Curating a Collision

By Biba Bell


“It is a delimitation of spaces and times, of the visible and the invisible, of speech and noise, that simultaneously determine the place and the stakes of politics as a form of experience.” —Jacques Rancière

What are the terms of art making? What are the terms of its presentation, performance and reception? What are the terms of space as a frame? What is at stake in the alteration or manipulation of any one of these components? The terms of in/visibility in the field of dance have interested me for some time now. Traversing through the roles of performer, dance-maker, scholar, curator and general beholder, I have been filled with experiences, concerns and questions surrounding the centrality of genre in the arts. And I can’t help but wonder what in fact are the terms of the definitions of these roles. Curatorial practice requires the organizing tendencies wherein artistic work is brought into multiple contexts and exposures. How does this also determine its potential scope of experience? What happens when a form begins to move outside of its familiar terrain? What happens when a dancer refuses to move, a musician to make sound, a painter to determine his/her stroke?

When I was asked by a friend to co-curate “Collision,” a series in the annual Mission Creek Music Festival (MCMF), I was ridiculously excited. As a Bay Area native I have spent the last 9 or so years since undergrad engaging in and between the dance communities of San Francisco and New York City. I am unable to commit solely to either city, and am constantly physically and psychically shifting between coasts—working on a PhD out east and returning west each summer with my annual performance and touring project Modern Garage Movement (MGM). I have curated several dance/performance events in the Bay Area and New York City, one being OtherDANCE in May 2006, a “do-it-yourself” dance festival which took place over two weekends in warehouse gallery spaces in San Francisco and Oakland which invited over twenty artists to perform while overlapping spatially, temporally or not at all. It seems that I’ve been contemplating the terms of collision for sometime: of dances, genres, bodies, descriptors, spaces, etc. Collision as an instance of simultaneous transmission or, more specifically in MCMF, a platform for performance which could bring forth alternate genres. A possible opening for dance to be brought into an expanded field by means of its interaction, encounter or impact within the structure of the larger music festival event.

My questions trace out the limits of curatorial process and are certainly not new—the traditions of the avant-garde offer representative answers—though these questions may (must?) still be asked by artists, curators, critics and even the average (if one could exist) audience member. The quote from Jacques Rancière’s book The Politics of Aesthetics has continued to echo through my mind, exposing the effects of the curatorial process, which in itself harkens to another level of collision, often one that remains partially hidden. Rancière articulates the political front of art as industry which is perpetually intertwining with practices of social engagement and sensorial experience. “Collision” has been an opportunity for me to consider curatorial process and my own engagement with/in this role. For the curator moves as a liaison between performers and audiences, works and their effects, straddling interests, markets, trends and personal affinities. Rancière states the components that organize artistic work in its larger field of circulation and reception, and in this project I’ve focused on the term “collision” itself as an equally present characteristic in this process of delimitation. Collision operates as a metaphor and indicates the performative dimensions of aesthetic experience.

“Collision” has a number of dimensions wherein micro-collisions can occur. First of all, the series is happening in a gallery, New Langton Arts, a terrain where performance is invited to deviate into the realms of time-based art, installation or alternative models of spectatorship. The artists in “Collision” will be asked to consider the various ways that the space and the audience’s relationship to it will factor into the presentation of the work, ultimately offering trajectories within which the framing of the event can be developed, deviated and shifted. Performance scenarios may be intentional or entirely accidental as the understandings between performance and audience are reinvented in varying degrees. Also, the artists invited come from a range of different backgrounds and are all dealing with encounters between genre and medium within their work, blurring the primacy of a single source or mode of expression (i.e. visual, sonic, choreographic, technological, etc.). These artists work within and span a collective play of collisions: as collaborative endeavors between artists whose projects bridge genres, defying delimitation or categorization (as is the case with Heart the Band, Kunsole or MGM); as artists who force into dialogue multiple mediums while traveling through them simultaneously (as is the case with Nancy Garcia or Jane(t) Pants); and, as direct investigations of the conditions of their respective form, asking questions and probing into the politics which surround the dance/r and its potential for circulation, visibility or familiarity (as with projects of Hope Mohr, Andrew Wass or Fischbeck/Duplantier). Finally, “Collision” is one of region as the artists asked to participate are locally connected yet journey from all over: San Francisco, Oakland, New York City, Portland, Los Angeles, Berlin, and Rotterdam. This collision is one that acts as a nexus of circuits moving between dance, performance, relationality, community and experience.

The role of the curator varies in sway and substantiality depending on the field (visual, performing and media arts, music, etc.). His/hers may be a prominent position signifying the tastes of a particular institution/organization or be an artist creating a show of friend/colleague’s work. Though these decisions may reflect who and who does not get funded, presented or produced. They often happen behind closed doors. The curator operates in a nexus point between art and access, expression and the languages which form to it, surround it or pass right on through. The curator molds, modulates or tempers flows of artistic work, culls at potentials for artistic movements, moments or trends. He/she places together disparate work and creates connections, frictions, dialogues or comparisons that must always be negotiated as a collision of sorts, undoing the autonomy of any one piece, idea, form or event. To consider such indeterminate measures is a significant responsibility of curatorial choice, one that does not simply entail degrees of similarity or difference, form or content.

“Collision” is a curatorial venture that may fray in its center or edges, through both disjunction and alignment, whose pieces extend past, yet are brought together in one particular site, on one particular weekend. “Collision” provides an exciting opportunity to explore the exchanges that might generate from its impacts and invite artists to engage with the space, time and contextual constraints differing from the norms of the proscenium. It deals with potentials which range within and beyond the discretion of singular works, and lets pieces synchronize or create friction in their processes of mutual contextualization. As the recognizable transgresses its discrete medium it collides with other forms, genres, and even bodies, in an escapade that expands its limits and opens up the preordained boundaries of the field. Interdisciplinary is an equanimous word that reconciles the aggressive potential of such a confrontational scheme, but how might one dwell within or observe the interstice prior to categorization? Is there a certain rawness to the force of a collision? What might dance look like if it doesn’t yet look like dance? These are all questions I returned to repeatedly while working to curate “Collision.”

The “Collision” performance series will be presented July 17-19, 2008 at New Langton Arts as part of the 12th annual Mission Creek Music Festival. Collision is also co-curated by Jeff Ray and Eilish Cullen. Visit for information.

This article appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of In Dance.

Biba Bell is an artist, performer and scholar. She is currently a PhD candidate in Performance Studies at NYU, working under the mentorship of André Lepecki. As a dancer she has worked with Jmy Leary, Nancy Garcia, Mel Wong, Joshua Zimmermann, Kathleen Hermesdorf, Hope Mohr, David Hurwith, Kaya Nati, Enrico Labayen and her sister Gelsey Bell. She makes work under the moniker URISOV and has been involved with AUNTS and Modern Garage Movement (MGM) since 2004. Visit for more information.