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he his own mythical beast is a series of performance installations that interrogates the complexities of identity embedded in American culture. Centered around Venus, a persona that embodies the fierce, elusive heart of the contradictions around race, gender and sexuality. Venus acts as the thru line in a set of interlocking performance experiments examining aspects of power, sources of identity, and the related myths we create to survive.

Part beast, part myth, part clown; a code-shifting chimaera was created as a response to my history of being a black body in a post-modern aesthetic that privileged concepts of neutrality in form and action as a means of subverting personal narrative.  This became the impetus for further questions regarding the perception of presence and engagement in performance.

beast takes the form a series of public events for performance spaces, parks, and galleries, and other locations. Each event is a stand-alone immersive performance installation relating to cues from prior events, with the characters involved appearing through live performance or through mediated presence. Each performance work seeks to employ a different form of audience engagement as a part of the research exploring how relational containers trigger perception and imagination.

Venus | dark is transgressive, simultaneously visible and invisible, instigating situations, and acting as an elusive impresario/a.

Venus | light is a spiritual guide, posing questions about the sources of human identity.

The Sessions explores power dynamics, racial and gender fictions, and contradicting information.

The Voyeurs invites the audience to eavesdrop on a conversation and become inadvertent voyeurs of a mysterious, disturbing situation.

Chimaera plays in the liminal space between human and beast, a movement portrait calling forth diverse and specific narratives of a body caught between existences.  Overlaying the Hottentot metaphor with the Zora Neale Hurston quote “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background,” it speaks of isolation and awareness of being viewed.

Aspects of all these works and research will be combined in the culminating performance installation.

 

Collaborating artists have included: 

Peter Born, Visual Design & Directorial Collaborator
Clarinda Mac Low, Dramaturg & Directorial Collaborator
Jodi Bender, Performer
Leslie Cuyjet, Performer
Paul Hamilton, Performer
James Hannaham, Performer
Mikéah Ernest Jennings, Performer
Malcolm Low, Performer
Okwui Okpokwasili, Performer
Katrina Reid, Performer
Phumzile Sitole, Performer
Courtney Williams, Performer

 

Related works:

As part of the development process, I have woven the research around the piece into the performances. The works described below are the research done so far, that contain the kernels of the characters and situations that will be part of any future events.

Venus

This is the first iteration of the character Venus, as part of the Parallels Platform at Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church (2012). Named after the Hottentot Venus, aka Sarah Baartman, an enslaved black woman who was exhibited as an exotic in the early 19th Century London and Paris, this character flirts with black face and gender ambiguity, coupled with the incongruities of dominance and vulnerability, erasure and visibility through the use of a black latex mask, a pair of black high heels, a white flowing dress and my naked black body. Developing this character was a significant shift from my previous work, and became the impetus behind the development of beast, leading me to a deeper investigation into the imagery of the black body and how the exotic is registered and negotiated.

Parallels: The End: David Thomson

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Photo credit: Ian Douglas (first three)
Photo credit: Peter Born (fourth from video)

Parallels: The End (trailer)

 

Venus Redux

Invisible Dog Residency
 28 July – 10 August 2014

During a two-week residency, I developed text, movement, and structure for the second exploration of Venus | dark, one part of a series of site-specific performance installations under the title, he his own mythical beast.  Which continued the process of interrogating perceptions of identity, sexuality, race, gender, freedom and surrender.

Excerpt

 

The Voyeurs

The Voyeurs is a performance installation that occurs in a park or other public outdoor space. It is an invisible performance centered around a phone conversation between neighbors, both black, as they walk through a park trying to locate each other. During the conversation, they discover that they have both observed the same disturbing interaction through a window of another apartment. As in Hitchcock’s Rear Window, they become witnesses to these seemingly incomprehensible acts of aggression. Their conversation and curiosity serve as a channel of discourse encompassing gossip, issues of racial and gender role-play, and personal prejudice interlaced with the quotidian flow of random observations in the park. This is a private encounter set in a public space. The audience eavesdrops on the conversation through their cellphones as they walk through the park, providing another layer of voyeurism and implicating the audience in the performers’ reflections and ruminations.  These performances have varied with different sets of actors and focused scripts.  Iterations have been performed in Ft Greene Park, Brooklyn Bridge Park and Madison Square Park.

Audio excerpt from an early draft run in Fort Greene Park (September 2013)

 

The Sessions

The Sessions was part of the early exploration of ideas that informed beast.

A white woman and black man go through the paces of proscribed violence, in the living room of his apartment. The duet becomes a container for examining the roles of surrender and power, referencing images of racial brutality, S&M, intimacy and the ecstatic. This brutal, tender and visceral confessional was born out of a memory of a series of childhood cartoons.

Performed by Jodi Bender & Malcolm Low

Excerpt Gibney showing, 2013 (7 min)

 

 

The Venus Knot

The Venus Knot is a durational performance installation-as-process that mines the questions and thoughts surrounding freedom and surrender in our lives. The work offers various encounters with the character Venus| light — through an installation in the space and an intimate, private interaction. In this iteration Venus engaged in dialogues mediated through a mirror, creating a voyeuristic relationship with the audience.

The exhibit took place in the freight elevator. An installation consisting of a life-size video projected onto white balloons and audio recordings of inner monologues occupied the first three-quarters of the space. Chimaera exists in a void; a moving portrait of shifting markers for a body caught between existences. Individuals were invited to walk past the installation into a small hallway that led to Venus, visible only through a reflection in a mirror. Here they had intimate conversations about their perspectives on, sources of and contradictions within their own identity. During each conversation, Venus created a unique knot of rope, given to the individual at the end of the interaction, as an artifact and memory aid. This durational installation was performed for 4 hrs each day, with over 45 individual conversations over the two days of performance.

Performed at The Invisible Dog, 2015 (18 min)
Video in the exterior installation (audio was created and manipulated separately)

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see yourself when
Movement Research at Judson Church
21 Sept 2015

The first intervention of Venus…

A conceptual work where dark Venus is embedded in the audience, a masked shadow that lingers on the edges but who presence is visible. Venus silently instigates a group action that calls the audience to respond to a question; structuring ideas of absence, presence, and expectation through a performance persona.  This work was created as a rhetorical question, a memorial for those recently passed, and the questioning of expectations of presence.

How long can you hold an absence?

 

See yourself when

 

 

On October 4, 2015, artist Nari Ward hosted a series of performances within the context of his exhibition Breathing Directions at Lehmann Maupin. Ward has invited several visual performers and trained dancers to collaborate on an improvisational piece that will activate “Ground (In Progress),” Ward’s seminal sculptural work in the exhibition. As suggested by the title, “Ground (In Progress)” is an evolving piece and relies on audience participation to become fully activated. Through movement, the performers will present their organic responses to the sculpture.

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Chimaera was created as another layer of reframed research in the history and mythology of perceptions of color, biological legacies and gender.  This performance took place at BRIC Arts Center as part of their exhibition Look up here, I’m in heaven.

 

SUPPORT

he his own mythical beast was researched, developed and honed with financial, administrative and residency support from the Dance in Process Program at Gibney Dance with funds provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, LMCC Process Space Program, Baryshnikov Arts Center, The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, The Invisible Dog, Mount Tremper Arts Center, The Yard, Jerome Foundation, BRIC Arts, The Bronx Museum, James E. Robison Foundation, the MAP Fund,  New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship Program, and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. And the Leadership Circle.

Related Items

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  • During a two-week residency at The Invisible Dog, I focused on building new material, setting a structure, creating text to overlay, and continuing to explore a 360° performance field.
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