About two weeks ago, I had the amazing pleasure of interviewing with Felicity Fenton on the Freeform Portland radio show (which was extremely fun). We talked a lot about the body, performance art and the social, political and historical narratives surrounding black women. Interspersed with our conversation was an awesome playlist of music by various women artists. If you would like to take a listen, the episode is archived at www.mixcloud.com/felicity-fenton.
Our conversation revolved around the persistence of the body in my art, and I had the opportunity to share how I ended up working with my own body within a performance-based practice. While it is true that my body became apart of my work more for logistical reasons, I have continued contemplating the place of performance art in my practice since the interview. But why performance art? I don’t think I ever really answered that question, and I have come to realize that there was, in fact, a conscious moment when I chose performance. That moment was when I saw an artist run full-speed into a wall.
During my first year of my MFA program at SFAI, I took a class called Theories of Flesh with artist, scholar and educator, Ryan Tacata. This class absolutely rocked my world. It was one of those classes where the content really exploded what I thought I knew and challenged me to think in different ways about the performing body. During one class, Ryan invited Raegan Traux, a fellow colleague, artist and scholar, to come talk to us about her work. When asked, “why performance art?”, Raegan replied, “This is why.” She rolled up her sleeves and took off running towards the wall. Upon colliding into it, she stuck to the wall, as if glued when Ryan pried her struggling body from it.
When Raegan hit the wall, I literally lost my breath. I fought back warm tears so that my peers would not see me cry. As corny as it all sounds, I honestly have no clue what it was about the action that made me so emotional. But it did, and I have never encountered another art piece that has really hit me the same way. In that moment, I knew that performance was powerful; it resonated very strongly with me in a place where there were no words and no logic, only pure feeling. Performance makes me vulnerable, both as artist and as spectator. That experience of emotion was the deciding moment for me, as I made a choice to pursue performance art for the duration of my MFA.
So my own body ended up in my photography by default: I was available and willing to model for my photos. Even though my professors recommended that my performances be live, and not mediated through a camera lens, it was really this intense moment in my Theories of Flesh class that had me. Performance art is always a journey for me, where I encounter questions that lead to questions that lead me to spaces of intense feeling. I am deeply grateful for having the chance to see Raegan and Ryan perform, and all the ways that that moment has changed my art practice.