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Friday, April 3, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Ashley R.T. Yergens

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

Ashley R.T. Yergens

Ashley R.T. Yergens
(photo: Fred Attenborough)

Ashley R.T. Yergens is a byproduct of growing up on tater tots and WWE SmackDown. He was a 2016 boo-koo artist-in-residence at Gibney and a 2016-17 Fresh Tracks Artist at New York Live Arts and is currently a Live Feed resident. Please text him your favorite emoji combination at (507) 412-1381.

Ashley R.T. Yergens
(photos: Fred Attenborough)

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

Yes, I was scheduled to show an in-process showing of CU*T C*NTEMPORARY on Friday, March 13 in the New York Live Arts studios. I thought this showing date was a good omen. However, as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded, New York Live Arts  and I decided to cancel the event on this ominous date. I’m partially bummed. I’m mostly relieved. Total theater is important to me. It’s hard to accomplish spectacle in a studio. Now, surprises get to remain surprises until the final production.

For those who are curious, CU*T C*NTEMPORARY is a destination wedding where queer nationalism joins American assimilation of trans bodies in holy matrimony. CU*T C*NTEMPORARY utilizes trans-regurgitated contemporary dances, costumed gay characters, and queer baiting soundtracks to create something akin to a queer tourist (thirst?) trap. The world premiere of this work will be part of New York Live Arts’ 2020-2021 Season.

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

I grew up launching myself off of ladders and playsets in my backyard to Queen's and Journey’s greatest hits. I didn’t realize this could be dancing until I was 18 years old watching Louise Lecavalier perform in La La La Human Steps’ Human Sex in the confinement of my St. Olaf dormitory, and I’ve been chasing dance ever since.

While I no longer launch myself off of physical ladders or aspire to move like Louise Lecavalier, I think about these moments often. The freneticism I connected to as a kid and as a young adult unlocks me over and over again.

Recently, I’ve turned to an alter ego of mine named Peg. She’s the child of Ryan Trecartin and Cindy Sherman. She has the permission to clang without pathological consequence. She’s a suburban Midwestern dance mom. She only knows the bare minimum, and she's the prodigy where high brow meets the low brow.

As Peg, I practice seeing and naming popular culture without actually knowing it. For example, Peg believes Instagram is a place where people instantly become grandmas. She thinks everyone has hired an elite cleaning company called Spotify to eradicate COVID-19 from their homes. She’s heard of trans people who are like real life Transformers saving the world.

To me, Peg embodies the dialectical tension between the real and the illusory that people struggle within their pursuit of meaning, and Peg’s campy, illegible gender expression and outward display of ridiculousness mediate the gravity of living in a body marked trans.

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

I’m envisioning a world where the “good trans/non-binary person” politic is put to rest. A politic that becomes more and more clear with every new ad that targets queer consumers (double entendre: queer people who consume and non-queer people who consume queerness). Who and what is erased by queer respectability politics? Who benefits the most when we become walking queer tourist attractions? It’s a small world after all.

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

I no longer want to be held hostage by time and fear of missing out. I’m allowing myself to wait up until 24 hours to respond to non-emergency texts. For non-urgent e-mails, I typically don’t respond until two or three days have passed. My jaw has softened. The words I actually want to say travel to me with ease. I know how to say “no” to people and places that don’t serve me. I know how to say “yes” to the people and places I want and need to serve.


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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