NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Falling towards love in a pandemic

Art for me has always been a process to make sense as I am a performance artist that utilises endurance to challenge the contingencies of space, time, and the body. The focus of my PhD research is precisely this.

By Chelsea Coon

Art for me has always been a process to make sense as I am a performance artist that utilises endurance to challenge the contingencies of space, time, and the body. The focus of my PhD research is precisely this. In Judith Butler’s The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethio-Political Bind released on the brink of the coronavirus lockdown, she proposes reconsideration of self as inextricably linked to others as extensions of ourselves in the world.[i] While Butler is not the first to suggest this, the concept certainly has urgency in this moment.

After my IRL international tour schedule for 2020 was annihilated I was initially resistant to full embrace of URL platforms. Through research I began to understand how the complexity of the virtual as a site could work specifically for my practice.

Endurance was a necessary collective strategy to adapt to the pandemic crisis conditions and will continue to matter as we emerge into our new normal. After my IRL international tour schedule for 2020 was annihilated I was initially resistant to full embrace of URL platforms. Through research I began to understand how the complexity of the virtual as a site could work specifically for my practice. This thinking was inspired by live festivals early shifts to the virtual such as Fusebox (US), Serendipity Arts Festival (India), GIFT (UK), where artists and curators together questioned what does liveness in performance art mean now? It was clear a different way to think about performance would ensure sustainability of my practice into a foreseeable future within and post-PhD.[ii] 

As we exit the pandemic into our changed world, artists who can critically offer ideas on how theory can extend into practice for meaningful change on every level are needed now more than ever.

An internal drive necessitated the development new performance works across social media platforms of Instagram, TikTok and Facebook as I was unable keep my work on hold while my horror regarding the U.S. coronavirus response grew exponentially as the infection and death rates soared. I found the URL space to be a unique set of challenges that deeply inspired the development of new rigorous performances works utilising anger and humour. As artist and art historian Natalie Loveless puts it of the research-creation process of discovery, “I fell in love” with the possibilities of this virtual space that permitted continuation of critical, responsive performances for diverse audiences internationally.[iii]

I certainly believe moving forward we, as artists, need to act collectively beyond theory and in practice. Significantly, we can continue to make spaces that allow people to ask hard questions, fail, be wrong, but be supported as they challenge and shift their thinking. Indeed, posthumanism scholar Donna Haraway reminds us that the colossal task of real change happens “bit by bit, or not at all.”[iv] I believe in the strength of community and have found VCA Research cohort meetings to be important gatherings for dialogue regarding the challenges of this moment and that such spaces could inspire other ways to see and think. What artists do both literally matters and shapes the matter of cultural dialogue in critical, responsive ways through challenging power. Choreographer Andrew Simonet explains of the significant power and responsibility artists have in this moment as, “Artists build possible futures. This moment desperately needs futures” […] “Make the art this moment needs. May we be completely safe with our health and bold as all hell in our practice. This is what we train for.”[v] As we exit the pandemic into our changed world, artists who can critically offer ideas on how theory can extend into practice for meaningful change on every level are needed now more than ever.[vi]

References

[i] Judith Butler, The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethio-Political Bind, Verso. 2020. 8, 16, 41, 80.

[ii] Additionally, expert predictions on a future post-COVID was useful to maintain perspective: “Life Beyond Coronavirus: The Expert View,” Episode 6: Preventing the Next Pandemic, University of Melbourne. July 2020. https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/watch-episode-6-life-beyond-coronavirus-preventing-the-next-pandemic

[iii] Natalie Loveless, How to Make Art at the End of the World: A Manifesto for Research-Creation, Duke University Press, 2019. 27, 28, 68, 77-78.

[iv] Natalie Loveless, On Situatedness and Ecological Form. HWK: Haus der Kulturen der Welt lecture on 07-November 2019. Accessed: 06-July 2020. Loveless cites and extends on Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble, 2016. Minute: 33:11-33:40. https://www.hkw.de/en/app/mediathek/video/76707

[v] Andrew Simonet, “This is What We Train For,” ArtPlace America, March 25, 2020. (Italics added for emphasis) https://www.artplaceamerica.org/blog/what-we-train

[vi] Such discussions that further informed shifts in my thinking on activism in international artistic practices occurred in presentations and panel discussions for the Asialink conference Public Displays of Affection: How Can Artists Rebrand Soft Power? at the University of Melbourne, 03-March 2020. https://asialink.unimelb.edu.au/arts/whats-on/2019/public-displays-of-affection-how-can-artists-rebrand-soft-power


Chelsea Coon is a performance artist and writer. Her performances utilise endurance to reconsider limitations of the body through its various orientations to space and time. She has exhibited extensively internationally in festivals, biennales, and galleries. She received her BFA at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2012), MFA at Tufts University (2014), and a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Theatre, Performance and Contemporary Live Arts at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Scuola Teatro Dimitri, Switzerland (2015). Recent writings will be included in Rated RX: Sheree Rose with and after Bob Flanagan (Ohio State University Press, 2020); and the phenomenology of bloody performance art! (Routledge, 2021). Coon is a PhD candidate in practice-led research at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.

More from this issue

More from this issue

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As I began the journey of my PhD candidature, my main drive to proceed was a social conundrum. I wanted to explore and if I could, rationalise, the visceral empathy which at times many are affected by, when witnessing upheaval in the lives of those around us.

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