Photo by Ben Pryor
Next week NYC will see an exciting new venture by the contemporary performance scene’s most entrepreneurial producer and curator, Ben Pryor. Pryor, the vision behind the four-year strong American Realness, an APAP season dance and performance festival that each year has been received with increasing acclaim, is starting up a new curatorial project: Festival TBD—Emergency Glitter.
Emergency Glitter. The title conjures the same mix of provocation and fun that American Realness has become known for, and given the success and impact that festival has had, it’s hard not to compare the two projects, to imagine Emergency Glitter as an extension of the ideas and aesthetic that Pryor has developed with Realness.
But this festival has an altogether different aim. Its timing, taking place during the summer when the performance season in NYC is mostly dormant, is also removed from the marketplace atmosphere that is a characteristic of the APAP season. And the programming comes from an entirely different line of thinking. The artists featured in this brief festival are all younger, at least in terms of the trajectory of their careers, and the works they are showing are not “best of’s”, the way American Realness presents mostly highlights of the previous year in dance—these are in some cases brand new works, made especially for the festival.
For Pryor, this project has been long in the imagining. “For myself, I’ve wanted to do something very different from Realness for a while now. There are many people who want to be shown in Realness, and that’s great, but it’s not really the right moment for a lot of artists, particularly younger artists earlier in the trajectory of their career. So can there be another moment, another point at which I can start building relationships with artists and their work?” He started to develop the idea while attending the certificate program at the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP), run out of Wesleyan University. Originally conceived as “Groundswell,” but that name didn’t stick, “It suggests something to me that I find useful, but it didn’t get me excited. And if I wasn’t excited, how was I supposed to get anybody else excited about this?”
As for the eventual title, Pryor explains it as setting up a framework that allows room for future flexibility. Referring back to American Realness, he notes “that title was created specific to the artists in the 2010 festival, and was never intended to be a recurring curatorial theme.” Festival TBD, sub-titled Emergency Glitter, “gives me some flexibility to adapt it every year to what I see going on in the field, and also to my own interests in terms of how to present things.”
One of those interests involve, possibly, inviting someone else into the curatorial process. “I imagine it possibly being something where I act in an advisory mode to another curator. That’s an idea I’m dealing with in my whole larger project. So maybe Festival TBD is about me advising another, maybe younger, curator to make something. Curatorial cultivation is something that doesn’t really happen, and would be interesting for institutions to do. So can I create something like that? Maybe that’s what Festival TBD could be.”
So Festival TBD is set up specifically to be able to change, to shift its form from one iteration to the next. In terms of this first iteration, Emergency Glitter is an opportunity to engage with artists rather than specific pieces. Pryor expresses an interest in the work of each of these artists generally, and Emergency Glitter provides a context to develop a new project with them. “It’s exciting for me because I don’t really know what the pieces are. I’ve followed all these artists, but in several cases I don’t know what they are making for the festival. This is what many other curators get to do in terms of commissioning pieces—not that I actually have access to commissioning dollars for this festival, but I get to work with artists to bring a new work to the public.”
Still, as much as it’s a different thing, Pryor himself recognizes the possible comparisons with American Realness. “I want people to bring an open mind. I hope that, because it’s another project by me, people aren’t expecting the same thing they would get at Realness. Not to say that the work isn’t as ‘good’ as what you might see at Realness, but it’s intentionally a different thing. These artists haven’t necessarily toured internationally, and for some it’s basically their first piece. It’s a new-new thing for some of them.”
There is a clear avoidance of the term “emerging artist.” It’s difficult to get around this term (and its relatives), but there is reason to do so, because let’s face it: for many it reads as synonymous with inexperienced, as work that doesn’t need to be seen because the artistic voice is not developed yet. “I’ve been avoiding the term because people get so worked up over it, but part of me is just: ‘They’re EMERGING. Don’t get so worked up over it!’ It’s real, and it exists. The classification system also has to do with the field at large. Even someone who’s been making for 10 years, if they’ve been self-presenting for 10 years, could be ‘emerging’ to the marketplace, to the framework around what that term exists in. It’s complicated and depends on context, and I think of it more in this national/international sense, specifically in terms of the marketplace. Are you emerging in the visibility of the field at large?”
The proposition Emergency Glitter helps to articulate, I think, is that engaging with the work of emerging artists has a necessary value, value that shouldn’t be discounted based on the status of the artist in the trajectory of their career. Engaging with this work demands a shift in perception, pertaining to the context, a skill necessary in many kinds of situations (see: code-switching).
The context for Emergency Glitter is different from that of American Realness on a number of levels, only one of which involves the particular artists in the festival. And importantly, it has great timing: “I’ve made choices around what artists and pieces are being presented, and they speak to me, and I think speak to each other in this playful, fun way that I wanted to engage specifically because it’s the summer. I’m not going for art-historical or theoretical, I’m taking it tank-tops and sexy-time. Hopefully that invites another kind of thinking in terms of what the audience comes in with.”
Festival TBD: Emergency Glitter. @Abrons Art Center, Wednesday July 24-Sunday July 28. All performances $15.