ARTISTS REACH OUT: REFLECTIONS IN A TIME OF ISOLATION
Senior Curatorial Director Eva Yaa Asantewaa dreamed this series of interviews, Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation, out of grief for her work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance.
“In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.
But there’s no distancing around what we still can share with one another—our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.
So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I’m glad they’re part of our beautiful community, and I’m eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.” – Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Senior Curatorial Director
This interview features Kayvon Pourazar, dance artist, educator, and Gibney artist.
Kayvon Pourazar is of Persian origin and spent his formative years in Iran, Turkey and England. Kayvon immigrated to the US in 1995, graduated from SUNY Purchase in May 2000 and has resided in New York City ever since. He has performed in the works of Ivy Baldwin, Michelle Boulé, Beth Gill, Lily Gold, Levi Gonzalez, K.J. Holmes, John Jasperse, Heather Kravas, Juliette Mapp, Gabriel Masson, Juliana May, Jodi Melnick, Jennifer Monson, RoseAnne Spradlin, Wil Swanson, Donna Uchizono, Doug Varone, Gwen Welliver, Yasuko Yokoshi, Yaa Samar Dance Theater and in The Metropolitan Opera productions of Les Troyens and Le Sacre du Printemps. Kayvon’s ventures into making dances have been shown in New York City at Danspace Project (Food for Thought), The Kitchen (Dance & Process), P.S. 122 (Hothouse), The Cunningham Studios, Roulette (DanceRoulette), Center for Performance Research, Catch, AUNTS, Dixon Place as well as the Universities of Nebraska, Vermont and Sacramento State. In 2010 he received a New York Dance & Performance “Bessie” Award for Performance. He has served as Adjunct Faculty at Bennington College and The New School, teaches regularly for Movement Research and has taught as guest artist for Tsekh Russia (Moscow) and Workshop Foundation (Budapest).
At center: Kayvon Pourazar, photo by Alex Escalante.
Editor’s Note: Pourazar alerted me to his practice of embedding (or collaging) direct quotes from authors such as David Abram within his own responses (which is different from his credited quotes, rendered in italics). He writes, “My approach…is to weave and construct my frameworks into a combination of my own ideas as well as ideas from a variety of other sources and influences.” As editor, and for this piece only, I have taken the unorthodox approach of permitting this usage and highlighting these embedded words in blue. That particular material is, indeed, all sourced from Abram’s writing.
Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?
I was scheduled to go to Cairo in April and Croatia in May as part of Movement Research’s Global Practice Sharing (GPS) program. We are discussing potential postponement of both of these. The Cairo trip was to attend performances and events as well as participate in panel discussions, presented and organized as part of the Arab Arts Focus segment of the annual Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival in Cairo. In Croatia I was to participate in the Improspekcije2020 improvisation festival held in Zagreb. This year’s festival centered around the “topics of aging, disappearing and death…in the body as well as in the wider sense of the decomposition of the larger body of the world we know it.” I had proposed to show a new iteration of my most recent improvised solo work initirinisic.
At the current moment, I was scheduled to be in the midst of a 3-week residency with Ivy Baldwin Dance at Gibney for a new dance to be premiered in early 2021. We’re not sure if we’ll get the chance to reschedule this residency but I sincerely hope so.
Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.
At a very critical moment in my life, dance became a literal lifeline for me. After fleeing the Islamic Revolution in Iran, my family was repeatedly displaced from one country to another while we waited for our green cards to the US. Ultimately, because of bureaucratic red tape, my parents were forced to leave me to fend for myself in London during my mid-teens living as an illegal immigrant, unable to help me financially because the revolution had rendered them penniless. At its bleakest, I would experience days where I would be beaten up by white nationalists in the neighborhood, come home to an apartment that had been broken into and robbed, receiving letters from the Home Office notifying me of my impending deportation, and eating out of cans without electricity because the little money I was making from my job at the local deli was going to drugs to help me escape the nightmare I was living. All of these things repeatedly happening and sometimes all in the same day. The worst part, of course, was that I had no one to turn to for help.
My only relief was in dance. I had enrolled in a public performing arts school because someone in my family had once convinced me that I possessed some artistic talent (something my parents would never have allowed if they were there), and I dove headlong into dancing. Dance became simultaneously a place for me to process some of the shit I was going through, an escape, another reality to retreat to when things became unbearable. It also provided a sense of place and belonging at a time when I felt like an outsider in every other facet, including my emotional estrangement from my family.
In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?
My practice came about as a result of another critical moment in my life about 20 years ago. After finally making it to the US, and soon after graduating from college, I found myself injured and unable to dance after years of accumulated imbalanced training. Again on my own, in New York City, unable to hang on to my “lifeline.” A bodyworker I was seeing at the time magically and unknowingly unlocked something in me, something I can only explain as a vivid self-healing dialogue with the intelligent community of cells, tissues and organs that make up my body, all of them entities with moods and intentions, openness and spontaneity. What I initially perceived as a a long-lasting series of involuntary spasms, tremors, convulsions and unwindings soon became a life-long practice of deepening my attention to this vivid dialogue, and I have come to believe that the ultimate root of the divide-and-conquer strategy that is at the core of colonization is the split between mind and body. The belief that the experiencing self or mind, our innermost essence, as something incorporeal and ultimately independent of the body (and by extension the larger body of the earth) is the original violent hierarchy. By speaking of our bodies and of the larger body of the earth as inert, deterministic biochemical mechanisms or as a spiritless, vacant and corrupting/corruptible carnal realm, we deny their ability to actively engage and interact with us–we foreclose their ability to reciprocate our attentions, to draw us into silent dialogue, to inform and instruct us.
So my practice is a way to exemplify and aspire to the decentralization of power that I wish to see in the world. By working towards collapsing the hierarchical ways of being that I have been socialized with, I realize that mind and spirit is a property of all that exists, just as all of our ancestors once believed, and I’m left with a diversely differentiated field of animate and self-organizing beings, each of which has its gifts relative to the others. And I find myself not above, but in the very midst of this living field, my own sentience part and parcel of the sensuous landscape that is within me and that surrounds me.
How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?
I care about wholeness and resilience, individually and collectively. By engaging in my practice and sharing it with others, particularly through the lens of the trauma that has informed it, I hope to offer others another way of accessing a wholeness that includes all of their wounds and vulnerabilities and a resilience that comes with trusting that our bodies will always be there for us to inhabit, always providing a sense of place and belonging from which we can find the strength and plasticity to choose paradigms that support connection, abundance and love rather than separation, scarcity and competition, no matter the context or conditions we find ourselves in.
To quote philosopher and performance artist David Abram (author of Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology and The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World):
“There are no priests needed in such a faith, no intermediaries or experts necessary to effect our contact with the sacred, since – carnally immersed as we are in the thick of this breathing planet – we each have our own intimate access to the big mystery.
“Each of us must finally enact this rapport in our own unique manner, discerning and learning to trust the particular gifts of our flesh even as we draw insight from the ways of others. Slowly we come to follow the promptings of our heart as it responds to the larger pulse of this earthly cosmos, listening inward even as we listen outward. And thus our voice, tentative at first, finds its own improvisational place in the broader polyphony–informed by, yet subtly altering, the texture of that wider music. Our rapport is ours alone, and yet the quality of our listening, and the depth of our response, can transform the collective texture of the real.”
How does your practice function within the world we have now?
My practice, as it pertains to the world we have now, is in relation to our individual and collective approaches to problem-solving. I hold this quote, also from David Abram, close to my heart.
“Any approach to current problems that aims us toward a mentally envisioned future implicitly holds us within the oblivion of linear time. It holds us, that is, within the same illusory dimension that enabled us to neglect and finally to forget the land around us. By projecting the solution somewhere outside of the perceivable present, it invites our attention away from the sensuous surroundings, induces us to dull our senses, yet again, on behalf of a mental idea.
“A genuinely ecological approach does not work to attain a mentally envisioned future. It strives to become ever more awake to the other lives, the other forms of sentience and sensibility that surround us in the open field of the present moment. For the other animals and the gathering clouds do not exist in linear time. We meet them only when the thrust of historical time begins to open itself outward, when we walk out of our heads into the cycling life of the land around us. This wild expanse has its own timing, its rhythms of dawning and dusking, its seasons of gestation and bud and bloom and blossom. It is here, and not in linear history, that the ravens reside.”
I believe that we have all, in general, become too quick to translate the qualitative world of sensory experience into the quantitative world of data and information that reside in the domain of linear time. I believe a lot of change and re-balancing can happen if we stay present in the realm of sensory experience, the other animals, the cliffs, the tides, the cells, tissues and organs, become participant in the unfolding of events, and so it no longer falls upon us, alone, to make things happen as we choose. Since we are not the sole bearers of consciousness, we are no longer on top of things, with the crippling responsibility that that entails. We’re now accomplices in a vast and steadily unfolding mystery, and our actions have resonance only to the extent that they are awake to the other agencies around us, attuned and responsive to the upwelling creativity in the land itself. And as our own bodies are perfect analogs for the larger body of the earth, then the same applies to the agencies and the upwelling creativity in our own interior worlds.
Briefly share one self-care tip that has special meaning to you now.
As you can tell, I am hugely influenced by the work of David Abram. Here is a meditative exercise of his to help us enter more fully into the present moment:
“There is a useful exercise that I [have devised] to keep myself from falling completely into the civilized oblivion of linear time. You are welcome to try it the next time you are out of doors. I locate myself in a relatively open space–a low hill is particularly good, or a wide field. I relax a bit, take a few breaths, gaze around. Then I close my eyes, and let myself begin to feel the whole bulk of my past–the whole mass of events leading up to this very moment. And I call into awareness, as well, my whole future–all those projects and possibilities waiting to be realized. I imagine this past and this future as two vast balloons of time, separated from each other like the bulbs of an hourglass, yet linked together at the single moment where I stand pondering them. And then, very slowly, I allow both of these immense bulbs of time to begin leaking their substance into this minute moment between them, into the present. Slowly, imperceptibly at first, the present moment begins to grow. Nourished by the leakage from the past and the future, the present moment swells in proportion as those other dimensions shrink. Soon it is very large; and the past and future have dwindled down to mere knots on the edge of this huge expanse. At this point I let the past and the future dissolve entirely. And I open my eyes…”
I believe this can also be very effective by entering and inhabiting the wilderness of our own bodily interior. Particularly, since many of us are self-isolating in our homes and/or don’t have easy access to wide open spaces or low hills.
To read all of Eva Yaa Asantewaa’s Artists Reach Out interviews, visit infinitebody.blogspot.com.