WAYS OF SAYING GOODBYE, Judy Hussie-Taylor
April 21, 2020
It is bittersweet to post Lydia Bell’s 2019 essay “Ways of Gathering” as she prepares to leave Danspace Project on April 30th. This was a decision she made some time ago, well before the quarantine and our decision, on March 12th, to shut down many of the Danspace Project spring programs.
Lydia has been a valued colleague, co-conspirator in curatorial practice, and most importantly, a friend. She is an elegant thinker who is laser-focused, steadfast, and empathic. Lydia has made important contributions to Danspace including her impeccable and thoughtful editing and managing of our catalogues. Five years ago, she became Program Director/Associate Curator. She has brought intelligence, methodical planning, deep listening, and grace to her work in that role. She has guided our commissioned artists through their productions with sensitivity and responsiveness.
With Eiko Otake and me, Lydia co-curated the epic Platform 2016: A Body in Places which received a special Bessie’s citation. Lydia and I scouted many sites around the East Village for Eiko to perform in: a tiny bookstore, a boutique, a restaurant kitchen, a private home on 4th Street, a senior center. We experimented with many new programming formats, including a 24-hour vigil on the 5th anniversary of the Fukushima tragedy. During the Platform, Lydia curated a powerful evening with DonChristian and Shin Otake. We witnessed the ways the Platform offered new forms of gathering which felt relevant to address the challenges of our time.
Eiko’s Platform was followed by Platform 2016: Lost and Found, which focused on the impact that HIV/AIDS has had on the experimental dance and performance scene, curated by Ishmael Houston-Jones and Will Rawls. Again, another powerful community formed as we worked with Ish, Will, Jaime Shearn Coan, and many others to create the 6-week Platform, which offered profound collective rituals for grief, kin, and care. That was followed by Platform 2018: Dancing Platform Praying Grounds: Blackness, Churches and Downtown Dance, curated by Reggie Wilson investigating the history of the St. Mark’s Church through the lens of blackness, dance, religion, and the history of the church. Lydia, Reggie, and I laughed and cried in equal measure for a couple of years.
It’s hard to articulate the bonds that we’ve all formed through the difficulties and joys of this work.
In January, 2020 Lydia brilliantly curated Phase Transition, an installation, performance, and book project with Aki Sasamoto that stands as a shining example of how a multidisciplinary artist can inhabit our iconic space. Over the years we have also had many conversations about how to connect artists outside of the Platform context. In 2018 Lydia proposed to curate a “mini-Platform.” The premise was that two artists, Jasmine Hearn and Tatyana Tenenbaum (and eventually Samita Sinha and Tendayi Kuumba) would receive an extended creative residency after their commissioned premieres. This was a new model for us. This became collective terrain/s and eventually the artists Lydia worked intimately with for over a year were invited to be part of a Danspace research group centered on voice and body practices in 2019-2020.
Also in 2018, I had begun working with Okwui Okpokwasili to curate Platform 2020: Utterances From The Chorus. In spring, 2019 we brought Seta Morton onto our curatorial team as Danspace’s first Assistant Curator for Public Engagement. As a curatorial team of four, our intention was to experiment with new ways to be together and think together over extended periods of time. How might this way of working open up new possibilities to share artistic practices with the public? How can these different modalities of organizing intersect while at the same time leave room for creative autonomy? How can we hold contradictions, harmonies, and dissonance? It has been truly heartbreaking to see our years of collective work abruptly suspended by the pandemic.
I can’t believe that we won’t be hugging Lydia goodbye in a big huddle in the church sanctuary. I am so grateful for all she has given to me and to the larger Danspace Project community. I have no doubt she will continue to make important contributions to the field. Please enjoy her beautiful essay and send her a hug through the ether.