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Countdown to Gala 2017, Day 46: Excerpts from Issue #5 of the Movement Research Performance Journal

The 2017 Movement Research Gala on May 8 will celebrate 25 years of Movement Research at the Judson Church and Issue #50 of the Movement Research Performance Journal. As we count down the days until the Gala, we’re posting #50DaysOfMRPJ with Editor’s Notes and excerpts from each Performance Journal.

Movement Research Performance Journal Issue #5 was released in Fall/Winter 1992. You can view the full Table of Contents here.

*The Movement Research Gala will take place Monday, May 8 at 6pm at Judson Memorial Church. For more information, to volunteer or to purchase tickets, click here.

#MRGala2017 #50DaysOfMRPJ

MRPJ#5: Environments

Editor’s Note

Editors: Cathy Edwards, Kate Ramsey and Guy Yarden

We began to solicit articles for this Performance Journal in the wake of the Los Angeles riots and the hype surrounding the Earth Summit in Brazil. The juxtaposition of these events underscored what we have known for a long time — that our global ecology and urban environments are collapsing and that our government refuses to do anything but worsen both crises. Los Angeles in flames represents the betrayal of cities across the US; the politics of hypocrisy on display in Rio ensured a continued course of environmental devastation for the sake of corporate interests. Performance Journal #5 is created by artists who are compelled by the ways in which contemporary environmental issues affect their lives, communities and art. Because we believe that artists are able to both powerfully critique and put forth healing visions, the Journal unites the perspectives of these dancers, choreographers, performance artists, writers, and visual artists that make up our community.

Taking environment and its impact on art, culture and community, contributors to this issue have framed their concerns broadly and diversely. Patricia Hoffbauer, Marina Zurkow, Charles Uwiragiye, and Livia Daza-Paris all traveled to Rio in June for the first Worldwide Conference of Indigenous People and the Earth Summit. While their reports diverge with their experiences, each offers a striking sociocultural take on environmental issues that proves representative of the Journal as a whole. Again and again, an insistence on the continuity and interconnection between ecological and social realms emerges as common theme and commitment (see, among others, Jacki Apple, Rachel Rosenthal). For example, the intersections between environment and oppression are manifestly clear-cut in both widespread “first world” practice of dumping toxic waste on developing countries (see Shu Lea Cheang and Jessica Hagedorn) and, in this society, the space of violence that surrounds women and their bodies (see Laurie Weeks). Relatedly, the insidious way in which power, authority, are themselves naturalized feeds the repressive machinery of social determination and control (see Mark Sussman and Jenny Romaine, the Desert Storm trading cards).

Several contributors speak from and to the position of geographic and cultural displacement — a contemporary condition that brings with it heavy histories. They point to the impact dislocation has on cultural survival and identity (see Ella Shohat); examine the politics of importing and exporting cultural values and forms (see Patricia Hoffbauer); and explore the possibilities of working interculturally (see Pauline Oliveros and Ione). Other writers trace the colonial routes of Western theater’s exoticizing and primitivizing traditions of display and spectacle (see Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gómez-Peña), and, rejecting that legacy, hail initiatives that reclaim the terms of cultural self-representation (see Marina Zurkow interviewing Charles Uwiragiye, Laurie Carlos).

If we are, to some uncertain extent, products of lived environment so are our arts. The context of art making, exhibiting and performing — whether rural or urban, public or private, outdoors or enclosed, traditional or “found” — inevitably shape artistic praxis. For artists who set out to articulate relationships with specific environments, this becomes yet more true, yet more the point itself (see Elise Bernhardt, Lenora Champagne, Jay Critchley, Livia Daza-Paris, Simone Forti, Audrey Kindred, Clarinda Mac Low, Yves Musard.) More than ever, as this issue of the Journal makes clear, contemporary artists across disciplinary and cultural boundaries are addressing issues of ecology and conservation in their work, creating visual art and performance that not only takes part in, but also crucially broadens and diversifies mainstream environmental activist movements (see Cathy Edwards interviewing George Bartenieff, incinerator protest photos this page).

Here at Movement Research, we have recently experienced a radical shift in our own environment. After eight years at 179 Varick Street, escalating rent forced us to abandon that long term home in early July, and resettle in the East Village at 28 Ave A between 2nd and 3rd Streets. We have a beautiful studio, an office we hope will have heat by winter, and new neighbors — Christina Jones and Prowess Interarts, Inc., as well as the Context Recording Studios. As we continue to search for a truly permanent site — perhaps a place that we own — we expect to grow in these new surroundings, continue to develop our programs and offer more to our community. Out new studio will be home for morning classes, most of our workshops, our once-a-month Open Performance Series of informal showings, Studio Project symposia, and our rehearsal space program. “Out of house” programs will include our free series of Monday night dance performances at The Judson Church (the first is September 21 — make sure to make reservations) as well as the bi-annual Performance Journal (we are already planning Journal #6). This issue of the Journal was created with the invaluable work of Esther Kaplan and John Walker/Dinglasan. We’d also like to heartily thank our contributors. Movement research is staffed by Cathy Edwards and Guy Yarden (Co-directors), Audrey Kindred, Christopher Caines, and Jaime Ortega. We rely on a lot of volunteer help, a wonderful board of directors, and the invaluable staff of the Judson Memorial Church, and thank them all.

George Bartenieff on the Ecofest

Interviewed by Cathy Edwards

Cathy Edwards: Can you tell us about the Ecofestival?

George Bartenieff: We tried to create a festival that would foster new possible relations, interactions between art disciplines and education and activism. I invited the American Indian Community House, which we’ve had a relationship with for 16 years, and also the Leading Alliance, to get involved in putting this together. I had the concept and asked them for their help in curating those parts of the festival that were American Indian and workshops on the various themes. We created an eleven-day festival with all kinds of events including the visual arts. I’ve been working on this for several years and haven’t been able to do this until the first phase of renovation (of the Theater for the New City) was over. That date happened to coincide with Earth Day, which was fortunate. We tried to emphasize certain days and themes and disciplines, music nights, dance nights, theater-music nights and two weekends of daylong marathons of performance art and other events. We showed performance art during the evenings, such as the Bread and Puppet Theater and Thunder Bay. We also asked Roy Hutchins from England who does a wonderful show with whales and dolphins.

Edwards: Will the Festival happen again next year?

Bartenieff: Next year the Festival will link up with five theaters across the country. We’re talking about the possibility of exchanging artists with Life on the Water in San Francisco, Theater in the Wild, Seattle, the Pentangle Council and the Public Theater of Cleveland. Theater in the Wild is interesting, it’s basically a green theater — they do ecological stuff, that’s there mission, in all kinds of different ways. They do things we never do, could never do. They do workshops on the ecologically correct theater, on the non- toxic materials and paints, on recycling. Of course they are in the Northwest, surrounded by a vibrant ecology, and that has informed their ethic and their mission. I’m in New York so I have a different way of relating to the environment, the main mission for me in the city is to find a different way to reconnect to the environment, to nature, to nature myth, which we’ve lost and become unconnected from. All of these theaters have developed their own particular perspective. The Public Theater in Cleveland has been having, for the last three years, one-night vigils in which they go down to the river in a candle light pageant. Each theater has a vision of how to transform this notion of ecological activism into performance and reaching in to the community. So we’ll try to have overlapping festivals so we can start a consortium network of touring eco-artists. It’s a new piece of clay and we’ll see what it ends up being.

Edwards: When you think of the ecological art that people are doing in New York, how would you describe that?

Bartenieff: I think Karen Finley is ecological art. I think Holly Hughes is ecological art. Ecology is the one great issue where all other issues reside. A lot of art that comes out of cities is art of pain- the pain of modern life is most articulated in the cities. The cities were created in such intensity and lived in with such intensity. There’s a deep yearning for reconnection and I think that can be seen in people’s work. Some that expressed the pain, some that expresses the healing process.

One of the things that we have in New York City is the cultural diversity and heritages that are very rich in connection with myth and nature, whether that’s Latino culture or Ukrainian culture. Pageants and celebration that have been re-channeled through Christian myths. These are ways that people in the city can connect with cultural patterns and traditions.

Edwards: So you think the art of pain is archetypal of what comes out of New York?

Bartenieff: All forms of abuse are an ecological issue. Whether it’s in a family, between parents and children, between tribes, between cultures, between races, all of those things are heightened to a tremendous degree by the pressures of living in the urban society. Given the context of the density of the city, of the hyped-up form of life that is the result of commerce, of all those pressures, of all the expectations, of a better life, of money…

Homelessness, poverty, hunger — these are ecological issues. That’s what so great about the ecological issue. Finally we have to confront every other issue of living. Doing with and doing without, what’s the junk of life and what’s the substance, what’s important and what’s not important? This is what the ecology issue addresses. We need to relearn every single basic behavior that we do whether it’s our personal living behavior or our interactions with each other — how you eat, what you throw away, what you don’t, how you buy, how you do business. We realize that there are limits- we have to grow up, mature from this babyhood. We are a new species on this planet, and it’s when you’re at the cliff and about to fall off that you need to learn. We have to learn that there is a parameter to our kingdom, our role. We’re the dinosaurs right now.

Edwards: How would you characterize your aims as political versus artistic when you curate the festival?

Bartenieff: The environment is political. It’s the most political issue. I have several motives in creating this festival. It seems that every thirty years there is this spontaneous movement in the country tied to certain issues, and artists generate a whole new bunch of wonderful work. Experimental theater, which I’m most interested in, and the experimental forms and the intermingling of forms, they happen because it’s important to generate work, to throw fuel into the fire. One of the reasons to do this festival was to focus artists, to say that there’s a place to do this, to bring this energy and this subject. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to do this. Also, it’s political to turn people on and around to these issues. We can turn people on, there’s an issue of seeing the light, getting activated — whether it’s the artist or the audience. I’m also interested in what new art forms or kinds of collaborations will be found to express this environmental reconnection, this discovery of what reconnection means. Now, we’ve thrown out so many things and are trying to put things back together. We’ve thrown everything away- how do we fill the space? What is communal, private, important? How can we celebrate those things? Artist can usually show us the way to do that. Another hidden thing to discover in the ecology issue is that more people can become creative, and discover what is creative. And not necessarily by becoming Karen Finley. She rises to the needs of our time, but there’s a need for the arts and artists in general to retake their place in our daily lives. That shouldn’t be a role that you have to struggle to get to, it should be organic. We need an immediate connection to creativity. A lot of these ancient practices — even if you weren’t the priest, if you were the dancer in the back of the dance, or if you were watching the dance under the open sky- you had a knowledge of creativity. Creativity is discovering how to use yourself.

Edwards: What about the festival audience? Did you feel it was a different audience than usual?

Bartenieff: Yes, very much. I wanted that, and am hoping it will happen again next year. One of the main goals of the festival was to get people in here who have never been in here before and to expose them to the creative process and performance and they ways we can be affected by emotion, by the irrational. There were certain things- there were always the people who said I want to see Bread and Puppet. So, we put things together, an American Indian Performance happened first, then a feast of other possibilities. I wanted to show people that it was like a fair, you could come back the next day. Like an old- fashioned festival or celebration. That’s another secret agenda, to revive another secular holiday, the spring holiday. We don’t have trees and forests here so we have to find other ways to revive some of that springtime joy. There was a new mix and people saw the possibilities. At the time there was another show here, the Hal Prince show, and that had an uptown audience. At intermission, they would come out and see the Bread and Puppet show, and they were surprised. Next year we want to plan a lot of participatory events, maybe try to link up with other events in the Lower East Side. So that people have a sense it’s not just a TNC thing.

Edwards: What do you think the relationship of environment and nature is to questions of art and politics?

Bartenieff: I’m and old nature fiend. I think our art is inspired by our own appreciation of nature’s aesthetics, the way that nature is striking and beautiful and is noticed- we use that intuitively as artists, and perhaps we are aware of it. Most of what I would call good art is very conscious of structure and form, and nature — although it is being accused of being chaotic and needing to be placed in manmade structures — nature is so brilliant in choosing forms within which to perform. Maybe some artists wouldn’t admit it right away, but I know that every artist I admire has a tremendous sense of that. We have to choose something aesthetically pleasing in the end. Even those who say, NO I don’t, I want to shock you and disturb you. And yet, if you really look at their work, you’ll see there is a tremendous beauty in what they are doing, in the choices they’ve made. That beauty sends the message out with greater impact.

Other thoughts of mine? I can’t wait for the present to be over and the future to begin. It’s been an extremely difficult 12 years — very rough and getting rougher.

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