MARCH 15, 2017 by Taylor Hoblitzell
by Joanna Lugo
bell hooks once wrote, “There is a particular knowledge that comes from suffering. It is a way of knowing that is often expressed through the body, what it knows, what has been deeply inscribed on it through experience.” As a performer in Kate Gilmore and Heather Rowe’s exhibition Only In Your Way, I was both honored and burdened to be a physical labor representative of a larger reality of the corporeal oppression that women often experience in everyday life.
The first time I entered the catwalk, the presidential inauguration had just occurred and the Women’s March was upon us. The political climate was, and still continues to be, toxic and detrimental to marginalized groups in our society. With the state of our world in mind, I began the physical and emotional journey of performing in Only In Your Way.
The most grueling aspect of the performance happened on the catwalk while listening to the repetitive sound of Whitney Houston crying out, “I will only be in your way.” This statement – coupled with the physicality of walking for four hours while holding an awkward sculpture and interacting with structures that had reflective materials displaying fragmented versions of the body – caused a negative reaction within me and served as a constant reminder of the labor of being a woman. Often, we are fed this very narrative that as women we are not to take up space, not to speak out, and not to be an obstacle in anyone’s way. For me, the emotional and mental challenges I experienced during the performance brought me back to a space of inferiority.
But that was not the end of the story for me. I returned to the space armed with positive and powerful words to combat negative tropes and to use performance art as a form of activism. One way I coped with the time was to think of the catwalk as a deconstructed labyrinth. Many believe that modern day labyrinths are sacred mazes on a path to self knowledge, self discovery, self love, and enlightenment. When in the maze, you are encouraged to enter a meditative state by repeating a mantra. After hearing the aforementioned strong and sometimes negative or burdensome message, finding encouraging texts became imperative. To combat the phrase, I chose a few different positive mantras, memorized them, and recited them to myself throughout the piece. Some included:
I am strong.
I am valuable.
I am empowered.
I am love.
I am a goddess.
More complex mantras I chose included selections from Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet” that focused on my current personal life experiences:
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Rest in reason and move in passion.
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Self is a sea boundless and measureless. I have found a truth. I have met the soul walking upon my path.
The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.
Beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart.
Finally, remembering that we [the Only in Your Way performers] were in solidarity together, though apart in our performances, was so encouraging to me. I feel privileged to have performed with such strong and courageous women. I am empowered by each of them and hope in turn they were empowered by each other!
Joanna Lugo is a queer Latina performance artist based in Denton, TX. She received her Master of Arts in Communication Studies with a focus in Performance Studies from the University of North Texas, and plans to pursue her PhD in the same subject matter. She is one of fifteen performers in Kate Gilmore & Heather Rowe: Only in Your Way.
MARCH 14, 2017 by Taylor Hoblitzell
By Jenna Jacobs
The first time I walked I observed a sign spinner on the street corner. I thought to myself, “how is his work any different than what I am doing?” He definitely had more freedom in his actions, but all he was doing was a series of moves that he had already mastered, repeating them in different arrangements. Like myself, he had to spin even if no one was around to see. However, unlike myself, he could interact with his viewer. He received car honks out of praise and people waved at him.
I also thought to myself “man, I am tired and I’m only walking. I can’t imagine doing all that spinning for four hours!” But we both had work we were assigned to do and it was work that did not directly yield a hard product. Both of our labor is a form of service.
I serve DiverseWorks, the artists, and the viewers with my performance. But how does my performance serve these people? The sign spinner serves the people who pay him first and his audience second. My performance served me first. It was a practice in discipline and endurance. Staring at all the red was just as intense as the walking; I found myself studying the patterns of screw holes and seams. I tried to ignore the soundtrack. The boredom ruminated thoughts of how to make the time pass. The thoughts made me question the work, all the work.
When people were present, I was listening to their discussion and not allowed to interact with them. I was the subject of conversation while not being in the conversation. People were literally talking about me “behind my back.” This was the moment that I felt like an art object. My presence was part of this greater work that was made to communicate to the public.
The biggest difference between the sign spinner is that his work only creates an impact when people are around to see it. When viewers aren’t present to view my work, it still creates an impact within me. The performance is emblematic of the work that is done when no one is looking. The necessary work done by people who are seen and not heard is the work that keeps the world “spinning.”
Jenna Jacobs is a visual artist from Sugarland, TX who teaches at Lone Star College in Tomball, TX. She completed her Master’s of Fine Arts at Indiana University in Textiles. She is one of fifteen performers in Kate Gilmore & Heather Rowe: Only In Your Way.
MARCH 13, 2017 by Taylor Hoblitzell
“Only in Your Way,” is a new collaborative piece between New York artists Heather Rowe and Kate Gilmore, an ongoing exhibition at DiverseWorks. The performance segment of the exhibition showcases different woman carrying an object as they walk a designated path within the gallery repeatedly for four hours. Local performance artists Evan McCarley and Brittani Broussard weigh in on their experiences as performers in the endurance project:
Heather Rowe often re-imagines space to account for dysfunction. Her piece, Entrance (2007), featured a series of plywood obstacles embedded with large mirror fragments. Gilmore similarly brings up themes of dysfunction in her work, in how she choreographs women in disjointed moments of sound, movement, and stillness. What do these thematics of feminine dysfunctionality mean to you in the context of your performance?
Evan McCarley: I think the dysfunctionality manifests in the idea of women doing seemingly meaningless work without recognition. I see my presence in the space while performing as somewhat a decoration, or a novelty to some viewers. When I am walking, I am performing a task that is meaningful. I have only performed once, but those four hours have changed how I view my own body, art practice, and thought about labor. It requires my full attention and awareness while performing the act. It meant so much to me, but I doubt the passive audience could understand that without talking to me (which I can’t do while performing!). Wow, I could really go on about this. Great question.
Brittani Broussard: To me it means finding control and stability in a repetitive and tiring environment. I was proud of myself when the gallery attendant informed me that I completed the first hour. I thought to myself, I don’t need a break, keep going. I walked for mostly 4 hours, but periodically sat down, stretched, and had water towards the end of my time. I felt empowered once my performance was completed. This performance really does trickle over into real life. I feel like I’m a strong woman, and that I can fight for myself, the people I care about, and the issues I strongly stand for. This performance teaches me how to navigate in my dysfunctional surroundings and get the best that I can out of it.
Performer Evan McCarley
The rise of Trumpism, the American political movement preoccupied with white nationalism and erecting borders, offers insight on the politics of the body. Whose bodies are allowed to occupy which spaces, and why? How is space altered to interrupt the movement of the body? Do you think Rowe and Gilmore’s work solicit these kinds of questions from their audience? Why or why not?
Evan McCarley: Yes, this collaborative work totally raises these questions. “I will only be in your way” seems like such a passive statement, but after hearing it for several hours, it empowered me. I WILL be in your way. You WILL respect my space. I WILL resist you. You WILL respect me and my space. Although there was a male gallery attendant there to intervene if need be (love you Reyes), after a while I felt that I could have held my own in the space. Between one to three thirty, I felt invincible. The last 30 mins wore me down; the physicality of the work got to me, but it also fueled me to hold my own.
Brittani Broussard: I cannot make any eye contact or interactions with anyone. I purposely placed my hat low so I could only see the bottom half of people. I felt vulnerable at times like I was on display for people to stare at. The fact that there were rules for the public made me feel safe. I came across a control issue with one man. Everyone in the space stood on the side of me. When I started to walk towards them on the path, they moved so they wouldn’t be standing right in front of me, which could seem confrontational. But there was one man who made sure that every time I reached a certain point in the path, that he was there, right in front. Every time that passed him I could see that he was looking. He wanted to make sure he looked, and that I knew he looked. Eventually he left, and I was relieved, and didn’t feel this way about anyone else who entered the gallery before or after him. Rowe and Gilmore’s work definitely solicits these questions from their audience. I think one of the main reasons why they [the audience] stare is to see if our bodies will change somehow, almost as if they’re waiting for a surprise.
What was your rehearsal practicum? Any lessons you took away from this experience you’d like to share?
Evan McCarley: Performance practicum: 9 hours sleep. No alcohol 24hrs before. I was sick, so Advil Cold + Sinus 45 mins before. Afrin to control my sniffles. A light meal an hour before + 30 oz. of water. 2 Lonestar tallboys after.
Brittani Broussard: In the beginning, I was going strong. After about an hour and a half I walked into the back room, took a sip of water without sitting, checked the time quickly and went right back onto the path. I chose not to take a break to sit or stretch. I wanted to keep pushing my body. After about 2 hours when the sun started to set I started to feel my achy feet, my right knee popping occasionally and the strong need to stretch. Despite the warnings of my body, I forgot all pain and discomfort once the large crowds started to gaze at me through the windows and inside the gallery space. I wanted to give the viewers a great performance. I made sure that I had good posture, changed the position of the sculpture that I was holding when I was out of their view and varied that pace of my walking from slow to fast to keep them intrigued. I felt that it was some sort of façade that I was giving. I was so tired but I didn’t want to show it. As soon as the crowd left, I went into the corner and rubbed my feet.
Performer Brittani Broussard
Why are you excited about this performance?
Evan McCarley: I am excited to perform again so that I can see what else “floats to the surface.” I thought a lot about my life and all the things going on right now. I am doing so much growing right now, and I am truly happy that I can do what I love, continue to learn more about these practices, as well as learning more about myself in the process. What can I say, I’m a lucky gal.
Brittani Broussard: I’m excited to challenge myself and push my limits. With this 4 hour (with breaks in between) endurance piece, I was nervous but also curious to see how my body would react to walking on the same path for that amount of time and what type of things I would make myself think of to keep myself occupied or where my mind would wonder to. I feel that this performance will make me stronger mentally and physically.
Interview conducted by Celestina Billington.