Frontlines Of All Kind

Must we be dead to rest in peace?

Documentary film follows Black Power Naps through rehearsals for a show that is ultimately cancelled because of COVID. It tells a story we must come to understand parallels the story that the artists (of color) are telling through the work: the story of how artists (of color) are structured into working. Sosa and Navild are established in the FRONTLINES narrative, practically chipper as we follow them behind the scenes of their upcoming project until the annulment.

Essay by artist and educator Mandy Williams

*Writer Actions:

Set the timer for 3 hours:

Or wait...

How much time should I set my timer for?

In years before I wouldn’t have set my timer at all, but now I am conflicted here at the precipice of fingers on keyboard or massaging my scalp for a little bit longer this afternoon. I’m not entirely certain which route to take.

My body is one that is idealized for work, apparently, this is a national tradition (but only when quiet and this is a conflict for a thinker.) How do I value this invitation and creative fellowship invited to write by Sosa Sosa and Navild Acosta, for their project Black Power Naps? How do I value this funding by Ford? How many kilojoules of energy should be expended per those social, community, and institutional values? How do I dignify all parties? Is there some reparational level of work my body should be calculating for (tax)? How can I redistribute my education to my peers, and if I underperform, what if I am not asked back? How could I structure my work such that life is bleeding into it, rather than that it is bleeding into life? For unidirectional bleeding is hemorrhage, and dual directional bleeding is circulation.

It’s difficult to be valued for a thing that has been done many times, or something that can be done with so little technology, production cost, and infrastructure. How will I value myself in completing this task?

I don’t know how I would calculate an hourly for this work. How much did it cost to arrive at this level of critical thinking, emotional organization, categorical athleticism, linguistic play? When I calculate how much time is spent, arriving at self such that the self’s opinions are worthy of the fee which I’ll take to write this, I guess in that case there are years of investment that may never be recouped, and now I am feeling it in this time more than ever: I hit my wall this year, as many of us did. And I am gently inching back from it.

It appeared like the end of The Truman Show. There I was out to sea completely, until the nose of my boat hit the edge of my capacity. I have learned that “can’t” is not a static place. Can’t shifts and morphs, and the more I think about it, the more I see it’s likeness to “won’t.” My need to rest does not begin at the precise point that my capacity to exert ends.

Here I am invited to work, and also I am reminded to rest. I anticipate some parallel successes and failures. I am willing to explore with our brave hosts, an opposite structure: calculate who I am by how much rest I will take. Times up for self care and wordplay, here: or is it?

FRONTLINES OF ALL KIND follows Black Power Naps through rehearsals for their opera “Choir of the Slain,” that is ultimately cancelled because of COVID. It tells a story we must come to understand parallels the story that the artists (of color) are telling through the work: the story of how artists (of color) are structured into working. Sosa and Navild are established in the FRONTLINES narrative, practically chipper as we follow them behind the scenes of their upcoming project until the annulment. Sosa reads a poem: “must our final resting place be our coffin not our bed, must we be dead to rest in peace? … Must we be dead to stay alive? Must we be dead to finally thrive?”

From here on, we watch a double conscienced format, a will to bring the work to bear, the intention of rehearsal, voiced over with snippets of calls and discussions with the collaborators and the hosting institution: the performance has been cancelled, a worker at the institution with whom the performers had close contact has contracted COVID—and revealed, seemingly offhandedly, our performers rights to medical privacy have been compromised. All along we watch: our performers, costumed as Clowns, are laughing in the bed (on stage), tending to one another with macabre softness and glee. Now they are not just making work, they are making work in a context that has moved from implicitly to explicitly detrimental.

Seeds of mistrust are sewn, and throughout a somewhat non-linear framework, we grow to understand the impact of art world work style microaggressions that result in macro hostile environments for people of color working in art spaces.
- Why, yes, thank you for having us.
- Who are you to tell me what I can stage?
- What is it worth? What is the value of my time to do this?
- Have you even ever once stopped to think about our wellbeing?
- About what we might need as Afro descended people making work about Black rest?
- What is the hosting institution’s “duty to care?”
- Why did you cancel our show and how can we make value of the incomplete work? How will we glamourize the process, when we are unable to share the products of our efforts?
- How is it possible that there is such a grave disconnect between the seeming acknowledgement of having us to put up this particular work through your institution while failing to provide care and clear communication?
- Why is it that Black artists and artists of color so frequently have to make work in ways that contrast the praxis implications for the work’s topic?

Long time followers of Navild and Sosa’s work understand that these questions, the how and with whom we are working, are just as central, just as much the art, and oftentimes the subject of their work, and they seem ready to pivot. Why do we always have to be so resilient and flexible?

The film is nevertheless gorgeous. It is frustrated and full. It is emotional, it yearns to express more than it can. It’s a sad and sexy feeling. The color grade, the behind thescenes glamour, the workshopping, the physical grace as they block out movements, the stylish camera work, and even though there is a non-fussiness to the film, it’s giving “rock-doc,” very worthy of our attention. I’m happy to bear witness. I believe this is the meaning of style, or perhaps, I should say, the reason for it.

Writer closes document

FRONTLINES OF ALL KIND is a new video commission by The Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice (NYC) documenting artists Navild Acosta and Fannie Sosa endeavors and challenges during the pandemic. The filming occurred during the rehearsal period of the Black Power Naps opera “Choir of the Slain" slated to premier at a Berlin theater in the fall of 2020. The opera offers a lush audiovisual landscape where rest and idleness reclaim power and offer healing for the people who are most denied rest and relaxation. Based on historic truths and recent studies, we know that race, class, and socio-economic status determine the amount of quality rest that one can achieve. Working under the strain of a global pandemic exacerbates this social inequity for many, particularly Black people who labor at front lines of all kinds. By creating a collage of the beautiful moments found against the backdrop of institutional power structures, FRONTLINES OF ALL KIND offers an insight into what liberating spaces of rest for Black and racialized people entails.

Launch event at the Ford Foundation

Virtual event via Zoom. The video presentation will be followed by a conversation between artist Mandy Harris Williams, Sosa, and Acosta. Black Power Naps will finish the program by leading a soundscape meditation session. We welcome you to join the event with anything to support your comfort and rest. Bring your eye masks, pillows, essential oils, and relaxing beverages.

3 March 2021
1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. EST


  • Ford Foundation Gallery 
    320 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017
    Visitor info

Virtual event via Zoom

RSVP

ABOUT THE CURATORS
Jessica A. Cooley and Ann M. Fox have been curatorial collaborators since 2009. Jessica is a scholar-curator currently finishing her dissertation titled Crip Materiality, which forwards a new methodology to address how ableism affects the understanding and valuation of the very fibers of art materials within curatorial and conservation discourses; Ann is a Professor of English at Davidson College in Davidson, NC, with specialties in disability studies in literature and art. They have co-curated two disability-related exhibitions together, RE/FORMATIONS: Disability, Women, and Sculpture and STARING. In addition, both Jessica and Ann have been invited to give national and international talks, hired as consultants to lend their expertise to issues related to disability and art, and contributed to a broad range of other curatorial projects and publications.

ABOUT THE SPEAKERS
Black Power Naps is a sculptural installation, vibrational device and curatorial initiative that reclaims laziness and idleness as power. Departing from historical records that show that deliberate fragmentation of restorative sleep patterns were used to subjugate and extract labor from enslaved people, we have realised that this extraction has not stopped, it has only morphed. A state of constant fatigue is still used to break our will. This “sleep gap” shows that there are front lines in our bedrooms as well as the streets: deficit of sleep and lack of free time for some is the building block of the “free world.” After learning who benefits most from restful sleep and down time, we are creating interactive surfaces for a playful approach to investigate and practice deliberate energetic repair. As Afro Latinx artists, we believe that reparation must come from the institution under many shapes, one of them being the redistribution of rest, relaxation, and down times. Mandy Harris Williams is an artist and community worker living and working in Los Angeles. In her artwork, she creates and performs multiple didactic and deconstructive gestures that unpack themes of race and social structures, desire, tech, algorithm, and attentionality. In her work as Programming Director at the Women's Center for Creative Work, she programs in a similarly creative and responsive way, creating events, book clubs, workshops, artist talks and community clubs.

Mandy Harris Williams is an artist and community worker living and working in Los Angeles. In her artwork, she creates and performs multiple didactic and deconstructive gestures that unpack themes of race and social structures, desire, tech, algorithm, and attentionality. In her work as Programming Director at the Women's Center for Creative Work, she programs in a similarly creative and responsive way, creating events, book clubs, workshops, artist talks and community clubs.

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