Sunday, March 22, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Jessie Young

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


Jessie Young


Jessie Young (photobooth, Rainbo bar, Chicago)


Jessie Young is a Brooklyn-based choreographer working in dance, performance and embodied pedagogy. Her work is grounded in a practice of corporeal self-reflection which she uses to investigate personal, familial, and fictional histories. In New York, her work has been presented by New York Live Arts, where she was a Fresh Tracks Artist-in-Residence (2017-18), Danspace Project (DraftWork), AUNTS (Mount Tremper residency), Brooklyn Studios for Dance, DåncēHøLø, Women in Motion and The Current Sessions. She has collaborated and performed with Abby Z and the New Utility, Khecari Dance Theater and The Seldoms, amongst others. She is currently collaborating as a performer with Julie Mayo, Stephanie Acosta and Isaac Pool. She has a BFA from the University of Utah and an MFA from the University of Illinois Urbana – Champaign. She is on faculty at Rutgers University, Mark Morris Dance Group and Gibney. Her forthcoming work, smoke not fog, will premiere in NYC Fall 2020.  More information at Jessie-Young.com.

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

Yes. I’m working on a solo I’m calling smoke not fog. My imagined timeline and desired future for its development is changing, its trajectory lengthening. I can feel myself laying down inside the work, closer to the ground of it, listening more intimately and tending more deeply to its divergent threads. This new reality brings my attention to my imaginative space and highlights the ways I construct myself inside of myself. It’s forcing me to reconsider the images I use to understand myself and the work I make.

Right now, time feels altered and random, and I feel altered and random inside of it. In my bedroom as I write this, I’m feeling a flood, as if my mind was a room full of water: a flood of my imagination and of the progress I’ve made in this work. The placement of things (nailed or taped or written in marker or sketched in pencil) have all been altered by the flood of this moment and the unknowability of the future. It’s an interruption of scale.

Jessie Young at Lions Jaw Performance + Dance Festival 
(photo: The Fleet)

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

So much of how I shape myself as an artist stems from impulses I had as a kid: engaging with my curiosity, testing the boundaries of my hyperactivity, wanting attention from other people. As a child I was always trying to move beyond the limits of my childhood “present,” to escape the waves of boredom or loneliness through working and playing in my imagination.

I’m told my family put me in dance classes both for the convenient childcare it provided and because I was already (always) dancing. My dance lineage is shaped by love, at least the parts I choose to remember and carry forward with me. It’s only now, in my mid-thirties, that I’m able to look back at my history and see the abundance of care and love shown by my teachers, mentors, and collaborators. In considering my own “threshold” moments, it overwhelms and concerns me to think about all that I have forgotten (necessarily) along the way, but I think that’s partly why I keep making, to honor those people and remember their lessons. I’ve been supported and emboldened to keep choosing dance by mentors, communities, and kin who support my involvement in the arts every day.

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

I’m practicing paying attention to what I pay attention to. When I’m making a particular phrase of movement, I think of my organs and viscera and I place a certain weight or light on them. When I’m dancing, I’m noticing where my breath is, registering where it’s living in my body; I’m thinking about the bottoms of my feet, feeling my tongue, the weight in my throat, the tension in my eyes. Moving into that level of detail is one way to be in attendance to, to tend to the work.

In this new reality we’re in, I’m thinking about scale. I think of my work as creating a kind of ecology, and l’ve been working with the image of an atrium or terrarium. I’m remembering my friend’s niece making these terrariums, these little planets or worlds with moss and stone and different embellishments. I envision each work as a kind of ecology with its own environment inside of it, and I work to specify the details of that world so they are ultimately visible enough to be felt at a distance. In all of this, I’m practicing an extension of my imagination.

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

I work with the images, associations, and languages that make up the ecology of my mind. Through my conjurings, I come closer to myself and the communities around me. In the imaginary space of my work, I hold other, simultaneous realities close to my own. I think of people I love who are far away and work with the geography between us. Right now, I feel the distance of time and place in a new way and I’m thinking about the new resonance of that distance in my work.

I make my work for spaces where people gather, and I care about how those gatherings happen. I care about how we tend to each other, how we listen to each other and learn and grow in one another’s love. I care to remain clear in love with my kin and sensitive to the people I meet. I care deeply about the possibilities and futures we can construct together. All of this love and this work, this is the practice.

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

In the world I’m in today, this morning with my three housemates in Kensington, my practice is to tend to our home: to light the candle, wipe down the counter, put the dishes away, play the music. This care feels necessary right now, and this community allows me to retreat to my room, with my books and my writing, and take time to reflect on how I’m functioning in this moment. All of this tending, it seems, is my making for this day.

I hope that, over time, I see new possibilities inside of this question for how I might rise to answer it. I want to keep asking it.

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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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