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WhatIsWhat 1.0 2003

Artist Statement


cipher session  House Dance Conference 2004  New York City


My obscure and often misunderstood spatiotemporal and aesthetic artistic pursuits exist beneath a hovering, massive and terribly bloody notion of “Freedom.”  It is a cold time now even as the sun grows closer. I keep moving. I keep dancing on crutches like some sort of icon of the possibility that even when broken, humanity can stay positive. I don’t have a choice of how to dance nor control over the narrative projected onto my acts. Meanwhile, the chatter you are hearing about is not my teeth, it is the involuntary threat that keeps on giving. I project heat in this frigid time of fire. To stretch the unspoken moment between intent and action I attempt a neutral palette fitting to my ambiguous identity. This is a delicate process. I fail often. What colors you will choose, be they hopes, fears or indifference are yours to place upon me or hold back.  You the random pedestrian laugh, cry, smile, frown, hug, hold, spit, push and pull. I embrace you always. The stories that are told in the gestures of kindness, the fleeting moment of a laugh, the scuttle of an embarrassment, these are my treasure.  On a micro-scale I have learned that in all contrasting and conflicting energies balance is possible in the most unexpected of ways.  Humans before speaking, they moved.  Body language was instinctively positioned.  It is very difficult to position a body to convey a position other than what it physically is.  I know this from experience. I trust it.  One time I sat at a long table with important people to eat. I was told from the head of the table that not just anyone off the street could eat there. I spit out my food quietly into my napkin for all those who I knew would never sit there like I was.  Then, as the ones who would never be there would have wanted, I kept eating.

Suffice it to say that MY DANCE HAS NO HISTORY. It is a product of my specific cultural era in combination with the personal details of my life and physical makeup. The primary audiences who have seen my performances internationally have been traditional dance theater audiences. While working in this Dance Theater field as a professional, other audiences have also seen my work, significantly, young people who follow the dance movements of Hip-Hop and House taking place in New York and internationally. This secondary audience also exists as participants in that they shared and grew the dance with me, they shared in the emerging knowledge of the dance as I evolved it with them. The kinship and understanding that the urban dance community showed collectively for the meaning behind my references within my dancing fulfilled me in a way that traditional dance audience members and established dance critics were not and are not in the cultural and historical framework to do. Because there is little crossover between these two disparate groups of audience members for my dance and performance work, I draw a different benefit from each and also experience a profound loss with each. One audience paid for tickets to see my dance, while another audience was or completed my dance. When I want to stretch the time and perform a lament without a driving rhythm, the theater stage is the ideal setting in contrast to the clubs or street for the audience to really see my work and absorb and appreciate the details and nuance the performance. Through my dance in the clubs and street I met the NYC based house/hiphop dance crew The Step Fénz and became a member of their crew. They danced where I danced, they danced in the ciphers of Coney Island High, Koncrete Jungle, Jungle Nation, Directdrive, 88 Hiphop, and Shelter as well as many other one off events. I grew my dance with them and they grew as theater performers with me as we built works together around the notion that bringing the dance we lived as a circle into a black box. We toured around the world and attempted over a decade four different translations of Street Dance to the Stage. These works were The Art of Weightlessness, Old Rain, AOW: Remix and Sketchy. While these works were created for the theater I sustained a strong presence in the street as an artist dedicated to the unrecorded, unimaginable intersections of kinetics and sociology.

What the pedestrian sees, by chance encounter with me at a precise location, I describe as the completion of a series of cascading rhythmic a-rhythmic utilitarian and acrobatic kinetics performed in relation to urban architecture, traffic, etc. The street audience is what I call the default audience for all street performers, and their greatest contribution is the range of their diversity. They are also the audience best empowered to decide the show’s length and type, whether it is a show or not at all, and whether they will engage or ignore it.. Things get interesting with street performance when pedestrians begin to separate into my default audience (static) and the by-passers. Those who stay to watch me, or do so while waiting for the bus or having lunch nearby, follow the performance in time and may ponder the breadth of the possibilities, and at the same time they may gain insight into themselves by also watching the by-passers whose encounter of the performance is fleeting. The gap between the gut impulse and the truth of the situation becomes the true subject of these works.

I find it very difficult for me to fit into categories of art making as the connective element of my work is not medium based but idea driven. I use drawings, sculpture, video, writing, performance, acting, clowning, skating, dancing and speaking to express one idea. The divisions foisted upon the grant writing process setup the multidisciplinary artist for being misunderstood. I want to send slides and video and a manuscript. When genre specialist dominated formats of work such as dance have grant money up in the air, an artist such as myself who is kown for dance but currently exploring lithography and video installaiton could be seen as not relevant to the form. I have ceased to apply for grants and subsist entirely on fees, royalties and awards due to my discomfort with the idea that I have to stick to Dance to apply for dance and also the idea that I have to know what I am doing a year in advance. The freestyler that is at the core of my practice is suffocated by the mechinations of the profession. I am only noting this to state that I have departed ways with this routine and the support structure that enabled me to sustain in the first place.

Having children as an artist and sustaiing a family takes time away from the freedom to simply create. The reality is that the new role of father has emboldened my belief in the power of love and cut me off from my most cynical and dismissive past. I am here for the future. I am dancing to share the love of humanity. I want peace on earth and an end to the permanent state of War. War is the reason artist go hungry. War creates disability where there was none. War destabilises families. This is me. I am an artist. I live for the moment.

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This Work, Artist Statement, by Bill Shannon is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA license.