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To sing of the “body literate”

Bex Kwan ’14, an associate of Dudley House concentrating in Performance Studies, is awarded a Fellowship to apprentice with Room 404 Media, a pioneer of intermedia in theater, and attend the Urban Bush Women Summer Leadership Institute. Kwan will be studying projection design in performance with Room 404 Media, and explore issues of race, identity, class and the implications of these topics for artists at UBWSLI attending workshops and classes led by guest artist Liz Lerman, founding Artistic Director of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. Bex has presented work at Harvard’s Arts @ 29 Garden and was involved as a Projection Designer for the April 2012 produciton of The Graveyard Book at Farkas Hall. After graduation, Kwan plans to work as an artist in New York City.

It’s been difficult to write about my experience this summer. I feel full: full of information, ideas, thoughts and feelings, and I haven’t been sure how to process it. I would really love to share a little about whom I’ve met and what I’ve been doing, as well as a couple of things that I’ve been thinking on.

Urban Bush Women Summer Leadership Institute

From May to July, I was learning my way around projection design with a new company Imaginary Media. All of the meetings we had in a dining room in Brooklyn opened my eyes to the business of art, which is much more complicated than I could have ever imagined. These folks work armfuls of shows at a time, all over the world, and are constantly asked to do more than their time will allow. I remember sitting at the table as they were recommending other designers for jobs they couldn’t take and thinking, this is literally ‘the importance of making connections’ right here in front of me. I was exposed to exciting new technology (including figuring out video game software) and got to ask a question a minute. “What does this connect to?” “Which system does that run under?” And most often: “How did you do that???” Being confused never felt so good.

Apart from learning about technology, I also found myself discovering insights about the projection design scene in New York City, and about myself. Being the only person of color on the team while designing a number of shows that dealt with racism was challenging for me. I found myself wondering how my personal scales of having work to do and believing in what I was doing were balancing out, and then struggling with how I would confront a situation that wasn’t working for me.

Urban Bush Women Summer Leadership Institute in New Orleans

Then, in the middle of July, I left the city for New Orleans and the Urban Bush Women Summer Leadership Institute. The institute lasted 10 days and pushed me physically, emotionally, artistically and spiritually. Fellow artists and activists made me critically consider racism and community organizing including the guest artist Liz Lerman, who is someone that I am privileged to consider a mentor. What struck me the most was that I had never before been in a space where bodies were so valued. At the SLI, our bodies were the instruments through which information was processed, and I felt like everyone was genuinely body-literate. I was challenged to be articulate and intentional, qualities that I had always considered with my words but never with my body. It is something that I am keeping with me and will continue to push myself to be.

I am really grateful for being an Artist Development Fellow this year, and for all the ideas and information that I am still processing. My final thoughts for this post are about the community of artists and activists that I consider myself a part of.

Before the SLI ended, another participant shared with me her wish that we move away from competition with each other, and that really moved me. I want to find ways that I can better support other student artists and look for opportunities for us to come together. We are not in competition. We are in community.

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