Taylor died. I don't know how, or when, exactly. But he is, in fact, dead, and never coming back. I know this because I saw it on Facebook.
We called him "Black Taylor." It was the kind of joke that faux-liberal white teenagers raised in rural Vermont would find funny. Black Taylor wasn't black, but he wore a lot of white t-shirts and loose jeans and loved rap music. He was an amateur rapper himself.
He became fast friends with one of the RAs, which is what the Governor’s Institute of Vermont called their camp counselors. I don’t remember the RA’s name, but he also loved rap music. One day the RAs were allowed to teach their own class, and this guy taught a class on the history of hip-hop. He was also a semi-pro birdwatcher.
It was 2007. Facebook wasn’t really a thing. I only got one because my friend Bailey had one, but all of my friends were still on MySpace. The people I met at the Governor’s Institute were a little older than me - thinking about college, about SAT scores, about sex. I thought about those things, too. The difference was that those things were actually happening to these people.
They all used Facebook. When they weren’t off in the woods making out, they would spend their free time huddled around the few internet-connected computers in the student center. They wanted to know what their friends at home were doing. They felt removed. I felt removed, too, but from the people in front of me, as I stood on the edge of groups and watched them talk and laugh like they had been friends for years when in fact they’d only met days ago. I laughed when they laughed, pretending to feel included.
There was a White Taylor. White Taylor was white, blonde, very skinny with bulging eyes. The popular joke was that he was a crack addict. White Taylor wasn’t White Taylor just because we needed some to complete the nickname yin-yang. White Taylor came from a rich family. White Taylor was going to Bates. White Taylor wore polos.
This was the Governor’s Institute of Vermont on Current Issues and Youth Activism, where we knew enough about racial inequality to make the joke, but never had to confront the realities of it outside of our bubble of white privilege. We were literally up on a hill, at the School of International Training, looking over Brattleboro, Vermont, the city that proclaimed that it would arrest George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for war crimes if they ever stepped foot in city limits. We were morally and intellectually superior. It was implied and we believed it.
I walked in on Black Taylor taking a shit. The dorms we were staying in had communal bathrooms. I pressed open the door to a stall and there he was: backwards baseball cap on his head, loose jeans bundled at his ankles, and his eyes staring at me from his throne up on the hill.
I apologized and backed away into my own stall, right next to his. He laughed. We made awkward small talk. I was done before him, washed my hands, and left. It was the only private interaction we had together, the only time he had really acknowledged my existence in any significant way.
And then Taylor died.
Not right away, but eventually, the same way all of us will. I found this out a few years later, on Facebook, when one of our mutual friends from the Governor’s Institute left a message on his wall. Miss you. Can’t believe you’re gone. Taken before your time. His wall was full of messages like these; some just short sentences and others long essays on their friendship. All addressed to someone who would never read them.
And now they're gone. His Facebook was deleted at some point by a friend or family member.
At the end of the Governor's Institute, there was a bonfire. A girl with a guitar sang Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)." Someone played along on a fiddle. It was a tired song then, but the circle of teenagers around the fire, me included, sang under their breaths. It was an amazing experience, we told each other. We would never forget it. We'd stay in touch. Facebook me!
I only found a few pictures from that camp on Facebook. One had Black Taylor standing right in the middle of a big group, me included. He was standing with his chin in his hands, looking up towards the sun.
He used to be tagged in the picture, but he's not anymore.
Adam Cecil is a writer living in Brooklyn. He is the managing editor of this zine. You can find more work at his website.
What does the death of a relationship look like? Nearly everyone has a friend or acquaintance whose relationship suddenly splintered, but did that break feel that sudden to those in the relationship? I met with Sophie Nau to talk about her photographs and the story behind them. Sophie’s photographs document a trip to San Francisco she made recently to visit a boyfriend. Her pleasant pictures of an idyllic city do not initially convey the growing distance between her and her boyfriend. The fragments of text reveal the disconnect that exists between our records of the past, such as photographs, and the reality actually lived. Sophie views this visual storytelling as a way to process this “weird stuff happening in a beautiful place” before she can establish the distance needed to write further. Our conversation led to swapping stories about exes and breakups, and reflecting on how much can be left unsaid between two people – how hard it can be to even talk about your own feelings.
- Thomas Baldwin, editor
Sophie Nau is a writer living in Santa Monica and is currently working in film and TV production. She loves to bake and has been baking since she was four. One future project she hopes to expand upon is a photo series capturing how food and cooking connects communities and family.
Statement from the Artist:
There's that quote, “Those who do not know history's mistakes are doomed to repeat them.” This implies a kind of cycle: make a mistake, forget it, let time pass, make the mistake again.
In these three recountings, I am hoping to shed a different light on that cycle. Historians are always using that quote to defend the study of history as a path toward advancement. What I never hear anyone talking about is the small comfort of living a life made up of the same mistakes.
That, yes, I concede there is something nauseating about watching myself screw-up the same ways again and again. It's like a carousel, simultaneous nostalgia and hyper presentness, that awful, “Oh no, here it comes again” feeling.
But there is also the soft warm comfort of the familiar. Knowing the name of my mistake gives me a sense of control over it. A pleasure in watching and recognize the same disease destroy me again and again.
I guess I'm asking the same question Camus did. Can a Sisyphus, a man doomed to the same fate forever who cannot learn from his past, be happy? I picked these three moments because I believe they feature the same mistake and to varying degrees the speaker in the poems offers some enjoyment in making the mistake.
My goal with these poems is to explore a mistake-driven life as one simultaneously filled with celebrated investigation.
- Joseph Anderson
For Fear of Being More Afraid
I was a light no when I put the gardenias in my hair but no because of the ants and no to wear my red canvas pants and no and he kissed me under the trampoline and might well be him because I mean I asked him with my face to ask me no and then he asked me the place I would no to say no my light and fist. I put my arms and wish around him no and drew him down to me no so he no could feel me wholly and no tomorrow would change today no and his heart was a small horse and no I said no I will no. And no the apple cider had fermented too long and no we were drinking vinegar and scrapping the mold off of the sauerkraut and I thought no we weren't small fruits that just grow sour together but no I wasn't sure.
My father was teaching my sister to drive. She would not make left turns for fear of swinging too far out and colliding head on to another car. After the eleventh right turn we had surrendered to my sister's silent square dance. We became surprised that anyone had ever considered right turns safe and were more surprised that no one had joined us. We felt small when passing the same dog tied to a tree. He had shortened his own leash by walking in circles. I went along on a date between her and her boyfriend at the time. They were eating ice-cream and trying to pretend what was not real was still there. They were trying not to surrender their small dream of happiness, quiet conversations, mason jars filled with strawberry and rhubarb, early light, and the music that provides the mirrored vocabulary of the future. They were pushing around the melted ice cream in their cups and trying not to exist anymore.
We refilled our coffee cups and sat in silence. I wondered why you kept coming, and knew things would be bad when you left and wondered if you did too. You fell asleep in your chair. It was awfully cold outside. I thought how for both of us this was our first real winter. This was the first time we could see the clouds fall apart through the sky and recollect on the streets and sidewalks. You said I didn't have to walk you home. A minute after you left I ran after you and we scared each other again. We walked in silence back to your street. We were slowly realizing that everything: the sidewalks, the mugs, the exposed lightbulbs were the results of someone's hands and someone's time. And that the someones were just as us: young and small and that they probably did not like making the mugs and the lightbulbs and the small plastic trees that go on birthday cakes. We were looking at our own hands and wondering if there was any other way to spend our time.
Wake up early to beat the bathroom rush at the hostel1 I’m living in and spend fifteen minutes waking up by scrolling on my phone.
Go back to sleep.
Wake up and go to the bathroom. Wait ten minutes to go in.
Decide I should do laundry, watch a classic film for research, and write ten pages of a screenplay and then a blog post.
Watch the classic film while eating breakfast.
Wait until I’ve watched half of the film until I actually pack the laundry bag.
Watch the second half before I walk to the laundromat.
Forget to bring the gallon of Tide detergent and waste some precious laundry-tokenquarters on detergent at the laundromat because I’m tired (I’ve done so much work already).
Read something beautiful in a novel while swatting a fly from my head — think I’ll finish 50 pages before I get home.
The fly doesn’t leave me alone — maybe I’ll get to 30.
The fly is gone until I realize it’s in my hair.
Laundry is done — ten pages have been read.
After I shove my laundry in my hostel locker, plan to write a blog post.
Remember I haven’t seen the rest of the last season of The Legend of Korra.
Remember I’m hungry.
Watch Korra while I eat.
Prepare to write the blog post, but realize I only have five hours until I go to sleep early for my internship2 the next morning.
Remember the internship doesn’t pay.
Question why I’m spending my parents’ money in a new city without a job.
Check my spam folder to see if a prospective employer’s response got lost.
Check job listings for anything that’s suitable.
Remember everything available would be a hassle to reach by public transport.
Consider getting a car.
Remember climate change.
Ask Google how expensive Teslas are.
Ask Google how expensive bikes are.
Remember the car crash3 I was in last time I was in LA.
Ask Google if I should leave LA.
Ask Google if my favorite filmmakers moved to LA.
Remember I have to write a blog post.
Consider the opinions I have to express about climate change, the economy, the military-industrial complex, institutional racism, women’s rights.
Feel like I would rather talk about my favorite books and/or movies.
Wonder if this is a generational problem or if I’m just selfish.
Get a phone call from a friend and talk to them for an hour.
Make beans and rice.
Watch another classic film while I eat.
Fall in love with the idea of making movies.
Ask Google how the filmmaker of the movie got started.
Write furiously on a script. Convince myself it’s perfect for about a minute before I self-doubt myself.
Hate the rewrite. Hate the script.
Remember that Orson Welles was also horrible when he started making movies.
Reread for things to change — can’t find anything bad but unsure if anything’s good.
Decide I’m going to go to sleep.
Pack up everything in my hostel locker.
Lay on my twin size top bunk bed.
Ask Google if I can make movies outside of LA.
Watch the news cover the developing story about the US’s military intervention in the Middle East.
Recall that I haven’t talked to a person in real life all day, despite being in a hostel house of fifteen.
Remember that there are bigger problems than me.
Remember to write about them.
Wonder whether I should write about them on the blog or in a script.
Wonder if I am getting read.
Realize that I’m qualifying my writing about real problems like climate change, the economy, the military-industrial complex, institutional racism, women’s rights by whether anyone will read it.
Realize that I’m selfish.
Think that things would be better if I had a job.
Recognize I need a structural change in my life.
Wonder what that change is.
The room is so hot that I have to strip to my boxers.
Think the change is to move out of the hostel.
Remember that would cost more money than I’m spending.
Think all that matters is my craft. Life will be simple that way.
Remember devoting time to helping others is just as important.
And spending time with your friends.
Take solace in the fact that life is too difficult to find the answers for in your twenties.
I stayed at one of the homes of the Loriff Management developments in LA. If you want to know what $575 a month in rent looks like in West Hollywood, it’ll most likely involve 12-15 people sharing one bathroom. ↩
Tesla, the sustainable car for a non-fossil fuel dependent future. Available for anyone with $101, 500 in their pocket. ↩
While my friends were driving me around in Orange County, they played Death Grips. Nothing really sets the stage for your car being slammed onto the curb by a speeding car behind you like the first minute of Inanimate Sensation. ↩
Saleem Gondal is a writer based in New York. You can find more of his at work on his blog, themellowdramatist.
Erika Boudreau-Barbee started her training as a child in Oregon. After graduating with a BFA in Dance from the Tisch School of the Arts in 2013, Erika went on to produce new works in Germany and Spain, as well as performing in Ensemble Dance. For this interview, Thomas Baldwin sat down with Erika to talk about her residencies in Germany and Spain, the work that came out of them, and her artistic process.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Thomas Baldwin: So you studied at NYU for three years. Did you go to Berlin that summer?
Erika Boudreau-Barbee: In Summer 2013 I went to India. Not for art, just to go. I backpacked around Nepal and India for five weeks with my friend Jay, who graduated with me. We both said, "Let's go!" That was life changing. There was never another time in my life where I felt so many things at the same time. After that, I came back for a week to pick up a suitcase and then I went to Germany. It was quick! I was in Germany for three months.
Thomas: What do you think you got out of your trip to India? Anything that really stuck with you?
Erika: Things still resonate. We spent two weeks in the north and two weeks in the south and we joined up with a group, so we weren't all by ourselves.
Thomas: That's good. [laughs]
Erika: It definitely was. [laughs] Our guide was fantastic. He took us to tiny, tiny villages where you've never seen such poverty, and they've never seen white people. I think in Germany it influenced my work. It didn't later in Spain because India was so far removed at that point. Many of my thoughts were about poverty and about the women and color. You have to be incredibly present to travel through India. There is no way to be there and not be present. You would just disappear. In that respect it came through in my work, Start Over, with the paint that I did at the gallery in Berlin. Originally that idea was in born in New York, but then I went to India and it changed entirely.
Thomas: Those influences weren't obvious for me.
Erika: Right. Most of my work is like that. The things that go into making the final product are not are removed from the final product. Many of the phrases for I Bit the Dust were from poetry I had written and didn't relate at all to my concept. But then you manipulate them and you make it work with your idea. It's sort of strange. Then, of course, there are pieces that I do where I have an object, such as the work with the wooden frame [Dear Jayne]. There's an analogy of body frame and wood frame. That's it.
Thomas: Oh really? My interpretation was coming from an art historical background. What exactly was the audio track on Dear Jayne?
Erika: The audio was a YouTube video that I stripped and cut apart. Then, I added in a bunch of sounds of tools not original to the video.
Thomas: What was the video about?
Erika: It was about constructing a wooden frame. I just made it more destructive. I wanted to destroy the structure of the frame, of me and the frame.
Thomas: To me it looked more like canvas stretchers than a traditional frame. So I was looking at it sculpturally or painterly.
Erika: And I think that goes with it. I was comparing myself to a frame. I was trying to find ways I could fit in it to make a photo or to make a sculpture. It's very similar.
Thomas: I have very few reference points of dance, but it reminded me a lot of Yvonne Rainer and the work she did at Judson Memorial Church. She was dating Robert Morris at the time and a lot of the works they did at the time involved the dancers interacting with Morris's sculptures, which had human-proportioned dimensions. And the frame in your work is about a man's height. Especially later where you're stretched out on the floor, it looked painful.
Erika: [laughs] It was!
Thomas: That was serious commitment. It reminded me of Pollock's paintings and the idea of horizontal gesture as action. Did that influence you at all?
Erika: No, but I've actually used [Pollock] as a reference with another composer before. We had a couple composers we were working with on a project, and we asked them to make the music like a Pollock painting. He looked at me and was like, "What does that mean?"
Thomas: What did you like about living and working in Berlin?
Erika: It was strange because it was the first time I was out of school and I was like, "Whoa, I have to do this all myself!" I liked the opportunity that they gave. It was a lot of space and I created a lot of work there. I screwed around with film; I did whatever I felt like; I painted a lot; made some dance work, of course. The city itself is very free. But I don't speak German at all, so the people I talked to were people all our age. People would get frustrated at me if I didn't speak German, which was all the time. I liked the freedom and I got to travel. I went to Hamburg and I went to Dresden. I like Germany in general. The landscape is beautiful.
Thomas: How did you get connected to the residency?
Erika: I found it online and I applied. It was a lot smaller than the residency in Berlin. In Berlin there were about 12 people at a time, but this one had only five.
Thomas: Only five?
Erika: Well, when I got there, there were seven, because two were couples. When I left there were three. We were in a tiny beautiful house in the middle of nowhere.
Thomas: What was the institution that sponsored you?
Erika: There's a couple that runs the residency. The wife is from New York and her husband went to grad school at NYU, and he's from this small town in Spain, with only 3,500 people.
Thomas: That's it? Wow.
Erika: I think there were more people in my high school. But they moved back and they thought, hey, let's run a residency program here. I made a lot of friends with farmers. I would go out and help them in the fields. No one spoke English. Some of the kids, maybe 12 years old, could speak a little English, because they were learning it in school, but I met the English teacher at the school and she didn’t speak English! My Spanish got pretty good. I would talk to those farmers for hours. The couple took half of a convent. Half is still active and the other half is for studio space. That's where I did Posting and that's where I did From the top - the one where I'm hanging like Jesus.
Thomas: Did the nuns know about that?
Erika: No, it was a closed convent. They didn't come out to see. I liked the convent. It was a very peaceful place to work, unlike Berlin. You would go to the convent late at night and it would be just stars and silence. You could hear crickets. It was a little creepy. I was there for two months and I made a ton of work, because what else are you going to do?
Thomas: I was going to say it sounds like a good place to go and get shit done.
Erika: Exactly. You wake up and say, "What am I going to do today? I've got nothing to do except make art and drink wine."
Thomas: What should we talk about first regarding this residency? Do you want to talk about Posting?
Erika: Posting was just fun. I like to play on objects. This one was the only one I recorded. I just climbed up the ladder. The only goal that I had was to make a different shape each time.
Thomas: This one made me think - going back to Modernism – about Minimalist seriality and methodical process. You would go up on one post and then go up on the next post and so on.
Erika: I wanted it to be very patterned. It was just a task, and I make a lot of “just task” work.
Thomas: I noticed that in I Bit the Dust. There were movements in it that were task oriented. There was a part where you walked mid-stage and then walked back and forward, without any choreographed steps, and placing the clay?
Erika: Mineral dust. I work with a lot of unsafe materials. [laughs]
Thomas: When you threw it all down in the center and that cloud came up, I was so worried. I thought, "How much of this is she inhaling? Does she stop in the middle and hack up dust?"
Erika: I would rehearse with a mask on, but I didn't want to wear one in the show. For some reason, I want to perform this in a space here in NYC and make the audience wear masks. I think that sounds fun.
Thomas: You could probably find a warehouse in Bushwick to do it in. I'm sure.
Erika: It's fun to talk with you, because you have so much other knowledge. When I talk to some of my other friends they say "oh that's cool," but they can't articulate. You actually know art.
Thomas: But you realize that I've actually shied away from speaking formalistically about dance, because I have no understanding of formal content in dance. That's why if we talk about Tolerance, well, it's completely different from your other work.
Erika: It's concept-based. It didn't start out that way.
Thomas: People were so polite in the video, braking their cars. They probably saw the video camera.
Erika: There were people in the house next door and they said they wanted some beer, too. This idea came about late at night at the convent. I wanted to do things they don't like there. I would fill up a glass of wine and take off an article of clothing, and fill up a glass of wine and take off an article of clothing.
Thomas: You were intentionally antagonistic?
Erika: Yeah. [laughs] For some reason that idea is how Tolerance started. I know it seems far from that point, but I would change one thing about it and another thing would change, and it would switch and grow and it became this, which is much clearer and direct. It had a point. My friend in the video, Juan, was an intern at the residency. He was a nice guy. We sat there for two hours, which went by very quickly. My original idea was that we would just sit and not speak, but the more beers you drink… we would start cracking up, which was incredibly inappropriate. I wanted to continue it as a series. I just did it with my friend at Union Square Park during the protests regarding the Eric Garner decision. It only lasted an hour, because there were so many tweets coming in. We couldn’t do it anymore, we ran out of beer! It was fun, but it's harder to do here since we have laws that you are not allowed to drink in a park. We hid our drink in a McDonald's cup. You can look at it so many different ways. Some of my friends who saw Tolerance were totally disgusted by it, which was perfectly fine and acceptable. The other half got it.
Thomas: One thing I wasn't sure you thought of was the relationship of news consumption and alcohol consumption. The German word rausch means drunk or intoxicated, but it also means inability to take everything in, to be overwhelmed. I thought there might be a relation between the amount of information coming in and the inability to process it and the feeling of being intoxicated. Being overfull of alcohol or devastating information. I liked how simple it was and I thought it sent a good message.
Erika: That's all it needed. It didn't need anything else, but that.
Thomas: How many did you drink in two hours?
Erika: Five, I think.
Thomas: That's not so bad
Erika: You would think, except we were chugging it. For the first half-hour we had only one, and then the tweets started coming in. The timing was not right. When we did the one in Union Square, we had five in an hour; they were coming in that quickly.
Thomas: You've got to pick your topics more carefully!
Erika: Well, that's the news part of it. It's the top story of social media at the time of intolerance. So when it switches, then I'll do another one. This one was overwhelming, so I had to do it.
Thomas: Chronologically after that, did you do I Bit the Dust or From the top?
Erika: I Bit the Dust. I worked on these at the same time, because I had to paint the backdrop for From the top. It took some time so I would go work and dance and then I'd go paint a little.
Thomas: You were suspending yourself by your arms and your waist, and the noose around your neck was just for show?
Erika: There was no noose around my neck. It's around my shoulders. That would be really intense. When I rigged it the first time, I was just hanging by my shoulders and my wrists. The guy who ran the program said, "No, we're putting a harness on you," which was funny, because the harness was tied to the same rope. It didn't make it any more safe. It made it more comfortable, so I didn't mind. I was only up there for a couple of minutes and I got the worst cuts.
Thomas: Who threw the balloons at you? Random passersby or people in the program?
Erika: People that came to the event.
Thomas: Did you choose wine for the balloons because of the convent or a connection to the Eucharist?
Erika: I chose wine because of the blood of Christ, and black balloons for sin and death. Everything was symbolic. This was the piece I proposed and was accepted into the program for. The other stuff I did for fun.
Thomas: You’re pretty high up there. That is not a low wall!
Erika: I'm about five feet up.
Thomas: What were you trying to convey? Did you feel that you were successful?
Erika: Well, I thought it was successful for an experiment. I didn't know how people were going to react; I don't know what people are thinking. The balloons were supposed to pop when they hit the rock wall, but they didn't. When I tested it I filled it with water, but when I filled it with wine, I blew up the balloon a little. I threw it against a tree and it popped fine. When it came time for the show, they wouldn't pop. I loved that, though! It made it another game. I like irony in my work, and you can find some in all my work. Kids came and were throwing them as hard as they can. My sister came and she ripped her balloon with her teeth and then threw it at me. All the other people caught on and followed, but the kids kept trying to get their balloons to pop on the wall. I think it was successful, because it was unpredictable. I think it went better than I expected. You can see here what I was anchored to.
Thomas: A burning barrel full of rocks?
Erika: [laughs] I was thinking, "How am I going to do this?" We tied a rope around an iron rod, put the rod in the barrel and threw rocks and sand in the barrel. The rope that held my arm was supported by just a nail. What was cool was that people saw the rigging as they walked in. They probably didn't realize what it was as they came in, but when they left they probably saw it and thought, "That girl is psycho!"
Thomas: And there was a ladder to get you up and down?
Erika: Yeah. I climbed the ladder, tied myself up and in and someone came and removed the ladder.
Thomas: That's intense. When you were up there did you talk or were you silent?
Erika: I was silent, until a kid hit me in the face. I laughed a little, which was fine. That was the weird thing. The more I do performances, I learn that it is ok to react. In performance, it's part of the work. In dance you cannot react. You fall on your butt, you get up and start dancing again. I much prefer performance for that, because I'm a person, not a robot. I was just letting it happen.
Thomas: How do you think From the top relates to I Bit the Dust? Do you think they relate?
Erika: In my mind they were totally separate, but I do find a lot of similarities between them. I find more similarities between the piece I did in Berlin [Residual] and I Bit the Dust. They are both very primitive. So is Sun Salutation. I was thinking, "Let's go back. Man is made from dust." Most of the material for I Bit the Dust came from an improv. I spent a lot of time doing improv, and I would record my improvs. I would look back and think, "That moment worked. That moment could be expanded upon. What are you doing?" [laughs] Usually I would keep those. And I also added lots of task-based movement. The tasks in the improv were very sense-based. That’s where putting the dust on my face and smelling it came from. I did not lick it, because it is mineral dust. Most of the improv work would be the in-between stuff that's more dance-like.
Thomas: There's a dance move in there that looks like breaking character.
Erika: Those are the only parts that really came with sound. I would play the chorus of Queen's “Another One Bites The Dust.” For the soundtrack I used Cliff Martinez.
Thomas: Like the Drive soundtrack?
Erika: I used everything of his but the Drive soundtrack. It's too well-known now. Some of his earlier works are really wonderful. I stripped his tracks, added sound to some of them, and put the Queen chorus into it.
Thomas: I thought your dance looked like pop when Queen came on.
Erika: I was grooving! It's a switch, because it's a dramatic shift in music. It was the only time I was in sync with the music.
Thomas: I thought that, when the piece reached its climax, your movements became more in rhythm with the music. Especially with that mousey step where your hands are in front and you’re making many little steps on your tiptoes. That one point seemed in rhythm. Were you introducing that step earlier in the piece to set up a motif that would make sense later on in the piece?
Erika: With most of the movements I create them separately. I put them together and I practice and I see where the happy accidents are. I see what worked well, what I’ll keep, what I’ll switch. At the end where there is a climax and it is more light-hearted, that should all come together. I like when my work is contradictory and it doesn't make sense when I'm doing it and they merge later on. I'll do several movements where movements won’t make sense the first four times you see it, but the fifth time it does. Or that time where it makes sense will be in the middle sometimes. Generally speaking, movements are created before their order is determined. I record and look back and figure out the order afterwards.
Thomas: Especially towards the beginning of I Bit the Dust, where you had the windmill movement of your arms and your hands, it reminded me a lot of Merce Cunningham. The Brooklyn Museum has a video from the early 80's of him dancing in front of a green screen, a new technology at that time. He's doing a fairly stationary dance with a lot of those small hand movements, while the green screen behind him shows the ocean, the road. To us it looks dated to us, but it must've been innovative at the time.
Erika: He did a lot of work with chance, which I appreciate, but at the same time I don't. I like chance and I improv frequently.
Thomas: But it seems that chance is not a part of your choreography.
Erika: I find that I make better work when I make the decisions. I think people need to know that a work was made using chance in order to appreciate its role in the choreography. I saw a piece by him at BAM recently and one piece was all chance. The piece, the costumes, the set, all decided by chance. But what if you made a choice? Would it have been better? I have a weird relationship with chance. When I did Sun Salutation I didn't plan where I went. I didn't have a solid plan. So I guess chance goes both ways. But I make choices, and sometimes those choices take months to make. I Bit the Dust took a few weeks to make. I did it in August.
Thomas: Where are you in this piece?
Erika: I'm in an empty room at the convent. I don't know what it was used for in the past, but the roof is beautiful, all wood. There is a lot of space to perform there. When I showed it at our show, I had I Bit the Dust playing on a small TV in that room, but I blasted the music so that it was overwhelming when you approached it. The piece that I submitted for my upcoming second residency in Berlin will be crated similarly to I Bit the Dust, where the music will not correspond with the movement. I'm using a lot of text, such as projecting text on my body... I keep a journal and I write and record my influences. The ideas spark at random. Some manifest quickly and some take some time to be sure that they're something that I want to be seen.
You can find more of Erika Boudrea-Barbee's work on her website.
As soon as I came home from the first day of my very first full time job, my mom wanted to know all the details of my day. It was pretty boring. Paperwork, introductions to people whose names it would take me at least a month to remember, and most fun of all TSA training (zero percent of which I’ve used as of writing this). At dinner, I mentioned, “How’s Alec? I haven’t seen him.” My mom’s face went from smiling to dread immediately. My mom and I are both worrywarts, so I’ve seen her express worry plenty of times, but it wasn’t worry in her eyes. She was afraid. “He’s not doing too well, “ she said slowly. This was not very surprising to me. Alec is the oldest of our family’s cats. At fourteen his health was declining and he spent most of the day sitting on my parent’s bed or in their rocking chair. He wasn’t taking care of himself like he used to either. His hair had become matted and dirty since he stopped grooming himself, but he had the softest fur of any cat I ever owned.
My dad explained from the other side of the table that Alec had really taken a dive earlier that week, after I had left. He had been hiding out in the basement and no one had seen him. They only knew he was still alive because they could hear him wheezing and coughing. It was only a couple of minutes after that that we heard a thumping coming from the basement steps a few feet away from the dinner table. It was Alec, dragging himself up the steps and across the floor to me, wheezing and coughing like I had never heard before. He was unkempt and looked like a ratty bird in the middle of molting. He stopped right next to my chair, his eyes unfocused and looking straight ahead. When I finished eating, I stayed at the table to pet Alec. My mother stayed in the kitchen too, watching Alec like I was. When we looked up at each other her eyes were wet.
“He waited for you. He waited for you to come home.” I replied, “I don’t know,” but I was thinking the exact same thing. I assumed he heard my voice and came upstairs. We had always said that Alec was my cat. He came and sat with me whenever I was home, pushing his paws on my belly before finally laying down and allowing me to pet him. And he responded when I called him with a short meow or a look in my direction. Before Alec, there was Jasmine, who was my sister’s cat (she was the only one that liked Jasmine) and Russell was undeniably a Momma’s boy, following my mother around and tracking her every move. But Alec was mine. I loved the spark behind his eyes and his intelligence. When he was just a baby he would play a game my mother called “pay the toll, kiss the troll.” He would sit at the top of the basement steps and wait until Jasmine would come to the door to go down to eat or use the litter box. He would stand and the door and refuse to let her down until she would boop noses with him or smack him in the head and dash past. Either way, he got the attention he wanted.
We stayed in the kitchen and pet Alec for what must have been an hour. We weren’t sure what to do, since he seemed too exhausted to move. We took a clothes basket and put several blankets in the bottom, making a nest for Alec to sleep in. My mother took the basket and Alec to her room and I went to mine. I was nearly asleep when I heard thumping outside my door. Then I heard a raspy breath. I opened the door and saw Alec, lying there on his side, breathing heavily. He had gotten out of the basket and come to my room. As soon as I opened the door, he leaped up and ran under my bed.
I was terrified. The fact that he came to my room, on the other end of the house and the remarkable speed he suddenly had to dash under my bed were both a shock. But I felt another fear, a fear more akin to that I saw in my mother’s eyes earlier. I felt dread about what appeared to be Alec’s imminent death and with the devotion he showed to me. I felt guilty. Why hadn’t I insisted that we take him to a vet when he was getting sicker? Telling myself that he was just a cat made me feel worse. This isn’t the type of devotion you receive from a cat. From a dog maybe, from a human if you’re lucky. But aren’t cats supposed to be removed and distant? How do you repay the dying showing such love in their last moments?
I went to sleep hoping that Alec would still be alive when I woke up. The first thing I did was check under the bed. He was gone and I didn’t hear him breathing. I looked around the room and I saw him sprawled out underneath my desk chair. Motionless. Instead of the soft, fluffy cat that I had loved, he was utterly grotesque in death. His fur was clumpy and dirty, and he died slumped over a bar that connected the back legs of my desk chair, giving his spine an unnatural curve. I wondered whether he lay over the bar to try to make it easier for him to breathe, or if he did it to suffocate himself. We buried him in a shoebox in the backyard that afternoon, putting a large stone over the hole to mark his burial and to keep foxes from digging up his body.
The timing of Alec’s death – at the beginning of my first job after school – was too apt. I feel that it marked the end of my childhood. I’ve had family members die before, but it was always in another state or I had arrived only for the funeral, avoiding the agonizing hours in hospitals seeing if they would recover, or the anxiety of suddenly having to plan a funeral. With Alec, I was present, watching, and experiencing that very human helplessness in the face of death.