Julie Tolentino / Raised by Wolves: An offering, a question to experience
I’ve been thinking about your performance at CWC, and also thinking about the exhibition that exists around your performance. In fact – I’m trying to pin down where one begins and the other ends.
My experience of Raised By Wolves began when I made the appointment to attend. A number of things happened when I sent that email: I became aware of making a commitment, of entering into a sort of social contract with you. My failure to attend would have a disruptive impact on the outcome, and I feel like in that moment “you” and “I” (and any other members of that audience to be) were joined in an endeavor: to experience – and to create while experiencing Raised By Wolves.
I will tell you that I was nervous while climbing the stairs. Private performances are scary: there is a possibility that attention may be turned to me – the viewer – and any attention that is out of one’s control is… Well – you get the idea. What might happen? What if I were to respond inappropriately, or insufficiently?
I noticed your golden ladder while I climbed the stairs – it seemed mysterious, to my eyes it was a glinting, gossamer manifestation of Young’s burned stairs. It looked like a reverse shadow of the stair on which I walked – it was above me, and seemed made with golden spider webs. Feeling my own weight on the wooden staircase, I fantasized myself weightless – and able to ascend yours.
I love hearing about your disorientation, your thready weighted wonder – and your worry even…worry is righteously familiar, no? I ventured into uncovering what is already present in the particular space of Commonwealth and Council (CWC) and within me – taking it (us) apart, making messes while conscious of the kind of contact/contracts that were being proffered – both in the wish for/invitation to engagement between Viewer and Space, and the way I hoped the work dug behind and into the building’s body – and into the memory of the bodies which constructed the lives (art-lives and sustained-lives) of those where would be present.
Upon visiting CWC, prior to Young’s invitation, I was always filled with a strange kind of seeing/remembering/intuiting – of stairs. (Intuition is a thing I love to hate, and love while aware of its danger; I rely on intuition as I fear it. Intuition is a precarious force for an artist.) Present too in the performance, is the reflection of my noisy self-consciousness. The leftover licks and patterns of Young’s burned stairs provide so much space (for all of us) it seems. Perhaps this is something I secretly crave, understand, and need: more width, more space, release. I too experienced the corporeality, the sensuality of fantasy, weightlessness, abandon. The sensation is tender and filled with palpable sexual tension too. A kind of falling. Failing, too – of course. But then there is the riding the edge of the experience, the feeling of going terribly wrong–> maybe this is exactly where things (really) happen.
My recent travels around, and move to the West from NYC has also occasioned travels into Asia, namely Philippines, Myanmar, and Singapore. Each trip offered confrontations –including my fear of heights (of all sorts) and a very enchanted face-off with (Pigpen’s and my) secret obsession with gold (the awe, rarity, trappings, insidiousness, trace, privilege and gaudiness at once)…Many of the pieces in the show filter through this impulse.
This work was stretched me into new territories and I am grateful to Young/CW&C for artist-focused support. Hand-crafting the queer staircase, Pigpen’s death-defying action of drilling the hole, and creating physical objects that come from live action of performance and the ambitious aim to “continue performing” with and through objects – i.e. using the influence of the wind on the chairs or by activation of the smoke. Then there was the challenge of putting my body in the line of fire multiple times a day, beholden to the scores of fifteen incredible artists – offering back a “liveness” – invisibility/transparency, experience, age, loss, and, admittedly, my insecurity, as fodder.
Orienting the eye towards the west (the hole, the use of the windows in the performance activated spaces) reflects a kind of “still learning and orienting” my way around a new city, new people, places, and a new direction in making work. LA – this intensely race and class-driven city, reminds me how feral I really am….Surprisingly good and well, very bad, at once! Perhaps as I carve a place here, on this personal note, I come to realize how twenty five years of NYC seemed to shelter me from something while shoring me up at the same time.
Once in the office, I was welcomed into a social atmosphere, and I was unsure if the performance had begun. We all spoke casually, Dawn, Rachel, Young, you and I; and I do think that the conversation and shared drinks eased me into your space. Your presence became one of friend, and also colleague.
Raised by Wolves can be a phrase intended to excuse or to explain bad behavior, it is also used with pride by one who does not fit into society. Both of these are also the nature of the artist, of the performer. Does this fit with your own idea for the title? Will you me about your thinking behind the title?
My parents (Filipino and El Salvadoran) were barely pre-teen when they met and had me…so it starts there – raw, base, first generation, misfit-ish, omni-sexual SF upbringing. I was street-learned, smart by accident it seemed, nervous as fuck, horny and pervert-oriented, awkward, energetic and shy, and distinctly queer to the bone (with gay siblings, trans-and sex-changed great aunt, bruja grandmother, bisexual mother; I was raised by faeries and leather-men, my world was informed by AIDS, PWAs and activism.) The title also refers to the fifteen artists who contributed scores to the piece. Perhaps as artists we raise each other, are incited by each other – in productive, resistant and hungry ways. Independence also resonates – the way independence can bite and be fiercely protective.
I think of wolves as living off scent and wind – and then also, as living off those in/of her pack. There is something fierce and lonely too, in wolf-being. A super esoteric sidenote: As a long-retired dancer, installation and performance maker, I recollect that kind of raw-ness, perhaps I even mean specialness or something that represents the sense of being solitary while too, misunderstood, different and just one of many –> amongst many. This is for me is something I remember from performing around the world, on/at various stages – this one particular moment: in the way that light hits my own eyelashes. There is so much reference in Raised by Wolves to hair and fuzz, fur, electric lint, matted layers. A kind of sharing of pelt hair, sharpness of scent mixed with deep listening. This became a way for me to express memory perhaps.
There is also the legend that wolves are averse to certain tones, including low minor chords, so including sound in the work was an important element to work with – and against. Going towards a slowing down, towards being more animal… perhaps it all starts in these felt-language connections, ways of worrying or touching or offering knowledge, even if only mere in-the-moment minutiae, legend, fiction.
Recently I was asked what I have found has consistently been part of my process – and I replied: “non-monogamy”. I think of Raised by Wolves as a offering where intimacies are illuminated, drawn out, cross paths, curious. The scores from each contributing artist offer their own kind of impermanent layering. It acts upon me, each other, the viewers. There is no clutching. The work’s precarious structure draws us into the open.
I am certainly open to what the title might bring to others of course. Meaning constantly shifts — and after fifty performances and the post-show discussions and the morphing of the installations in the gallery, this (shifting) continues for me.
Plus, Pigpen and I, if you peruse our experience, might easily be the poster-children of a Raised by Wolves wild-child campaign. What and how we know what we know – and our way with people. Close/Sensitive and Far/Ungraspable at once. Perhaps we live our own workable fictions, but we exist pretty damn close to the bone. Boldly shy. All paws. Scrappy.
I don’t remember much of the performance; I did not take any notes (this would have been a distraction – for me, as well as for the group) and I was far to busy experiencing you. I was just ‘being’ in that time you created.
I love this part of your writing because you say you don’t remember much but your description below is filled with recollection! Thank you for allowing me space here to recall too.
I do recall you holding the gold-painted stick, and leading yourself through the space with it. The stick might have been leading you, too. I thought of some blind angel, and that you were communing with the gold ladder in the Young’s burned stairs, channeling its energy.
…also: gold-threaded magic wand, perhaps? leading you, AND leading us? communing with another space? we take clues from each other. perhaps you realize that you too MADE the performance occur?
You sang, didn’t you? And you performed a serio-comic recitative. I wouldn’t have thought of your work as operatic, but that speech had a queer power in its foolishness. I thought of Don Giovanni, and you might have been a composite of Leporello and his Master – both recorder and seducer in your wolf opera buffa.
Tell me about the curious upside-down helicopter movement you made. It felt furious and cleansing. It was beautiful.
This movement section you mention was actually my own score which was layered into the other fifteen scores. I carved a section into the piece while working with and through the scores that your group picked out. (As you know, each viewing group “chose” their own performance, their own dance, after bonding over scent and shedding another layer of our strangeness to each other. And yes, the performance began, of course, by sharing sips of things and walking around together, with the sense of being hosted by Pigpen or Young or me even sometimes. Colleagues, friends, artists-to-artists (who are always influencing each other – even if merely in revolt!), and/or strangers starting together on new (or other) footing to see where we might get to, what we might make. Blurring the idea of the starting moment was important, and key.
The movement – you describe as “helicopter” – I am so interested in that! I think that this is very typical of my pursuit in movement now that I am not really a ‘dancer’ anymore. Intrigued with repetition, with minor shifts, ways of looking, being seen in this repetitiveness. The same yet never the same way. It is a challenging movement to maintain – regardless of its simplicity – especially because I am trying to excel, master and destabilize at the same time (i.e., I engage and disengage my core; I try to maintain an impossible speed; I use my breath and hold it to show the transparency of the movement; I am working with an unsure self, body, and I am activating and deactivating control at once. This is like the art of hosting, of attraction, the act of touch, the best kind of fucking.) This section has a small text “this is not a dance about giving up…” My research for this included reading and re-reading The Making of Americans as a way to approach my own offering of choreography, as a way to keep renewing my commitment to this holistic piece, which acts not only as an installation but as a three-times a day performed work that must be offered both as a completion and also as a free starting place. Gertrude Stein’s writing helped me take my time – and she drove me slightly insane at once. This is a sample of how I physically “embed” small pieces of influential texts (or people) into all of my work. It is a hindrance too. Always moving is another kind of distraction, I know.
The scores which you were witness to, even from the first performance, immediately worked upon each other – as well as on me. And your (audience) participation, your showing up, presence, awkwardness and/or willingness shifted those scores and helped raise other approaches, decisions, directions. It was a way of setting them free – to act like bats or some other ungovernable mass, like a circulation-force or impetus inside and under my skin and with that, exporting and sharing experience(s) – and a bit of myself. The potential inadequacy, the nuggets of everyone’s genius and the impossibility of this project became a force. This is merely what the performance element of Raised by Wolves was – a collection of impulse, sights and desire laid into a body that was purposely accumulating exhaustion and a current rebellious fight with the rigors of physical discipline, the aging body. (Running the technical elements, making it transparent too, offered other things that I have to offer as an artist. In this way, I offer a dance of care.)
[Movement capture from Cathy Opie’s score: Drum Cadence for Julie T]
I will never forget, in that very first performance, about 1/3 of the way through, I was taking a deep breath as I changed adjusted the sound level between movement sections – and ended up having to cough out a hair ball, followed by Dawn’s deep laugh. Ah, for me, the carpet, our shared Venus in fur. (It all started as a series called Love, no?) (Geoff: This moment struck me with great power, too, Julie. It was as though you were choking on, and coughing up the matter of our collective memory…)
Possession is gift to conjure (and be overtaken by) but perhaps we may be all moving towards this in our own way (even if we are struggling with and against it) – whether we notice or not. The wolf is not only interested in a kind of innate and given beauty, expertise or spectator-worthiness. I feel more connected to how she might effect and be removed from (at once) the spaces around her, how she activates and isolates simultaneously. Helping to illuminate, being seeing, becoming invisible – in an instant. I think this is all very awkward looking and awkward feeling. Desperate too. I am into this kind of always being wrong, out of time, on one’s own time.
Being possessed as with an ungraspable smell. The smell of sound? The way memory reeks and sticks? A bleeding hole of tangled threads.
[The aftermath of one of the second or third week performances.]
Stagnation is still an action.
Stagnation is inaction.
(Maybe I mean fermentation. Or disintegration.)
Invisibility (and other states) work on/from/within me to illuminate deviant heterotopias – or the garden of leftovers that I call a misshapen life.
My performance seeks a distorted reflective other-space. Yes, like the body of artists, performers. Like CWC. Similar to what I want to give or to receive, it is too, what I boldly suggest that Young, Pigpen, and the artist contributors offer: our lives polluted by each other as an(other) way to live, flourish – and escape. This is both solitary/wild and congested/messy at once.
I and we can’t quite find the words or the movement to demonstrate, so we just etch, inch , haunt and hunt in our own way(s)…
“The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to fill the world with fools.” Herbert Spencer
Raised by Wolves I wanted to suggest mirroring, interwoven experiences, reflections and spaces that are impossible, not simply imaginary. And perhaps this is where Raised by Wolves begins.
Ah, Geoff, did I mention something about fragility? I think you did. Thank you for that, dear you.
Raised by Wolves is a performance and installation that took place at Commonwealth and Council from April 13, 2013 through May 4, 2013. Additional images may be found here: http://commonwealthandcouncil.com/exhibitions/raised_by_wolves/images.html
All photos are by Yongho Kim and are courtesy of Julie Tolentino and Commonwealth and Council
RAISED BY WOLVES artist contributors include: Rafa Esparza, Mark So, Catherine Opie, Taisha Paggett, Stosh Fila, Chloë Flores, Juliana Snapper/Miller Puckett, Jet Clark, Aliza Shvarts, Judie Bamber, A.L. Steiner, Zackary Drucker/Ellen Reid, Cyril Kuhn, and CW&C.
Julie would like to acknowledge the supportive guidance and opening night performance of dancer/choreographer, Nicholas Duran and the enduring support, love and talent of Pigpen.