Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Chapter 77: In Which I Discuss My Next Project

How do you distill something so enormous to five minutes?

How do you distill it to ten minutes? Half an hour?

I am proud to say that I have been selected to participate in Low Lives 4, an international on-line exhibit of performance art. Since 2009, Low Lives has been a forum for artists across the world to exhibit their work livestreamed on the internet. For them to select an un-tech savvy guy like myself as one of the 60+ artists is pretty amazing. Here's the press release, all copy and pastey.

Low Lives 4
Networked Performance Festival
International Exhibition of Live Performances Streamed Worldwide

April 4, 2012 – Low Lives is pleased to present Low Lives 4, the fourth installment in a series of annual international art events. Low Lives 4 will feature more than 50 live performance-based works over two days, each transmitted over the web and projected in real time at venues across the globe. The exhibition will begin on Friday, April 27 from 8:30-11:30p.m. (EST) and continue on Saturday, April 28 from 3:00–6:00 p.m. (EST).

Founded in 2009 by artist and independent curator Jorge Rojas, Low Lives highlights works that critically investigate, challenge, and extend the potential of performative practices. The project celebrates the transmission of ideas beyond geographical and cultural borders, offering global audiences the opportunity to consider live performance in both physical and virtual space.

By featuring performances at numerous venues and broadcasting those works via online networks, Low Lives provides a new model for efficiently presenting, viewing, and archiving live performance-based art. The annual exhibition embraces low-tech aesthetics, such as low pixel images and muddled sound quality, to emphasize the raw quality of the broadcast and reception of the works.

Low Lives has found new momentum after presenting Low Lives Occupy! in New York City on March 3, 2012. Low Lives partnered with Occupy with Art and The Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at NYU to present a one-night-only festival of simulcast performances by 36 artists and collectives committed to the Occupy Wall Street movement. The well-received Low Lives Occupy! program offered new perspectives on the Occupy protests and expanded the reach of the movement by broadcasting to an international community.

Over the past four years Low Lives has developed a platform that invites and enables artists, audiences, and presenting venues to "plug in and participate” from anywhere an internet connection exists,” Rojas explains. “Low Lives is not simply about the presentation of performative gestures at a particular place and time, it is also about exploring the potential of live streaming networks as a creative medium connecting performance artists with audiences around the world.”

Low Lives 4 is co-produced by the Brooklyn-based arts organizations Chez Bushwick (www.chezbushwick.net) and SPREAD ART (www.spreadart.org), as well as Colombian artist, Juan Obando (www.juanobando.com). The international 2012 festival will be conducted by Jorge Rojas from the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City, Utah (www.umfa.utah.edu).

Participating Artists
Austin Adkins | Regina Agu | Lindsey Allgood + Amy Luznicky | Emma Alonze | Mauricio Ancalmo | Angela Bartram + Mary O'Neill | Mariane Bourcheix-Laporte | Ruth Vigueras Bravo | Caryana Castillo | Khalil Charif  | Matthew Thomas Cianfrani | Gina Cuntstruct | Elwin Cotman | Dance Troupe Practice + Luciana D'Anunciação | Ian Deleon + Kara Stokowski | Stephanie Diamond | Bados Earthling + The Wild Audio Society | Michelle Ellsworth | Ursula Endlicher | Tim Eriksen | Francesca Fini | Les Filles Föllen | Marcel William Foster + Dunstan Matungwa | Future Death Toll | Lawrence Graham-Brown | Alejandro Guzmán | Matt Hawthorn | Joseph Herring | Kanene Holder | James Holland + Alycia Bright Holland | Linda Hutchins | Rima Najdi | Samantha Jones | Igor Josifov | Nathaniel Katz + Valentina Curandi | Elizabeth Leister | Jonathan Lemieux | Gideonsson/Londré | Jonatan Lopez | Tina Mariane Krogh Madsen | Soukei Matsuo | MoTA - Museum of Transitory Art | Nataliya Petkova | Blatta Orientalis | Alexandre Pombo-Mendes | prOphecy sun | Stefan Riebel | Tara Raye Russo | Nuria Guiu Sagarra | Maximiliano Siñani | Jonathan Sutton | Étienne Tremblay-Tardif | Elinor Thompson | Robert Tyree + Andra Rotaru | Marcus Vinícius | A.G. Viva | Alyssa Taylor Wendt | Amelia Winger-Bearskin | Martin Zet |

Presenting Partners
Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art (Newark, New Jersey); Center for Performance Research (CPR) (Brooklyn, New York); Chez Bushwick (Brooklyn, New York); Co-Lab (Austin, Texas); Diaspora Vibe Gallery (Miami, Florida); Fusebox Festival (Austin, Texas); Grace Exhibition Space (Brooklyn, New York); Legion Arts (Cedar Rapids, Iowa); Little Berlin (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania); Living Arts (Tulsa, Oklahoma); Mascher Space Co-op (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania); Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) (Portland, Oregon); Real Art Ways (Harford, Connecticut); SOMArts (San Francisco, California); Space One Eleven (Birmingham, Alabama): Spread Art (Brooklyn, New York); Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) (Salt Lake City, Utah); Alice Yard (Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago); the temporary space (USA/Japan); Yamaguchi Institute of Contemporary Arts (YICA) (Yamaguchi, Japan); Dimanche Rouge (Paris, France); La Maison des Artistes (Paris, France); Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Bogotá (MAC) (Colombia); At The Vanishing Point (Sydney, Australia); Small Projects (Tromsø, Norway); Ateliers '89, Contemporary Art Institute (Aruba)

A live simulcast of the event will be streamed on April 27 and 28 at www.lowlives.net.

About Jorge Rojas
Jorge Rojas is a multidisciplinary artist and curator. He uses traditional and new media, as well as performative elements to investigate communication systems and the effect of technology on artistic production, social structures and communities. Rojas’ work and curatorial projects have been exhibited internationally. In 2009, Rojas founded Low Lives, where he currently serves as director, producer, and curator.

About Chez Bushwick
Chez Bushwick, an artist-run organization based in Brooklyn, is dedicated to the advancement of interdisciplinary art and performance, with a strong focus on new choreography. Since its inception in 2002, the organization has been acknowledged as a new model for economic sustainability in the performing arts, offering $8/hour subsidized rehearsal space, and thereby fostering the creation, development, and performance of new work. Chez Bushwick is also responsible for a number of performance programs that encourage artistic freedom, collaboration, and creative risk-taking.

About Juan Obando
Born in Bogotá, Colombia, Juan Obando received a BA in Industrial Design with a minor in Architecture and Urbanism from Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. In 2005 he started the ongoing BZC Media Corporation Project (an international art unit based in Bogotá, with cells in Venezuela, USA, and The Netherlands,) and has subsequently been exhibiting throughout The USA, Germany, The Netherlands, Australia, Colombia and Venezuela. His work has been selected twice for Colombia’s “Salon Nacional de Artistas” (2008, 2010) and reviewed by different international publications. After receiving an MFA in Electronic and Time-Based Art from Purdue University, Juan currently works between Colombia and The USA and holds a position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Elon University in North Carolina. www.juanobando.com

SPREAD ART is an artist-run creative incubator designed to foster new works through collaborations with artists and curators from around the world. SPREAD ART supports emerging artists through group and solo exhibitions, music events, and performance showcases. SPREAD ART provides opportunities for all kids and adults to explore their creativity and increase self-awareness through art. SPREAD ART assists artists and arts organizations to begin new art events or evolve existing events in their community. SPREAD ART looks forward to hearing how we can support your creative endeavors.

For more information, please visit www.lowlives.net

Needless to say, I'm ecstatic to be a part of this international event. Between this and my Mills sisters going to the Memory & Performance Conference in Toronto next week (which I could not attend for financial reasons), I feel like I'm having the kind of discourse I desire. It's a big planet out there.

The piece I am performing for Low Lives 4 is part of the same piece that was accepted for the conference. It is based on the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, one of the great atrocities in American history. The story goes: in 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was home to one of the nation's most prosperous black neighborhoods. Greenville, nicknamed "Black Wall Street," was a mecca of black-owned businesses. Many prominent black citizens lived there, and scholars such as W.E.B. Dubois were known to come give talks.

Around May Day of 1921, a young black shoeshiner, Dick Rowland, was accused of assaulting a white woman in an elevator.  Whether he did or not is a moot point because within a day the mob was there to lynch him. Much of the blame goes to the Tulsa Tribune, which printed an article inciting the flames. This was during the golden age of lynching, and black Tulsans did not want mob justice to rule like it did in the south. A crew of black men, many of them World War I vets, went downtown to stop the lynching.

Shots were fired. The white residents of Tulsa invaded. They slaughtered 300 blacks, imprisoned the rest, and burned Greenville to the ground. There are still living survivors of this "ancient history," although they are very old and have not received a dime in reparation for the torment they went through.

You cannot discount that it was WWI vets who "started" the massacre by trying to defend Dick Rowland. One of the principal characters in The Jack Daniels Sessions EP is a World War I vet, a soldier in the 369th. This particular war always seemed to me an interesting milestone in black America. The ancestors were stolen from Africa. From that point on, blacks were born and died on American soil. Aside from, say, being a part of a traveling circus act, black men in the 19th century could never dream of traveling the world. These young black men, grandchildren of the freedmen, did. They went to Europe and defeated oppression, only to come home to what can only be called a fascist system. The only way Jim Crow differs from Nazism is the scale; southerners at the time could not afford to build giant gas chambers.

Sometimes I have to step back from myself. It seems so easy that I can sit down and, with little soul-searching, start writing a performance piece about 300 innocents being massacred during my grandfather's time. Sometimes I wonder if there's something wrong with me. Where is the anger? Have I just read about so many obscene atrocities that happened in the 20th century that I've become desensitized?

I don't have an answer to that. I do know I keep looking at these histories because they continue to be relevant. The idea of young black men being murdered by racist vigilantes is still very much relevant.

Making sure that oppression will not be repeated is part of, but not all of, the Justice For Trayvon movement. The fascism of the 20th century cannot be allowed to return. Europeans know this in a way we don't, which is why no Neo-Nazi group could ever march safely through the streets of Berlin like those clowns are marching around in Florida right now.

For me, there are two categories of trauma: wounds and scars. Tulsa is a scar, something I still bear nearly 100 years later. Trayvon's death is a wound. A clear and present demonstration of the black man's vulnerability in society. We live in a day and age where justice for the racial persecution of blacks is only considered in extreme circumstances. Sure, if some klansmen drag a black man to death they'll get the chair, because the mainstream uses the Klan and its image as a strawman. But think about Oscar Grant. The police officer who murdered him went on trial because the execution was clearly caught on film. Public executions are extreme. Even then, people had to riot to get him arrested. Zimmerman at least has a possibility of going to trial (if he hasn't fled the country) because he was a civilian stalking and killing the kid. If he was an actual cop, the kill would have been cleared immediately. We have armed vigilantes killing black children. This is extreme. The very definition of a wound.

And the wounds are the most pressing issue. I could personally care less about reparations for slavery. Let's talk reparations for unequal housing. Let's talk reparations for gentrification, then, if you want, we can crack open an American history textbook and start going backwards.

So I am doing this piece on the scar called Tulsa. I foresee it being a performance/chapbook down the line, and Low Lives offers an opportunity to get in gear on it. I developed the performance last fall for Dr. Rebekah Edwards' Memory & Performance class. The theory-heavy course was based on a fundamental question: is it possible to bear witness to trauma without reinscribing it. We read texts on queer theory, disability theory, gender theory, African-American theory, etc. All around the central themes of trauma (personal and historical) and how the body transcribes memory. We also read and analyzed poetry around these themes. Keeping in mind we were reading this at a time when the streets of Oakland were a battleground, and you could say I was in a very intense headspace.

I developed a 10-minute presentation in which I read accounts relating the buildup to, aftermath, and events of the massacre. Not wishing to simply appropriate the voice of survivors, I wrote fictionalized vignettes based on their accounts and history I'd read. While I read these vignettes, I had a Powerpoint behind me of historical texts from the period that blamed blacks for the riot and showed the racist viewpoints of the time. This included the incendiary Tulsa Tribune article. Even these mainstream, anti-black accounts of the massacre were wiped from Oklahoma history books. Thus, I attempted to bear witness to the survivor accounts, demonstrate the culture that created this horrible event, and point out the fact that BOTH perspectives were suppressed in order to erase the event from memory. On the run-through for our class' final performance, my presentation went 20 minutes.

Like I said, how do you distill it? How much time do you need to convey what is beyond words? How do you cover what information people need to know? How do you convey the horror while taking the academic route that says people need context. I don't know. For our final reading I had to get rid of material. I also read pretty fast, as I do when I have a tight time limit. For my Low Lives 4 performance, I'm going to cut it in half. I'll probably only recite one account, and formulate the background visuals in such a way as to provide more context than in my previous reading.

That sounds vague, doesn't it? Well, I also don't want to spoil the surprise.

What I'm most excited for is to write the chapbook. It will involve creating vignettes based on research about life in Greenville before and after the massacre, and researching the dominant narratives of the time. It will involve both heavy-duty creative and scholarly work, but, if done right, will be one of my proudest achievements.

But first thing's first. Low Lives 4 is April 27th-28th, coming to you straight from the planet Earth. I'll give more details on the event as they come in.

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