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In Performance

In Performance: Will Rawls, I make me [sic]

I make me [sic]
Will Rawls
at PICA as part of TBA:17
September 8 & 9, 2017

Space. A blinking cursor in a blank document projected on the wall. A garment rack. A balloon resembling one of Andy Warhol’s silver clouds. An imposing wall of letters and symbols organized into a kind of hybrid, linguistic-pictorial QWERTY keyboard. A strip of white marley stretching across two walls of the room, interrupted by a small gap.

Text. “Introductions.” Alphabetical lists: Abramovic, answers, auction. Brown (Trisha), black, bleach blond, bland. Cursor, currere (to run). Personal histories emerge out of these lists. Growing up in an Amway household. Adolescent sexual awakening by way of Greek statuary. Adventures as an extra in a Will Smith zombie film.

Movement. Circles, recurring again and again, in the body and in the manipulation of objects onstage. Running, the movement isolated and lit in such a way that it seems localized almost exclusively in a pair of white-soled sneakers. A cycle of poses drawn from popular culture, religious iconography, classical form, the news. A comically excruciating “vomit dance.”

These lists are an attempt to give some sense of the structure, at once dense and diffuse, of Will Rawls’s solo choreography I make me [sic], performed at PICA as two three-hour installations. (Rawls adapts the work each time he performs it, for different spaces and different durations.) The piece appears to be composed of discrete units, but in performance their edges are blurred. Lecture bleeds into dance bleeds into object performance. Text is in conversation with movement that we saw hours earlier, and vice versa. Subjectivity becomes spatialized, as an action performed in one part of the room carries with it the weight of what has previously occurred in that spot—perhaps a material trace of that earlier action may still be lingering. Questions, references, and memories accumulate, circle each other, and double back on themselves.

In its construction and content, the piece plays on the word “corpus” and its diverse meanings: a physical body, a textual database, an author’s body of work. Rawls collapses the distance between these definitions. Can the body itself serve as an archive, a database of history both personal and sociocultural? What does it mean to author oneself, and what experiences can we claim as our own? The performance poses the question of “what is and isn’t ours” within a number of systems: racial history, artistic legacy, sexual identity. As he proceeds through his personalized, nonlinear alphabet, Rawls is interested as much in what is not stored in the corpus as what is. The performance is filled with lacunae: the letters he never gets to in the spoken lists, the illegible symbols and splashes of color that replace certain letters on the QWERTY keyboard, that gap in the white marley on the floor (which he consistently hops over, rather than walking through). Some places in our interior geography are unmappable. These internal spaces change as we move through the various frameworks that inform who we are, just as the performance itself responds to the different circumstances of each showing. I make me [sic] performs a life as a work perpetually in progress. We are both author and cursor.

Photo by Charles Roussel

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