So SF misses Angela Mattox, yes. But she’s doing kick-ass work making PICA (and by extension, the Portland arts community) richer and better. She also has been in dialogue with us about Turbulence almost since the beginning of it really picking up steam. Here’s a little ditty that was an interview in Portland Mothly, about Keith/the project/working with Angela:
Can you give me the brief summary of
Turbulence? What will it be like from the
experience of the audience? And what are
you trying to accomplish through the work/
what’re the questions you’re hoping to
explore and provoke?
We joke that Turbulence is a failed political theater
collective. Reading about the queer art of failure
(Halberstam 2011) we justify queer anarchic
improvisation as a suitable response to our economic
Part of our project is to disregard the generally
accepted rules of engagement – and we’re talking
about both live performance and activism. Our
turbulent dance about the turbulent economy is
simultaneously critical and utopian. Audiences can
expect “something different” with various points
of entry, engagement, meaning, disruption, and
participation. The cast is super talented and BIG (with
the 3 Portland guest artists, there will be 14 people
on stage). I should also add charming, engaging, and
mutually supportive to the extreme.
I set out, over two years ago, to challenge my own
ignorance about financialization, about the roots of
economic turbulence, and to sharpen my understanding
of extreme wealth disparity. Our collaborative research
and play continually shifts the focus from abstract
issues of profit and debt to the hierarchies of value that
are embodied in our personal relationships. And how
these relations are implicated or con/fused by gender,
race, class and other factors.
Without delivering a coherent critique nor a totalizing
vision of resistance and reconstruction, we hope to
inspire broader public engagement, discussion and
action with regards to the economy, particularly its
violence, corruption, and injustice.
Angela says more than any piece she’s presented,
Turbulence has been about the process. Can you
talk a little about the creative process behind it?
Working in short term intensives for over two years, a
core team of collaborators has emerged. This group is
continually destabilized and enhanced by guest artists
at the various sites in the US and Europe where the
project has been in residence. The Turbulence process
is embodied in the ongoing social relations (friendships!
) within the core team of 11 artists, and with the many
many guest artists who have participated in labs,
salons, rehearsals and performances.
The process is not limited to studio practice. Wide
ranging studies – both individual and collective –
include reading books and articles, participating in
public discussions and salons, watching documentaries
(from Hollywood to youtube), and either participating
in or following the Occupy movement. Additionally most
of my dance/performance teaching during the past few
years has engaged questions of ‘economy’ and ‘power’
made more critical since the economic collapse of 2008
and the subsequent revealing of structural fraud, theft,
and violence that neoliberal capitalism depends on.
Was there anything particular to the portland
rehearsals that was unique or different from
previous rehearsals? Or did this city have
something unique to add to that process?
We joke that our biggest experience in Portland was
the ecstacy of the naked bike ride, a truly queer and
utopian cultural healing and act of resistance.
Portland is dear to our heart. We’re in the middle of
France now, being treated super well, but we miss the
level of dialogue and exchange that happened during
our Portland residency in June. Our guest artists were
more quickly integrated into the group (so much for
being outsiders) and the piece gained a momentum in
Portland that surprised us. The whole project advanced
faster and deeper than we could have predicted.
PICA’s programming of a symposium around the key
questions of bodies and alternative economies was
super generative and inspiring.
Similarly with Crotch, was there anything unique
to the portland audience? I was really struck
by the engaged intimacy and appetite of the
audience that turned into the lingering crowd that
didn’t seem to want to leave the space. Is that all
in a day’s work for Crotch, or did it stand out for
Portland people in general have been super warm
and engaged – from our generous home stay hosts to
the audiences for Crotch and our various Turbulence
How long have you known Angela, and how
would your characterize your relationship,
particularly when it comes to the creative process
of developing new works?
I met Angela at some point in the mid 2000s. I can’t
remember. We resonated pretty quickly with regards
to contemporary dance and performance. I was a big
fan of her attention to new dance/performance from
Africa as well as her big support for a number of local
Bay Area artists, myself included. Angela has invited
me to curate emerging artists and she commissioned
my 2008 performance Delinquent, which worked with
young artists aged 16-24 in a poetic confrontation with
juvenile justice, crime and punishment.
With Turbulence our relationship has matured. Angela
has supported the process from very early on, being
the first presenter to commit to the project, and being
very supportive in pushing me into national funding
Does her style as a curator differ from other
curators, both from the point of view of the artist
and of the audience?
I think all curators, or at least the good ones, and I
count Angela among them, are different from everyone
else. Curating is rooted in both personal taste and
institutional strategy. For sure, Angela positively
shifted both the taste and the strategy at Yerba Buena
Center for the Arts (San Francisco). She took chances
that others wouldn’t. She has a sharp eye, quick to
critique but she’s also super curious, looking beyond
the obvious and easy, for what will truly engage the
audiences she serves.
Angela said one of the reasons she so respects
your work is that has an urgency and vitality
that truly provokes her and often can make her
uncomfortable. She recounted a story to me
during Auf Dem Tisch, I believe, in which you
produced a 2×4 from seemingly nowhere and
proceeded to have the audience hold it while you
walked across it, and that there was an elderly
women holding it who Angel. Do you remember
that moment? Can you describe what happened?
What were you trying to accomplish?
I have a background in both street theater and
circus. For fun and as political tactics I enjoy direct
engagement with the audience and calculated danger.
I like to implicate the audience, daring them to
participate in my risky behavior. At Auf dem Tisch
(at YBCA) I can’t even remember where I found that
piece of wood. I knew that I could never walk all the
way from the table (stage) to the woman who was
supporting the other end of the wood, but I like to flirt
with danger. I can give the audience the impression
that I don’t have limits, or that I’m crazy, when
actually I am being super calculating about what’s
possible. OK, I’m also a little crazy, especially when I’m
But seriously folks, risk and danger are both popular
theater techniques (important to circus, to horror
films…) and political metaphors. Middle class society
is obsessed with safety and comfort in a way that
justifies everything from rip-off insurance rates to the
wars on drugs and terror. Security makes us stupid,
weak and racist. So, my response as a political artist,
is to challenge the limits of our social and bodily
imaginations by having fun with danger.
In turn, do you feel she ever provokes you or
somehow makes you question something or make
I think with Turbulence, Angela dares me to take my
work more seriously, to consider its influence on local,
national and international art ecologies. Despite my
long-term working relationships in Europe and New
York, my base is hyper local and politically engaged.
The PICA symposium around Turbulence challenged
me (and us) to more deeply consider the political and
theoretical resonance of the work. We tried new ways
to engage audience, inviting folks into the process in
ways that we hadn’t previously tried or even imagined.
I mean the performance is called Turbulence, so I
shouldn’t be surprised that it destabilizes relationships
within the group, with presenters, and with our
audiences. I’m just glad that Angela (and the amazing,
lovely PICA staff) is willing to hang in there with our