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 Aynsley Vandenbroucke, choreographer and Gibney artist.
Aynsley Vandenbroucke is obsessed with the movement of ideas and the choreography of community experiences. Her work dances in the places in between somatics, performance, language, and social practice. She’s a Summer 2020 Narrative Arts artist in residence at Pioneer Works. Her performances have been presented by The Chocolate Factory, Abrons Arts Center, Danspace Project, and Living Gallery at Gibney, among others. Her writing has been published by PAJ—A Journal of Performance and Art, Seneca Review, and The Brooklyn Rail among others. She currently teaches at Princeton University where she has developed interdisciplinary courses with titles such as: Uncertainty; Stillness; Power, Structure, and the Human Body; Being and Doing; and Body and Language. She co-founded, and co-curated until 2014, Mount Tremper Arts in the Catskill Mountains. www.movementgroup.org
Photo by Ian Douglas.
Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?
I’ve been working on a project called, ahem, Gathering Space, and was set to start hosting events for it, one a month, over the next year. In different iterations during development, I’ve called this project Art Church, Body and Language Project, and Contemplative Evenings That Sometimes Happen in the Afternoon. Since one of the main premises was to bring groups of people together in one room, it is definitely affected by this moment.
I haven’t yet imagined new approaches to the events, but some of my original reasons for wanting to do them are even clearer. The project grew out of deep urges for a kind of community and time together that has nothing to do with buying things or professionally accomplishing anything. In the midst of the extraordinary fear, suffering, and disruption we’re living through, I’m secretly—not so secretly—hoping that this forced pause makes room for some radically different ways of being, and being together. I’ve been spending some time imagining life itself changing for the better in ways that make my project less necessary.
Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.
I grew up dancing and making performances in my living room. I also grew up obsessed with questions about life and death and meaning-making. These all developed into a kind of patchwork of artistic, meditative, pedagogical, and community practices that explore questions through imagination, language, embodiment, and presence.
Photo by Ian Douglas.
In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning? And how does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?
These are THE questions I’ve been obsessed with for the last years, or—really—my whole life! In a way, what I am most practicing is a) seeing everything as a practice and b) not creating false distinctions between practices. I don’t want my artistic, spiritual, intellectual, community, healing, personal, and public sides to feel like they have to compete.
I’ve been teaching college students and—in distilling what matters to me to focus on in the courses—it has given me a chance to distill what matters to me in my own life. It has become clear that what I care about is the role of bodies and subjective experiences in shaping our lives. I care about movement as a way to know ourselves and to get to know others. I care about relative stillness. I care about imagination and creating something from nothing. I care about existing in unknown places and experiences at least long enough to learn something new. I care about the role of bodies and movement in helping us exist in unknown and scary places. I care about creating forms that specifically suit the content and intention of any activity. I think about all of these tools we know from art-making as really fundamental tools for creating change in the world and just plain creating lives we believe in.
What am I envisioning? Close to home, I’m envisioning a life in which the forms of my relationships reflect a deep, thoughtful, and creative approach to commitment and care and curiosity. A life in which my work aligns with what I hope to see in the world.
What is it I hope to see? A place in which body-wisdom is listened to and trusted. In which bodies different from one’s own are respected and cared for. A place in which ways of knowing are known to be expansive and mysterious. A place in which people have the tools to slow down or stop or expand their sense of space rather than jump to quick and short-sighted solutions at the first sign of discomfort. A place in which people have the support they need from within their own bodies and also from the people around them. I’m passionate about working towards these visions through whatever mode is most appropriate at a given time whether that is dancing, writing, teaching, gathering people together and/or sitting quietly and with intention by myself.
How does your practice function within the world we have now?
The clearest form of my practice right now is supporting students in being in their bodies and finding grounding and centering and community during this time. It’s been kind of extraordinary to get to go into a pretty big toolbag at this point to find helpful resources for them. One of the courses I’m teaching (online now) is called Stillness. It has pretty seamlessly transitioned into working with them to develop daily personal practices. We’re exploring the deep and quiet parts of ourselves that might actually be the strongest parts of ourselves during this time of upheaval. We’ve also gotten to look together at this cultural urge to get busy and productive in the midst of massive disruption. We’ve been able to pause together long enough to discern what needs to be done and what is, perhaps, taking us away from the parts of ourselves best able to discern.
Briefly share one self-care tip that has special meaning to you now.
I take time first thing in the morning, before the news, texts, email, or even breakfast, to center and ground and feel the parts of myself that touch the timeless. I do a set of moving and sitting meditation practices for this. Within this time I usually remember what I most care about and get a sense for how to approach the day. Lately what comes to mind during this time is all of the people I’m grateful for and want to send love and care to from afar. I get teary thinking about the people I know and don’t know busting their asses to help people right now. It feels meaningful to be able to hold them in my thoughts. And to know there is incredible good in the world even in a moment that feels so scary.
To read all of Eva Yaa Asantewaa’s Artists Reach Out interviews, visit infinitebody.blogspot.com.