“One never feels [their] two-ness, - an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone kept is from being torn asunder” - W.E.B. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk
Physicality is the backbone and foremost function of my work, through process comes labor that informs what it is creating. Consider labor to be art, consider it to be the movements in which we are “doing” something. Through labor is the creation of emotions, responses, and actions, each continuing to grow in strength through perseverance and tenacity. This labor is not just mental or physical but also spiritual, each one informing the other. Labor is a forward motion, and as such, there is growth (mentally, physically and spiritually) through experience. It is not just physicality that produces results. The direction in which a people grow is heavily dependent on intellectuality and faith. Faith keeps labor from destroying mental and physical fatigue as well as providing hope for future experiences. Through performance I seek to understand faith as it pertains to blackness as well as its motivational function. Thus far I understand my labor, currently, as working to construct discoursed text through the exploration of the physical black body. Specifically its relationship between the body, trauma and spirituality. Having the viewer see all aspects of this relationship is essential. There is no movement without this physical component, and is the only way that these performances exist. The body holds weight and attention, and under the gaze of the viewer it is defined as transformative. Performed rituals are embedded with learned physicality and each movement speaks to the past and future. To not see that effort enables a viewer to forget and focus on the end product. What is important is not so much the end goal but the movement between beginning and eventual end.
Discursive text is the second function of my work, and is represented through action during a performance and the sculptures that are birthed through interaction. This discourse takes place in two different ways; verbally and non-verbally. Verbally, text takes place through the reading, writing, and discussions by and involving the artist. Non-verbal, (most importantly) text is communicated through physicality. As physical movement is translated through experience there is no need for verbal communication. This non-verbal communication is what I am defining as text.This text is written by and through the body and to think of it a non-verbal action to be interpreted by the viewer. The difference between verbal and non-verbal text is the way the language is formed. Writing non-verbally is defined by changing a space, altering an object and commanding time. This is achieved by working with specific materials blended together to create 'ink'. This ink is used for writing, stamping, and staining objects that the performer interacts with. The speed and intensity at which a concoction of ink and herbs falls is solely dependent on the movements of the performer. Typically moving in a left to right motion, the spilling of ink and the presence of a non-speaking body create a space for silence to contextualize the experience. Simply, a physical material and an representation of writing comes directly from the artists' body. As such, I am requiring the viewer to “read” the performances and sculptures the same way one would read a contemporary dance or text.
In spite of the trauma of a diasporic identity there is a responsibility to acknowledge ones 'two-ness', as referred to by D.U Bois. Floating between definitions of identities comes the labor of understanding the push and pull of multiple experiences. There is a specific trauma that comes when one culture is spread across oceans and continents. For there to be two different cultures stemming from a singular origin, the difference because of geographical locations and socio-economic factors become magnified. Reconciling these two cultures takes labor.
Because of this, my work confronts the difficult task of encountering the black body. This encounter is troubled even more by the inclusion of black spirituality. The discussion of geographical and socio- economic environments inform the synchronization that happens between a colonizers religion and the spirituality of black and afro latin cultures. I have made the connection to my experience as a black women and how specifically black spirituality has shaped my reactions to people and objects around me. With the attempt to move away from any obvious talk of religion...physical performative actions reveal nuances of personal versus communal spirituality. These nuances are often interpretations represented as sculptures.
The act of watching, combined with a sense of uncomfortability allows the work to raise questions about what space the viewer occupies. Through the interaction with text and the presence of an 'othered' body, the viewer is required to feel a appropriation of a constructed experience. The process of engaging the viewers natural instincts, is to bring to forefront a sense of burden and potential metaphorical transfer of labor. This process often requires the viewer to consider this burden post-performance.
As part of the performance, the sculptural components are objects constantly in flux. They work to mimic the labor included in holding a diasporic identity. Because these objects hold the memory of the performance, their contexts change depending on the environments they are placed in. These objects become ready-made sculptures to be used in subsequent performances. The act of embedding these objects with memory references the way labor is embedded in diaspora. Through past performances the objects have a history that is consistently built upon and although the physical appearance of the object may not change, the memory that it holds is able to provide context for future pieces.
Installations are created through my rituals, and set a sacred environment for the performance to occur. These stages allow for the space to contain the energy of the performance even after the action is complete. The residue lives in a state of disorganization, messily capturing the energy of the piece. The installation that results after the performance is activated through the gaze and interaction of the viewer.
In order for these objects and installation to remain active the usage of specific materials is essential to the set of rules created for the performances. Objects such as salt, stone, oil, charcoal and a variety of herbs, spices and teas are intended to speak to both physical and mental spaces. All of the materials mentioned above are objects that have been used to create healing; salt through its abrasiveness, stone in its heaviness, oil in its fluidity, charcoal in its power to detox as well as a material used for mark making, and herbs such as: st johns wort, hibiscus, nettle in their healing properties. The mixing of the charcoal, salt and herbs (et. al) into a ink intends to speak of the healing properties of each object and a documentation of time and physicality. Through the merging of these objects and performances there is a sense of catharsis in which the laborious actions are constantly being constructed, broken down and repaired. Functioning as a non-verbal text, the ink spilling and bring written from the body defines as catharsis with an emphasis on the repairing and merging of a diasporic identity.