Outside and inside - Page 2

A burgeoning queer performance scene in the Bay Area is creating new zones

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Queer, radical, collective: (front, then clockwise from left) Harold Burns, Tessa Wills, Honey McMoney, Ernesto Sopprani, Aylin
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MATTHEW REAMER

SQUART also epitomizes a community and an ethic of DIY art production that is on the rise just now across a range of insider/outsider artists in the Bay Area. It's a generational movement, but at the same time it's building on, and building relationships with, earlier generations of artists. It's predominately queer, but genuinely inclusive; it's DIY, but skilled and knowing; it's anti-institutional but includes many with practical and critical training from university programs; and it's been producing some of the most appealing, challenging, vital work in performance in the last few years. It's a highly fertile scene that, taken as a whole, amounts to a movement and a rare moment.

Modeled on reality-TV talent contests — but in opposition to the social Darwinism normally on display there — SQUART gives random teams of artists a set of parameters and two hours to come up with an original performance piece. A panel of "celebrity judges" from the wider arts community evaluates the results. The results have been surprising enough to participants and audiences alike to keep SQUART going through several iterations since its 2010 inception, always with the quick and affable Arrington as the host sporting her now trademark bullhorn.

"It began out of a sincere desire to get people working together and to get ideas out," says Arrington about SQUART's origins. "I'm suspicious of how isolating working can be — with grants, residencies, artist statements, etc. — how everything is 'my project,' 'my work.' I think ideas get better the more they are bounced around, and that stripping away the traditional hierarchies is important. It's dangerous when work becomes precious. [With] SQUART, you just have to create. There's no time to do anything else. It can be a big mess; often it's a really beautiful mess."

Arrington says SQUART started as a side project but has developed into something larger. "The Headlands SQUART was a big step," she says, crediting program director Brian Karl with open-minded support of the undertaking. "We kind of took over the main building for 24 hours. It was crazy, but in the end some of the work was just staggering. The timing was pretty magical too. We got [choreographer] Meg Stuart [as a celebrity judge] because she was in town doing Auf Den Tisch! at Yerba Buena [Center for the Arts], and Big Art Group [Caden Manson and Jemma Nelson] happened to be up at Headlands while I was. Jess Curtis is back for a few months from Berlin. It was all quite perfect."

The coincidental calendar-pairing of SQUART and Auf Den Tisch! (which means "to put things on the table") was a striking alignment of the leading, established international contemporary performance represented by Berlin-based American Stuart and the new but internationally aware local scene. In making her long-overdue Bay Area debut (courtesy of YBCA), Stuart not only brought a project exploring the nature of collective improvisation, but drew performers from a local artistic milieu that included emerging queer performers like Julie Phelps and Jorge De Hoyos.

Keith Hennessy, the renowned interdisciplinary artist and performance maven who was both a performer and organizer for Auf Den Tisch!, says there are similarities between Stuart's improvisation project and SQUART.

"In some ways, the Auf Den Tisch! project is like a weeklong SQUART, with a much tighter selection of who's in it. There's a certain camp in contemporary dance and performance that was born out of really early queer theater, like Theater of the Ridiculous and Jack Smith, and that came to some people through performance art. I see that in both SQUART and Auf Den Tisch!"

Comments

Thank you for writing this article. I find what is happening with performance in SF to be so delightful. People are making work because they absolutely must, not just for the money. But, fuck, money is sweet. People are also working together because they absolutely must. We need each other to get it done and to believe in what we are doing. When I see someone putting themselves out there mime fucking an audience member with a strap-on or dancing like a turkey with a sailor hat on I know I too must take myself as far as I can go. Have ya'll ever heard that Francis Ford Coppola quote, "Collaboration is the SEX of ART"...? So true. And SQUART is so sexy. Furthermore, I appreciated the shout outs to the more experienced performers among us like Hennessey, Curtis and Jenkins, but we got to acknowledge the work of Guillermo Gomez-Pena and the POW festivals for all they have done to bring up crazy, queer artists. With Love, Lula Mae Day

Posted by Guest on Apr. 13, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

The Emperor has no clothes. See SF '99.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 14, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

i'm trying to figure out what's so "radical" or "autonomous" or "collective" about an organization like TOC -- is it all the grant-money, the proposals, the big art institutions, the (off)centralized bureaucratic structure (run largely by one person), the career-artist professionals, the "art-for-art's sake" attitude -- or what?

JUST WONDERING...(maybe you could enlighten us...)

but yeah, more power to SQUART! and laura arrington (who was doing this long before TOC came along, as with everything else...)

THANKS! "anonymous" guest

Posted by Guest on Apr. 15, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

Wow, I had no idea the Bay Area queer performance scene looks so very, very white.

Oh, that's because in reality, it doesnt. Not that anyone would know from your article.

While I appreciate the fact that Robert Avila wanted to highlight the work of some great San Francisco artists, the article and accompanying photo spread were shockingly pale. In a city as diverse as San Francisco, it seems as though one would almost have to be trying to make it look like most of the rad queer performers are white. Yeah, yeah, I know, Philip Huang was featured (though, notably, no photo was included). And thank you for mentioning Mama Calizo's (R.I.P.) support of queer P.O.C. artists.

But still.The omission of groups like Mangos with Chili, (an organization that fosters boundary-pushing performances by emerging and established queer artists of color), Sins Invalid (featuring performers with disabilities confronting sexuality), and individuals such as Mary Ann Brooks of DirtStar is jarring.

Please be more mindful in the future when writing articles that seek to describe happenings in the radical queer community in SF. We are not all white, and we are not all funded (far from it).

Thanks,

SQUIRT- San Francisco Queers Undermining Insidiously Racist Tales

Posted by SQUIRT- San Fran Queers Undermining Insidiously Racist Tales on Apr. 16, 2011 @ 11:48 am

Wait.. none of the work noted in the article is or has been funded. I believe that is why is deemed radical. SQUART, THEOFFCENTER, Home Theater Festival - are all initiatives made by a community of performance artists who are not waiting to get funding to put work out or to organize themselves.

Mangos with Chili, Sins Invalid and DirtStar are all great groups as well who deserve mention, I venture to say they probably have had it at some point or another. tho this piece is in fact about another group. One that has been working very hard at making this happen.

I would appreciate a show of respect for the hard work these artists are putting forth. It takes a community. If you "SQUIRT" as so candidly name yourself want to change anything on how they are doing what they do it might be best to email them directly and see how can your great ideas encourage change.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 30, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

that you might be offending the people in that photo by calling them white?

Posted by Tessa on May. 24, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

What can we learn from this article?

1. That a white male writer perceives the queer performance scene in SF as mostly white and not very trans.

2. That many people confuse getting press with getting funding.

3. That too many people allow the language and framing of the press to influence the language and framing of the actual art, people, and communities that make our imperfect yet vibrant networks of queer, art, performance, community, action...

4. That white and cis artists can be much more diligent about representation in the press.

Those of us who were approached by the Guardian for this article did not know of the scope of the article nor who else was involved. When I was interviewed, I intentionally cited artists of color. I articulated how Dwayne Calizo of Mama Calizo's prioritized artists of color, and tried to paint a broad and historical picture of the Bay Area's diverse communities engaging performance as both queer and cultural tactic.

Basically, a curious and engaged theater writer - fairly new to dance and performance art - has been moved by a small network of friends/artists making innovative work. So he spent some time trying to present these artists and their influences to the Guardian readers. Because the article took a relatively small view, that network seems more like a clique than a movement. Most of us who resonate with the article also recognize many its absences - artists and collectives, curators and events - that could/should have been mentioned or photographed.

Access to the press and to public attention in general is always impacted by structural racism (etc): by issues of visibility and histories of oppression and systems of exclusion and racialized strategies of divide and conquer. If a press opportunity comes your way, how will you negotiate your participation?

Let's continue to experiment - take risks - with art and solidarity. If there's truly something new and good going on, let's work it. The words radical and queer aren't very important if the same old shit is structurally maintained and reproduced and represented. Let's continue to collaborate and debate, expanding our borders rather than contracting and protecting them.

Keith

Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

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