Re-sponding: Maura responds to Marjani Forté and she responds to that
And, before I go into some of the broader, historic and societal implications in the piece, I want to applaud the particular intervention of your opening. That moment of heading out into the street. Standing on the sidewalk under the construction and feeling alone, in the line. Looking around. Wondering if I was missing something. Was something happening down the line? Was that person walking by part of the piece? There was a lot of traffic right in front of us, and I was aware of myself on display. So it was noisy, disorienting, chaotic and then the traffic light changed and I noticed a woman across the street. Had she been there the entire time? Had it taken me that long to notice her? Had others seen her already? Did I not see her because the view was blocked or because my focus was too close? Or because she was hooded and grey, and so, invisible? Then, of course, the shimmer of the paint on her legs informed me that she was probably my intended viewing object. And, ah! that moment when she has to quickly look across the street to cross it, there was a great meeting of mythical other and living pedestrian human.
As she moved past us, it was a rich crashing together of the random passerby and her charged, strident statements. She’s proclaiming the glory of Jesus as he sent the money lenders from the temple, while some guy blithely asks another “oh is this performance art?” There was something inside of that playful, tossed off statement set against Jasmine Hearn’s oratory edge that felt ripe and relevant. It spoke to a kind of dismissal and disposability of anything that challenges normalcy, whether that be the artist or the artist’s subject.
I appreciated being set up against that kind of physical reality of the city. I experienced the work as a New Yorker, the solidity of that participation in the unfolding of the work was reinforced by the feeling of concrete under my feet, the metal bars I was leaning against and the surrounding architecture of government, judiciary and commercial institutions. It served as a strong backdrop for understanding how the piece situates itself inside systems of oppression. How did you arrive at this “mobilizing the city” opening? Did you envision it before you got to Gibney? How did Jasmine feel about that each performance? Did things change dramatically based on the flow of the city?
And then, once we were back inside and closed into tight quarters in the Agnes Varis Performance Lab, the onslaught of sound through our individual headsets was very unsettling. We had been instructed to keep them on, but I felt that separation from what was unfolding in front of me because of the buffer of the headphones and the sounds that where being sent into my head. I felt that bifurcation of a self – that I was trying to attend to what was happening, but that something else was happening in my head. And, that I was aware that something else was happening in my head and I wanted to get away from it, so I could experience what was happening… except it was all happening. I found that very effective. I was not only watching a work that reflected or represented an experience, but I was experiencing an inescapable flood of other voices and sounds in my head that bound me to a mental state of agitation and disorder. How did you work with Everett (Saunders) to develop that idea? And, were the seat cushions with headphones something that you needed for the piece, and so, Gibney made that happen for the piece or did their availability bring you to that?
Wendell Cooper’s videos and Monstah Black’s costumes were so well suited in the Sun Ra landscapes. Jasmine, Tendayi Kuumba and Ni’Ja Whitson’s performances met the media with an equally powerful collection of visual and energetic humanistic signatures. The dancers reflected so much power and loss throughout the piece. I was terrified and heartbroken many times over with each of them. I did wonder how/what Kendrick Lamar meant in that same space. I wasn’t sure if gendering or gendered experiences mattered in this examination. His sonic presence and music serves as a rousing declamation, but I’ve had so many unresolved conversations about where women, and more specifically, black women fit into the picture he paints or proposes (the cover of To Pimp a Butterfly). Or, more specifically, the pictures he’s in (Rolling Stone’s cover). So, I felt the conflict of fighting a history of targeted, racist governmental agendas that you present in the work and that he raps against, but the take away was that some bodies continue to remain invisible, right in front of us.
Final Note: Everett and other “analyst/buddies” have a YouTube Channel – Live from the Writer’s Bench – that offers a rich intellectual, historic and honest conversation about hip hop. This is your CNN for hip hop.