Outside and inside - Page 3

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

But Hennessy adds a key distinction. "Auf Den Tisch! is more about improvisation than SQUART," he points out. "In SQUART you have to use improvisational strategies to survive, but it's actually about collective composition, which is really kind of amazing."

Hennessy — who was among the celebrity judges at the Headlands SQUART — has been a motive power himself in stitching together this younger generation of artists. Dancer/performer Harold Burns says he moved here from the East Coast partly inspired by Hennessy's work, "the idea of merging queer and radical with powerful performance that really broke boundaries." Burns joined workshops Hennessy led in November 2009 in the lead-up to Hennessy's anniversary season (workshops that would inspire the two annual Too Much! queer marathons). Burns calls those workshops an important catalyst in the development of the community and its momentum. "The relationships were already there," he explains, "but it personalized them more and took them to the next level." Arrington agrees. "I met a lot of the people I consider close personal friends and colleagues there. After that, Jesse [Hewit] and I (with our friend Hana Erdman) started a little workshop/experiment where we tried to gather collaborators with similar interests."

For his part, Hennessy got introduced to many of the younger artists through his participation judging earlier SQUARTs. In fact, SQUART and its larger community have been acquiring the regard of older, more established colleagues in a relatively short time.

David Szlasa can concur. "When I judged SQUART in October, there were 50 incredibly talented people making work who I barely knew," confesses the artist and programming director at Z Space (which, significantly, will be presenting new work by Laura Arrington and Jesse Hewit on its massive stage in December). "I realized the 20-something crew just came to town, and they're kicking ass."

Szlasa credits SQUART with opening his eyes to the recent shift in approach as well. "One of the things that distinguished [the new work] was its nonreliance on the institution. SQUART is a hugely successful, hugely popular thing put together through Facebook." For Szlasa, committed arts presenters like CounterPULSE and Z Space go only so far in explaining the success being enjoyed by artists like Arrington and Hewit or other of their peers.

"It's artists who are being built up on the support of a community," Szlasa notes, "rather than artists looking to institutions to find the support in the community for their work, which is a really different thing. It might be a small community that they're rallying, but it's significant. Maybe it's 200 people and they all see everything everybody does, but, you know, that's a thing. And it appears to be a mindset change also, which I really appreciate. And I think that there's something for us — I say "us" as a representative of Z Space or that sort of institution — to consider and learn from that."

CounterPULSE's Jessica Robinson Love agrees. "These artists are not just interested in getting their own work out there. Most of them are also engaged in curating and producing each other's work, serving as dramaturge, writing about it, and generally working to support the community and not just themselves. That's where the strength comes from."

 

MAMA'S BIG HOUSE

In any preliminary mapping of the scene, such as the piece you are reading, SQUART is only one point of reference, albeit a prominent one. At the very least, one would need to include now-defunct Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, which for three years, under Dwayne Calizo, consistently supported exceptional work by queer artists, especially queer artists of color, in the old Jon Sims Center for the Arts space.

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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