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Monday, March 30, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Kelly Bartnik

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

Kelly Bartnik

Kelly Bartnik
(photo: Maria Baranova)

Kelly Bartnik is a NY-based choreographer, performer, director, teacher and producer.  She was an original cast member of both the Boston and NY productions of Sleep No More.  She recently performed in the Immersive experiences Waking La Llorona, by Optika Moderna and The Unbrunch, created by Cinereal Productions.  She also was Movement Director for Optika Moderna’s latest project, Las Quinceañeras.  She has also had the pleasure of performing with Witness Relocation, Cora Dance, Melissa Briggs Dance, South Brooklyn Shakespeare, Woodshed Collective, Switch N Play, The Pack Theater, Cakeface and Shelter Theatre Group among others. Last spring, Kelly received an evening-length commission by Gibney for the premiere of her new work--Fuck / Love: The Poetics of Adoration.  Kelly has taught at Colby College, Queens College, Playwright’s Horizons Theater School, Emory University, Spelman College and has supervised immersive performance trainings at Meow Wolf, Santa Fe. Kelly is currently mounting a new large-scale immersive production in Atlanta called HERE{after} which is suspended momentarily.

Fuck / Love: The Poetics of Adoration,
featuring Alexandra Beller, Donna Costello,
Sara Galassini and Penelope McCourty
(photo: Maria Baranova)

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

Yes, I had been in the process of mounting a new immersive show in Atlanta with my co-director Kathleen Wessel entitled HERE{after}. That is obviously on hold indefinitely now.

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

My background is rooted in movement training, but after performing in Sleep No More for almost 3 years, I went back to get my MFA in Choreography and Visual Arts. After that I began making my own immersive work, started working with actors in movement training and generally expanded my creative and performance experiences to include a mix of theater and movement.

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

On a foundational level, over the past few years, the root of my personal practice has been presence--the practice of awareness, watching the activity of the mind, living in the present moment, etc.  It feels exponentially more potent now that so many of us are faced with being with ourselves for the first time in a long time without the distractive structure or our ‘normal’ daily lives.

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

I think as artists and creators, we are often mining our own experiences in order to understand ourselves and to ultimately have a deeper relationship with self. We ask questions, we ponder, we research, we experiment. And I think presence really is often the final piece of a puzzle that I am working on. I can ask all the questions I want, but I’ll never hear the answer if I’m not listening.

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

I’ve had a morning schedule for myself for quite some time, even prior to social distancing, that allowed at least 2-3 hours to myself to write, meditate, and do something for my body. It’s been helpful to me that I was already accustomed to that structure, because those practices are important to me. 

The interesting part I find about being quarantined in one’s own apartment (and I live alone) is being faced with your own reality that you’ve crafted for yourself without the means to live it (I’m excluding online substitutions). I’m surrounded by all of the things that identify and define me externally--my books, my art, my photos, my notebooks --but have none of the physical interactions in social environments that allow for actualization. So what does that mean relative to who I am and what I do? And I know so many artists are grappling with similar questions and finding substitutions for the moment, which I am grateful for and participating in. But I think the questions themselves are just as important, and this comes back to awareness; actually allowing myself to live in the space right after the question mark and before the first word of the next sentence. 

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

As I mentioned earlier, I do find comfort in my morning ritual that allows me to start my day focused on my mental and physical well-being. I have had days, however, where I just binge-watched Netflix without pants on. And both of those are valid. I’m trying to be compassionate with myself and my needs as they change. 

I have also been having some really amazing phone conversations with friends who I wouldn’t normally get to talk to that long or that often. That connection has helped me feel less alone through all of this, and it has been a more comforting connection than what social media tends to offer me.


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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