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Saturday, May 2, 2020

Artists Reach Out: Carolyn Hall

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

Carolyn Hall

Carolyn Hall
(photos: above, Robin Michals;
below: in Sunk Shore, photo by Emily Blumenfeld)

Carolyn Hall is a Brooklyn-based Bessie-award winning dancer/performer, historical marine ecologist, and science communications instructor. She is a freelancer for all of these and currently works/creates with Third Rail Projects, Carrie Ahern Dance, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, the American Fisheries Society, the arts and ecology collective Works on Water, and is a fellow with Sinai and Synapses. Her personal projects include Sunk Shore--an experiential shoreline walking tour of the climate-changed speculative future in partnership with Clarinda Mac Low, and Timelines Through a Fish Eye Lens--the visualization of the complicated history of New York City’s fish and fisheries. She is also on the boards of iLAND and Culture Push. She is invested in making data-rich science more understandable, embodied, and memorable through artistic and public engagement.

 Hall with Lionel Popkin (left) in Popkin's Inflatable Trio
Samantha Mohr in background
(photo: Nicola Goode)

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

Some teaching workshops and performance gigs were canceled. However, other projects are moving forward. There are ongoing conceptual plans for if and when one can be realized. Others are evolving into digital experiences such as online education or virtual participation.

The main one is Walking the Edge, a team effort with the NYC Department of City Planning, Works on Water, and Culture Push. What was going to be a 24/7 art and awareness literal marathon to walk 520 miles of New York City's shorelines is, for now, engaging artists to provide prompts or scores for the public to virtually explore “walking” to different city water edges. There will be options to actually, physically go to the shore, but only if one can do so safely with social distancing. For many, it will be a creative engagement of the mind and senses--with the actual physical journey to happen at a later date.

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

I was a competitive gymnast until I was 14. I loved flying through space, being upside down, reveling in the control and release of my body, but not the intense competition. It sapped my spirit.

A local Los Angeles dance studio became my social and physical outlet after gymnastics...jazz, modern, Hawaiian, ballet, break dancing, Broadway numbers, the Can-Can, dance clubs! Then, at Oberlin College, contact improvisation, somatics, and exposure to dance as more of an ongoing exploration, a way to process, changed my relationship to movement. Less about the goal of the piece and more about who I was creating with and what we were reacting to at the time.

The necessity of dance changed to an expressive release that balanced my bookish side and helped me grapple with what was going on in my world. This is still the case, although my physical practice has changed. Now, my focus is maintenance: yoga, pilates, improv for free movement, and scores to ground me in the where and when I am.

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

I don’t know why this is such a complicated question. Maybe it’s because I had always danced for others and truly love being an interpreter of and collaborator towards another's vision. So, for years and years, my practice was largely shaped by the focus of who I was working with. Now, I am trying to find ways to translate information about ecology, about our overwhelming and difficult-to-conceptualize issues, relationships to the environment and the history and future of those relationships into sensory conversations with others.

I’ve slowed down. I am listening and learning from others who use movement to work towards awareness and understanding. I find myself initiating more than I used to. It’s not a comfortable state for me. But new multidisciplinary explorations with visual artists, sociologists, data modelers are leading to improvisational collaborative workshops that are super-exciting and push me to find ways to use movement to encourage communication about these topics.

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

Some combination of the importance of all bodies having permission to move to process one’s own feelings and the observation and absorption of the world’s state; of the importance of acknowledging each individual as a local expert--as having crucial local knowledge relating to place and personal experience; of the importance of multiple viewpoints, multidisciplinary inclusion and collaboration; of the importance to listen to our environment and to each other; and of the importance to foster care for our environment and each other.

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

Yeah...the world we have many unknowns and so many revelations. Time is slippery and simultaneously stretches too long and goes too fast. It’s really difficult to fathom how to navigate this as a person, as a community, as a world.

Movement with or without intention--yoga, scores to open the senses and write and move, dance parties--have been survival tools for me to process and release alone or with others digitally, a connector to the quickening energy of storming and blossoming Spring and to my folks out there that I miss being with in person.

I also find the practice of valuing so many different voices is helpful right now, keeps my perspective from only spiraling inward, which I find myself doing over and over. Keeps me remembering to listen for other’s experiences, practice compassion, and see the bigger picture.

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

Self-permission to lose an hour, a day, a week. To just sit in the sun when it comes through the window. To write a page in my journal when I can. To drink warm things. To breathe.


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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