Like A Villain: Artist Holland Andrews’ Boundless Emotional Range

Like A Villain: Artist Holland Andrews’ Boundless Emotional Range

by April Baer

Published on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Female Disruptors: How Kristy Edmunds has shaken up contemporary art

Female Disruptors: How Kristy Edmunds has shaken up contemporary art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tell the truth.” — ubiquitous

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

How are you going to shake things up next?

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

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

Lewis Hyde. Everything that he has written.

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

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

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

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

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

I’d stop robbing Patricia to pay Paul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can our readers follow you on social media?

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

About the author:

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

— Published on August 12, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gordon Hall Opening Reception, Photo by Tojo Andrianarivo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M: We ate our sandwiches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Define desire.

How often do you think about this first date?

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

A: Pretty often. I enjoy a fun fuck.

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

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

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

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

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

An Intimate Dance of Objects: Gordon Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art
until 10 August 2019

At ADF: Moving Performances by Eiko Otake and Friends

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

July 8, 2019 – Durham, NC:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Rubenstein Arts Center, Durham

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

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

Duets with the Living and the Dead


“Another sense of otherness.” —Beverly McIver

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

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

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

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


“Thrusting forward is contagious.” —Eiko

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Collaborating with the dead.” —Eiko

“In the afterlife.” —McIver

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Ligia Lewis by Catherine Damman

Ligia Lewis
interviewed by Catherine Damman
Published in BOMB Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who have some of those encounters been with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Select Equity Group Series on Theater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manuela Infante Makes Space For Ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESTADO VEGETAL de Manuela Infante

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Simensky Revisits Gold in “unearth”

by Ellena Basada

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

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

Photo by Mario Gallucci

Photo by Mario Gallucci

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

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

Photo by Mario Gallucci

Photo by Mario Gallucci

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


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

Recent Press on Abigail DeVille: The American Future at PICA

Abigail DeVille: The American Future

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

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

Street Roots, Portland’s Story of Oppression Through Art

Oregon Arts Watch

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

pyramid_yz8a8753_1541286583748 Image courtesy of OPB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can art institutions be better?

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

Available now at

pm_rmms-front-kennedy Image courtesy of Paper Monument

The Pedagogy of Black Queer Struggle and Joy

By Andrew J. Brown/Sister James

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

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

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

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

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

Six Moments and Sounds from Robin Deacon’s Vinyl Equations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONTRALTO: A Taste of Dysphoria

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

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

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

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

- A.M. Rosales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Exercise in Getting Well Soon

By A.M. Rosales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Dao Strom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critical Mascara

by Sara Lyons

Photo by Eric Long.

Photo by Eric Long

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

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

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

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

Dead Thoroughbred

by Ashley Stull Meyers

Photo by Leah Kiczula.

Photo by Leah Kiczula

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

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

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

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

9 Notes from 4 days of art experiences at TBA 2017

by Keith Hennessy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jump the gap.
Every time.

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

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

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

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

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

100 Years/100 Paintings

by Tyler White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Nickas.

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

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

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

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

Click here to give now ›

Precipice Fund Project Update: People’s Homes

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

Precipice Fund Project Update: FRONT Ed.05

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

FRONT Ed. 05 in print

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

Dancers in White

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

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

Figure on black

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

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

Precipice Fund Project Update: home school

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eunsong Kim delivering her remote talk at Duplex, Apr 2016

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

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

Mom Art session 1 at Lightbox Kulturhaus, Mar 2016

Mom Art session 1 at Lightbox Kulturhaus, Mar 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precipice Fund Project Update: The Global Table

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

Photos by Anke Schüttler

Photos by Anke Schüttler

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

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

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

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

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

Photos by Anke Schüttler

Photos by Anke Schüttler

List of Dinners​

April 2

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

April 16

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

April 30

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

May 14

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

Photos by Anke Schüttler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women's Autobiographical Artists' Books

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

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

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

Precipice Fund Project Update: echo/hecho

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


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

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

The trailer

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

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

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

Precipice Fund Project Update: Cherry and Lucic

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

The Henry Codax exhibition being installed.

The Henry Codax exhibition being installed.

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

Ephemera from the Codax exhibition in-process

Ephemera from the Codax exhibition in-process

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

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

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

An exhibition in the gallery

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

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

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

Roz Crews' "Neighborhood Research Institute"

Roz Crews’ “Neighborhood Research Institute”

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


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

A Letter from Zachary Schomberg's project

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

Beers from the Neighborhood

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

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

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

Precipice Fund Project Update: Portland Museum of Modern Art

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

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

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

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

"Sad Night Live" poster

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

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

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

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

Precipice Fund Project Update: My Scion Gallery

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

The shelf during Taryn Tomasello's exhibition

The shelf during Taryn Tomasello‘s exhibition

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

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

Here you will find our website:

Jasmine Nyende in MSG

Jasmine Nyende in MSG

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

Precipice Fund Project Update: Pushboard Portland

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

Pushboard's current site and design

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

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

To submit an event to Pushboard or subscribe, visit


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

Precipice Fund Project Update: My Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy

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

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

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

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

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

Precipice Fund Project Update: Character Plant

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

The gym under renovation

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

Character Plant's new gas heater

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

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

Our website and mailing list are up at

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

Traveling Light – An Evening With Ivo Dimchev

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

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

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

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

– Shayla Lawson

Interview: Kemi Adeyemi and Sidony O’Neal

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

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

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

Interview: Dylan Mira In Conversation With Ashley Stull Meyers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Alessandro Sciarroni in conversation with Jesse Hewit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maya Mikdashi on Carlos Motta’s Deseos / رغبات

Deseos / رغبات was presented on Monday, September 12, 2016 at the Hollywood Theatre as part of PICA’s 14th annual Time-Based Art Festival.

“Deseos / رغبات” is a film and research project that is grounded in transnational and interdisciplinary histories that may or may not have happened. Our stories emerge from archives and fantasy, history and fiction, the 18th century, 19th century, and 21st centuries, theory and in feeling, and from Beirut and Bogota. The film was written and conceived by myself and by Carlos Motta, who also directed the film. In our independent fields, both Carlos and I are interested in archival research and theory, legal systems and their moral and institutional frameworks, and in the social, political, and epistemological possibilities of desire. Bringing these interests, histories, and ultimately, our characters Martina and Nour together, Carlos and I were moving across our own institutions of knowledge production and of creativity— institutional worlds that rarely converse but that often turn to each other for inspiration: art and academia.

Throughout the film project and its making, we work through several themes that orbit desire. These themes are not only related to the sexual registers of desire, but instead are directed towards thinking about the multiple ways that desire structures every day life, research, and academic and artistic production. We think about the presence and need for desire and fantasy in relation to the archive and its absences—particularly archival absences related to “unnatural” female-bodied desire. We ask if the object of desire must be embodied, and if it could instead be an affect, action, or relation that one can orient oneself towards. Can the object of desire be a desire for an archive, or for history itself?

We suggest that the unnatural order—including what we today refer to as the “queer,”-structures the so-called natural order of law and of society. How can we use the concept of the unnatural, and of unnatural lives and bodies and desires, to teach us about history, about law, about archives, and about both individual and shared life? Throughout the film we also insist on avoiding the trope of tragedy that is often used in conjunction with the telling of queer and “unnatural” lives. Joy, friendship, and intimacy—and the desire for these relations and emotions— are political and radical acts. This is particularly true for lives and desires that are constructed as selfish, miserable, and lonely by technologies of law and archiving, and discourses on family, morality, society, and the “natural”.

We present law and history as a space of negotiation and as a lived temporal and multi-dimensional framework. Law is a cosmological and moral site where multiple actors— institutional, relational, or individual—may find both an aporia and a cage, both possibility and repression. Some of our guiding questions are: What are the possible lives and travels of desire? How can we think and write and represent desire in history while actively trying to dodge the historical stickiness—the assumed trans-historicity— of sexuality? What is the role of fantasy in history, in theory, and in art? Can we not imagine that the body—that desire—has its own logic, one that cannot be captured or understood by thinking about desire?

There are no answers to these questions. The lives of desire, both in history and in the contemporary moment, are perhaps not knowable as much as they are approachable. Through this film and our writing, we approach desire, and the telling of history, as one might approach a lover: with tenderness, wonder, anxiety, anticipation and urgency.

“Deseos / رغبات” fantasizes the every-dayness of a correspondence between a person accused by her female lover of being hermaphroditic in late 18th century Colonial/Catholic Colombia and a female bodied person in Beirut who is navigating life, love, and desire for a female bodied person in the late Ottoman, Islamic/Arab context. Their names are Martina and Nour. These characters do not have desires that are considered “natural” by their surrounding worlds, and yet these unwelcoming worlds form the terrain of their intimacies, their capacity to love, to be in pain, and to be social actors. This estrangement from the worlds you are closest to—the worlds that make you— is familiar. This estrangement, moreover, cannot be captured by the analysis of an oppressive apparatus or the fantasy of an autonomous individual who is the sum of their rational thoughts, an individual who can be uprooted without being severed. Rather, this estrangement from the worlds that make us is melancholic: it is productive, it is compulsive, and it is passionate.

Critical theory teaches us that there cannot be a normative sexuality or desire without a queer or unnatural one, no “good life” or “fulfilling life” without a “bad life” or a “wasted life.” The “unnatural” is the structural condition of the “natural.” The myth of the social contract is in fact the moment of the “unnatural”—the pledge to live together within the unnatural state of law. It is a queer coming together of disparate interests and personalities in the desire for order and social reproduction. Here, “queer” is not an embodied form or sexuality, but rather the disavowed condition out of which society, social reproduction, and kinship emerge. The disavowed queer condition of the natural and of society, and of the naturalness of society, is what engenders and disciplines both normative and non-normative sexualities and genders across different historical periods and locations.

In thinking about how people live, and have lived, “unnatural” desire or lives, we are inspired by the Sylvia Rivera Law Project prison post-card/letter writing initiative. The SRLP matches letter correspondents with one of the most incarcerated, and most alienated and vulnerable to violence while incarcerated, populations in the United states— queer and trans youth and adults (particularly non-white queer and trans peoples). This prison writing initiative insists on the political potentials of solidarity and friendship. Thinking about the world making potentials entailed within connections between people who are often alienated from the promises of the “good life,” we asked ourselves to imagine a history of the desire to have a correspondent, an intimate, a friend.

“Deseos / رغبات” imagines historical pleasures of this sociability—of knowing one is never solitary with their desires. The social life of unnatural desires—what we call in the contemporary moment “queer life”—is not (only) anchored or made possible by individual will, or the thwarting or fulfilling of sexual desire and love. Rather, it is made possible, given a life, in the moments when one can share our lives without explanation or metaphor or analogy—the moments when our desires become mundane, the background picture of our conversations and intimacies, not the substance. Queer life is made possible by those starved and inadequate words: friendship, family. Desire, whether “unnatural” or “natural,” is never alone—although it often feels lonely.

Carlos and I wrote letters to each other in character as Martina and Nour over a period of months, producing pages of correspondence that were eventually pared down to a script. As we wrote to each other, we were corresponding through a historical longing, enacting a desire for history itself: Our desire for a world that was always inter and transnational, for alternative archives. We were writing our desire for historical presence, for a historical resonance of our own feelings of rooted out-of placeness.

Attuned to ways our own historical longings structured “Deseos / رغبات”
we worked against the notion of “unthinkability” as it relates to histories that would, in the present moment, be called “queer.” This unthinkability is magnified when discussing desire between female-bodied persons. The majority of historically inclined academic research on non-normative desires focuses on male-bodied persons, with notable exceptions. The same holds true for artistic production and circulation. This trend is related to the historical record itself, a record that is gendered and classed. History, through technologies of recording and archiving, has always been a site of privilege. This is true for both the formal (state, religious, imperial archives) and informal (family records, historical/travel accounts, correspondence) registers of history. Still, the presence of categories such as “unnatural” are records of power and of the very constructed-ness of the natural, much more than they could ever be a record of lived life. What happens if we refuse that the measure of history is the presence or absence of historical/written documents? How might we read absence in the archive as narrative, and what is our responsibility towards people, lives, arrested in the archive? The choice of the word “arrest” is not accidental. Our character, Martina is twice arrested. She is arrested by colonial authorities on charges of having an unnatural body. She—her life—is arrested again by the archive, caught within a discourse of the natural, of criminality and of the state. A researcher’s pull towards the archive is not coincidental. This pull, this desire, is itself melancholic. The archive is a temporal order: what we find in the archive, what we want to find in the archive, shifts as what it means to be a reader, a researcher, a person in the world, changes.

We refuse the logic that a life ends when a case file ends—that the person is no longer knowable because a state or a courtroom has reached a decision. The closing of a case is not the end of a person’s historical or contemporary significance. In Deseos we approach these files, and our characters, with the ferocity it takes to insist and to dwell on the fullness of lives and desires considered “unnatural.”

While finishing the script Carlos and I were surprised that somehow we both insisted on that unexpected and surprising thing: happiness. After the fact, we realized that imagining joy and avoiding the trope of tragedy—particularly for desires constructed by legal, medical, cultural and religious structures and discourses as “unnatural”—can be a political act. As artists and as academics and as researchers interested in sexualities, desires, and their histories, we often find ourselves studying non-hetero-normative desires, sexualities, and sexual practices through the lenses of criminality, regulation, and oppression/repression. The social lives of unnatural desires, and the lives of queer people in the contemporary moment, are too often constructed as unhappy, as anxious, as saturated in disappointment and as disappointing and discomforting to families, friends, and social orders. We are attuned to these lenses and structures, we live within them— but throughout the making of “Deseos / رغبات”, we choose to imagine—and fantasize— otherwise. Our characters live lives that are ordinary, and full: filled with joy and tragedy, friendship and solidarity, love and heartbreak, passion and fulfillment, oppression and opportunity, ecstasy and pain.

References/Further Reading

Ahmed, Sara. The cultural politics of emotion. Routledge, 2013.

Ahmed, Sara. Queer phenomenology: Orientations, objects, others. Duke University Press, 2006.

Amer, Sahar. “Medieval Arab lesbians and lesbian-like women.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 18, no. 2 (2009): 215-236.

Arondekar, Anjali. “Without a trace: Sexuality and the colonial archive.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 14, no. 1 (2005): 10-27.

Babayan, Kathryn, and Afsaneh Najmabadi. Islamicate sexualities: translations across temporal geographies of desire. Vol. 39. Harvard CMES, 2008.

Berlant, Lauren. Desire/love. punctum books, 2012.

Berlant, Lauren. Cruel optimism. Duke University Press, 2011.

Butler, Judith. “Melancholy gender—Refused identification.” Psychoanalytic Dialogues 5, no. 2 (1995): 165-180.

Butler, Judith. “Is kinship always already heterosexual?.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 13, no. 1 (2002): 14-44.

Edelman, Lee. No future: Queer theory and the death drive. Duke University Press, 2004.

El-Rouayheb, Khaled. Before homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic world, 1500-1800. University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Eng, David L. “Melancholia in the late twentieth century.” Signs (2000): 1275-1281.

Foucault, Michel. The history of sexuality. Allen Lane, 1979.

Foucault, Michel. The archaeology of knowledge. Vintage, 2012.

Foucault, Michel. “The Ethic of Care for the Self as a Practice of Freedom: An Interview with Michel Foucault on January 20, 1984 in The Final Foucault: Studies on Michel Foucault’s Last Works.” Philosophy & social criticism 12, no. 2-3 (1987): 112-131.

Freeman, Elizabeth. Time binds: Queer temporalities, queer histories. Duke University Press, 2010.

Habib, Samar. Female homosexuality in the Middle East: histories and representations. No. 13. Routledge, 2007.

Halberstam, Judith. The queer art of failure. Duke University Press, 2011.

Million, Dian. “Felt theory.” American Quarterly 60, no. 2 (2008): 267-272.
Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising utopia: The then and there of queer futurity. NYU Press, 2009.

Povinelli, Elizabeth A. “Notes on gridlock: Genealogy, intimacy, sexuality.”Public Culture 14, no. 1 (2002): 215-238.

Steedman, Carolyn. Dust: the archive and cultural history. Rutgers University Press, 2002.

Stoler, Ann Laura. Along the archival grain: Epistemic anxieties and colonial common sense. Princeton University Press, 2010.

Interview: Allie Hankins with Jesse Hewit

Allie Hankins is a friend of mine. I’ve tried to recall the moment when we first met 4-ish years ago, but I can’t do it: too much juice and fun and life lived in tandem since then. My guess is that it was either in a workshop somewhere, or in a karaoke booth somewhere. Whatever the context, she was (and is) a stealthy thrill of a person, and we have since done all kinds of art-shenaniganing together. Her new work, better to be alone than to wish you were, will run during week 2 of TBA:16, and from the works-in-progress I’ve seen and the things I’ve read from Allie about it, it’s gonna be tricky. Allie and I wrote back and forth about…well…edging, about the depleting nature of lust, and about faggy rockstars we’re going to embody together really soon.

JH: I know that parts of your piece are funny…and are kind of intended to be funny, or maybe they’re intended to take “funny” and use it as a tool to expose things that really aren’t necessarily funny at all. How are you feeling/thinking about connections between humor and desire? Like…is humor a way to throw your hands up and say “yeah, cool this is nuts i give up” or is it maybe more…strategic than that?

AH: The humor came about pretty organically–like, maybe before I even knew that this piece was more or less explicitly about “desire.” You know me, so you know a little bit about my awkwardness and social anxiety, and one of the ways I’ve combatted that over the years is through humor, surely. I was just explaining this to someone else, but it is applicable here, too: I have a tendency to hide behind this Carefree Clown persona–this woman with a biting and sarcastic humor, twinkle in her eye, and a loose grip on the world. Of course what I’m hiding is someone with a near-detrimental tenderness (which I’ve calibrated to a less detrimental degree over the years) who wants to control ALL the fucking reins ALL the fucking time, and whose feelings you’ve probably already hurt because she’s hella sensitive. So while making this piece I was really mining this thing about me, and what emerged was this persona who invites the opportunity to be the butt of a joke–a joke that emerged by her own construction. She invites the messiness that occurs in the throes of desire. And she is also inviting catastrophe inside of the performance itself. She thinks it’s all pretty fucking hilarious, but she’s on the verge of throwing up her hands and diving head first into a pit of sweeping romance and despair, but not before she implicates you (the audience) in this puzzle as well. She plays with you, seduces you, attempts to make you fall in love with her, but she always pulls out the rug at the last second. I think of her as always almost on the verge of overflowing or being overwhelmed, and she gets off on riding that edge. None of this is overt, of course. It’s more subdued and energetic—it’s a certain tension. It’s kind of a hypnosis disguised as lecture disguised as stand-up comedy. Maybe. There is also a lot of potential for The Anticlimactic in jokes–the build up, the rhythm, the expectation, the anticipation of the lovely release of the perfect punchline–I think incorporating this hushed, stand-up comedy element allowed me to fuck with desire/expectation in a strategic way.

JH: Okay so this is insanely titillating for plenty of reasons, but namely, from what you say here, it seems the location of power in the work is really and truly obscured. Which is…thrilling.

On another note, in reading your description – and particularly seeing you name “the anticlimactic futility of lust”, I have a really warm and affirming response and think: YES! THAT is the best thing about lust: its futility and illogic. I mean, in a time where everything has to serve some kind of consumptive-productive purpose, lust is this outrageous and perfect antidote to it all. Is there some kind of statement about the nature of lust in this work? Do you feel alluded by its wonders and usefulness? Is there something you’re getting at about the nature of how the body/your body becomes a hilariously misplaced site for desire and/or lust?

AH: I’m not entirely sure what my relationship is to lust, so maybe you hit the nail on the head–maybe it’s something that eludes me. I don’t know. I think the degree of urgency to which people pursue what they are lusting after is super rad, but also very unsettling. Like the frenzied and hasty tearing away of layers is super thrilling in the moment, but ultimately, I fear it just leaves everything feeling a bit prosaic and deadened. I realize this sounds very curmudgeonly, but whatever. So sue me. I don’t know if lust leaves any space for the deliberate and measured establishment of familiarity or intimacy that turns me on. I mean, yeah, quite simply: sometimes you just wanna fuck. That’s that. But the charged pursuit almost always fizzles out. So I guess that’s consistent with what you’re saying–it’s totally not generative, not productive, it’s actually only depleting…? I think that depletion/deflation is a rich fucking territory. It’s very evocative for me.

JH: Ha. Yes, AND…I feel like we’re making qualitative guesses about the nature of lust that are in the same language and set of values, but actually end up suggesting very different things. Also, it seems there is both a critique of desire and lust, and also a kind of challenging offering-up of yourself simultaneously. I’m excited to get tossed around a bit by this, because that’s how critiques within the changing fortunes of time actually unfold, right? Any thoughts about that? Are you interested in playing with contradiction?

AH: YES CONTRADICTION. One very influential work for me while making this piece has been Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson (we still need to do our Anne Carson-inspired performance festival, Jesse!!!). Also Sexuality & Space edited by Beatriz Colomina. In Eros… Carson talks a lot about contradiction as a means of illustrating/bemoaning/celebrating the impossibility of desire. Like “the tree is completely bare. And on the highest branch hangs one apple” (I’m totally paraphrasing/butchering that). She also talks about puns as this way of making meaning that brings forth a sort of stereoscopic view of reality, of a “truth.” And while my body does not exactly serve as a pun in this work, I am conscious of its ability to create conflict or discrepancy or to become (as you said earlier) a hilariously misplaced site for meaning-making or desire–I’ve been thinking that maybe when it is placed in certain situations inside of this context, it can illuminate an absurdity of a pre-existing construct, or maybe it can throw all past associations or expectations into sharp relief, and hopefully we can all laugh at how limited our thinking was, and feel some relief in knowing it doesn’t have to be so limited. Colomina talks about the home as theater. She offers examples of hidden rooms or spaces in houses where the occupant can view intruders (or guests) without being seen, and how that position is so fucking powerful because it is hidden in plain sight. I thought this could be an interesting way to be on stage. Fully visible, maybe even fully naked, but not AT ALL vulnerable.

JH: Wow. yeah. It’s really thick to think of the body as a house in that context. I’m gonna work through that one for a bit…

In other thought realms, I assume that certain things about working with an all-female production team have been basically incredible. How did that pan out so far?

AH: It’s been really great. I mean, I don’t really know how to talk about it without making too many sweeping generalizations about gender–that’s not so much what I’m wanting to do. All I know is that many female-identified artists I talk to, including the ones I’ve been working with, understand this degree of extra hard work it takes to “prove” themselves in a patriarchal society. We’ve all been talked down to or condescended to by directors/producers/presenters/curators because of our gender, and as a result, we employ a different language or way of expressing ideas in these male-dominated contexts. I’ve found that (at least for me), with this all-female team, I have been able to access a previously elusive confidence and directness (even inside of my inquisitiveness), and that has yielded a work that feels sharp and resilient even as it tackles some precarious and delicate subject matter. It just feels possible to really MEET each other on THE LEVEL. Does that make sense?

JH: It makes sense, and it also is one of those too-rare conditions (both the structure of the all-female team AND its effect on your ability to make the work) that just makes me sigh and wanna work harder to realize those spaces more often. Yup.

So, lastly. I can’t wait to see you and hang. A few final questions: what duet will we sing at karaoke (even if karaoke is just impromptu belting at the TBA biergarten)? Where will we go to be secret introverts and hide from people and eat something good? What was one of your favorite total MOMENTS of life this past summer?

AH: I’m excited to see you, too! I always love a Jesse Hewit visit in PDX. I think we should definitely sing “Under Pressure” to try and embody the otherworldliness & fabulousness of Bowie & Mercury, and also: topical. I’m definitely going to take you to Cardinal Club for a stiff cocktail and chill vibes. I only ever eat the grilled romaine there, but I hear their other food is good, too. :) And omg let’s talk about how so many of my favorite moments from the summer involve our mutual beloved RACHAEL DICHTER. I’d say that performing our duet in progress in Berlin a couple weeks ago is up there. Few things make my heart dance like making Rachael Dichter laugh.

JH: Grilled romaine and glam faggots it is, my friend. And LONG LIVE RACHAEL DICHTER.

TBA Interview: Sampada Aranke with Ashley Stull Meyers

Ashley Stull Meyers: I want to ask you first about “Style Wars: Shades of Cool”, the short form essay you wrote in which you discuss “cool” in varying forms as a methodological approach to critique and revolution, and not just a hollow aesthetic. You made an incredible case for the ways we can trace this in the political movements of Blackness, and I wonder if we can identify a similar tactic for Queerness?

Sam Aranke: I definitely think there are similar kinds of aesthetic modes of intervention that queer subjectivities produce that are grounded in radical histories. Part of what “Shades of Cool” was trying to attempt to do was to provide a mode of approaching a history of ‘the cool’ that tracked its relationship to African diasporas. I was hoping to crack open a conversation about how this thing we call ‘cool’ now is very much indebted to Black diasporic aesthetic— and one that is grounded in resistance and survival.

I think that in the case of queer histories, we can understand that ‘queerness’ as it’s used now is a term that has roots in radical political movements. Those histories that span everything from the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Uprising to the film Criminal Queers— that’s the kind of queer resistance and aesthetic that calls into being a legacy of past social movements, non-normative desires, and the potent potential of rage. Those kinds of approaches to ‘queer’ force us into a conversation about how homophobia and transphobia are embedded within systems like white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism.

ASM: To be both Black and Queer unfortunately demands the creation of its own spaces for making and publicness. Hyper-traditional or conservative arts institutions are only just now beginning to grapple with what that sort of space can look like, and not always well. What are some spaces or initiatives you think can serve as a model? Is TBA one?

SA: This isn’t necessarily a public space— in fact, its intentionally not— but Black Artists Retreat out of Chicago is a space of both gathering and discourse that I think is worth thinking about. It’s organized and initiated by Eliza Myrie and Theaster Gates and is a space where Black artists, curators, arts administrators, academics, and critics come together over a theme, set of readings/ provocations, or topics. It’s an interesting model in terms of creating spaces that are separated from the demands of mostly white spaces. Conceptually, I also think it troubles this idea of a stable “public” or “community” because just because folks come together under this umbrella of Black artists, it definitely doesn’t mean everyone agrees. It’s a real testament to a notion of a community of/in difference.

I also think spaces that are intentionally collective, DIY, and grounded in an explicit alternative to profit-based models are great. Because I tend to think historically, I think about 848 Community Space in San Francisco, which was founded in 1991, as a great model. It hosted everything from dance performances to prisoner letter-writer campaigns. Presently, Omnicommons in Oakland is trying to think more expansively about how to create a space that houses a range of collectivities, communities, and events in a shifting city landscape. We all know that the rapid intensity of gentrification in West Coast cities means that Black and queer communities are some of the first to be pushed out. In a place like the Bay Area, where I live, I am interested in those spaces that are aware of this reality and make explicit their desires to resist such pressures.

ASM: TBA this year is being held in a brand new space… large and intentionally (for the moment) unfinished. The team at PICA sees a lot of possibility and conceptual generosity in the void of what the space has yet to become. Is this ideal for time based art? In general, is this strategy less historically troublesome than a “white cube”?

SA: I love the idea of an intentionally unfinished space, but I think that’s about my own romance with the raw, exposed, and unbridled feeling of a space that is just that— uncurated, unmanicured, and filthy! Tom Finkelpearl has this great essay in the exhibition catalogue for David Hammons’ 1991 retrospective Rousing the Rubble at PS1. The essay is called “On the Ideology of Dirt” and in it, Finkelpearl contextualizes Hammons’ show in relation to Manhattan’s South Street Seaport, which was being rapidly sterilized and “cleaned” in an attempt to make it a New York City tourist hub. I love this essay especially because Finkelpearl locates the transgressive and foundational history of dirt in the history of contemporary art, and suggests that Hammons’s practice— which, in some ways, was all about the possibility of dirt— is a response to such desires to cleanse, sterilize, and package grit.

I raise this piece of writing because it really allows us to think about how “clean” spaces of display are so highly racialized and often tend to be incompatible with modes of experimentation, risk, and failure— three things that are crucial to ‘time based work’ broadly and definitely performance and body-based work specifically. I’m not done with the white cube and its potential by any means, I just think a little bit of dirt does a lot of work.

Dirty or not, there might be some interesting ways to manipulate this new space and to think its limits in relation to the works presented. As someone who is not an artist, this is the most exciting part of my job— I get to wait and see how folks will work to charge that space full of meaning and anticipate its future potential.

ASM: You’ve also written about Black bodies in the space of art making being subjected to a lasting connection between Blackness and objecthood. Can we talk a little about that and whether the genre of performance also suffers from these (even unintended) valuations? There is still a sort of “consumption” at play here, and the gaze in PDX is primarily White.

SA: Yes! I love this! I know earlier I said I’m kind of a romantic, and maybe it’s because my PhD is in Performance Studies, but I have no allusions to the romantic potential of performance. Most theorists of performance are invested in its ephemerality— that quality that suggests “you have to see it to understand.” Maybe its because I’m a historian, but I just don’t buy it. For me, performance is also about a certain kind of relationship to the object broadly and the art-object more specifically.

Helen Molesworth has done some incredible work on charting the rise of performance in the 1970s and how it coincides with the rise of the service industry in an emergent neoliberal landscape. In other words, with the “disappearance” of the art object as a primary emphasis for artists (with the emergence of Process Art and what Lucy Lippard so poignantly called the “dematerialization of the art world”) coincides with outsourcing of object-based economic production and the emergence of service-based employment as a foundation for the U.S. economy. This analysis throws into crisis something like Bonnie Ora Sherk’s 1973 performance “Short Order Cook” which is framed like a piece of performance in which she works as a wage-laborer at Andy’s Donuts in SF. This dispersion of performance into the everyday, the banal, and the quotidian makes us rethink the allure of performance as merely a highly contained piece of ‘art.’

I think you’re definitely on to the consumptive prerequisite of performance, and its uneven application to non-normative or racialized bodies. There’s a quality to performance that can veer into something like event or spectacle or even entertainment. But because I don’t believe that all is lost, there’s also a potential for performance to activate something quite unknown or at least unrealized for folks— I just don’t think it’s as different as seeing a Mark Bradford painting or a Wangechi Mutu collage.

Sampada Aranke (PhD, Performance Studies) is an Assistant Professor in the History and Theory of Contemporary Art at the San Francisco Art Institute. Her research interests include performance theories of embodiment, visual culture, and black cultural and aesthetic theory. Her work has been published in Art Journal, Equid Novi: African Journalism Studies, and Trans-Scripts: An Interdisciplinary Online Journal in the Humanities and Social Sciences at UC Irvine. She’s currently working on her book manuscript entitled Death’s Futurity: The Visual Culture of Death in Black Radical Politics.

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

Interview: A.K. Burns with Jesse Hewit

I met A.K. in New York in 2012 because she was a guest artist in a work I was touring with, Turbulence: a dance about the economy. A.K. was warm, wicked smart, and thrilling for us to have in the shows, as she came from a more visual art and social practice-y vein than many of the performance-based folks who were in the show. Also, I was already a big fangirl of a project that she had made with A.L. Steiner (Community Action Center) so…it was all kinds of a pleasure. Equally great news was her inclusion in this year’s TBA Festival Visual Art program, with A Smeary Spot. I caught up with A.K. on the internets and we talked a bit of shop about the new work, about what the hell ‘queer’ means anymore, and about beef liver pate, of course.

JH: In A Smeary Spot, you seem to be making a protagonist out of place and space, which I find to be a striking strategy for somewhat de-centering humanness. There is, as you know, some great materiality/new materialism theory and thinking out there (much of it contextualized as feminist) that pushes the political necessity of getting to a post-humanist state in our thinking and acting on the world, the land, and each other. Do you consider A Smeary Spot to be a political work?

AB: All my work is constructed from and through my own political sensibilities, but I wouldn’t inherently categorize it as political art. I mean, the work does have a political agenda (although it’s abstract in its approach). And you are correct that new materialist politics are central to the making of this work.

JH: I appreciate that a lot. After all, politics are kind of maybe just the things that happen in the spaces between intention and outcome. That said, are there any potential effects of the work that you imagine?

AB: Honestly I don’t know… I can’t predict, nor do I wish to dictate the outcome or reception of my work…and I think this work is very dense, so it could take awhile for anyone to unpack it (if they so desired). I think it’s a highly entertaining ‘slow burn’ if you will, i.e: I’m ok if someone just walks away and enjoys it on a very surface level…and for others it may resonate more deeply around various issues, like resource allocation (waste vs. use value), violence or mechanisms of power and the political potential of unfixed and transitional spaces & bodies.

JH: I’m excited for the slowness of that burn. :)

Something else in your description that hits me in a strong place: You write that this work “reorients the audience within a speculative present.” When I see “speculative present,” I think of the implicit and persistent liminality of so many kinds of queerness. Do you imagine this work as inviting or necessitating a queer or queered lens for being seen and experienced? Do you feel like maybe the work itself queers the act of looking?

AB: Somewhat. Maybe I don’t know, or should I say, I don’t trust this term “queers the act of looking.” I’m skeptical of its over-use, and I wonder: what do we really mean when we ’queer’ something? Since it seems to get attached to anything that we want to mark outside the ‘norm’. In the age of Caitlyn Jenner and many aspects of cultural homo-normativity, queer and LGBT are no longer synonymous. And then I think: who is this guy ‘norm’? How do we define him? And I just don’t know if I know what norm is any more than I know what queer is. Because to me, a conservative Christian perspective is queer — as in strange, incomprehensible or not normal. It’s really only normal for a certain population. Homosexuals, feminists and liberal thinking is ‘normal’ to me. So then I wonder if ‘queer’ is a completely subjective term and all it acknowledges is a perceived difference in perspective. But I also acknowledge that patriarchy is very real, and very persistent, and that I prefer the term ‘queer’ when it is used and aligned with a particular kind of libidinal, resistant and celebratory ontology.

I digress.. Mostly to say.. I don’t know if this work ‘queers the act of looking’. Do you feel it does and why/how?

JH: I mean…I have my own ideas about the importance of changing the consumptive nature of looking at things and people, but…I guess we’ll just see how I feel after I look at the work next month. Also, I love the interrogation of the overuse of ‘queer.’ YES.

AB: What I can say is that I was interested in the idea of a ‘speculative present’ because I see the present as the most active space. The present is always becoming past and future simultaneously. At every moment it is rarely its-self— or it is always all three— past, present, future. And I believe if you want to use science fiction or surrealism to look at political potential then it should be situated in the present not the future (as it often is) because the only way to make an alternate future is to work on an alternate present. Possibly this is a very queer idea!?

JH: Frankly, I do very much think so. Re-centering the present over the future (or the past) almost implies – to me – a kind of collectivist responsibility for what is happening now, instead of an individuated concern for one’s own trajectory. In the face of current trends, I’d say that’s hella queer.

And speaking of current conditions, let’s talk about surrealism! You describe the presence of a “surreal narrative of bodies” within the work. Why do you choose to compose with surreality? What does it offer the transmission of the work, and/or what is important to you about invoking surreality?

AB: Because it’s more fun! I chose to work around the genre of science fiction because I wanted an excuse to think through the political body— which can be awfully dry at times— through an eccentric, elaborate, impossible and fantastical lens.

JH: Oooooh I so HEAR THAT. yes.

Okay, so moving away from this particular work, how does your practice feel these days? What’s hard and what is sustaining you?

AB: This project, A Smeary Spot, which is ongoing, is the first of five chapters/episodes that include drawings, sculptures, a series of publications, and a record LP I’m working on. It goes on and on, so it is both the hardest thing I’ve done because it’s so epic in scale and will likely consume me for the next decade, but also more sustaining than anything I’ve done because it continues to unfold, and I discover new things about the project as I produce it.

Because it’s so sprawling and large scale and therefore expensive (even with how DIY I work), I can only create this work as I get the resources to make it, so things are taking shape based on my resources. Like with the next episode, the Body chapter, I’m working with the New Museum, and they offered me the residency space next door. This old dilapidated Bowery building next door to the museum that they own. And so I got really fascinated by this quickly evaporating, very old-school New York kind of space, and decided that the whole chapter has to exist within that building. Hermetically sealed. And this interior/building is one of the Bodies represented in the work. The whole building, basement, stairs, bathroom, closets all parts of this Body. And before I was offered that space, I had no idea that chapter would end up taking shape around a building in NYC, especially since the whole project started in the deserts of Utah. Anyway, it continues to surprise me, and that keeps me engaged.

JH: Yeah, working within – and responding to – the conditions you’re in is super resonant for me, and I’m sure a lot of others. I hope the site specificity stays weird and generative, and it sounds like it will. Sounds like your excellent curiosity will keep it lively.

…Hey, What are you reading?

AB: The news. I’m a New York Times junkie. We are spiraling as a nation – and world-wide – in so many ways, and it’s both the best pulp (non)fiction soap opera you’ve ever read and a quagmire of a horror film, full of political intrigue. But A Smeary Spot was inspired by Karen Barad, and I’m still hacking away at her monolith of a book, Meeting the Universe Halfway.

JH: Oh, the news. Yeah. That’s a whole other bag of chips. Whoa. Chips. I want a snack. So lastly: what are your three favorite things to eat right now? (I’m a cook…this is a massive part of how I understand people and how/what they are doing.)

AB: I love food, too! Cooking and food are also so important to me. I’ve been binging on beef liver paté and pickles made by an old friend of mine, Eden Batki, who recently cooked the food for my wedding (aka the ‘yoni union’). The paté was left over, and although I generally hate paté (I consider myself a bold food person, I’ll try anything, but I’m a total wuss about paté), I’ve completely turned a corner with this homemade pleasure—-it is sweeter, thicker, and less gamey than most chicken paté I’ve tried. Also it’s summer time, so lots of sweet corn on the cob..and my morning routine, chevre and Nutella on toast.

JH: That is a really extraordinary morning routine, A.K.


Precipice Fund Project Update: Church of Film 2016

Church of Film 2016, a project by Leslie Napoles and Matthew Lucas, is a 2015 recipient of a Precipice Fund grant.

The new laptop Church of Film purchased with money from their Precipice Fund grant.

Church of Film is humming along this season with some esoteric cinematic gems to expand the minds and horizons of the greater Portland community. We’ve been packing the seats at the North Star Ballroom and the Clinton Street Theater every Wednesday (Clinton St. has “never seen crowds like these on a weekday”); continuous word of mouth extends our cult status each week. With our Precipice Fund grant money, we were able to buy a new computer and software to ensure the best quality production, removing the constant fear of total technical collapse! It’s an enormous relief to have reliable equipment and we are so grateful to be able to continue our free admission policy at the ballroom.

In May, we explored the theme of “Lost Worlds”, an often hallucinatory, soul-searching trek to the fringes or finales of civilizations and religious faith with four uniquely poetic existential examinations from Ukraine, Italy, Chile, and the Czech new wave. In June, we celebrate gay pride with the rest of this vibrant town with a program titled “Different From The Others: Gay Cinema”, screening the films Pink Narcissus, It Is Not The Homosexual Who Is Perverse But The Society In Which He Lives, Willow Springs, and Madchen In Uniform.

In the near future, we are plotting a collaboration with the Ace Hotel to wow their guests and lucky downtowners by transforming the lobby into a Night of Nico, screening two very hip experimental films by Philippe Garrel, starring Nico or Nico-related-inspired, and then we’ll create an accompanying soundtrack with Nico and her contemporaries’ music. Should be great visuals and great sounds and a cool vibe all around in the SW.

We are also planning an anniversary party (fundraiser?) for August (3 years of COF!), collaborating with Killingsworth Dynasty where we will show two magical silent films from 1917, Il Fauno and Rhapsodia Satanica, on their big screen next to a dance floor of ethereal slow-dancers swaying to the sounds of Church of Film veteran DJ Vera Rubin.

For more updates from Church of Film, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

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

Precipice Fund Project Update: NEW WORLD UNLTD

NEW WORLD UNLTD, a project by GWC, Investigators, is a 2015 recipient of a Precipice Fund grant.

The cover of NWU3

GWC, Investigators received funding to support the publication of NEW WORLD UNLTD. A biannual journal published to coincide with the northward and southward equinoxes, NWU features work by artists, writers and thinkers who delve into those realms of thought often considered science fiction: those places where technological fantasy begins to bleed into reality, where consciousness expands into the Oort cloud and language and form are pixilated, time-warped or moving faster than light. While the cost of production is still covered by GWC, Investigators, with support from the Precipice Fund we have been able to offer modest honorariums to our 2016 contributors, many of whom generate new work for publication.

The third issue of NEW WORLD UNLTD, released March 20, 2016, features contributions from Ariel Jackson (contribution pictured), Andrea Arrubla, Jen Shear, Eileen Isagon Skyers, Sydney S Kim, Tyler Dusenbury, Chase Biado, Brody Condon and Madame Ennui. A release event was held at Molasses Books in Brooklyn, New York, featuring performances by Andrea Arrubla and Lorelei Ramirez.

Ariel Jackson

The fourth Issue of NEW WORLD UNLTD will manifest Thursday, September 22. We are currently in the process of seeking out contributors and finalizing projects for publication. A celebration of the release of the fourth issue and two years of publications will be held in late September in Portland, OR, at a venue to be decided. Past issues, including NWU3, can be purchased at release events or through To stay alerted to developments of the project, keep your communicators tuned to & @GWCInvestigator.

NWU3 is available for download here

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

Precipice Fund Project Update:, a project by Ellen Lesperance and Conan Magnuson, is a 2015 recipient of a Precipice Fund grant.


Half-way into the grant year, I am happy to report that is operating very successfully. The battle-axe emblazoned sweater, which is being loaned out on-demand to people willing to do courageous acts, is totally booked through September 2016. There have been seventy participants to date; many of these people have been Portland-based, but the sweater has also been shipped out, postage-paid (thanks to Precipice), to Washington, California, Arizona, Texas, New York, Michigan, Maine and Minnesota. People have used it for scary doctor appointments, for public protests and declarations, private rituals, and many, many confirming acts of self-determination.


The project’s Instagram feed is a good place to see the participants’ images and read about their stories. The website is a good place to see images and check out the sweater yourself, but it has not yet been redesigned in a way that best displays the project. This will happen later this year when the rental of the sweater winds down.

The project will be featured in an exhibit this summer at The Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, CA. Not only will the sweater be available for check-out at that site throughout the summer, but all of the images generated by the project’s participants will be printed and displayed (and added to as the summer progresses). I am hoping that by the fall, there will be 100 images of courageous acts documented by renters and that the project——can be made into a small editioned book.

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

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

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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!
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