Power verses force. What do you have the power to do? Are there areas where you don’t need to force but rather you can go with the flow? We need in this world a place where you can experiment, risk and ask questions. As a freelance dance artist, I have been battered by the winds of dance, but it hasn’t detoured me from following what I am most passionate to do, despite the obstacles which are many! I think we don’t have enough curiosity in this world. What I know I can give as an artist ~is to evoke curiosity, connection, wonder and questioning in others. The spirit of inquiry is something that is not honored in our society today. We only follow linear growth on a clear path, supposedly know where we are going and what we are getting before we get it –as it has already been codified and commodified for us. Art is the antidote to this. An expansive idea, that anything is possible. Risk whenever possible, the world is always changing and we are in a constant state of motion! If a flat lifeline means we are dead~ real life can only exist with highs and lows. In Culturistan, our group experienced these same peaks and summits. anticipation and curiosity. Success is not linear- our world is always changing as are we. The organs in our body that work the hardest have the fastest changeover. We grow a whole new skin every 2-4 weeks. Our red blood cells last less than ½ a year. We are always changing yet we hold on tightly to remain the same. To settle for the security of the familiar or known. The ups and downs are inevitable, but we can make efforts to change. the way we see, speak and hear them. How might we place greater focus on our shared humanity rather than the differences that separate us? In a world of individualist outlooks is there also room for empathy, community orientation, and interculturalism? “Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth”– Shirley Chisholm Culturistan has come to an end. I sincerely thank Ahmad and Taha for their vision in creating and bringing this unique residency to fruition and to my fellow Culturistanies. The future of the connections forged here are yet to be revealed but I am optimistic to see how our intentions will take root. I am all the richer for meeting these 9 individuals more personally over these last 10 days, until we meet again!
Our last night at Culturistan~ I am left with a feeling of melancholy for a variety of reasons. We discussed ways in which this 10-day residency worked, ways it didn’t work, suggestions for improvement and development for the next class of Culturistanis to come for Class II. A range of emotions and thoughts rose to the surface in our reading discussion today. I will need to reflect and digest this unique experience with Ahmad, Taha, Epi, Greg, Gelareh, Iason, Fayaz and Yasmeen in this unique, circuitous and unconventional residency experience. A quote by Anais Nin comes to mind as our day comes to a close: “I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger as a reason. I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go. Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.”
Art is knowledge. If this is true, then the absence of this knowledge is something which is done poorly, something that does not have art. Today we discussed readings surrounding the use of artificial intelligence in art making, regardless of whether works of art emulate authenticity or originality is not as much a concern for me as much as the larger issue- how do we value people, artists, creators, and craftsmen versus the products and the commodified heritages which are ultimately generated? As a second-generation dance artist and dance researcher, I have learned to channel not only bliss but also my anger to fuel my writing, dance work, and speech. Where do we place our values as a society? Who are the gate-keepers and who gets to decide what and who is of value and what and who is not? Cross-culturally speaking societies can learn a great deal from each other by removing ethnocentric rubrics for assessment prescribed by their own cultural norms or socially acceptable behaviors. Governmental systems are very aware of the power of art and culture and its unifying effect on the societies they spring from. Some examples of government’s uses of targeted violence to eradicate people and societies through their cultural practices include: the United States government’s homogenization of Native American culture through cultural assimilation re-education camps, the English government’s outlawing of Irish harp playing, the catholic church’s burning of indigenous ‘Sami’ drums in Sweden, the Greek government’s outlawing of Rebetika music and the Cambodian government’s targeted genocide of classical Khmer dancers. How important are cultural traditions and intangible heritage to our collective humanity? Are these art practices worth preserving and developing or should we create new ones?
Der Kolk states: “We now know that trauma compromises the brain area that communicates the physical, embodied feeling of being alive.” Just as the brain is able to create physiological changes and new neurological pathways in the body from trauma, artists/dancers are able to manifest new work or choreographic material from their lived experiences. On the topic of artificial intelligence and the art being produced by machines~ I question where our value is being placed. For me, I do not believe in art. Instead, I believe in artists, as Marcel Duchamp once eloquently put it. For example, the agentive lived experience of the body in dance, the human element in art making and craftsmanship raises some deeply philosophical questions and ontological perspectives on the state of art, culture and authenticity in our world today. After a morning of discussing topics surrounding machine generated art we perhaps somewhat ironically ventured out on a nature walk through fields and groves of trees, finally ending up at the edge of a lake where we all shared a meal together in the grass. Food for thought!
I spent 20 hours in transit in the last 48 hours, traveling from our residency to London and back again. I did this in order to attend a mandatory academic meeting and to rehearse and perform in an MFA dancer’s final thesis project entitled ‘She/Her’- a project made up of four dancers that addressed themes surrounding women and agency. A pretty typical day in a life of freelance dance artist, nevertheless, it was a marathon of bodily labor that was mentally and emotionally charged, but I pushed through. Reflecting on what my mind and body has gone through in the last two days has me questioning if there is space to write in the places in between the semantic and somatic methodologies as a working dance practitioner? In our world, there are some bodies that are valued and others that are devalued, bodies that have the agency and right to move and bodies which have not been given the space to be visible or heard. There are so many examples of women being written out of history for being the ‘wrong body’, women whose husbands, brothers, fathers or colleagues took credit or muted women’s contributions. How might the landscape of art-making change if women were allowed equal agency and support in their artistic work? What happens when conceptual beliefs about culture, gender, and ethnicity collide with real-life modern day expressions of identity and environment? A quote by the late contemporary dance artist Chandraleka comes to mind “The drudgery of life is that everything repeats itself… to move the space with understanding, with bodies, and with imagination, is what we as dancers do”
Culture as currency. Culture as wealth. If culture is a form of wealth, could not the culturally ‘rich’ trade cultural information for acknowledgment, advancement or recognition? One way in which cultural history affirms the power invested innately in the image or text is to uncover its dynamic relationship to other cultural texts. Reflecting on our day with our guest Jul, makes me think about creative ways to blur and straddle the lines between perception and fact, history, the imaginary worlds, and ‘real’ ones. Our theater exercise with Jul using an ancient Greek story, modern interpretations, and the theater was just that. Theater and dance are mediums of cultural expression which are not just vessels to disseminate cultural information but it also provides opportunities to respond back. Look around you, do you see your history written down? Histories or herstories begin long before memories are collected and retold. Behind each pen that writes history, is a person with distinct perspectives, objectives, and agendas. Never forget this fact and draw your attention to how texts work and circulate. What about the histories of those which have been excluded due to race, gender, and class. Or those people who didn’t have the leisure of time to write their own historical records? What are your responsibility and bodily standpoint in the writing of history and how can we contribute to more inclusive self-assembled records and new historicisms?
Masks~ which masks do you wear? Are you even aware of the costumes you adorn yourself with or the roles and costumes you oppose on others to wear? What happens when we don’t play the roles correctly? When the line is drawn between manipulation and simply good strategizing blurred, when it comes to making one’s goals come to fruition? There is a vulnerability in being and living in a body, it possible to straddle the worlds of the imaginary and real and create a new reality? There is not only one domain which I wish to occupy, connecting and engaging through all of our senses, maybe it is possible to interact with multiple heritages, histories, and stories in parallel with our own without suppressing the difference.
Culturistan asks its residents to linger and exchange in social spaces through readings, shared meals and environment. It pushes its residents not only to observe but also engage and reflect on the how storytelling, poetry, and other texts are situated in relationship to culture, place, race, class, and gender and for Class 1’s cohort~ centered around the theme of authenticity. Today I shared with my fellow residents a presentation using my dance work discussing the concept of performed heritage: Are humans mere brains contained in useless and meaningless vessels? No. We are living, breathing, moving creatures and this fact matters, not only for how we think about ourselves in a moving world but also how we think about thinking itself. What if we were to start the discipline of history from the stance of bodies moving? In a world of economic, cognitive, ideological and political hegemony. Who holds a monopoly over ‘knowledge’ and critical thought? Might dance be an epistemological approach to critical thought? How can we learn from and through the act of moving? If we could learn to think on our feet, invoking critical frameworks, might we be able to sense how power moves and in turn choreograph our resistance to it? What strategies and sacrifices are we willing to make in order to reach our end goal? Is authenticity always the most valuable ingredient?
How can we honor and acknowledge our own histories in relationship to other’s histories? To understand one’s self we must also understand ourselves in parallel with others, from the individual experience to the collective experience. We must expand the spectrum through which our history has been told. What would happen if we transformed our focus to one which includes the other without suppressing the difference? When the difference is understood and respected without coercion we can endeavor to resist assaults on marginalized people, their environments and the cultural heritage that they carry with them. There is a profound difference between preserving history and curating it. What stories are you being told? And through which lens are they being filtered?
How do we know what we know? Today I consciously direct my attention towards how to conserve and use my energy most efficiently in this new ecosystem of people and artists being created through Culturistan. For example, how can we more authentically convey sensory, personal, conceptual, factual and experiential shared knowledge, moving from the 3D into a flattening of information through text? In a world saturated with technology, where human movements and connections are being erased; can liminal spaces be occupied through this newly formed community of strangers through exchange and collective discussions?