Posts tagged writing
Posts tagged writing
This dance review was originally published in the Brooklyn Rail
1. The soft internal organs of the body, especially those contained within the abdominal and thoracic cavities.
2. The intestines.
Juliana May’s newest work, Commentary = not thing is pure viscera. Guts. It is an exercise in the literal guts of the human body, the metaphoric guts of a choreographic process, and finally, “the guts” it takes to do what she and her dancers do in this piece. Observers might feel moved. Transformed. Nauseated and strangely aroused. Gutted. Her work registers at low-lying longitudes where innards and entrails reside. It all spills out and nothing is left imagined.
Commentary = not thing, which premiered in February at New York Live Arts, is a gutsy regression into the primal, pre-conscious human body; a visceral journey whereby the base functions and impulses of the body are mapped in space. These are bodies before “appropriate” social conditionings. Bodies before “right” or “wrong.” Bodies beyond reproach and repression. Beyond shame. Beyond guilt. These are bodies uncensored. May’s choreography reads like a non-linear stream of corporeal consciousness. It’s a discursive swirling of irrational physical gestures, beyond thought. These are bodies that feel the contours of Self and Other without the intellect to complicate or mitigate the experience. Dominant notions of thinking Self quickly dissipate and are replaced with the form and function of the feeling body.
In her work, May employs these feeling bodies to populate and create what she calls a “postmodern aesthetic-ritual.” Specifically, in Commentary = not thing, she says she is most interested in “language and the naked body and how abstraction can distort and frame meaning.” To this end, she directs her dancers to manipulate their own internal/external organs and to publically experiment with their correlating feelings of self-consciousness. These bodies are curious. Excessive. Exposed. Uncontained and leaking out into what May terms, “incredibly close encounters.” In this way, Commentary = not thing is both an innocent and violent exploration—one that reveals human desire as being absolutely lawless.
Lawlessness rules as May closely examines the “ins and outs” of the body and “the psychological systems” that control these kinds of internal shifts. She returns to the earliest phases of human development to investigate our most basic drives. Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychosexual development put forth a template for what he deemed “normal” human development, starting at birth. Between birth and one and a half years, infants experience what he termed “the oral stage.” The oral stage is marked by experiences of pleasure and aggression through the mouth orifice. May’s dancers (Benjamin Asriel, Kayvon Pourazar, and Maggie Thom) explore this orality throughout the piece by sucking in their own breath, and by savoring words and utterances. Orality is characterized by the need for instant gratification. May’s dancers never stop moving or hungering or touching. They are in search of something to fill an unknown, yet unyielding need.
Next is what Freud called “the anal stage,” which unfolds from ages one and a half to three years old. This is known as a time of gaining internal control and achieving a sense of autonomy over one’s own body. This is also the time of testing the boundaries of emerging Self and Other. In this dance, themes of anality are evident in these boundary testings and repetitions—holding on and letting go. Pushing and pulling. And again.
Next is the phallic stage whereby the child begins to have sexual and romantic fantasies. This is an exploratory phase of pleasure and pain and desire. The performers become preoccupied with the genitals and arousal becomes a possibility. What will be the plight of three?
Commentary = not thing inhabits the spaces of these three, initial developmental moments. Three adult bodies make a brave return to something buried, deep within us all. It is a return to something that perhaps we have no memory of in our own selves. It is a return to the material of Self before the Self is known on its own, individuated terms. It is a return to an infantile cauldron of sensorial chaos.
In addition to testing the limits of the body, May’s process is also testing the limits of the public sphere. She charts an exploration into urges, impulses, and feelings that are unacceptable to the conscious mind and to the public domain. These are the private, even secret aspects of having a Self. But May lets it all hang out, rendering Commentary = not thing with no thick skin or armoring to defend against social inquisition and judgment. Rather, the piece asks us all to push through our own moments of shame to reach some kind of energetic, ecstatic climax. It is an unforgettable development.
by Cassie Peterson
What is the Price of Inequality?
This piece was originally published as part of New York Live Arts Context Notes.
This month, artists, Keith Hennessy/Circo Zero and Commons Choir/Daria Faïn & Robert Kocik are each premiering performances that ask this very question. These movement artists are invested in exploring the effects of our enduring economic crisis and the problematic ideologies that have caused it. Both Hennessy and Faïn demonstrate a commitment to engaging with current social conditions, using their platforms as artists as a way to contemplate, critique, and heal our collective wounds.
Hennessy’s Turbulence and Faïn’s E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E feature collectivity, collaboration, and the social body by utilizing huge, unwieldy casts to represent the magnitude and power of the populace and to counteract the effects of insidious individualism, privatization, and alienation. Both performances are heavily process-oriented and experiment with what happens when you bring a mass of people into a studio and set a kind of collective intentionality. These performances strive to call attention to the ways that economics live inside of our bodies and are embedded in our relationships. They strive for a togetherness that transcends our prescriptively limited ways of knowing one another, which is often dictated by capitalistic, market-driven, transactional exchanges.
Thematically, the shows are very similar, but the results of their investigations manifest very differently. Turbulence feels like a rowdy, ecstatic ritual that is busting at the seams with dissident energy and discontent. Hennessy uses ‘queer’ resistance and love as his vehicle for this dissidence. In this frame, queer operates as an act. A strategy. A practice. A disruption to business-as-usual. Queer both blurs and challenges normative assumptions about the world and our place(s) in it. E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E is a more contemplative, spiritual ritual with a slow building of an energetic “common” space. Faïn uses this notion of “the commons” as an antidote to rugged individualism and works to create a new human architecture that questions our current ways of being in the world.
Both performances challenge dominant modes of production, thinking, being, and living. Hennessy’s is a public protest. Faïn’s is a deep mourning. What transpires in each performance is a kind of ritualistic transformation. An exorcism. A creation of alternative space and time. Each is a reparative gesture and an offering; a much needed social experiment and salve.
- Cassie Peterson
I Could Never Make it as a “Real” Art Critic
A Critical Intervention By Cassie Peterson
The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things… Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.
– From Oscar Wilde’s, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”
I could never make it as a “real” art critic because I don’t pretend to possess the certainty or gumption required to distill a piece of art and then somehow, “objectively,” attach value to it. I could never in good conscience, determine the worth of a piece or proclaim something simply “good” or “bad.” So much art criticism tries to convince us that the writer is operating from some kind of neutral or expert position and that art can be reduced or understood as one thing; and that as such, it has some kind of inherent value or (non)value. Through this process of commodification, the work is reduced, reified, and objectified, whereby emphasis is rendered solely on product and not on process or method. It closes a tight lid on an artist’s investigations and intentions.
But the performing arts pose some difficulty to this process in that they are intrinsically body-based, durational and ephemeral and thus resist the typical, material bounds of an art object and the traditional economies of becoming known to the viewer. In this way, performance is already radically out of bounds, existing as its own alternative economy that explores and expresses value via other (more interesting) means. Therefore, I believe that performance writing and criticism should mimic and honor this alterity. I believe in a dialogic method of writing “with” art as opposed to writing “about” it. It is far more worthwhile to ask what a work is trying to do, rather than imagining what it hasn’t done.
I believe in a performing arts discourse that offers its subject a generous and sophisticated frame, not by imposing narratives or metaphors per say, but rather by finding a way to offer multiple entry points into abstraction and kinesthesia. I believe in criticism that diligently explores the idiosyncratic and internal logic of a piece rather than judging it based on pre-determined, external expectations. Critics should write alongside the work in a collaborative effort to create something new, both in content and process. Criticism should not just exist as some cheap, descriptive or explanatory effort to document that which cannot be documented, but should rather be a creative and generative venture unto itself.
“Art” is not an isolated domain; it is an integral part of the sociopolitical terrain from which it arises. Therefore, I am interested in and excited by criticism that works to locate and contextualize performance within contemporary social discourses and frameworks. It should work to contextualize private artistic gestures inside of public discourses. I am interested in criticism that understands Aesthetic practice as Political practice. Artistic process as Social process.
I am inspired by criticism that reads like rigorous love letters to the form(s) it is exploring. I believe a critic’s role is to start a conversation, be part of a dialogue, offer a perspective, and help make work legible through text, whilst creating something entirely new in the process. Be curious. Be generous. Be moved.
BUT, WHAT IS QUEER ART?
A Paradoxical Manifesto by Cassie Peterson
Please read my newest thought piece on what makes queer art. This essay was written to help contextualize the Queer New York International Arts Festival (June 7th-15th at Abrons Arts Center) and was originally published on the online, performing arts site, Culturebot.
Similarly, queer art is a kind of embodiment that challenges dominant modes of production, reproduction, and representation. Against essentialism and in favor of multiplicity in meaning, queer art aims to subvert traditional forms, genres, aesthetics, and structures. Queer art plays in the space of unreason. It is experimental. It is provocative. Suspicious. Queer art celebrates the failure to adhere to normative expectations and is pleased with itself as a conscious and exquisite transgression. The artists in this festival accept and employ this constellation of principles to make queer work.