Artistic director Tessa Wills on the wide-ranging, boundary-busting This Is What I Want performance festival
THEATER Since 2010, This Is What I Want has hitched its program to the National Queer Arts Festival to explore the artistic and social ground between intimacy and performance. Privileging the immediate, even confused elaborations of desire over the canny or slickly theorized, TIWIW (produced by THEOFFCENTER in association with SOMArts, the Center for Sex and Culture, and the Queer Cultural Center) challenges adept, professional performance makers to risk forgoing the usual control or cohesion in the hope of finding new avenues for creation and participation.
TIWIW's free-ranging curatorial approach, which includes artists operating outside queer or identity-based practices, gets a further boost this year with the inclusion of several Los Angeles–based artists and a symposium at the Center for Sex and Culture moderated by Carol Queen.
San Francisco–based performance artist and choreographer Tessa Wills took over as artistic director this year at the invitation of TIWIW's founder, choreographer Jesse Hewit. Wills's own piece caps the five-day program with a "participatory experience" at the Center for Sex and Culture, and in general she brings a particular stamp to this year's festival, even as TIWIW stretches out within and beyond the Bay Area via a curatorial team that includes Hewit, Rachael Dichter, and Los Angeles–based artists Anna Martine Whitehead and Doran George.
Wills, a thirtysomething whose relaxed mien belies a probing stare, is an internationally produced performance maker who grew up studying music, ballet, and contemporary dance in England before relocating to the Bay Area. She's one of those artists always worth going out of your way for. In fact, she was behind one of the more memorable contributions to last year's TIWIW program (more on that below). Wearing a sleeveless T-shirt that nonchalantly compliments the shorn sides of her sandy brown bob, Wills sat down at a Mission café last week to discuss her directorial vision for TIWIW and the economies of desire.
San Francisco Bay Guardian Can you describe briefly the curatorial process this year?
Tessa Wills We asked people to apply, either people whose work we like or with a specific piece in mind, like Sara Kraft's — Rachael [Dichter] knew exactly what the piece was. [Multimedia artist Sara Kraft's The Truth employs a pair of dueling narratives in what the artist describes as a desperate search for objectivity, "fueled by the deeply subjective madness of desire, loss and the chaos of experience." It premiered at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in 2007.]
I had the curatorial statement underway, and the other curators added to it, enriched it or changed parts, and we invited people from there. About half of them are new commissions from people we are just excited by, like Dia [Dear] and Mica [Sigourney], and half of them are pieces that already exist. There are loads of people coming up from LA this time because two of the curators are down there.
SFBG One of those is British artist Doran George. How did he become involved?
TW I followed his work in England but never met him. Then he came to San Francisco, and we made very fast, intense connections around work and politics, and also a friendship. So we were looking for a way to work with each other.
When Jesse asked me to direct TIWIW and invite in curators, it seemed like that was really where Doran was at. A lot of his work is about somatics as it relates to gender. Because he was [in Los Angeles], it seemed sensible to think about other people that could support him and his choices down there. Anna Martine [Whitehead] is also down there working, and obviously she has this strong history with the festival, and her voice is clear, rich and powerful.