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?
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.


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.

An Update from Interim Director Jennifer Calienes

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

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.

Jennifer Calienes
Interim Director
Center for the Arts

All Spring Events Are Canceled

Dear Friends of the 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 boxoffice@wesleyan.edu 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.

Jennifer Calienes
Interim Director
Center for the Arts

Lewis Hyde

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.

To view more photos from this event, click here.

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The Size of the Con: A Public Talk by Laurie Anderson

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.


For more photos of this event, click here.


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“Inaction” Dance Party

Saturday, October 26, 2019 at 10pm

Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery

Part performance, part dance party, the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery transformed into a night club in this event choreographed by artist Brendan Fernandes.

Photos by Richard Marinelli.

To view more photos from this event on Flickr, click here.

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Amjad Ali Khan: Sarod Trilogy (10/13/19)

Sunday, October 13, 2019 at 3pm

Crowell Concert Hall

GRAMMY Award-nominated sarod (19-stringed instrument) master Amjad Ali Khan is joined by his sarod-playing sons Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash to conclude the Navaratri Festival at Wesleyan.

Photos by Richard Marinelli.

To view more photos from this event, click here.


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Dr. Yashoda Thakore: Courtesan Dance from South India (10/12/19)

Saturday, October 12, 2019 at 4pm

Crowell Concert Hall

Dr. Yashoda Thakore balanced the practice of the art of dance with research in her Connecticut debut during the Navaratri Festival at Wesleyan. She has enthralled audiences around the world—from England and Greece to Dubai and Bangladesh—with her flawless artistry.

Photos by Richard Marinelli.

To view more photos from this event, visit: https://www.flickr.com/gp/wescfa/9VPsS8


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Opening Reception: Into the Image—Art in Miniature Across the Centuries (10/10/19)

Thursday, October 10, 2019 in the Davison Art Center

Opening reception for exhibition of miniature artworks—drawn entirely from the Davison Art Center collection—featuring objects made across several centuries, including pieces by Rembrandt van Rijn and Henri Matisse.

Photos by Richard Marinelli.

To view more photos from this event, visit: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmHGyWuY

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