Art at the Edges
by Larry Murray
When most people think of transgender art (if they think about it at all) they conjure up tacky nightclubs, drag queens and a hidden, clandestine world. That’s not only wrong: it’s insulting.
Dig a little more deeply and you will find there is some exceptional artisty to be had, and given the chance, you and I can discover what a truly creative mind can bring to the stage. It is in that spirit that we choose this performance as a top pick, one you should not miss.
As it is, artist Wu Tsang will cap a weeklong production residency at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a performance titled Moved by the Motion, a collaboration with performer boychild and experimental cellist Patrick Belaga. Part of an ongoing, iterative series of such performances, the show on April 15, 2016 (at 8PM) will feature a new lighting design, crafted in the EMPAC Theater.
As the creators explain it, Moved by the Motion takes as its central tenet the concept of “play,” both as an activity and as a space for flexibility and leeway. Through an improvisational structure of voice, movement, and music, the performance explores the relationship between self, identity, and the narratives that construct them. Tsang plays the voice, an evocative and commanding vocal performer, who uses language to manipulate the scene like a puppeteer pulling strings. Boychild plays the mover, a visceral dancer who is bound to the voice but is constantly breaking down language with her ineffable physicality. All the while, Belaga plays the improvisational score live.
The world of the performance is drawn from Tsang’s two-channel video installation and forthcoming feature film A day in the life of bliss. This near-future world is imagined as a place where social media avatars and online personas have created a hive-mind consciousness called LOOKS. Boychild’s character, Blis, challenges the LOOKS in a classic sci-fi plot of resistance and escape.
On stage, Moved by the Motion resists traditional notions of theatrical direction. As Tsang says, “Originally, this performance grew out of our more conventional director-actor relationship when we were working on the movie—but as two performers and visual artists, we wanted to push the boundaries of power relationships and narratives using performance art. So, in a sense, we are ‘playing’ with the idea of film/theater direction, and how the voice can command different emotional responses from the performers and the audience.”
Wu Tsang (born 1982) is a multimedia artist and award-winning filmmaker. Her films, performances, and installations have been presented in museums and film festivals internationally. Tsang’s first feature Wildness, documenting a culture of transgender immigrant performance artists at a bar in Los Angeles, premiered at MoMA’s 2012 Documentary Fortnight and won the Grand Jury Award for Outstanding Documentary Feature at Outfest (Los Angeles). Tsang has presented projects at the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), Tate Modern (London), the New Museum (New York), the MCA (Chicago), MOCA (Los Angeles) and the 2012 Whitney Biennial.
Boychild is a Los Angeles-based performance artist. Her performances have been presented at MoMA PS1, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Kulturhuset, MOCA Los Angeles, MoMA Warsaw, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Berghain (Berlin). Boychild has toured with Mykki Blanco, and collaborated with Korakrit Arunanondchai, Wu Tsang, as well as the streetwear label “Hood By Air” on an eponymous collection.
Patrick Belaga is a contemporary cellist based in Los Angeles. He trained classically for 17 years and has played cello in a variety of groups and venues in the US.
For tickets and more information, please visit empac.rpi.edu.