Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Austin Project is completely over for this season/semester. We had a training this past weekend and it was fabulous. Though, really, learning how to teach the Jazz Aesthetic is also learning how to live in it; it's interesting to consider living in it for moments throughout life - such as these past few months and then perhaps in the fall.

In addition to the Austin Project crew coming together, Maiana Minahal was here from Califas, gracing us with her BRILLIANCE. Amazing individual. She's an amazing poet and is also leading the Poetry for the People program at UC Berkeley. It's a blessing to spend time in her light, as well as in the beauty and light of all the luminous individuals of the Project.

This coming weekend Wura-Natasha and I will be performing our dinner piece, Serving Desire and I am tremendously excited. We have two full nights (each performance is limited to 10 people), and it has been an eye-opening process to get this performance going. For one thing, we have none of our installation pieces with us (they are in New York City), so we are making the installations from scratch. Secondly, because we're in Austin, the piece itself is being informed and developed in a completely different way...
...and that is what is so eye-opening.

This is our fifth performance (SF, LA, NYC, New Mexico) and each time, the piece requires a bit of re-invention. At first, Wura and I thought it had to do with where we were in our lives and changes in our artistic vision. BUT, what I have realized, and what we have discussed, is that this piece is about re-invention, engaging our landscape (emotional, phsyical, social, political), and about the possibilities arising out of that space.

We first performed this piece four years ago at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco as part of a larger show: r(ace) x desire = [eros x ethnicity].

We called it Serving Desire because we wanted to construct a space where desire became an axis around which the language of race/ethnicity/gender/etc was collapsed. So, in the piece, we inserted ten aspects of desire, corresponding to ten forces of nature, and ten separate sensations of sound, sight, taste, smell and touch. Out of this, we also began to ask audiences to engage with cultural and ancestral memory.

Following this performance, the next full run of the dinner was in New Mexico, in Santa Fe as part of the Messenger's House show in March 2003. This time, we titled it Dinner at the Crossroads. We removed the table and had people seated on the floor:

This was not only due to the space of the performance (The Alto Street Art Barn of Santa Fe), but also to the experience we had had with a rectangular table. Having people seated in a circle meant that interactions were different. Also, in calling it Dinner at the Crossroads, and inserting a center pole into the installation, we were moving away from focusing on the desires and more on the individual experience of nature's forces and possibilities. In other words - asking people to contemplate every moment as an opportunity for openness and growth. These were two incredible performances -

Our most "recent" performance, which in fact was not all that recent - it was in July 2004 - was in New York City. We decided that in New York, it would be interesting to explore the idea of performances in peoples' homes. We didn't fully explore that route, but we had one dinner in the home of Margarita Garcia & Daniel Liao. And that was also completely different. Though we maintained the name of Dinner at the Crossroads, we created our own center pole, an entirely new table cloth and installation. Within that performance, we were most interested in the idea that food, desire, and understandings of nature are completely influenced by cultural lenses and ancestral memory. As we described it then:

"Dinner at the Crossroads is an interrogation of place, race, and interaction via the vehicle of performance. In this piece, we are telling stories through visual, performative and written languages that touch upon the nuances of human interaction (sensuality), ancestral and living memory, historical consciousness and spiritual force.

In African cosmologies, the crossroads is a symbol of possibility, the place of facing fears, the moment where embodied spirits and ethereal spirits interact. It is also a place of loss, change, and redefinition. The crossroads is a place of beginnings.

The installation that forms the space of the performance is symbolically placed at the crossroads between this world and the next: around a center pole. Through the symbol of the center pole, taken out of popular religious practices in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, participants in the performance engage in forming both an altar and a table to share with each other. The visual language of the piece consists of ritual objects, everyday items, and a written story embedded in the brightly colored cloth draping that surrounds the center area. The written story is inspired by the sensual aspects of desire and memory.

Conceptually, the piece asks questions that are confronted in the development of American identities: What are the existing socio-political and historical factors affecting our individual and collective understandings of ethnicity and race? How do our ancestral heritages, and the deep knowledge that comes from our ancestors, affect these understandings? What powers do we have to affect changes in our socio-political surroundings and how doe these powers manifest? And, finally, what are the limitations of language in speaking of these concepts and in interacting, and how do we overcome those limitations - as individuals and communities, as nations and as a region? "

And I suppose that is where we find ourselves right now: at a new interrogation of place, language, memory, art...possibilities. We have gone back to calling the piece Serving Desire, because we are interested in asking the audience to consider desire as a manifestation of history and complex emotional possibilities. Because we always get to have a question and answer period after the performance, we'll get to see where this setting, this landscape, this energy takes the piece and us as artists.

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