Thursday, September 24, 2020

Open Letter from Dance Artist/Educator Dwana A. Smallwood


 
 
Dear Bed Stuy:

The Arts in NYC are dying...

My name is Dwana Adiaha Smallwood. I was a premier dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from 1995 - 2007. I’ve been on the cover of Dance Magazine three times. I’ve been featured in Essence Magazine and I have been photographed by Annie Leibowitz for Vogue Magazine.  I was also featured and danced on The Oprah Show.

I took everything I learned over my many years as a professional and created a dance program in South Africa at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. The program was designed for girls who needed validation and opportunities to harness the power within, so they too could exceed the expectations many have of black girls around the world. With dance, I was able to create a sacred space for them; that same space that saved me from the noise of the world to help me reach my goals. 

I yearned to continue that work and to create a space for the community that saved me but almost swallowed me whole.  For Bedford-Stuyvesant (still one of the most underserved communities in Brooklyn),  I wanted so desperately to be the answer to the prayer I often heard: “I wish I had a place to grow and to feel like I can be anything, do anything.” 

So in 2013, I founded and opened the Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center in Bed Stuy Brooklyn, a state of the art facility which is a place for artistic exchange that serves to empower and mold elite dancers and artists to develop, grow and compete on the world’s stage. Today I am writing to let you know that due to the COVID - 19 pandemic, in about four months, we will have to shut our doors…. 

I worked hard to create the space politicians said they needed, parents said they wanted, and children said they had to have. I could only imagine how many more of my community members would have had better options had they had a center like mine, to help guide them and keep them safe and provide validation to their lives. It wasn't easy to build. I almost closed before we opened. Each year since, I’ve struggled to keep the doors open and continued to offer opportunities to children and the community to thrive, but COVID-19 has hit us hard like so many other small arts institutions, and what I so dreaded, may actually be a reality. All that I have worked for may not survive. 

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and have lived here my entire life. When I think about my upbringing, I think I had a childhood no different than anyone else in Bed Stuy. I had a single struggling mother mostly -- we were fatherless mostly -- and I was Black always. 

Somehow, through struggle, prayers, tears, hard work, the Creator, and the collective work of the community I was able to live my dream and travel the world. To most elite athletes, we would consider this to be a huge accomplishment; to make it out of millions dancing and training and auditioning to become one of only two elite dancers chosen that year. I was that girl; that black, bald, skinny, struggling girl who had made it past the expectations placed on all little dark-skinned black girls by the world. 

The Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center has been closed since March.  Due to NYC’s guidelines, we have not been allowed to open our doors even to rent out space. We will close for good if we don’t raise money NOW. I always wondered how something that means so much to so many and requires so little from each of us, will be allowed to die.

It would be among the greatest failures of our community if we close.

The arts have always been the answer when the healing of a nation is needed.  If and/or when this pandemic is over, the arts will be needed more than ever to replenish, refresh and rejuvenate our communities, our children, and their families.

The intention of this letter is not to ask for money (although that would be helpful and graciously accepted).  I’m asking that you help me to sound the alarm.  I have reached out to media outlets, government officials and others that I had hoped could help and some have, but in the world of fast news cycles, this message has been lost; not just for my organization but for many others like mine.

Please pass this onto ANYONE you know or think can help get this message out to the media (social, news, arts, entertainment...whatever). Any help you can offer will be appreciated.

The collective healing of our nation is going to need the ARTS. Dance is My Oxygen!
 
 
Sincerely,

Dwana A. Smallwood
Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center, Inc.
dwanasmallwoodpac.org
(718) 443 - 9800



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DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve, at Gibney, as Senior Director of Artist Development and Curation and Editorial Director. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

******

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Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Laurel Lawson

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody


Laurel Lawson



In a rehearsal moment for Wired, Laurel is suspended in midair.
She looks joyfully to the right of the frame,
her hands extended below from pushing off the ground,
body diagonal to the gray marley floor.
A black cord at her waist leads upward and loops
of barbed wire are visible in the foreground.
(Photo: Grace Kathryn Landefeld, courtesy of Jacob’s Pillow)

Dancer, choreographer, and engineer, Laurel Lawson found that dance combines her lifelong loves of athleticism and art.  Featuring liminality, synthesistic myth, and partnering, her work includes both traditional choreography and novel processes for extending and creating art through technology and design.

Laurel began her professional dance career with Full Radius Dance in 2004 and is part of the disabled artists’ collective Kinetic Light, where in addition to choreographic collaboration and performance she contributes costume design and leads technical innovation, including the Audimance project, a revolutionary app centering non-visual audiences, and the Access ALLways initiative. Beyond dance, Laurel is an advocate and organizer, musician, skates for the USA Women’s Sled Hockey team, and leads CyCore Systems, a technology consultancy specializing in novel problems.

Laurel Lawson is a 2019-20 Dance/USA Artist Fellow.  Dance/USA Fellowships to Artists is made possible with generous funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.



In a moment from Wired, two dancers in wheelchairs
(Alice Sheppard, a light-skinned Black woman and Laurel Lawson, a white woman)
reach for each other while suspended above the ground by tethers.
The skin of their backs and arms is exposed and their faces overlap intimately.
If they let go of each other, the tethers will swing them like pendulums.
(Photo: Mengwen Cao)


Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

I am a dancer, choreographer, and engineer; a member of Kinetic Light, a leading disability arts ensemble; a member of Full Radius Dance; and an independent choreographer, artist, and educator.

In January, my 2020 calendar was fully booked, mostly on the road, with the next two years filling up quickly. In fact, I arranged to give up my lease at the beginning of March since I would be away from home most of the year. I moved a few bags of what I would need for residencies and touring to Kinetic Light’s New York City rehearsal hub and the rest went into storage with only a few necessities for short stays going into the house my partner and I are gutting and renovating to rehabilitate it and make it accessible.

Instead, with incredible foreshadowing, I began the year with a tour cancellation in Hong Kong, briefly visited Vancouver for as a member of the USA Women’s Sled Hockey Team, visited Kirkland the day their nursing home outbreak was announced and then went to NYC for a showing. I left NYC one day before Gibney closed--thinking I would immediately return, my dance chair and most of my rehearsal gear is still there, five months later. We are lucky to have been able to move into the un-renovated house--very much not accessible, but temporarily habitable. I have a few pieces of shower board taped up over the uneven floor in one room to make an impromptu video studio for taking class, teaching, and filming.

Five months later, and it begins to sink in. The original premiere date at the Shed for Kinetic Light’s new work WIRED has come and gone. Many of the touring dates for that work and for DESCENT may never be rescheduled, depending on how large venues fare and when people can return to indoor environments. My artistic life exists in brief flashes of video--instead of intensive day-long partnering and rehearsal; instead of choreographing for commissions; instead of the day to day of touring.

While I am happy to be able to make some work, I do not relish the technical aspects of producing film. I am grateful to be able to work with funders for program-building and to create necessary and innovative software and products, but my body is not made for  administration and constant long days at my computer. And I cannot help but grieve the commissions lost, very much at the beginning of my choreographic career.

Likewise, in this shifting time: I do not, cannot, resent my work as an activist, as a community organizer, in this time. I absolutely can resent the need for it. I am furious as all the people and all the systems found they could change and shift massively, people still made choices to exclude disabled people; even as it becomes easier to provide access, as the necessity of change makes space for the change, people are making choices to deny access and promote exclusion. No longer shielded by the excuses of convenience or cost, it is revealed as we always knew it to be--bigotry and lack of care. Nonetheless, I am beginning or continuing several major projects, accessible software, accessible community and teaching practice; and perhaps when we are no longer in crisis I can even get to some of the (many) writing projects I’ve needed to backburner.

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

My professional work in the arts began in music. I was diverted from attending conservatory by sudden and severe repetitive stress injury; I successfully made the transition from classical music to folk and jazz and made part of my income gigging in college, also picking up theatrical tech & design along the way. Before grad school, I took a gap year and fell by chance (while working a physical acting job) into my first modern dance class with Douglas Scott of Full Radius Dance, who later invited me into his company.

As a dancer, I strive to remain grounded in the meeting of athleticism, precision, and storytelling. As a choreographer I make work that tells stories through ensemble, physicality, and partnering; liminal space, often structured with synthesistic mythology: old stories from a new angle. And as a designer and artist-engineer, my practice encompasses the fusion of technology and traditional work, creating entirely new ways of experiencing art.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning? How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

My practice is built on the synergy of collaboration and the exposure of deep stories. While I cannot, in this moment, practice in the way I would prefer, the purpose remains. I am working to understand how I can connect the diversity of my areas of practice to create new things and to extend the things I already do. In addition to what people might immediately think of as dance, as art: I am practicing the understanding of how people are influenced by systems and environments. Art is neither immune nor somehow above the still-rising tides of surveillance and covert manipulation; art is itself a means of communication and influence. So my work in exposing those aspects in tech, in art; my work in inviting people to think about community, about ethics, about equity: these take practice, work, commitment, time, and support.

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

This is a time not of rest, but of building infrastructure--work that is traditionally undervalued in the dance world. Creating new systems, teaching, organizing. Not being a prophet, I am waiting to find out what world, what society, will emerge from this time--as well as working to bring about a society that shares my values. And moreover how the shifts that we can see happening, long overdue, will affect the arts: what does sustainability and justice look like? As remote work becomes normalized, how does that resonate outwards into geographic and economic equity? We are a vital and deeply interdependent part of the ecosystem.

Briefly share one self-care tip that has special meaning to you now.

I am now practicing: Patience. Care. Struggling to stay present with both the passage of time and work which might not be my preference but is nonetheless both important and urgent.

******

DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve, at Gibney, as Senior Director of Artist Development and Curation and Editorial Director. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

******

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Saturday, August 15, 2020

There once was a union maid, she never was afraid



There once was a union maid/she never was afraid." -- Woody Guthrie

I just ran across my National Writers Union press pass from the 1990s. No publication I ever wrote for as a dance critic issued me a press pass which might have been useful for any number of things.

******

DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve, at Gibney, as Senior Director of Artist Development and Curation and Editorial Director. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

******

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Before we begin tonight's program...


Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group
in Wilson's ...they stood shaking while others began to shout
Danspace Project in St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery
(photo: Ian Douglas)


Before we begin tonight’s program...


by Eva Yaa Asantewaa


Hello. My name is Eva Yaa Asantewaa (she/her/hers), and I am a non-disabled, medium-dark-skinned Black cis queer woman writer and editor and curator and counselor and mentor and atheist spiritualist mage of African-Caribbean immigrant heritage and of a certain age. I am certain that age, at this time of reckoning, is nearly 68--now just over fifteen days away. I have almost no hair, having clipped it off, nearly to the scalp, several times during this barber-less pandemic shelter-in-place, and I’m wearing a light layer of drugstore lotion and matte black eyeliner and mascara and a little bit of eyebrow pencil in a dark, greyish brown. I miss wearing dangly earrings and glossy red-brown lipstick; neither pair well with surgical masks. I am coming to you, remotely, from the light clutter of my snug and cave-like home office and also wearing an olive-green t-shirt with an image of Snoopy from Peanuts on it. The shirt is really old, a hand-me-down—maybe I should say “hand-me-over”—from my wife who had cut off the sleeves and neckband and overlapped and sewn the shoulders to make the armholes more fitted and the shirt a bit smaller across the chest, and her stitches are tiny and even. Hello. My name. Snoopy is seated in front of a bulky old computer monitor and surrounded by bits of text from the early days of the Internet (like "alt.schulz" and "FTP sites"), and the two of us--Snoopy and I--are greeting you from unceded and, in fact, stolen Lenni Lenape land just a stone’s throw away from St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery which, like a lot of things on stolen indigenous land, was built and maintained by the labor of African ancestors and where, during services held by the biblical god’s own goodly Christians, these ancestors were relegated to the balcony. I’ve sat up there. In the balcony. No, not back in the day. Though, maybe yes, if you believe in reincarnation. Which I actually think I don’t. But, no. More recently. I’ve watched Ni’Ja Whitson and their dancers from up there, through the posts of the balcony’s railing, as they performed Oba Qween Baba King Baba below for a preview audience of LGBTQIA+ folx like me. I looked down, watching a universe erupt across the warmth of a broad wooden floor. I’ve sat below and looked up, past the railing to watch Reggie Wilson’s troupe dance a passage of ...they stood shaking while others began to shout near stained-glass windows. Woman of African-Caribbean immigrant heritage. Hello. St. Mark’s Church. Among other things. Is a danspace. A constellation of spaces for the arts flickers around here in lower Mannahatta island, with star-spaces in any direction you look--walkable, if you are walking, flyable if you are a crow or a jay, though pigeons and mourning doves seem to rule the territory now. I miss the crows. I miss the jeering jays. I no longer see them or hear their corvid harshness near the trees of St. Mark’s. I am certain of my age and that, someday, I will miss the pigeons and the mourning doves, too. I am certain. This local, time-limited self I have been given pleases me. Like Audre Lorde, I treasure each identity even as I know I am a vast, capacious, timeless spiritual being having a human experience. The specificity of that human experience is the craft. That specificity is the key for the lock. The unique key for any lock, so many locks. What then, hello, if we all think of our bodies as conjurations of the Mighty Dead? So different, then...Hello. My name is...from that idea of reincarnation. Hello...I am...here, in this time, a unique key, turning in so many locks in this time of locks. Before we begin tonight’s program, I want to give an acknowledgement, acknowledging the jays I used to hear and their parental vigilance, and the red-tailed hawks who now hunt Tompkins Square Park and their august strength. I want to acknowledge the grief we humans cause and the grief we carry. I want to acknowledge that pain lives quietly, or not so quietly, inside nearly everything we make and do and, for some of us, it is the lightning bolt and jolt and juice carrying us through to the end of days. I want to acknowledge that breath is work. Hard and worthy work. At this time of reckoning.

(c)2020, Eva Yaa Asantewaa


******

DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve, at Gibney, as Senior Director of Artist Development and Curation and Editorial Director. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

******

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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Jacqueline Green

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody


Jacqueline Green


Jacqueline Green
(photo: Andrew Eccles)


Jacqueline Green (Baltimore, MD) began her dance training at the age of 13 at the prestigious Baltimore School for the Arts. She is a 2011 cum laude graduate of the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program under the direction of Denise Jefferson. During that time she also received training at the Pennsylvania Regional Ballet, the Chautauqua Institution for Dance, and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. In her career, she has performed works by a wide range of choreographers, including Wayne McGregor, Jiří Kylián, Elisa Monte, Ronald K. Brown, and Kyle Abraham. In 2016, she performed as a guest artist with The Royal Ballet. Ms. Green is a 2018 Bessie nominee for sustained achievement with the Company, a 2014 Dance Fellowship recipient of the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, a 2015 Clive Barnes Award nominee, a 2009 recipient of the Martha Hill Fund’s Young Professional Award, and a 2010 recipient of the Dizzy Feet Foundation Scholarship. In 2018, she performed on BET’s Black Girls Rock, honoring Judith Jamison. Ms. Green is also a two time New York Times featured artist. She was a member of Ailey II in 2010 and joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2011, where she is currently a principal dancer.

Jacqueline Green on Instagram @jagreen711


Jacqueline Green
(photo: NYC Dance Project)


Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

I have several projects whose progress was affected by the pandemic.

My domestic tour with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was cancelled. My wedding was planned for January 2021 and has had to be postponed. Aside from various birthday celebrations for the older to new members of my family

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

My mother is the reason for my getting involved in the arts in this professional capacity. She found an arts high school in my hometown, Baltimore, that was great academically, and that ending up being the catalyst for me applying and auditioning for the dance department in the school. She choose dance simply because I was flexible and a bit dramatic. It is definitely not something I would have picked for myself at that time, but I am so glad for her guidance because it is my passion and how I feel I live in my purpose.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?

I practice becoming the best overall artist in the field of dance that I can possible be. That includes learning to execute multiple dance styles, being a role model for those who look like me who may not have been exposed to Blacks in dance, and passing down the information I know as an artist to those who are also aspiring artists in the field of dance.

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

I care about representation. My life, and the life of my family, has changed drastically simply because I was exposed to a Black woman who was glorified in the dance world. I hadn’t seen the possibility of being a professional dancer as a Black girl from Baltimore until I saw it with my eyes. Dance has exposed me to things that no one in my family would have or has experienced. That dancer is Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell, and she is still a mentor of mine.

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

Dance has the ability to speak to many different types of people without verbal communication. I travel to many different countries and dance in front of people from many different backgrounds, social economic statuses, races, genders, languages, and they all have similar experiences to the pieces of art observed. That tells me that art, and my craft in dance specifically, has a way of uniting all types of people. If we can all relate to something, we can a agree on how the world should be.

Briefly share one self-care tip that has special meaning to you now.

I work hard, so I like to do things to pamper my physical body to counter the intensity of my training. I get deep tissue body massages, cryotherapy, go floating, etc. I try all the new rehabilitations that major artists and athletes use.

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DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve, at Gibney, as Senior Director of Artist Development and Curation and Editorial Director. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

******

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Thursday, July 9, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Michael Maag

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody


Michael Maag



Michael Maag, a white man,
smiles at the camera with twinkling eyes.
He has white/blond hair with an impressive long beard,
glasses and a light complexion.
(photo: Jenny Graham)

Alice Sheppard, Laurel Lawson, and Michael Maag
sit side by side in their chairs, on gray marley and lit by stage lighting.
Alice is a light skinned Black woman with short curly hair,
Laurel is a white woman with very short silver hair,
and Michael is a white man with long blonde hair
and a flowing white/blonde beard.
They are wearing casual and rehearsal clothing,
and all three are grinning at someone in the audience.
(photo: Chris Cameron/MANCC)


Michael Maag is the video, projection, and lighting designer for Kinetic Light, a project-based ensemble working at the intersections of disability, dance, design, identity, and technology. Maag designs at the intersection of lighting, video, and projection for theater, dance, musicals, opera, and planetariums across the United States. He sculpts with light and shadow to create lighting environments that tell a story, believing that lighting in support of the performance is the key to unlocking our audience’s emotions. Maag has built custom optics for projections in theaters, museums and planetariums; he also designs and builds electronics and lighting for costumes and scenery.

As a wheelchair user, Maag is passionate about bringing the perspective of a disabled artist to technical theater and design. He is currently the Resident Lighting Designer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. His designs have been seen on the Festival’s stages for the last 20 years, as well as at Arena Stage, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Florida Studio Theatre, and the Henry Hudson Planetary, Albany.



Alice Sheppard, a light-skinned Black woman,
and Laurel Lawson, a white woman, are both in their wheelchairs
with a vibrant multicolor sunset in the background.
Alice is crawling on her forearms with her knees in Laurel's footplate,
and Laurel is arching her back on the ground as she is dragged along the floor.
Alice is exerting effort, and Laurel is in surrender.
(photo: M A N C C / Chris Cameron)

Laurel Lawson, a white woman, is flying in the air
with arms spread wide, wheels spinning,
and supported by Alice Sheppard.
Alice, a light-skinned Black woman,
is lifting from the ground below.
Behind them appear a dark blue sky and mountainscape;
figures appear in the key, bursting with light.
(photo: Jay Newman/BRITT Festival)


Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

Yes. Like everyone in the entertainment industry, it seems like my work, my art, my life is on hold. I am a member of the project-based disability arts ensemble Kinetic Light and our residency work on a new piece, Wired, has been postponed as have the performance dates at The Shed, though some development and design work has continued remotely. Our piece DESCENT was supposed to perform in Hong Kong in February, and our US dates have been postponed. My work as the Resident Lighting Designer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is on pause, as is my mentoring practice with the FAIR Program.

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

The Theater enticed me into the arts at a young age, and I became a Lighting Designer when I discovered that light communicates emotion directly to the subconscious of the audience. This happened the first time I touched a Lighting Control Panel. At that time, those were enormous panels of levers often labeled with the color of the gel in the lights. I had a dream that night in which the levers were labeled with the emotions the light conveyed. I have been living that dream ever since. My practice is to use light to tell the story, and to immerse the audience (all of them) in the emotional journey.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?

My practice is collaborative and inclusive. I work with choreographers, directors, scenic and costume designers to create meaningful art. As a disabled artist, I am particularly interested in working from a disabled perspective, with a focus on access. To me, this means two things: to create accessible work for the disabled community that speaks to and reflects their experience, and to welcome the able-bodied into our environment.

At Kinetic Light, we work at the intersection of disability, race and gender. The horrific ongoing systemic racism in this country must end. We must interrogate the origin, meaning and reasons for the societal contracts we have made or have been forced onto us. Those societal contracts that no longer serve must be dismantled. We can come up with a better way to run a “free” society than one that uses principles like democracy and capitalism to perpetuate injustice. It is our job as artists to provide vision, hope and guidance for our society. Most importantly, we must act in an anti-racist, anti-ableist, anti-sexist manner throughout our process.

I envision art that helps our society realize our failures to others and ourselves. I envision art that heals. I envision art that shines.

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

I am on a journey, someplace on the road to an inclusive, fair and just practice. In that way I feel like I am in alignment with my dreams. I also feel like I am personally at the bottom of a steep hill and need to keep pushing my wheels up the road to completely inhabit the world I want to see.

My work as a mentor continues with many young lighting designers out in the world. I am embarking on a new fellowship through Kinetic Light to mentor a disabled lighting designer. Even in these pandemic times, we can connect and collaborate.

My practice includes continual learning. I am never bored. There is always something to learn about, or something to be better at.

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

By remotely collaborating, creating and even lighting from a distance, my art is becoming enhanced by better communication skills. At Kinetic Light, we managed to pull off one virtual, remote dance concert by “dancing in place” (you can view that event, hosted by the Rubin Foundation, on their website) and have another scheduled in July. I am spending time learning new tools and creating a library of visuals for Wired. So in a way it is not all that dissimilar to how I normally work; just a lot less time in Technical Rehearsals.

Briefly share one self-care tip that has special meaning to you now.

I’ve been meditating about the meaning of the Japanese word ma and its relevance now. The word means something like space, gap or interval. But, more deeply, it is an awareness of place, a concentration of vision between form and non-form. Here we are in the shadows between structured time. Without these shadows, there can be no awareness of light. Which I guess is a long way of saying pause, create ma, and meditate on something meaningful to you.

******

DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve, at Gibney, as Senior Director of Artist Development and Curation and Editorial Director. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

******

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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Gabrielle Civil

Dear friends,

Welcome to Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation. I dreamed this series of interviews out of grief for my work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance. In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.

But there's no distancing around what we still can share with one another--our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.

So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I'm glad they're part of our beautiful community, and I'm eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.

--Eva Yaa Asantewaa, InfiniteBody



Gabrielle Civil



Gabrielle Civil in
Experiments in Joy
(photo: Dennie Eagleson)



Gabrielle Civil is a Black feminist performance artist, poet, and writer, originally from Detroit MI. She has premiered fifty original performance art works around the world including in Puerto Rico, The Gambia, Ghana, Canada, Zimbabwe, and Mexico where she lived as a Fulbright Fellow. She is the author of the performance memoirs Swallow the Fish (2017) and Experiments in Joy (2019) and was lead contributor to Experiments in Joy: a Workbook (2019). A 2019 Rema Hort Mann LA Emerging Artist, she teaches creative writing and critical studies at the California Institute of the Arts. The aim of her work is to open up space.


Gabrielle Civil
(photos: above, Fungai Machirori. Below: Starr Rien)



Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?

The project of living has been affected by the pandemic. The project of teaching, breathing, being, and being connected to loved ones. The project of keeping time. It’s been almost three months since these questions arrived, and I can’t believe how long it has taken me to respond--except that everything takes longer now. Things feel both sped up and slowed down. In my house, I swim through pools of time: dog paddling or trying to hold off a crashing wave but sometimes floating in memory or hope. Lately, I’ve been riding the swell of the Mississippi River from the headwinds of Minnesota all the way down to the crumbling confederate shores....

Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.

Maybe it was reciting a speech for MLK Day at church as a kid in a pink velveteen suit with a hat. Or poring over the “Sugar Plum Tree” in Childcraft Vol. 1 Poems & Rhymes (which I still have on my shelf). Or hearing my mother recite "Dreams" (Hold fast to dreams....) by Langston Hughes while she cooked in the kitchen. I’m not sure, but I know that literature, art, and performance have always been juicy to me.

In college, I trained as a poet. And I loved readings and open mics and slams and spoken word events but after a while, I grew restless.... I craved new cadences, new ways to circulate language in space. Despite my limited performance background--I had never seriously danced or acted on stage--I craved activating my body. In my book Swallow the Fish, I talk about turning to performance art as a way to make a different kind of poem, as a way to embody poetry itself. I move from figures of speech to figures of the body and back. That’s still the heart of my practice today.

In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?

Right now, I am practicing performance / writing. My new book, the déjà vu, is about experiential echoes and Black feminist double vision. It’s due at the end of the year, so I’m practicing imagining, crafting and believing in my wild ideas! I’m practicing dreaming and trying to show up for a new, better world that might crack through this time. I’m practicing preparing.

I’ve got a rad performance residency at Automata in LA later this summer where I’ll activate the idea of living objects. In the fall, I’ll actually teach a class with this title on Black material culture, so this embodied exploration will be key. I’m practicing serious patience. I’m writing this half way through a 14-day self-quarantine in Michigan. Once I’m done, I’ll get to see my parents in Detroit and I will hug human beings for the first time in months! I am envisioning that hug with my entire body!

How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?

I love reading writing teaching performing art-making listening learning connecting Black people body hugging books poetry archives liberation and joy. My practice and visioning are about all of those....

How does your practice function within the world we have now?

It’s got to go deeper. The dual moment of pandemic and uprising is unprecedented and foretold. Creativity and imagination are the way forward—plus a lot of bravery. Hold fast, slow down and transform.

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DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve, at Gibney, as Senior Director of Artist Development and Curation and Editorial Director. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

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