while, and then I left the piece for awhile.

[While in] New York . . . working with Miguel, I asked Hillary to start working with me on it. I [had been] performing it myself, [but] I really wanted to try teaching it to another performer, so I could step out and actually see it and start to direct it. I started teaching her, and just immediately, her role was really fascinating to me. Hillary’s such an invested performer, such a collaborator in the room, and she so believes in the work. She really wants to tease it out, and there [was] so much interested interactive dialogue between her as a performer and me as a maker.

I actually started to feel, not only was she stepping into a kind of performative ownership of the piece, but [she was] also kind of being like a dramaturg within the piece, which is really interesting to me—that I could be working with someone who’s inside the piece who could also be quite reflective and bring in a lot of references for me. [That might have been] because she was working [on the piece] without necessarily thinking she was going to be performing it.

We kept working, and I ended up teaching her the entire solo, and then I asked her to come to Melbourne to work with me on the premiere of it. I wanted to see what it would be like if, in Melbourne, which is where I’m from and where everybody knows me, if actually for two of the five or six performances Hillary performed the solo instead of me. I didn’t announce [that Hillary would be performing]. It was a surprise because for the first half of the piece the performer is under the sheet. They come to see me, and suddenly then there’s this woman—and she’s got an American accent and she’s speaking to them. And [the audience thinks], “Who are you?”

Hillary [and I agreed] she [would] perform the piece as though she’s me as well. She was imagining that she was me, but she was also regarding herself as me to them. [We were] playing with this idea of substitution or understudy and pushing it even further. What if we actually are each other?

We’re trying a new version of the piece where we both perform it now.

CC: So it’s two performers?

LG: Yes. But I wouldn’t necessarily call it a duet. I’ve always thought about the piece as a solo that’s not a solo anyway. [It’s] a solo that’s a solo for the whole room—or that the whole group of people are engaging in the whole solo. In that way, we’re [Hillary and I are] both doing the solo. We’re sharing it—or something like that.

CC: You said it was the questions and references that Hillary brought in as this performer/dramaturg [that first got you excited about working together]. Were their particular questions or references that stand out in your mind that were turning points in the creation process?

LG: I think Hillary as a perfumer is just so incredible at reading and tuning herself: reading a situation or reading herself or reading another performer or reading a moment. That deep intuition that she has available to her at any moment in terms of energy and quality is quite astounding. And then the fine-ness of her tuning—tuning of action, tuning of reaction, or tuning of choice.

[I reached a point in my performance of the piece where] I felt like was all desire, all want—just performing broad brushstrokes. Everything [I was doing] kind of felt like it was the same: every dance, every action just felt like it was the same. Parts of it had different names, different references: but actually it was all just kind of very similar. Working with Hillary in this fine pulling apart [of my choices] and taking the time to really understand, “Well, what is this thing?” [had a huge impact]. What does it mean to speak—to say the words—to repeat the words of someone else like you’re actually being a medium for them. How do we actually really connect? [What happens] if I’m wearing headphones and listening to someone else’s voice and speaking as if I were being a psychic or medium for them? Who is this person and how do they speak? And where do they come from? And why are they speaking this way?

I felt like before [I started working with Hillary] I was a little afraid of things in the piece, like not spending time in a moment where no action necessarily needs to take place. [Hillary would say,] “Maybe this moment is about just letting things ring.” Hillary is really so great at [saying], “I think we’re moving on too quickly here. I think there’s something here that we’re rushing over, or we’re not paying attention to what’s actually happening right now.”

[There is a] moment in the piece [that] developed through her and I just playing and improvising with each other. [It’s] a big singing moment for the whole room. We get everyone singing in the room. I, for a long time, had a lot of doubts that people would actually sing, but without fail everyone sings straight away. It’s astounding. And every time I do the piece now it feels like that could go on forever. We could sing for a really long time. But then it naturally ends. And I used to just cut straight out of it and go “Ok, next thing.” This is where Hillary was like, “It’s so interesting when we stop singing. [We get] the singing going, but then when we stop singing [we have to experience] the actual feelings that a person may go through standing amidst a group of people. We’re under these sheets, and we’re hot, breathing.” She’s a pretty special performer.

CC: You’ve used the term “fake belief” often when you’ve talked about “Not About Face.” How is the oxymoronic collision of those words productive for you?

LG: “Fake belief” came first of all from my experience as a performer and performing for other artists, particularly this one artist in Melbourne, Phillip Adams, who I’d been performing for for years and years. [Adams] made a series of works [and] one work in particular had a lot to do with—he was exploring a lot of stuff to do with cults, absolute blind belief of people committing to a leader—committing to a certain collective belief. Then he made this other work that was completely different: that was about birds. [In both pieces,] I felt like he kept requesting or asking of me and the other performers not to just perform the thing, not to just do the actions or not just perform it really well, but to absolutely believe in the thing that we were doing.

The way I interpreted what he was wanting from us . . . is that if we believed utterly and entirely in what we were doing—if we weren’t just performing the thing, [but] were being the thing—then this would be the success of the piece. This would be the success of the transaction between us and the audience. He really gets you into some crazed head space [with this mode of directing dancers]. Your heart’s racing; your adrenaline’s racing. Your body’s thumping. All these kinds of physiological things are happening.

[Working with him] got me thinking, at first, “Yes, this is how it happens. This is when it’s truly happening. I have to believe it. I have to be it. That’s the only way it can happen.” Then a year went by and we toured the work, and I thought, “I’m going to try it a different way. I’m going to perform it. I’m going to remain me, and I’m going to keep some slight detachment. I’m going to hold myself at a distance. But I’m going to perform it really well. I’m going to access what I know of performance to do this. And it was great. It was equally great, if not better. But there was no way I could tell if one approach was more authentic than the other.

And I just became really fascinated by this. Do I need to perform it to believe it? Or does the act of performing it make me believe it? Do I need to believe it to perform it? Do I need to perform it to believe it? What are the relationships between those two things?

As I started exploring that with “Not About Face,” immediately it became also about [whether] the audience needs to believe this as well. [This is] such an old question in terms of suspension of belief; it’s ancient in terms of the situation of performance.

Also I started to [become] aware of and see this shift in performance happening in the last five years [with] all these pedagogical performances of people showing videos and absolutely denying any type of performance that’s about having another type of sensation. [These performances are such] a rational thinking experience for performer and audience. Somehow that’s in here as well.

With fake belief it’s something about what is the agreement that can happen in the room [during the performance]? Do we need to agree [on what that is]? Do I and Hillary and the audience need to agree to either believe it or fake it until you believe it for this thing to happen and take place? And what is that relationship to our desire and collective desire—or the notion of collective desire? Is collective desire actually a thing? Does collectivity even exist?

CC: In addition to the term “fake belief,” you often talk about “energy” and “presence” as important to your work. Those are big buzz words in contemporary performance today. Your last piece, “Now Now Now,” very much insisted on energy and presence. What’s the relationship among energy and presence in “Not About Face”?

LG: I felt like I’ve settled on those words [“energy” and “presence”] for the time being—or narrowed it down to those two words for the time being. “Energy” and “presence” [both] deal with my interest in immateriality—or really all the materiality—of the situation of performance. I’m coming from a dance background, particularly from the Australian dance situation that I feel like I’m coming from, and I feel like we’re coming out of this time where dance has really valued virtuosity. This is a global thing, right? Strength and ability and youthfulness and company and production values and marketability: all of these things where it’s so concrete and so tangible. We think of the dancing body and we think of muscle and sweat. I do love all of that, too, and that’s what I come from.

But I’m more and more interested in what is the act of performance. What is it to be in front of somebody else and be seen and to see back? But then also the trouble with that term “seeing” and visuality with the nature of performance is the felt nature of dance: the slippery, ephemeral completely subjective nature of dance, of the moving body. It not concrete. It’s not a translatable language, necessarily. And it’s a completely individual experience for any person that’s viewing it in any moment. It’s almost impossible to say “This is what this action means; this is what this gesture is.” Dance is so much more slippery than that.

I’m interested in exploring how bodies stand in front of each other and regard each other. How [do] bodies take up space and time in these terms of presence and energy?

TBA Interview: Clare Croft with BodyCartography Project

BodyCartography, Super Nature. Photo by Tada Francesca.

BodyCartography, Super Nature. Photo by Tada Francesca.

Over the course of the TBA:14 festival, 400 people will have the opportunity to be one-on-one with the members of BodyCartography in the intimate performance installation, Super Nature. I recently talked about the installation with BodyCartography founders, Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad. Two-on-one talking about one-on-one.

Clare Croft (CC): Super Nature began as the two of you finished working with the dancers of the Lyon Opera Ballet, but still felt like questions lingered. Could you tell me about those initial questions that first spurred the creation of Super Nature, which, in total, includes both the performance installation that we’ll see at TBA and a larger onstage group piece that has appeared in other venues?

Olive Bieringa (OB): In Lyon we started to think about humans as animals. And then, [too, we were thinking] about dancers as really trained people who get looked at as “others,” [especially] in the way they get treated by the opera/ballet systems.

And we were thinking about empathy.

And [we were thinking about] how to create the conditions for the audience to pay attention to the kind of extreme experience that these extreme movers were able to manifest in their bodies—

Otto Ramstad (OR): And how to think of them [the Lyon dancers] as people and not aliens.

CC: How did these questions take form in the studio as you imagined them being embodied and being staged?

OR: We got more and more into “What would it be like to choreograph empathy in the foreground? How would we actually do that?” And then [Super Nature] kind of became an ecological melodrama: a nature show about human animals.

OB: “If we were to make a documentary about human animals, what would that be?” That was one of our impulses.

OR: We were [also] talking about melodrama. There’s this really good interview with Guy Maddin on the Walker [Art Center] Channel. He’s talking a lot about the definition of melodrama. People think of melodrama as this really un-real, overactive, kind of wacky, overly theatrical thing, but he’s saying that the experiences that people have inside of themselves—to accurately express them would be like melodrama. He said he thinks his movies are more realistic because they’re actually acting out the feeling of what it’s like to be a person and to be in different situations. When we think about melodrama in that way with dance, it’s sort of like this piece was expressing how you feel, but expressing that kinesthetically—really expressing the kinesthetic value of your body.

OB: [We were thinking about] the causal effect of our actions. Every physical action that we have on the planet with each other has an effect, and I think we wanted to create a hyper-experience of that for our audiences.

CC: How do these questions of affective connection, particularly kinesthetic connections, get heightened or transformed when brought to the intimate scale of the installation?

OR: We made this installation as a way to experience the empathetic condition [and to experience] the audience in a super, super intense and super direct way.

OB: It was a training for our performers. Then it was also a training for our audiences. Our hope was always that the two pieces [the stage version and the installation] would travel together, and our audiences would experience both parts. I would say that the melodrama becomes a much more internalized and personal process within the installation.

OR: [It’s] the immediacy [of the installation that makes that happen]—[the experience] becomes a lot more reflexive.

OB: It’s about you.

OR: For the watcher and the performer, it becomes about a crash between your reflexive [body] and your social body and your animal body. You know where you are—you’re in your social body. But there’s something about [the piece] that really brings out your animal body. [There’s something about] being in that proximity with people and having to share that space.

CC: You’ve talked about the installation as kind of a training for performers. As you’ve both danced in the installation, what has the experience brought forth for you?

OB: One of the things that comes up is the immediate feedback you get from people. You’re able to read people a bit more than you are when you’re in a big auditorium, for example. The immediacy of someone’s total fear, excitement, or joy takes over the installation.

As a performer you have to practice this 360-degree performing, because it’s not at all frontal. But you also have to practice a super, uber full-on compassion practice for them [the audience member] and for yourself because you’re in this together. You’re creating the conditions for watching and [the conditions] for that person to be able to be present for you. If there is a feeling of discomfort or total awkwardness or if it seems like they aren’t interested—of course you have no idea if they’re [interested or] not—how do you keep going?

OR: [The installation is] so much more somatically tied to the audience [than being on a stage] because they’re right there. A lot of times when you’re onstage and you’re having thoughts like, “People aren’t engaged in what I’m doing,” it’s in your head. It’s just about you. But in a room with someone else, and you’re two feet away from them—

OB: And you’re hyperventilating. And then they start to adjust their breathing.

OR: If you’re just right there with someone, it’s not in your head. It’s in their body, and it’s in the space between your bodies. It’s a somatic experience of the audience. I think a somatic experience for the audience as well.

CC: You used the word “awkwardness” earlier. How might it shape the way we think about empathy if we think about awkwardness or discomfort being the things from which empathy proceeds?

OB: It’s a point of relation. Someone else is feeling awkward—not that I’m setting up someone else to feel awkward—maybe another way of saying this is that, in the practice of doing something difficult, there can be moments of awkwardness. I don’t feel like people need to be entertained or everyone needs to be beautiful in order for something to be successful. There are all sorts of phases of being human.

OR: Awkwardness is interesting in empathetic contexts because you can think about empathy and it’s not necessarily about matching, about being the same. Sometimes [empathy] is [that] if someone’s happy, and then I’m happy, we’re sharing [happiness] together. But if there’s an awkward situation where someone [else is] not feeling good, it’s not as though you don’t feel good as well. If someone’s going to fall, you don’t try to fall as well. You try to catch them.

The social practices are fairly broken in the installation in a certain regard because we [the performer and audience member are] there, together, without talking, and we’re just sharing space. The social practice is askew, so there’s going to be awkwardness. This happens in the theater also, but you are in the social construct of sitting in your seat.

OB: And then there’s a possibility something new can emerge out of the awkwardness.

OR: That’s not to say that there’s not a social construct that we’re in a gallery or we’re in an installation or we’re at the TBA festival. There are all those other social contracts. But the whole somatic experience of being close to people—it’s just going to shatter some of those [constructs]. And that’s what’s going to be awkward. Because the sensation that the audience has, that we have—just the intimacy is embarrassing sometimes in a way—just to really be with someone.

OB: And the audience is really feeling what you [the performer] feels. When you feel yourself feeling, that can be really awkward and really painful for some people.

CC: Susan Foster has written about some of the etymological roots of the idea of empathy, and how, many centuries ago, when someone said two people “had chemistry” people imagined electrons jumping off one body and onto the other—to “have chemistry,” to have magnetic empathy, was to always be engaged in an act of exchange. That brings up questions of power, because the exchange isn’t always equal. How do you feel the sensation of power within empathic exchanges when you’re performing in the installation?

OB: In a way, the audience is invited in, but they’re of course free to leave any time they want. In some ways, they don’t know what’s going to happen when they’re in there. But we know.

OR: We know. But we also don’t know.

OB: We’re also improvising, and we don’t know who they are, so what comes up out of who they are is really [important]—the relationship between the two people is what really becomes the material. We’re in control of the installation to some extent.

OR: But some people come in and take control.

OB: Yes, they take over!

OR: Some people come in and want to move. They take up the whole space.

OB: They get so excited and take over.

OR: Some people feel really empowered or they think, “Now is my time to dance.”

OB: So, in a way, the practice of empathy is the practice of giving up power or widening your perceptual field and lowering your tone, and then really trying to meet this other person.

OR: I think empathic reflex—the layers of empathic reflex that we have—I think they’re kind of underlying control in a way.

OB: It’s really interesting when you think of therapy. If I’m the therapist, you paid money to come and see me, so we have an agreement that you’re coming in, and I’m going to help you in some way—

OR: I’m going to help you help yourself.

OB: Yes, I’m going to help you help yourself. So it’s an interesting—if you are unpacking really complex mental issues, you don’t know who’s in control.

OR: Audience members gets told, “Welcome to the installation. It’s going to be 15 minutes. You can go or stay. You can move anywhere you want, and I’ll come and get you when it’s over.” And that’s what they’re given.

I think there’s a fair amount of agency in the audience. I guess “agency” is more of a term I would think of rather than control.

OB: And that’s the language, [the language of “agency,” that] we use in describing the piece.

OR: That’s what I’m looking for: agency. Not situations of control.

CC: There are some controlling factors on the engagement that were your choices, but not choices you make in the moment of performance. How did you arrive at 15-minutes as the right length of time for each one-on-one engagement?

OR: We did ten minutes before, but it was actually too short.

OB: We’ve started working on a new piece called “The Empaths,” and we’ve been doing these one-on-one things that have come out of this installation. As part of the research for that we hit a twelve-minute minimum. Those experiments are traveling through public space, so they’re a little bit different. 15 minutes is plenty. That’s a really nice long chunk of time to do something.

CC: It’s not the same person in the installation every 15 minutes, right? If someone comes more than once, they’ll, of course, have a different experience, but they’ll also potentially be with a new person?

OB: Yes. There are four of us who will be rotating. So we’ll be doing hour to hour-and-a-half shifts each. One of the performers is actually a 15-year-old.

CC: Oh wow.

OB: He’s amazing.

CC: How do you prepare for your turn in the rotation?

OB: I just warm up on my own and review the material. Because we’re improvising, there’s a whole bunch of material we’re working with. So I review that material for myself, and then I get myself in a really good space. I warm up. I get the fluids moving through my body. I do a lot of shaking. And I just kind of clear my space, so I can be present with people.

OR: It’s really intense because it’s an hour straight. It’s really intense.

Precipice Fund Project Update: Experimental Film Festival Portland

Experimental Film Festival Portland erupted in 2012 in the fair city of roses, in response to the need for a Portland-based experimental media showcase. We started from scratch and created the festival of our dreams: a festival accessible to local, national, and international artists who make experimental media for both cinemas and the expanded field, a festival that packs its days with celebrations and collaborations in multiple venues across the city and with various like-minded local organizations, a festival that is as committed to quality and cutting-edge programming as it is to energy, community, and fun.


EFF3 went down May 28 – June 1, 2014 and marked another year of experimenting with our programming and structure. We had an amazing week of “experimental summer camp”, hosting almost 30 visiting artists and producing 11 screenings showing over 150 films from over 17 countries, as well as fantastic exhibit of installations and a night of performance and music madness!

Our inaugural EFF Portland Local Throwdown was a fantastic and hotly contested spectacle, beginning at our collaborative Kill All Festivals event when we drew the random match-ups and continuing through to the last night of the fest. EFF3 wrapped with experimental German films curated by Cinema Project, films made with natural process curated by Caryn Cline and Julie Perini, and an amazing program called Black Radical Imagination curated by Chicago’s Amir George. We want to thank the Precipice Fund, PICA, Calligram Foundation, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for giving us the opportunity to cover  travel expenses and honoraria for performers and curators, both local and visiting.

To watch a clip of the festival click here - EFF trailer

To read recent press about EFF click the links below: 

Portland Mercury

PSU Vanguard









About the Precipice Fund

Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.

Precipice Fund Project Update: 12128 (The Boat Space)

12128 (“Boat Space”) is a contemporary exhibition space located on the Labrador, a decommissioned Bering Sea crab fishing vessel moored in Portland, Oregon. We support progressive work.

12128’s SUMMER MICRORESIDENCIES program concluded in early August. Each of the participating artists responded to the condensed timeframe and the exotic space in different and productive ways. It was REALLY HOT, and there were LOTS OF BIRDS EVERYWHERE.

JORDAN WAYNE LONG developed a performance that explored group dynamics by establishing a sympathetic relationship between himself and the audience. This piece was structured around the potential— and necessity—for the audience to prevent Jordan from physical harm, which was oddly subverted by a single person shirking the intended procedural flow. This work resulted in very unexpected outcomes and invited a level of open discussion among the audience that was both RARE AND UNIQUE. Jordan’s performance and his working practice were perfectly suited to what we had hoped these brief and intensive residencies would produce.  To view video of Jordan Wayne Long, Impact Piece #1, July 19 2014, 12128, click here.

MICHAEL TRIGILIO used newly-available scanning and modeling processes to generate 3D media from elements of the boat. This content dovetails into his ongoing work T2ERU, which explores speculative and fictive relationships between existing architectural objects and science fiction design. Michael exhibited works-in-progress from his time on the boat along with existing T2ERU content, and performed a set of his specific brand of experimental music. He also held a DIY synthesizer-making workshop in which participants soldered together a square-wave oscillator from basic analog electronics. Michael’s pedagogical tactics and general hilariousness made his workshop A HUGE HIT. 


Michael Trigilio, T2ERU, August 1 2014, 12128


Analog electronic sound performance


Michael Trigilio, T2ERU, August 1 2014, 12128


About the Precipice Fund

Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.


Precipice Fund Project Update: Spreading Rumours


Sign|Tent 1, designed by Amy Harwood and Ryan Pierce

After a long and rich planning period of bi-monthly brunches, Spreading Rumours has begun executing in real ways. We have been working on three different projects, each of which at different stages of unfolding. The first is our sign|tent project, for which we invited 5 participants (Right 2 Survive, Amy Harwood and Ryan Pierce, Sharita Towne, Stephanie Syjuco, and Shani Peters) to create designs for a series of sculptural outposts. We invited these people to use the sign to address or pose questions about private property, public space, and development. The sign|tents are being installed at street-level on lawns and lots around the city, in both authorized, hosted locations and unsanctioned zones. Our ideas and expectations for these sign|tents evolved through the process of building the signs, and conversing with our invited participants and site-hosts. They will undoubtedly keep unfolding as the sign|tents occupy space around town and have life online through social media. If you see one, help us spread rumours by tweeting or tumbling images of them.


Sign|Tent 2, designed by Brad Gibson for Right 2 Survive


Sign|Tent 3, designed by Sharita Towne

The second iteration of Spreading Rumours will be a leaflet propaganda and strategic littering project. We are inviting 10 participants—a diverse group of writers, artists, activists, radical historians and more—to an August 30th workshop-event (with production party to take place the following week). At the workshop we will give a mini-lecture about our research into military leaflet propaganda design and dissemination, followed by time for participants to converse about target audience and dispersal strategy, as well as create designs from which we will make masses of hand-stamped leaflets that we (and the participants if they wish) will strategically distribute around Portland and beyond. We are interested in seeing what unfolds from the conversation between this diverse group of participants: in what ways might they mutate the forms and strategies we present in our presentation? And, what messages might they each choose to send when the risk of distribution and the burden of singular authorship are lifted? Keep your eyes out for these and feel free to re-distribute or archive any you might find. We are excited about the subtle forms of participation that might ripple outwards from all of these projects.


Spreading Rumours leaflets and leaflet blanks

The third iteration of Spreading Rumours we’ve been cooking up is a spam poetry project that will exist as mass texts to cell phones in the 503 area code during the time of the November election. We are still researching the legality (the CAN-SPAM Act specifically) and the technical realities of this endeavor, as well as building our invitation list. We will be doing test runs in early September.

Again, as in our other two projects, we will be deciding on a form—character count, sender name, and recipient list, as well as a conceptual prompt—and invite 10-20 people to compose poetic content for the project. We are hoping that at least some of the cell-phone spam can address the political, either reflexively by referencing the form of unsolicited campaign communication, or directly, by making political or polemical word formations.

We are looking forward to fully rolling out these projects; opening ourselves to engage in conversations with others we wouldn’t normally work with around issues of city development and gentrification (with the Sign|Tents), propaganda, strategic media, and the spread of socio-political messages (Leaflet Litter), and the efficacy of political representation and policy (Cell-phone Spam Poetry). Our collaboration has gone through ups and downs and has taken some time to build momentum, but we feel solid about Spreading Rumours as an expanded learning process and a chance to blend our diverse approaches, priorities, and instincts.


About the Precipice Fund

Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.

Precipice Fund Project Update: Container Corps – An Arts Press

Container Corps is a publication design studio, printshop, bindery, and exhibition space that serves as a platform for the creation, distribution, and discussion of new arts publications. We publish books-as-projects, or books-as-works in themselves, or primary sources.

The books we publish are collaborations between artists and their ideas and our skills as editors, publication designers, and printmakers. They are works of art in themselves, rather than documentation of works in other media.

Our vertically integrated, design/build studio allows ideas (concepts, images, texts, research), materials (paper, ink, board, cloth, thread, glue), and technique (layout, typography, printmaking, binding) to coalesce into a fully realized type of publication.

Container Corps

Our press works with artists to make multiples that explore and take advantage of the book and the processes of book production. Our Precipice grant will fund three such collaborations.

Most of the progress in our project thus far has been made in the cementing of a schedule of artist collaborations for the year. There has been a little bit of shuffling of artists from our original line-up due to changing schedules and availability.

Our book projects are a specific kind of collaboration between our production capabilities and the artists’ individual practice, and these collaborations necessarily require a long gestation period. The artist must become somewhat of an expert on our processes, and we must become experts on their work. Only then do we have the language to be able to communicate and find where their ideas can engage with our parameters. Practically, this means a lot of talking, ideating, thinking, and looking before anything happens on the press. This is the kind of work we’ve been doing with our three artists thus far.

Our first artist, Heather Watkins, has finished an intense period of installations (at PSU and the Art Gym) and is now free to work with us. Our process thus far has been an ongoing series of visits between our studio and hers. We are discussing the intersections of our production processes and her art making processes, and zeroing in on a definition of what her book project will be.

Our second artist will be Israel Lund. We are excited to work with Israel because like Heather, his work is process oriented and will benefit from hands-on time with the press. We have arranged for him to be in Portland at the beginning of July, working with us at the studio. We have been skyping with him in preparation for an intense week of production. Most of the development of this book will occur during this week.

Our third artist will be Jasper Spicero. He will be visiting Portland in late July, and we will be working with him on a book made in conjunction with a very exciting larger project called Centers in Pain. He will be renting out the newly built, unoccupied Wapato Prison in North Portland for 4 days, doing an extensive installation, conducting interviews with the skeleton crew that maintains the facility, and completing a screen play that is set at the prison. The book we create will be an integral document of this larger project. Like Israel, we have been regularly skyping with Jasper so that his time in Portland is best utilized.


About the Precipice Fund
Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.

Precipice Fund Project Update: FalseFront

Since receiving the Precipice Fund, FalseFront has been able to host to four exhibits and featured works of performance, sound and visual art and visited numerous artist’s studios based in Portland, Oregon. Starting in February, Future Death Toll’s Edward Sharp performed three nights of noise, dance and visuals.

Each night consisted of Sharp inviting a musician and a dancer to collaborate for a continuous three-hour performance, with visitors encourage to enter and exit though-out the length of the show. Featured artists included, dancers Keyon Gaskin, Jin Camou and Danielle Ross; composers and musical engineer Jesse Mejia, Lucas Kuzma and Twon Moss.




In April, FalseFront exhibited the paintings and sculpture of Portland-based artist Judith René Sturdevant. These particular exhibit was put together fairly quickly after the studio visit, as Sturdevant expressed interest in having all included work recent and “fresh”. She was given a little over two and a half weeks to complete the work exhibited in show titled Or Somewhere Else.


FalseFront’s upcoming show is set to open the beginning of May with an installation from recent PSU MFA graduate Leif Anderson. Anderson will construct this installation around the entire front facade of the building, working from the idea of realty and commercial signage set in contrast with FalseFront’s rather residential location.

The Precipice Fund is allowing not only for FalseFront to exhibit these less conventional works of contemporary art in the alternative space setting, but also allowing the exhibiting artist the artistic freedom and opportunity to do the projects not likely seen in more commercial galleries.


About the Precipice Fund
Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.


Precipice Fund Project Profile: M.A.S.S.

We continue our six-week series of 2013 Precipice Fund grantee profiles with M.A.S.S. (an ambiguous acronym), a bimonthly music,  performance, and visual art and media series set in a beautifully resonant, 350-capacity sanctuary at Alberta Abbey, a historic church turned mixed-use venue in Northeast Portland. Using exceptional sound engineering and equipment, the series aims to provide a contemplative environment for group and/or anonymous reflection while cross-pollinating local and non-local artists, musicians, writers, and performers. 

Hello from  the M.A.S.S. Collective!

Our first two rounds of programming (of six total) have been an exploration that’s grown exponentially from last year’s start to the series. We were particularly inspired by the collaboration (and ensuing chaos) of last year’s closing edition of M.A.S.S., a mashup event of music, oratory, exhibition, and video projection.

We have decidedly expanded the scope of our programming since the start of the series, in concept and medium. We kicked off the year with an album release from Cloaks and performances by Pinhead In Fantasia and Nour Mobarak. Craig Flipy  prepared a sound collage of field recordings from his line of work chasing the illusive Bigfoot, and our gallery featured the Google Earth glitches of Clement Valla.

We pushed further, and perhaps more frighteningly or funnily, depending on your taste, to do METAL M.A.S.S., a special 4/20 edition on Easter Sunday. Atriarch, Joe Preston and Daniel Menche brought the doomsday, while special guest Maja D’Aoust (The White Witch of LA) brought the prophesy by way of her unique presentation style/oracle performance. Our gallery featured the first solo art show by local illustrator Joshua Hardy. This event saw over 200 in attendance.

A couple of highlights from M.A.S.S. V and VI:

We are pleased to announce the next edition of our series, M.A.S.S. VIIon June 8th with Benoît Pioulard, né Tom Meluch, known for his glacial, cinematic ambient music that brings delicate pop sensibilities into the fold. A staple of electronic, experimental label Krancy, Meluch has crafted a body of thoughtful work that’s earned his solo music (as well as that of Orcas, his collaboration with Seattle musician Rafael Anton Irisarri) frequent attention from blogs and music news.

Like a Villain is the musical alter-ego of local songstress Holland Andrews, recently voted number five in Willamette Week‘s “Best New Band” list. Her music is equally dark and uplifting, bright and frightening–unafraid of taking leaps and bounds that stretch Andrews’ emotive, adventurous voice.

Colin Manning is a multidisciplinary artist from Portland. He received his MFA in Filmmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2000 and has been an active visual artist and projectionist, participating in numerous exhibitions and music performances down the West Coast.

In addition to putting the finishing touches on M.A.S.S. VII, we are shaping the latter half of the 2014 calendar with more local and international experimental musical acts, writers, performers and visual artists. For more information, visit

Sunday, June 8, 2014
8:00pm doors / 9:00pm performances
Alberta Abbey / 126 NE Alberta / Portland

About the Precipice Fund
Administered by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) as part of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts’ Regional Regranting Program, the Precipice Fund awards grants to unincorporated visual art collectives, alternative spaces, and collaborative projects in Portland, Oregon. Recognizing the barriers to funding faced by independent arts initiatives, Precipice Fund seeks to support both new and existing projects emblematic of Portland’s alternative, on-the-ground art community.