The Contemporary Arts Center is taking a risk — and they want you to take it with them.
Sprawling over four days (April 11-14), the CAC’s inaugural performing arts festival, This Time Tomorrow, promises a diverse lineup both stylistically, thematically and otherwise. Like its title alludes to, the fest centers on “art of the moment.”
A mirror to contemporary art as a whole, the performances within This Time Tomorrow, in large part, are driven by immediacy and current social, political and cultural concerns. It is work that needs to be seen right now, says CAC Communications Director Joshua Mattie.
“That’s what this vessel is built around,” he says. “There is nothing more urgent, nothing that can more quickly address the things that we’re all actually dealing with on a day-to-day basis.”
The result? Nine main performances — each textured in various ideas, styles and purposes — hosted by venues across Cincinnati.
In brief, some of the festival’s highlights include Tania El Khoury’s As Far As My Fingertips Take Me, Mammalian Diving Reflex’s All the Sex I’ve Ever Had, Rashaad Newsome’s Running and Daina Ashbee’s Serpentine. But more on those — and others — later.
Spearheading the festival is Drew Klein, the CAC’s performing arts director. In curating TTT, he traveled internationally to various festivals, i.e., Fusebox in Austin, Texas; TBA Festival in Portland, Oregon; and others in Australia and across Europe.
“I think curating is sort of constant research. And you’re always seeing performances and going to different festivals where you just learn about what artists are making, how different projects are developing,” Klein says. “Some of these projects I’ve been aware of for less than 12 months and other projects I’ve known about for quite some time and just haven’t felt like the Black Box series has been the right vehicle with which to bring that performance (here).”
The series he mentions — the CAC’s Black Box — has offered up boundary-breaking performances from across the globe since its start in 2011, bringing 11 to 12 performances to Cincinnati each season. But this year — because of TTT — the series was condensed to six shows.
So think of TTT as an extension of what the CAC has already planted with its performance art series.
“(This Time Tomorrow) allows for improved opportunities for audiences to dig deeper into an artist’s practice and to understand the industry as a whole,” Klein says. “That’s one of the big things we’re trying to accomplish.”
Sure, Klein zig-zags to an array of festivals across the globe to seek out shows to bring to the CAC. But several works from the local scene will also be featured at this week’s festival.
“This year actually worked out pretty perfectly. Conceptually, we thought we'll split it up into thirds in a few years — a third local, a third national, a third international,” Klein says. “And, almost by accident, it became that (ratio) this year, which is great. That means that we set the precedent. And now we'll choose to follow that moving forward.”
Locally speaking, creative studio Intermedio is one of three groups repping the Cincy art scene. A collective made up of Justin West, Sam Ferris-Morris and Eric Blyth, for their work On Touching, Intermedio recruited the help of two others: Erin Sansalone and Ashley Walton.
As explained by West, their roles are fluid and — akin to a band — each lends a different creative skill set and framework the others can riff off of.
“Parameters are being pushed and pulled and communicated kind of across the board,” Blyth says of the group’s dynamic. “And everybody is working toward something collectively, rather than where you have one or two people dictating their minions.”
You may recall Intermedio from their part in last fall’s FotoFocus Biennial, In Place of Forgetting, in which an inflated walk-in igloo-esque structure briefly made a home at Over-the-Rhine’s Washington Park. Inside sat suspended boxes that, when opened, revealed jumbled, dissonant voices that sounded like a loose memory you couldn’t quite grasp.
On Touching — like many of their other projects — embraces the intersection of sound, space and, ultimately, humanity. This Time Tomorrow will mark this performance’s world premiere. The CAC’s Klein cites it as a work that you’re “immediately a part of when you walk in the door.”
West echoes that statement: “It’s a performance where the audience is embedded within an interactive installation.”
The audience’s actions literally manipulate how the performance will unfold. Each audience member is given a garment when they enter, featuring two speakers, three lights and touch sensors. The garments themselves — which cover the torso — are open-back and designed to be one size fits all. (In total, Intermedio estimates they’ve made 50 to 60 garments.)
Peer closer and you’ll notice metallic stitching (made of capacitive thread) in pointed locations: around both wrists and along the collarbone. The thread is used as an electronic sensor that feeds into a small computer located on the back, which resembles a funky juice box.
“That computer is taking in the data of how people are touching their garments. It also contains a sample library of thousands of different sounds,” West says. “And it contains the potential to create a myriad of different light patterns that can both be individually activated, and then communally by sharing with other people wearing garments.”
Walton — a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University who previously studied psychology at the University of Cincinnati — came on board to lend her expertise, which centers around movement coordination.
“There's the responsiveness of the performance to what the individual is doing, but then as a group, they can create these perceptual experiences through these local interactions with the people around them,” Walton says. “The psychology I do is sort of around that — how collective behavior emerges from the interaction between component parts in a system.”
The people are the environment. They create the system and output within the structure Intermedio has laid out.
Similarly, Amanda Curreri’s RopeWalk is reliant on those who participate — in the end, they dictate the result. A participatory artwork inspired by American labor and immigration histories, the event has been part of the CAC’s ongoing exhibition Archive as Action. With the help of a crew that consists of DAAP students and alumni, the public stitched together recycled flag material into strands of rope. The braided, colorful ropes have been filling the back wall of a CAC gallery, strewn in an act of organized mayhem.
RopeWalk will convene during the TTT festival, when participants will carry the constructed rope, which spans the length of the Purple People Bridge; the bridge is a site connected to the history of slavery that divides the North and South, and the walk is meant to represent a public healing. Curreri won’t know the impact or result of the work until the actual rope walk.
“I’m trying to create lots of points of contact for people to come together, spend 30 minutes physically moving and dealing with work together and see what conversations come up,” she says. “It’s not decreed what we make.
“This might be one iteration where the material produced in this context turns into something else. Lots of people coming together — that otherwise wouldn’t be together — talking about things and getting bored together, and complicating labor together then maybe we talk about art.”
She adds that, though she’s doing it through the auspices of art, for a lot of people other elements will likely first be recognized: Neighborliness. Conversation. Friendship.
Born in El Salvador and now based in Cincinnati, Lorena Molina rounds out the trio of locals with her performance Tu nombre entre nuestras lenguas. A ceremonial performance, it references the deadliest massacre recorded in Latin American history. On Nov. 11, 1981, nearly 1,000 people — mostly children — were murdered in the village of El Mozote at the hands of the Salvadoran army, who were trained and funded by the United States. The Salvadoran government denied this injustice for nearly 40 years. Molina's work will remember the lost and address the United States' role in the affairs of other nations, which contributes to the displacement of families and, in relation, the global refugee crisis.
Of The Moment
Like Molina’s work, Tania El Khoury’s As Far As My Fingertips Take Me hones in on the refugee crisis. Co-hosted by Wave Pool, an art fulfillment center in Camp Washington, the piece places a participant in conversation with a Syrian refugee via a hole in the wall. Their arms will touch, but they won’t actually see one another; the refugee will draw on the participant’s arm as they listen to the stories of those who have faced border discrimination. When they leave, the participant can keep the drawing intact or wash it off.
Any similarity between performance topics —like a focus on refugees — isn’t necessarily intentional, says the CAC’s Klein.
“I don’t try and program thematically, so I’m not going to say that a lot of those piece performances are based around one focus,” he says. “I think it’s more of a collection of circumstances, perfect timing, venue availability and schedule and what feels like an important moment to bring the work.”
“Some of these very well could have been a part of a future (Black Box) season,” he continues. “But I think the festival sort of allows a local audience to really get it all in a different way.”
Though not an intentional focus, Klein also points out that several of the artists in the lineup are working with “trauma inflicted upon by color,” which he thinks is more of a reflection of the current cultural moment.
New York-based NIC Kay’s Pushit! [excersise in getting well soon] mines this topic through dance. They ask: “Can resistance be choreographed?” Kay’s 90-minute performance will unfold in a to-be-announced historically black neighborhood. A release describes it as “a meditation on emotional labor and the impossibility of the stage as a place of freedom for the black performer.”
But Kay also takes participants through the spaces they inhabit. In a video of the performance at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, Kay moves as if being pulled in two separate directions. Their body manifests the concept of resistance. A bundle of white balloons is tied to their neck; floating, twisting and entangling themselves in the breeze, Kay pulls them through the cityscape.
Daina Ashbee’s Serpentine also employs elements of dance. For two hours, Areli Moran will perform Ashbee’s “dark and feminine” work. Based on repetition, Serpentine is soundtracked by a haunting electric organ composed by Jean-François Blouin.
Ashbee explains the piece on her website, writing that "Sometimes things need to be insisted upon, and I believe repetition is powerful because it insists because we remember and we absorb. The body is powerful and Serpentine allows one body to speak — to occupy space — and our attention, over and over, insistently revealing the enormous strength of the interpreter."
This is the work’s regional premiere.
Also based in New York, Rashaad Newsome’s Running will get its regional premiere at This Time Tomorrow.
“Watching Running was just one of those moments,” Klein says of the performance. “I kind of dropped everything and said, ‘We have to make this happen as part of the festival.’ ”
Taking place at the Hall of Mirrors in the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza hotel, Running immerses the audience both visually and aurally; pulling its name from the music term “vocal run” — which describes a series of melodic notes that go up and down in quick succession — the performance will feature three vocalists improvising from an original score composed by Newsome, which incorporates samples of vocal runs by some of the greats, including Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King and Whitney Houston.
As the show moves forward, other samples are incorporated: speeches against marginalization and racism, recordings from body cams of police officers killing black men and women.
“It becomes this sort of sonic swirl of the noises and the sounds of the contemporary black experience,” Klein says.
It’s an experience that Asa Featherstone, the CAC’s media relations coordinator and video producer, says wouldn’t have even been possible to put together 10 years ago. Even from a technical standpoint — but also referencing the overlooked injustices black men and women face — he cites that Newsome may not have even had the ability to collect the body cam audio.
“It just wouldn't be possible,” Featherstone says. “So that also speaks to the freshness of this festival; it is so now that you can't see that in a gallery or anything like that. A year from now the festival is going to be completely different.”
At a glance, Mammalian Diving Reflex’s All the Sex I’ve Ever Had features people over the age of 65 divulging intimate stories of their sexual and romantic lives.
Though it’s been featured at performance festivals since its inception in 2010 — making stops in Toronto, Glasgow, Singapore, Portland, Sydney and New York — Cincinnati marks its regional premiere. And, perhaps, it’s one of the most hotly anticipated shows in the lineup.
But it’s more than seniors gabbing about their sex lives. At each stop, the show features a handful of local older adults — in Cincy’s case, there will be six opening up their personal lives and histories to strangers. (The show will be held in the Aronoff Center’s Fifth Third Bank Theater.)
“For me, it was sort of like a bird's eye view of the collective experiences to make a life. So you get the hilarity,” says Klein, who saw the show in Austin. “You get the trauma, you get the mundanity in between. I mean, you learn so much about somebody just through their intimate experiences and the way that information is shared with you, it was — I hate to say it — life affirming. It made me feel better about the life that I’m living.”
In the ups and downs and plateaus that the speakers lay out, a “picture of normalcy” emerges, one that Klein says manifests in myriad ways. And with each turn of the decade, CAC Communications Director Mattie says that the show is punctuated by a brief 32-second dance party.
Segueing to a more unconventional form of storytelling is Joseph Keckler’s live performance at the 21c Museum Hotel. Cut with wit, his stories meld with his incredible vocal range, which spans three-octaves. The Huffington Post recently called his performance "riveting and beautifully absurd."
Aside from the performances, the fest also offers up other elements. Attendees can rise and shine with the Goetta-Institut and party into the wee hours at the Late Night Hub.
Klein says the former was inspired by the Fusebox Festival’s “Waffle Chats,” where attendees are treated to complimentary Texas-shaped waffles and coffee and can listen to artists from the festival discuss their works in a casual atmosphere. That’s the premise of The Goetta Institut — just replace Texas waffles with goetta sliders. No. They’re not shaped like Ohio. I asked. (Vegan sliders will be up for grabs, too.)
“We're going to have them be accessible where you can come in — even just from the street if you see what's happening here in the CAC's lobby — and listen to an artist have a conversation and feel like, even if you don't know the background of the work, you can still have a slider and listen,” Klein says. “And then that's your way in.”
The chats are slated every morning to kick off each day of the fest.
The Late Night Hub — Klein calls it the “heartbeat” of the festival — will unfold every night (except for Sunday) and is designed with the same accessibility in mind. Kicking off at 9 p.m., each night will feature music and performances from the Radical Visibility Collective, Triiibe and FOGGER. Food vendors will serve grub and local distillery New Riff will be at the ready with cocktails.
“It's where the energy kind of comes to get bigger in the in-between moments of the actual programming,” CAC media relations coordinator Featherstone says, adding that the hub serves as a “meeting space where those conversations can happen, those relationships can get built and we can start building this community here in the city.”
On Sunday, This Time Tomorrow will culminate with a 24-hour performance art event, aptly dubbed Perform-A-Thon. Hosted across the river at Covington’s Pique gallery, the ’thon will feature works from regional and national artists. For each hour, another piece will unfold — making 24 performances in total.
In the seven years that Klein has been at the CAC, he cites tremendous growth in Cincy’s performance art scene. And the CAC — with their Black Box series and now with the festival — has been a part of that shift.
CAC Communications Director Mattie agrees. “This city deserves it, there are people that are making work of that caliber, and will in the future,” he says. “And there needs to be some platform to stoke that fire.”
This Time Tomorrow performance art festival takes place at various venues across Cincinnati from April 11-14. For tickets and more info, visit thistimetmrw.com.