Bill’s Blog: March
I have been following your Platform series through the committed coverage of the NY Times. You are extremely photogenic. I am, as always, moved by the picture of you sitting alone in an uninhabited room or against a graffiti’ed wall in a South American city. You often project pensive, internal sadness in your photos. I look forward to seeing the only one of your performances my schedule allows on March 17.
A-propos to our conversation, I am struck with how the writers seldom mention your ethnicity. They do comment on what you call your “old Japanese clothes”. I believe this clothing, these poetic rags, are a sort of “envelope of safety” for you, the “perpetual other”. I attribute their power to the unspoken contract we in the US have with the complex history of post-war Japan. You become a sort of cinematic or novelistic phantasm, ghost or projection. We can look at you with compassion tinged with anxiety and regret. There is a moral authority in your otherness.
You call your solos “A Body in Space”. Are you “just another body in space?” or “any body in space?” I don’t think so. Firstly, you are an accomplished master of the persona you project, but you are – likewise – firmly established as “the other” in our imagination.
When I imagine what my costume would be like offering me a place in the American mythic imagination as you have assumed, it would be a basketball uniform or a rap-artist’s drag circa 1983, or elegantly and impeccably dressed like Miles Davis circa 1961. However, I feel the mythical Black man’s garb I could best employ to match your effect, as this ghost/survivor would be simply naked, or near so, ready for the slave-block, the workhouse or the hanging tree.
And how would my ghost move? … Most likely he wouldn’t!
Your last contribution to our email conversation ends asking me about my own political activism during the 1970’s. Well, I did lead a walkout in my high school fueled by our teenage outrage at a dress code that said that girls could not wear pants. I did refuse to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance with my hand over my heart at the school’s assembly program. My parents made the self-conscious political choice to name our pathetically underfinanced, mismanaged attempt at opening a restaurant in our small, conservative town “The Kennedy Inn” because, as my mother Estella said, “These biggity (!) white folks don’t like this man because he wants to give the black man a fair break!” Later, I marched in at least one demonstration lead by Caesar Chavez in support of migrant farm workers. But mostly, I indulged in a lot of predictable posturing, as I never had to burn my draft card or flee to Canada to escape the draft during the Vietnam War. Still, I felt I was living a highly charged and political life. Was it asking a white girl to the prom? Was it dancing slowly with Arnie Zane as the only outwardly gay and interracial couple at the Black students’ extremely heterosexual gathering at the State University of NY Binghamton? Was it walking brazenly hand in hand with Arnie Zane into a Department of Sanitation’s warehouse full of leering working class white men who were to be our colleagues for the day in Johnson City, NY to do our monthly roadwork garbage detail that qualified us for food stamps and public assistance?
So, in response to your question, I am tempted to say that my most consistent political struggle is reflected in the fact that taken how antagonistic the culture was to various aspects of my personal identity – I did not die! What do I mean? I spent a great deal of my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood hiding… Hiding my race, my class, my sexual dilemma. My worldview – my politics if you will – was forged in desire to be “integrated”. Yes, integrated and yet visible. I regret to say – though it hurts me like the ghost-pain in an amputated arm – I continue to do so in our era at once roiled by questions of gender, race and class. Even in this field we call the art world, which thinks itself free, color-blind and progressive.
At the Armory Show in Jack Shainman’s Gallery booth, the painting at the top of this entry – the black man in the pink suit – like so many artists in Shainman’s stable, took my breath away as I realized this man in the pink suit was the new paradigm, the ultimate insider, no longer “the other”, but representing an image of self that is industry standard for suave, sexually desirable, charming and VISIBLE!
There have been some very provocative performances recently at New York Live Arts. Our Live Feed artist, Gillian Walsh and the main stage presentation of Champagne Jerry in the Champagne Room. Both these works are dealing with volatile issues of appropriation and conversations around cultural currency. It’s my hope that I can talk Neal Medlyn and Gillian Walsh into a sit-down question and answer session that I hope to include in my next blog.
There have been two notable personal events this past month:
The Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala at NY’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel during which I was awarded their Visibility Award. Big night! Circa 1,000 people in attendance; the major political fundraising vibration. My co-honorees for the evening were Governor Andrew Cuomo who received the National Equality Award and Sigourney Weaver the Ally for Equality Award. I am not sure if the Governor was doing a political star turn, but he was certainly impassioned in his defense of transgender rights. Sigourney Weaver was elegant and moving, speaking of one of her latest films in which she plays a religiously conservative mother’s transformation from homophobe to vocal activist for equality. The great Kathleen Turner, a new friend and powerful advocate for social change gave my introduction.
On February 15 (my 64th birthday!!!) I performed a talking solo 21 (1983) as the closing speaker of TED’s 2016 opening session. It was received with great warmth and interest. I must say it was one of the high points of my entire performing career.
Spring will soon be here and we will be celebrating our annual spring gala on March 24th. Our host this year is Hugh Dancy and the evening will feature performances by Mx Justin Vivian Bond, Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Company, Sarah Jones, Tony Award-winning Playwright and Performer, Okwui Okpokwasili, Sonya Tayeh and the Bengsons, and YoungArts Alumni. More information here!
Yesterday, flying into Salt Lake City on our way to Park City where the company performs tonight, I was bowled over to see An (Sweet Bean Paste) a film by Naomi Kawase. This film succeeds on so many levels. It’s warm, it’s delicious in its depiction of what goes into a humble pastry and it’s profound in the subtle revealing of its theme of who gets included and what is a life well lived. I highly recommend it!