After years of high profile, extra-judicial killings of black people, I was struck by how much action and reaction seemed to follow a strict script. State Violence —> Non-Indictment —> Outcry/ Demonstration —> Greater Militarization —> Protest / Vigil —> Reset/ Do It All Again. This script has framed the nature of our work as artists and the nature of our lives as citizens. This frame needs to be broken.
At the same time, our artistic responses are often equally rote: the same songs sung the same way / the same elegies / the same murals to the fallen / the same candlelit orations / the same frustration and helplessness. As a black feminist performance artist, as a grieving citizen, I crave more.
I believe deeply in the power of experimental art and artistic experiments to transform consciousness and communities. To this end, I want to break the frame: reconsider the forms, sites, materials, practices, and audiences of our work; rethink which art for which people when and where, how and why.
Post-election, the need to break the frame has become even more clear. In a nation as divided and dangerous as this one is now, we need artists more than ever to witness, console, listen, disrupt, commiserate, dream, and tell the truth.
How can we mobilize art in new ways?
How can we flip the script and disrupt the discourse?
How can we subvert expectations and stimulate change?
While others discussed policy, self-care, language justice, Steve and I started cooking as artists. If “Breaking the Frame” were a medicine show, what acts would we want? Which artists and activists offer compelling models (Bill T. Jones, Dread Scott, Coco Fusco . . .)? Which kinds of art have been ignored? How could we be proactive instead of reactive? How could we zoom in on particular aspects of the social political script and blow them up? What specific actions could we imagine?
How about instead of a march, we had a person on a treadmill, going and going and never getting anywhere? And what if that treadmill were on wheels and a person were singing protest songs into a megaphone into that person’s face? Or instead of hashtags for the slain, what if we hashtagged ourselves, the living, and all those living in the audience, all those performing on stage? What if we hashtagged our ancestors? What if the talking heads in our community were literally giant puppet heads? What if we featured a duet with actual police?
As we started riffing, the sweet adrenaline of creativity started to surge. Some of our ideas excited me and some scared me. Some were brilliant, some were crackpot. Some will materialize and some will never see the light of day. It didn’t matter. My body started to sway. My heart and mind started unclenching. I was breathing, laughing, scribbling, visioning, moving. It was the best I had felt since 11/9. The process was deeply medicinal. I had just met Steve that weekend, but he became my comrade, my community. Art dreaming with him helped remind me of my truth, my capabilities, and my values. Our exploration of artistic possibilities helped me break the frame of post-election despair. The actual score holds potential for surprise and new manifestation. May you too find inspiration, balm, and camaraderie here.
* * * * *
BREAKING THE FRAME
A score by Gabrielle Civil & Steve Houldsworth
- Mark the Frame
- Identify the Tropes
- Queer the Frame / Play =>
DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT
(tone * medium * materials)
- Discover Something
CREATE SOMETHING PROACTIVE
- Reflect – Perform – Discuss
(In solidarity/ Enjoy)
November 19, 2016
This score was developed in collaboration with artist Steve Houldsworth at Culture / Shift 2016. It emerged at the end of “Where Do We Go From Here?”, a closing conference session that called us to dream into the urgent now.
Image Credits: Petit Louis