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 Jerron Herman, dancer and Gibney 2018 DoublePlus artist.
Jerron Herman is a dancer working in New York City. He is also a Trustee for Dance/USA and an art/culture writer. He moderates discussions for artists and institutions, including a series he helped create named Access Check 2.0: Mapping Accessibility with the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation. Last year he premiered solo works at The Whitney Museum, Danspace Project, and Performance Space New York. He is currently developing Wired with Kinetic Light for a Fall premiere at The Shed. Jerron has been featured on CBS, Buzzfeed, and Great Big Story about his work in disability art.
Photo by Mengwen Cao.
Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?
Thankfully, thankfully, back in July I, joined the spectacular team of Wired, devised by Kinetic Light and artistic lead Alice Sheppard. Our premiere has been delayed. Having Disabled, Black, and Women leadership from the get, corroborated by Managing Director Candace Feldman, I immediately felt safe that hiatus didn’t have to look scarce and scary. We didn’t stop rehearsing, instead our method of work deepened to accommodate the time we had. We had more time.
Alternatively, April did promise a busy grind: I had been invited to do DanceNOW RAW at Joe’s Pub and a very exciting micro commission on Beethoven for National Black Theater/Carnegie Hall/NYPL LPA as well as a lab in Berlin and they all spoke to one of my burgeoning desires as a young solo artist. Still, though not in their original forms, I am discussing, working, and developing these projects.
Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.
I was invited! I see it as the parallel to growing up—coming into the world, being nurtured by “parents,” teen angst, and then off to the real world. When I was 20, I was “discovered” by Sean Curran who organized an audition with Heidi Latsky, and she welcomed me into her company immediately. I danced with HLD for eight years and was also their Development Director for about three years. During this time, I learned the art as well as the business of art: I increased budgets, rehearsed and performed, sat on the Bessies Committee, joined Dance/USA, sat on funding panels, went to galas, met influential people.
I was definitely not your average dancer beyond the fact I was a Disabled Black Man. Meeting HLD was also the first time I was willing to embrace Disability—for, up until then, I hadn’t met my “people,” artists with disabilities, people who could elongate and vary and expand their prowess. Disabled people are just so damn cool and fierce. But I didn’t have a “practice” until about a year ago when I allowed my movement vocabulary to speak to a room on its own terms.
In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?
I have an affinity for language, possibly as a vestige of my initial love for writing. So, I’m practicing my look at definitions and criticizing their place in our society. I read how people want to do away with antiquated themes, and I question those themes’ usefulness. It stems from my understanding of the medical intervention I experienced as a child.
My diagnosis, Hemiplegia Cerebral Palsy, is so coded and largely uncorked that I see it as my duty to reveal its usefulness to art and critique. I know the diagnosis’ intention to limit me and instead see a supportive frame through which to describe particular functions of my body or simply register criticism of its primary use.
I believe this practice embodies the sense of freedom I want to examine in my work—the abandoned physicality that is virtuosic because of disabled embodiment, in command of its diagnostic roots. I’ve always understood the power of reclamation and think it’s a very effective strategy for life. So, I envision us looking at legacies and reassessing their authority. I don’t want to get rid of all old things, but let them participate differently.
How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?
I care about “freedom from” a lot. It probably stems from my Pentecostal upbringing when we’d ferociously expel the Devil from a context, the principle being to counter a negative force because it was your right.
When we discuss marginalization in a secular setting, I rather think I’d like a Pentecostal bent to it—ferociously spitting hot words at that Devil of Supremacy or Violence but, to continue the metaphor, acknowledge the power and authority with which we expel; this ingrained nobility that posits a different, protected genius.
I want people to be free because spiritual, mental, physical bondage to anything, means our collective depression. It means less will be created or fully realized, and I don’t want that for the world. I became an artist because I loved artists. I found the work and process noble and worthwhile, and I am still in awe that I comfortably call this my community.
How does your practice function within the world we have now?
I believe true “process” is rare and requires a host of supports to enable it. I’ve been so fortunate to experience investment in my artistry that allows me to function without scarcity; I have contemporaries who are lauded for their brilliance and thought of as complex creators; I’m witnessing a thirst for authenticity from audiences and stages, so I feel emboldened to establish and check and experiment with a practice that would hinge on my understanding of myself.
And in the context of “now,” I believe our collective slow down disabuses our initial thoughts on product and industry so that complexity of form and more accessible features of art-making can be articulated comfortably. I guess I feel my rigor hasn’t changed, instead it’s channeled in the most effective way—toward movement and discourse to build and push us forward.
To read all of Eva Yaa Asantewaa’s Artists Reach Out interviews, visit infinitebody.blogspot.com.
Top photo by Kirk Chambers.