Jul 10, 2014
This week Courtesy the Artists (Malik Gaines and Alexandro Segade) will be in residence at The Kitchen rehearsing scenes and filming video for The Shoot, their contribution to our current exhibition based on Jules Dessin’s 1974 film The Rehearsal. Taking up intriguing connections between 1973 student protests at the Athens Polytechnic Institute and the 2011 Pepper Spray Incident at the University of California, Davis, the collaborative will present movement exercises, song, and collaborative scripts, in which gallery visitors are encouraged to take part. The Shoot takes place through Friday, July 11, from noon to 6pm.
Katy Dammers: What was the impetus for starting Courtesy the Artists?
Malik Gaines: Mainly moving to New York a couple of years ago. This was a more flexible way for us to organize projects around specific themes and reach out to a large set of collaborators in New York.
Alexandro Segade: Malik and I have been working together since we met in college at UCLA during the early 1990s. We started making performances and theater pieces fairly early on, but we didn’t really formalize anything until My Barbarian. [My Barbarian was formed in 2000 in Los Angeles as a collective consisting of Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade.] Courtesy has been oriented around responding to specific texts. In this particular case, we’re looking at a report that was done on the Pepper Spray Incident at UC Davis produced by a taskforce of students and faculty at UC Davis and The Rehearsal film as two texts that are related to each other by this historical trajectory and coincidence, to a certain degree.
KD: Can you tell me about that connection and how you discovered it?
MG: When we heard about the film The Rehearsal, we watched it and thought it was really great for our practice. It reminded us of projects we’ve done with My Barbarian, where we’ve gotten groups together and reenacted historical and political situations using music and theater. I remembered that when the Chancellor of UC Davis made a public speech apologizing for the Pepper Spray Incident, she referenced this student takeover in Athens. We went back and looked at the video, and she says, “I was there and I don’t want to forget that.” Her shift from being on the student’s side when oppressive military tactics were used to put down revolt to her position among these incidents with the UC Davis incident was really interesting. In the UC Davis case there’s this widely circulated performative moment when Lieutenant Pike uses pepper spray on the protesters. This iconic moment loops back to the same kind of military police tactics that were used in Athens. The film The Rehearsal makes the point that the creators were trying to raise American awareness of what was going on and American governmental support of the military junta. Already it is part of this transnational discussion where these tactics are both American and international.
KD: How will you invite people into your process? What kinds of things will they be doing?
AS: It depends on what we’re working on, but some things we’re thinking about are movement exercises and dance-based performance that reference things like the Pepper Spray Incident. Other things could be asking visitors to help us compose a script that talks about something that happened in the incident or the original film. In this particular project we’re not so interested in the trained performer. Courtesy has worked with trained performers in the past, but one of the interesting things about Occupy, and about student protest more generally, is how it asks you to put your body into a situation that’s fairly unfamiliar in order to create change. It doesn’t require an expertise, and that’s interesting for us to explore here.
MG: The investigative report that we’ve read is one document that we can extract text from for scripts, so there will be short speeches and dialogue that we will be working on. We may ask visitors in the gallery to step in and read.
KD: Can you tell me about the collaborators that are coming in?
MG: Sam Greenleaf Miller is a musician and recently has been doing a lot of dance. She’s going to help us organize a couple of original protest songs given that in the film The Rehearsal that’s an important part of the movie. It acts as sort of a Greek Chorus responding to events through song. That’s something that follows through into Occupy. It could be something that visitors to the gallery could join and sing. We have been targeting students because both cases are student uprisings and we’re both professors. I have several graduate students from Hunter College coming in. Alex has students from Parsons.
AS: I think it’s important for us to include people who are working within in school systems, because these questions of how students can manifest dissent—and to what extent they can do so—are on every campus. If there are students in New York right now who want to come down we’d definitely love to see any of them.
KD: Do you have any ideas about how the project will continue after The Kitchen?
AS: The Kitchen is allowing us to use the gallery as a laboratory where we are away from all of those contexts and can play with the various ideas and see what comes out. Potentially then we can take this back to California and present it within the UC context and it will be a totally different conversation. At least have this chance to separate it out from the politics of that particular context and look at it as cultural production, or art I guess. I guess we’re making art.