For Kyra Peterson, the Future is Female

Photo: A still from Kyra Peterson’s project, Sense by Riley Donovan

CHICAGO — The first opening scenes instantly stimulate you. Shots of body parts in motion with sand dunes in the background paired alongside haunting radio static encapsulates your body. This is Sense, a recent project done by performance artist Kyra Peterson.

To anyone, Peterson — a 21-year-old fine arts major at Columbia College Chicago — easily looks like an artist in her own right. With unearthly silver hair and piercing blue eyes to match, the five-foot performance artist is nothing short of the next big thing.

Though almost to the home stretch of her senior year, Peterson — propped over an almond latte—pinpoints the moments that kick-started her tumble into the creative world.

“My parents have always been creative,” Peterson explains.

Petersons parents both come from artistic backgrounds, and currently work within the architecture industry in Minneapolis, Minnesota — Peterson’s hometown.

“So, from a young age art [both physical and performance based] was a huge part of my life,” Peterson says.

Peterson talks about her time as a young child running from art galleries to music lessons to dance studies, and never for a minute feeling a bit worn out.

“There was never a doubt that the creative realm was where I belonged,” Peterson confirms.

“The moment when I was conscious of the decision [to go into the arts] was probably back in high school when I began to take a more directorial role in the arts. I started to produce shows that involved many forms of art as by this point, I was mostly invested in dance,” Peterson says.

From her time spent as a young developing artist to now, Peterson has worked to bring her creative visions to life with multiple projects including her most recent — and perhaps most ambitious piece yet — Sense.

While Peterson finds herself wearing many hats, some of which include writer and artist, perhaps the hat that defines Peterson the most is: performer.

Sense is both a visual and written project which showcases Peterson’s movement research [investigation of dance and movement-based forms] over the past two years, and also features Peterson herself alongside a cast of dancers. The project — which Peterson herself produced — encompassed a majority female cast and crew, and was made possible through The Albert P.
Weisman Award Scholarship
 — an award which helps fund student projects that few receive.

Ashley Taylor, editor of Sense, worked alongside Peterson to bring the project to life.

“Kyra and I met last March after I saw her performance at J E L L O trois, [a gallery space for dancers to experiment and create],” Taylor mentioned.

“Her [Peterson’s] approach and exploration of the concepts that are Sense and related works resonated with me. I want to be involved with art that has substance and a density that can be investigated visually and theoretically, so I offered up my editing skills,” Taylor said.

Taylor spoke about past projects where she worked with Peterson, noting that Peterson’s presence alone had thoroughly shown through within the piece — something not surprising if you’ve either met Peterson, or seen her own work.

When viewing Sense, it’s clear this couldn’t be a first-time piece for any creator. The attention to detail — both visually and sound wise — showcases just how much of a not only experienced performer Peterson is, but developed creator she’s grown to be.

Being so young of course, Peterson does note the ambitiousness of Sense.

“I had no idea what I was undertaking with this project,” Peterson says.

“In the past, I usually collaborated with one filmmaker and everything was low-key and improvised,” Peterson explains.

For Peterson, and many other creatives alike, she frequently had “fantastical ideas” but no way of truly bringing these ideas to fruition due to lack of funding. However, while Sense was fully funded by her award, it was in fact the people Peterson found herself connecting with more than anything else that truly brought the project to life.

“This was a really good learning process and a great opportunity to reach out to collaborators in order to fulfill this project. It’s so empowering to surround yourself with really talented people who care just as much about making the vision the best it can be as you do,” Peterson says.

Kyra’s positioning in the world as a young female creative at this time highlights a historic moment we’re seeing with the exposing, and even firing of major leaders and notable figures within the creative industry.

Gretchen Carlson seemed to spark off the outing of some of the most powerful men in the industry last July with her confession that she had been sexually harassed by then Fox chairman Roger Ailes. However, with the backing for women like Carlson with campaigns like #MeToo which originally started back in 2005 by Tarana Burke, it seems important to ask creatives like Kyra — who will soon find themselves in a completely new social working space — how they now view the industry compared to just a year or so ago.

“I think that this episode of exposure will empower women to feel that they can stand up for themselves knowing that the rest of the world believes sexual harassment is unacceptable,” Peterson says.

Peterson is adamant in reminding that while the sexual harassment of women is not to be tolerated, it’s an extremely well-known occurrence within the creative industry specifically.

“Working with the body as a medium, you are almost always going to run into some form of sexual harassment. The male gaze does not de-sexualize the female body, nor should it necessarily,” Peterson says.

Peterson talks about her own experience with sexual harassment, noting not only the surprise of the person(s) who did it, but also the space where it was done.

“I ran into an issue with two white male professors a part of an art collective who invited me to do a performance art workshop. In meeting to speak about a piece I wanted to workshop one of them said, ‘what’s special and active about your body if you’re not naked?’,” Peterson remarks.

Moments like this are seldom aren’t rare. In fact, according to Rainn — the nation’s largest anti- sexual violence organization — 23.1% of all female undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault on campus.

Taylor also seemed to confirm the issues of sexual assault within the industry as well.

“Historically, the industry has never been a space for women — its rife with misogyny,” Taylor said.

While both Peterson and Taylors confirmations present a weary road for female creatives, both Taylor and Peterson still have hope for the future.

“I think in doing this, we can create space and support for alternative processes [like Sense] that get artists and performers the recognition they deserve — while adhering to decent human ethics,” Taylor affirmed.

With this being said however, women like Kyra can only do so much in the fight against sexual assault within work and educational spaces.

Drew Polovick scored Sense and happened to be one of the few men who worked on Kyra’s piece.

“Creatively, this project was the most challenging yet liberating thing I’ve ever worked on,” Polovick said.

As a man who happens to work within the creative industry, Polovick noted that he possesses a familiar status of privilege within this space, and did not hesitate in pointing out the lack of women with creative spaces as well.

“There’s definitely a boy’s club mentality [within the creative industry]. It’s very apparent in the studio spaces that I inhabit that it is not a diverse space— mostly white men,” Polovick said.

As Polovick pointed out the reality of the creative industry that he’s used to, the need to shine a light on creatives like Peterson in hopes of pushing for a more female inclusive space within the industry is clearly apparent.

Regardless of where Hollywood continues to go, as for now, Peterson is focused on her work.

With a hopeful outlook on the career ahead of her, Peterson hopes to move in a direction which will allow her to create projects that push her beyond her boundaries, and land her in a seat which will allow her to have complete control on her own projects like Sense.

“Women have incredible minds and incredible things to say,” Peterson affirms.

“Without them, how can the creative industry progress and evolve?”

If you’re based in Chicago, Peterson’s Sense is available for viewing at The Arcade, or on her website. Sense in book version is also available for purchase online or at ShopColumbia located at 619 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60605.