Fresh Performance Chapter 5: How Performance Communicates

FRESH MILK in collaboration with Damali Abrams presents Chapter 5 in the Fresh Performance Project: How Performance Communicates

I think that art is above all a form of communication. As much as I derive great pleasure from the mere act of making, no work feels complete to me until I share it with someone else. For artists who utilize performance, that communication has the potential for deep levels of intimacy. Performance can include one’s voice and body and energy with a sense of immediacy not always available through other mediums, as well as extreme vulnerability.

Both Zachary Fabri and Michelle Isava use performance to communicate their personal experiences. Zachary’s work largely pulls from the Black experience in the U.S. while Michelle’s work explores her concerns a as a young Trinidadian woman. A lot of Michelle’s work is very raw and visceral as she places her body in various scenarios, combines herself with technological machines, lays her body on the ground and interacts with the landscape. Zachary inserts his body in spaces throughout various New York City communities in order to make political statements. Sitting on a street corner or running down the block with helium balloons tied to his knee-length locs, leading visitors through exercises in popular museum lobbies or pushing himself down the streets of Alphabet City in a milk crate on wheels.

Ironically or (aptly?), I had more communication problems trying to schedule interviews with these two artists than with any of the prior chapters. Whether it was travel or just the usual drama of life, it was a feat trying to find a moment when I could speak with Zachary and Michelle. However, when we were finally able to connect, both conversations were fruitful and informative. I was curious about the way that these artists consider communication with viewers throughout their creative processes. It was interesting to hear Michelle talk about the differences between performing in Trinidad, Venezuela and Germany. Of course the same gesture can communicate very differently in different cultures. Zachary spoke about the way that viewers of different races experience his work and the ways that affects his practice.

I continue to learn through this project that artists turn to performance when what they seek to communicate will not manifest through any other form. In grad school I learned that in order to be effective, art has to have the intention to communicate something specific, something beyond that pleasure of making. Both Zachary and Michelle have powerful intentions that they communicate very clearly through their work and I hope that I have been able to communicate that as clearly through this video.

Damali Abrams

About Michelle Isava:

Michelle Isava (born 1985) holds dual nationality from Trinidad & Tobago and Venezuela. She is a conceptual artist who straddles across different mediums and genres to place the priority on message and experience. She experiments with drawing, painting, installation and video because she believes the message should decide the mode of expression. Her interests lie in the body as an object, and what it has the potential to reveal or betray about the subject.

About Zachary Fabri:

Zachary Fabri was born in Miami, Florida in 1977. His mother is Jamaican and his father is Hungarian. In 2007, he received his Master of Fine Arts from Hunter College in combined media. His work mines the intersection of personal and political spaces, often responding to a specific environment or context. Zachary’s work has been exhibited at Sequences Real-time Festival, Reykjavik, Iceland; Nordic Biennale: Momentum, Moss, Norway; Gallery Open, Berlin; the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art, New York; the Jersey City Museum, and El Museo del Barrio, New York, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. He is a recipient of the Franklin Furnace Fund for Performance Art in 2011 and was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in interdisciplinary work in 2012. Recent solo exhibitions include Third Streaming in New York City and Real Art Ways, in Hartford, Connecticut. He lives and works in Brooklyn.

Fresh Performance Chapter 4: Performing Love

FRESH MILK in collaboration with Damali Abrams presents Chapter 4 in the Fresh Performance Project: Performing Love

Is there anything left to be said about love that hasn’t already been said? Poets and songwriters have been trying to pin down an apt way to describe love for centuries. Yet that doesn’t stop each generation from making an attempt. Some see love as hokey, trite or cliche and may think that it has no place in contemporary art.

Shanika Grimes and Shani Peters address love in their work in somewhat different ways. Shanika’s work explores familial love from the point of view of a young wife and mother, while Shani’s work is more about her love of Black people and communal progress.

Though Shanika had a wonky internet connection , we had an engaging conversation where she described becoming a wife and mother at age 20. Rather than merely sinking under the weight of these hefty roles, Shanika transformed her circumstances into transcendent art. I think that this demonstrates a great self-love as well. As artists many times our practice is what helps us to cope with situations in our lives that we may not feel equipped to handle otherwise.

Shanika beautifully articulates the pressures of a woman in the Caribbean who chooses to marry and have children. She makes important connections between patriarchy, misogyny, corporal punishment and spousal abuse. Shanika makes it easy to see that when women are viewed as merely food dispensers or the property of their family, it creates an environment where men feel comfortable abusing them (as well as their children).

I chose Shani for this chapter of the documentary because of her amazing project called ‘We Promote Knowledge and Love.’ For this interventionist performance, Shani  and her enlisted volunteers don sandwich boards with the words “We Promote Knowledge and Love” emblazoned on them and hand out fliers with inspirational quotes from legendary thought leaders like Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X. I have participated in this performance in Brooklyn as well as in Harlem for the African American Day Parade and I must say that it is truly a labor of love. Many NYC residents are familiar with the sandwich board flier distributors with fliers that read “We Buy Gold and Diamonds” who work for local pawn brokers. Shani remixed this idea with her own sandwich board performance. During our candid conversation in her Harlem studio, Shani spoke about social justice and activism as acts of love.

It was interesting editing these two artists together and seeing the connections between romantic love, maternal love and love of community. 

Damali Abrams

About Shanika Grimes:

Shanika Grimes completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Barbados Community college, while juggling the birth of her now two year old son. She displayed a proficiency in the arts from a very young age despite the pull of the business oriented society in which she lives. Shanika works in a variety of two dimensional formats and has more recently extended her practice to the realm of performance art, which is documented and presented through video or photography. She focuses on an examination of self, which she uses as a catalyst for a barrage of ideas including, but not limited to, gender, culture and relationships.

About Shani Peters:

Shani Peters is a New York based artist (born in Lansing, MI) working in video, collage, printmaking, and social practice public projects. Her work reflects interests in activism histories, cultural record keeping, media culture, and community building. Peters completed her B.A. at Michigan State University and her M.F.A. at The City College of New York. She has exhibited, screened and/or presented her work in the US and broad, including exhibitions at the Schomburg Center for Black Culture and Research, Bronx Museum of Art, Rush Arts Gallery, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), The Savannah College of Art & Design, The Contact Theatre (UK), and Seoul Art Space Geumcheon (SK).

She has participated in multiple residencies including programs hosted by The Center for Book Arts, The Lower Manhattan Cultural Counsel, the Lower East Side Printshop, the Bronx Museum of Art’s Artist in the Marketplace program, and apexart’s Outbound Residency to Seoul S. Korea. Peters has taught extensively throughout her Harlem community as an educator and program designer working in New York Public Schools, Harlem Textile Works, Casita Maria Arts Education Inc., The Laundromat Project, and as a social justice arts education adjunct lecturer at The City College of New York.

Fresh Performance Chapter 3: Performance & Power

FRESH MILK in collaboration with Damali Abrams presents Chapter 3 in the Fresh Performance Project: Performance & Power

Power is a complex notion. There are so many systems of power that seem to control our destinies with so many groups feeling oppressed for various reasons.  In American society, which cultural critic bell hooks describes as ‘white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’, power is held foremost by wealthy straight white men. The quality of the institutions we have access to such as healthcare, education, and employment are dependent upon our ability to appeal to those in power for whatever scraps they choose to share with the rest of us.

Thankfully there are many groups and individuals who continue to insist upon quality of life for all people, as there have been throughout history. Many artists utilize performance as a means to confront these systems and speak truth to power. However I think that Ewan Atkinson and Seyhan Musaoglu‘s work challenges systems of power in more subtle ways.

Ewan Atkinson’s work plays on the Caribbean tradition of masquerade. As in the custom of playing mas, Ewan intends to challenge the viewer to step out from the comfort zones of our day-to-day personas. Though he does not view this as a subversive act, I think that challenging our comfort zones is often a great catalyst for personal and collective transformation. Since Ewan’s use of performance is mostly in performative photographs, he is hesitant to call it performance art. Definitions and classifications can be very slippery as we saw in Chapter One of this documentary, Defining Performance. But for the purposes of The Fresh Performance Project, I am interested in art that includes performance of any kind.

Seyhan Musaoglu’s work explores the radical possibilities of sound art performance. I met Seyhan years ago when we both showed our work at Synthetic Zero events at Bronx Art Space. Later she included my work in SØNiK Fest,  a festival of sound, video, interactive media, and live performance that she curates.

Seyhan and I were scheduled to meet up for her interview during the beginning of the Occupy Gezi protests in Turkey. When she told me that we had to reschedule because she was attending daily solidarity protests outside of the Turkish consulate in midtown Manhattan, I decided to film her at a protest. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to document the performance of the power of the people. Though Seyhan is quick to point out that her art is separate from her activism, her work is rooted in feminism and deconstructing elitist art world ideas. She is also a classically trained guitarist who emphasizes the importance of learning the structure of music before experimenting with creating new sounds or noise art. It was especially exciting to be able to include two examples of Seyhan’s sound art as the soundtrack for this chapter of the documentary.

Damali Abrams

About Seyhan Musaoglu:

Seyhan Musaoglu is a multi-media artist whose work spans the fields of live performance, sound art, film and video, and 2-D media. Drawing inspiration from diverse sources ranging from science fiction imagery, to fashion, to modern dance choreography, her work investigates the gap between sound production and music composition, contemporary feminist theory, and the history of avant-garde filmmaking. She has been performing widely with collaborations celebrated internationally in genres of sound and experimental noise. She is also an innovative independent curator, and is the founder of the sound, new media & peformance festival {SØNiK}Fest. Seyhan holds an MFA from Parsons the New School for Design. Some of the venues her work has been presented at are: The Kitchen (NYC), New York Studio Gallery (NYC), Lit Lounge (NYC), Curta 8 Film Festival (Brazil), and Istanbul’s famed venue, Babylon. To see some of her work: http://www.seyhanmusaoglu.com/

About Ewan Atkinson:

Ewan Atkinson was born in Barbados in 1975. He received a BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1998 and is currently pursuing an MA in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill.  He has exhibited in regional and international exhibitions of Caribbean contemporary art, including most recently the 2010 Liverpool Biennial, “Wrestling with the image: Caribbean Interventions” at the Art Museum of the Americas in Washington DC, and “Infinite Islands” at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.  Atkinson has taught in the BFA program at the Barbados Community College for over a decade. He also works as a freelance illustrator and designer.