Following is a conversation between curator, Peter Taub, and artist, Carole McCurdy. Her work Five Stud Stud takes place as part of Pivot Arts’ Charged Spaces/Changing Bodies performance Oct. 11-14.
PT: Carole, for the Pivot Arts program of Charged Spaces/Changing Bodies you’re performing your newest piece Five Stud Stud. I’m struck by the charged political, racial and personal concerns you’re addressing. How have you developed this work?
CM: It has developed for me on a few levels. The piece involves inflatable punching bags, and at first I sparred with just one. I was working through questions about my own internalized aggression, but with a mounting uncomfortable and sharp awareness of how violence is resonating so clearly in our lives and communities at the current moment. My attempt to intervene and protect during a violent racist incident in my own community of neighbors last year compounded this awareness. As the performance piece developed, I added more punching bags, filled them with air, costumed them and cared for them. It made me feel their vulnerability acutely—I am implicated in both violence and the desire to protect. How do we balance the deep need to share space with the need to protect personal space? All of this feels like a large sore spot in the culture — I began opening up Five Stud Stud to include an invitation to the audience to participate because it feels like this is an opportunity to explore these questions in a shared and physical way.
PT: You and the other artists of Charged Spaces/Changing Bodies are staging works in historic buildings, exploring conditions of confinement and liberation. What are your attractions in your setting of the Lawrence House? And how are you drawing audience members into this dynamic?
CM: As a setting for this piece, the boxing ring at Lawrence House realizes the metaphor of contested space. Putting the punching bags—stand-ins for the human body, for the other—directly in the ring highlights their vulnerability further. As complicit witnesses, audience members too will be implicated in the desire to fight, the desire to protect. And the piece involves an invitation to the audience to interact with the punching bags directly: How will they respond? With punches? With an embrace? With no prizes to be awarded, what is it that we’re fighting for?
PT: I love that you have such a diverse background in writing, as well as a deep knowledge of the expressive body built upon your studies with masters of butoh, counterbalanced by your love of Argentine tango. Can you speak about your influences, and whom you’re bringing along as silent partners in your current explorations?
CM: Engaging with this piece feels like the flipside of my long devotion to the social dance of Argentine tango, which is about two bodies cooperating to make one beautiful thing—indeed a whole room of people cooperating to move counterclockwise around the floor together. To work with embodiment about opposition, struggle, and defense is new and uncomfortable territory for me, but I’m finding some beauty here too, along with the absurdity in my utter lack of training. A punch is not something that comes easy! For decades I haven’t followed boxing as a sport, but my childhood sports idol was Muhammad Ali, who was a choreographer in the ring and an inspirational fighter outside it. His bromance with sportscaster Howard Cosell was something emblematic in those days. I’ve been remembering them a lot lately, the social-dance theatrics between them.
PT: Thanks so much, Carole, for sharing your thoughts with us. It’s really great to learn more about your personal points of connection.
Five Stud Stud takes place as part of a series of site-specific performances, Charged Spaces/Changing Bodies, presented by Pivot Arts October 11-14, 2018. For information and reservations visit pivotarts.org/events.
Carole McCurdy is a Chicago-based artist whose performance work addresses grief and anxiety, duty and resistance and the absurd mysteries of embodiment. She received a 2016 Lab Artist award from the Chicago Dancemakers Forum and was a fall 2016 Sponsored Artist at High Concept Laboratories. She created and directed an ensemble piece, Waver, with support from CDF, HCL and 3Arts Chicago. Her practices include Butoh and Argentine tango and she has performed at spaces including the Chicago Cultural Center, Epiphany Dance, Links Hall, Hamlin Park, High Concept Laboratories, Defibrillator Gallery and Movement Research (NY).
Peter Taub is the co-curator of Charged Spaces/Changing Bodies and a curator and arts manager with over 30 years of experience in developing and producing artist-centered projects. Based in Chicago, his current curatorial projects include curating Elevate Chicago Dance (October 2018 and October 2017), a festival with more than 40 choreographers and site-specific performances with Matty Davis/Ben Gould (June 2018) and Pivot Arts (October 2018). Last year, Taub curated a performance series during the Venice Biennial for V-A-C Foundation inspired by the centenary of the Russian Revolution. Taub was the founding director of the performing arts program at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago from 1996 – 2016 and developed the program into a leading presenter and producer of multidisciplinary dance, theater and music. While there he established the MCA Stage New Works Initiative to support artists with creative residencies and commissions. He co-founded the Chicago Dancemakers Forum (CDF) to support artistic exploration and growth with funding and mentorship, and it is now the largest source of new dance development in the region.
Photo of Carol McCurdy above by Sam Chao.