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.
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).
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
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.
Campus and Community Engagement Manager
Center for the Arts, Wesleyan University
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 onThe 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 theICPP 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 atDance/NYC, co-organized their 2020Symposiumon 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 theircommunity calendar, as well as host digital town halls.
Graduate student Jamie Gahlon continues her exemplary work throughHowlRound 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 onlineprogramming.
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Performing Artist Case Studies
As part of ourDoris 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 artistJennifer 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 atDance/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-founderSam Miller’75 and continue to imagine infrastructures of care to accompany artists in these shifting conditions and economies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Helen Poulos and choreographer Jill Sigman will work together withENVS201: 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.
Assistant Professor of Theater, African American Studies, and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Katie Brewer-Ball shifted her syllabus forTHEA364: 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 toCSPL262: Introduction to Social Entrepreneurshipto 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.
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.”
May this provide an update and entry into our present work at the Center for the Arts should this be of interest or helpful to you in this time. Although there is a lot to absorb online right now, we wanted to share with you some of our current projects.
In the coming months, you will ‘see’ us online more intentionally through a series of experiments with our creative community of students, faculty, alumni, and guest artists as outlined below. We welcome your feedback and participation.
Virtual Artists in Residence and Commissions: Eiko Otake has been engaged as our first CFA Virtual Artist in Residence, and we will begin circulating video journals of her work in development for those interested. We are also engaging in a select number of virtual commissions with guest artists who know our community well and will be announcing these projects shortly.
Arts Departments: Each spring, the CFA supports an abundance of faculty and student concerts, performances, and exhibitions. We are working in partnership with Art and Art History, Dance, Music, and Theater to explore how best to showcase their endeavors through alternative formats.
Creative Campus Initiative: Since 2006, we have been providing support for guest artists working in Wesleyan classrooms in partnership with non-arts faculty. In the past week, we awarded modest grants to Wesleyan faculty members (both arts and non-arts) to resource online collaborations with thirteen artists to support and complement coursework and/or to share the labor of mentoring and inspiring students at this difficult time.
Middletown Public Schools: Closing our 39th annual Middletown Public Schools Art Exhibition early was tough for all of us, and while we recognize nothing can replace moving through the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery with the works of our local public school students, we will be sharing images of their work in the hope that the circulation of our future artists might be wider than previously imagined.
#WesCreative: We will be collecting and putting a spotlight on the remarkable skills and imagination of the Wesleyan community.
You will hear more about each of the extraordinary initiatives from various Center for the Arts staff members over the course of the spring.
The CFA has always served as a platform for our creative community on campus, in Middletown, and beyond, and we intend for that to continue through this complicated and difficult time.
Please be well. You are loved and appreciated and we will get through this together.
Center for the Arts
With the CDC reporting cases of COVID-19 nationwide doubling since Monday, and Governor Ned Lamont declaring a public health emergency in Connecticut, it has become clear just how rapidly this virus is spreading. After Wesleyan University consulted with a variety of public health experts and other higher education institutions around the country, we wanted to let you know that all on-campus events and exhibitions have been canceled until further notice as a preventive measure. The University will continue to update the website with the latest available information.
Anyone who purchased tickets in advance will be issued a refund from the box office starting the week of Monday, March 16, 2020 and artists who were scheduled to perform this spring will be compensated. We encourage you to utilize your refund to re-invest in the arts through a donation, album, artwork, or ticket to a future performance. If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to donate your tickets to the Center for the Arts, please email email@example.com or call 860-685-3355 Monday through Friday from 11am to 3pm.
Thank you for your continued support of the arts, and for your understanding about this decision.
Stay well and we will be in touch again soon.
Center for the Arts
Thursday, November 7, 2019 at 4:30pm
Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery
A talk by poet, essayist, translator, and cultural critic Lewis Hyde, who has a particular interest in the public life of the imagination.
Photography by Richard Marinelli.
Thursday, November 7, 2019 at 8pm
Smith Reading Room, Olin Library, 252 Church Street, Middletown
Writer, director, visual artist, and vocalist Laurie Anderson addressed how to prepare for the 2020 election cycle and the tumultuous year ahead in the United States in this free talk.
Photography by Richard Marinelli.