What were the origins of your Open Call projects?
My work generally continues to flow in different directions. One project leads to the next project leads to the next project. I’m constantly involved with a series of ideas related to dealing with lightness, darkness, visibility, invisibility, legibility, and the relationship to identity. And also architecture, space, and sensation. I’m in this river that continues to flow at different speeds with different depths. And at times I get out to dry off and then I jump back in.
Beautiful, Niall. I echo that. Since I started creating in the city, I’ve been working on this “Available Bodies” series. It originally started with different representations, or misrepresentations, in the media of queer and trans people, and how those images really weren’t accessible to me in my adolescence. So, coming to New York and finding a sense of chosen family was near and dear to me, and helped me with my own transition at the time, and currently.
The project started with a solo durational work which felt more like an endurance piece. And, now it’s taken on more family and more fellowship with people in this space at The Shed. The biggest shift in the work started last year when I started practicing more ancestral praise and ancestral dialogue, specifically with trans ancestors that have been taken from the community too soon. These stories that were in the media were affecting me and my practice and my day-to-day life, and my day-to-day feelings of safety and protection. So, to have more people enhance the work with these conversations, to share in this space at The Shed, has been quite special.
What are the performances going to be like?
This work has taken on a lot of layers. There’s the movement aspect of it but then we have things that feel like non-ephemeral pursuits. In the sculpture making, the material has changed since we’ve been in The Shed. Originally it started off with duct tape, now we are using a stucco tape. We have a lot of pat-and-clap step elements to conjure the ancestors. And a lot of spoken word, which is something that’s developing and seems to be a new pursuit in the work stemming from when I started to interview people years ago.
Writing was always in the work but in an abstract way. Now this is a more direct conversation with the outside of the ancestral dialogue, with the viewers and the performers. We’ve been composing text we are calling “panegyrics.” These texts feel like proclamations. In this sense, we’ve been working through a lot of different practices inspired by the Pentecostal denomination. I did a trans baptism work last year that initiated this practice. From there we’ve been taking more of the practices of the congregation and church ritual and bringing them into the work to help conjure the ancestors. There are praise breaks where the movement is then incorporated. So, it’s very layered and it’s going to be really interesting to see how everything comes together. But we’re still figuring it out. I really believe in the work being the process and not necessarily the actual manifestation of it all.
I’m really curious to hear you talk about how you negotiate or navigate the layers, z. For me, there’s a relationship to the room and to space and to a desire for space to take on the presence of place to become place. And in that pursuit there are a series of scores that range from improvisational practice or compositional practices to decompositional practices.
Inside of those scores are ways to think about how to move bodies—be it my own, be it others who are performing with me, or even those in the audience. How do I move people through a space? How do I invite people into a space and how does that invitation imply that everyone in the room is also in the work regardless of whether we identify as performer or audience? And, there are things that come up in relation to sound. I have this love of nightlife and club culture as a way to feel and move through modes of queerness and fantasy.
So, there are all of these ideas that are like the layers for z that continue to accumulate in my work. There’s the choreographic work, the improvisational ideas, the sonic ideas, that come through. There’s a lot of singing because I’m trying to work on singing. I’m constantly in the process of looking for words to help me see the different kinds of relationships to thinking poetics. There’s language, there’s song, there’s noise, there’s body, and there’s the environment itself that feels deeply critical to me as the fantasy of theater.
In terms of tending these layers, z, is there a relation to space for you, as well? In the way you tape off or delimit the space of the performance?
Creating the area that is taped off came from this idea of creating more of a safe space for the ritual to take place and for ancestors to enter the room. But, in saying that, it’s not to take away from the fact that the viewer is still energetically feeding the work. So, it’s not something that the performance stays within.
I want the viewers to have less of an observational role and take on more of an active participation. We’re trying to manifest in the space. But how do I negotiate those layers now? I’m still figuring that out.
I think about that a lot myself, too. I think a lot about the layers and the ideas and the practices and how curating is rooted in care. All of the parts require a relationship to maintenance and to commitment and devotion. I usually start with a lot of ideas. I lay out all of the components, all of the sounds, all of the bodily stuff. And then I go into this process of arrangement and rearrangement. It’s almost an editorial practice. I’m in the layers, constantly thinking how do I care for all of the parts?
How does one moment in time catalyze the possibilities of something to come? The imagination needs care, the arrangement needs care. The way we set ideas into motion with other people requires care.
Does it work for me on a psychological, emotional, bodily level? Does it work on a dramaturgical level? This is an ongoing project, the puzzle can never be completed. It’s constantly shifting like sand.
I agree, Niall. I avoid working in a linear way. The experimentation of it all is where a lot of the truth lies. Once you start to put it in a sequence, it feels almost like a breakup because you know certain ideas might not work.
I try to challenge myself thinking, does this have to have some type of arc? Does it have to feel like it’s telling a story? I already know the rules, is this an opportunity to break them? Or, is this a time to create something that tells more of a cohesive story?
Even to figure out maybe not all the rules are bad.
Right, Niall. As part of my undergraduate education, we were working through a lot of things that were already beginning when viewers entered the space. There’s an activation time where people are entering the space and we’re already beginning to tape off the safe space, or the ritual space, trying to blur those lines. I hate the idea of ending work, the applause and people leaving and cheering you on and hugging. I don’t want the work to end that way. So, we’ve been thinking about ways in which we can have the manifestation continue on.
z, your work very much reflects this community that you’ve brought into this space. Are you working with collaborators in this way, Niall?
I work on a lot of things at the same time. I edit a lot of sound. I do a lot of writing, and I’m also working on a project with a group of students at the university where I teach. My process is very much about who’s available to come to the party. It’s about working with people’s schedules and figuring out the work in relation to these constraints and unknowns. A lot of the work is responding to what is possible, who is possible, and when. Ghosts and presences are always in the work and association comes up a lot. I don’t ever feel like I’m in some zone of the solo. I want to always resist that. I want to keep room and space in poetic and concrete ways for everything that’s there that maybe doesn’t show up to the eye. I’m always in a dialogue or an entanglement because that’s how artistic work and landscape gets made. I’m not interested in the fantasy of the solo art maker.
I aspire to do the same, Niall. Trusting divine timing and trusting instinct, listening to the gut is important. Even with the people that I’ve been holding space with, it’s been truly divine timing. These people want to be in the space with me, and that’s sometimes hard to find. It feels like dating, in a way. It’s been nice to have a lot of fellowship outside of just working together before we were able to build that trust to share space in this way.
That reminds me, z, that the making of the work is just a way to keep working on the things that sustain us before, during, and after we do this thing called the performance. I keep telling myself now to slow down a bit, and really open myself up to all these otherworlds of information, these relationships. Yes, the show matters but it’s not just about that. And z reminded me of that, too. I love that there’s this other surrounding to the work that we do that requires us to always be in a communion with others and with our thoughts. The performance is a moment, a spotlight on a world that coalesces and disappears.
I’ve been thinking about the whole idea of spotlight, too. With the interactions with the viewers, the eyes are really important in performance and not just in the relationship between performer and viewer but also in our day to day lives. I’ve noticed that in a lot of my pursuits in trying to invite viewers to help with performance, there’s some people that are open to that idea and some people that are closed. But I feel like ultimately it’s about this idea of having the spotlight on them. I’ve been trying to find a way to communicate this to the artist that I’m working with—how to realize that is a thing for a viewer and realize when it’s not. And also figure out how to investigate that encounter in a way that makes the viewer feel safe to give energy to, or feed, the performance.
I had jury duty recently and I was really caught up in the theater of law in court. I loved when the jurors sat on the stand. You’re told to perform this act of voir dire. It’s a French term that can be interpreted to mean to see what is said or what will be said. And as you were talking about the eyes, z, I kept thinking about the judge saying, you’re here to see what will be said. It functioned like a space of theater. Language is heavy. Language is what is in movement but we’re here to see how the language operates. You’re not just here to hear, you’re here to see language move. That’s so intense! You’re here to see evidence, you’re here to see speech.
Beautiful, wow! I love that, Niall, voir dire.
About the Artists
Edited with an introduction by Elizabeth Lothian