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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Joanna Furnans

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

Joanna Furnans

Joanna Furnans
Doing Fine at The Yard
(photo: Sally Cohn)

Joanna Furnans is an independent dance artist based in Chicago. Her work has been supported by a MANCC Forward Dialogues Laboratory, an Offshore Creation Residency at the Yard, an Institutional Incubator Sponsorship at High Concept Labs, a Chicago Dancemaker’s Forum Lab Artist Award, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), the Chicago Dancers’ Fund, the Chicago Moving Company, Links Hall, and the Walker Art Center’s Choreographer’s Evening. Furnans is certified Pilates Mat instructor and a freelance dance writer. She is the co-founder and managing editor of the Performance Response Journal.

Joanna Furnans
Doing Fine at High Concept Labs
(photo: Gonzalo Guzman)

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

Yeah, back in February, I built a new piece with students at Columbia College that was supposed to premiere in their Spring Concert. I’m pretty bummed about that, because I love what we made! The fourteen dancers in the piece did an incredible job in the creative process and are super-talented young artists. I was really looking forward to seeing it on stage.

I’m also missing rehearsals right now for a new collaborative duet that is supposed to premiere in November. We’ll see what ends up happening with that.

Lastly, I was in the midst of organizing a DIY tour of my evening-length solo Doing Fine for the fall of 2020, but a chunk of funding for that fell through. Plus, I’m not sure how we will proceed with performances going forward. So, I’m thinking the tour will need to be postponed or maybe cancelled altogether.

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

I was put into ballet class at the age of 5 or so. I wasn’t great at it but I paid very close attention to the instructions and the rules and the sequence of choreography. It’s a family joke that I was the “first ash out of the fireplace” in my small, suburban studio’s rendition of Cinderella. I guess I was the most serious 5 year-old in my class so the teacher knew I could lead all the other “ashes” to their places on stage.

But I dropped ballet when we moved to a new town, and I began taking jazz instead. A couple years later I added tap, then wove ballet back in, and eventually I was exposed to modern dance at the Hartford Conservatory in Connecticut. That was a game changer because I was a big theater kid too; I loved drama. I was always looking for a way to combine my love of drama with my love of dance but musical theater was definitely not the answer.

One late night early in high school I was mindlessly flipping through TV channels and I came across some kind of performance on an obscure public access channel. It was dance, but it was complicated and layered and used text and projection and there were a ton of different body-types! I was transfixed. I thought, “This is it. This is exactly what I want to do.” I’ve never been able to track down exactly what it was that I saw, but I have a feeling it was the Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane company.

Now I make dances, I dance in dances, I write about dances, and I advocate for independent dance artists.

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

I’m trying to envision a better life for myself and for all of us in this field; our old systems weren’t working, we’ve known this. As terrible as this pandemic is, society seems to be handing us time to resist and re-imagine.

It shouldn’t have taken a global crisis to really wake me up.
I want a life with less economic pressure, more time, more fresh air, and more reflection. Before this happened, I was working almost 70 hours a week between five different jobs, and I could still barely come up with the health insurance money my wife (who is a visual artist) and I needed. It was a nightmare. I refuse to go back to the way it was.

So as the unemployment rolls in, I am practicing making pancakes. I’m practicing exercise by walking with masks and gloves six miles to our studio every other day. I’m practicing getting out of my own head by reaching out to others. I’m practicing being a studio assistant for my wife’s latest installation; cutting and measuring copper wires and detaching magnets. I’m practicing reconnecting with old friends and reading about global policies. I’m practicing sleep. I’m practicing Pilates and a tiny bit of Qi gong.

Every now and then I’ll get the urge to dance, so I’ll throw on some music and have at it. It generally lasts about fifteen minutes and usually sustains me for a week.

I don’t know, maybe I’m more of a thinking choreographer, a mind’s-eye maker, a moving image designer, a weaver of conceptual textures. Whatever is going on, I trust that it is research. And, quite frankly, I could care less about production right now.

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

It feels almost impossible to consider what I “most care about.” Unfortunately, it is both too broad and too specific for me to focus on right now. In this time of crisis I toggle between caring about all people and the health and well-being of our societies and caring about almost nothing but my immediate life. I can go from altruism to solipsism in a matter of hours. It’s not cute.

But hey, I think the practices I just described are relatively aligned with that.

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

It functions within and because of its confines.

Crap. Isn’t that how it has always functioned?

Just when I thought I was trying to resist and re-imagine....


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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