Practice With/In/ During A Pandemic: Re-Imagining Art in Isolation

Monday, Oct 26, 2020

Practice With/In/ During A Pandemic: Re-Imagining Art in Isolation

Tisch Week of Community 2020

On Tuesday, October 20, 2020, the Departments of Performance Studies and Art & Public Policy invited several artists who have been adapting their practice in isolation to discuss their work as a part of Tisch’s Week of Community. The pandemic has created a unique conundrum for performance artists who work in social settings —  is it possible to create the same shared cultural experience through an online medium? PS alums Eva Reyes and Eleonora Fabião, APP alum Kristen Baldoz, and current Media, Culture, and Communication Ph.D. candidate, Harris Kornstein, joined us to discuss how the pandemic changed the landscape of their work and what they have learned about their practice in quarantine. This conversation was organzied and moderated by PS Associate Professor Karen Shimakawa and APP Assitant Professor Hentyle Yapp.

Eva Reyes incorporated everyday life into performance with her work titled Salt, Fat, Ashes, Heat. The piece is a full day cooking marathon that explores familial connections to food, community, and grief. Margarita spends the day cooking cultural dishes, adding the remains of her late father’s ashes to each individual dish. Margarita uses this as a way to honor her memories with her father - she fondly remembers him teaching her how to cook, giving detailed instructions for each item. Her work references the intimacy between family members, and experiences shared over a warm meal. Performing this piece and referencing consumption during a pandemic where social contact is limited adds even more significance to this piece. The creation of a live stream for a day of cooking brings back the intimacy of a communal experience and allows viewers to share memories of their loved ones and mourn collectively. Future streams of this event will occur at FUTURX Festival.

Eleonora Fabião, a professor, practitioner, and researcher, has had to alter her practice to adapt to the times. Many of her previous works have been located on the streets, a convergence of multiple forces that she acts within, and simultaneously, is acted upon by the movement of the streets. In an interview with Luiz Camillo Osorio, she mentions, “For me, the street is not a place to be occupied, but a highly charged zone, a field of multiple and often conflictive forces to move with. Once on the street, you move with it, you move it, and you are moved by it.” However, practice in a pandemic now requires new avenues to pursue performance art. Fabião was asked to create a piece that was unique, yet repetitive in movement. She divided her hair into small sections, and created a circular design by taping small sections to the wall. By creating a movement piece that was different, but also relatable, she was able to adapt to the online form as a method of disseminating performance pieces. She has also played with the video platform by including the guests of different shows she has participated in to join her in a word game to make the experience interactive. 

Kristel Baldoz creates performances as a form of abstract storytelling by merging movement with improvisation, text, and family history. Her piece, Home Renovation, explores the hyphen between Filipina and American, asking the question, “what is it like to build a home when one has no home identity?" The performance uses the historical past of the California’s Table Grape Strike to look closer at ideas about immigration, home, and exported labor. Set design and improvisation is used in the piece to explore the many relationships (close, distant, and complex) that construct the definition of home. Baldoz has brought her practice to the streets in finding unique props and signs to bring to recent marches to engage with those around her. She has found creative ways to engage her culture and the theme of the march into her practice. 

Harris Kornstein is a visual artist and drag queen whose work focuses broadly on digital culture, media art/activism, and queer theory. Kornstein is currently working on a dissertation that theorizes queer/trans strategies of countering surveillance, particularly in the context of social media and everyday technologies, by looking at drag queens, Homobiles, witchcraft, and gay hanky codes. As their drag queen alter ego, Kornstein has helped lead the #MyNameIs campaign against Facebook's so-called "real names" policy, and is one of the forces behind Drag Queen Story Hour. During the pandemic, Kornstein has been able to continue performing in drag for virtual drag shows and has been able to engage site specific performances to share in these shows including spaces like their neighborhood street and the bathtub. Drag Queen Story Hour has also transferred usually in-person performances, to the digital space. These online events allow new communities access to these unique experiences that might not have been possible if they were only offered in person. 

The pandemic has created unique constraints for all four panelists. Performances that were originally scheduled to be in-person needed to be adjusted to fit the increasingly digital —  and distant —  world. For Fabião, “in distance, we are mobilized to engage in a very deep and different way.” The home, the sidewalk, and the backyard are now the stage for art and performance. Understanding spaces within the home can also become an exploration for sites of creativity, as seen by all of the pieces presented by our guests. The group also discussed what is “solo” performance if we are depending on multiple cameras, screens, props, and computers to make the work.  Our panelists were hopeful about practice with/in and during a pandemic. They will all continue to challenge the concepts of space and performance as we continue to move through this time. 

Story by Aarlene Vielot and Shivani Joshi