About the publication
Bessie-award winning collaborative, a canary torsi, reimagines performance for an era of social distance. Delivered in the mail as a series of printed booklets or digitally as a PDF, Last Audience transforms audience members into performers in their own homes, guided by the artists’ voices through rituals of mercy, judgment, communion and blessing. As participants stage their own interpretation of the artwork, they become both witness and creator, giver and receiver in an at-home performance of reckoning and transformation.
Who are we when we’re in a community? How do we assemble in today’s faltering democracy? What is our responsibility to judge, liberate, and have mercy on others? How do we move and make choices as a group, separated by physical and cultural distance? How can we reimagine the intimacy of theater for a new future?
Last Audience is a live, at-home laboratory for communal conjuring created by the Bessie-award winning collaborative, a canary torsi. Originally premiered as a performance embodied by its audience in 2019, it is now a visually arresting artist's book where the machinations of the work are laid bare. Last Audience places theater in the hands of the audience—as both witnesses and performers—and expands it back to an earlier form, gathered around the hearth.
Each audience member receives a set of printed manuals containing 28 performance scores via mail or a downloadable PDF. The instructional scores invite the audience member to interpret, recreate, and enact the performance. Last Audience comes straight to the recipient, and happens anywhere and anytime they want, punctuated with chances to connect in real-time with the artists and fellow audience members in virtual space. The audience becomes the assembly, the performers, the set and sound designer, and the director in a ritual of mercy, judgment, blessing, communion, transformation, and democracy.
Drawing on iconic images in US history, theater’s ancient roots in Greek tragedy, and the structure of a requiem mass, these scores are, in artist Yanira Castro’s words, “a manual for collective imagination on reckoning.” Last Audience pushes us to create our world anew, together, in a time of upheaval. The scores specify movement, text, sound, and scenic elements, as well as a recipe, but can be arranged in any order. Do some or all of them at home, outdoors, alone, or with family and friends. Exactly how, where, when, and who takes part in Last Audience is for the audience members to imagine.
This Last Audience is much bigger than any one of its participants. It invites audience members to connect with their fellow performers by sharing images of their performances through an online archive, and in two virtual gatherings hosted by the creative team behind the project, Yanira Castro, Kathy Couch, Stephan Moore, Leslie Cuyjet, devynn emory, and David Thomson. The online archive for the project is available at lastaudience.com.
The first event was held on October 24, 2020 featured a thought-provoking conversation about how rituals of judgement and reckoning shape our society and collective future with Marshall Hatch Jr, Executive Director of the MAAFA Redemption Project, an organization that works with young men in Chicago’s West Garfield Park neighborhood. The second, held on December 13, 2020 again featured Jorge Felix, Chicago-based community curator and artist, in a demonstration and shared ritual of cooking sofrito, the base sauce used in one of Castro's family recipes, Arroz con gandules.
[Swelling tonal music]
MODERATOR: Thank you for gathering and being here with us today. We would like to take a moment to acknowledge the deep-rooted and thick entanglements that bind us to one another. You may all be in your separate spaces, but we share a common history. This history is what our conversation today centers. It centers difficult themes of judgment, reckoning, redemption. We are all on unceded, stolen ground.
We are all inheritors of slavery and patriarchy. It is our communal heritage. Performance, likewise, is a communal act, a complicit gathering to site, excavate, dismantle, and rebuild what binds. We invite you to take a moment to remember the past. To be here for the present and to call for a future that binds us with care.
We are going to start our evening together with an invitation and perform a score from \ _Last Audience: a performance manual_. We invite you to do this score with your video off and your mic muted. It is a score for you to follow together in your own individual spaces. The score is called "Dust." Please take a moment to sit a bit away, but with a direct view of your screen. You will want to have space around you.
We are going to do a series of gestures together. Modify, add, reimagine any movement or gesture for your own body, energy, state. This is for you—and all of us.
[Music fades, rainfall]
In a minute or two, you will hear a voice offering you text in your ear. Please repeat each line out loud. I'm going to be offering you gestures directly across from you. I ask that you repeat these with me. You are welcome to add any additional movement. I'll be right here with you.
It is a day of wrath. Of mourning. It rends my shirt. Scratches my chest. Rips my hair. Pounds the cement with my fists. Raises my face up. Splits my lip.
Say this next part between clenched teeth: There is an unforgiven, an energy to accuse. The stories pile up. It is easy work. Bodies over there. Poof. Bodies over there. Ah. The bodies are lodged in your spleen. In my gallbladder. Squiggly wiggly. Squiggly wiggly. Squiggly wiggly. Say these next words as if you are making a proclamation: Cross. Part. Divide. Cross. Part. Divide. Cross. Part. Divide. Sky and magma.
Speak these words in a seductive tone: Look at the contortions. On this side, leg, wrapped around neck. Knees at ears. Head at crotch. Pointer. Ass. Say these words in a questioning manner: On this side, all grace. Palms. Upturned. Deserving. Pointer fingers. This side hot, this side cold. Light in the middle. Jump! Jump!
Start crying. As you cry, repeat these words: Fall to knees. Clasp hands. Appear. Fall to knees. Clasp hands. Appear. Fall to knees. Clasp hands. Appear. Fall to knees. Clasp hands. Appear. Fall to knees. Clasp hands. Appear. We all pile on avenging. Cape. Mask. And arrow. Cape. Mask. Shield. Spear. Arrow. Orb. And the pleasures of confession. And the sense discarded to reparation. Crying is an ecstasy none can afford.
Sing, choir! Ahhhh![Reverberating music echoes]
Sing, choir! Ahhhh! [Music continues to echo]
We are as contrite as dust. We are as contrite as dust. We are as contrite as dust. [Shrill tone begins, then fades]
[Ambient music continues, then fades]
TARA AISHA WILLIS: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for being here. My name is Tara Aisha Willis, I am Associate Curator in Performance and Public Practice at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. I am a Black, interracial woman with light skin, tortoise-shell glasses, and my hair is in a curly puff on top of my head, and I have a wall of artwork behind me and dangly earrings on. I'm going to ask, as a few different folks to come onto the screen shortly, each of them to self-describe themselves briefly as I just did for the live captioning.
So just wanted to ask you all, after that really special experience of that score from _Last Audience_, to share in the chat anything that you felt or anything that you experienced. And it could be a word, it could be a phrase, a sentence—anything emotionally that came up, anything sensory-wise that came up. I just wanted to hear from you all after doing that score along with the artists.
[reading comments] "Breath." Yes. Anyone else?
"I loved listening to the words and trying to follow along with them while gesturing and following the visuals at the same time." Yeah, "contrition," "vibration," I love this. "Incantation," "peaceful," "out-of-body," which is so interesting when it's also a very physical thing to follow gestures. Yeah—"mesmerized," "slowness," "connected," yeah, beautiful. So one of the things, "Why overalls and a door?" Yes—and "the line that 'crying is an ecstasy that none can afford' from it."
So yes, one of the things that is beautiful about this project _Last Audience_ is that it is something that can be interpreted by each person who takes it on, the artists of a canary torsi have created a set of 28 scores, and they can be used by you when you receive them, we'll give you, you know, we just gave you access to one and of course we'll give you another one by the end of this event, but if you should decide—if haven't already—to get the full manual, you know, you get something at home that is yours. Whether it's the PDF or the hard copy of this beautiful thing, but the idea is really about how we can all do these creations of these artists on our own, in our own way and on our own time. And that was such an important thing to work with them on over the course of this last several months of being in COVID and in the uprisings and in the pressures around the election, to really turn performance on its head in a way
and to take it back to the homes, you know, not asking you all to come to the theater, but what does it mean to give the audience the instructions. And this was a project that originally led the audience, as the performers on stage, through an experience. But in this book version of it, the artists have really taken away the mystery of that experience and put it in your hands. So I hope that just hearing some of the words that other people were popping up in the chat, gives you that sense of how distinct it can be for each of us.
And I just want to be clear that this event is not the performance. The performance is what you do with the manual when you get it. The performance is how you interact with that scores, how you adapt them with your friends or family, or by yourself when you do them. And this event, as well as the one in December, if you end up getting the whole score booklet, you will get access to that.
This event is really a chance to connect around all of those possibilities that live in these performances you can do at home. So you will get a taste today and, you know, what we really wanted to give you a sense of was the questions that a canary torsi, as a collective, has been asking is, "What is at the heart of a performance?" "What is at the heart of an audience?" And "What is at the heart of action and choice?" What we when we are given instructions, and those are really big questions right now, because we have been given instructions over the last several months and we all have really different relationships to what that means and what the ramifications of those instructions are for the people around us. And another thing a canary torsi has really thought through the history and the root of theater and ritual and this idea of sharing something transformative around the hearth at home, not necessarily in a theater itself.
So, you know, in this moment, and knowing that this event, this sort of opening kickoff moment would happen in the weeks right before the election, we really—my colleague, Assistant Curator at MCA, Gibran Villalobos, who is here as well—we had some great conversations about the meaning of doing a project like this that grapples with reckoning, as the artist mentioned in the beginning, that grapples with judgment, blessing, and gathering, and what those choices mean that we take in performance.
What does it mean to do that around this time? During this pressurized moment that we are in. Gibran, why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself.
GIBRAN VILLALOBOS: Thanks, Tara, my name is Gibran. As Tara said, I am Assistant Curator here at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. I am a Latino man, a brown man, dark hair, wearing glasses with a blue shirt. And behind me you see a bookcase with a sculpture and a painting of a face. Thanks for the introduction, Tara, I'm so excited to join the conversation that we'll have today, because I think a lot of what you mentioned and a lot of what I'm thinking around Yanira's project is, indeed, how we make these rules for ourselves. How we interpret them and one of the leading questions that we'll deal with today is how we will reckon with this history in the next coming months, and potentially years. So thanks for that.
TARA: Yeah, and so in doing that, we really wanted to—we'll bring up our two speakers for this conversation in a second, but we really wanted to sort of expand, not just to create this event as a way to give you a sense of the project and for those that haven't decide to get the manuals, you will decide to do it and find out more, but also for those of you that have decided to get them to get a sense of what the artist's intentions are and the ideas behind it.
Instead of just having a conversation about the project itself, we wanted to expand that and really take up some of the themes and think about it in terms of, you know, some of the actions that people are taking outside of the arts and in relationship with the arts. And in Chicago, specifically. So, we have invited a guest speaker along with the wonderful Yanira Castro, who is the lead artist in a canary torsi.
To give you a sense, we will talk with the two of them and introduce both of them in a second, for about 30 minutes, and then the artists of a canary torsi will guide us through the introduction to that second score I mentioned, which will be shared as a PDF in the chat as well so you can go ahead and do it on your own time—or right after this if are you super excited. And then, just so you know, the artist will stick around after that final score experience together to answer some questions about the manuals if anyone has more practical questions or wants to ask the artist something specific about the project.
So as we have this first conversation, please put your questions and thoughts in the chat while we talk, and we'll try to incorporate them as Gibran and I moderate, but without further ado, we will read quick bios of the two of them, of our two speakers today. And thank you so much for having this conversation and listening on this conversation with these amazing folks. It's going to be very special.
Yanira Castro, who is the lead artist of a canary torsi, is a Puerto Rican artist based in Brooklyn, in 2009 she formed the interdisciplinary collaborative group a canary torsi, an anagram of her name. Its work borrows from dance, performance, theater, and visual art, often utilizing interactive technology to form hybrid projects. The work focuses on the significance of gathering and watching. The historical, political, and social resonances of the act of being present together in performance and investigating the encounter of public bodies, the event and the audience. In the work, Castro negotiates complexities of sources, authorship, and practice with a team of collaborators—including the audience—to build as a communal act.
YANIRA CASTRO: Thank you so much, everyone for being present and thank you, Tara for that introduction, I'm so happy to be here.
GIBRAN: I would love to introduce Marshall Hatch, Jr., he is the executive director of the MAAFA Redemption Project. The MAAFA Redemption Project is a faith-based initiative in West Garfield Park here in Chicago that recruits adult men and invests in them with housing, employment, and educational opportunities. The Redemption Project lasts nine months and it aims to create an oasis of opportunity for young men who need a second chance. The young men live on campus with the New Mount Pilgrim Church and the Pilgrim Development Corporation in West Garfield Park along with many community stakeholders. They also participate in rigorous courses that deal with economics and financial literacy, identity, and purpose development. So please, I would love to welcome Marshall Hatch, Jr.
MARSHALL HATCH, JR.: Thanks, it is a pleasure to share this space with you, I'm a 32-year-old African American male, dark rich skin, brown glasses, gray turtleneck, and I sit here in the space of the Old Saint Mel-Holy Ghost Parish in the West side of Chicago, which is the new home of the New Mount Pilgrim Church, and behind me is one of three 25-foot stained glass windows.
YANIRA CASTRO: Should I introduce myself, too? Sorry to forgot to do that. So hi, everybody, she/her, I'm in Lenapehoking, also known as Brooklyn, New York, and I am a light-skinned Puerto Rican woman with long white hair, which today I've got up in a bun. I'm wearing a denim top, long sleeved, and I have a necklace that says "vote, vote, vote" because today is the first day of voting here in New York, so go do it if you're in in New York City and again, so happy to be here.
TARA AISHA: So you know, this seems on the surface in some ways like an odd pairing for a conversation, but when Gibran and I talked about this project, he sort of immediately thought of you, Marshall, and thought it would be a really amazing place to start. To sort of put this project in the context of the bigger conversations that are happening right now, and some of the reasons for that are because the piece, the manuals are grounded in, you know, some theological references and some symbolic references, but also because of this idea of reckoning and judgment and, you know, the Redemption Project has a really specific relationship to some of those concepts and what they actually mean for people on the ground. So I want to start with the word "reckoning" and ask you both, how does that word, how do you interpret that word or connect with it in your work at this particular moment that we are living through in the United States?
MARSHALL: Sure, thanks for the question, again I sit in a space that is traditionally Catholic with traditionally Eurocentric art and over the years, New Mount Pilgrim Church, which is a predominantly Black Baptist church in West Garfield Park, has tried to make this space our own. And so at the turn of the century in 2000, we installed the MAAFA remembrance window. Maafa is Kiswahili for "the great disaster" or "the great calamity," and traditionally it has been used to talk about the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, also known as the middle passage.
And in fact the window depicts a Black man whose body, whose torso, is the Brooks, the famous broadside produced by British abolitionists in the late–18th century to expose the horrors of the slave trade and it's the schematic of the bottom of a slave ship tightly packed with Black bodies, chained Black bodies. And around it, the rambles spell out "remembrance." And so the idea for installing that window in this space was really to serve as a memorial to bring into the 21st century the memory of our ancestors, those who endured that horrific experience. But to also remind ourselves of the work that needs to be done in this country, so ultimately, the window serves as a call to action. And it's a call to America, really, to remember, you know, that remember it's not really exceptional because as was mentioned earlier, this is stolen land and the country that we inherited was actually built on the back of enslaved people. And that country, the country that we live in now, we've deluded ourselves, we live in a constant state of delusion because we fail to remember this history properly. And I think that's what reckoning means, I mean, I think the ascendency of Trump—and I always say that Trump is not an aberration, he is actually a result of who we are at our worst. And more importantly, he represents what happens when we forget.
So ultimately, the window serves as a reminder to all of us, we need to remember this history, we need to understand that we need to center this history, you know, à la the 1619 Project, which, you know, 45 decried, right. And that is just a result of the symptoms that King talked about, the triple evils in the country is racism, militarism, and materialism or poverty, and those triple evils are kind of driving us over the cliff. And if we don't do something about it, we as King said, we will be entering into a burning house.
YANIRA CASTRO: Thank you, Marshall, I was really moved by your connection of remembrance and reckoning, those two words. Because you have to reckon when you don't remember, right? You have to reckon with the history, but you are also reckoning with the fact that are you deluding yourself, that that memory is not calling you to action. Or that the action is not adequate, right? Which also comes in with this word "judgment," like what is adequate action, which is something I've been thinking about a lot. Tara, thank you for the question. And, taking a live performance and transforming it into an object that can you read, that you can see, that you can go and perform yourself, really made me come to terms with the reasonings for why I created \ _Last Audience_ to begin with, so normally, as a director, I keep things hidden in the chest.
You know? I keep this to myself, there's reasons that I—personal reasons that I have, but I want the audience to have a really open interpretive experience with having to put something down and then give it to somebody. Something changed. I began the work of \ _Last Audience_ because I felt that the election of number 45 was a deep reckoning for the country, and I felt that there was no longer anyway to not remember. To not think about our history and that we were going to have to deal with it and that it was potentially going to be really, really tough. Certainly in 2018, when I started the project, it already felt tough. By 2020, invited me, Tara, to make this into an object, it was and I think maybe all of us can sort of attest to this, there were times when the burden and the brunt of it was just so much and so many of us were talking and the time of uprising of also having to give ourselves rest, right?
Because of the exhaustion of this history that has been undealt with so these are—this is what I'm thinking about when I think about reckoning and \ _Last Audience_ was definitely written as a requiem to what happens when we remember, to what happens when we lay things down, can we lay it down? Can we look at ourselves truthfully? And can we ask ourselves some of the really difficult questions that the requiem as an overarching frame can kind of bring forth, which is to ask for mercy, to figure out what is judgement, how to do judgment. I don't know the answer to that, it's a really tough question, I think. And then how to bless. I think these are really difficult words right now, but I think they're really needed deeply at this time.
GIBRAN: Yanira, when I hear you say about the need of these actions at this moment, I'm also reminded that when I first spoke with Marshall about joining us for this program, one of the things he brought up is that we are creating this action for the moment, but we are also being judged by the past. That which we don't remember and refuse to remember is still bearing judgement upon us, and the intersection of both of your projects for me is that the choices and the actions that we take in this moment, whether they be scripted or whether they be personal, whether they be going out to vote, right, will have an impact on the future for us. And I wonder if both of you can talk about what that history means right now. So many people are saying this is the most important election of our lifetime. And it certainly feels like it at this moment, but how do we deal and contest with the reckoning this in the future?
MARSHALL: Yeah, I think it's a matter of who we tell ourselves we are. So I often think about the history of the Civil War and the reconstruction, such a pivotal moment in the country's history, the existential threat came from within, right? And was at the foundation of the country. And juxtapose that history with what we witnessed during the last presidential debate, in which number 45 says flat out, you know, "I've done more for the Africa American community than any other president with the exception of Abraham Lincoln." In its face, of course, it's ludicrous, right? But most people would agree that Abraham Lincoln was this great liberator, which is a mythology. The reality is that when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, his hand was actually forced by Black folk who were flooding into Union territory, first considered contraband.
And then Frederick Douglass and many others advocated that, you know, we should arm them, they can turn the tide of the war. So by the end of the war, over a 180,000 Black men helped to save the country, and so the fact that we tell ourselves that we were saved by Abraham Lincoln, you know, what does that do? What does that mythology do as opposed to the truth being no, black folk actually saved the country from itself. And we witnessed that again in the democratic primaries, I mean, Joe Biden was in trouble until South Carolina, until Black folk resurrected his candidacy. So I think the larger point is this narrative that we tell ourselves that is not anchored in truth, which goes back to my point about delusion. That really, we make ourselves monsters. And I think during that conversation that we had before, Gibran, I mentioned scripture. You know, Jesus says that the truth makes us free, not _sets_ us free, it's a matter of making, how we make ourselves and that is of course tied to the story of us and how we tell it.
YANIRA CASTRO: Yeah, I—the image of 180,000 black men joining the Union forces to me, like, immediately, I just have this image of the congregation or the audience or the way in which a mass body rises to do action and you know, we have a tendency to want saviors and we have a tendency to look at heroes or heroines and I think it's oversimplified in some ways, right? This one person is gonna do everything to take us there, but in actuality, in history, in history, in real act, it's like the mass body, the collective of people acting that actually amounts to change. Lincoln would never have signed the Emancipation Proclamation if there hadn't been this ground swell of people, abolitionist and Black Americans, pushing for this this happen. I mean that's not why he started the war, right? So it's so—and it just comes back to this sense of embodiment and sense of action for me that is really, really important. And, you know, _Last Audience_, I sometimes had to sort of, every once in a while, had to check myself, like why are you asking the audience to get on their hands and knees. And if I was really honest with myself, it was a deep desire for myself to like—because we somehow need to experience this, we need to get on our hands and knees and understand what, you know, what it means to like, request. Especially being so many of us being privileged don't know what it's like to really request, to really get on your hands and knees to ask for mercy and so there is this way in which collective action and embodiment is what forces us to see something, is what forces change. And this goes back to the uprisings that happened this summer and that continue in the sense of like, all this action towards, propelling us towards wanting to change this country. And I certainly hope we do in the next 10 days.
MARSHALL: As you were talking, Yanira, I had the visual image of kneeling, and of course I equated that with submission in the Judeo-Christian tradition, that is a symbol of—of prayer and sincere humility. So that quest that you mentioned? It's really about repentance and I believe it was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that defined "repentance" as remorse for the past a responsibility for the future. In the African American tradition, we consider that "sankofa," which comes from the Twi language, which means—it is not wrong to go back to the past, learn from it, glean from it. Even reclaim or redeem the things that have been lost or stolen in order to move forward and create a better future. And I think that is what we witnessed with Colin Kaepernick, I think that is what we witnessed over the summer after the aftermath of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. There is this ground swell, this collective submission that is taking place and I think it's calling on the country to do, really, a national day of repentance. You know, what Heschel said, let us be remorseful for what we have inherited, this past that we've inherited. But that also requires us to be responsible for each other, to love each other as we love ourselves and be responsible for the coming generations to create a better system that they inherit—all tied together.
TARA AISHA: I'm wondering, you know, I was thinking of the images in the manual, Yanira, as you were both talking about being on your knees, this beautiful definition of repentance that you just gave, and like, the linking of reckoning and remembrance of image and action also in the relationship between the window in the church and the sort of reminder both to remember and memorialize and take action, you know. And so I'm wondering about like what, I don't know how to phrase this exactly, but I almost want to get practical with both of you. Like, what is the manifestation of those ideas in _Last Audience_, for you, Yanira, and how your work, Marshall maybe changed in the last several months. What does it mean to actually, what is the group gathering, you know, rising to action actually look like right now. I mean, this project, Yanira, hpeople can do these scores at home alone or whoever they live with or maybe in a park, it's kind of cold right now, so maybe not, with people who aren't in their pod, but there are also ways to connect across the country with other people doing the scores and we know other people are doing the same actions somewhere else but there is also this online portal where you can upload your image or whatever, right? It's creating a network of action around the country. And then, Marshall, I'm really curious about just, like, caring for a congregation, caring for the young men who are involved in the Redemption Project like what is that practically looking like right now? Yeah.
YANIRA CASTRO: I'm thinking about the word "incantation." And, so when we were looking at that video that started us off today, the voice that are you hearing is of artist and performer David Thomson. And we often use the word incantation to sort of think about what rises from the voice. What rises from hearing the voice from inside you. And this idea that I hoped that like—to repeat the incantation also by repeating the words that David is giving to you and suggesting to you. And the words, many of them, are inspired by or considering the requiem mass, it's talking about Last Judgement and talking about the divide. This moment of time, this split. When, you know, I forget exactly the passage, maybe, Marshall, you have it, but the whole thing about the shaft and who will be separated from whatever—but essentially, this very stark moment in time where the good will go here and the "bad" will go there and so you know, the Last Judgment will occur, right? And so the language is pretty—well, I was thinking and in trying to grapple with it, kind of intense, especially for someone who is not a religious practitioner, as I said to you, Marshall, I very much talked about and learned and was and went through Catholic training. But, you know, I knew this stuff, but it wasn't something that I was personally practicing. And so, it was really a moment in time to sort of try to figure out what these words are trying to do and so "incantation" just kind of kept coming back up, this sense of what do these kinds of words like, "contrite as dust, we are as contrite as dust," what does this mean? So because you put up this image, I will share a little bit about it. It's a Puerto Rican painting called La Plena and it is a history of Puerto Rico played through twelve plena songs. And plenas, for those who don't know them, is a genre of music how you would spread the news and it's very vocal, because you are obviously singing, but it's telling you stories.
And so, this painting was particularly important to me when I was thinking about different artworks that I could think of that, in some way, dealt with history in this moment of judgment. And this one really came up for me as sort of a decisive moment in history, right? And so you have these images, one of my favorites was of this old woman in a brown dress and she's holding her hands like this and she's like shielding herself, you know, from history in essence.
So, yeah. I mean, there is a lot there that I tried to like—but—
TARA AISHA: Can you close that up Yanira by saying how it impacted the work. This kind of image that you researched?
YANIRA: Yes, so in thinking about the movement behind _Last Audience_, the gestures that I would invite the audience to do and some of the gestures that you saw, Devynn Emory, in the video, performed and I looked into paintings and into also requiem literature to drag out what are the gestures that resonate with this decisive moment in the Last Judgment and thinking about the election of 45, it's a last judgment, thinking about that as a last judgment. So many of the gestures that you see in this painting are described or you are invited to embody. And, oftentimes, in the text, I invite you or we invite you, the artists and I invite you to embody them for a period of time. To see like, you know, again, what is it to be on your knees, this woman in the red dress and she's holding up tolike what does it mean to really be on your knees and hold your arms up there? It could be just an instruction. Which comes back to what you said, Marshall, it could be just an instruction, but if you take time with it and embody it, something else happens and to allow yourself for that to happen. Yeah.
MARSHALL: Thank you for that, I think you alluding to Matthew 25, when Jesus tells of judgment, the separation of sheeps and goats, and the sheep ask Jesus, "What did we do to deserve eternal glory with you?" and he says, "When you visited me when I was in prison, and when you clothed me when I was naked, and when you fed me when I was hungry," so texts like that certainly influence the work that we do. We consider ourselves a ministry rooted in Black liberation theology and the founder of black liberation theology, Reverend James Hal Cone, rest his soul, out of Union Theological Seminary in New York, was tour de force. But to answer your question, directly, Tara, I think with the MAAFA remembrance window—really, the claim is that maafa never ended, it didn't end in 1865, it didn't end with the 13th Amendment, as Douglas Blackmon says, there were "slavery by other names."
So, of course, convict leasing, sharecropping, debt peonage, Jim Crow, the new Jim Crow, mass incarceration, and that is the message we try to share with our young men who come through the project. Is that you need to see yourself as a part of this history because you are, you were born into a context that tries to circumscribe your destiny. As it did the destinies of those who produced you into existence, those who loved you into existence, your ancestors. And so really we ask the young men to see themselves in that image, not just in the ship but as the man. Who is draped with chains and so, Yanira as you were talking, I thought about enactment and reenactment and so what does it mean to ask a young man, what does it mean to be chained but rising? And then what does it mean to break those chains? What does liberation actually look like? Day-to-day. How do I liberate my mind from as, Tony Morrison said, the gaze, the gaze of white supremacy, and how to liberate my body from these ghettos that created to confine me? How do I escape the traps of mass incarceration, how do I do that? And more importantly, how do I liberate my soul? My psyche, how do I define myself on my own terms and on the terms of love and redemption? Those are the questions that we pose to them every day.
So again, what does it look like, the church, of course, since COVID-19? Mostly virtual. And so, the services are virtual, we do communion virtually, the sharing of the sacraments. The bread and the cup. And of course that is based on the communal meal that Jesus had with his disciples the night that he was betrayed. And he took the bread, passed it—took the cup, passed it. And he instructed them to do this in remembrance of me and that informs the work we do every day, we ask ourselves what is doing this in remembrance of the savior that we believe in but also the ancestors. What does it mean to do this in remembrance of them? What does it mean to pass out PPE, to do wellness checks for seniors, what does it mean to do that in remembrance so that ultimately, it's not about individual salvation but collective salvation and redemption. Redemption is indeed a communal act, and so how do we reenact that is what we seek to answer every day.
GIBRAN: Thank you for that, because I think what I find at the center of both of these projects that you are both working on is a core idea of civic responsibility, collective action, you know. These are the sorts of things that I'm interested in my own research as I think about what is the power of the collective when we put it in that civic lens? And maybe just to close out and wind our conversation and focus it towards the steps that people will be taking—the actions that our audience here will be doing in their own homes. Can we touch on civic responsibility and what that might mean right now? Marshall, you said it so well, we're thinking about collective care through the distribution of PPE, right? Or emergency resources and, Yanira, in your work you are definitely thinking about how we are all connected in this web. Can we touch on that?
YANIRA CASTRO: Well, I think one of the things that I love is the equating of PPE with prayer—and the idea that there is absolutely no difference and so, you know there are these words that we have that we put up here, right? It's like, you know, prayer might be one of them or doing a certain gesture like this or something, it feels elevated, right? PPE doesn't normally maybe feel elevated, but in fact it absolutely and truly is. And so this idea of collective action is to say I feel that the real practical act is just as important, equally important as the symbolic act. Help me out here a little bit—but like there is something about—they are interweaved, they subsist and support and feed one another, so that moment that you take for yourself, perhaps, to take a breath, to feel your body, to do a gesture, is a collective act. It connects you to the ether, it connects you to others and connects you the ability to reenter a public space and do an action that maybe has practical consequences, you vote, maybe you are a poll worker, but it's just as important as that moment when you were at home and you gave yourself that breath. Yeah, I—for me, that is the power of performance. That is the power of theater. I don't see there being a difference between what happens on a stage, maybe your living room, and what happens outside. It's absolutely porous, it's absolutely connected and so, if you take a moment to enact something, privately or with a group of people, it affects and ripples out through your life and through those that you touch outside of life. Outside of your particular, you know, maybe home circle. So that is what I'm thinking about, Gibran, when you asked that question, thank you.
MARSHALL: Indeed. I don't know what to say to that, that pretty much encapsulates where my views are, and I also think that it's attending to divine moments like this. This is a divine moment, it's cultivating moments where we educate each other, where we love each other. These are acts of love, I think. And I think if we miss moments like this, if we miss describing it in that way, then we overlook the miracle of moments like this. And I think it's also about education and self-examination: the unexamined life is not worth living, right? So how do I consistently look in the mirror that, can be a reenactment, and ask myself why am I doing what I'm doing, you know? What is my why? How am I living with this sense of urgency, understanding that I'm on my way to the grave and I have to bear witness to the truth in space time, right now. So that I am co-curating divine moments, you know, seeds of transformation. And it's also, I think, what Terence said, the poet, said "anything human is not alien to me," in other words, I'm capable of the greatest of atrocities like the maafa, but I'm also capable of the greatest acts of mercy killing, and grace, and I can choose every day which direction I want to go. That's really the spiritual act and I believe that is contagious, that is the connectiveness that I think you were alluding to, Yanira, that actually will determine the future of this country and the future of humanity. and so we are alive for such a time as this, right? And it's a great responsibility, it's also beautiful that we are here. And that the divine has given us this responsibility for this season. So I'm hopeful, I'm grateful—thanks again, Gibran, Tara, Yanira, and I look forward to developing, cultivating richer relationships in the future.
GIBRAN: Absolutely. Thank you both. This has been such a great conversation, certainly a balm to ourselves for this moment in our history and in our everyday lives. And I want to remind our audience that of course please stick around if you would like to have more discussion in conversation later. This concludes our conversation, but it shouldn't conclude the actions and the questions that we ask with each other. So I will pass it on back to Yanira who will lead us into the next part of this.
YANIRA: Yes, thank you so much Gibran, and thank you again, Marshall. It is a pleasure to speak and be with you here. And now I will introduce to you to the team of artists that made up the _Last Audience: A performance manual_ and we are going to do one, sort of, last action with you and I hope you will do that with us. And I will start off with Kathy Couch, if you will join us? Kathy? And Devynn Emory, and Stephan Moore, and David Thomson, thank you all so much for joining us today.
DAVID THOMSON: Hi, and welcome. So, we are going to engage you with one last activity. And this comes from the manual and so we actually invite you to turn your videos on right now. [pause] Great. Beautiful to see your faces. So, with these scores in the manual, there is a preparation section and that means that there is something for you to do before you perform and it may be a specific—to define a specific location, choose a soundtrack for the score you are using, arrange your lighting, or even build a prop.
KATHY COUCH: So in a moment, we are going to ask to you choose a cooking pot and a spoon from your kitchen. You should select these for the sound that they produce when you bang them together. You will need this pot and spoon for a score we will be sending you in the chat. For you to do on your own after this event. This score is called "Thunderous Clash."
YANIRA: So, "Thunderous Clash" is special to me, as one of the 28 scores in the manual, because it's inspired by cacerolazo. And for those of you who may not know what a cacerolazo is, it's a form of popular protest where you bang a pot and a spoon to gather and give attention to an injustice. Cacerolazo has been a thunderous display for liberation in many parts of the world.
But most recently in Brazil in protest over the government's inaction on COVID-19 and in Puerto Rico to get rid of the island's corrupt governor, Ricky Rosselló. And in Iceland during the financial crisis in 2008, when it was dubbed the "kitchenware revolution"—and especially when I thought about this, the kinds of actions that we saw in support of nurses here in New York City where people would bang pots and spoons and actually anything that they could to elevate the essential workers who were saving New Yorker's lives.
DEVYNN EMORY: Thank you, Yanira, as a nurse, it has been quite a beautiful practice. So go ahead, I invite everyone to now unmute yourselves. And in a moment, I am going to invite you to find that pot and spoon. But before you go, I'd like for you to bang on different items and make sure you have the sound right for you. And then, once you find it, come back and join us again.
[Pots and spoons banging]
YANIRA: Shall we gather?
STEPHAN MOORE: Looks like we almost have everyone back in place. That was already beautiful. Oh my god, this is going to be so much fun. Okay. Okay. Looks like we are all getting back, great. So now, as we prepare to begin, I want to invite you all to get quiet for a moment—to just be still, to find stillness. And in just one moment, we're going to create a communal beat together. Because of how audio and Zoom works, you are not going to be able to hear everyone at the same time, Zoom likes to single out certain things. But you will be hearing some sound back. To keep us altogether, you can watch me and attempt to bang your pot in time with me and to imagine that communal sound and as we continue, we'll do several beats together and eventually, inevitably, we will probably degrade into chaos, which is also wonderful, and we'll do this together for a few minutes. And just share this noise and this pealing out of sounds together. So go ahead and get ready, and start with me.
[Pots and spoons banging].
KATHY: Thank you so much for doing that together. That was amazing. So go ahead and take a moment to mute yourself again. Once you've done that, you will notice in the chat that we have added a PDF link for the score "Thunderous Clash." So now that you have your pot and pan, you should be able to perform that at home.
DAVID: So, in thinking about ways that we can gather, we can imagine creating this extended community by collecting photographs of the aftermath of people's performances. And some of the things that we have made or places that they have done performances in. So, we created an online archive called lastaudience.com. So you can index your experience there. And share with others. And in this way you can see the experiences and how they're linked with other witnesses, performers, and individuals that have enacted this score or these scores in general.
DEVYNN: So I invite you to take out your phone and take a photograph, please, of the pot and the pan that you have utilized this evening with us and email us that photograph. The email is in the chat, email@example.com, and we will upload those photos for you on the website as a record of our time together. Thank you for doing that and thank you so much for assembling with us.
TARA: Thanks everyone, thank you so much for coming, we will play you the recording of the sounds we just made together as we outro from this Zoom and take a break if you'd like to stick around and ask questions of the artist. You can grab a glass of water and we hope you will stay for that and it will be a casual Q&A situation if you have questions about the project, but otherwise have a wonderful weekend and wonderful day, thank you so much for assembling.
[Pots and pans banging]
TARA: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for sticking around and please don't feel uncomfortable leaving if you are just accidentally still on the Zoom call. We will—just FYI—be repasting the link to purchase the manuals online if you would like to sign up to receive those and they should become available sometime soon in November and getting mailed or emailed to you very shortly so thank you so much for that. I am going to do my best to just moderate some casual chatting.
We'll take questions in the chat function just for ease of everything, but please feel free to make yourself visible and go to "grid view" or "gallery view," sorry, if you would like to see and gather together, sorry, that's my pan, hold on, let me move that out of the way so I don't knock it again. So yeah, please feel free to become visible. And if you have any questions for the artists, please pop them into the chat. It might be something logistical about how to do the scores or the events coming up or the ideas behind the project, thoughts, it may not be a question, also, I know they would also love to hear that as well. [pause] Martha has asked, was there a rhythm?
STEPHAN: You mean right now? Hi, I'm Stephan Moore, I had the honor of holding down the sound portion of this crazy big project for a canary torsi and working with these wonderful folks, I'm a middle-aged white man with crazy hair and a gray beard. I'm sitting in my workshop right now and wearing a denim shirt and yeah, there was a beat. There was a pulse I was trying to convey, but then as I was talking about this earlier with Yanira, how oftentimes a collectively, will, an audience will fall into applauding altogether and then that will inevitably begin to speed up. And eventually it's almost like a wave breaking as it approaches the shore, it falls into a cascade of everyone kind of breaking off into their own rhythm. And I think that is what I was trying to model. With Zoom, it's difficult because there is this lag and this delay which as a musician and performer who has been doing a lot of work in Zoom, I find it really interesting how that affects our sense of rhythm and how we can—the kinds of relationships in time and in rhythm and in music that you can normally form with people get disrupted in this interesting way. So trying to find a way to create that collective experience of a pulse, sort of letting the tension around that in this medium happen and letting that explode was kind of the idea, I wasn't going for any more complicated rhythm than that.
TARA: We also have a logistical question which I think is an opportunity to talk about some further things. Someone, Laura managed to miss the first 15 minutes, wonder if there is a PDF for the first section of that session? And this is a good moment to talk about the media for this project and how the online elements work?
YANIRA: Yeah, so we created this manual for you that sees 5 books of a set of 28 scores. And they come as a set of instructions written down for you. But also, the manual contains within it audio and video scores that also take you through an experience. So the one that we experienced this—earlier, I was to say this morning—that we experienced earlier today is both a video and audio score.
So, when you get the manuals, in the manual, it invites you to put on headphones so that you can hear David's voice really close to your ear, so that it's intimate. And then to sit at a certain distance away so that you can almost feel as if Devynn is, you know, at a certain distance from you, and then you do the score that way. But that same score is also in the manual written out. So that you could have, of course, reinterpreted it yourself in a completely different way. So the text is given to you that David repeats and the manual invites you to create your own set of gestures to invite someone else to do so essentially for you to take on these different roles in different ways.
TARA: Is the manual copyrighted—this is Linda asking—how do you think about this kind of communal offering in relationship to copyright law? I can say that I do not think the manual is copywritten. It's complicated also when it's artists creating something through a museum, you know, which also has a printer that is a separate institution. You know, there is a lot going on there but that is a really interesting question.
YANIRA: I will say that they were given in the spirit for you to do without that kind of worry. You know, they're for you and for you to reimagine. So I don't know if that maybe also answers the question.
TARA: Yeah, I think there is a line somewhere about reproduction in the, you know, fine print of the manual, but it's not, you know, it's not a copyright. Yeah. Laura asks, what surprised you most about shifting _Last Audience_ from its in-person construct to its performance manual version with the printed manual and virtual participation?
YANIRA: Kathy, you want to take that one?
KATHY : Sure, hi, I'm Kathy Couch, I haven't spoken yet, so I want to say I'm a white woman with blondish brown hair pulled back away and sitting against a blue wall on an orange couch. So I guess one of the things that most delighted me in adapting and reimagining this live performance to this new form was, one, both having to find even more precision in the language that we were offering people.
So, as to create both clarity and freedom so that was like a beautiful challenge and this piece often was grappling with issues around agency. And how we take up our personal agency, what do we understand to have of agency, when do we choose to act and how, what pushes us to act or act against something that is directing us in a different way. And so, I feel very delighted with the manuals in that I feel like it's taking another step towards offering or making a space for agency and exploration and imagination in the audience. In a way that we never could quite get to, I feel like in a certain way with the live performance or just like it opens up another channel for that to happen. So I'm very excited even though I may never get to know what it is. I am very excited to know that out there in the world, people are hopefully reimagining these works for themselves and taking them to places that we maybe never imagined—and finding ways to resist them and reinterpret them and make a new world of them on their own. So that has been a really exciting aspect of making this transition.
YANIRA: I also want to ask David and Devynn about this question because in performance, our concentration as a team was in guiding the audience to perform, right? So, David would whisper into somebody's ear and they were, you know, as if he is the oracle, they would then produce the sound that the audience—the rest of the audience would hear. But this particular project kind of flipped the tables on us a bit in that it required us to be performers again in the videos that we created for the piece. So I was just wondering if either one of you has something to say about how it acquired you to reengage in your performance in a different kind of way?
DAVID: Hi, this is David, I'm a 60-year old Black man with sort of darker skin wearing a caramel-colored cap, square glasses, headphones and a jean jacket. And a mosaic wall of sorts behind me. It's an interesting—you know, part of this question for me is about idea of performance and what is performance, and that performance is actually an everyday thing and that it's always around us and this sort of concept of witnessing, which is much more important and I think that is embedded in the work. That when we do this practice of doing a score, and it is a practice. It's for me, it's— there is managing things but it's also there are moments where I'm not active, I'm not activating the score, but I am simply witnessing with everyone else, and we're all witnessing each other. And I think I'm trying to see, understand how that gets framed in this new technological format but also, I think this becomes even more—because of the nature of being on Zoom, you are watching everyone and maybe somebody turns their camera off or something but how—is there an egalitarian quality to doing this score if you are on Zoom? Or if you are at home, then does that take away the quality of performance and does this become like a parlor game to doing that has other ramifications to it at the same time?
So, and in doing that, I'm not sure how people are going to perceive it but, and the idea of my presence in whispering to someone's ear creates a—for me, it was very delicious. But I'm also wondering then in this new age of distancing and isolation, how the intimacy of this—and even though I'm disembodied, how am I still present for you? And so that is a roundabout response, I don't know if it's an answer.
GIBRAN: You know thinking along these lines, and I do want to remind everyone that Marshall is here as well and he can join us in this conversation. I wonder, Marshall, if you can talk to us about how congregation has changed via Zoom. I'm very curious about generally the congregation of church or a mass is the physical proximity and now that you have been meeting congregation virtually, how has that changed or happened at all?
MARSHALL.: Yes, it's taken a lot of getting used to with the Black church tradition and style of worship, you know a lot of it relies on music and, of course, call and response. Which is to say, you know, the sermonizer or the preacher who is delivering the word, often his cadence kind of rise with the commentary of the congregation. So amen. Said preacher, c' mon, like he—it's conversational, usually. And so through Zoom, that's much less the case and so, my father and I, who is a senior pastor of the church, he and I often joke that it has completely transformed the way we prepare the sermon but, of course, there is a new way of call and response, right? The commentary, so the fact that people can type in a Facebook Live and say "amen" and you can kind of respond in that way.
And so, there are elements that are consistent. But I think on the whole, at least from a worship standpoint, it has kind of changed dramatically. But again, as I mentioned before, you know, whereas the church was used to being open only on Sundays, you know, with the pandemic, we've been open every day. Feeding the homeless, again, taking care of the elders in the neighborhood. Calling the bedridden, those that are hospitalized, and so in many ways the doors of the church remain open.
GIBRAN: It sounds to me like the doors of the church got bigger. Especially as—
MARSHALL: Yes, indeed.
TARA: We had another question earlier. Just to make sure that we don't miss it. "Can you talk about collaboration, connection, and physicality, it feels so challenging to understand and connect with each other without physical proximity and I loved the distant physical connection I felt in the first score." This is from January.
KATHY: I can say something that it makes me consider. I think I've been very interested throughout this pandemic by the ways that we can sense our connection to each other without being in physical proximity. And I feel like this project has given me like a very rich ground in which to investigate that question. And I think about it sometimes in terms of like if you were all of the sudden to walk out into the dark night, and in that beginning moment your eyes are not adjusted to the particular context but then as you spend more time in certain facilities that you always possess kind of come to the fore and help support you and begin to navigate and make your way. So I have been interested in this notion of creating these sets of actions that people can do together or on their own, but somehow in doing them, even if you are doing them on your own, building that sense of connection across distance, even across time, space, and how can we lean into those facilities that we might possess all the time but are often sort of drowned out by the dominance of other ways of connecting or being in proximity. So I think when we were creating the videos and the sound recordings in particular—but even with the language and with the creation of the website, all of these ways that we might be able to invoke the sense of intimacy, interconnectedness, shared experience, collective action, and intention, I think there are a lot of ways that we were trying to create that. And I know performing some of the video and audience scores, there was that—how can I be with you in voice or be with you in a video presence, even though we aren't occupying that same space. So those are some thoughts that January's question bring up to me.
YANIRA: Yeah, it also makes me think about the sort of tactileness of receiving something in the mail which Tara, you and I talked about a lot in terms of like—"how do you receive this thing?" And it's this package, this thing that you receive, it has a certain kind of feel, the paper has a certain kind of feel without giving too much away, it unfolds in certain kinds of ways and so it reveals itself to you as you are digging deeper and deeper into this object. And so there is something about that that I feel connects you also, this—I mean in the same way when I feel I read a book and the one that I'm thinking about right now is _Parable of the Sower_ by Octavia Butler, how many conversations I had, all during COVID and the uprisings, with people that have read that book and not that this is Octavia Butler or anything, but the sense is sort of like that this connection can happen with complete strangers because you had a mutual experience through a page. That is one of those things that is potentially powerful to me, so the reason for the creation of the website was a way to give you a little bit of that access to that and this person also did this score that asked me to kneel for 5 minutes—to sort of have that connection. I think can be really deeply meaningful and it comes back also to this discussion that Marshall and I were having earlier about the sort of porousness of one action rippling out and being collective—yeah.
GIBRAN: I think we had such good dialogue of the similarities between Marshall's work that is built through _Last Audience_ and I want to turn to Riley's question, "As someone that has followed this project for a while, I felt so deepened and challenged and graced by Marshall's connection and threads. A question for the a canary torsi performers: I was curious about what of Marshall's thoughts offered you a new experience of this work that you have been developing for a while, and likewise for Marshall, how does learning about Last Audience offer a new experience for your work?"
DEVYNN: Thanks for all of this questioning and dialogue, it's so rich. This is Devynn, I'm a light-skined, mixed-race, Indigenous transgender person and I'm wearing a denim jumpsuit, brown beads, and a ballcap and the background is a white wall with fresh eucalyptus, thank god. I think I'm kind of reacting to a few of these questions in one because so much is stirred up for me and also being a performer and both a nurse and someone who is a healer, therapist, and ceremonial guide.
And so I really resonated with what you are saying, Marshall about, you know, in just shifting in how we gather right now both in spiritual practice and in performance. You know, most of the people I see are my patients who are—have been passing quite frequently from COVID and I have been really privileged to see a lot of people and touch a lot of bodies and honored to bring my ceremonial practices to the hospital setting, to bring the ceremony around these bodies. And then because that work, of course, has been so intense, also I have felt quite lucky to continue this project with you, Yanira, because I think in this way that this work was limited in a way to Lenapehoking in New York City, and of course this would be a tour that we are joining you in Chicago and now this has been webbed out, we have woven an invitation to you all to join us and I love the idea that one can be in practice in privacy in a way that I think the live performance didn't allow, because I think that there is a lot of what Kathy, you are saying, the question of agency. And when you see pressure placed on a collective, you're tasked with joining in or removing yourself or maybe assisting another who is on their knees kneeling. And I think what I hope is that when someone is taking a score in their own home that they have privacy to really, like Marshall and Yanira were saying, really embody the pose of prayer and maybe it's just a gesture, and then maybe over time with duration, it becomes an embodied sense of elevation or emotion, whatever that invokes for you. Because I like this idea of privacy, and I like the idea of people doing it simultaneously when we don't even know that they are doing it, that is kind of creating a simultaneous energy nationally or internationally, that feels very powerful and needed right now.
DAVID: Hi, this is David again. I am so deeply moved by Marshall's presence and language and thought, connecting to this work. And that is one of the things that has been on the mind, the idea of presence and what is the ontology of presence at this moment. And actually the ontology of presence can relate to the idea of care, and care means being with someone or how are you with someone. And you know, when you were speaking about the stained glass windows that were transformed to actually give presence to history in so many ways, I thought wow, that is a beautiful thing, you still have the same edifice that you are using the score of this church and so the building, the architecture is a score, but you are viewing it with your own translations of how the light is filtered into that space.
And then how those presences then get illuminated, and whose presences are illuminated. And it makes me aware of, you know, the value of being with someone and how are we with someone—and even if we can't touch them, what are the other senses and places that we can go spiritually and otherwise to reach out and connect. So for me, it's not just this tactile sense of performance and touch and feeling, but it's really asking how do we extend beyond the "if I can't see you, are you still there?" [silence]
TARA: Does anyone else have anything to add? I know there was a little question for Marshall at the end of that but if we are all good, I think we do have to bring it to a close. So yeah, thank you so much for coming, apologies if there is a couple of questions we missed in the chat, but it is, you know, growing late and so, we really thank you for sticking around, for sticking through this beautiful event. And also to all the artists, to Marshall, and to my colleagues. Thank you for creating such a wonderful hour and a half or 45 minutes. Have a great weekend, everyone.
YANIRA: Thank you so much, everyone.
DAVID: Thank you. Thank you.
STEPHAN: Many thanks.
DEVYNN: Thank you.
[Ambient closing sounds]
DAVID THOMSON: Thank you for gathering and being here with us today. We would like to take a moment to acknowledge our communal heritage. We are all on unceded, stolen ground. We are inheritors of colonialism, slavery, and patriarchy.Tonight, we center our conversations on blessing. By "blessing," we mean something very specific: a blessing as an act of protection. To bless is to hold. Tonight, we might ask ourselves: How do we hold each other in protection? We might imagine, for example, that to vote is a blessing, a mask is a blessing. When we imagined the community of \ _Last Audience: A performance manual_ , we imagined it as a community together in solitude. In solitude in order to protect. We imagined a community making and creating and dreaming from a common source, in places far away from one another, but on the same page. In the same way that as a gathered audience we feel we are part of an experience, the manual and its scores could become a shared space that we all conjure. Tonight, we are going to begin by asking you to gather a few items that you may have in your home to make something together. Please gather a piece of cardboard—or any paper if you don't have cardboard—a pair of scissors and something to make a mark with . . . crayon, Sharpie, paint, pen . . . I will give you a minute to gather these things. I will wait for your return.
DAVID THOMSON: Let's start. I am going to read from the seventh page in the "Blessing" manual. Draw eyes on cardboard. Use crayon, Sharpie, paint, charcoal. Draw lines, thick and graphic. Cut out these eyes so that they are separate from one another, each a separate eye. These eyes will cover a human. Take this moment to draw your eye.
DEVYNN EMORY: As you draw an eye, I will read to you from the ninth page in the "Blessing" manual. Compose a blessing: a blessing for the eye-covered human to perform. Is this a solitary or a group activity? It might be spontaneous. It might have a rough outline. It might be written out, memorized, practiced. It might be choreographed. It might be composed of words. It might be composed of gestures. It might be composed of sounds. A blessing can be spoken. Sung. A blessing can be danced. It can be all and some of these things. A blessing is an offering. A meal. A reminder. A wish. An act of grace. A warning. Protection.
YANIRA CASTRO: In the blessing score, the eyes that you are making right now would all cover one human's body, and that human would then perform a blessing. We are assembling on screen today, so we are going to turn all of our screens into a body with these eyes. I'm going to invite you to start your video. Now I'm gonna invite you to go to gallery view. And I want you to hold up your eye so that it covers your screen. And I'm going to invite you to hold it up so that we can make a record of this moment together. Please keep them up, and I'm going to let you know when the image has been captured. It might take a little while as the MCA team records this for us, but just take a moment to close your eyes and listen to the music that Stephan Moore has made for us today.
YC: Keep them up.
YC: Thank you. You can now stop your video. Artist Kathy Couch will now lead us with a blessing.
KATHY COUCH: See us. In all the ways that seeing can happen. See us. We gather with every soluble cell of our being here, humbly elemental, an ocean of small motions, moving in all directions at once we have come together, in breath together, each exhale a relief of release, each inhale a determined return to continuing, to carrying each other on. Every breath is an opening through a blessed opening. Each an opening that allows us to begin again. We draw in closer. We gather up every moat and note of each other being. That they might melt, no longer bordered or bound on the topography of our tongue into the geography of our lungs, maps memorized, secreted into ourselves, our cells, so that we may know always the safe way home, may know always when to plant the garlic, how to seed the pepper, how to be held but not buried by the earth. We surge up and swell with song, praising through every portal this blessing of belonging. This is a blessing of belonging.
PERSON 1: We are now going to open the space to share a few of your blessings. These can be spontaneous or planned, choreographed in any way that inspires you. If you wish to share a blessing, let us know by typing in the chat. One of the MCA crew will contact you in the chat to start your blessing. Remember to unmute if you are speaking, and you can choose to turn your video on or not. When you are done with your blessing, mute yourself and turn off the video if you've turned it on.
PERSON 2: If you prefer, you may also share your blessings in the chat.
PERSON 3: [singing] Gratitude before me. Gratitude behind me. Gratitude to the left of me. Gratitude to the right of me. Gratitude above me. Gratitude below me. Gratitude behind me. Gratitude in front of me. Gratitude inside me. Gratitude all around me. I'm so grateful, I'm so grateful, I'm so grateful.
PERSON 4: Peace and joy. Love and lights. Sharing in energies.
PERSON 5: I'm offering a blessing. It's to the tune of "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow," however, the words have been updated and I've dropped them in the chat. So, it goes like this. I'll try and sing. If you want to join me, please do. [singing] Praise earth from whom all blessings flow. Praise her all creatures here below. Treasure for all the children's game. Praise forest, bees, and summer rain. Peace out.
PERSON 6: As you embrace this blessing, carry it forth, peace, love, light, energy, and resilience. Blossom, grow, ignite, and move us as we share and love and in light. Blessings be. Blessing are we.
PERSON 7: [singing] A blessing you were born, and it matters what you do, what you know about, God is a piece [inaudible] Let the beauty of life be what you do, and you don't have to do it alone.
Jorge Felix: My blessing will be in the form of a cup. I'm going to be calling my ancestors, my bloodline that takes me back to [inaudible] in Africa.
[hollow sound of a pestle thrust against a mortar like an instrument]
[JF speaks in a language that is not English over the hollow sound]
JF: . . . The protection of my ancestors are with me and I'm calling [inaudible]
Tara Aisha Willis: Thank you so much everyone. It's really wonderful to hear and read and feel all that. My name is Tara Aisha Willis, I'm associate curator in performance and public practice here—"here" wherever we are—at MCA, and I am a light-skinned, mixed Black woman with tortoiseshell glasses and my hair is curly, down to my shoulders. I'm in front of a wall of a bunch of artwork and posters, including a poster of Toni Morrison and Angela Davis. Gibran, do you want to introduce yourself?
Gibran Villalobos: Yes, of course. Hi, good evening everybody. My name is Gibran Villalobos, I am assistant curator at the MCA and this digital MCA. In your screen you'd see a brown-skinned man, dark hair, bearded with squared glasses and a blue shirt and behind me it a work of art with blue lines.
TAW: Thank you for that. So, we are really happy to be here with you all for this sort of closing event, at least MCA closing event for _Last Audience, a performance manual_. Of course, I'm welcoming you to this event part way through it already. But we really are excited to kind of close out the gathering aspects of this, at least in terms of what we are able to host with this moment to not only dig into some of the manual scores which you just got a little taste of but actually to really focus in on the recipe card that comes in the package of manuals that you received in either PDF form or maybe it was this form. And I will leave describing what that is to Yanira and Jorge, our wonderful guests tonight. But, these scores, really, are near and dear to my heart. Of course, I got to work on them with a canary torsi and all the collaborators involved, but also because in this time that we are living in, they invite us to consider how we take action together, alone sometimes, or at a distance and in proximity to each other. As Yanira says in the letter to participants that's at the beginning of the manuals, this is my favorite part of the whole thing of course is— this might look familiar to you after what we just did. But, as she says in the intro, she sees performance as a call to practice social rituals. That's a paraphrase. But I think this moment in this Zoom call is one example of that. So that's sort of my way to—point to this. And while we get this conversation and food demonstration going, I encourage you all to put questions in the chat, maybe to put any experiences or words in the chat that—the experience we just shared together of doing that score and trying to translate it to Zoom, any feelings that that might have brought up or how that might have gone for you as we talk. So, Gibran, do you want to add anything to that?
GV: Nothing beyond that. I think that's a great introduction for what we are about to experience tonight. And, should we just jump into some introductions?
TAW: Yeah, totally. So, I'll ask both of you, Yanira and Jorge, to introduce yourselves, but I'm going to throw out my first question as I do that. So when you first start to answer it, you can introduce yourself. Super basic, I'm wondering what is the recipe that we are going to walk through today, and Yanira, specifically to you, why is it included in the manuals?
Yanira Castro: So, I'm Yanira Castro, I'm light-skinned Puerto Rican woman. I'm in my kitchen. You see a white door behind me, some windows and the sink. I'm still swaying from those blessings. To have stayed in that even longer would have been beautiful. But then we would be here for a very long time. But the singing and the voices, thank you, thank you so much, it was just really beautiful. In talking with the MCA about how to connect these manuals to a virtual event, I really wanted to make them very concrete. And when we were discussing how to close off—not close off, but how to round the MCA experience part of this manual, the meal was something that, for Tara and I, was really potent. So, to answer your question: Sofrito, which we are about to do with Jorge, and I'm so excited Jorge is here with us to talk about sofrito, to tell us about its history, it's a history that we both share, we are both Puerto Rican, we are both from the island, so I wanted to connect it to really physical tangible things. Because sometimes some of these ideas like "blessing," or "mercy" can seem either distant or abstract. But in fact, they're actually, really quite tactile. As you heard in the voice earlier, which belongs to David Thomson, who we are going to meet later on tonight, a blessing can be a mask, and the blessing can be a vote and that is something that Jorge and I are going to speak to as we do the sofrito because the vote is a very complicated thing for Puerto Ricans. So, blessings is a complex thing. Sofrito is a very complex thing. I'm so excited, Jorge, that you joined us today to share with us how to make it. Yeah, and as a gift and blessing to all of you tonight. So, Jorge, take it away.
Jorge Felix: Indeed. Thank you, Yanira. Welcome to my kitchen and thank you for allowing me to join you virtually into your kitchen. As you said, it's a blessing, for me in particular, cooking is something that I enjoy. It's something that being here in the United States connects me to my heritage, to my past, to the memory of joining my mother and my grandmother in the kitchen. I'm the oldest son and grandson of my family, on this side of the Felix, [inaudible] so that's the side of my family that I always was connected—food—a different appreciation for being in the kitchen, and from the beginning I was not taught, I was just there, and I learned by just looking and being engaged. So, sofrito has been used for quite some time. I came to the United States, to [inaudible] But, in the last five or six years, as a community, activists, I was trying to find another way to connect with people other than on the gallery space. So, somebody actually was—it didn't come from me—another artist in the community knew about my passion about cooking and she was the one who suggested, "You should make sofrito in the street and let people gather around you and start talking and engage about issues" [inaudible] I'm not a performer. And I did it one day and it proved to be successful. My experience was of growth. It wasn't just a performance, it was an experience of growth for me as an artist and also as a human because I start learning that sofrito is not unique for Puerto Ricans, it exists in all culture, it just has a different name. Tell me about your sofrito and how do you prepare it in your family?
YC: Well, my family, sofrito came out of a Goya plastic tub. So, it was something that I really wanted to learn about, so I actually took it upon myself to go and learn how to make it myself rather than to just purchase it at the local bodega—so I started making sofrito for myself in the last two to three years. And the difference every single time you make it is of course—it's everything about the culantro that day, the peppers that day, but it was definitely a way to start connecting to, well, what does it mean to hold these ingredients and what are these ingredients about? And if you've read the card that came with the recipe, it talks a little bit about where the ingredients for arroz con gandules come from. But what Jorge taught me, which I hadn't yet even thought about at that point, was that sofrito, in and of itself, went through a colonial history, which I think is really fascinating. So, I don't know, Jorge, if you can share that with us a little bit. The culantro—and I talk about this in the card—the culantro and the aji pepper—this is what it looks like—these are indigenous to the island, indigenous to the Caribbean. This is a sweet and smoky pepper. There are other peppers all over the Caribbean, too. I was talking to David Thomson earlier, one of the artists, and in Jamaica this is a Scotch bonnet which is really hot, and they look very similar, but they taste completely different. The culantro, which some people might mistake for cilantro just because it's got a similar name, couldn't be any more different. I mean, Jorge, you had a beautiful way of talking about culantro.
JF: Oh yes. People do confuse because of the similarity in the name but it's the "cu", not "ci." Cilantro is sweeter. Culantro is the way that Anthony Bordain, one of my heroes in the kitchen, said, "Culantro is in your face." You cannot really compare it to cilantro. Culantro is pungent, is really strong, you need to know how to use it. One of these leaves pack such an aroma and if you don't make sofrito and you decide to just put a couple of leaves in a big pot of soup, that's going to fragrant and perfume your soup [inaudible]. Like you are saying, I start finding the similarities about them—not similarities—to tell the story of Puerto Rico in the way that sofrito evolved, like you were mentioning it. Please, you are closer to the screen. The culantro leaf, that is native of the Caribbean. As you can see, it's kind of of serrated, and actually now, [inaudible] unfortunately due to genetic—
TAW: Engineering? Yeah?
JF: They have removed some of the spines. But really the wild one has a little spine on the edges. It could be really tiny spines that get into your fingers. And now we don't have that. Now we have these also these huge, long leaves and in the wild, that's not really how culantro lives. We now have the commercial. We still have the aroma, although sometime you find variation. The other ingredient is the beautiful, tiny aji dulce. As you can see, it looks like a little bell if you pick it by the—it looks like a little bell. And it's entirely different from habanero and the Scotch bonnet also looks like the habanero, it's bright. I also have to say it—the aji dulce gets white, yellow, red, and orange. The one I have here is green. It is still not ripe. You can use either one. It would be ideal if you can make a mix. But those are the two ingredients that make our sofrito—and when I say "our", I mean Puerto Rican sofrito—is really distinct from any other in the Caribbean. We don't have that kick of the spice. We use that sweet and pungent herb to make sofrito. Then later, with the arrival of Spaniards, we got the Spanish onion and the garlic. Those three ingredients bring another layer to our history and that's the longest period of history in the Puerto Rican, it was 500 years of colonialization under the Spanish rule. And actually, just about the moment, the year where we gain our autonomy as an island and we were in the process of becoming separated from Spain and becoming independent, then the American invasion happened with the United States coming to the island, with yet another layer added to our sofrito. And then we have other herbs and we have other flavors added into our sofrito. And we get these—I'm not going to show the label, these type of sofritoes that come in—it's gray, it's not even really green, like a sofrito should be. So, we can tell the story, we can go into details about from where this ingredient come and how they arrive in the island and evolve the Puerto Rican that we are today. We are an American colony, a United States colony. We are American citizens—and only partial of the rights. As we were talking about the vote, we don't vote, we cannot vote, we don't have that right.
GV: That's a great encapsulation of the history of sofrito, as you start to make this dish. I think you are going to start chopping and dicing some peppers and running it through the mill and, what I wanted to jump in and say was: Jorge, I was first introduced to your work as a community activist when you were working in Wicker Park in artist studios and co-ops and you really initiated a conversation about gentrification and the protection of neighborhoods, the protection of people. When I thought about inviting you to this conversation to talk to Yanira and to be a part of this project, it was because of the sofrito, the sofrito conversations being the slicing and dicing of these vegetables as you talk about the history and the complicated nature to voting, to community, to a lot of the topics that I think we are eager to hear about. Very quickly, can you tell us what you are doing now, almost like Food Network-style.
JF: Now sofrito has evolved. Even my grandmother has grown with the times, and now she uses food processor or her blender. And that's how we make sofrito now. It's a process. It's even in the way that it's done. But growing up, yes, I'm old—[audio cuts out]
TAW: Your sound went away a little bit. Can you say that one more time?
JF: Sofrito can be something that you can make ahead of time and keep in your refrigerator for later. So, you don't have to be chopping and doing sofrito every day.
GV: For those of us that are doing sofrito in the moment along with you, what are the things we need to do. Yanira, you're also making sofrito tonight. What are some basic steps to get this cooking started?
YC: You have to chop everything. Because it's all going to get mixed together. And what Jorge is doing, he's mixing all those ingredients together through the mill. That was the way that his family did it. But before the mill, there was, and I think Jorge has a beautiful one that he can show, there was the pilón. Mine is made out of stone, but in Puerto Rico, they are made out of wood, usually. So, Jorge, please show us yours. That is the pilón I grew up with.
JF: Yes, this is a pilón. This is the way that, you can see, it's a wood, like Mexico, but they have the stone of a molcajete I believe is the name of it, mortar and pestle. Of Africa, actually is the name that was used, they used local woods to make their own mortar and pestle. This is how pilón used to be made, originally, I'm not really sure that's the way they make it on the island. So, by pounding slowly, and that's how you make the sofrito. Again, no refrigeration. You will make a lot of sofrito—get a couple of peppers, a couple of leaves, mash it together and use it as a rub as the base for your flavoring for your flood or meat.
YC: Right, right, and that's a—
YC: No, you go.
JF: That's the sofrito. And that's how you do it. Yanira.
YC: So, what I was about to say, if you can think about like the origins of sofrito as being indigenous and it was the aji pepper and it was the culantro mashed into, with the pilón, by hand, it was a thicker substance, it was a little bit pastier. What I was really fascinated by is the diaspora sofrito, that you sent out, which has olive oil, I mean I gasped, I literally gasped, like "Olive oil? In sofrito?" The reason my mother started cooking with sofrito because when we moved to Jersey, there were no Puerto Rican markets anywhere. So, you know, she would have my grandmother send her the Goya from Puerto Rico so she could make her food because there was no finding any of this there. But what's fascinating is other people substituted what they could in order to try to achieve what the sofrito was. So, the aji pepper became a red pepper. The way to liquefy it a little easier so you didn't have to be with the pilón, because this takes a long time and with a lot of strength, was with olive oil. The process of colonization, the process of coming over to a new place, and how you try in some way to keep your culture alive through these other vegetables and fruits and ways of like getting to that thing called "home" is really fascinating to me. And for me personally it's been a process of learning. It's almost like going back. Okay, I'm not going to make my sofrito with red pepper, so how do I go back and find what those ingredients were, where it came from, and then I remember when I made it for the first time for myself, with the real things, I was like, oh, all right.
GV: While we chat, I wanted to invite everyone on the call, if you have questions, put them in the chat, and I'll read some out. Just a funny note that somebody brought up, they recently saw a Trader Joe's version of Italian sofrito. That is so funny. What does the word "sofrito" mean, do either of you know?
JF: Sofrito actually—the first mention of the sofrito word was in the twelfth century, in a book. Sofrito is nothing new. Sofrito is just the act of putting a blend of herbs or vegetables, aromatics to flavor something. In Puerto Rico it has become the word—"sofrito" has become the name, instead of being a verb, it's a noun, the name that we put into our blend. But it is the same as in New Orleans, they have the holy trinity, that is . . . maybe somebody can help me here… that is—carrots. . .
GV: Celery, carrot, and onion.
JF: Correct. And then, in the Dominican Republic, they have a similar sofrito, but they add annatto. In Cuba, they use tomatoes, they smear. . . In Italy, well France, they use mirepoix, that is also three ingredients. So, every country it's something that has become—[inaudible] South Asian sofrito, south east Asian sofrito, the Cambodian and Vietnamese and surprisingly, the herb for culantro is used a lot in India and those countries in the southeast, far. But they use then, turmeric, added to these, and galangal, I believe is how you pronounce the other herb that they use in their sofrito. So that's what it is. Actually, the proper name for our sofrito is not even used that much in the United States by the diaspora, they use the word "sofrito." It's "recaito."
JF: Recaito. Recao is these, the native name for culantro.
TAW: There is kind of like— hearing you both talk about how diaspora shows up in the history or the different ways that different people have adapted to the situation or the country or the culture that they're in, and then the actual ingredients themselves have these different histories over time. You know, there's like a metaphor that I'm feeling or seeing or hearing of like not in the typical way that we talk about multiculturalism and this mixture, it's so amazing, the melting pot, all of that, not in that way, but that even one dish or one base for many dishes can kind of hold all of this complication in it, and there is violence there and there is difficulty there as well as all of the tables that it's been part of that people have gathered at. So, I'm curious also about how the two of you see that metaphor in the food, relating to the sort of situation of the quote unquote nation that we are allegedly in right now. You talked about blessing as a kind of protection or a kind of action for something else, something bigger or something outside of yourself, and I wonder is that a kind of participation or kind of gathering together. Is each of our blessings creating some kind of whole? Is each of our votes creating some kind of whole? What is the relationship there?
YC: That question. . . really complex. And my brain kept going to many different places as you were talking. I want to talk about that. I want to talk about that. So, you know, the complexity of these things I think run really deep and in really difficult ways. In Puerto Rico, and I don't know if it was this way when you were there Jorge, but you grow up, at least my generation, and there's this idea that you're a mezcla, you are everything, you are African, you're Spaniard, you're Indigenous, and what it means to be Boriqua, what it means to be Puerto Rican, is to be all these things, all at once. That is something to be proud of and it is something that is beautiful, and it is spoken of with a lot of harmony. There is so much political history to that that we don't have time for that right now. We can have a long discussion about that another time, why that way of defining what it was to be Boriqua came about, but it was important political choices that certain people made about how they wanted to represent Puerto Rico people to the United States. It is in some ways in contrast to the civil rights movement happening in the 1960s. The politicians in Puerto Rico were trying to say, "We don't have that problem." Now, of course, we do have that problem. So, it was this discussion of mezcla, of Boriqua, you are all these things, and in your families, at least every family that I know—and Jorge I think you spoke to this a little bit—you have the family side that is darker, you have the other side that maybe has lighter folks inside of it and there is all this talk about like, what is the mix. That gets really complex when you talk about food as well. Because the meal that we are going to have later, arroz con gandules—which the base of that is sofrito—is talked about as this kind of almost symbolism of what it means to be Boriqua, because it brings gandules from Africa, it brings the rice which came to the island from Spain via China. So, we can talk about that, you know, the whole Marco Polo thing. And then the sofrito that we are making, so the culantro and the aji dulces, which is Indigenous, so you bring that all together and that dish, this is what it means to be Boriqua. But what nobody talks about, what we don't really talk about, is all the conflict that is embedded in the sofrito, in the meal which is that the gadules came through slavery, through many people dying and coming to the island in bondage, and the people who were Indigenous were massacred, it was a genocide. There's very few people left of that lineage, and, yes, I mean just the depth of that complexity is something that's often glossed over. So I believe we all carry these heritages inside of us in some way in our foods and in our bodies and who we are, in our makeup, and that is something I wanted to really bring to the fore in these manuals, because it was something I was thinking about, having inherited an American history that I am living through with all of you right now. How does this run in our bloodline and in our bodies, and in our food?
GV: You know, if I could just—oh, go ahead, Jorge.
JF: Something that, and I agree with Yanira. [inaudible] Puerto Ricans, it's a nation, we have this national pride, we talk about being Puerto Rican as a praise, la Raza, in Mexico we have that term. We are so proud of being Puerto Ricans, but almost more than half of the population describe themselves as "white" at the moment of filling a census—
YC: 81%. 81% in the last census described themselves as "white."
JF: And they support pro-statehood. They want Puerto Rico to become a state. Which if we look at other examples, like Alaska, Hawaii. . . that would be really detrimental. So, it's this idea that we're Americans. We're going to become a state. But we are going to keep our language, we are going to continue speaking Spanish, we are going to keep our sofrito, we're going to keep our culture, we are going to keep our music. Which, it might stay in some way, but it's not going to be the same way. It's that fight, that contradiction. We are Americans. We are Puerto Ricans. That thing in between.
YC: It's really complex. And the island does not really have complete sovereignty at all. And the political relationship is just really complicated which maybe that brings us up to the vote, which I wanted to bring up. Because can you tell the story, Jorge, of the neighborhood in Chicago and the transition from going to—feeling that to vote was a colonial act, to vote in the system of the
colony was to be colonialized, so therefore, the community didn't vote. You can speak to it much better than I can. But I think it gets to the complexity of how even something like the vote is just—it's so wound up with complexity.
JF: In Chicago, we have a really strong [inaudible] community of strong independence. [inaudible]—what do you call them, prisoners, most of them are here in Chicago that in the 80s were rebelling against the US government and what independence is. Most consider it to be an invasion and a threat to Puerto Ricans. So, the act of participating in the US election would be like participating on supporting—in support of the colonial rule of the United States. So, for many years the community did not participate in US elections. What I said before, that Puerto Ricans don't vote in the presidential election, that's on the island, but when you come into American territory, you can vote, you can participate here as long as you have a residency in the US. And even when we have that power here, the [inaudible] Puerto Ricans in Chicago, we're choosing not to vote. In time when the community started [inaudible] —gentrification, the first Puerto Rican community back in the 50s, 40s, 50s, was located in Lincoln Park. That was the first settling and on the South Side, on Woodlawn and on Lincoln Park in the north. Little by little the community was being displaced again and again. They move west to DePaul, west to Wicker Park, west to, a decade ago, to Humboldt Park. Now the concentration of Puerto Ricans are in Belmont Cragin, [inaudible] or even further west. So, it wasn't until the 90s that the Puerto Ricans start awakening and say, "You know, we have to stop this." And the tool that they realized they needed to use was the vote, that's how we started getting people on the city council, we get Luis Gutiérrez into congress, we get many elected officials and things start to stabilize. So, a vote is something that is a blessing? Yes, of course it's a blessing, because it has a lot of power, and a lot of people contarlo—I can't think of the word right now—
GV: I want to bring up one of the reasons why—not why—but as we were thinking about the programming for this project, we started this conversation many months ago, before the election. And we didn't know what the outcome of the election would be. And I think that now as we complicate the conversation of the sofrito alongside the complicated nature of voting, I just really want to highlight for everybody that we were jumping into this dinner together as a collective, thinking about not knowing what the outcome of that election would have been. And I think many people in the chat that are cooking along with us, that are smelling the aroma of the ingredients, we are also being touched by—we're coming together because it's such a complicated participation. Civic participation oftentimes gets called out, too, as a very positive, just go ahead and civically participate. But actually, what this project does is it raises the difficulty of civic participation. Yanira, you said this so beautifully the other day when we were chatting, that voting is an extrapolation of the idea of a nation.
TAW: Wow, yeah, I forgot that. Thanks for writing that down.
GV: It stuck with me.
TAW: Yeah, that's amazing. A few final words from either of you, but we do have to move on to make sure we have time to talk to the artists and break bread together. When you're ready, Jorge, do you want to show us your sofrito? That would be fabulous, if it's ready enough. Yeah, go ahead, Yanira.
YC: The only thing I wanted to say about voting is that many of us—I shouldn't say many of us, some of us have the gift or the blessing of being able to vote because you believe the ideas that the candidate upholds, or at least most of them. But many of us, and I think maybe there are people on this Zoom call that feel this way, are voting in order to protect their community. They are voting not because they believe in the ideas or that's the policy that they want, but they are protecting their people. Chenjerai Kumanyika has this statement that I love, he's a podcaster and artist and based out of New Jersey, he says I want to vote to know who I'm going to fight against. And I think that's something I will just say for me and I don't know if you feel the same way, Jorge, it's really important. I know the things I want for my people, the place I come from, how to get there is so far away, but I want to pick the person I can have the policy fight with. And we are talking about Puerto Rican—what do you call it—activists and political leaders. One thing that is really kind of meaningful and at the same time difficult is looking at my 12-year old son and saying, "I hope you have a Puerto Rican woman for president in AOC one day." This is the candle I light. But at the same time, I'm like, what would it mean to have a Puerto Rican woman president one day? How fucked up is that. Sorry. The colonialism is so wound up in us.
GV: Can you repeat the name of the artist you quoted?
TAW: Or type in the chat.
YC: I don't know how to pronounce his name. I will look him up in my Instagram and send it.
TAW: Jorge is showing us a beautiful creation over here.
JF: This is the way I make sofrito. I use that mill because it squeezes the chop, it's chunky, that's how I like my sofrito. I don't want it to be that much of a paste like you mentioned. Sofrito can be done in so many ways. And it's not really a recipe that you try to emulate. It's something that you make your own. So, in my case, this is how I like it. I freeze it. I put it in little bags. And I drop a spoonful of this in a pot of rice or stew or chicken. You can add some [inaudible] and make it a rub or finish it up on top of a dish just to freshen.
GV: I'm getting so hungry.
YC: It's time.
TAW: It is time! Some people out there, including myself, and I think Gibran also, have meals from Inspiration Kitchen, which also has arroz con gandules in it, among other things, so I'll continue eating mine.
YC: Tara hasn't stopped since we began. Jorge, thank you so much for being with us and for sharing your history with us and, you know, this amazing sofrito. I hope you'll sit down with us and join us for a meal. My arroz con gandules has been sitting there waiting for me. I'm going to go over there. If you have arroz con gandules with you, bring it over to the table. Or if you have something else—also thinking a lot about Hanukkah these days, if you have latkes, bring it to the table. I'm really hoping we can open this up. If you want to turn your videos on and we'll share a meal. It will be a little messy. It might be a little bit awkward. I'm going to have food in my mouth. But I'm hoping that this is in a way a little bit like family, right? And I'll introduce you all the artistic team of a canary torsi that made the manual on this project and we have an opportunity to talk and ask questions. It looks so good. Thank you, Jorge. Turn on those videos.
JF: Thank you for having me.
GV: Some of us are going to be joining us that we ordered from Inspiration Kitchens. The MCA partner is Inspiration Kitchens, which is a social enterprise restaurant that trains—that has a training facility in East Garfield Park that works with folks that are experiencing homelessness and poverty and gives them free classes, free tuition, to learn and get certification for the cooking industry. So, in partnership with them, some of us have our arroz con gandules from Inspiration Kitchens and please keep supporting that organization if you are in Chicago. Most recently they provided at no cost, since April, 13,000 meals in Chicago. So, to me this is all about how community comes together to become resilient and share and break some bread. So, thank you Inspiration Kitchens, as well.
YC: Yeah, amazing.
TAW: Thank you.
YC: I have my arroz con gandules, and I'm going to take a moment, and if everyone can turn your cameras on and go to gallery view and I'm going to invite the artistic team to join us. David Thomson. Kathy Couch. devynn emery. Stephan Moore. Hi Juile, Hi Kate, Pam. Pam is one of the collaborators on the project. She wrote this beautiful essay for blessing, actually, so, it's perfect that you are here. Who else? Miriam. Mona, Kirsten, is also one of the collaborators on this project. She's a dancer, an incredible dancer. You saw her image earlier today. Her tongue way out. Hi Riley. Damon. Thank you everyone for joining us. I'm going to put some arroz con gandules into my bowl and I'm going to start eating. But we imagined this as a moment when. . . you might have questions, or you may have played around with the manual, or you might have desires for the manual. Somebody reached out to me earlier and asked me, "I really want to do this manual in community with others, can I do that?" I was like, "You don't have to ask." Nobody here has to ask. You can take it away and do with it as you desire, as it feels right to you. Yes, ask us questions or share what you are eating that has meaning to you, how you are holding your bodies up.
TAW: I just wanted to point out what you said about the manuals is exactly what Jorge said about sofrito, that you can adapt it as you wish and use it for a million different things and more than that. So that's not a question, that's just a comment. But if you—also just FYI—if you have a question or comment and don't want to be camera or audible, please drop it in the chat as well.
JF: Can I make an ad? Go to my sofrito conversation. You can see the recipe and how to use it.
YC: Can we put that in the chat?
TAW: Oh yeah, that's a great—
YC: To let people know where to go? That would be great.
TAW: Yes. Jorge, if it's hard for you to put it in there yourself, let us know.
JF: I'll do that.
YC: Someone is asking what the best beverage is to drink with sofrito. That will be an argument that will go on for quite a while. I mean with my brothers it's rum and coke, rum and coke, rum and coke, very American, Puerto Rican, of a certain generation. If you ask me, it absolutely has to be rum. So, some valito would be great, I think, with sofrito. Valito is a dark rum from the island. Or, Kathy has a beer.
JF: Now, in the holidays it has to be a shot of coquito.
[sounds of agreement]
YC: So coquito is like coconut and rum and if you come to my house, I always have some around this time of year. You only drink it now.
JF: Yes, the holidays.
DEVYNN EMORY: Hi, this is devynn, I'm a performer in the project, I wanted to say thank you for gathering with us. It's been, this part of the performance, this is one of the last times we are together for this tour. We used to have this meal, if that wasn't clear, before we got on stage and before you entered the theater. So, we would gather our friends and sit down and have this meal. It was a beautiful way for us to meet you all before we invited you to do some pretty complicated tasks with us. If you have the manual, things like getting on your hands and knees for mercy and some pretty hard moments of judgment. So, sharing a meal before that was always one of my favorite ways to commune with everyone. I'm glad we are keeping this part sacred.
TAW: Yeah, it's funny that it is now the kind the close—for many of us in Chicago, it is a trajectory of receiving the manuals, maybe you came to the event in October, if you didn't, there is a link, it can be viewed online publicly, but receiving the manuals, maybe you read through them or performed one of them or thought about performing one of themor maybe you just looked at it, which is what I've done because I got to edit them all, so I know them by heart, and you know, sort of hide them in the corner. But it does feel like a trajectory that we've all been on in different ways with this work which is so unusual. So often you show up for an hour in the theater and then you leave again. So, there is something really—to me that's the specialness of the form this project is taking right now. I'm curious if any of the artists who have been on that trajectory for much longer than all of us have thoughts about what has stuck out most of you about shifting, or thinking about this project completely anew, in a social distancing time. What has been beautiful about having to completely reimagine it?
DAVID THOMSON: Hi. This is David Thomson. For me I would say one of the beauties of this is that within a theater space there's sort of limitations on how many people we can hold and how long it will take and while the actions themselves are held in the container of a space, of this large architectural space, sometimes smaller depending on the building, this translation actually makes it much more accessible to people. I feel like it allows the seeds of the work to actually spread through the wind, the ether of the internet, and in that sense, how people engage with it. In one way it's going to be different just like sofrito. This is not the sofrito we made last year. This is the sofrito of the new year. And so, it's going to propagate in its own way. We are using different materials. People are going to flavor it differently. Some people will cook it a little more, they'll have it this way. It's going to change. So, you have the basic recipe that is your guide to live with, which I think is a beautiful thing.
KATE: I have never participated in this before. I'm coming to you from Cleveland. So, I found out about it through the internet, to your point. I'm delighted to find out what you all are doing. I actually have my manuals. I work with some people who are currently experiencing homelessness and we also work with people who are incarcerated at my agency. When I was reading through this, I thought so much of this is so easy to do with populations who basically have no money and our agency of course has no money for this kind of thing. But this is something we could use with them. My supervisor is on the board at our contemporary art museum here. I was, you know, the gears started going off in my head about how we make connections and are you traveling with this? Is this something that you just want people to go out and be the spawn of this? How can we further what you're communicating?
YANIRA: That's such a beautiful question. Yes. I wanted it, we wanted it to be really accessible to people. We wanted this—because we were writing essentially, Kathy and I worked hard on putting this together from scores that we had in many ways framed together when we were doing it in performance, we were thinking about what would people have at home? What would people—because this was May, so we were all sheltering in place. What would we have at home? There would be a lot of cardboard. Or maybe not, actually. Some of us might have a lot of cardboard. Others might not have cardboard. We might have cardboard. We might have something to draw with, a pen, pencil, crayon, a piece of charcoal, a crayon because we have children or maybe we are still children ourselves so we have crayons, you know? So, we have these things and what can we make together out of that? And it's really endless what you can do with that. I've been thinking a lot about now that you have these manuals how to create community, especially when Catherine reached out to me and said I want to do these in community. I was thinking about ways in which to do that. So, I'm actually going to share about something we are doing up through—I guess we'll call it the transfer of power on January 20th— as a way in which people can join us synchronously to do an action together. Not seeing each other on Zoom but meeting in the ether and knowing that me in New York at 3 o'clock and Kathy in Massachusetts at 3 o'clock and you in Cleveland, maybe you are in Chicago, that at that same time we all choose to do something at the same time together. We may not see each other but we have promised to one another, we've made a blessing to one another that we are going to create this ethereal community. So that's something that we are going to be talking about a little bit later, it's called commune as we head out. But I am also very excited to talk about the ways in which you might be interested in working with your community and supporting that in any way that I can. So please feel free to reach out.
KATE: Thank you, I will. I had another question, if I can ask one question. A lot of the actions that you had created, a lot of the rituals seem very much based in, you know, what we used to call like religious ritual, a lot of the language, "exile," "confession," and I was wondering what you are doing with that, how you created. . . It seems intentional that you were creating around what we think of as religious language, but you are doing something different with it. I was wondering if you can comment on that. Anybody.
YC: Yes, I think all of us can talk a little bit about that. I will say briefly, it started off with the requiem and Stephan Moore and I talked a lot about the requiem. I was interested in the death mass because I thought the election of 45 meant the death of something, and I wasn't sure what that was. And I was really struggling with it. Many of us were really struggling with it. For me, it was a memory that I carried with me: that when I left Puerto Rico as a child, my grandmother sat me on my lap, and she said, "You're going to the enemy." And I'll never forget that. So, I've always had this relationship to the US of this fear of the worst is going to come one day. Well, I mean, I'm sure looking forward to January 20th, and a little respite from maybe what is the worst of it. But maybe it's not the worst yet. But there was something about that that I was grappling with. So, Stephan and I started talking about the requiem. The requiem is steeped in this language. At first, I rejected it and then because I rejected it, I said to myself, you've got to sit with this and figure it out. So, it was me grappling a lot. Especially with judgment, which at first I thought, I'm not going to do judgment. I'm going to ignore it. I can't. Now that I said I'm going to ignore it, now I have to face it. Stephan, I don't know if you have something to say about the requiem and the language and how difficult it can sometimes be.
STEPHAN MOORE: I don't have a lot to add to that. It's just you bringing that up brings to mind what an incredible journey creating this piece has been from our first conversations to right now. We were looking very closely at the requiem structure and trying to think about how we ritualize our response to grief and loss and how do we sort of, in a social setting, in a public setting kind of enter discussion of serious matters and consider the dark and light sides of it, asking for mercy. . . sort of grappling with the ideas of judgment, and kind of leading in a way that is sort of uplifting but acknowledging of the process that has been undergone, there is a kind of social alchemy to that, that multistep process in the way it had been ritualized. Then we were looking at the ways that different composers in different centuries addressed that, which was really looking at how different societies in different times held up as models how to go through that. I feel like at a certain point the requiem was mostly jettisoned and what was left was the container that we then were able to fill in all these different ways. And so many people on this team had so many contributions to that process. To have that all have worked through the processes that we went through to get to the performances, which all happened in October a year ago, and now to see that crystallize into this manual and to be able to sort of live on in this form, it's—I've worked with Yanira a really long time, every work is a long process, every work feels like a long journey, but this one is particularly, it's particularly long and convoluted and wonderful, the path it has traveled and how it's gone from this very nascent place we can still remember very well to its final form is a great thing to think about on a night like tonight, when we are not saying farewell to the project, but giving it a bit of a sendoff.
KATE: Thank you.
TAW: I wanted to add: our house manager dropped the link to the October 23rd Zoom event on the chat which digs into this further. Just like we had Jorge this time, it was in conversation with another Chicago activist and leader, Marshall Hatch Jr. Gibran, do you want to say anything else about that event and yeah. . . religiousness?
GV: Yes, Kate, thank you for your question. It touches on a lot of the language but a lot of the ideas that we were bringing to the table for this conversation. We chatted with Marshall Hatch, he's the executive director of the Maafa Redemption Project, which works with previously incarcerated or court-related young men and gives them training how to do good work in Chicago and also how to run a business. So, a lot of this thinking around redemption and a lot of the religious thinking behind ritual and the process and the language has been always tied, for me personally, to this civic work that you are bringing up in this conversation. Please check out that conversation, it's really fascinating to see the overlap in language, but also just how we all get to participate politically, civically and what that means right now. It's a really complicated question.
KATE: It is! I'll shut up. I just have one more question. Who would I contact? Because my niece gave this to me as a Christmas present. You have my niece's stuff in Toronto, but you don't have mine. Who would I contact over there to get hooked up with you all?
YC: I'll put my email in the chat for you.
KATE: Thank you.
TAW: I have one question in the chat that we missed which I think is an important one. This is Miriam Perkins, "Can you offer some suggestions for hosting a group of people to share in an experience of practicing the manual?" Seems very practical and brings up a lot of these same questions that we are talking about.
YC: I think they are endless. I really believe in completely altering any of these scores to suit your needs. So, if you have a score that's for eight people that you really love that you have in your household four, and you wish to do it with those four people, change it. Make it yours. I imagine that people might meet one another outside in a park and do some of these. I imagine that you reach out to family members that are distant and you might share some of this in some way. I, for myself, I'm probably going to do them as an individual practice because I need—I've been thinking a lot about reprogramming my body and trying to figure out what that is, and I'm thinking about using these scores to figure out what that would mean. There are so many infinite ways which you could take these and make them your own. But I think that's something for me, anyway, is really, really important is to find what's important to you out of the score or scores and enact them in a way that it makes sense to you most.
TAW: Well, I was going to say we are running out of time and you all have a final blessing to share and I want to make sure we have time for that.
YC: Yes. Thank you everybody so much for joining us tonight. This has been a really special night. And we've been saying that this is a closing. It's a closing with the MCA, who have been incredibly generous in developing these manuals with us. We've been at it since May and they got to you in November, so you can imagine all the conversations and all the work it took to get these manuals to you. And the artists that you are seeing here adapted them beautifully. And the MCA was incredible in designing them, in putting them together, in thinking about ways—how they might arrive to you. They had so many different formulations before they came to you. But, I'm happy with way they came to you. So, this is our last event with the MCA, but really this is the beginning for you. You have these manuals now. You can do them as you wish, when you wish. Two years from now, you might find them in your shelf somewhere and pick them up and it might be resonant for you. But I did want to share this event that I hinted at and I'm going to read it to you so I don't get this wrong because it's kind of brand new. As a way to continue this journey together in community, I wanted to announce tonight a practice that we, the artists of a canary torsi, are inviting the public on and I hope you will join us. It's a synchronous ritual across distance. For the next five Sundays, starting next week, the 20th, until the US transfer of presidential power on January 20th, we are inviting you into a five-week ritual with the manuals. We call it, "Commune." We will take on one manual a week. We are going to choose a score, just one, or more if you've got that kind of ambition. You have time to prepare, and then on Sunday at 3 pm Eastern time, 2 pm Central, and noon Pacific, we will enact them at the same, imagining each other engaging, enacting, performing, and marking the time together. To find out more about that, there will be information sent out tomorrow on my Instagram and Facebook which is @acanarytorsi, so you can follow it there. It's really very simple. It's not on Zoom. It's us meeting at a specific time. But to end our evening together—Sorry, so many things to say. Many thanks to the MCA, to Jorge, to the artists, to David, Kathy, Stephan, to Kirsten, to Leslie [inaudible], to devynn emory, to Peter Richards, who did the video, Susan Marlandow, who's a dramaturg, Simon Courchel whose photographs you've been seeing, am I missing anyone? Did I say Kathy, Stephan? LDD Armen who's running this show tonight. Thank you so much. To Tara, for dreaming this all up with me. I love that you call it a prayer book sometimes. And to Gibran who has brought so many beautiful people into our lives, thank you. And to Marshall, wherever he is, and to you Jorge and to the entire MCA staff. So, now, we are going to do this one last blessing with you. devynn emory is going to lead us in that. And may you be blessed and may you be protected.
DEVYNN EMORY: [devynn says, 'Hello my name is devynn emory in Lenape] Hello in my native Lenape tongue, I'm relearning and coming home to a theme of this evening. It has been an incredible journey being a performer in this project and I really thank you for engaging us and joining me in this closing blessing. I am grateful to be with you in today's showering of blessings as I believe we all really need it. I really need it. And as I guide you through this last blessing of the evening, I've developed to hold me, you, and us, I ask that you take care of your body in the ways that center your needs, so you can join me in body, spirit, sitting or standing or witnessing if you prefer as I move us through a set of gestures that nod to the seven sacred directions. I've called this, "The Seven Movements." I'm going to go ahead and stand. You can follow along and join me. We start with one, hands at our hearts, this is a gesture to come home to any time we need recentering and regrounding to remind us of all of our ancestors and lines and lineages and others' ancestors who came in to touch us and our spirits tonight, as it did tonight. This is two, this is a gesture to remind us that the energies around your body and your ancestral vessel are right here when you need them, you can call in any energy when you like, and you can shift it and push out energy that you'd like also. This is always here for you. Three, I'm going to make those two circles overlap. This gesture is just outside of our containers. So, you can do this outside or inside, but it is including the energy that is a little further away from you, so all of the trees that have been here for hundreds of years before us, all of the air and the wind that circulates and filters the air protecting our bodies every day. This is four, this is a reverse prayer. This is a reverse prayer to receive all of the blessing that we received this evening, all of the blessings that we receive every day, especially the ones that we don't even know about. Five, this is a prayer from me to you and you to me, this gesture we can do daily as a reminder that any energy we put out to others affects others and others and others. Six, this is the sacred triangle that is you, me, and us. Seven, our final gesture, this releases all of this. Because we remember that ceremony and prayer and blessings is also a simple gesture. We often—I often can spend a lot of time in ceremony, thank goodness, and when I don't have time, it can also be really simple. So, I ask you to follow me in these seven movements. Let us begin.
[music in background]
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Let's do it one more time. One, two, three, four five six, seven. Thank you for joining me. I invite you all to turn off your cameras now as we close. Thank you.
This project was organized by Tara Aisha Willis, Associate Curator, Performance and Public Practice with Laura Paige Kyber, Curatorial Assistant. The project is developed and produced by MCA Chicago and programming is presented in collaboration with Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.
Additional programming for Last Audience: a performance manual can be found at Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.
Lead support for the New Works Initiative is provided by Elizabeth A. Liebman. Lead support for the 2020–21 season of MCA Performance and Public Programs is also provided by Elizabeth A. Liebman.
Major support is provided by the Alphawood Foundation and Julie and Larry Bernstein. Generous support is also provided by Lois and Steve Eisen and The Eisen Family Foundation; Ginger Farley and Bob Shapiro/the Martha Struthers Farley and Donald C. Farley Jr. Family Foundation; Susan Manning and Doug Doetsch; and Carol Prins and John Hart/The Jessica Fund. Additional generous support for MCA Stage is provided by Enact, the MCA’s performance affinity group. The MCA is a proud member of the Museums in the Park and receives major support from the Chicago Park District.
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