Jesse Hewit – Seriously…you guys.


I like people, feelings, and not talking. Ultimately, I’ve studied each of these things with fervor, and the intersections therein have led me to where I am. I’m gay and feel very complicated things about homosocializing institutions, about pleasure and bodies/my body, and I generally trust my physicalizations far more than my thoughts or words. I think that these “likes” are also at the root of why I moved to the bay area, why I decided that my art work needed to be made, why I left academia, why I treat people the way I do, and why I worry about the things I worry about. If I parse out what historiographical influences have really socked me upside the head, I’d report things like:

feeling weird about how certain friends from more upper class backgrounds showed irritation and disgust toward homeless folks, while I was attending NYU entirely on scholarhsips and loans;

wrapping my screaming fist around someone else’s cock for the first time;

studying dance and performance with folks like Steve Wangh, Raina Von Waldenberg, Karen Finley, Wendell Beavers, and Mary Overlie…all of which gave me skills, but who also made me realize that somehow I had everything I needed, to be full up and generative for the rest of my life;

living in another 1st world country that has an education system and a pervasive sociopolitical discourse that allowed me, for the first time, to look in on U.S. foreign policies with the clarity and horror that EVERYONE ELSE IN WORLD sees…but folks here kind of don’t;

completing a graduate program in Human Sexuality and Ethnic Studies that both taught me to listen and respect others, and also called on me to become disembodied and dishonest about my own biopolitics, creativity, and impulses;

learning to spit out the socialization that I acquired in graduate school was also a pretty pivotal moment;

accepting art-making as my home;

learning that no one can afford to resent their lives;

getting older;

…I guess the list goes on. No shocker there.

I was born to parents who paid a pretty good amount of attention to who I seemed to be becoming, and they engaged me on that level. This is, and has always been, an utter privilege. Trying to unpack how it has impacted my development as an artist would be like trying to trace how my height affects the first impression people get of me: too varied a task, too complicated, too thick. Sociologically-explainable stories of people are only so interesting anyway.

Basically, I make what institutions and taxonomists call contemporary art because I am white, self-interested, living in the United States, come from a kind and sturdy middle-class family, and certain things have happened to me in my life that involved allotted time for screaming, observing, clapping, crying, genitals, rivers, racisms, colleges and loads and loads of time to think about it all.

I’m only as humble and generous as I need to be, and I take up as much space as people let me take up. I am both thrilled about myself and desperately over myself. I also think that kindness is terribly important. There’s nothing more to say about that.

This moment in the bay area is significant because people are playing with telling the truth. Artists are complicating previously radical notions of violence,  definitions of damage and boundaries, assumptions and acts of appropriation, and feelings of peace. We are trying anything and everything, and while the character of our general approaches can feel trite or simple at times, the scores are being executed with full frontal energy, and above all: persistent curiosity. No politic is safe. No form is sacred. Everything is to be eaten and thrown up, and it’s producing frictions and questions and images that have a nice and startling throb to them. It’s a good place to working right now.


For me, queer is just a way to get clear with others about what I’m not. If I take on queer, and the person that I’m talking to knows anything about what that means, then hopefully they won’t make some fucking stupid transphobic comment in my presence. They maybe won’t as readily make weird assumptions about us both understanding something because we’re “guys.” If they’re white, they’ll maybe even be hip to the notion that smart faggots arent as openly racist as stupid faggots, and quell their urge to “act ghetto” around me. These are all things that someone might check themselves on a little bit if they know that I’m queer-identified. For me, queer is kind of a getthefuckawayfromme tactic. I don’t so much identify within it, because that doesn’t feel useful to me, but I use it to establish what I won’t put up with so that I can pay attention to the people that I care about and get my work done. I think it residualy does create community and drives some good artistic and political momentum, but I don’t directly rely on it for this.

I think that queer manifests itself in performance by yielding work that challenges signifiers and assumptions of meaning. Like, queer work could be work where crying doesn’t necessarily signify sadness, nudity doesn’t necessarily signify vulnerability, or violence doesn’t necessarily signify danger or negativity. Queer work might change an accepted or assumed sequence of events, it might be very typical and ask the viewer to decipher what its value is, or it might show seemingly very little happening, and then insist that, in fact, drastic shifts are taking place. Queer work may be stubborn and revel in that. It may be awful to watch, and decide that that is an ultimately important experience. It may suck and demand too much from its audience and claim that irreconcilable disparity as its perfect beauty. My favorite kind of queer work is work that avoids meaning-making all together. I think that the sickness of the world is decisions about what things mean, so I’m always up for liminal experiences that model possibilities of fluidity and contradiction as resistance to meaning-making.

LOCAL artists/work that I’m paying attention to and/or have been into:

Iu-Hui Chua – a very pretty woman slowly making very ugly faces and very contorted body shapes and holding them (she is a butoh artist, among other mediums) to tell stories of shitty and debilitating heartbreak, miscarriage, and normalized racist narratives on Asian bodies. Her solo work and work with Ledoh, both this past year, were scary/stunning/strong/surprising.

Minna Harri – a sexy and forty-something Finnish mother who uses unfashionably precious  and simple movement to make stunning landscapes of bodies, mature machines and organisms made of limbs, and ultimately fragile systems of physical capability that feel essential and earthy. Her snippets of TOXIC have me really excited about the full evening’s upcoming premiere. She also communicates in a way that knocks me off balance…which I love.

Anna Whitehead – her work makes it okay to say racist shit, then smacks you for it, explains why it’s not okay, strokes your face, tricks you into saying it again, and then smacks you harder. Eventually, you learn something. I like that Anna is forthcoming about her curiosities, from love letters between secret faggots in the colonial period, to collapses of mixed race folks with unidentifiable animals.

Mica Sigourney/VivvyAnnE ForeverMORE – Contemporary drag work that contradicts itself completely with a TOTAL insistence on rigor and craft AND a TOTAL insistence on irreverence and slop. Wait…is that even a contradiction, or is it just PERFECT? Not sure…but she’s on fire. She also curates alot so that you have no excuse for missing the nightlife-meets-arthouse rampage she’s on.

Laura Arrington (watching her work makes me feel embarrassed and giddy…this is good), Keith Hennessy (nothing like really good compositional structures), Katie Faulkner (the woman just knows how to make choreography), Amara Tabor Smith (says what needs to be said and does it so that you feel actually nourished and not scolded), Annie Danger (I’ve never left an Annie Danger piece in any other state but STUNNED and TOUCHED), Brontez Purnell (his dance work knows how to physically fucking CELEBRATE queer), Kat Galasso (her visual ideas for bodies in space are chillingly gorgeous at times), Evan Johnson (his pure performance chops made me weep for Jeffrey Dahmer), Lil Miss Hot Mess (so so so human in her kind of hurts), Tessa Wills (she’s got the details down and she asking the big questions). Also just a fucking plethora of brilliant others who are usual suspects, makers, and performers who I interact with regularly and who get plenty of general cred for their greatness and consistency in the community. This list is just some sparks off the top of my head.


Jesse Hewit is a choreographer working primarily in San Francisco, and the leader of Strong Behavior, an ongoing performance project and company. Additionally, he curates and facilitates original performance and discussion through Dancer’s Group, CounterPULSE, and the National Queer Arts Festival. In the past year, besides working with his extraordinary company, Jesse has collaborated on original work with Erika Chong Shuch, Catherine Galasso, Sara Kraft, Travis Mathews, and Keith Hennessy, and was the recipient of the 2010 GOLDIE award for performance. He holds a BFA from Tisch’s Experimental Theater Wing (NYU) and an MA in Sexuality Studies from SFSU. To learn more, go to, and come see Dog, premiering at Z Space in December of 2011.


  1. “I was born to parents who paid a pretty good amount of attention to who I seemed to be becoming, and they engaged me on that level. This is, and has always been, an utter privilege.”

    Word! Double Word! Fucking WORD!

    1. You’re the geratest! JMHO

      [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  2. So….I was chatting with my friend, fellow artist Minna Harri, about this post. And She brought to my attention the way that i profiled her as a “sexy and forty-something Finnish mother”, and i wanna speak to that for a sec.
    First of all, I’ll say that i unapologetically speak about these artists from my OWN points of fascination about them. I have transparently always been curious about Minna for many reasons. One of them is because of how I imagine that her life as a mother interacts with the kind of work that she makes. I think alot about parenthood, what it was like to be in my twenties, what its like to now be in my thirties, and what it will be like to be in my forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, and hopefully eighties and whatever else i can get. For these reasons, I have valued particularly Minna’s perspective…perhaps more than I might value the perspective of someone with out kids and/or my own age. This may be an act full of misplaced assumptions and ageism and sexism, but….I won’t disown it.
    And yet, I feel that I have turned in on some of my own personal politics here. I dont think its appropriate for me to mention Minna in terms of her age when i dont mention the ages of others. It shows my self centric lens and suggests that i think everyone in the queer arts world is between the ages of 25 and 35. which i do not think, of course. Also, i think it presents that i am assuming somekind of automatic connect between Minna’s motherhood and her work, which there may or may not be. That’s Minna’s story to tell…not mine.
    So to my rad artist friend Minna and to others whom i may have rubbed the wrong way: sorry.

    1. I had never realized how much like Sarah Palin I can be made to look.

      Jokes aside, this doesn’t feel even interesting any more: how a woman becomes defined by sex, motherhood and some pre-mystified life stages. This is surely a trite discussion for people defining/discussing queerness: a fresh, even radical term just coming out of subcultures to a wider usage. Still, it is very real to me. I do identify as a woman, and this encounter, and many others, are the reactions to my existence that are happening, have happened.

      I was planning to be a reader of these blogs, a learner, a listener. Now Jesse nudged me into writing. Since we are talking about identity I choose to write.

      (Here’s a funny clip:

      Check your stereotypes, they are worth nothing.

      I believe Jesse when he says my motherhood and the age he gives me are positive attributes to him, while so often they are not for an artist. I feel honored that Jesse talks warmly of my choreography.

      I claim the right to define myself – and define again and again and again. Often it is not given to me, but next time I claim it again. I give this right to you (and I struggle sometimes). Give this to me.

      I identify as fluid, as possible, as free, with multiple identities.
      I define myself largely through making art.
      (Don’t get me wrong, I like Finland (mostly), sex, being a mother, and life.)
      I might stay up at night wondering if my work is radical enough, rigorous enough, beautiful enough or ugly enough, changes things enough. The answer is always no. But ultimately I have faith in it.

      With this attitude and these ambitions I have mostly felt at home in this community, or some of these part-communities. It seems to be a cluster of overlapping communities rather than one big family. Another thing in perpetual motion.

      1. It’s funny: I sometimes use Minna’s work as a measure/test of whether a usage of the term “queer performance” works. As in, “I know in my heart that Minna’s performance is ‘queer performance,’ so would this current usage include Minna’s work? Because if it doesn’t, then it goes against what I believe to be true about queerness,” and thus, “a usage of ‘queer’ that would exclude Minna’s work is incorrect as far as I can see.”

        There are also opposite tests I sometimes find myself performing, i.e. “performance x is certainly NOT queer.”

        Anyway, I instinctively performed the Minna-test on Jesse’s “I think that queer manifests itself in performance by yielding work that challenges signifiers and assumptions of meaning” and it came up positive. Superpositive. I really, really like that sentence as a jumping-off point for settling what queer performance *is* (rather than what it’s *not*, which, given that its definition is inherently oppositional, is difficult to do). That whole final paragraph, Jess, is a lovely thing.

        “I think that the sickness of the world is decisions about what things mean…” …I think you need to reconsider that decision.

  3. Yes, especially to this:
    “I think that queer manifests itself in performance by yielding work that challenges signifiers and assumptions of meaning.”

    A few of us were on this panel some weeks ago after a performance by Anne Bluethenthal Dance where someone made the statement I’ve been thinking about that a bunch because I’m really interested in what IS queer. Queer is the new WHAT? Is it actually just critical postmodernity? or liminality? or being uncomfortable and causing discomfort? Is it the new BEINGNESS, actually, because so many young people grown up on mid 90s to the oughts TV and post-911 reactionary politics and internet-fueled globalism and so forth – we are mostly these things I’ve listed above. We’re hyper critical, we’re all spaced out all over the place, we feel hella awkward cos we never learned to socialize properly, and so forth. So is Queer just the new Beingness?

    But then I think you bring up a good point here, Jesse. Like, maybe actually QUEER is the thing that POINTS to that beingness – not directly but by providing foils and options.

    blablablaI love getting theoretical at 2am on the internet.

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