In 1967, amidst uprisings by the globally dispossessed, Barthes proposed the Death of the Author, and creators have since been playing with radical ejection from and ambiguous presence within new work. The notion of collective collapse in performance is another utterance in this dialectic between an un-apparent or irrelevant author-body and the intentional negation of the body’s mechanics and composure (straight lines, length, elevation). And in the half-century since Barthes – since so many revolutions, neo-liberalism, hip hop, social media, disenchantment with a black president – the idea of a negated author has collided with the idea of a negative work, and produced a theory of descent (a “poetics of failure”). This Blog Salon aims to push that developing theoretical canon. What’s it mean to fall [in love] with your friends? How’s it feel to fall alone? Who has more practice in which kind of fall? And which is the most talked about?
The contributors to this Blog Salon on Collectivity and Collapse play with death as a kind of fall: the end of stamina, the aging of the body, the death of the human. There also runs through these pieces an interrogation into how the presence of the collective undoes the creator and vice versa. How is the multi-ethnic duet both an expansion and a loss of one’s self? How is the shared impetus towards a militant queer front complicated by the author’s presence? And of course what would a Blog Salon on collapse be without a righteous challenge to Judith Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure?
Perhaps there is no better time to be critically engaging with these issues. On the heels of eight years of collective gains made by brown folk, youth, queers, and the working class, we find ourselves in a position that might be familiar to Barthes. The U.S. came frighteningly close this November to swearing in a new commander-in-chief without any information about his economic plan or donor base, and with an abundance of evidence of his neo-Darwinian logic in regards to political minorities and the disenfranchised. The hopefulness of a decentralized revolution in Southwest Asia/Northwest Africa has quickly transmutated into the complex and devastating violence that continues to erode (and reconstitute) Syrian life. And while environmentalist efforts have grown increasingly strategic since COP15, We are in the midst of a frankenstorm of cultural, political, and collective failures – even while so many of us are leaping toward once-foreign alliances and new ways of working together. This moment, then, may be our most perfect opportunity to review how we intend to cope post-collapse and, as Ibarra details in her , what we know of our ability to endure.
Now. Before you go exploring: two notes.
1. While the contributors to this Blog Salon inhabit an array of practices – from installation to dance to curatorial to a mix and more – it’s worth noting that all are people of color. We were interested in hearing from people who are most likely to live close to the realm of collapse, and with whom we are more likely to feel some affinity as we navigate the turbulence of collective stumbling. For those reasons, Ernesto and I looked to our friends and family of color to fill these pages.
2. A salon is a gathering of the minds, and that includes yours. Whatever you find on these pages that leaves you angry, enchanted, disturbed – respond.
Keep the dialogue going: we are all authors here.
Anna Martine Whitehead
[box]ANNA MARTINE WHITEHEAD – Since uncannily repeating her grandmother’s gesture of emerging from the Virginia woods, Martine has preoccupied herself by writing zines, playing in bands, curating performances, instigating street actions, and flailing about. She has presented at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco; LA Contemporary Exhibits (LACE) in LA; The Bronx Museum; galleri bob in Gothenburg, Sweden; and various backyards across North America. She has collaborated on projects led by Jefferson Pinder (Juke, 2007); Violeta Luna and Guillermo Gomez-Pena (Corpo/Ilicito, 2009); and Keith Hennessy (Turbulence, 2011, 2012), to name names. She now lives in Los Angeles, where she is experimenting with free fall. To learn more visit Anna online at annamartine.com [/box]
The THEOFFCENTER Blog Salon Series – The concept behind these virtual salons is simple. We enlist the time and intention of 10 to 12 artists who, after receiving a prompt, are asked to produce a piece of writing. These writings then get published in rapid succession (2 a day for one week), during which time we engage with the larger community and encourage their participation in the conversation via written comments. By creating this virtual dialogue we hope to document a more grounded and richer critique of the subject at hand and our relationship to it.
Our lives (as artists, queers, and queer artists of color), historically defined by precarity, are less stable in this election cycle/fiscal year/crop season than ever before. As we find ourselves growing older and deeper in debt, deeper in our practice, deeper in drama, deeper in love and in sorrow, it may be imperative for us to distinguish the difference between an independent virtuous leap and a messy and shameful fall. To ease up on searching for the valor in always trying, and instead to consider “the political value to be found in strategies of coping and recovery [and] the continuation after the disaster.” (Bailes 2011). Because there is continuation. That is, perhaps, most important of all.
This blog salon is about coming together and collapsing. The details are open to contributors’ interpretation; collapse as a gesture, as a metaphor, as evidence of failure, as (dis)organization. Falling down as an operative of disintegration.
There are meta thoughts here, as well: How do you see the shared fall as a [queer] part of your practice? Is there anything especially queer about being together in the collapse? Is the performative turn toward failure as generative pedagogy representative of a larger collective instability? What does it mean to be a non-white body breaking down? Or are you so done with all of this talk of failure (and why can’t we just make something triumphant and leave it alone)? Perhaps a companion to these questions is the insistence on a queer aesthetic that continues to privilege pleasure and magic. And where in our mutually supported topple is the pleasure and the magic?
I’m asking you to run with this prompt. Gather friends to run with you. And if you trip over it, let us know where that leaves you – was inertia enough to keep you going, or did you find something new to explore from the ground? That’s all I really want to know.
Love and struggle,
Jai Arun Ravine – Fail or Fall
Jefferson Pinder – Extremely Basic
Mona G Hawd – Join the Queer Militia
Praba Pilar – Malfunctions and Degenerations: An interview with Sarlar
Xandra Ibarra – Stuck With This
Amara Tabor-Smith – On Losing Hope and Falling Together
Nina Haft – Finding Midline
Taisha Paggett – vestibular mantra (or radical virtuosities for a brave new dance)
Eboni Senai – Outro/Sumary
[box]Taisha Paggett – Taisha Paggett makes things and is interested in what bodies do. she believes language is tricky, thoughts are powerful, and that people are most beautiful when looking up. her work for the stage, gallery and public sphere include individual and collaborative investigations into questions of the body, agency and the phenomenology of race, and has been presented locally, nationally and internationally. she’s been a Guest Lecturer at the Dance Center of Columbia College in Chicago since 2010. in addition to her group choreography and solo durational works, she has worked collaboratively, toured with and made significant creative contributions to the projects of Meg Wolfe, Victoria Marks, David Roussève, Cid Pearlman, Cheng-Chieh Yu, Baker-Tarpaga Projects, Kelly Nipper and Rebecca Alson-Milkman. Paggett is a former member of Ultra-red and maintains an ongoing collaborative project with visual artist Ashley Hunt, “On movement, thought and politics,” which has taken form as workshop, performance, video and mixed media installation. she holds an MFA from UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance and is a co-instigator of itch dance journal. taishapaggett.net [/box]
[box]Xandra Ibarra – Xandra Ibarra is an Oakland-based performance artist, ecdysiast and community organizer from the El Paso/Juarez border that performs under the alias of La Chica Boom. La Chica Boom is a neo-burlesque project that Xandra began in 2002 to performatively question sexual/racial representation, queer formations, and compulsory whiteness. www.lachicaboom.com [/box]
[box]Amara Tabor-Smith– San Francisco Native/ Oakland resident/artivist/dancer/choreographer. She has performed with choreographers and theater artists such as Ed Mock, Joanna Haigood, Ronald K. Brown, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Anna Deveare Smith, Liz Lerman, Adia Tamar Whitaker, Aya de Leon, Anne Bluethenthal and Jacinta Vlach. For 10 years she was a performing member and Associate Artistic director of the Urban Bush Women dance co. in NYC. Amara is the Founder and Artistic director of Deep Waters Dance Theater and co artistic director of Headmistress, an ongoing collaboration project with dancer Sherwood Chen. She is currently on faculty in the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies at UC Berkeley. www.deepwatersdance.com [/box]
[box]Praba Pilar – Bay-Area/Colombian multi-disciplinary artist Praba Pilar traverses the intersections of art and technology with satire and analysis. Best known for work merging Paul Virilio and Cantinflas, her arterventionist/performalogic work has traveled nanometrically, biomorphically and intranationally to museums, galleries, universities, all kinds of national and international arterventionist/ performalogic spaces, and honored with multiple awards, from the Creative Capital to the Hawaii Fluxus Award. http://www.prabapilar.com [/box]
[box] Jefferson Pinder – Jefferson Pinder’swork has been featured in numerous group shows including exhibitions at The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Zacheta National Gallery in Warsaw, Poland. Although he considers his work to have a regional style and flavor, he stresses the universality of his themes and travels around the globe to seek inspiration. Pinder has spent time in Dakar, Mexico City, Khartoum and Hanoi working on projects that deal with race, identity and social mobility. Mr. Pinder’s work was featured at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery exhibition “Recognize”. Currently he is showing new work in the traveling exhibition “After 1968″, which originated at the High Museum in Atlanta. In the Spring of 2012 his performance piece ‘Ben-Hur’ was featured at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Pinder is represented by G-Fine Art Gallery in Washington, DC and Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco.
Jefferson Pinder, a Chicago based video/performance artist, seeks to find black identity through the most dynamic circumstances. His experimental videos and films feature minimal performances that reference music videos and physical theatre. Pinder’s work provides personal and social commentary in accessible and familiar format. Inspired by soundtracks, Pinder utilizes hypnotic popular music and surreal performances to underscore themes dealing with blackness. Jefferson received his BA in Theatre from the University of Maryland, and studied at the Asolo Theatre Conservatory in Sarasota, FL. In 2000, Jefferson returned to the University of Maryland to receive his MFA in Mixed Media. Pinder was an Assistant Professor of theory, performance and foundations at the University of Maryland, College Park Art Department from 2003-2011. Currently he is an Associate Professor in the Contemporary Practices department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. jeffersonpinder.com [/box]
[box]Nina Otis Haft – Nina Haft is Artistic Director of Nina Haft & Company, a Bay Area-based ensemble known for cultural commentary and site-specific performance since 2000. Nina’s work in new jewish performance has been profiled in Dance Magazine and received support from the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Margaret Jenkins’ Dance Company, Conney Project on Jewish Arts (UW-Madison), Purdue University, the California Arts Council and numerous private and public arts foundations. Nina Haft & Company is also known for the Dance in Unexpected Places Series, including performances in dockyards, synagogues, parking lots, libraries, train stations, bars, government buildings and historic Mountain View Cemetery. Nina has presented her work locally at WestWave Dance Festival, Dance IS Festival, the East Bay Dance Festival, Raw & Uncut/The Garage, Bay Area Dance Series, the Lesbian and Gay Dance Festival, and at numerous other venues. Nina Haft & Co. has performed nationally and internationally, including appearances in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Portland, Madison, Chicago, New York, Amman, Ramallah, Jerusalem and D’heisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. Nina teaches at Cal State University East Bay and at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, where NH&Co. is in residence. ninahaftandcompany.wordpress.com [/box]
[box]Maryam Farnaz Rostami – Maryam Farnaz Rostami is a San Francisco based contemporary performance artist and drag queen from Texas. Her work deals with the complexities of the modern condition through the lens of the child of model minorities. Mona G. Hawd, Maryam’s drag/nightlife persona, uses lipsync, movement, narrative, dance and an exaggerated high femme medium to question ownership of images in our culture. Her most recent theater piece, PERSIAN LOOKING, explores the notion of righteous modern female rage. maryamrostami.com [/box]
[box]JAI ARUN RAVINE – Jai Arun Ravine is a text-based artist working in video, movement and performance. They are the author of AND THEN ENTWINE (Tinfish Press, 2011) and a staff writer for Lantern Review. http://jaiarunravine.wordpress.com/
As director of see.think.dance, Eboni Senai Hawkins has been responsible for connecting urban performance-makers with resources that reach past traditional staging platforms. From curated interactive performance programming for culture workers to expanded artist dialogues in private kitchens and living rooms, see.think.dance has been instrumental in rethinking what art can do where in the Bay Area and beyond. We’re pleased to include Eboni’s critical reading in this Blog Salon.