Visiting Artists

During every campus residency period, ICPP invites one or several artists-in-residence to campus to serve as case studies for course work. Emerging artists, mid-to-late career artists, faculty artists at Wesleyan, and industry professionals offer performances, talks, and movement workshops, and converse informally with students both inside and outside of the classroom.

2017-2018 Visiting Artists

Paul Bonin-Rodriguez
Paul Bonin-Rodriguez (Associate Professor, The University of Texas at Austin) is a writer and performer whose scholarship assesses the origins and effects of contemporary arts and culture policies and programs, with a special focus on queer performance and performances by people of color. His book, Performing Policy: How Politics and Cultural Programs Redefined U.S. Artists for the Twenty-first Century (Palgrave, 2015), shows how arts research and development initiatives since the late 1990s have radically reshaped cultural practices nationwide. Originally trained as a dancer, Dr. Bonin-Rodriguez has worked as a television producer, playwright, and actor, as well as an arts administrator. From 2006-2013, Dr. Bonin-Rodriguez served as an artist advisor to Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), a ten-year initiative dedicated to creating new opportunities for US artists; in 2012, he served as a Visiting Scholar in the Culture and Creative Communities Program of the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., working with Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson. Currently, he heads the Knowledge Building Initiative, a two-year program focused on the history of the National Performance Network/Visual Arts Network. 

Katja Kolcio
Katja Kolcio, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Dance at Wesleyan University. Her research interests are in social somatic theory: investigating the role of physical engagement and creativity in practices of knowledge production, and modern dance as a political art form. Her choreography is rooted in challenging dichotomies: traditional/contemporary, art/life, theory/practice. Her book Movable Pillars: Organizing Dance, 1956–1978 was published in 2010 by Wesleyan University Press.

Ralph Lemon
Ralph Lemon is a choreographer, writer, visual artist and curator, and the Artistic Director of Cross Performance, a company dedicated to the creation of cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary performance and presentation.  His most recent works include Scaffold Room (2015), Four Walls (2012), and How Can You Stay in The House All Day And Not Go Anywhere? (2008-2010), a works with live performance, film and visual art that toured throughout the U.S. The immersive visual art installation, Meditation, which was part of How Can You Stay, was acquired for the permanent collection of the Walker Arts Center in 2012.  In January 2011, a re-imagined section of How Can You Stay was performed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in conjunction with On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century.  Mr. Lemon curated the fall 2012 performance series “Some sweet day” at MOMA, and the acclaimed 2010 performance series “I Get Lost” at Danspace Project in NYC.  His solo visual art exhibitions include: 1856 Cessna Road at Studio Museum in Harlem, NYC (2012); How Can You Stay In The House All Day And Not Go Anywhere?, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2010); (the efflorescence of) Walter, Contemporary Art Center, New Orleans (2008), The Kitchen, NYC (2007) and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2006); The Geography Trilogy, Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT (2001); and Temples, Margaret Bodell Gallery, NYC (2000).  His group exhibitions include: Move: Choreographing You, Hayward Gallery, London, UK and The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl, Nasher Museum at Duke University, Durham, NC.  In 2012, Mr. Lemon was honored with one of the first Doris Duke Performing Artist Awards; he was also one of the first artists to receive the United States Artists Fellowship (2006).  He is recipient of three "Bessie" Awards (1986, 2005, 2016); two Foundation for Contemporary Art Awards (1986, 2012); two New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships (2004, 2009); a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship; a 2004 Bellagio Study Center Fellowship; and the 1999 CalArts Alpert Award.  Among his many teaching positions, Mr. Lemon has been an IDA Fellow at Stanford University (2009); artist-in-residence at Temple University (2005-06); Miller Endowment Visiting Artist at the Krannert Center (2004); Fellow of the Humanities Council and Program in Theater & Dance at Princeton University (2002); and Associate Artist at Yale Repertory Theatre (1996-2000). For the fall 2011 semester he was a Visiting Critic with the Yale University, School of Art, Sculpture Dept. He was the 2014 Annenberg Fellow at the Museum of Modern Art, where he curated a series of “performance essays,” titled, Value Talks. In 2015 he was a Mellon Foundation Visiting Artist Fellow at Columbia University. He is currently a Visual Arts Mentor at Coulumbia University School of the Arts. His book, Come home Charley Patton, the final in a series documenting The Geography Trilogy, was published in 2013 by Wesleyan University Press. He was short listed for the 2016 Guggenheim Hugo Boss Prize and received a 2015 National Medal of Arts from president, Barack Obama. The first monograph of his work was published by The Museum Of Modern Art (part of their new Modern Dance Series) in 2016.


Rachel Ellis Neyra
Rachel Ellis Neyra is a writer and a teacher. She currently lives in New York, and will soon be living in San Juan, Puerto Rico for six months and doing a residency at Beta-Local. A poet-theorist, she reads and writes about: Latina/o/x and Black Studies; Caribbean, African Diasporic, and Latina/o/x Poetics, Performance Art, Visual Art, and Music; Third Cinema; Critical Race, Film, Literary, Queer, and Translation Theories. Presently, she is working on her academic book manuscript, The Cry Articulates: Contemporary Radical Brown and Black Poetics, about Latina/o/x and Black literature, music, cinema, and performance art that deviate from the promise of freedom and the American dream, and flicker with insurgency. But in its failure to move from the insurgent to the Revolutionary, this brown and black poetics re-shapes for us smaller-scale imaginings, embodiments, and moods of solidarity, as well as anti-integrationist, opaque, and errant pleasure and beauty. In relation to and beyond this book project, Rachel is also thinking with the Puerto Rican artist Ramón Miranda Beltrán to make a near-future art and book project on Debt and Feelings. She has published in Sargasso, Obsidian, Comparative Literature and Culture Web, La Habana Elegante, La Gaceta de Cuba, and ARTFORUM.

Eiko Otake
Born and raised in Japan, Eiko Otake is a New York-based movement artist, performer, and choreographer who for more than 40 years worked as Eiko & Koma. Since 2014, she has directed and performed a solo project, A Body in Places, in which she collaborates with photographer and historian William Johnston to create and present a series of exhibitions showing her dancing in irradiated Fukushima and elsewhere. She teaches an interdisciplinary course about the Atomic Bombings and Nuclear disasters at Wesleyan University and Colorado College.

Katherine Profeta
Katherine Profeta is a New York-based dramaturg who has worked with choreographer/visual artist Ralph Lemon since 1996; other collaborators have included Julie Taymor, Karin Coonrod, Frederick Wiseman, Annie Dorsen, Emma Griffin, David Thomson, and Theater for a New Audience. She is also a founding member of the award-winning New York City theater company, Elevator Repair Service, and has lent her hand to nearly all of its productions since 1991. She directed 131, a performance work for three actors and a dancer, at PS122 in 2004. Profeta holds an MFA and DFA from the Yale School of Drama. She taught in the theater departments of Barnard and Yale Colleges, and at the Yale School of Drama. She currently teaches at Queens College.

Kaneza Schaal
Kaneza Schaal is a New York City based artist. She came up in the downtown experimental theater community, first working with The Wooster Group, then with other companies and artists including Elevator Repair Service, Richard Maxwell/New York City Players, Claude Wampler, Jay Scheib, Jim Findlay, New York City Opera, and National Public Radio. This work brought her to over 18 countries and venues including Centre Pompidou, Royal Lyceum Theater Edinburgh, REDCAT, The Whitney Museum, BAM, The Kitchen, St. Ann’s Warehouse, and MoMA. Schaal is an Arts-in-Education advocate and believes that creativity and learning are inextricably linked. Her education work has spanned from universities to community centers to public high schools, from workshops for professional artists, to professional development training for teachers, to intergenerational collaborations between elders and teens, to in-schools work with immigrant communities. She has worked as a teaching artist for The Wooster Group, Elevator Repair Service, New York Theatre Workshop, Elders Share The Arts, Symphony Space, Harlem School for the Arts, The Kitchen, and was invited to develop curriculum for a new in-school arts program created by The Arthur Miller Foundation and Institute of Play. Schaal taught an Atelier course at Princeton University with Elevator Repair Service and workshops at Emerson College.

Rashida Z. Shaw
Rashida Z. Shaw McMahon is an Assistant Professor in the English Department and an Affiliated Faculty in the African American Studies program at Wesleyan University. Her course offerings and research exemplify interdisciplinary methodologies and collaborative approaches towards examining: the dramatic and performance traditions of African Americans and the larger African Diaspora; American drama; American musical theatre; American and European theatre and performance histories; theatrical spectatorship; dramatic adaptations of poetry, novels, and historical fiction; and, the application of critical race theories, gender theories, sexuality theories, and popular culture theories to drama and performance. Her forthcoming book, The Black Circuit: Race, Performance, and Spectatorship in Black Popular Theatre, examines “Chitlin Circuit” theatrical productions and the reception practices of African American spectators. Professor Shaw McMahon’s scholarship has appeared in various print and online journals, such as E-misfèricain media res: a media commons project, Theatre SurveyTheatre Topics, and Theatre Research International as well as in edited anthologies on race, performance, and musical theatre, including The Palgrave Handbook of Musical Theatre Producers (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), From Madea to Media Mogul: Theorizing Tyler Perry (The University Press of Mississippi, 2016), Black Theater is Black Life: An Oral History of Theater and Dance in Chicago, 1970-2010 (Northwestern University Press, 2013), and Sticky Reputations: The Politics of Collective Memory in Midcentury America (Routledge, 2011). Her interviews with playwrights and actors of “Chitlin Circuit” Theatre have been published by Time Out Chicago magazine. She has been consulted as an expert in African American theatre and drama by journalists from the Kansas City Star and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Previous artists in residence and guest lecturers have included:

Kyle Abraham
Souleymane “Solo” Badolo
Brian Brooks
DD Dorvillier 
Faye Driscoll
Rinde Eckert
Andrew Hamingson
Cynthia Hopkins
Ishmael Houston-Jones
Darrell Jones
Marc Bamuthi Joseph
Claudia La Rocco
Ralph Lemon
Liz Lerman
Okwui Okpokwasili
Gina Athena Ulysse
Reggie Wilson
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar

ICPP Faculty, Students, and Alumni Discuss Ralph Lemon's Work

In September 2014, Sam Miller, director of ICPP, Thomas Lax, associate curator in the Department of Performance at the Museum of Modern Art and ICPP faculty member, and Michèle Steinwald, independent curator, community engagement consultant at the Cowles Center, and ICPP alumna, gathered at the Walker Art Center for the premiere of Ralph Lemon’s newest work, Scaffold Room.  During this time they sat down with ICPP alumna Abigail Sebaly to reflect on their specific encounters with Lemon and his work, as well as to more broadly discuss the kinds of curatorial relationships that help foster major projects like Scaffold Room.  Because Lemon has been integrally involved with ICPP since its 2011 inception, the conversation also provides a lens into how the program merges theory with the practice of performance curation.  The following transcript offers highlights from the discussion. 

Abi Sebaly: Can we begin by discussing how far back your own histories with Ralph Lemon go?

Sam Miller : I started working with Ralph in the late 1980s when he had a dance company, and he was doing things like making 20 minute dances for the stage.  Wally Cardona was in that company then.  Ralph is the first artist I presented and it was before I became the director of Jacob’s Pillow, when I was the managing director.  I was moonlighting as a performance curator at the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, Connecticut.  We’re here today talking about Ralph’s current work in the museum, but this was in 1987 when I first presented his work at the museum.  The big moment that I was present for, was Ralph’s decision to give up the company and shift to a project based approach, which lead to The Geography Trilogy, and putting the resources toward what he needed to realize that vision.

Michèle Steinwald: That was about the first time that I had heard about Ralph.  I was living in Seattle and dancing for a choreographer Maureen Whiting.  She and Ralph were friends.  He served as a mentor to her while she was developing her company.  She would always talk about Ralph saying to her “you always have to do your work whether you’re in style or not.”  It’s interesting to see 15 years later, his continued dedication to the work.  Now it’s a very different situation for him.

Thomas Lax: The first live work I saw was How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?.  Ralph was in the same group of curators and friends that I was working with at the Studio Museum in Harlem at the time.  For me he was a total idol, someone who was thinking through a history of violence and a language of politics, but was doing it in a way that was totally frontal and that also totally refused representation at the same time.  There was a sense of being attracted to something that had that frame, that was devised by the artist and formed by theoretical engagement and direct collaboration.  You are seeking something and all of a sudden you find somebody who gives it to you in a way that you never knew you even wanted it.  And then curator Naomi Beckwith and I were trying to figure out ways to work with Ralph.  We worked on an exhibition at the Studio Museum called 1856 Cessna Road.  

MS:  When you and Ralph made that commitment to start working together, what was your role in that besides interest?  At what point were you already invested in creating something, or was it already pretty loose? Did you talk about your goals and needs within that?

TL: I think I had the benefit of total naivete, which is to say that I intuitively saw something that would make sense and it was one of those early moments where more museum spaces were doing projects with choreographers and dancers, so I could make an argument to my director that this had a context.  The way that Ralph works is to use a structure or a container toward a set of conceptual ends.  In the process of sitting down with him over several months, we began thinking through how we could make a home, literally.  Cessna Road was were Walter Carter and currently Edna Carter live [in Little Yazoo, Mississippi].  How do you take this space at the Studio Museum that’s geographically dislocated from Mississippi but somehow has a shared register around this idea of blackness and physically being a home space.  The installation looks like a home, their home, theatrically reproduced.  Since then, Ralph has helped me expand the idea of the exhibition as form into a larger scale and group exhibition which we worked on this year, When the Stars Began to Fall: Imagination and the American South, and that was another occasion to take this ongoing conversation between the two of us.

SM: That’s important, the notion of the ongoing conversation.  One of the reasons, when I developed ICPP, that I bring Ralph in is that I want to make it visible to the students the character of that conversation because that is it for me, honestly.  I’ve been building either Ralph-specific systems or larger systems that Ralph informed.  So when we worked on Geography, I thought about what network do we have to build to support that idea?  Involve Yale, involve the Brooklyn Academy of Music, involve the Walker.  But then when I built the National Dance Project, it was also a case of, “What system do I have to build to be supportive of Ralph’s work?”.  You know like in [sourdough] bread you have the starter?  Ralph’s like my starter.  

MS:  How is that different from your relationship with Eiko & Koma?  

SM:  It’s not that different, but I will tell you honestly that Ralph’s is the first, the starter.  Because then, when I became director of the Pillow, I continued to work with Ralph, but the first artist I commissioned there was Pat Graney.  And then a couple years later, the first artists I was able to give a concentrated residency, were Eiko & Koma.  The three of them added up to an idea of the perpetual conversation.  

TL: And that is a kind of curatorial model that I would say all of the ICPP faculty and students subscribe to, the idea that you come to ideas not because you come to an artist out of the blue and say,  “Hi how are you, I want to do this thing.”  But rather you’re constantly engaged with them, seeing shows with them, in a direct conversation with them.  And then when something inspires them, you’re there to catch it and give it a light. 

AS: Continuing along the lines of the “starter” model, as Ralph continues to work in these modes, how do you see his ability to talk and think about work change from the days when he had his original company to now.  It’s been an expansive process for him as well, not just curatorially but also as an artist.  How have you seen the progression of his own thinking around work change as he has moved into these different models of performance?

SM: Ralph once said to me, “Sam, I’m thinking this way as an artist, as someone who is committed to research and development but then I find myself having to organize those ideas into containers that are too tight.”  So a dance company was too constraining.  At one point we were talking about Georgraphy and it was headed to the BAM stage and he was like, “Is that all there is?”.  It was of course a lot, a large proscenium stage.  But I said, “Ralph, you can always do more.”  It was always about opening up possibilities.  And now he is used to that as an approach.

MS: Did you [as a curator] see the distinct future possibilities, or did you just know that there could be possibilities?

SM: Through my exposure to Ralph and then to others the question often emerged, “Why do I just have a proscenium theater?”  As a curator, I then ask, what am I able to offer here?  You build a studio theater, or a black box or an outdoor space or a gallery.  Artists such as Ralph are asking for options, and I feel obligated to create them, and then we keep moving through time.  

TL:  Coming on the later end of things, with some of the infrastructural production questions worked out before I got to the table, the thing I’ve seen Ralph develop, in terms of a research and theoretical question, is this idea of what has been called the capaciousness of blackness.  At the Studio Museum, the tenor and ethos of that place has been to think about the materiality and conceptual space that blackness can offer, so that as a space that exists site specifically that believes it can respond to the place in which its located and the history of African American communities there, Ralph is an artist that is thinking through what the terms of cultural lineage meant in relation to the American South.  At this Studio Museum, his own project could find an armature through which it could articulate itself.  I’ve seen him further articulate the kind of critical work of blackness as a kind of umbrella category to think about the making of life or the making of art, or the many things one might not associate with race, but rather just relate to the idea of living. 

MS:  Where then do you have perspective when the work is potentially criticized?

SM:  One of the important things to note again is that ICPP is a place where the collision between theory and practice can happen in front of people.  For example, when we bring Ralph in, he has the opportunity to show or talk about what he’s doing, and either explain it or not explain it. The work has material in it.  You have to confront the work.  As a curator, this urges you to ask, “How do I contextualize or not contextualize this?” I’m not an apologist for this.  I’m a collaborator.  I have to understand what the conditions are.  So when we as curators put those conversations in front of people, we’re putting the responsibility in front of people.  This is what you encounter.

MS:  That’s where I struggle with the responsibility associated with an art work, if there is tension in it and it sometimes skirts the line of whether the artist is conscious and aware of it or not.  And so then, where is there curatorial responsibility to acknowledge its presence?  Whose responsibility is it?  The artist’s?  The curator’s?  

SM: It’s everyone’s responsibility.  That’s the struggle.  The artist creates presence and then we’re in it.  You respond to the work’s issues specifically, and almost every night.  I used to work with Bill T. Jones at the Pillow and one season he was doing “Last Night on Earth.” There are elements of dancing and talking, and every night there was a place where he could go where he wanted to go with the dialogue and a number of times he would say “Sam doesn’t want me to talk about this but…”  And that acknowledged the situation, “That’s the deal with me.”  You can’t generalize about this sort of thing.  You shake hands and you go out in public.  

TL:  I would reiterate that.  It’s about certain trusted art historical practices that are also practices of post colonial feminism that I learned from reading Gayatri Spivak’s work.  It’s about close readings.  You take the individual moment itself.  What is this moment?  How is it working here, structurally, within the composition of the piece, in terms of the feeling in the instance when it’s happening, and from there determine how it’s being used and the significance its being given.  Then you figure out a way to bring everyone in through those objects.  Everyone can agree or disagree, but you’re all talking about one thing together.

AS:  Going back to what you’ve all touched on in some respect, the performance curator is a generative role, yet the often based in an institution that has a fixed structure.  How do you negotiate the fixity of an institution with the constantly expanding, growing role of your relationship with artists?

TL:  That’s certainly our job to figure out.  That names the task really well.  I think it’s different for different artists.  Some, and Ralph is a good example, are good at being negotiators, diplomats, and bridge builders in their personalities.  People who come out of forms that are collaborative in nature, where you have to do that often, can bring those skill sets to the table, and so for people like that, you bring them around and help form relationships.  There are other moments where you do buffering or prep work, building a structure so that the artist can do what they need to do and everybody else feels OK.  

SM:  At ICPP, I also try to reinforce that when you talk about an institution, you need to ask what instrument you’re playing.  I’ve spent my career either running an institution or creating a system that influences an institution on behalf of artists.  What is your instrument?  Is it a building?  A theater?  A gallery? 10 square blocks?  Talk to me about why your response is “You’re asking for this, but all we have is that.” What part of the structure creates that response? Working with Ralph Lemon gives you an opportunity to ask that question again in a way that you might not have asked that before.  

MS:  Of course at any institution, you have programs that you’re fulfilling.  You’re bringing in artists and audiences, publics and communities, and the relationship can be a quicker turn.  Then, when you’re bringing in people like Ralph, and you want to have deeper dialogues, more extended investment, more reciprocal relationships that are based in the location.  The relationship that you build on behalf of the artist when the artist leaves, what is then the ongoing nature of those relationships?  There’s often a desire for the institution to keep those relationships going, apart from the artist in that project.  And so the demand and balancing those demands is tricky.  

SM:  The Walker has an 18-year relationship with Ralph.  When you’re bringing someone in, you’re bringing an artist, not a work, and why are they ever thought of as leaving?  When you’re at a collecting institution that has both visual arts and performance, when they have a relationship with Bruce Nauman, he has left the building, but he hasn’t left the building.  

MS: What I’m interested in is where’s the conversation?  Yes, he can leave but the conversation should still be going.  

SM:  But again, this goes back to one of the issues around Scaffold Room being acquired--how do you deepen and sustain that conversation even when the physical body isn’t in the room.  That’s the opportunity.  It’s an interesting discussion about value.  A lot of money goes into making a decision about an artist at institution like that that’s forever and why isn’t the relationship to Ralph part of the same trajectory?  

MS:  Does that relationship need a curator?  Does that commitment have a curator?

SM: I would hope so.

TL: I think it does. And all things that you’re saying are underscoring the fact of relationships.  And I think Ralph’s work, what is so ambitious about his work throughout his whole career, is the way he’s able to deal with finitude, death, and mortality.  Which is about his form, dance, but is also about something more fundamental than art even.  The fact of all of our demise.  This work, like all of his other work does that in its own particular way, and its also self reflexive to the fact that there’s something incredibly precarious, about this scaffold structure, whether it’s the work, the collection, or the relationship.  There is this inevitability, and a deep precarity to what happens to all of this.  One response is to continue to love on each other, and you could see it in the level of support and the way the Walker has now and historically been dedicated to the work.  That’s the reason for caring for something, that’s the reason you reinstall a work, to keep it alive. What’s great about Ralph’s work is that in some ways that risk, that potential is at the core of it.   


Image above: Eiko & Koma, from 2009 Retrospective Project in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, Center for the Arts, Wesleyan University (photo by George Ruhe)