Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Anh Vo

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

Ahn Vo

Ahn Vo selfie
Ahn Vo performs in their work-in-progress BABYLIFT,
New York Live Arts' Fresh Tracks 2019
(Photography by Maria Baranova)

Anh Vo is a Vietnamese choreographer, dancer, theorist, and activist. They create dances and produce texts about pornography and queer relations, about being and form, about identity and abstraction, about history and its colonial reality. Their next evening-length solo, BABYLIFT, will be premiered in Brooklyn Fall 2020. More information at anhqvo.com

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


All of my projects are up in the air right now with the waves of postponements and cancellations coming in, and I feel okay about it. I am mostly sad about the closure of studio spaces, but I’m trying to adapt as much as I can. Right now, I spend a significant amount of time writing songs for the rap/music project non-binary pussy, which is a very new and exciting process for me.

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

Artistically, I was a late bloomer: I found dancing through the club when I was 17. The club was my first queer haven, allowing me to be in touch with my body, to be unapologetic with my pleasure, to surrender my individual self to the rhythm of music and the intimacy of collectivity.

The desire to find a daytime equivalence to the nightclub led me to dance formally when I came to the US to study at Brown. My initial plan was to major in History, focusing on the Cold War as a way to confront the traumatic wake of the Vietnam War. I also had this naive dream of returning to Vietnam and overthrowing the authoritarian Communist government. I cannot explain why I decided to pursue dancing professionally instead, though this early obsession with history and revolution is very much present in my artistic practice as well as my writing.

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

I am practicing being aware of the many histories that I inherit and how they live through my body. If Western ideology gives me the illusion that history can be transformed and transcended, I try my best to listen to the historic recurrences and stay within their messiness. I do not fantasize about the post-colonial—rather, I ask questions about how my body has been colonized and how my being reproduces the insidious colonial logic.

The world I envision would not be powered by the imperative to progress forward but by the desire for revolution and reparation—it’s not a coincidence that the etymology of revolution refers to the motion of rolling back. I don’t think a revolution has to mean big, sweeping changes. I’m much more invested in small revolutions that happen among interpersonal relationships. For me, the erotic or the pornographic emerges as a productive yet often overlooked site to experiment with revolutionary ways of being.

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

I deeply care about relationships. Relationships here can mean structures and feelings we develop for people, objects, or things. I want to not only build communities that support marginalized experiences, but to also account for and tend to the relationships that we’ve been fucking up. History is full of those fucked-ups that we are bound to repeat, and at the same time, it is full of unfinished social experiments that give us clues into how we can better relate to one another.

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

It is difficult to imagine alternative modes of relationship in this extreme time of social distancing. I’m a bit skeptical to explore virtual ways of coming together. Not that I have anything against digital technologies, but I think there’s a capitalist imperative to connect with one another at all costs. So right now, I try to not do anything productive and only maintain a virtual presence when I have to work for money.

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

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