Borders and identity aren’t fixed concepts to an artist — they’re fluid notions that change with time. A prominent playwright and author who is spending this academic year at Arizona State University is examining how art can unlock these perceptions.
Virginia Grise is one of three Projecting All Voices postgraduate fellows for 2018–19 in the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts. Now in its second year, the program brings designers and artists from diverse communities to ASU to work on projects that investigate cultural heritage, power, race, policy, ability and place.
“I’m really interested right now as an artist in the question of what art does,” said Grise, who is based in New York.
“What are its possibilities and what does it allow us to imagine? I feel like Phoenix is a place I can ask these questions.”
Grise is the author of “Your Healing is Killing Me,” a performance manifesto, and the play “Blu,” which explores the effects of incarceration on a family.
The other two Projecting All Voices fellows this year are Marguerite Hemmings, a New York-based dancer and teacher who specializes in street styles, social dances, hip hop and dancehall, and Carolina Aranibar-Fernandez, a Bolivian visual artist who combines traditional processes such as weaving and ceramics with video and sound.
Grise is not only working on a project for the Projecting All Voices initiative, she’s also involved with Performance in the Borderlands, a programming and educational program in the School of Film, Dance and Theater. She’ll have two public events Oct. 8–9.
Grise answered some questions from ASU Now.
Question: You’re doing a workshop and a reading of “Your Healing is Killing Me.” What is that about?
Answer: It’s a performance manifesto about the artistic and political process. It initially was an invitation by Tiffany Lopez, who is now director of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre but at the time was at the University of California, Riverside, where she had a very innovative program that paired humanities scholars with people in the medical field.
I was asked to talk about the process of ethnography because I’ve done documentary theater, but instead I wanted to talk about my own relationship to health and the medical field. It was part performance, part lecture and part writing workshop. I began with a list of everything that was killing me and I asked people in the audience to write a list of everything that was killing them. That was the beginning of what then became the performance manifesto.
At the workshop on Monday, I’m leading a session called "This Is a Manifesto." We’ll talk about manifesto writing and proclamations and public declarations and people will write their own manifestos.
Q: Why should people write their own manifesto?
A: One of the things I’m interested in in the writing of the manifestos is this question of freedom. What does it mean for people to be free? And what do we need to be free? The word manifesto is from "manifest.’ What is they want to manifest in the world?
Last year I began doing the writing workshops and I was also in a process of taking a writing workshop with a young actor named Manny Rivera in New York. We began with the Combahee River Collective Statement, which was a very important manifesto written in the 1970s by a group of African-American women. There’s a quote from it: “If black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression."
Q: What are you working on through the Projecting All Voices fellowship?
A: I’ve been working on the staging of an adaptation of a novel called “Their Dogs Came With Them” by a woman named Helena Maria Viramontes. It’s a collaboration with Martha Gonzalez, who is doing the music for the adaptation and I’m doing the script.
We’re staging it at Perryville Women’s Prison with 15 women actors. It’s a concert version of the novel, which I’ve never done before but I’ve done workshops in prisons before.
Q: What do the women at Perryville bring to the project?
A: The piece is about displacement and we’re in a collaborative conversation about how that affects us as a community. It’s a dynamic conversation that’s ongoing. We’re workshopping it now and in the spring we’ll stage it.
Watch Grise talk about Performance in the Borderlands.
Grise will hold a sold-out writing workshop called “This Is a Manifesto” at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 8, at Palabras Bilingual Bookstore, 1738 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix, and a book reading and signing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9, at Valley Bar, 130 N. Central Ave., Phoenix.
Top image by Pixabay