Journal Issue 4: Introduction
November 17, 2016
by Judy Hussie-Taylor
Danspace Project Executive Director and Chief Curator
While designing Danspace Project’s Platform series in 2008, I knew I wanted to work with artists as curators to formally frame relationships between artists of different generations. That’s where, I believe, there is productive tension, and where there’s friction, there’s always a generative spark or two.
From the first Platform in 2010 curated by Ralph Lemon, through the present Platform curated by Ishmael Houston-Jones and Will Rawls, artists, curators, and writers have activated intergenerational networks to contribute to our re-imagining of how we contextualize and present time-based art today.
Platform 2016: Lost and Found is the 11th Danspace Platform and catalogue. It is also our second Platform in collaboration with artist curator Houston-Jones. And, with over 112 artists and writers contributing, it is Danspace Project’s largest Platform to date.
In 2013 Houston-Jones came across a zine published by a group of caregiver friends of choreographer John Bernd on the 10th anniversary of Bernd’s death from AIDS in 1988. Ish wanted to talk to me about John Bernd and the zine and that conversation evolved into this Platform.
The Platform’s title, Lost and Found, was inspired by Bernd’s trilogy of that name, which he created and performed as his illness progressed. Bernd has the heartbreaking distinction of being perhaps the first choreographer to make his illness the subject of his work. He insistently performed while ill, at one point escaping his hospital bed to take a cab to Danspace at St. Mark’s Church to perform his latest piece. Bernd performed two of his three Lost and Found dances at Danspace Project. In the 1980s and 1990s, Danspace was the site of many memorials and was the first home of the marathon memorials of Dancers Responding to AIDS (DRA).
Houston-Jones instigated an intergenerational dialogue by inviting choreographer and writer Will Rawls, thirty years his junior, to join him in this curatorial endeavor. Each brought distinct perspectives and critical sensibilities to the process. They interrogated ideas, histories, stereotypes, and assumptions, ultimately creating a finely embroidered Platform, necessarily and exquisitely complex.
One of their early ideas was to compile files or “dossiers” of artists who died of AIDS and give them to younger artists to interpret in some way. Recuperating lost voices and having them be found by younger artists became the pulse of the Platform. This project is now called “Life Drawings” (one of several poetic titles credited to Rawls in this Platform). Rawls also developed the concept of the “Memory Palace,” a place for artists of all generations to remember a person or place associated with AIDS. A section of our catalogue has become a Memory Palace gallery and includes brief texts or images from more than 25 artists. Several of those entries, by Arthur Avilés, iele paloumpis, and Lucy Sexton, are also collected in this fourth issue of our online Journal.
Newly commissioned essays by a younger generation of writers and artists, Kia Labeija, Theodore Kerr, and others in our printed catalogue, contribute new research, stories, and questions as necessary counterpoints to nostalgic or oft-repeated narratives of HIV/AIDS as impacting predominantly white, gay middle class men during the 1980s. HIV/AIDS devastated men, women, and transpersons of color in the early days of the disease and continues to do so. Statistics bear this out. It’s shameful, shocking, and tragic.
This Platform, like all Danspace Platforms since 2010, is fueled by artistic inquiry and open-ended conversation in real time. Years of intellectual, emotional, and artistic exchanges occur before inviting the public into the conversation. During the two and a half years we’ve worked on this Platform, we’ve heard stories and memories every day from people whose friends, lovers, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, colleagues, collaborators, and neighbors died of AIDS. Every day our hearts were heavy with another story of loss. And every day we had the joy of learning about forgotten artists whose work has contributed so much to our culture. This Platform is dedicated to all those who died, and to all those living with HIV who teach us to live with grace, creativity, and courage. We mourn for those lost in hopes that their shimmering traces will be found by current and future generations.
(Adapted from the Foreword of Lost and Found: Dance, New York, HIV/AIDS, Then and Now.)