Updated: Aug 21, 2021
I am preparing for my upcoming performance creation residency of "Cruising at 30 km/s and Attempting Not To Crash". Anxiety has set in based on my inability to make decisions about what the show will look like. Ever since the development of The End, the show I created last year, I have been attempting to embrace a certain level of unknowing. I feel I have made some terrible work in the past because the audience, artistic programmers and marketing staff demand a certain level of what I call 'arrival' (this attempt at knowing what the show is about before you've even made the show; removing the true liveness from the live art), I am compelled to stay in this state of unknowing and move through a performance creation residency without making a firm plan, but this doesn't always work when audiences, programmers and marketing staff require this level of knowledge.
I've been examining this tyranny of planning for over 7 years now. Last year I was invited to participate in a queer performance residency as part of CANdance (a partnership between Springboard Performance (Calgary) and Studio 303 (Montreal)). The residency was titled This Is Actively Built and featured 4 queer Canadian artists (Kevin Jesuino, Melina Stinson, Winnie Superhova and Nuiboi). The residency was the idea of contemporary dance artist Nate Yaffe. Nate had established similar residencies in the past with other queer artists. At the beginning of the residency he reminded me of queer theory texts such as Jose Esteban Muñoz' "Queer Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity" and Jake Halberstram's "The Queer Art of Failure". Both of these texts provided me with a strong inspiration towards the unravelling of these expectations on me as a performance creator to know what I will do in a performance before I even know what the show is. Munoz suggests that the future relies on the queering of systems (very similar to offerings suggested by Afro-Futurism); an idea that is grounded in examining pluralistic, diverse and anti-fragile systems or ways of being that come when we open a system up to all future possibilities once the mainstream has dissolved. Halberstam, in The Queer Art of Failure, suggests that anyone born queer (or marginalized in any way) is destined to fail from the onset. This is best exemplified in the online videos that have been coming out around the game of privilege. Certain folks, based on their privileges (and this is always intersectional) have a head start in what society calls 'success in life'. However, those with less privilege start the race further back and, in many circumstances, are destined to fail or lose the race. Halberstam suggests that queer folks are destined to fail. It is in this failure that we can find resilience, opportunity and a difference we can offer the world. In this 'failing' we, queer humans of this Earth, can offer up different ways of knowing thus leading to a pluralistic future of possibilities.
Both of these texts grounded me in developing a show that never arrives at a complete finish. By 'finish', I mean that is never overly planned that the sense of liveness is removed from the performance. I am interested in the bits of the show that provide opportunities for failure. It's in this failure that the show breaths life and true liveness. And, when examining the role that queer performance makers have in this world, I am interested in examining this failure towards possibilities within my queer lived experience, exploring where I, the ensemble, and the show go when we remove the veil of planned cues and set choreography/blocking, and use the space of live performance to offer a laboratory to explore difference, failure and anti-fragility for the real world outside of the performance.
And so, I sit here, attempting to make decisions about my upcoming show that requires me to be courageous in not knowing what will happen, but also requires a certain level of planning when it comes to casting an ensemble, describing my ideas to the artistic programmer and providing material upfront for any marketing and promotion that is needed; it is a constant internal tug-of-war and often the mainstream can't see any other path then the planned path.
I offer up the question to any performance makers and programmers out there -- what is liveness if we don't allow for failure or unknowing?
Two weeks ago I presented the first part of two blog posts highlighting certain socially engaged art pieces that I experience at Assembly, a four-day conference in Portland, Oregon featuring presentations, discussions, interventions and activities that look at topics related to art and social practice.The conference is hosted by Portland State University which has a Master in Fine Arts program dedicated to art and social practice.
As I mentioned in the first of these two blogs posts, it’s incredibly difficult to share the experience of social engaged art through 2D images or write-ups when socially engaged art relies heavily on the experience the participants had with one another and the event. So, I will inevitably fail at defining fully each of the following pieces I experienced. But, let’s try!
Kimberly Sutherland and Paul West
How often have you walked down your street block and taken notice of the types of trees and shrubs that also live near you? In this educational walk around a Northeast Portland block, longtime resident, arborist and musician Paul West, took us on a tour showing us the trees that inhabit his block. Each of the trees play a specific role in the urban space and many of them have medicinal qualities that I didn’t know. Upon returning to my own city block in Calgary, Alberta I pondered the tree and shrub neighbours that are in my backyard and down the street. Many of them I don’t know but, it made me have a far more bigger appreciation for them and the larger ecosystem I live in.
Some Time Between Us
Emily Fitzgerald, Honnai Aguado-Nielsen, Delaney Alvord, Jackie Anderson, Antonia Beil, Cindi Burgos-Be, Brenda Culhane, Judith Ford, Harvey Garnett, Tom Getts, Frank Gorretta, Lanaireoje (Bubbles) Hayes, Raina Heilman, Jacqui Jackson, Allen Julian, Marel Kalyn, Benjamin Kirchoffer-Talbott, Ausha Lathan, Dolores M. Peters, Lucia Sanchez-Ventura, Jan Starnes, Maria Tran, Jackson Wolfe
There are two things that everyone has in common: we were once young and we we will eventually all get older. This project brought together a group of students from Beaumont Middle School and seniors from the Hollywood Senior Centre to create an intergenerational exchange. Over six-weeks the group explored their individual and cultural expressions initiated by questions they had for one another. What is the hardest part about being you age? What is the happiest memory you have? What are your fears for the future? Relating to each other through storytelling, writing and photography the teens and seniors built a relationship over the six-weeks that provided space for empathy and learning from each other. The culminating presentation of this project was presented at the Hollywood Senior Centre and featured photography, music, performance, poetry and dialogue amongst strangers.
Collaborative Learning for Physical Prowess (on the dance floor): How to Dance Like a Boss &
The People’s (dance) Party
Jens Hauge & Renee Sills with guest presenters Leif J. Lee, Tonisha Toler, and Padraic O’Meara
This was a two part project.
The first. Have you ever wanted to learn to do a specific type of dance but were to afraid to go take a dance class because of the possibility of failing or looking like a goof? In Renee Sills & Jens Hauge “Collaborative Learning for Physical Prowness (on the dance floor): How to Dance Like a Boss” three non-professional dancers were asked to research and present their favourite “How to Dance” YouTube videos and teach the group of participants the steps. Everyone started off like wall-flowers glued to their chairs. No one wanted to be at the front of the dance class. But after some great engagement and hosting skills by Jens Hauge the room was full of people watching YouTube videos and mimicking everyone from country line dances to house, lyrical ballet to MC Hammer. It was ridiculous and mesmerizing to see so many people doing the same choreography and also looking as ridiculous and memorized by YouTube videos as I was.
The second. What makes a great party? Renee Sills spent months investigating and asking people this question. For this culminating event she brought all the elements necessary to have the best party of the world! And it sure was! A good sound system, good music, good lighting, a disco ball, a good dance floor, fun people, costumes, free water, free snacks, and even free booze. It was the perfect recipe to let loose and see how far everyone could go in shaking their booty. If I remember one thing from this entire festival, it is that parties make the best social art practice events if done right. Thanks to all those who danced and danced and danced that evening.
For more information on ASSEMBLY 2016 please visit this website:
Over Skype, I sat down with Shimshon Obadia, an interdisciplinary eco-artist, based out of the Okanagan valley in British Columbia, Canada.
Obadia is has several projects that engage the public, primarily youth, in creating artistic experiments in order to generate a deeper empathy for the environment around them. We spoke about the use of available resources, the relevance of artistic work outside of the art institution and why it's important to lean to empathize with nature.
You can learn more about his work at www.shimshonobadia.com