NOW CURATING: YOMI
s t r e e t a r t i s t
Megan Bridge might be best-known as co-curator of <fidget>, which, together with neighboring Mascherspace, presents some of Philadelphia’s most exciting experimental performance. As a choreographer and dancer she has performed with artists as diverse and lauded as Lucinda Childs, Jerome Bel, Willi Dorner, Headlong Dance Theater, and Group Motion. Her most recent project, Dust, premiered here in Philly at FringeArts in April before touring the country. Bridge is also a critic, and has recently taken over as executive director of thINKingDANCE. Bridge is ubiquitous in Philadelphia’s experimental dance scene, so asking her to curate a week of content was a no-brainer. Here, she has recorded a week of her Philadelphia life with the use of a digital, analog, no-edits camera. The results are personal and unexpectedly nostalgic.
– Julius Ferraro, co-founder
Megan Bridge might be best-known as co-curator of <fidget>, which, together with neighboring Mascherspace, presents some of Philadelphia’s most exciting experimental performance. As a choreographer and dancer she has performed with artists as diverse and lauded as Lucinda Childs, Jerome Bel, Willi Dorner, Headlong Dance Theater, and Group Motion. Her most recent project, Dust, premiered here in Philly at FringeArts in April before touring the country. Bridge is also a critic, and has recently taken over as executive director of thINKingDANCE. Bridge is ubiquitous in Philadelphia’s experimental dance scene, so asking her to curate a week of content was a no-brainer. In the below questionnaire, Curate This got the opportunity to find out a bit about her background and recent life.
– Julius Ferraro, co-founder
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Photo credit: Michael Yu
Manfred Fischbeck is a fierce champion for dance and embodied practice as a revolutionary force. He’s played a huge role in shaping Philadelphia’s experimental dance culture since his arrival on the scene in 1968, when he came from Berlin with co-directors Brigitta Herrmann and Hellmut Gottschild, and their young modern dance company Group Motion. Manfred has been the company’s sole director since 1989.
When I came to Philadelphia I joined the company right out of college, where I had studied dance in a conservatory program. Manfred’s mentorship helped me unlearn the conservative strictures that had bound my body during four years of classical training, while still encouraging physical virtuosity. His mentorship helps young dancers embrace a deeply investigative, often improvisational approach that results in making powerful artists, not just powerful dancers. Philadelphia’s dance climate would absolutely not be the same without his profound influence. I asked Manfred to choose which of the Curate This prompts to respond to. Because of his deeply philosophical engagement with dance as an art form, and his commitment to advocating for dance as a force for community empowerment, I had a hunch that he’d follow a prompt that led him into social commentary, and it turned out that my instinct was right.
– Curator Megan Bridge
When the Group Motion Company performed a site specific dance in public art sites along the Parkway in Philadelphia in 2009, the dancers wore the music of Phil Kline on their bodies, in the form of belts with iPods and speakers attached. The final piece, a structured improvisation, was performed in front of the LOVE sculpture on JFK Plaza. I carried a boombox playing the same music to boost the low tech iPod speakers. Next to me stood an about 14-year-old African American boy. He seemed excited. When the dance was over, he ran to the dancers, hugged them and told them “you changed my life.” This was one of the most meaningful outcomes of our project, which had attracted both intentional and incidental (passers by, “happening to run into it”) audiences. Incidentally, we did not make money with this performance because it happened in public space, which was a problem for one of our funders.
The social issue that this event illuminates for me and brings into my consciousness is the cultural segregation, exclusivity, and alienation which I find in most of the cultural and artistic happenings in this city (or this country) that I know of. It comes in the form of $75 ticket prices for shows on the so called “high art” level, but also in the form of the insider art “crowd” (if you can call it that) on the “experimental” level, or in the form of no art in public schools, or in the form of segregation of genres and neighborhoods.
From another perspective cultural segregation is about the capitalism of art, with making money as the primary intention; it is about the privilege of “winning” art competitions of all kinds, where the right access, connections, or popular and trendy ideas often move an artist to the top, while thousands if not millions of “talents” never even get a chance. This capitalism also comes in the form of having to be concerned with competing for “Artistic Excellence” (defined by whoever sits on the granting or funding panels); or the “My Work, My Voice” and “Becoming Rich and Famous” syndromes as primary concerns, when we put the criteria of finding our artistic niche or doing something “new” before the question of what we really want to say, or what is needed to be said for the good of all.
J.S. Bach, one of history’s great musical geniuses, wrote under each of his compositions “soli deo gloria” (only for the glory of God), while he was working hard as a cantor and school teacher, producing a cantata for every Sunday service at his church, as well as composing numerous masterworks in all musical genres. In doing so he revolutionized the field of music—and was practically unknown until he was discovered 100 years later. Remarkably, his music is still making full impact on cultures across the planet today.
Hopi legend has it that at the beginning of their history the tribe was living in a lush country environment with rich harvests. The elders, when noticing that some people wanted to have more than they needed, decided to move the tribe into the most desolate place in the desert of Arizona, where they still are today. Over time the Hopi developed one of the most artistic and peace loving cultures in Native America, where art and ritual became part of daily life.
The American (or Western) culture has put the real “dreaming” (as in daily art making, ritual and play, not competing or product selling) on the bottom of the priority list and out of schools, even though science and history have shown that when you take that kind of dreaming away from people (or cultures), they die.
So, crossing the lines of segregation, of the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots; moving art practice out into the open and away from of exclusivity, back into the streets, schools, and homes; making art motivated by compassion and empathy and not by the drive for success or money-making; creating space for daily dreaming-for-dreaming’s-sake on any level of social existence; these are my “dreams” for dealing with the social issue of cultural segregation (exclusivity and art capitalism). And I am calling on artists in all fields (and especially in dance, as it is humanity’s first and oldest art form and the art form available for Every Body at any time, in which the person IS the art) to wake up and take this matter into their own hands. It is the responsibility of art and artists to keep the dreaming alive for all people and to find ways to manifest it even if it goes against the grain of the market or industry. Ezra Pound defined the role of the artist as being the antenna of the culture into the future. I want to add that as the future “receivers” of the message sent by that antenna I see art-exposed, art-activated, art-engaged people in all sectors and all ages of society.
I went to my bank the other day to see if I could get a line of credit, sorely needed to deal with my debts and their high interests. I also wanted to wire some money to my daughter and her son, who is a dancer at age seven, performing with a contemporary dance company in France. While the banker was working on these projects she asked me about my daughter and her son and shared with me that she had wanted to be an artist all her life, but was talked out of the pursuit of that dream. While she appreciated having her job, she was not very happy doing it, and had recently taken up painting on her own account and had begun sharing her work on Instagram. This was what made her happy, and I could feel that happiness emanating from her, it was contagious and inspiring.
Riding the trolley to West Philadelphia, two young African American boys were practicing the art of rapping on their way home from school, and having a lot of fun. I felt lucky to have the gift of this experience of daily dreaming/art practice. I would not have had it driving my own car.
Peter Price is my husband, the father of my children, the co-director of <fidget>, and my long term collaborator for about 18 years, so to say I am biased in this introduction is a bit of an understatement. When I was sixteen I thought Peter was the most brilliant man I had ever met. In October we’ll have known each other for twenty years, and my opinion hasn’t changed much in all this time.
Peter’s form of intelligence is kind of a dying breed. Some would call him a cynic. He is staunchly resistant to the cultural imperative of positivity, and observes the world around him with more acuity than most. He’s quick to point out corruption, and has the ability to simultaneously regard situations from multiple perspectives. His most common response to any question, whether the subject is politics, art, philosophy, or even science, is “Well, it depends on how you look at it.” Peter is also probably one of the most insatiable “consumers” of culture that I know. When we first met, he read close to 100 books a year (since kids, he’s slowed down, a subject of constant disappointment to him, but this means he devotes more reading time to news articles and online cultural commentary). As a composer and musicologist, Peter has a formidable listening practice, and a collection of thousands of CD’s. With film and visual art, too, Peter has extensive knowledge and the ability to read long-term cultural trends and how they relate to social and historical events over long periods of time. Because of all of this, I was really excited to have Peter respond to prompt #18, “Homework.” His knowledge of so many different art forms is so expansive and so deep, I thought this would be a real treat for any reader. But, then again, I’m biased.
– Curator Megan Bridge
The Magic Flute (1791) – Mozart
Adorno heard in The Magic Flute the last moment before the disastrous split in western music between high and low, serious and popular, the academy and the culture industry. But more than this The Magic Flute is one of the strongest arguments for Opera’s meaningfulness as a genre.
On Truth and Lie in a Nonmoral Sense (1873) – Nietzsche
Set aside everything you think you ‘know’ about ‘knowing’ and then start over with this short essay. Should be required reading in High School.
The Question Concerning Technology (1954) – Heidegger
Its easy to dismiss Heidegger what with his being a Nazi, but I don’t know a sharper insight into the essence of the event of technology. Give it to your favorite techno-optimist.
Silence (1961) – John Cage
The number of artists of all kinds (not just musicians) who claim to have had their life changed by reading this book is legion, so if you have not given it a try, why not?
The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967) – Raoul Vaneigem
Hugely over-shadowed by the other great theoretical text of the May ’68 generation Society of the Spectacle, Vaneigem’s ‘guide for living for young people’ can remind us at any age that lived experience does not need to collapse into a hyper-mediated consumerist dystopia. Read it and then find a smart 17 year old who is an artist, or in love, or angry at the world’s injustice and give your copy to them.
Easy Rider (1969) – This may be the quintessential film of the American ‘new wave’ cinema of the late 1960s, and should be on any short list of great American films. Watch it for one of Jack Nicholson’s finest performances (mostly improvised), Lazlo Kovac’s cinematography, the mute solipsism of Peter Fonda’s embodiment of the 60s zeitgeist, and the madness of Denis Hopper’s directorial vision.
Einstein on the Beach (1976) – Philip Glass, Robert Wilson, Lucinda Childs and others
Some collaborations are much more than the sum of the collaborator’s contributions. This is one of those. Hopefully there will be video documentation of the whole work some day, but in the meantime watch the 1984 documentary about it and set aside 4 hours to listen to the music without pause(!!) at least once.
Perfect Lives, Private Parts (1984) – Robert Ashley
Some day Robert Ashley (who died in 2014) will be considered one of the most important artists of the late 20th century. His works fall between genres in a way that deeply complicates his historical reception. Is he a composer, a kind of poet, even novelist, a performance artist (in the New York 1980s sense?) Perfect Lives, Private Parts was conceived as an ‘Opera for Television’ and exists complete on DVD. Watch it in one sitting or one of its 7 episodes at a time. The libretto exists as a book about which John Cage said “What about the Bible? And the Koran? It doesn’t matter: We have Perfect Lives.” So after reading Silence, read Perfect Lives.
Megan Bridge might be best-known as co-curator of <fidget>, which, together with neighboring Mascherspace, presents some of Philadelphia’s most exciting experimental performance. As a choreographer and dancer she has performed with artists as diverse and lauded as Lucinda Childs, Jerome Bel, Willi Dorner, Headlong Dance Theater, and Group Motion. Her most recent project, Dust, premiered here in Philly at FringeArts in April before touring the country. Bridge is also a critic, and has recently taken over as executive director of thINKingDANCE. Bridge is ubiquitous in Philadelphia’s experimental dance scene, so asking her to curate a week of content was a no-brainer. Here she discusses something very much at the tops of our minds: financing art.
– Julius Ferraro, co-founder
Once the nation’s capital (a status it lost to DC in 1800) and the center of culture in America (a status which gradually, and for reasons beyond the scope of this article, trickled away to a certain island just to the north), Philadelphia is currently the second largest city on the East Coast.
With a population of 1.5 million, Philadelphians have struggled for decades to escape the little sister syndrome. Philly is a city of hard workers. Local pride breeds a certain provincialism, unfortunately perpetuated by constant reminders that New York City, an economic and cultural giant that lies only 100 miles to the north, is still very much in people’s minds the art capital of the world. But with increasing glocalization, and visibility and accessibility through the web, not to mention the burgeoning population of young artists in cities other than New York and the new energy they bring, New York’s hegemony is pretty much over (I know, Brooklyn, it hurts).
Unfortunately, the chip on Philadelphia’s shoulder remains. Philly artists have an inferiority complex which is perpetuated by an institutional imperative to look outside of Philadelphia to find “excellence” in the arts.
This actually happened to me.
I was at the very beginning of working on a new project, choreographing an evening-length dance. It was a big project, and I needed big funding. I met with a small group of representatives from a Philadelphia foundation that I thought might be a good match. After describing my project and talking about the dancers I was interested in working with, I was directed by the head grant officer to not hire any Philadelphia dancers. In this person’s perspective (and . . . I inferred, the perspective of the foundation), there weren’t any dancers in Philly that were “good enough.” This particular grant officer even went so far as to name two specific dancers (one in New York, one in Europe) that they thought I should reach out to as potentially good matches for my project. I was flabbergasted. The audacity! How could a funder possibly suggest that s/he knows best what collaborators an artist should choose to bring into such an intimate relationship as creating art together?
After fuming for a few days, I used my application for that grant to get on a soapbox about my commitment to working with the excellent local artists in my own city, and about the intimate nature of collaborative relationships. From my application: “The dancers I am working with are LOCAL. This is an ethical and political stance. I believe in working collaboratively with performers, and in collaboration that is built on trust and personal/political/aesthetic relationships that grow over time in the studio…I believe in rigor and depth of inquiry, not “talent.” …There are many other qualified “experts” in this field that reside outside of Philadelphia, however I would not enter into a collaborative relationship of this depth with someone I don’t know.”
Needless to say, my application was rejected.
But so here’s my problem with art in Philadelphia. It’s that we keep going back. We keep letting these funders determine the nature and scope of our art, we jump through hoops as they change reporting requirements, budgetary guidelines. We spend as much time developing innovative marketing strategies (outreach! growth! capacity building!!) as we do making our art.
Could you imagine a Philadelphia where the richest funders required some basic proof every year that artists were regularly practicing, and based on that proof, the pie was divided evenly between all the artists? More art for everyone, with built-in diversity. Communistic-style. Down with capitalistic art and the way funders are holding us back from making our best work. Philly artists, what can we do?
Edwin Markham’s epigram Outwitted puts this much more eloquently, and I paraphrase for its application here: If someone draws a circle and excludes you, then draw a larger circle and include him. Can we artists band together somehow and draw a bigger circle that includes the funders? Choreographer friends of mine Gabrielle Revlock and Nicole Bindler have attempted this in a comedic way with their “2015 Call for Funders: Gabrielle and Nicole invite funders to apply to support The Dance Apocalypse’s 2015 creative work. Eligible funders must demonstrate a history of supporting radical, experimental, feminist performance for at least 5 years. To be considered please submit a letter of intent…addressing the following questions…” (read the full Call for Funders here).
Another approach is a boycott. Easy enough for those of us making work that would be an unlikely fit for large foundations. Many artists are making work with the support of small donations via crowd funding, or traveling around for tiny gigs to make ends meet. But it’s hard to blame those few of my peers, whose work does fit the foundation bill, accepting large grants to fund their work. And sometimes I even get hired as a dancer for those sweet gigs, sucking the tit of one of the foundations I’m so harshly railing against.
I don’t know the answer. But I do know that Philly artists need to support each other and keep reminding each other that WE ARE MAKING WORLD CLASS ART THAT NEEDS TO BE SEEN AROUND THE WORLD! By any means possible.
Photo credit: Michael Yu