Prison Voices: Reimagining Dante’s “Divine Comedy” Behind Bars

Students in Chair and Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins’ course "America in Prison: Theater Behind Bars."
Students in Chair and Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins’ course “America in Prison: Theater Behind Bars.” First row (from left): Kayla Cabán ’22, Veronica Cañas ’23, Milton Espinoza, Jr ’22; second row (from left): Monique Gautreaux ’23, Mosab Hamid ’23, Avanti Sheth ’23.

This past Spring, six students in Chair and Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins’ course THEA 115 “America in Prison: Theater Behind Bars,” collaborated with incarcerated men at the Cheshire Correctional Institution on monologues created in response to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. These six short monologues are written by those men, and are introduced and performed on video by Jenkins’ students (pictured above). For the first half of the semester, students met weekly with their incarcerated partners to discuss Dante’s journey from hell to heaven and its relevance to the prison experience. When the pandemic made personal visits to the prison impossible, the students kept in touch with their partners remotely. Through support from the CFA’s Creative Campus Initiative, the students were also able to consult remotely with two formerly incarcerated men, Dario Peña and Dennis Woodbine, who had previously taken Dante workshops with Jenkins in Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Professor Jenkins writes:

“Ten years after reading Dante in prison, these two men spoke with the students about the poem’s continuing relevance to their lives. Woodbine and his lawyer had included a line from Dante in the opening paragraph of his application for clemency, which resulted his early release. Peña spoke about reading the poem as a turning point in his life behind bars. Dante wrote the Divine Comedy after having been exiled from his home and family in Florence, knowing that his conviction would lead to his being burned at the stake if he ever returned. Having facilitated Dante workshops in prisons in Italy, Indonesia and the U.S., I am always impressed by the degree to which men and women behind bars identify with Dante’s journey. Yale Divinity School Professor Peter S. Hawkins attended a Dante performance we staged in a Connecticut prison several years ago. His analysis of the theme of transformation in the Divine Comedy helps explain the poem’s appeal to incarcerated individuals: ‘… it is not the penitents’ suffering that the poem dwells on,’ Hawkins writes, ‘it is the degree to which art, music, language—beauty of all kinds—assist in personal transformation.’”

A Reflection on Alumni Visits to “Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship”

Vashti DuBois ’83
Vashti DuBois ’83 (Image courtesy of Chestnut Hill Local)

This spring, Makaela Kingsley ’98, Director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Adjunct Instructor in Public Policy, invited five fellow Wesleyan alumni to her course CSPL 262 “Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship” to discuss how they used artistic practice as a vehicle for social change.

In this course, Wesleyan students studied a social or environmental problem of their choosing and designed a hypothetical project to address that problem, thinking critically about how change happens, honing their activism, and building practical skills.

The guests speakers were Laura Stein ’03 of Dancing Grounds, a multigenerational arts space that brings inclusive and accessible dance programs to New Orleans residents; Chris Kaminstein ’04 of Goat in the Road Productions, a New Orleans-based performance ensemble; Vashti DuBois ’83 of The Colored Girls Museum in Philadelphia; Michael Lawrence-Riddell ’98 of The Self-Evident Platform, a digital humanities resource for educators of American history; and Melinda Weekes-Laidlow ’89 of Beautiful Ventures, which centers and supports creative and non-fiction writers who bring the nuanced complexities of Black life into popular culture and discourse.

From Makaela Kingsley:

“I had 24 students in the class this spring. Their feedback about the course showed that our alumni guests were very popular:

The visitors have been fantastic! I love seeing how broad social entrepreneurship is.

Despite the unfortunate circumstance [distance learning due to Covid-19], I enjoy watching the recorded lectures that were clear and structured into business theories and real experiences. The combination of the two optimizes the strategies from the speakers and allow us to apply them in our potential project.

The flow of the class has been smooth and engaging. The mix of conversations and ‘lecture’ makes participating asynchronously feel like I’m part of the class.

I really enjoy listening to stories from the guest presenters. It’s really inspiring to see what they’ve done but also great to have a group of ‘case-studies’ to draw from!

We’re lucky that it’s so easy to bring in guests, and I’m also super grateful to gain some sense of how to make something happen for myself now that I’m entering the real world.

Thanks again to the Creative Campus Initiative for making this possible!”

An Update from Davison Art Center Curator Miya Tokumitsu

Albrecht Dürer, “Madonna by the Tree,” 1513.
Albrecht Dürer, “Madonna by the Tree,” 1513. Engraving on laid paper. Gift of George W. Davison (B.A. Wesleyan 1892), 1938. DAC accession no. 1938.D1.14. Open Access Image from the Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University (photo: R. Lee).

 

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This has been a springtime unlike any other at the Davison Art Center, as indeed it surely is for all of you. The coronavirus pandemic with all its social and economic fallouts, as well as the uprisings for racial justice across the globe, are fixing the world’s attention on injustices so entrenched and so pervasive that, for (too) many, they seemed insurmountable problems, or worse, just the natural way of the world. These global events are also deeply personal struggles, and so much is changing so quickly, it can be hard to find one’s mooring in the day-to-day.

Amid so many world-historical developments, it seems almost hopelessly trivial to be issuing this letter imparting the Davison Art Center’s operational and programming updates. Still, I am glad for this opportunity to extend my regards directly to you, to say that I hope all of you are safe and well, and to share some of our news.

In preparation for moving the entire collection of over 25,000 artworks from our current location at 301 High Street to our wonderful new facilities in Olin Library, the Davison Art Center gallery closed its doors for good on November 24, 2019 upon the conclusion of the exhibition Into the Image: Art in Miniature Across the Centuries. Our study room closed soon thereafter. In our final exhibition at 301 High Street, we were proud to show some of the collection’s great treasures, including Albrecht Dürer’s Madonna by the Tree, a little engraving both serious and tender, rendered in unrivaled technical virtuosity. We exhibited tiny, gemlike prints by the engraver and goldsmith Étienne Delaune, as well as a whimsical change-of-address card by Hannah Höch, and a sheet of game pieces by José Guadalupe Posada.

Although our physical doors remain closed, I would like to remind you that the collection remains accessible online at the Davison Art Center Collection Search, and that digital images of over 6,000 out-of-copyright artworks are available for free direct download as high-quality JPEG or TIFF files. Please feel free to use these images for Zoom backgrounds, smartphone wallpaper, signs, posters, wrapping paper, decoupage…the possibilities are, as they say, endless.

Along these lines, we have produced a Davison Art Center coloring book, available here for free download, from our image store. We hope it will come in handy should you need a moment of relaxation, a light diversion, or perhaps a meditative activity.

We are already looking forward to the future, which includes opening our new study room in Olin Library once we complete the collection move, and farther down the line, an expanded public gallery.

Thank you so much for your support and engagement with the Davison Art Center. We cannot wait to greet visitors and view art together again, in person. We look forward to staying in touch, and to greeting many of you again or for the first time.

Here’s to a new—and better—normal,

Miya Tokumitsu
Curator, Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University

“Calling Out for Our Mothers”

Eiko Otake with John Killacky (photo by Jean Cross)
Eiko Otake with John Killacky (photo by Jean Cross)

 

Minneapolis-based artist Patrick Scully had invited Center for the Arts Virtual Artist in Residence Eiko Otake and her collaborator John Killacky to screen and have a conversation about their work Elegies, centered around the death of their mothers, on May 29 at a virtual cabaret. Four days before that event, George Floyd was killed by police, followed by protests and riots. It was under this tension that the event took place.

“The murders upset the victims, their families, their communities, and all of us. When our mothers died, we were sad but we were not angry. Now we are angry. We will attend to this anger and we will remember this anger,” said Otake.

Read an edited transcript and view sections of the presentation in Eiko Otake’s Wesleyan CFA Virtual Studio.

Kahlil Robert Irving and Richard Munaba: Safetyfirst&Fantasies_BLOCKCHAIN

 

This week we are proud to share Safetyfirst&Fantasies_BLOCKCHAIN, a new collaborative work by Kahlil Robert Irving and Richard Munaba commissioned by Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts (CFA). Right now with cultural institutions closed and physical-distancing in effect most of us can only access culture through our screens. As institutions and artists alike share documentation of works, presentations, performances, talks, and exhibitions all originally intended to be experienced in-person, we at the CFA wondered what it might look like for artists to make new (art)work of the material of the Internet at this time. Kahlil Robert Irving’s artwork Internet Data Collage (Focused eye) (2018) came to mind for its use of the aesthetics of image search engine results. This small and powerful work was included in Irving’s 2018 solo exhibition at Wesleyan in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, Kahlil Robert Irving: Street Matter Decay & Forever / Golden Age. More information on the exhibition can be found here.

Roots of Irving’s practice can be found in assemblage and collage which are early Modern artistic techniques for using or referencing existing materials. Irving expands and adapts these historic methodologies by developing a syntax of contemporary visual symbols that represent the values we perpetuate and enhance through our media consumption. In Safetyfirst&Fantasies_BLOCKCHAIN Irving pairs with artist Richard Munaba who brings expertise with digital artwork and design, as well as a practice that focuses a queer lens on how technology changes and recontextualizes our relationships with each other and our surroundings. Internet Data Collage (Focused eye) (2018) and several other of Irving’s collages highlight and structure images that communicate acts of police violence and civil injustice. Sourced digitally and printed on paper these works served as reference points for Irving and Munaba as they began work on the conceptual and material constructions of Safetyfirst&Fantasies_BLOCKCHAIN. Expanding on the historic models mentioned above, this commission resonates with the dimensional possibilities of sampling—the musical technique of reorganizing or modifying previously recorded material to create something new.

Constructed from found digital materials and presented online, this interactive work is filled with details in constant motion. Even while the Coronavirus pandemic limits our physical connections with others, it opens an opportunity to reconsider how ideas are exchanged and communicated. The artists encapsulate some of the pressures of our experience in this piece by mimicking multiple browser windows—watching videos, video calling friends, scrolling through Twitter, listening to music, etc. The work plays with a heightened sense of fantasy, blending together the trauma, violence, and resistance that are already ubiquitously embedded within media and technology. ‘Safely’ viewed from a distance, Safetyfirst&Fantasies_BLOCKCHAIN brings awareness to our moments of media consumption by reminding us simultaneously of the politics of our attention and its immediate commodification.

In recent weeks we have had to confront the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and countless other Black Americans. Mourning their deaths we are angered by the systemic racial injustice. Black Lives Matter. We recognize that action takes many forms and though we may not all be able to join in body we can show solidarity in other ways. Please consider supporting the protestors and the political resistance happening now across the United States of America. Below are some resources for action, for additional educational information, and some organizations you can support with a financial contribution (if you are able).

Audre Lorde Project – https://alp.org/

Women for Political Change – https://www.womenforpoliticalchange.org/

Reclaim the Block – https://www.reclaimtheblock.org/home

Arch City Defenders – https://www.archcitydefenders.org/

Close the Workhouse – https://www.closetheworkhouse.org/

Next Door  – https://nextdoor.com/?next=/help_map/?is=helpmap&utm_campaign=caregivers

Black Protesters Relief fund – https://www.gofundme.com/f/mo-black-protester-relief-fund

The Bail Project –
https://bailproject.org/our-work/

National Bail Out – https://nationalbailout.org/black-mamas-bail-out/

Brooklyn Bail Fund – https://brooklynbailfund.org/

Black Visions MN – https://www.blackvisionsmn.org/

Reclaim the Block – https://secure.everyaction.com/zae4prEeKESHBy0MKXTIcQ2

Southern Poverty Law Center – https://www.splcenter.org/

How to Support the Struggle Against Police Brutality – https://www.thecut.com/2020/05/george-floyd-protests-how-to-help-where-to-donate.html

10 Ways Youth Can Engage in Activism – https://www.adl.org/education/resources/tools-and-strategies/10-ways-youth-can-engage-in-activism

Compiled list of bail support initiatives, protest support, petitions, and trans support – https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u/0/d/1A3f-20SipegLlS2D-D8JRpJd2IBGmN7eKdfRB6cJHwY/htmlview

 

Kahlil Robert Irving (b. 1992, San Diego, CA) is an artist currently living and working in the USA. Irving was selected to participate in the 2020 Great Rivers Biennial hosted by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, where he will present a solo exhibition following the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, Irving was awarded the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant. In 2018, Irving’s first institutional solo exhibition took place at Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts, and was accompanied by a full-color catalogue with essays and an interview. Currently, he is presenting a large-scale digital collage commission at the Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati, Ohio. Irving’s work is also featured in Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. His work has been exhibited at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas; the ASU Art Museum, Phoenix; and the RISD Museum, Rhode Island, among others. Irving attended the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art, Washington University in St. Louis (MFA Fellow, 2017); and the Kansas City Art Institute (BFA, Art History and Ceramics/Sculpture, 2015). His work is in the collections of J.P Morgan Chase Art Collection, New York; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Richard Munaba (b. 1992, Jakarta, Indonesia) is a New York based interdisciplinary artist and designer. Munaba currently works as editorial manager at Holler. In the past, he worked at GIPHY and has exhibited works in New York, Baltimore, Seattle, Canada, and South Korea. He received a BFA in Interactive Arts from Maryland Institute College of Art in 2016. More information about his work can be found at richardmunaba.info

 

Image above: Kahlil Robert Irving and Richard Munaba, Safetyfirst&Fantasies_BLOCKCHAIN

Environmental Studies Artist Books

Artist book by Emma Singleton ’23
New Haven-based artist Joseph Smolinski joined a Zoom session to critique student work (including an artist book, shown above, by Emma Singleton ’23) in “E&ES197: Introduction to Environmental Studies.”

Since 2014, students in Earth and Environmental Sciences 197: Introduction to Environmental Studies have had the option to create an artist book for their final project. This spring, with support from the Center for the Arts’ Creative Campus Initiative, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Helen Poulos offered those students some expert, socially-distanced mentoring from local artists. Wesleyan’s Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Ali Osborn recorded bookmaking video tutorials from his home studio; and New Haven-based artist Joseph Smolinski joined a Zoom session to critique student work (including an artist book, shown above, by Emma Singleton ’23). Each semester, the class votes on the most creative and interesting books; over the years, more than 30 of these have been selected for inclusion in the Wesleyan Library’s Special Collections & Archives and are available for viewing.

Rani Arbo
Campus and Community Engagement Manager
Center for the Arts, Wesleyan University

News from Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance at Wesleyan University

Detroit-based movement artist Jennifer Harge
Detroit-based movement artist Jennifer Harge in “Fly | Drown” (2019). For the ICPP online summer intensive, Harge will be reimagining a live-streamed version of this work in her home—the very site that inspired the original installation for the performance.

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week, we write from the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP), a low-residency Master’s degree in Performance Curation housed in the Center for the Arts.

ICPP students and alumni offer extraordinary examples of how their curatorial work designs ways of sustaining individual and collective practices in this time of uncertainty.


ICPP Leadership Fellowship 

Deborah Goffe (MA ’19) has been working for over a year on The Nest, a retreat for movement artists and cultural workers of color in the southern New England and New York areas to gather and share processes around performance making and commoning as survival strategies. The gathering was scheduled to take place this month. In the face of the global health crisis, Goffe redistributed the funds to the participants to offset their personal financial losses and is considering how to re-imagine the gathering at a later date. Deborah’s leadership and care for others illustrates the intentions of the ICPP Leadership Fellowship, which is awarded to graduating students to foster professional and networking opportunities while nurturing underrepresented perspectives in the field of art and performance curation.


ICPP Students Community Spotlights

MA candidate Candace Thompson-Zachery, Manager of Justice, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives at Dance/NYC, co-organized their 2020 Symposium on March 21. As New York City implemented social distancing guidelines, the all-day event was moved online and content shifted accordingly. The panels touched on indigeneity in performance, development of a disability politics toward dismantling racism, the current state of the dance field, and direct emergency response for the dance community during COVID-19. Since the symposium, Dance/NYC launched the COVID-19 Dance Relief Fund, awarding 180 grants to dance makers in the New York metropolitan area, and continues to aggregate NYC area classes and workshops on their community calendar, as well as host digital town halls. 

Graduate student Jamie Gahlon continues her exemplary work through HowlRound Theatre Commons. As co-founder and director Jamie and her team have been turning out pandemic-related content consistently and frequently over the past weeks, including livestreamed talks and panel discussions around artist resources, the state of affairs in the arts today, sustaining creative practices, and much more. The organization, already functioning as a digital commons, has taken the opportunity to host conversations around pragmatic strategies for freelance artists during the crisis, offering information on livestream technology, financial planning, and sustaining creative practices, in addition to regular content. Take a look at their ongoing online programming.


Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Performing Artist Case Studies

As part of our Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Performing Artist Case Studies, an examination into art practices, economical resources, and modes of sustainability amidst changing cultural economies, ICPP is excited to be working with Detroit-based movement artist Jennifer Harge. For the ICPP online summer intensive, Harge will be reimagining a live-streamed version of Fly | Drown (2019) in her home—the very site that inspired the original installation for the performance. 


Class of 2020

We are so proud of our four anticipated MA graduates from ICPP this month:

Beatrice Basso, independent curator and theater maker (Thesis: Curating in Translation: Oblique Gestures of Repair); Victoria Carrasco-Dominguez, Gallery Management and Adjunct Curator, Public Programs at Phi Foundation (Thesis: Public Art as Performance: Curating the Utopian Sculpture in and out of the Museum); Raechel Hofsteadter, Associate Director of Development Operations, Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University (Thesis: Mobilizing Dance Legacies: Curating Embodied Archives Through the Praxes of Jennifer Harge and Anna Martine Whitehead); and Candace Thompson-Zachery, Manager of Justice, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives at Dance/NYC (Thesis: Encounters in Caribbean Dance: Curating Beyond Display).

Thank you for your inspiring work, which opens rich and urgent avenues for performance curation across contemporary cultures.

Though making and convening performance in times of social distancing brings great challenges, we will take our cue from ICPP co-founder Sam Miller ’75 and continue to imagine infrastructures of care to accompany artists in these shifting conditions and economies. 

To receive ICPP’s newsletter, please email icpp@wesleyan.edu.

Yours,

Noémie Solomon, ICPP Acting Director; Rosemary Lennox, ICPP Program Manager; and Constanza Armes Cruz (MA ’21)

Eiko and Wesleyan: A Virtual Studio

 

Eiko Otake at Rauschenberg Residency
Eiko Otake at Rauschenberg Residency on Captiva Island, Florida, December 14, 2017. Photo by William Johnston.

 

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week we begin to highlight the recent work of Eiko Otake, a long-time friend of Wesleyan and mine, and our first CFA Virtual Artist-in-Residence.

At the onset of the pandemic, we took time to look for past reference points to guide us forward in this moment; and to consider how some of the artists we have worked with might help us process our present situation. Among these, none has engaged with us for as long, or in as many profound and different ways, as Eiko Otake, who regards “Body as a landscape and Landscape as a body,” and who has made a life’s work of contemplating grief.

Eiko first performed at Wesleyan as Eiko & Koma in 2002 with Offering, a three-hour performative ritual of sustained mourning after 9/11. She dove deep into the idea of body/landscape with A Body in Places, which included performances in Wesleyan’s Olin Library and Van Vleck Observatory. In 2017–18, Eiko was a Think Tank Fellow in the College of the Environment, which was focused on themes of disaster and human-environment relationships. Her ongoing collaboration with Wesleyan professor William Johnston brought them repeatedly to post-nuclear disaster Fukushima. In addition, Eiko regularly teaches an interdisciplinary course focused on movement and massive violence, and this has introduced her over the years to many young collaborators, artists, audience members, curators, and friends. As a result, The Duet Project, begun in 2017, features many alumni, including Alexis Moh ’15, Nora Thompson ’15, DonChristian Jones ’12, and Iris McCloughan ’10.

Like most performing artists, Eiko’s upcoming performances and works-in-development have been cancelled or postponed. So upon returning to Japan mid-March, and entering into self-quarantine, Eiko embraced the opportunity to collaborate with Wesleyan on this new experiment. 

Below are links to a Virtual Studio, developed by Eiko and Allison Hsu ’19, that carries Eiko’s works, reflections, collaborators’ voices, and dialogues with others through her virtual residency.

This week’s highlights are:

What is Virtual Studio?
Room
On Artists and War
Conversation with Bill T. Jones

In this time of uncertainty, in a field reliant on connection for survival, we are called to work together and to be a community of care for one another. We invite you to spend time with us in Eiko’s Virtual Studio, where your feedback and reflections are welcomed and appreciated.

Jennifer Calienes
Interim Director
Center for the Arts

 

History and Personal Note

Eiko and I shared a mentor and friend in Sam Miller ’74, who many of us are missing greatly right now. Eiko and Sam had a way of guiding one another simultaneously—a partnership and deep collaboration that influenced both of their careers and wove its way in and out of Wesleyan in profound and long-lasting ways. 

It is through their collaboration that I was introduced, as a 1994 intern at Jacob’s Pillow, to the work of Eiko & Koma. Years later, again under Sam’s guidance, I would get to know Eiko as an advisor to the National Dance Project, a program I managed at the New England Foundation for the Arts. Eiko was the highlight of our meetings. There were sometimes tears and, at least one time, pounding fists on the table, as advisors were asked to keep silent during the panel deliberations. Eiko helped us realize how problematic this was, and we adapted.

True collaboration, I’ve learned through trial and error, is built on trust and communication. It takes time, makes room for reflection, and leans into complexity and nuance. And as Eiko described in her American Dance Festival program notes for The Duet Project,difference is an engine of inquiry.” 

Between 2006 and 2009, as Director of the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, I had the privilege of working closely with Eiko & Koma through our Living Legacy program on the development of Cambodia Stories, Hunger, and the Retrospective Project. It may have looked from afar that we were supporting Eiko & Koma, but we were really learning from them. 

Since that first performance some 25 years ago, I have often longed for opportunities to experience Eiko’s work as an antidote to an overly busy and fast-paced life. I crave time to consider shape and texture, skin and body, breath and pace, and Eiko’s profound ability to make one feel absolutely present with her. 

As we collectively pause, reflect, and re-imagine how to move forward, my hope is that we slow down to really absorb our time, body, and landscape—and maybe one day—we will catch up to her.

Visit Eiko’s Virtual Studio.

Back to top.

News from the Creative Campus Initiative

A screen shot of artist Carolyn Lazard and students
A screen shot of artist Carolyn Lazard (lower left) and students in Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow Catherine Damman’s class “CHUM325: The Work of Art Against Work: Art, Labor, Politics.” Lazard is sharing their computer screen, and the work shown is Lazard’s “Support System (for Park, Tina, and Bob),” 2016. This durational piece addresses the performance of convalescence, disabled sociality, collaborative art practice, and the transactional nature of emotional labor. “Support System (for Park, Tina, and Bob)” is performed over the course of a day, from 9 am to 9 pm. Visitors are invited to sign up for a 30-minute slot for a one-on-one performance with the artist, who spends the day in bed. The cost of admission is one bouquet of flowers.


Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week we write to share news from the CFA’s Creative Campus Initiative (CCI). When Wesleyan moved to virtual learning in mid-March, we knew that professors across campus would be reimagining their syllabi—and that artists everywhere would be reimagining the purpose and possibility of their work in this unprecedented time. CCI’s mission since 2006 has been to connect Wesleyan faculty with artists—and to catalyze cross-disciplinary collaborations that elevate the arts as a way of teaching, learning, and knowing. What better time than now, we thought,  to bring those collaborations online?

Historically, CCI has focused on pairing artists with non-arts faculty primarily for cross-disciplinary work. But in this unusual time, we chose to extend an invitation for artistic collaborations to all departments. Faculty response was swift, and in just a week we had awarded modest grants to resource faculty connections with sixteen artists—choreographers, poets, actors, musicians, video, and multimedia artists—who will lecture, offer workshops, and share the labor of mentoring and inspiring students during this difficult time.

A sampling of this spring’s collaborations:

Professor of Theater and Chair of the Theater Department Ron Jenkins invited formerly incarcerated actors Dennis Woodbine and Dario Pena to critique final student work in his course, THEA115: America in Prison: Theater Behind Bars.

Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Helen Poulos and choreographer Jill Sigman will work together with ENVS201: Sophomore Seminar in Environmental Studies on a movement practice that supports new assignments: a personal journal and a final project that investigates shifting ecological networks during a pandemic.

Catherine Damman, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Humanities, welcomed writer, speaker, and artist Carolyn Lazard to speak on their community and activist work in a class on disability, rest, and care; and to mentor student work in  CHUM325: The Work of Art Against Work: Art, Labor, Politics. Read more about this virtual class here.

Assistant Professor of Theater, African American Studies, and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Katie Brewer-Ball shifted her syllabus for THEA364: Friendship and Collaboration to address how we may find new ways to be together in this moment, assigning her students to begin a letter-writing practice. She invited poet Kay Gabriel to lecture on the history of the epistolary form in poetry and to guide the class in a writing workshop.

Makaela Kingsely ’98, Director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Adjunct Instructor in Public Policy, invited five fellow Wesleyan alumni to CSPL262: Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship to discuss how they have used artistic practice as a vehicle for social change. First up were Laura Stein ’03, founder of Dancing Grounds, a multigenerational arts space that brings inclusive and accessible dance programs to New Orleans residents; and Chris Kaminstein ’04, founder of Goat in the Road Productions, a New Orleans-based performance ensemble. 

Heather Vermuelen, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Humanities (CHUM), invited artists micha cárdenas and Jen Liu, to SOC300: Queer and Trans Aesthetics, where students are considering how their own research, curatorial, and creative projects (proposed prior to the pandemic) will change in light of the shapeshifting geographic coordinates and digital realms in which they now exist. Cardenas will lecture on Thursday, April 16 at 4:30pm and Liu will lecture on Thursday, April 23 at 4:30pm. Both lectures are open to anyone with a Wesleyan email address—see both posters and learn more here.  

To these teachers, artists, and students, and to the broader Wesleyan community and all of the artists we know and have yet to meet: we are incredibly inspired by the ways you are finding to practice, teach, learn, create, and share your work as we pivot into this new world.

Gratefully,

Rani Arbo
Campus and Community Engagement Manager
Center for the Arts, Wesleyan University

 

 

 

Report from the Virtual Classroom

Catherine Damman writes, “We had an incredible virtual class visit with artist Carolyn Lazard in CHUM325: The Work of Art Against Work: Art, Labor, Politics. Students had read their 2013 essay “How to be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity,” and Lazard began by taking us through many of their recent works. We had a complex and rewarding conversation on many of the topics that Lazard’s work addresses, including: the history of television closed captioning, the testing of psychotropic drugs on incarcerated populations, and the relationship between privacy and convalescence. Lazard spoke insightfully about how, rather than bring art to the hospital as a therapeutic tool, their work brings the hospital to the art world. Students are interested in the temporality of disability, as it is fundamentally at odds with capitalism (related to an assigned reading by Alison Kafer on “crip time,” which is also the title of one of Lazard’s video works), and we talked about the potential intersections between queer temporalities and disability temporalities. As the students are beginning their final projects for the class, Lazard shared many insights about their experience making art and scholarship that begins from illness as a site of value, rather than lack; the ways that dependency can be configured differently, as either “scarcity” or “abundance;” and making art about trauma without fetishizing its representation. The group had particularly incisive questions and reflections about how a disability studies perspective recasts such concepts as mutuality, reciprocity, and consent outside their normative definitions. Together, we have been studying theories of reproductive labor, and my brilliant students are very interested in how the work of care can be reconfigured such that it does not merely reproduce a labor force in service of capital, but rather can reimagine and enact forms of community and collectivity deserving of those names.

Toneburst Laptop Ensemble Finds New Ways to Make Music

CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 writes about the Toneburst Laptop and Electronic Arts Ensemble and its upcoming performance on Friday, May 9, 2014.

Last spring Assistant Professor of Music Paula Matthusen founded Wesleyan’s Toneburst Laptop and Electronic Arts Ensemble.  This Friday, May 9 at 8pm in World Music Hall the group will have their final performance of the year.  They’re calling it an “electroextravaganza.”

Most of us don’t think of our laptop computers as instruments, so what then is a Laptop Ensemble?

Each member in the ensemble performs with a laptop that’s connected to a hemispherical speaker.  Fourteen members strong, Toneburst projects sound out of an equal number of hemispherical speakers.  Members draw from pre-existing programs and ones that they create themselves in order to generate remarkably inventive musical scores, each one a unique interaction between laptop and musician.

Highly interactive, it’s as much about the ensemble as it is about the technology.  Just like any instrumental ensemble, the members assume different roles depending on the score and constantly engage with one another.

“This is a different way of recognizing the laptop as instrument but also as social interaction,” says Ms. Matthusen.  “It takes its inputs in a way that we have to interact with each other.”

One work in this Friday’s concert has ensemble members connected to their computers and clapping hands, so that each time two members clap a musical note sounds.  The original score, composed by graduate student Christopher Ramos Flores, transforms the ensemble into a circuit system.

“They are essentially acting like a large keyboard,” explains Ms. Matthusen.

Another piece derives its material from OKCupid, an online dating site. Composed by graduate student Daniel Fishkin, the score utilizes text-to-speech software to transform the OKCupid profiles into sound.

“Daniel’s piece recognizes the laptop as an interface to this entire other world,” comments Ms. Matthusen—the world of online dating and social networks.

This Friday’s concert is particularly momentous for Toneburst because it is comprised primarily of new works written by the ensemble members.

The scores are imaginative and engaging, technical and compelling.  Each one is carefully crafted and then rehearsed again and again.  Yet the laptop ensemble leaves a lot of room for improvisation and play.

“Learning the program is the first part of it and then you can figure out how to actually express yourself using the restrictions of the score,” explains Toneburst member Mark Frick ’14. “You’re taking a technology that hasn’t been exploited for something particularly expressive before and using it for an expressive means.”

“There’s a shared spirit of exploration that has evolved through the group as part of this way of making music,” reflects Ms. Matthusen.  “They are working together to realize these scores, and there’s a power about that.”

The Toneburst Electroextravaganza concert is Friday, May 9, 2014  at 8pm in the CFA’s World Music Hall. Admission is free.