Covers, Singles, Shout Outs
April 6 – 7, 2018
For Mariana Valencia’s second presentation as a BAX 2017/18 artist in residence, she shows Covers, Singles, Shout Outs: an assemblage of embodied observations from her life and work. Together, these observations explore the self as an ensemble of influences rather than a singular entity. Dance artist Lydia Okrent joins her on stage to perform a work of in-progress research based in movement, spoken (and sung) words, and ethnographic research. The artist is in the process of centripetally assembling and sculpting this piece, and the audience bears witness as Valencia “examines authorship by questioning what gets carried into her work through the modes of proximity, relation, and alliance”—a particularly apt description from the program note.
As audience members enter the theater, their names are recorded on a sheet of paper. Valencia and Okrent are already in the performance space; Valencia in child’s pose and Okrent lays. They rest into each other’s contours. Once the audience settles, Valencia introduces herself and Okrent. Then, they introduce the space and location, and they verbally confirm that those seated are the audience. When Okrent points to the objects that lay around the studio with a professorial wand, Valencia names them: a net, bottles of desert water, a keyboard, tempered glass, newspaper, a bowl of rice, a feather, Valencia’s father’s painting of a bouquet of flowers, several bundles of flowers, and a gigantic jar. When they arrive at the jar, they stand on either side, swing their heads to the audience, and express a face of unapologetic culpability. The audience giggles. Following this, Valencia gives definitions for ensemble and bouquet. Identities and the objective nature of performers, objects, subjects, audience, space, and time are set here and not renegotiated within the context of this performance.
Opening the work in this way lays an objective foundation that introduces the components to which the artist will repeatedly reference: various components of the ensemble. Faced with the work’s direct tone set by facial and vocal apathy and blunt movements, the audience must recognize that there will be no suspension of disbelief. This cleverly keeps the audience within close proximity to the artists who will not embody a person or character other than themselves. In this way, Valencia manipulates preconceived perceptions of performance by keeping the objects and subjects around her just as they are. She does not invade other spaces of thought and experience to harvest materials. Authorship is a matter of proximity.
Soon thereafter, the work leans into the subjective interpretations and recollections of experiences that are near to the artist. The audience witnesses the artists interpret and embody experiences such as a clever micro-movement dance to El General’s upbeat song “Buduff Kun-Kun,” the exchange of letters between Okrent in Japan and Valencia in Mexico, and the hordes of people under one tent at a Sonidero dance party, including a friend named Teeth. While Valencia speaks, Okrent collects the disparate flowers and arranges them into a bouquet. She then wraps the bundle in the newspaper. The work maintains this sharp narrative edge. Valencia does not seek to frivolously or indulgently dredge personal experience; instead, she venerates the dimensionality of selves, subjects, objects, and collective experience that assemble figurative and literal bouquets.
Okrent continues with her task of arranging and assembling ensembles, bouquets, and altar-like arrangements of the objects. The two performers arrange the flowers again and again, nesting them in different positions and in new places. As both the subject of her late father’s painting and the product of on-stage assemblage, the bouquet is a recurring symbol of a gift of life predicated upon the death of being harvested, a gesture of things coming together, and a collective capable of rearrangement again and again.
Covers, Singles, Shout Outs makes reference to moments in Valencia’s previous work as well as to more external sources. She identifies these sources as components that make up bits of her, and she cites them respectively. From her earlier work, ALBUM (2018), which I encourage you to watch, there is, among many others, one memorable set of spoken lines:
Say all the things. The ones you like, the ones you love, the ones you want and draw a circle around them. Those are your things.
When she says all her things, the ones she likes, the ones she wants, the ones she loves and she draws a circle around hers, her circle enters yours and so now hers are yours.
I reference ALBUM, hazardously pulling these lines out of their context, because of its relevant investigation of authorship and proximity. These two performances have only a few months between them, and their titles make reference to one another. As much as an album is an assemblage of interrelated songs or images, it also may contain a few covers and singles.
Valencia’s work reinvigorates the voice and presence of the artist herself within a work, challenging detached authorship and authority. Valencia exercises and embodies the authority of her authorship by presenting the audience with her perceptions and interpretations of internal and external observations. She requests that the audience members approach her patiently curated body of reference material through her perspective. We are obliged. All within the context of her alliances and proximities, Valenica demonstrates absolute agency over past and present ensembles.
At the end of the performance, Valencia gives a shout out to all bits and people that are nearby the work. She shouts out to her friends, family, objects, subjects, the pillar that stands in the middle of the studio, the windows, Obama, and her many references. She then reads down the list of audience members, giving each a shout out.
Here are some of my questions for this piece as it continues: how was this work constructed, how are observations prioritized into the work? With authorial accountability in mind, what is accountability for the revisionist, the editor? Who, or which self, has the authority to revise the author?
This work not only invites, incorporates, and depends on the many components, but also demonstrates respect to the many selves that Valencia embodies, all with their own histories. Covers, Singles, Shout Outs values the local, proximate, and surrounding space as opposed to the digital and globalized vacuum. What’s refreshing about this practice is its interconnectedness with the space and time that we occupy, the parameters of our living reality. In the coming year, Valencia will perform the culminating iteration of this work, and at that point we will see the placement of Covers, Singles, Shout Outs within another arrangement.
Mike Stinavage is a writer and environmentalist. He works with trash and rats, compost and plants, for New York Citys recycling programs.