Y’all Listen Up

October 8, 2012, Blue Mountain Centre NY

What a gift. Wow… I am here at the Blue Mountain Centre in Upstate NY with twelve other amazing artists from many parts of the US and abroad: NY, California, Washington DC, Texas, Spain, and I am the sole Canadian. They are rappers, writers, creative organizers of the Occupy movement, performance artists, visual artists, puppeteers and more. They are all remarkably talented with huge accomplishments behind them and they all straddle the relationship between [and inherent tension between] Art and Activism. I feel so inspired, and I feel in such good company to entertain the paradox (which is so central to my career): how do Art and Activism intersect and how do they compete with one another, how do they complement, and how do they create friction, and finally, what role does creativity really play in social change.

There are millions of answers to these questions, we debate them a lot, and we agree on two things so far. One, artists are visionaries in that they can see what does not yet exist; this is key to Climate Crisis activism; and two, as creative communicators we are empowered to creatively communicate what our minds imagine. In this way we seek to bring people’s hearts to the heart of the matter and advance the cause of social justice.

The goal of this residency is to plot and strategize while at the same time, create and nurture our own art projects. The projects can be things we brought from home that we have been working on for years and they can also be directly Climate Crisis related. In most instances, they are both since there are a lot of hours to work each day, for two weeks. What makes this such a fabulous opportunity is that Blue Mountain Centre is a 150 year old structure (with some newer outbuildings) whose main function today is to serve artists in the form of a Creative Commons.

The concept of Creative Commons puts such inherent value on the roll of art, artists and creativity that my belief in my work is bolstered from below. There is a swelling feeling from all sides to take pride in my contribution and to believe in its service to society. The residents here, which is what we are called, are fed beautiful food and offered assistance wherever needed. My studio is fabulous and I share it each day with a rapper who is making music that I find so uplifting that all I need to do is hear the music and I can start to work. The point is that the invitation to create art is well-tooled and well-fed.

What I am working on is ways to create a roll for physical movement (aka dance) in Climate Crisis Actions. I started by creating a group dance you will be able to imagine if you think of a flashmob. The difference is that dancers do not all face out to the audience but we face one another. It is about the duality of engagement and spectacle, participation and inspiring performance. Effort, unity, cooperation, and functionality (embracing a tinge of anarchy in the performance of the dance), these are my overriding values in embarking on this project. Its aim is to become part of a Creative Commons that anyone can use when creating a Climate Crisis Action. This dance, so far, is being called the “Climate Crisis Shuffle.” We may get a chance to test drive it before I put it into the Creative Commons, as we are considering heading over as a group to Bill McKibben’s first stop on his national speaking tour for http://350.org in Burlington Vermont next weekend.

When organizers plan their next Action, they can draw from this dance submission to the Creative Commons. The goal is to animate the space of anyone’s Action, to get people involved in a way that brings joy and athleticism to their experience, and to create more of a visceral impact for bystanders who are watching the Action unfold.

Another movement platform I am designing for the Creative Commons is a girl’s jump rope rhyme/dance, for adults and kids. The concept of jump rope came to me because of the moral issues of intergenerational justice embedded in this struggle. We owe it to our kids to make a beautiful world for them to grow up into. I like how this model of jump rope rhymes offers an activity and image pool that is playful, but also one that its culturally referencing a predominantly girl-centered and heavily African American-centered movement form. We need a multiplicity of voices in our global movement to make it strong, to make it sustainable, and to make it representative, so jumping rope to rhymes brings an important voice to the mix of who cares about the climate. Another attribute of this form is that movement and words are connected, which allows us to message something while we are “performing” our activity. This is a discovery that I made and researched extensively under the auspices of Pure Research offered by Nightswimming (in partnership with Simon Fraser University) last June.

While I am here, I am also working on research for another dance project focused on Restorative Justice back home in Vancouver. I use my body to investigate themes that will surface in this piece (that is premiering December 1, 2012 at the Music and Transformation conference at Simon Fraser University. By doing this research now I will put the LINK Dance company way further ahead when we assemble at the beginning of November to resume rehearsals to mount a public presentation of this evolving piece. I created a short dance so far (3.5 minutes) inspired by the shaking action of a drug addict. A physical manifestation of their addiction, while serving as a poignant symbol or marking of them as social misfits. I am critical of this manner in which we collectively remove the validity of a person to take part equally in public life based on past trauma and current illness. It is a subtheme in the work on Restorative Justice, which advocates that we all heal by listening to one another and being listened to.

Finally, while all the residents are gathered here for this Themed Residency at BMC, the group has decided to create a series of discussion topics. We formed a schedule to meet almost daily to host the series of topics we identified. They will happen in the evenings before dinner and that way can spill over into dinner conversation. Some themes are Art and Activism, Hopelessness, Strategies to confront the Climate Crisis… We also have a topic on the body and spirit as important contributions to the narratives we tell and the tactics we employ to build this global movement. Each of us chose to take one of the topics and to facilitate that discussion. I am co-facilitating the discussion called “Body, Mind and Spirit.” I’ll write about that next week. For now suffice it to say I have created two new short dances and a verse for jump roping in a group.

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