sensory potential – interview with Quinn Dukes

You can expect intensely thoughtful live performance projects that explore the immigrant experience, physical endurance, the engendered body, sonic transformation and well, the unexpected!


Jana Astanov interviews Quinn Dukes

‘I actually created the platform after a frustrating conversion in grad school in which performance art was deemed irrelevant unless it stemmed from social practice. I found this to be a narrow way of looking at contemporary performance and decided to start interviewing current performance art practitioners.’

I have noticed more confidence and vocalization from the LGBTQ community over the past several years. I believe that performance artists are well known for embracing the physical body as a vessel for discourse. This aligns well for artists exploring the complexity of body identity.

Quinn Dukes is a multimedia performance artist, activist and curator based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work addresses social injustice and ritual. Dukes holds an MFA in Art Practice from the School of Visual Arts and a BFA in Fine Art from Watkins College of Art & Design. In 2014, following a heated discussion about the death of performance art, Dukes founded Performance Is Alive. She is a tireless advocate for performance art and higher education via appointments at Satellite Art Show (NYC, Miami, TX), Grace Exhibition Space and the School of Visual Arts (SVA).  

CREATRIX Magazine: What excites you the most about the upcoming show, Performance Is Alive, happening at Satellite Art Fair, on October 3rd through 6th in New York City?

Quinn Dukes: The electric energy and bonds formed amongst our performance and video artists is the first thing that pops into my mind. Over the past 4 years of curating #AliveAtSatellite, I have witnessed many of our artists establish meaningful friendships which often lead to future collaborations. I too, establish long lasting bonds with the artists which has allowed me to witness and support their growth over several years. 
And of course, I am also really excited to witness the projects that I have envisioned coming to life over the past several months. Specifically, I am looking forward to the durational aspect of each performance. All pieces are at least 1 hour long. Sandrine Schaefer will present a 4 hour and 15 minute work that slowly refines and compresses 128-minutes of actions into a 1 minute action. I am also looking forward to Christopher Unpezverde Núñez’s piece that explores the experiential and sensory potential of performance for those whom are visually impaired.

CXM: What was your original concept for Performance Is Alive, and how has it evolved since its inception? 

QD: I actually created the platform after a frustrating conversion in grad school in which performance art was deemed irrelevant unless it stemmed from social practice. I found this to be a narrow way of looking at contemporary performance and decided to start interviewing current performance art practitioners. I wanted to share the voice of emerging performance artists, working now. And, I wanted to shed light on the vast complexities involved within performance making. So it started as an online platform with artist features and performance reviews and has grown into being a sponsor for performance festivals and a curatorial platform. 

Image credit: “Frivolous Artist” with performer Carley McCready-Bingham,
credit Wild Actions

CXM: Are you in any way surprised by the itinarations your platform followed?

QD: (Laughing) Uhmm, yes! I had no idea that I would be given so many wonderful opportunities to expand. Performance Is Alive turns 5 this November and I am committed to enhancing our online presence in tandem with live performance curation.

Image credit: Vyczie Dorado, still from “A tribute to Tom Rubnitz” 2018

CXM: There are quite a few artists within the performance art community who also work as independent curators. For some the curation is an extension of one’s work through the themes it presents, for others it’s a way of community building or setting an ambitious art curriculum, or even, stirring a social change – for example, through environmental activism or feminism. What is it for you?

QD: Building community is especially important to me. It is an aspect that I look forward to expanding in the future through shared meals and workshops. I often select several artists that are local to the fair location thus allowing their families to meet other local and international artists.  My curatorial selections are not thematic but rather diverse in content. Since I have an opportunity to present 4 days of non-stop performance within the context of an art fair, I feel a responsibility in presenting and celebrating diversity. With that being said, my personal ethics are inevitably woven into the selections thus celebrating equal human rights, environmental activism and certainly, feminism.

CXM: How do you balance your own art practice with the work you do through Performance Is Alive? I find your work sensual and enchanting, but to see you perform is an unusual treat… 
QD: (Smiling) Yes, it’s true. I have not performed much this year. I made a commitment to allow myself to focus on curation for Performance Is Alive at Satellite in 2019. The fair expanded from one event per year to now three full scale fair productions. I am always thinking and daydreaming about future performances. I so enjoy interacting directly with others through focused sensory actions. So, once 2019 has wrapped, I will again meditate on my personal goals and reconfigure. Ideally, I further integrate the two. 

Bianca Falco in performance for Performance Is Alive at Satellite Miami 2018.

CXM: You have teamed up with Satellite Art Fair.  What are the benefits of collaborating with a fair, and how does performance art shape the fair’s vision? 
QD: Being connected  to Satellite’s audience has allowed Performance Is Alive to expand our reach. This directly aligns with my vision for both projects – to support performance practitioners while offering an access point to the performance curious.

CXM: Am I correct in thinking that this is the first Performance Is Alive at Satellite Art Show in New York City? What should we expect from the Big Apple edition? And how is it different from Miami or Austin? 
QD: Yes, this is the first full fair from Satellite in NYC. Last September, we held a 2-day event (Art Hole) in conjunction with Bushwick Open Studios within a vacant .99 cent store. The programming was primarily focused on performance with a few installations from the Satellite team (Brian Andrew Whiteley and AnnaLiisa Benston). I even got a match tattoo at the event from Jonny Gomez to commemorate the occasion. It was a WILD few days and it built our confidence to move forward with a full fair the following year. 
I feel like the event venues set the tone for each fair. Satellite NYC is within an industrial warehouse with high ceilings and concrete floors. A place that feels comfortable for many Brooklyn-based artists, including me. It will also be fulfilling to present the fair to our local audience and support base. So often we bring NYC to Miami or Austin. I hope our local community joins us to see what we’re capable of producing!

Image credit: Shelter, Mairead Delaney, photo credit Manuel Sosa

CXM: How do you think your curatorial efforts have influenced the perception of the fair so far? 
QD: I believe it further supports the fairs interest and pursuit of inclusivity.

CXM: Going through the submissions to the show, have you noticed any themes emerging? What are the currents in contemporary performance art?
QD: I have noticed more confidence and vocalization from the LGBTQ community over the past several years. I believe that performance artists are well known for embracing the physical body as a vessel for discourse. This aligns well for artists exploring the complexity of body identity.

CXM: Your programming includes 40 artists in both performance art and video sections. I saw quite a few familiar names in the video schedule. What should we expect? Performance art for video or video art as performance?
QD: 40 ARTISTS!! I am so excited and oh my goodness… I am so honored to feature so many. I honestly didn’t realize the record number (for Performance Is Alive) until a few weeks after making my final selections. I just received so many incredible submissions! You can expect intensely thoughtful live performance projects that explore the immigrant experience, physical endurance, the engendered body, sonic transformation and well, the unexpected!
I’d say that for the most part, the video selections are performance art for video. Meaning the project was visualized as a performance first and the documentation serves to continue the life of the project.

Image credit: Stephanie McGovern, Head Shaving at the House of Yes

CXM: How is the art fair sustainable for the participating artists? How do you think performance artists can overcome the challenges of making a sellable product?
QD: Well, in general, art fairs come at a high cost. Satellite Art Show charges the least amount possible to present work from exhibitors of all types (non-profit, artist run spaces, independent projects, etc). This allows artists to enter the larger dialogs happening during SXSW or Miami Art Week at a reasonable rate. It isn’t easy to offer stipends to performers, but I do my best to ensure it happens – even if that means paying artists from my personal budget. Organizations like W.A.G.E are helping to establish fair rate standards across arts organizations. My goal is to continue building Performance Is Alive to reach W.A.G.E. certification. As an aside, Performance is Alive has a fundraising campaign happening now for this very thing! Donate here. 😉
As a curator,  it is my responsibility to ensure fair compensation and support for all performers. It is the artists responsibility to stand behind the value of their work. As both artist and curator, I activate both principles. Recognize the value and stand behind it.

CXM: The show runs from 3rd to 6th October. Is it possible to see it all in one day? 
QD: Oh no, definitely not possible to experience it all in one day. The performance space changes drastically with each artist! Get the multi-day pass so that you can visit us a few times.  There are 1 day passes for $10 and multi-day passes for $15. Link for either is here. Also, please donate to our current fundraising campaign on Fractured Atlas! https://fundraising.fracturedatlas.org/performance-is-alive/campaigns/2922

CXM: Are there any special events on any particular day that are absolutely unmissable? 
QD: I feel tremendously honored to present a screening event featuring the work of seminal video and performance artists, Barbara Rosenthal. We will screen 12 of Barbara’s works that are performative in their documentation or in the prompts presented throughout the piece. I enjoy the range in which she works. It’s cheeky, daring, conceptual and cerebral. The screening will be held on Friday, October 4th at 8pm. 

CXM: What’s next for Quinn Dukes and Performance Is Alive? 
QD: In November, I will travel to Martinique for the FIAP- International Festival of Performance Art. Performance Is Alive will review performances and I will meet with the artists for studio visits as curator for Satellite Art Show. And then of course, I will be in Miami for Satellite Art Show in December. Phew! Lot’s happening and I am grateful for every moment of it!

FB Invite: Performance Is Alive at Satellite Art Show NYC
Performance Is Alive Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/performanceisalive/
Performance Is Alive Website: https://www.performanceisalive.com/

About the interviewer:

Jana Astanov is a multidisciplinary artist, a poet and an independent curator living in New York. You can follow her: IG @Jana_Astanov, Twitter @JanaAstanov, & Fb JanaAstanov.

Jana Astanov, Dancing Sculptures series


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