IN CONVERSATION - RESCUE // ELENA ROSE LIGHT, GREGORY KING & MEGAN YOUNG, RAHA BEHNAM
Disruption is an act of rebuilding the self. During the first program of Volume VII: On Resistance, artists come together based on a theme of RESCUE by investigating otherness, confronting whiteness in an interactive installation, or by moving through minimalist movement as somatic resistance. On TCS’ In Conversation, we gather RESCUE artists Elena Rose Light, Gregory King & Megan Young, and Raha Behnam to talk resistance in their own words. Read on to learn more.
the CURRENT SESSIONS (TCS): Appreciate you all taking the time to provide insight into your process. Let’s start. First, we’d like to hear on what you consider your role(s) to be in life, as an artist, as person?
Raha Behnam (RB): A big question! I think I often taken on the role of someone who continually points to the margins, to the obscured places of thought and action. For my being, I heal personal and collective traumas that live inside of me as much as I can.
Megan Young (MY): I’m an instigator, co-conspirator, comrade in arms. I utilize my privilege as a white, cisgendered female to support decolonization efforts in arts and academic settings. I put my lifelong movement practice to service exploring preconceptions and problematic acculturation. I encourage others to do the same.
Elena Rose Light (ERL): To choreograph, to think, to make, to be critical, to question accepted histories, to research, to rewrite the archive, to queer the mainstream, to imagine, to create, to connect, to build relationships, to support others, to write, to reason, to divert resources to experimental performance, to make experimental dance a widely experienced art form in the USA, to do that in the world...
Gregory King (GK): To continue using dance as a social text by engaging audiences, to be a catalyst for social change.
ERL: ...to topple hierarchies, to fight for the oppressed, to create dance for the museum and for the street and for the gallery and for the stage, to cross cultures, to cross disciplines, to share, to listen, to teach, to learn. To do all this at once.
TCS: Inspired by your thoughts already, as we hope to make space for practices like yours to thrive! Now influences: have there been any people or experiences that encouraged the work you’ll be presenting at Volume VII: On Resistance?
RB: Immigration II emerged in unlikely circumstances; I had no infrastructural or emotional support to make a dance, but was determined to do it anyway. There was a desire to see a body like mine on a stage, to make a world that I held in private be publicly known. There are many histories, memories, experiences and ideas held within me; I realized I’d be the only one to tell my story.
ERL: In my last work, UNCANNILILY, I worked with a sort-of stilted movement practice in which I moved a single body part quite minimally, in strict isolation from the rest of my body. It was inspired initially by proto-robotic automatons from the late 19th century and their subtle stiffness. However, I had to rehearse this work the day after the presidential election. I was in such a state of mourning that I started to ask myself: what can I do in this restrictive situation? My body felt like a bag of lead and yet, this subtle physical practice became a way to push back via minimalism. From then, I wanted Phantasia to be a reframing barely-there movement as a form of somatic resistance, and decided to create a dystopian universe in which to situate that experience.
MY: I’ve been researching this nation’s unhealthy attachment to whiteness, as seen through racist housing practices, social service structures, education systems, healthcare, and immigration policies. I’ve been examining how the construct of whiteness has been encoded into our society and afforded the same protections as physical property. I listen to conversations about social justice in this country. However, I do not hear enough from positions of privilege on how to dismantle the lasting reaches of white supremacy.
Cloud of Whiteness developed with support from SPACES Gallery, First 100+ Days Exhibition curated by Christina Vassallo. It was commissioned as a response to the yet-to-be-elected 45th president, the first 100 days in office, and immigration policies. The piece considers immigration as one of a wider collection of issues in which policies are being written in real time to protect whiteness. I’ve had a visceral reaction to the actual and attempted immigration actions as of late. From there I developed the concept of whiteness pushing back within an environment; I programmed an interactive system which maintains historic levels of whiteness. The rest unfolded in practice with Gregory in the studio.
GK: As the performer for Cloud of Whiteness, I activate the installation by literally placing my black body in the environment. I work to negotiate my blackness in a white space, never stopping once to ask permission.
TCS: Definitely a need for the work that you all are doing, whether personal, or for others. How do the ideas in your work connect to the word or meaning of “resistance”?
MY: Resisting Eurocentric form
Resisting linear programming
Action as resistance
Body as contested site
A practice of resistance
GK: Negotiating space. Relocating self. Questioning whiteness. Redefining normalcy.
RB: As a cultural other, when I choose to make a work exploring this cultural otherness. The hybridity, the confusion, the lapses in knowing about myself. I consider my audience. Given that whiteness and the white gaze infiltrate into both the imagined as well as the real ways in which one’s work is perceived, “resistance” functions to challenge who sees you, and how they see you. Therefore for me, “resistance” is about resisting a certain gaze, of self unto other; pushing back onto the gaze, attempting to make the supposed objective witness aware of their own particularity, their own strangeness, their own limited beingness, even as I dig into the places where I have been “othered.”
ERL: As I alluded in my last response, I’m interested in subtlety as resistance. In the current political climate, I’ve been thinking about modes of resistance that are not so visible, that may not be as clearly performative as street protest. I love loud protest in all its manifestations— graffiti, street puppet theater, chanting —but I also find many of these modes physically exhausting.
Perhaps there are other physical forms of protest? In that vein, I’m asking: how can resistance be embodied? I don’t know that resistance always has to be angry and expansive. Can it also be cunning, precise, minimal? Can resistance hide in plain sight, or is that an oxymoron?
TCS: Last one… We want to know: What does the dance-performance-visual arts-arts world need more of? Less of?
MY: I approve of the non-academy quests for excellence. Slowly, but surely, legacy institutions are considering how they can serve the art, rather than the art serving institutions. I’m seeing many disciplines reconsider the need for disciplinary distinctions and even if it is a bit too much of a buzz word, I’m glad interdisciplinarity is on the rise. I like all of these things. I also like viral videos and universal healthcare.
ERL: More QTPOC artists, financial resources, spaces for emerging artists to experiment, cross-pollination, ontological questioning, attention to dance history, broader philosophical inquiry, femme/GNC/trans people in positions of power. Less white supremacy, reliance on traditional virtuosity, adherence to a singular notion of what dance is, coopting of dance by the visual art world, cis men in positions of power.
GK: More artists willing to be anti-establishment and anti-institution. Works that are personal, honest, that stand the risk of not getting funded. Less accolades for the classical Eurocentric aesthetic.
RB: Despite the constant fortifications of identity that we take part in as artists, I think we need to be actually participating in the dissolution of our artistic personas. To spend less time building out our identities as artists, and more time actively scouring through ideas, asking big questions, and merging our art work with our living practices. I would argue that, in general, we have deeply internalized capitalist modes of production. If we were to challenge systems of oppression that pit us against each other, and require us to obsess over our individual identities, we, as artists, have the potential to participate in and lead great collective action. Our work would connect more readily with the interests of other communities whose labor is also exploited, especially given the dire and critical moment we are in as humans on planet earth.
TCS: We do have the potential to participate in and lead great collective action. We hope TCS can contribute in small ways by bringing people together to move and be moved! Thank you all for taking the time, can’t wait to see how each of your works unfold in the space and with our audience.
RESCUE is the first program of the CURRENT SESSIONS’ Volume VII: On Resistance, taking place Friday, August 18 at 8pm. See the full schedule and get tickets here.