Dear Audience, Are You Listening? An Introduction (Excerpt) by Judy Hussie-Taylor
May 5, 2022
The artists featured in Danspace Project’s Platform 2021: The Dream of the Audience (Part I)— Eiko Otake, Joan Jonas, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Reggie Wilson, Okwui Okpokwasili and Peter Born are established artists with long histories of working at Danspace. They were invited to create films in Danspace’s iconic space at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. All were filmed without a live audience, thus capturing the austerity and hermeticism of the moment. They serve as haunting reminders of the (pre-vaccine) early days of the pandemic, as well as of artistic resilience in difficult times.
For the following iteration, Platform 2022: The Dream of the Audience (Part II), we invited artists, mayfield brooks, Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener, iele paloumpis, and Ogemdi Ude to mark Danspace’s historic return to live performances (and live audiences) in the sanctuary of St. Mark’s. I have been intrigued by how these artists have engaged with work and life practices before and during the pandemic—doula-ing, embroidering, gardening, composting, cooking, and carpentry. How might these practices inform their dancemaking now?
I conceived of the Platforms in 2008 as “exhibitions that unfold over time” to provide portals into choreographies, histories, and artistic practices. As the late Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor once noted, “The aim of curating is not to be a tastemaker but to produce knowledge not just of art but of the world in which it is made.” I’ve had Enwezor’s words scribbled in an old notebook and have often cited his seminal Documenta 11 exhibition as an inspiration for the collaborative curatorial approach of the Platform series. I haven’t been able to find the exact source of that quote however, I want to share another, from an obituary for Enwezor written by Ghanian British architect David Adjaye: “Okwui once said that ‘an exhibition is something that happens within the world—and carries with it the noise, pollution, dust, and decay that comes from that world’.” Danspace’s approach to producing knowledge around the worlds in which dance and art are made includes a process of open-ended and collaborative inquiry. Working in curatorial teams, we spend years asking questions, not expecting to arrive at “the truth” or “the answer.” We follow lines of inquiry and threads of thought to shed light on ideas and processes, unearth forgotten histories, and imagine speculative possibilities for all the world’s past, present and futures, through and beyond dance.
Live performance is a singular experience that can never be precisely duplicated in video, text, or audio but there is value in exploring other modalities and translations. In so doing, artists find more ways to connect to audiences, perhaps audiences who did not or could not access the room of a live performance. Danspace’s Platforms, catalogues, and our Online Journal offer opportunities to extend the life of an artists’ work and thinking beyond the stage. If you are reading or hearing this catalogue now (this catalogue will be offered in print and also recorded as an audio book), these artists have reached you across time and space. You are a distant audience of one. Welcome.
In her essay, Platform 2021-2022 Writer-in-Residence, Maura Nuygen Donohue reflects on over a decade of Platforms:
If curation at Danspace is imbued with an etymological integrity of caring, the particularity of curation for Danspace Platforms has revealed an even more radical practice of attending that poet (and self-defined Black Troublemaker) Alexis Pauline Gumbs calls “schooling” . . . Observing natural collaborations of dolphins, she asks “What if school, as we use it on a daily basis, signaled not the name of a process or institution through which we could be indoctrinated, not a structure through which social capital was grasped and policed, but something more organic, like a scale of care . . .” To be in school is to concern ourselves with current urgencies without erasing pasts or inventing futures.
The Platforms have provided spaces for asking vital questions and for learning with and from one another (artists, curators, audiences, and others alike). The schooling is ongoing, and being open to it is at the heart of the collaborative work.
I have learned much in these last two-plus years from disabled artists who have been in-residence in various capacities at Danspace as Research Fellows, Residency artists, and commissioned artists. These artists include, iele paloumpis, Alice Sheppard, Jerron Herman, Christopher “Unpezverde” Núñez, and others. Each has encouraged, provoked, and asked urgent questions about our organization’s current and historical relationship to disability. They have asked us to think more deeply about what a culture of disability and accessibility means to Danspace, to imagine possibilities for disability aesthetics and poetics, and to further consider disabled artists’ and audiences’ needs and desires. We gratefully acknowledge these generous conversations and collaborations. This process of “schooling” and a practice of listening continues as we experiment with new approaches toward greater equity and accessibility at Danspace.
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s text “Audience Distant Relative” served as an inspiration for Platforms 2021-2022. In 2020, I re-read her words which felt deeply resonant in light of the shocking and abrupt shutdown of performances and theaters the world over. While the 2021-2022 Platforms are not about Cha’s work or life, it is critical to honor her artistic legacy and memory. Cha (1951 – 1982) was a Korean-born multidisciplinary artist whose body of work, according to curator Lydia Yee, “ranged from film, video, and performance to sculpture, works on paper, and artist’s books – [all exploring] the structures of language and reflecting on history, memory, and displacement.” Aside from a 2001 retrospective entitled The Dream of the Audience, curated by Constance M. Lewallen at the Berkeley Art Museum, she has been primarily recognized as a writer widely respected for her multilayered, multilingual book, Dictee. Access to documentation of Cha’s performances and multidisciplinary work remains elusive, although her archives are held at the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archives. Unfortunately, the catalogue for Cha’s 2001 Berkeley Art Museum retrospective is out of print.
I first learned of Cha’s work through artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña. I curated an exhibition of Vicuña’s performance photographs, poetry, and performative space weavings in Boulder, Colorado in early 2001. Vicuña emigrated to New York City from Chile via London in the early 1980s during the Pinochet dictatorship. I remember her telling me that arriving in New York, she felt a particular kinship with two immigrant women artists: Ana Mendieta (1948-1985), who was born in Cuba, adopted by Americans in Iowa, and moved to New York in late 1970s: and Cha who had emigrated as a child from South Korea to Northern California and moved to New York in the early 1980s. These groundbreaking feminist artists of color worked across disciplines, intentionally blurring the distinctions between media. Tragically, Mendieta and Cha died young and in abusive situations four years apart. Among other programs this year that will to mark the 40th anniversary of Cha’s untimely passing and the publication of Dictee, Wendy’s Subway—a small literary organization in New York— is celebrating Cha with a series of programs and a publication throughout 2022. We hope that you will be moved to learn more! I also hope that there are curious curators out there who will continue exploring these artists’ connections for future exhibitions.
In 2022, Cha’s “distant relative,” who is “seen only, heard only, through someone else’s description,” has taken on new meaning. In the course of editing the catalogue with Seta Morton (Associate Curator, Public Engagement & Managing Editor of Publications), we looked up the etymology of the word audience. Its original Latin meaning was “a hearing, or listening.” This etymology appeared as kindred to, or perhaps implied, in Cha’s prompt—a distant relative to our own curatorial departures that informed this Platform.
The featured Platform 2022 artists all contribute in their own ways to the questions we are gathering around returning, connections between artists and audiences, and practices of deep listening. With regard to the burgeoning field of audio description in dance, visually impaired choreographer, iele paloumpis, offers distinct research on audio description as a creative and relational artistic practice, within the multi-sensory landscape of their new work, In place of catastrophe, a clear night sky. Through feedback loop-like structures, collaborators, Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener are creating adaptive protocols as a way of building a world for transformative and collective action in RETROFIT: a new age. Choreographer Ogemdi Ude’s, I know exactly what you mean, considers how storytelling and lying may contribute to processing personal grief and creating cultural memory. In a practice of attuning, mayfield brooks calls for listening deeply. In writing about their new work, Sensoria: An Opera Strange “[this work] is an invitation into different auditory fields inspired by whale songs, laments, acoustic uprisings, and revolutionary chants.” — ‘Who am I feeding? And “How am I listening?” are among the questions brooks asks with this new work.
I am deeply grateful to these artists for continuing to dream with us despite the uncertainties. I am very grateful to my curatorial coconspirators Benjamin Akio Kimitch (Program Director & Associate Curator) and Seta Morton. This has been a collaborative effort at every point. Working closely with Ishmael, Okwui, Eiko, Joan, Reggie, Ogemdi, iele, mayfield, and Rashaun + Silas we have all—artists and staff alike—experienced the difficulties, joys, and unexpected emotions of returning. We acknowledge how much has changed and realize we are still on unsteady ground.
Dear Audience: We extend our deepest gratitude. We invite you to listen to and experience these artists’ offerings with full hearts and expanded senses. We invite you into the dreams of these artists and hope for mutual grace and mending as we all find our way forward.