They didn’t call it an intensive without reason.
That’s the schedule of our 17 day intensive. Three days in, you’re exhausted from only five hours sleep a night because you’re committed to revising the readings for the following day’s classes. By the middle of that week, you’re staring at readings at 1am muttering, “my brain hasn’t even retained the first time I crammed this.” Start of the second week and you’ve resigned yourself to a quick read through of highlighted key points and four coffees a day. End of the process and you’re wondering what all that sleep deprivation was about and why aren’t there 17 MORE days of this incredible process?
(Two weeks later and you’ve managed to break yourself out of the pattern of sleeping 5 hours a night and 2 hours in the afternoon. Just.)
My time at Wesleyan University’s July intensive for the postgrad Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance was exceptional. It was different to what I had expected; I’d gone in excited about a useful but probably fairly dry time, talking about curatorial strategies and methodologies, organisational structures, exhibition/project/season case studies, and producing logistics. The course did touch on these, but more than that; it opened up discussions of urgent and emergent perspectives, artistic content, and audience engagement. There were in-depth discussions on the histories and contemporary state of race relations in America, and how artists address these; feminist performance practice; queerness as both content and methodology. The words of Fred Moten, Eileen Myles, Claudia Rankine, Trinh Minh-Ha; the work of Ralph Lemon, the vogueing houses of ‘Paris is Burning’, Eiko Otake, Ana Mendieta, and Tyler Perry, all alongside each other. Lectures, conversations, studio visits with visiting practitioners like Gina Ulysse Shaw, Katherine Profeta, Faye Driscoll, Darrell Jones, were so rich that we could have spent weeks with each of them. The words and wisdom of Ishmael Houston-Jones – whose upcoming curatorial project at Danspace (with Will Rawls) I was so drawn to and affected by that I’m coming back to the states a month early to volunteer on.
I haven’t touched on the excellent course coordinators/tutors/convenors; Judy Hussie-Taylor who leads incredible programs at Danspace, Noemie Solomon who is a leading brain in the dance world, Steven Taylor who talks a mean chunk of theory off the back of 20 years as Allen Ginsberg’s TA and as an MTV-featured musician, Thomas J Lax whose incredible brain we unfortunately only had a couple hours of access to, Nicole Stanton and her encyclopedic knowledge of 20th and 21st century dance practice, Katherine Brewer-Ball who coolly led us to golden threads of detail in diverse writings, and ICPP’s founder Sam Miller; a laconic Svengali of American arts practice behind some of the country’s most interesting organisations.
(I’m very aware that I’m just making lists; be kind and think of it as an organising strategy. I’ll get more in depth on some of these in future posts.)
I had some mild fears going in, of course; how much of this will be a purely theoretical exercise – encroached in academia rather than embedded in urgent and applicable real-life dynamics? I needn’t have worried. Despite a couple of moments (at the time infuriating but in retrospect hilarious episodes of the class railing against the bullshit of the Futurists, gleefully dismissing Claire Bishop’s sniping rhetoric, and the collective befuddlement at Deleuze and Guattari’s “body without organs”) – which did, ultimately, lead to great discussions – the course was grounded in 21st century artistic practice and how we, as curators, can best and most responsibly create the conditions for artists and audiences to dialogue towards action.
At least, that’s what I think of curation as.
The party doesn’t stop. We have weekly check-ins, research proposals, online peer discussion ahead of us (and yes apologies to all of you I know I’m already behind).
The intensive fed me in a way that I haven’t been for a long time, and in return my brain has generated a sticky and tangled web of ideas, feelings, and impulses that feels like its constantly hovering around my head; just at the corners of my field of vision. Always asking to be untangled, for threads to be pulled, unknotted, sorted, wound. Over the coming year I have to take them and weave them into something. I’ll write more about what I know of them soon.