Friday, September 25, 2015

Meet the artists:

Justine Williams and Eva Peskin

This from their recent work: "There's Nothing to See Here"
a project which helped inspire their idea for the Institute of Prophetic Activist Art

Eva and Justine will spend the semester working on . . .
Upcoming, January 2016.  
Created in part through the Institute of Prophetic Activist Art at Dixon Place 
and the Queer/Art/Mentorship project. 

“On my honor, I will do my best...” -- Boy Scout oath
A queer, intergenerational radical scout troop/performance troupe will convene for regular meetings and performances. Interdisciplinary artists and gays, Justine Williams and Eva Peskin, broaden the idea of the scout to fit the town as well as the wilderness and to suit peacetime instead of war, re-casting and re-imagining the scout as an expert in Life-craft as well as Wood-craft and trained in matters of the heart as well as head and hand.

And a bit more about their work:

We have come together to look for ways to “come out” of -- resist, reshape, re-contextualize -- our relationships to our artistic and performance practices, which span music, theater, film/video, interactive technology, and pedagogy.  We have explored ways of practicing and creating that support this transformation, exercising our art with a radical sensibility. Radical, for us, means meeting these practices as if for the first time, and investigating and challenging our means of production (in terms of the creative process, our materials and in the producing models we employ to bring our work to the public). This process of critical engagement opened up new ways to practice and paved the way for new forms of art, scholarship, pedagogy and social action to emerge.

Out of this process, we developed a civic performance project, There’s Nothing To See Here, which engages both performer-facilitators and a group of audience-participants in questions of how we build something together, why we build, for whom, with what, and by what means? Practically, we worked with audiences over the course of two hours to build a boat, but through the process, we were able to collectively investigate how we build relationships to the material world, to stuff, to people, to the spaces we occupy, and to imagined spaces we haven’t yet created in the world.

We discovered a way of working wherein what we are doing, performing, enacting, building, creating in the present moment with our fellow performers and audiences serves as a tactic, a strategy, an intervention -- a means of practicing now to make better memories for ourselves in the future. We want to continue to press our performance practices forward in this new direction. How can our work be both poetic and playful, and also a practical and meaningful means of social action? How can our work speak to and come out of the present moment, and in so doing, help us to envision other futures?

For the Institute of Prophetic Activist Art Lab, we are going to work on a performance project currently entitled, How to Survive in the Woods, which begins with the forming of an intergenerational, queer Scout troop and will take the shape of regular
Scout meetings, and other Scouting events, to be determined by the Scout troop/performance troupe.

According to the first Boy Scout Handbook, published in 1911, the Scout is defined as:
"the one on watch for the rest”. For our project, we will broaden the word to fit the town as well as the wilderness and to suit peacetime instead of war. We imagine the scout an expert in Life-craft as well as Wood-craft, trained in matters of the heart as well as head and hand. The original handbook also says some pretty messed up things including honoring the valiant colonizer for defeating the “Red Man”, and that foundational survival skills for women are housework and cheerfulness. As such, while we plan to use some of the structure, language, ethics and overall poetics of the boy and girl scouts, we will also use the boy and girls scouts as an established framework to subvert, resist and re-imagine.

Sir Robert Baden Powell envisioned the Boy Scouts as a community space where young men could learn to do things for themselves and others, bringing Scouts beyond the military or frontier settlers. We envision a Scouting practice that includes people of all ages, where we practice how to survive coming out into the world as well as going out into the wilderness, and where we think critically about what it means to do things for ourselves and others. The essential components of Scouting -- seeking expertise in Life-craft; cultivating the heart, head and hand; keeping watch for the rest -- are practices that seem, to us, valuable and imperative for queer people, people of color, poor people, immigrants, disabled people who face violence both extreme and quotidian, direct and by exclusion, systemic and personal, environmental and psychological.

“On my honor, I will do my best...” (Boy Scout Oath)

Scouts traditionally take an oath, swearing they will do their best to be their best selves, committing to an ethos of Doing One’s Best. This phrase contrasts with the familiar sentiment “It gets better”, around which much energy has been mobilized to convince young queers that their lives will improve. We wonder, does “it” get better? Or, don’t we have to commit to making “it” better? Can Scouting be a framework for enacting and defining Better, instead of waiting for it? What could it mean for an intergenerational, queer group of individuals to endeavor to develop their potential and to guide one another through the process? On our honor, we will do our best...

At our troop meetings, we will seek to hone and enrich our intentions around motivation and actualization for self-development. We will create our own system for acknowledging personal progression, our own costumes (uniforms) and customs to celebrate solidarity. Drawing from our favorite
practices of the more traditional Girl and Boy Scouts, this project will provide a space for us to convene in the interest of self-development and community service with an ethical lens rooted in queer, feminist, anti-racist thought.

At the core of our activities, we will hold ourselves accountable to the following questions:
WHY be better?
HOW be better?
FOR WHOM be better?

Support and guidance through the activist art lab will help us to further form our questions around this project, to strategize how we might invite and co-create a conducive space for others to fully participate in and shape the project, to identify physical spaces, networks and other resources that we might have access to and/or will need to engage in carrying out the project, and to explore how we might continue to align our artistic, performative exploits with a deeply held desire for social action and social change in both the personal and interpersonal realm, as well as on cultural and systemic levels.

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