September 15–23, 2017
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission Street San Francisco, CA 94103
By ANTHONY TORRES, OCT. 2017
Transform Fest at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts September 15–23, 2017, presented newly commissioned performances by prolific San Francisco Bay Area artists that encompassed contemporary dance, experimental performance, pop-up installations, and community conversations, featuring Larry Arrington, Giacomo Castagnola, Embodiment Project, Fauxnique, Fogbeast, Jesse Hewit, Sandra Imagery, and Minoosh Zomorodinia Performance.
The festival presented and combined live dance performances, film, spoken word, pop-up events, and parties, orchestrated around the question: Why Citizenship? Although this question was not fully analyzed or defined, the festival performances provided a forum and served as a catalyst for a range of creative approaches to engaging the question, however nebulous.
The aesthetic significance of the integrated trans-disciplinary collaborative performances was that they were anchored in the formal integrity and beauty of their varied counter cultural interventions, demonstrating how diverse artistic media embody historic and ideological discourses, and how artists utilize diverse aesthetic vocabularies as personal and social strategies.
As such, the multimedia performances revealed interconnections between individual art practices and the complex social forces that impact the artists’ experiences and content of the work.
The presentations formulated a politics of articulation in which images and formal strategies were culled from an international reservoir of ideas and discourses to reveal fluid and mobile histories of hybrid cultural creations — established by contact, conflict, experience, sympathetic issue identification, and fantasy constructions, realized through iconography, formal vocabularies, and personal associations — as a means of constituting a counter-hegemonic practice of engaging contemporary concerns and social positions.
The Embodiment Project, a street dance theater company based in San Francisco, blended dance genres to challenge systemic inequity by excavating and dissecting issues related to women’s personal histories, incestuous childhood trauma, gender role disruption, race, and healing, through street dance, live song, documentary theater, and spoken word. The performance brought to light and concretized human stories often silenced by dominant cultural ideologies, in order to comment on how “citizenship” is abstracted, constructed, stripped away, and denied through structural racism, generational trauma, institutional repression, and the prison industrial complex.
Jesse Hewit’s dance performance, and collaboration with festival designer Giacomo Castagnola, aimed at unsettling and interrogating dominant notions of power, narrative, and safety by means of a physically articulated intervention that focused on how human beings are socially imbricated in specificities of time and space, and constituted through objects and environments, via structures of economic and social reproduction that alienate people from themselves, each other, and nature, through varying modes of co-dependent reification.
The contemporary dance company RAWdance addressed the relationship between the function of traditional intellectuals and culture makers that rationalize and justify the maintenance of social structures of power and oppression, and conversely, the necessity of oppositional cultural contests of meaning that interrogate, challenge, and undermine ideologies of dominant groups, in order to bring about alternate shifts of power through social struggles, political allegiances, and alliances.
Fauxnique — the drag queen alter ego of multi-genre performing artist Monique Jenkinson — utilized dance, cabaret, and theater to reflect and consider how the performance of femininity may serve as a powerful, humanizing, and subversive act.
Fauxnique addresses notions of identification, belonging, and authenticity, through performance practices of artifice, in order to interrogate what is meant, and what it means, when someone is referred to as a “real American” or a real anything? In so doing, she problematizes the notion of authenticity itself, by shining a bright light on our mutual implication in the tenuousness of language systems, constructions of meaning, and the nebulousness of conventions of identity.
Amy Seiwert’s Imagery, with Arrington/Lawson Ndu/Zomorodinia, and Fogbeast, utilized photography, video, and performance to (re)present and reframe ballet, in order to re-signify it as an expressive, socially conscious vehicle relevant to our times.
The performance deconstructed and reformulated “common sense” conceptions of ballet to reconstitute it as a means of creating an arena for relating and questioning stories of displacement, migration, and immigration, through direct audience engagement and participation, and lend a voice to long silenced subaltern subjectivities and concretize the plight of people too long “othered” as abstractions.
The significance of Transform Fest was the overall sustained emphasis of the formal integration of the trans-disciplinary collaborative performances that steadfastly maintained and allegorically affirmed — whether consciously or unconsciously — that the separation of art from life is unrealistic, and that in contemporary life, art, politics, and our everyday existences are integrally connected, in a fateful predicament we all share, differently, together.
Here, the idea that art and cultural politics are mutually distinct is unmasked and revealed as a symptom of a real social fragmentation and estrangement that historically has differentiated and separated different people, cultures, and by extension modes of expression, by simplistically relegating socially engaged art to legible content, while degrading the revolutionary aesthetic potential of art, by reducing it to simplistic pre-configured massages that all to often amount to declarative vulgar statements that speak primarily to those who already agree with the message, thereby excluding wider audiences that may form potential fellow travelers.
The Transform Fest performances, by contrast, demonstrated the potential of the deployment of formal strategies and techniques to articulate personal, aesthetic, and social concerns, as a means of interrogating the cultural and ideological dimensions of the world we have inherited; but perhaps more importantly, celebrating the transformative potential of art to formulate a more complex understanding of our mutual interdependence, the necessity for intra-cultural communication, and an inclusive, responsible, and expanded redefinition of “Global” citizenship. WM
Anthony Torres is an independent scholar, art writer, and art appraiser. He has curated and traveled numerous exhibitions, and published extensively in Artweek, New Art Examiner, Art Papers and others. Additionally he researched and wrote the “Illustrated Chronology” and essay “Negotiating Space: The Sketch Books,” for the book, Frank Lobdell: The Art of Making and Meaning (2003).
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