A love letter to de-skilling:
I thought I’d start by contextualizing my bit about deskilling and reskilling as: abandoning and then reinvestment in my own body, also as resisting, diversifying, and looking for alternatives. In many ways I think about myself having started dancing late, even though I started dancing from the moment I saw my sister do it. In other words, I got to post-secondary realizing how far behind I was because I had never done ballet, and being written off my instructors as being a lost cause.
It’s because of my limited technique and being a relatively politically-minded human being, I think, that the virtuosic codified language of contemporary dance training never spoke to me, and I felt a dissatisfaction with the form meant that when I went to create work: I tried to do what wasn’t being done around me—I tried to tackle political issues, I used text and voice, I became obsessed with minimalism, and rooted myself in pedestrian aesthetic— gesture, breath, gaze, shake. I opted for grotesque to counter the kind of aesthetic beauty that didn’t interest me.
So it then struck me the shortcomings of my dance education, which can perhaps speak to the limitations of many a dance education system. I had learned dance history— but white dance history, and had learned dance aesthetics, but again, aesthetics that more and more revealed themselves to be rooted in the hegemony of whiteness, of privilege, of patriarchy. I had spent years forcing my body into a mold, asking it to dance in the Palace of dead white folk. When time and time again, I failed to fit the mold, I learned to hide, to feel shame, and to feel betrayed by my own body. So I abandoned it.
I was drawn to collaboration and interdisciplinary process because I didn’t trust my training. Because I found it easier to champion other peoples’ ideas than my own. Similar to some of the sentiments Milton and Remy have articulated, it’s quite key, in interdisciplinary devised work— that each discipline be willing to relinquish their values and conventions in order to give way for something new to form. This excited me, because I had always felt stifled by the box that contemporary dance came to me in, anyway. My venturing into interdisciplinary art meant that re-skilling kind of felt like no-skilling. I couldn’t find relevance for the skills I had trained: my skills of repeatability, my skills of biting my tongue, hiding my fatigue, pointing my foot, working through physical pain, generating movement material, teaching movement material, being able to count bars of music like a boss. So what did I have? I used my head and my social skills, all the ways I know how to be with other people: being open-minded, saying “yes, and”, picking up slack. I distilled my artistry into being a good team player and working on “facilitating a safe space for collaborators to be inspired or to play”. In hindsight, despite the fact that that’s how I articulated my practice, I’m not sure how successful I was at this.
What I did know, is that it didn’t feel like dance. Now, it COULD have. But it didn’t— and I’ll elaborate on that in a moment.
Last January HKX was working on trangression/cantosphere at Centre A Gallery, this was our first visual art exhibition, lasting about 2 months. It was one of most gruelling projects to date. I think it was a bit of culture shock for all of us, as artists that compose time and space mostly in a proscenium setting, where we craft the beginning, middle, and end of an experience. For me specifically, I did a lot of curating and shopping for objects and text. It almost killed us putting up that project. I remember at the opening, someone came up to and asked, so you’re the choreographer. What did you do for this? I was quite taken aback. and offended. I don’t remember what I said.
Last August, I was in process with HKX practising devising from a place of non-knowing, practicing being present in the room and allow the work to transpire. I was asked by my mentor Lee Su-Feh: what do you see, what gives you pleasure? And I didn’t know. I couldn’t place my impulses, my pleasures. And I’m going to argue that this was because I had abandoned my body.
Funny enough, since August I have been re-skilling in my own discipline, but this time own and honour it, and own and honour what I bring to it. And acknowledge the sensation of being oppressed, outcasted, and victimized by it. I am trying to unlearn my training by shifting where my lab of body inquiry and performance is: placing it in social dancing, in sex, in alcohol, in my experience of gender, in spaces where I feel fear, in spaces of rage and of sorrow. I am humanizing dance for myself, inviting all facets of me feed into my work, and valuing all aspects of my lived experience as vital to art-making and sharing.
Excerpt from an artist talk with Hong Kong Exile hosted at Unit/Pitt Gallery as part of An Exact Vertigo: an invitation to Vancouver’s contemporary dance and contemporary art communities to engage in discussion surrounding critical theory, text, and movement.