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A view of the room during “No Wave Performance Task Force Debate, Round II: Labor” (all photos and videos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Last night’s ”No Wave Performance Task Force Debate, Round II: Labor” was a curious performance that was organized and structured by choreographer and performance artist Lindsey Drury who refuses to claim ownership of the piece. “It is not mine. I set up the structure but we all own it,” she told Hyperallergic after the event. “All I did was referee.”

The evening’s performance was part of the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival (BIPAF) and it is part of Drury’s larger No Wave Performance Task Force project, which is a long term research project she’s engaged in that explores the multiplicity of perspectives that are part of any discussion of performance art. Drury knows that most opinions that people share are not purely their own, informed as they are by personal backgrounds and societal norms. “No Wave” refers to the idea that feminism today is influenced by previous waves but not entrenched in a unified current.

I arrived at the Woods Cooperative, a rather small but attractive artists’ space-share in Ridgewood, and I found a circle of people with their names printed out on white pages around the room. The building is nestled under the tracks of the M train on a somewhat sunless stretch of a neighborhood that is years away from feeling the full brunt of gentrification.

A number of women, and almost all participants were women, had filled out forms that asked for some basic demographic information and attached them to the wall. The majority of women self-identified as white, and many self-reported incomes hovering around the poverty line, which in New York City is $11,500 a year for an individual.

Drury began the discussion or performance, it was never entirely clear where one began and the other ended, with an explanation that everyone who chose to participate would be either a ventriloquizer or a ventriloquized — both terms she created based on the term ventriloquist but purposefully different. The ventriloquized sat in chairs at the center of the room and could not speech their own thoughts. The ventriloquized had to use a ventriloquizer to communicate to the group during discussions. The process was choreographed to make the process more conscious and considered, and it made me unsure most of the time whether I was in the audience or a participant.

The first issue of discussion focused on the $300 funding that was allocated from a grant for the performance. The group went back and forth on the topic, and while some thought it should be divided evenly, others suggested it should be divvied up based on need. One person even suggested it be used to buy beer. When one person suggested they go to the bank and deposit it and bring back cash. “This is Ridgewood,” Drury replied and pointing out the realities of a poor/working class neighborhood in New York and its dearth of banking establishments.

As soon as the discussion began, I decided that transcribing the discussion seemed fruitless, and I didn’t want to play the role of interpreter for everyone’s thoughts. I decided on the spot to record as much of the event as possible with my smartphone until my battery died. I was able to capture two thirds of the roughly 90 minute event and I published the videos online:

What I hadn’t realized was that Drury had asked that everyone document the event in their own way. It was important for her that everyone take part in that process and that one record would not be the only perspective. Some people used their phones to record the event, others used audio recorders or took notes. Everyone knew that what they said was on record in one way or another.

In previous incarnations of the No Wave Performance Task Force project, this was the third event, Drury had placed on ad on Craigslist to hire local women to play the role of ventriloquized since she wanted discussions about the local community to “speak through the community and not for them.” She explains that the process also raises the question that language is a problem in and of itself.

The No Wave Performance Task Force was first created when Drury saw that in the field of performance, where the majority of workers are women, there is a great deal of exploitation. “In any other field, having a majority works in your favor, but because of the economy of the body it doesn’t,” she said. The ultimate goal for No Wave Performance Task Force is to produce a feminist bill of rights that rewards women for their work in the field.

I did notice that by the end of the discussion people felt less awkward. People had figured out the rhythm of the system devised by Drury and their body posture was more relaxed as they adapted to this new system quickly and the conversations flowed more naturally, and the conversations turned more serious. Near the end one woman expressed that she was concerned about paying her rent when she returned to Peru. Another woman asked if anyone had a place for her to stay tonight. It was a dialogue that felt visceral without feeling insular.

There were no spectacular breakthroughs in the conversation last night, and much of what was said came out sounding like things you might expect to hear in a feminist discussion about erotic capital and women’s labor. But the frame, in this case, seemed as important as the discussion. What BIPAF shows us is that there are so many people working in performance so events like this are crucial to expand the discussion beyond the art of performance to all the issues that impact the lives of performers.

During the event, I couldn’t help but think of the impact of Occupy and the people’s mic on this format. It seems like a radical experiment that was informed by the idea that how you say something is as symbolic and important as what you say. It was a performance that evolved and engaged all of us in the room in varying ways. It also felt like a sketch for an idea for discussion that doesn’t take it for granted that the current system works for everyone.

No Wave Performance Task Force Debate, Round II: Labor” was organized/structured by Lindsey Drury and took place at the Woods Cooperative (1826 Palmetto #1, Ridgewood, NY) during the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.