Feet to the Fire Intern Rebecca Wilton discusses Eiko Otake and Bill Johnston’s “A Body in Fukushima.”
Eiko Otake and Bill Johnston’s A Body in Fukushima overwhelms. Spread through three galleries, the sheer number of photographs and videos presented dominate the senses and in each space it takes a moment to get your bearings. When finally you are able to refocus and notice the prints individually, from gallery to gallery they continue to destabilize and confront the viewer with their fragility.
I sat in on an open workshop of Eiko’s course, Delicious Movement, where she challenged us to move uselessly, using our body as a landscape and the floor as a tool. When a student expressed frustration at her struggle to move this way, confused at the difficulty of trying to move with ease, intuitively, Eiko discussed the importance of struggle and difficulty in her work. Traveling to Fukushima, placing herself in danger of radiation poisoning, instead of fleeing the pain of the disaster, Eiko places herself at the center of it in an intimate embrace. And the photographs in the exhibition are not easy to look at – the bright swaths of blue sky in almost every print serve as a reminder of the life that used to inhabit these spaces. Eiko’s presence in the immense scenes of destruction highlights the lack; her body becomes a house of remembrance that holds the individuals still exiled from the contaminated communities.
In her workshop, Eiko returned again and again to the metaphor of regeneration to inspire our movements: “There are flowers growing all over your body – even if you crush one here [grabbing her chest], one may grow here [her back] or here [her leg] or here [her arm]!” The images in A Body in Fukushima that do show signs of life capture boundaries – edges of forests at abandoned subway stations, for example. Creeping in on the desolation, these shreds of verdant landscape cast a primordial aura over the post-nuclear, post-apocalyptic realm of Eiko’s Fukushima. The photographs evoke the tension of humankind’s existence on earth – after we have been undone by our own creations, what is left? Plants reclaim the space vacated temporarily by humans, negotiating a landscape traumatized by the push and pull between natural resources and those who use them.
Although the portions of the exhibition in the Davison Art Center and CFA South Gallery are now closed, Eiko and Bill’s video installations remain on display in the Center for East Asian Studies through May 24. And if you happen to be around during Reunion and Commencement, the South Gallery installation will be up for an encore presentation from May 21-24.
Campus andCommunity Engagement Intern Michele Ko ’16 discusses the CFA’s student engagement strategies.
What if arts engagement programming was like an a la carte menu. What would you pick? A talk about an upcoming performance? A workshop with the artist? Maybe an intimate lunch or dinner followed by discussion? These are all ways that the Creative Campus Initiative at the CFA is experimenting with student engagement with the arts. One could think of it like a pyramid – a three-tiered strategy that gives participants an opportunity to pick the level they are comfortable in and have a variety of opportunities to choose from.
At the base of the pyramid is the beginner level, where engagement appeals to students who have little to no knowledge of the arts or CFA programming. These students might be attending a CFA event for the first time or seeking more informal ways to interact with art. Moving up the pyramid, the intermediate level attracts students who have a bit more comfortability with the arts; maybe they are enrolled in a related course or have previously expressed interest in a particular art form. At the top of the pyramid is the advanced level, which targets students who are very invested in the arts, such as studio art and art history majors or students who create art on campus or in collaboration with the CFA. The hope is that with the right programming, students will find an appealing entry point into the arts and may potentially move up the pyramid. At every level the main goal is to encourage students to invest in attending CFA programs.
The easiest ways to engage students who are unfamiliar with the arts is through supporting course modules and co-taught courses, which emphasize a cross-disciplinary approach to teaching, learning and researching. Modules entail non-art faculty collaborating with an artist to teach two to four class sessions in an existing course. For this semester’s module, ENVS 255 Getting a Bigger Picture: Integrating Environmental History and Visual Studies, Associate Professor of History Jennifer Tucker is working with Amy Lipton, co-Director of the Eco Art Space. Co-taught courses are created and taught by two faculty members, one from the performing arts and one from a non-arts discipline. This semester, postdoctoral teaching fellow Helen Mills Poulos and choreographer Jill Sigman are teaching ENVS 201 Research Methods in Environmental Studies: River Encounters.
Other beginner-level events involve facilitating informal conversations about art, such as the “Artful Lunch Series,” where students and faculty discuss their favorite works in the Davison Art Center over bagged lunches. This semester’s series features presentations by Professor of History and Letters Laurie Nussdorfer, Assistant Professor of Art History Claire Grace and Lucas McLaughlin ’15.
On the intermediate level, the CFA engages students who are more familiar with the arts and the CFA’s work. Some of these programs also open up opportunities for students to become more advanced engagers. In conjunction with “Tari Aceh! Music and Dance from Northern Sumatra,” for example, the CFA hosted a free dance workshop that allowed students to directly and physically engage with the performers, the dance form and Indonesian culture.
Dine/Dance/Discover events, which take place before and after Breaking Ground Dance series performances, seek to build a community of engaged students. The program enhances the experiences of students who are typically well acquainted with dance. The consistent set of programs also reinforces their engagement with the arts and the CFA.
Advanced engagers have a high comfort level with exploring topics through the arts and are often artistic producers or curators on campus or with the CFA. Engaging these students involves giving them the opportunities to embark on their own artistic projects or engage very deeply in the artistic process with a visiting artist.
Feet to the Fire, in collaboration with the COE and the Green Fund, gave three students the opportunity to develop their own multimedia project exploring the Coal River Valley of southern West Virginia. Rachel Lindy ’15, Rachel Weisenberg ’15 and Isaac Silk ’14 spent the summer living in the area, interviewing residents and taking photographs. The project was put on display in Zelnick Pavillion in February. By sharing their images and stories, they hope to encourage dialogue around fossil fuel consumption.
One major advanced level program is the “makers workshops,” where visiting artists help students create their own art related to the artist’s work, concepts or show. Last year, artist Evan Roth visited Wesleyan and participated in a makers workshop in association with his show “Evan Roth//Intellectual Property Donor.” Drawing on the show’s themes of open-source, activism and digital media, students identified systems and urban conditions ripe for hacking at Wesleyan and turned them into participant-driven art works. Later this semester, visiting singer/songwriter Omnia Hegazy will participate in a songwriting makers workshop on Thursday, March 26, with students interested in music and writing.
The new Design Digital Design studio, which opened in January 2015, provides a more ongoing, permanent space for art students to conceptualize and produce their own work in a meaningful way. Students interested in art, photographic, architecture, graphic design and more are encouraged to work on digital design projects in the space in conjunction with other students and faculty.
An illustrative way to see the pyramid strategy at work is by looking at how the programming of one visiting artist engages each level, such as Montreal-based Algerian singer-songwriter and rapper Meryem Saci’s visit last fall. Saci engaged beginner level students through numerous class visits as well as post-class lunches, which gave students the opportunity for intermediate engagement. Saci also engaged in informal, moderated conversation with Turath House residents. Saci even attended one of the the Rap Assembly’s cypher – a group of highly engaged Wesleyan rappers.
The CFA is not alone in its engagement strategy. Colleges across the country are experimenting with new and innovative ways to involve their student body in the arts. At colleges like MIT, Virginia Tech and the University of Michigan, engagement takes a number of forms, from arts-based entrepreneurship festivals to master classes with professional dancers to art-making events during Welcome Week for freshmen. Check out their events with these links: MIT, Virginia Tech and the University of Michigan. Where would you fall on the pyramid?
Campus and Community Engagement Intern Sharifa Lookman ’17 reflects on interviews with Creative Campus Fellow Faye Driscoll and DanceLink Fellow Chloe Jones’15 in an examination of the interdisciplinary and multifaceted role of dance in the course “Repertory and Performance: Thank You For Coming.”
I like to pretend that I know what art is and what it means to be “artsy”. Three years of arts high school where I learned the color wheel while taking AP classes and doing volunteer work misguided me into thinking that I also knew what it meant to be “interdisciplinary”. As the Campus and Community Engagement Intern my understanding of and exposure to interdisciplinary arts has been redefined. The mission of the Creative Campus Initiative at Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts is to create curricular and co-curricular activities in the arts that promote creativity and innovation both for students and faculty as well as artists. The Creative Campus Fellowship, which brings working artists into a university environment to accrue research for their project while teaching a class, adds new depths to the interdisciplinary understanding of the visual and performing arts.
I had the opportunity to sit down with choreographer, dancer, and Wesleyan University Creative Campus Fellow in Dance Faye Driscoll and her student DanceLink Fellow Chloe Jones ‘15. Through this fellowship Driscoll is researching and developing the project Thank You For Coming: Playin addition to teaching the course “Repertory and Performance: Thank You For Coming: Play”, an opportunity to gather research for her project. In addition to being given the inside scoop into the class, I had the opportunity to look into the minds of two artists who are seeking to re-define the field of dance performance, in the process re-conceptualizing their physical and emotional selves.
Speaking with Driscoll helped to create, what I find to be, a very helpful vocabulary for both defining dance and its integration with the other disciplines and further relating such study to a reconceptualization of our physical and emotional selves. Driscoll describes the title Thank You For Coming: Play as being emblematic of the project itself, despite its changing nature “its also directive in some sense, the word, or command, because I’m dealing with the act of make-believe and creating belief.”
Speaking with Driscoll about her childhood brought back memories of mine, both involving precocious kids with a penchant for creativity. Faye describes her younger self as “one of those kids who just knew that was what I wanted to do from like the age of four”. Illustrative of the type A, whirlwind of a child we knew, and envied, from our childhood, Driscoll would put on shows by herself, what she describes as being “often very political things that I knew or heard about going on in the world and would make a piece about it or perform a poem that I wrote about it.” Driscoll underlined her passion for the art form with this quick and nostalgic glimpse into her childhood fueled with naivety and creativity. With refocused eyes Driscoll said in earnest, “I think I just have this need to do it.”
This inherent need and passion inspired her to pursue dance, a practice that she quickly learned was not dependent solely on creativity, but rather the interconnectivity of creative expression and discipline and technique. Recalling this realization Driscoll said, “I think at one point my mom said, ‘if you do really want to do this, you have to actually go to class. And I loved dance class. It was the structure that fueled my creativity.”
Perhaps like many Wesleyan students Driscoll grew up in an environment that fostered creativity and expression. “I think that I really responded to this kind of structure and discipline that dance gave me. I think that those two things are in my work still – a lot of structure, a lot of layers, and a lot of detail. And then also this sense of irreverence, this sense that I can make whatever I want from whatever is closest, nearest, and whatever I want to grab from I can.”
The structure of Driscoll’s work incorporates this naivety and creativity integral to childhood and juxtaposes it with technical training. Integral to Driscoll’s work is a disintegration of the social and disciplinary constructs of dance in which technique is separate from creative expression. Dricoll argues a connectivity of these two factors, but additionally notes her desire to do anything but. Integral to Driscoll’s work is a sense of hybridization and a focus on the interdisciplinary relationships in the visual and performing arts. In speaking with Driscoll she noted the idea of the studio as a laboratory, almost bringing the field of dance into a realm likened to that of science. This vernacular adds an interesting, and yet unintentional, interdisciplinary element.
Inherent in her work is a passion and argument for reimagining the arts in addition to a defense for dance as a unique discipline that should be recognized as such.
“I want dance to be more central and I think that dance is a very radical art form that is often kicked down, kicked to the curb and seen as a lesser form. So I kind of like enjoying calling it all dance even though someone might see it and say that’s its not dance, y’know saying, ‘where’s the pirouette?’”
Driscoll asserts some very interesting points. The contemporary organization of the visual and performing arts is based on integration of the arts, but there is a fine line between integration and diffusion. Everything gets shaped into one conglomerate and they work together, but then at the same time the hierarchies between disciplines aren’t always broken down. This raises questions that we should consider at the Center for the Arts. In addition to fostering the interdisciplinary nature of the arts, they do need to be classified in some capacity.
The notion of interdisciplinary is fostered here at Wesleyan. This can be seen in the testimony of Chloe Jones, a Dance and Hispanic Literatures & Cultures major. Originally, however, she started out as a College of Letters major. Though she shifted her academic interests while abroad she continued to foster this interdisciplinary approach to her education and learning. She said “ I had a professor in the College of Letters tell me once that it isn’t really interdisciplinary, its multidisciplinary in the way that you get to draw from all of these different disciplines and then its up to you to integrate them. I think it’s something that has really stuck with me over the past few years is this idea of like drawing from lots of different disciplines and then your job as the student is to make those connections.”
Jones attended Driscoll’s initial lecture with a friend who is a COL major and were so taken by it that they both decided to take the class. This shows that, though rooted in dance, it is a topic and project that addresses issues of the self with so much universality that it appeals to all disciplines.
Jones described the lecture itself: “It was so rich, so much depth, so tangible and relatable and just like raw. And I felt like I could really see some of the ideas that she was bringing up in the talk: this broad idea of what is means to be a body in a world of Somebodies. And what does it mean to sort of be a co-creator of this narrative/reality that we are all living and how do we play with that reality/narrative and these social tropes that we are all living inside of.”
Driscoll’s class was composed of all different majors, about a quarter of them dance majors. This combination made for a diverse group of students that were willing to take risks and enact things using their different academic interests.
Both Jones and Driscoll described the activities they performed in class, contributing two different perspectives that illustrate the true complexity and brilliance of the project. One component specifically noted is that of dialogue and text and its incorporation with movement.
“One of the other assignments was to go around and find people to subtly imitate and become so we collected people from campus. So I might put those two things (eavesdropping and imitation) next to each other. The stolen people and the stolen dialogue,” Driscoll said.
One assignment that they had was a dialogue experiment comprised of three parts: 1.) To eavesdrop on a conversation for 15-20 minutes without taking any notes, only to have to sit down and rewrite the entire dialogue solely from memory 2.) To recall, without the assistance of diaries or the like, a dialogue from our personal memory, our personal lives 3.) To transcribe a dialogue from a movie or a play also from memory. All of these recorded dialogues were then brought in and shared with the class.
Through this exercise, and ones similar, students and Driscoll played a lot with voice, an area of performance not often addressed in dance.
“I think I come from a very choreographic way of thinking about things. I’m also very visually and aurally oriented. I’m interested in the body and all that it is and all that the human being is and all that our bodies contain in terms of our selfhood and our histories and the politics of them. The way that they’re kind of loaded,” Driscoll said.
This integration of voice with the body proved challenging to Jones, but also constructive.
“And for me its been a pretty huge challenge because, as a dancer, I’m accustomed to using my body and manipulating my body and expressing myself through my body, but when it comes to my voice there have been times in class when I have totally choked up and have felt very vulnerable using my voice. At the same time I’ve felt really excited about this new possibility and this new kind of tool that I have to use. It’s one that Faye is really exploring with us — how we can use our voices and how we can hone that skill. There is so much there. The voice truly is an instrument,” Jones said.
In addition to exploring the physical, whether the limbs or vocal chords, this course also explored the emotional. In describing this emotional component Jones repeatedly described it as “intense” but according to Jones, an intensity that “fed them”. In a sense this course became an examination of the self.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself. I think we all have. And I think that’s one of the reasons I’m a dance major. In a lot of my non-dance classes I feel like I do my work, close my book, and leave. And with dance I feel like I walk out of the studio in my body, which is what I’ve been using to practice, to learn, to think. So it goes with me everywhere. So I get to carry it with me everywhere and translate it into other areas of my life, and that’s something that is really exciting and important to me. And that’s something that holds very much true to Faye’s class too,” Jones said.
I began this blog post with about ten pages of quotations. My conversations with Driscoll and Jones were both so rich and evocative that I had no idea where to go, what to analyze, and how to consolidate what are grand scale ideas. I sat on this post for far too long while other small seemingly pressing tasks took priority. I was nervous about articulating this weighty notion of examining oneself, so fully and creatively, through art. It’s such an abstract notion and with that comes fleeting temporality. One can revel in the process, but then the process has to end. And yet Jones still said that she is going to remember this experience forever, noting the power of memory. This idea, juxtaposed alongside Driscoll’s analysis of her project, Thank You for Coming as something that is not “wrapped up” attributes a sense of fluidity to the understanding of artistic practices and creative epiphanies. Maybe there is never an end to these creative moments or ideas. Like Jones said, “This course has never been about the final performance.” Perhaps I’m reading far too deep into what was simply a beautiful and fruitful creative exercise, but I can’t help but find a comparison to life’s journey: whether a life led creatively or not, the objective is not to end up with a nicely wrapped product, but rather to emerge with beautiful ideas, unanswered questions, and an experimental analysis of the self, all still dancing through one’s memories.
Creative Campus Intern Sewon Kang ’14 reflects on the Creative Campus course “Blood, Muscle, Bone: The Anatomy of Wealth and Poverty,” and the “Blood, Muscle, Bone” Performative Teach-In.
I’ve been thinking back on the course “Blood, Muscle, Bone: The Anatomy of Wealth and Poverty” and I must say that it was a total interruption in my squarely traditional education. Throughout the intensives, my fellow students and I explored difficult problems related to wealth distribution in the U.S. with our instructors, Liz Lerman and Jawole Zollar. In my prior post, I discussed my enthusiasm for the interdisciplinary nature of this course and the deep processing made possible through artistic exploration. Now that the class has ended, I want to share how it continues to impact my life.
Even though it was primarily a dance course, we explored the realities of disparity in a traditional, academic way—we learned facts and figures, read literature, and applied the knowledge by considering how it affects the Wesleyan community. What was unique was that once we had all of this information, we were given the freedom to respond to aspects that resonated with us. Our expressions then gave shape to the structure of the performative teach-in, the culminating event for the course. It was a truly collaborative outpouring and was the perfect way to end a process that is in reality constant and continuous. The teach-in allowed us to take some of what we learned and put it in a format that we could share with our fellow students and community—something that doesn’t happen in a typical classroom.
The night began with a talk by Anne Farrow, a journalist and author who studies enslavement in New England. She shared passages from her new book about the life of a slave trader who lived in Middletown. As performers, we listened to the lecture and responded with our bodies in ways that disrupted the usual speaker-listener dynamic. These interruptions continued during Professor William Arsenio’s lecture on economic disparity and recent psychological studies that examine how people understand wealth distribution in this country. We analyzed the facts and statistics he presented, reflected on our past experiences, and translated information visually. For the rest of the teach-in, we took numbers and words and made them tangible by sharing personal stories through song, spoken word, and movement.
This exploration was incredibly intense and was only made possible by an extraordinary willingness to participate in experimental learning—a leap that I’m grateful to my classmates for taking with me. Everyone was fully committed to the class, showing strong enthusiasm for the topic at hand and complete dedication to the process, even during times when everything was uncomfortably new. The class was a learning community so unlike any I have ever experienced.
One of the most challenging and exciting aspects for me was the act of performing. Throughout the course, Liz and Jawole expertly drew out flickers of performance from each of us and helped us develop strong structures that we could be proud of. Such in-class dynamics translated into powerfully moving moments of the teach-in, revealing how wealth and poverty touch everyone’s lives. During a discussion about white privilege, I was able to share my frustrations with other students of color in the class. Jawole and Keith Thompson, who assisted Liz and Jawole in the course, helped me eventually become comfortable with sharing my struggles with the audience at the teach-in. They taught me that vulnerability can be useful, and because I believed so strongly in the work that we were doing, I knew that my story needed to be shared.
This opened doors for me as a student who is used to articulating ideas through very specific structures, such as the five-paragraph analytic paper. What I learned is that like the academic paper, performing is a method of processing, albeit one that is less frequently encountered outside of certain circles. During “Blood, Muscle, Bone,” I was asked to perform my thoughts and became a student of a different kind of processing. For some of my classmates, it was liberating to engage in this alternative way of knowing because they had been searching for this kind of creative outlet. Personally, I learned that this kind of communicating works for me because it’s an effective way for me to address problems in a constructive manner. Once I leaned into the discomfort of vulnerability, I could let the process of performing take over.
As I walk away from this course, I do so with more awareness of my position in the world. I understand better how I operate within the global structures of wealth and poverty. I know how profoundly unequal things are; it runs hot through my blood and weighs heavy on my muscles and bones. Whether I’m complicit or not, whether I’m an agent or a casualty, wherever I situate myself, what am I going to do about it? How am I going to use my voice? We, the participants of “Blood Muscle Bone,” move to declare ourselves as a group of people who will no longer abide by inequality. We establish ourselves as a group of people who are dedicated to bringing about change and invite others to join us in this stance.
Creative Campus Intern Sewon Kang ’14 discusses the intensives that have been part of the Creative Campus course “Blood, Muscle, Bone: The Anatomy of Wealth and Poverty,” as well as the free “Blood, Muscle, Bone” Performative Teach-In which will be held on Monday, November 11, 2013 from 7pm to 11pm in Fayerweather Beckham Hall. (The doors will open every 30 minutes—come and stay as long as you like.)
Having recently emerged from the “Blood, Muscle, Bone” intensives, adjusting to the rhythm of school again is almost like switching brains. For five days, I employed a radically different mode of thinking and processing than I ever have before. I moved, thought, and felt about many different issues surrounding wealth, poverty, and the body, and collaborated with my instructors and fellow students in surprising and new ways.
Our first few intensives were committed to the creation of a collective toolbox. Our guest instructors, Professors William Arsenio, Wendy Rayack, and Lois Brown, gave lectures related to wealth and poverty through the lens of their particular fields. From recent fiscal and experimental data, to the days of early American slave trading, the range of information presented to us walked us through an issue that transcends time and place, and affects all humans.
While listening to these lectures, Liz, Jawole, and their associates Vincent Thomas and Keith Thompson encouraged us to take on the role of the artist in addition to the role of the student. While listening, we posed questions and problematized the information, but we were also challenged to explore the information in ways that we would not necessarily have the freedom to do in other classrooms. We paid attention and took note of the visualizations and soundtracks floating through our heads, and responded to the lecturer’s body language and cues with our own bodies. Such prompts helped me realize that there are hundreds of angles from which this issue could be addressed which got me excited to further develop some of them with my classmates.
The lectures were punctuated by creative exercises and movement studies designed to give us more tools for our arsenal. The artists devised activities that allowed us to explore deeper and respond to what we learned with our thoughts and emotions. I was able to use my intellect and my body in combination to process the weight of the information. Wealth disparity in the U.S. is at an all time high; the richest 400 individuals are worth $2.02 trillion dollars, more than the net worth of the bottom 50% of the population. The immediacy of creative opportunities to process and react to such information was incredibly beneficial for me, as it’s sometimes difficult to take in facts, figures, and histories without taking into consideration their humanity and reality. There was an amazing collaboration between the artists and guests lecturers, allowing us to experiment and process with total freedom and comfort that I deeply appreciated.
I find the prospect of communicating and translating my ideas into movement a bit daunting, but mostly thrilling. Throughout the remainder of the intensive, Jawole, Liz, Vincent, and Keith had us create in small groups within limited timeframes. Working like this helped me get more comfortable with the act of communicating my ideas in an artistic way. I also got a taste for how creative and talented my peers are, and am excited to see what I can learn from working closely with them.
At one point, we all sat around in a circle and conducted an “asset inventory.” Everyone in the room shared a skill or an aspect about themselves that makes a contribution to the community, and the diversity of responses and experiences in the class opened up so many possibilities. I shared that I love to backpack and that I enjoy the challenge of carrying everything I need to survive on the strength of my own back. Using this idea as a metaphor, a small group of students and I got together to figure out how to create a backpack for change and reported back to the group. We created a movement piece that reflects on the meaning of carrying and sharing weight, and the necessity of being prepared for the tough times ahead. Since then, we’ve been workshopping the piece with Keith and other students who have joined in on the process. I’m really looking forward to where it will all go from here.
My fellow students and I have explored a lot of difficult problems and ideas in this course, some of which really hit home. We’re continuing to process the material creatively through songwriting, photography, and movement among other things. We’re currently honing in on ways to articulate what we’ve learned to a wider audience. As concerned citizens who are deeply disturbed by these inequities, we’re finding ways to express how to respond both personally and intellectually to the fact that there is something seriously wrong here. We’ve become witness to these problems in our country and are determined to do something about it. We’re carrying this heavy reality on our backs. We’re trying to deal with the weight of what it all means.
Our efforts will culminate in a special performance-based teach-in that will take place on Monday, November 11, 2013 from 7pm to 11pm every half hour in Fayerweather Beckham Hall. This teach-in is inspired by the activist movements that came before us, which emphasized the importance and need for knowledge first. This experiential event is going to be multifaceted, with elements that enlighten, shock, and ask the audience to participate and think with us. We’re going to use our bodies and various art forms to demonstrate the physicality of these issues to make issues of disparity tangible. We’ll invite participants to move, feel, explore and engage in dialogue with us, because the only way we can address these issues is to do it together.
Creative Campus Intern Sewon Kang ’14 discusses her experience in the Creative Campus course “Blood, Muscle, Bone: The Anatomy of Wealth and Poverty.”
This semester I’m taking “Blood, Muscle, Bone: The Anatomy of Wealth and Poverty,” a Creative Campus course taught by Liz Lerman and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. In my time at Wesleyan, I’ve had the privilege of interning for Creative Campus, an initiative that unites ideas and gets people thinking outside of their comfort zones. Creative Campus hosts a wide variety of artists on campus, inviting them to employ their creative processes within the university setting for the mutual benefit of the artist and the Wesleyan community. Artists can participate by co-teaching courses with professors, experimenting with students in the classroom, creating commissions, and collaborating in community-based projects. Liz and Jawole are choreographers, both heavily engaged in interdisciplinary work and community/cultural organizing. In the spirit of Creative Campus, they are also teaching with professors from the fields of African American Studies, Economics, English and Psychology. “Blood, Muscle, Bone” is designed to train and support students interested in discovering the bridge between academic and artistic research through the vehicle of a new performance work of the same name. The course and the work explore the human price of socioeconomic inequalities, with particular emphasis on how to unveil and address hidden inequities through artmaking and various forms of activism. Such collaborative Creative Campus projects allow artists to utilize resources that are unique to the university setting throughout the critical period of conceptual research that informs and drives their work. The artist-university partnership is also designed to engage students and faculty members from diverse academic areas, bringing their different ways of knowing in communication with the arts. The other students enrolled in “Blood, Muscle, Bone” have backgrounds in chemistry, music, and American studies, while my background is in Art History and History. The goal of the course is to open up traditional academic boundaries and encourage the exploration of a profoundly complex issue from multiple and varied perspectives.
I’ve found that the professors, artists, and students who tend to participate in Creative Campus projects are interested in exploring topics that are deeply multifaceted, so much so that it is virtually impossible to study these issues from one perspective alone. I enrolled in “Blood, Muscle, Bone” because it addresses subject matter that is, in my opinion, impossible to study without taking the body into consideration. Socioeconomic conditions/realities take place within the individual and collective body and should be explored within the context of the body and its social environment. The ideas that are compelling and asking to be probed require collaboration that is open to questioning from all possible angles and areas of expertise. Creative Campus gives people a safe space in which to ask these questions and bring seemingly disparate ideas in communion with one another. This method has been so liberating that participants of Creative Campus have found themselves completely changed upon being encouraged to think and do in this way. Because of my work in this program, I’ve been witness to these very real transformations. I read one student assert that the artistic element of a course “helped [her] to embody and reflect on our more traditionally academic material, and incorporate motion and emotion into a realm that is all too often static and emotionless.” Another student said that the opportunity to consider something as complex as climate change through both artistic and academic impulses “has completely altered [her] understanding of the world.” These are the kinds of intense impacts that Creative Campus has been able to instill in Wesleyan students, and I’m very much looking forward to experiencing it for myself.
“Blood, Muscle, Bone” was also appealing to me because of its emphasis on activism and the utilization of various activist tools to explore topics. When it comes to academic pursuits, Wesleyan has always encouraged me to think about the whole picture, giving me the tools to consider all facets of an issue. There are whole fields of study on campus dedicated to this idea that learning can only truly be achieved through input from multiple channels. Creative Campus projects have taken this approach one step further by allowing me to embrace this way of thinking in my personal life, in addition to my pedagogical outlook. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been lucky to meet and talk to many interesting artists like Eiko Otake, of Eiko + Koma, and Lucy Orta, of Studio Orta, who have generously taken the time to show students how to create with intention. Artists employ research methods and ask questions that are challenging in ways that thrill and excite students who are in the process of discovering their own interests and passions, which is a major reason why I decided to take this course.
The issues that I’ve been challenged to think about and feel in my body at Wesleyan have forever changed me as a thinker and as a human being who aims to make an impact. Since getting involved, I’ve been inspired to find my own form of political activism. “Blood, Muscle, Bone” deals with the realities of wealth inequality, a topic that has always been on my mind. Growing up in New York City, I’ve been exposed to both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum and have been amazed by how polarized the experiences of the rich and the poor can be. Oftentimes I find this issue intimidating to talk about because of how pervasive and global the problem seems to be. How does one begin to approach being proactive about poverty and how it affects the human mind/body? How can one person, or a small group of people create something that speaks to these issues and affects communities in a positive way? These are the questions I bring to the table before our first class intensive and I look forward to being able to explore these issues with my instructors and peers. I know that the knowledge and experience gained from this course are going to give me the courage and motivation to tackle issues in ways that extend way beyond the scope of the classroom and long after I graduate in May.
Michelle Agresti ’14 interviews Sally Williams ’14, Elle Bayles ’14, and Naya Samuel ’14 about their works on the Fall Thesis Dance Concert, taking place Thursday, October 31 through Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 8pm in the Patricelli ’92 Theater.
Walking into the Patricelli ’92 Theater late one night last week, I was greeted with the sight of a giant web made of gold chain that stretched from floor to ceiling—no, Second Stage is not running a haunted house, it’s just a set piece for the Fall Thesis Dance Concert, another big event that’s happening this weekend. The concerts this weekend will showcase one half of three dance majors’ theses, since a thesis in the dance major means creating two works, one for both semesters of your senior year. Sally Williams ’14, Elle Bayles ’14, and Naya Samuel ’14 are all premiering their first dances starting Thursday, October 31 and going through Saturday, November 2 at 8pm in the Patricelli ’92 Theater.
The giant gold web belongs to Ms. Williams. Her dance is depicting the way cells in the brain act when effected by Alzheimer’s disease—portraying in dance the neurophysical side of Alzheimer’s. The dancers will be repeating dance phrases, but mutating them and mixing them up during the course of the dance, representing how memories and tasks are scrambled. The dance was choreographed by giving the dancer prompts and asking them to come up with these dance phrases on their own, and then Ms. Williams subsequently took their movements and patterned them how she wished. The gold web is meant to evoke the interconnected web of neural pathways in our brains, and it will come apart during the dance, just as it comes apart in a brain afflicted with Alzheimer’s.
“In Alzheimer’s—it’s interesting, you have both an accumulation of new proteins or products in the brain as well as death of the actual neurons in the brain,” illustrates Ms. Williams. “So it’s this kind of interesting complex of degeneration but also accumulation.”
Ms. Williams choose the topic because it has both personal and academic importance to her, as she has done clinical research on Alzheimer’s as well as has two grandmothers with the disease. The reason that Ms. Williams has been in a lab working with Alzheimer’s is because she is a Molecular Biology and Biochemistry major in addition to Dance. She’s choosing to express the more clinical aspects of the disease through dance in her thesis because she believes that as a teaching tool, this performance will reach a wider audience—and be more entertaining.
“I’m trying to use dance as a way to illustrate this very complex biology in a more accessible way,” says Ms. Williams. “Because when you’re sitting there listening to a fifteen minute long lecture on dying cells and dying neurons, no one’s gonna listen to that. I’m trying to use dance as a medium for people to listen and learn. “
Studying both dance and science at once at Wesleyan have definitely contributed to her academically mixed thesis. The two subjects have encouraged her to think about how the unlikely pair are connected to each other. Additionally, the Dance Department itself has had a strong effect on her choreography and subject choice.
Ms. Williams explains, “The biggest thing about the Dance Department that’s influenced my work is how open it is and how receptive it is to different ideas. My work is really very interdisciplinary and they are very very receptive to that.”
Ms. Williams’ dance this semester is part of a larger project about dance and disease. For her spring piece, she’s going to be examining Alzheimer’s effects from an emotional and lifestyle perspective.
Ms. Williams says “My whole big general thesis is exploring intersections of illness in American contemporary dance.”
Ms. Bayles is also exploring illness and dance, but from a quite literal psychological perspective. As Ms. Williams put it earlier, these inter-departmental projects are “so Wes.”
Ms. Bayles describes her thesis as “exploring psychiatric methods through exploring choreographic methods.” She is looking at how the psychological process of talking to and treating patients is related to how dance choreographers created their pieces with their dancers. She does this by using different choreographic methods with her own dancers and studying the process. For her first dance, she is looking at the choreography of Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch.
Mr. Cunningham was a dancer under the famous Martha Graham. She was influenced by her psychologist father, who was of Freud’s psychoanalytical tradition. Ms. Bayles explains that Mr. Cunningham’s choreographic method, which was “very movement for movement’s sake,” in her words, was effected by psychoanalysis.
Ms. Bausch, on the other hand, approached choreography a different way.
“[She] is very inspired by emotion, and she asks her dancers very elaborate questions and then their choreography comes from their actual dance,” says Ms. Bayles.
For her thesis, Ms. Bayles has mixed these two methods together. This combination of styles to find your own choreographic voice is something that she says the Dance Department definitely emphasizes in its curriculum.
“I was just playing around with the two types of choreography,” she says. “[It] turned into sort of more about relationships and emotions changing.”
Ms. Samuel, in a bit of a departure from the more scientifically oriented theses of Ms. Williams and Ms. Bayles, has choreographed a dance with an eye towards social commentary and resistance. As a double American Studies and Dance major, this topic is something that Ms. Samuel has academically studied as well.
Ms. Samuel describes her thesis in an email: “I’m looking at the production of individuality [and the production of difference] on the American body, and how this is achieved under/helpful to the project of capitalism and the sustainment of our hegemony.”
For her dance this semester, however, she is not attempting to portray abstract philosophical ideas. She is using her dancers to demonstrate and explore how the body is involved in these identity-construction battles, and how the body and dance can push back against theses forces.
She writes, “[My dance is] a literal use of bodies in relation to each other and the space they’re sharing to demonstrate different power relationships and normalizations.”
For the Fall Thesis Dance Concert, each choreographer has brought her own perspective to their dances. In a “very Wesleyan,” as Ms. Williams put it, way, each dance brings together the teachings of the Dance Department with each person’s academic interests. Between the works of Ms. Williams, Ms. Bayles, and Ms. Samuel, the Fall Thesis Dance Concert this weekend is sure to be an educational and entertaining night.
Fall Thesis Dance Concert Thursday, October 31 through Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 8pm Patricelli ’92 Theater $4 Wesleyan students, $5 all others
Aileen Lambert ’16 attends a puppetry workshop with performance artist Dan Froot. Dan Froot and Dan Hurlin’s “Who’s Hungry” will receive its Connecticut premiere at Wesleyan on Friday, September 27 and Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 8pm in World Music Hall.
“I’m not a puppet artist, but I really like puppet artists. I aspire to be a puppet artist.”
This is how Dan Froot, a performance artist who, in collaboration with puppet artist Dan Hurlin, presents the Connecticut premiere of “Who’s Hungry” in World Music Hall on September 27 and 28, introduced himself. At the time, I was attending his “Oral History Through Puppetry” workshop this past Monday, September 23. After that experience, I can now personally say that while my career goals have not changed to “puppet artist,” I do have a newfound appreciation for the craft.
Mr. Froot is a performance artist with a long history of work with international theater and dance companies, including the avant-garde theater group Mabou Mines (who Wesleyan presented on the Outside the Box Theater Series in February 2013). In 2008, after previously having worked mainly in theater and dance, Mr. Froot turned to puppet artist Dan Hurlin to create a puppet theater piece about food insecurity in America called “Who’s Hungry.”
The words “food insecurity” are carefully chosen. Despite the title of the piece being “Who’s Hungry,” Mr. Froot is explicit that his piece focuses on a more complicated concept than hunger. While “hunger” is defined as the chronic inability to eat the basic three meals a day, “food insecurity” is the chronic inability to be properly fed. It can mean malnutrition, lack of access to proper food, an inability to pay for both food and rent, or an inability to afford food for all family members. Food insecurity intersects with plethora of social issues such as poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness. Usually, it is the people who are marginalized from our society who suffer.
When “Who’s Hungry” was created, Mr. Froot’s goal “was to bring these stories from the margins into the center of society and art.” To gather material, Mr. Froot spent months volunteering in homeless/hungry sectors of cities, building relationships with people and their environments. He then found five individuals and conducted ten one-hour interviews with each of them about their experiences. Each interviewee gave him about 250 pages of usable transcript. The 55 minutes of “Who’s Hungry” was collected from this research.
Ironically, the concept of food insecurity is hardly mentioned in the piece.
As Mr. Froot says, “The title tells you these people are food insecure, their stories do not.”
Food insecurity serves only as a common thread connecting these people, not a central focus of the piece. This is because Mr. Froot wanted to use each person’s story to help others see the humanity in these people who are often pitied, dismissed and ignored. His main goal is to reduce stigma—eliminate the “us versus them” feeling and allow the audience to empathize and identify with a score of different people who all are facing issues with being able to consistently obtain enough food.
The use of puppets is targeted to elicit this empathy. Puppets are small and intimate. They are also handcrafted and imperfect. There is no illusion of trying to create something realistically human or the distraction of having a monologue filtered through an actor; the focus can stay on the stories. Most importantly, puppets, as they are obviously representations, require an active audience imagination. In order to be moved by the stories, the audience must be willing to forgo some reality and project some of their own emotions onto the puppet. In this identification with the puppet, the audience can empathize with the main character of each story and will hopefully leave the theater with a greater understanding for the traditionally looked-down-upon people depicted.
Sitting on the floor of the Zilkha Gallery classroom, at Mr. Froot’s workshop we transitioned from listening to him explain his process into sharing our own stories about one memorable meal. Students told stories about sharing a “wheat dessert” in Serbia, sushi with fathers before freshman year at Wesleyan, and impeccably planned bargain lobster dinners. Mr. Froot shared his first experience with raw oysters. If any of us felt awkward discussing food after just hearing about people who struggled to feed themselves, Mr. Froot put an end to our discomfort before we even started.
“I am not food insecure,” he stated. “Having the ability to adequately feed yourself is not something to feel bad about at all.”
Instead, he encouraged us to use the privilege of our food security as a platform to help those who are not. Our casual conversation about food turned into a mini-creative process of our own. After sharing our quick stories, Mr. Froot broke us up into two smaller groups, where we could interview each other further.
The puppets we made in the workshop were a “down and dirty” version of Japanese Bunraku puppets, which are jointed puppets controlled by three puppeteers. Traditional Bunraku puppets are engineered with exquisite detail; ours were made lovingly out of newspaper. A puppet built from newspaper may sound a little “summer camp arts and crafts,” but when stood on a table with three puppeteers working all of its parts to maneuver the body, the paper doll came to life before our eyes. These puppets were able to move in surprisingly realistic ways, and I was surprised to see they could even portray emotions in their physicality.
Do not get me wrong—puppeteering is extraordinarily difficult. If one person is out of sync with the other two, the puppet’s movement shatters into awkward inhuman contortions. The illusion is only one misstep, one inept readjustment of the puppeteer’s hand, from breaking. It’s quite a bit of pressure on those people in black behind the dolls!
If I learned anything from Mr. Froot and his work, it is the feeling of fulfillment one gets when their puppet is able to crouch down from standing, lie down, sleep, and then be woken up, all without losing that tiny flame of life present inside the newspaper. It is wonderfully satisfying to be able to push your own life into an inanimate object and to express a character through something as simple as the Tuesday edition of The New York Times.
As part of New Student Orientation on Friday, August 30, 2013 at 7:30pm, over 500 freshman in the Class of 2017 participated in the Common Moment on Andrus Field, led by members of the internationally renowned company Doug Varone and Dancers. Wesleyan’s First Year Matters program focuses this year on issues related to diversity and inclusion, specifically exploring these expansive issues through the many lenses of access. The Common Moment experience helps demonstrate the exploration of these issues through music and movement. Led by choreographer Doug Varone and two company members, the first-year students made a once-in-a-lifetime collective expression about accessibility.
Doug Varone and Dancers will perform “Stripped/Dressed” featuring “Rise” and the Connecticut premiere of “Carrugi” on Thursday, September 12 & Friday, September 13, 2013 at 8pm in the CFA Theater. There will be a pre-performance talk by Wesleyan DanceLink Fellow Naya Samuel ’14 on Thursday, September 12 at 7:30pm in the CFA Hall. Tickets are $25 for the general public; $21 for senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, and non-Wesleyan students; and $6 for Wesleyan students. Click here to purchase tickets online.
Music & Public Life Intern Aletta Brady ’15 talks to Kelsey Siegel ’13 about MiddletownRemix: Hear More, See More – A Festival of Art and Sound, taking place on Saturday, May 11, 2013 from 2pm to 5pm. The festival will feature a commissioned flash mob dance choreographed by Kelsey Siegel to a hip-hop soundtrack created by DJ Arun Ranganathan, incorporating sounds from MiddletownRemix, at 2:30pm on Main Street between Liberty and Ferry Street. The flash mob dance is open to all levels of dancers. Learn the dance on YouTube here: www.youtube.com/wescfa and perform it as part of the flash mob on May 11 (participants should plan to arrive at the Festival Information Center, located at 575 Main Street in front of It’s Only Natural Market, at 2pm, and then perform the dance at 2:30pm).
Kelsey Siegel ‘13 is choreographing the flash mob dance for the MiddletownRemix festival. She’s enthusiastic about the dance and excited to see members of the Wesleyan University community as well as greater Middletown residents dance together. I asked Kelsey a few questions about her participation with the MiddletownRemix festival, and here is what I learned:
Aletta Brady ’15: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Kelsey Siegel ’13: My name is Kelsey Siegel. I’m from Port Washington, New York. I am a Mathematics and Dance double major at Wesleyan. I am currently the director of FUSION Dance Crew, and serve as the Dance Production Coordinator for the Dance Department at Wesleyan. I have always loved dancing, and being active in general. Hip hop has been my favorite form of dance for a while, but Wesleyan recently opened me up to other forms. I have also begun to see dance as somewhat formless and rather more of a way of communicating my own, unique style with movement.
Why did you decide to get involved with the MiddletownRemix project?
I was interested in getting involved with the MiddletownRemix project for several reasons. For one, I really enjoy working with students from Middletown, especially dancing with them. During my freshman year at Wesleyan, my dance crew would go to MacDonough Elementary School a few times a semester to dance with students in the afterschool program. Due to scheduling conflicts, however, we were unable to go after those few times. Reflecting back on it, I realized what a great time we had with the kids, and saw what a great time they had with us, and I knew we needed to find a way back into the community. I saw the opportunity to dance with students in the community again through the MiddletownRemix project, and immediately wanted in. Additionally, as an AmeriCorps volunteer at MacDonough Elementary School for two years, I spent a lot of time working with students in class and on their academic work. I realized that this project offered Wesleyan students a way of connecting with Middletown residents/students on a level that was beyond academics. I was excited to dance with students again, and to help show them how to be creative and expressive with both their bodies and their minds. I was excited to find a way for the Wesleyan and Middletown communities to connect through dance while also having fun.
Can you tell me about the dance that you choreographed?
The dance I choreographed is to the hip hop soundtrack of DJ N.E.B [Arun Ranganathan]. It has more of an old-school hip hop vibe to it, but also takes on a lot of my own style. I tried to keep the movements fairly simple and repetitive, so that anyone could learn the dance. I also wanted the movements to be simple enough for anyone to add their own style to it. I’m all about individual style, and wanted to showcase everyone’s personality through this dance, especially since most of the sounds featured in the track came from the MiddletownRemix website, where anyone could upload their own sound. This dance is all about getting funky and having fun!
What are you most looking forward to about the day of the MiddletownRemix festival?
I’m looking forward to the entire day of the festival, but especially the flash mob dance! I can’t wait to see all the kids out there who put so much work into learning the dance. I’m excited to see them own the dance and have fun dancing on the sidewalk together. It’s going to be awesome.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Everyone should come to the MiddletownRemix festival this Saturday May 11 from 2pm to 5pm! It has something for everyone and isn’t something you can find anywhere else. I feel very lucky to have been a part of this project, and cannot wait for the festival. It’s going to be an incredible day.
For the complete MiddletownRemix festival schedule, and to capture, contribute and remix sounds from Wesleyan and Middletown using the free UrbanRemix app for iPhone/iOS and Android devices, visit http://www.middletownremix.org