If hindsight is 2020, the duel urgency of pandemic and uprising can lead us back to old scores, reactivating and perhaps unsettling them. From 2008-2010, I spent a transformative time in and out of place in Mexico making black feminist performance art. I activated my body singing Nina Simone with mariachis in the streets; dressing up like a black Mexican doll; brushing people’s hair; and having people trace my body across surfaces. Sifting through some old notebooks, I came across a list of exercises from a taller de performance I took with Rocío Boliver aka la Congelada de Uva in Mexico City. I was struck by how the current moment evoked similar questions of being in a place and out of place at once and also how the proposed actions resonated with quarantine and social distance. I culled the list to offer a found score for now. What follows is a flashback and fast forward.
Do a simple action for three minutes.
wash your hands
Have others watch you.
cross the street when
you see people coming
come together and
rise up in the streets
Alter your body in a way that is subtle but discomfiting in public.
turn the video off
stay mute on zoom
change your name on the display
to alice coltrane or dorothy ashby or betty carter
< celebrate detroit jazz women! >
the event you couldn’t attend
because you don’t live in detroit anymore
but you kept the flyer just in case
(it got cancelled anyway)
Walk across the room without walking.
listen to alice coltrane radio
before you fall asleep
beam yourself to detroit
Tell your life story in a language that doesn’t exist.
tumble from dreams into your notebook
try to describe what’s happening
outside in the world
inside these four walls
your body magnified into something
you touch / don’t touch
Do something transgressive in public.
on your jog / slide your mask down to breathe
then when you’re done, slide your mask back up
and dance / in the tiny neighborhood park
with yellow tape across the slide / in the alley in the back
of your house near the dumpsters / no one is around
although there are lots of windows and occasionally
a car rolls by / you roll and shake / you are starting to feel
again that you have a body / it’s the one time you let yourself
out of the house / and now / limbs flush with sweat
you flail and shimmy and skip / don’t you feel it too?
you are black and moving your body in public
you are smiling but no one can see it / then go back inside
Select an object that has sentimental value to you. Destroy it.
alarm clock. wristwatch. calendar. brassiere.
Wake up in the morning and put stones in your shoes.
Walk around with them all day.
ace of stones. two of stones. five of stones.
eight of stones. visionary of stones.
Research the work of an assigned artist and give a presentation.
you are still on the fence about california
but are trying to make friends with LA
so soon before time stopped and you became
enclosed in time you visited Yayoi Kusama’s
Infinity Mirror Room at the Broad / it’s touristy
you know and kind of shady / it costs too much
money and you have to stand in line but you went
on free day and it was shimmer and reflection
and your self infinitely expanding in black cosmos
your astral loneliness gathered and reflected back
and you saw a vision of this loneliness / yourself
turned into something else / multiplied and
glistening maybe waiting just around the corner
Walk 150 steps away from where we are now.
this is the new infinity room
Make a piece from something you find there.
tumble again from dreams
turn on alice coltrane and dance
With others untangle an extremely tangled ball of twine.
write it all down
tumble into new dreams
Then be wrapped with them in the same twine you just unraveled.
the last step in an experiment in joy is repeat
Gabrielle Civil is a black feminist performance artist, poet, and writer, originally from Detroit, MI. A 2019 Rema Hort Mann LA Emerging Artist, she teaches creative writing and critical studies at the California Institute of the Arts.
Feature Photo Credit: Zena Bibler