D.K. Pan and Britta Johnson Discuss LOVE PEACE POWER
Britta: Hi D.K., thanks so much for agreeing to make a video for the High Wall! I thought I’d start off this discussion by asking you about something you said in a conversation about the piece while you were still developing it; you mentioned the visit to Seattle and thesis work of an influential dancer, can you talk a bit about that and some of the other kernel ideas for this project?
D.K.: Thanks so much for inviting me to be part of your program and show work on the side of the INS Building. As I think about the concepts I’ve been working with, its genesis I believe comes from conversations I had with a choreographer/dancer friend, Margit Galanter, about 15 years ago. During that time she was working on her Masters’ thesis and exploring the gesture of a hand slowing opening from fist to full extension. For her, it was a movement which signified release, as her mother was in the last stages of her life, as well as a seed idea of similar movements in nature, ie. octopus moving from the center outward, flower blooming, etc. Her investigation really resonated with me, and I’ve explored it in my dancing, both in isolation with the hand to the full body and specific parts thereof.
I believe there’s an emotional intensity attached to the gesture as well as a poetic one… what we hold and offer up, what we reveal, our vulnerabilities and the honesty involved in showing one’s palms fully exposed. All the stories and memories our hands contain and are able to express. Progressively, I included that simple gesture in a few videos and performances I’ve made. More recently, in mining the various physical iterations of the body, both collective and individual, expressing resistance in a sociopolitical context; I revisited the Rock, Paper, Scissors game which I played quite often as a child and occasionally as an adult. Rather than a zero-sum interaction which is used to settle disputes, I wanted to highlight the correlation in form between the Rock and the raised fist often expressed in defiance as an empowered act à la Black Power and used by a number of other groups and peoples, the similarity of the Scissor to the peace symbol understood internationally, and the Paper’s open palm as religious-mythological expression of compassion and love in addition to it’s recent display in the ‘hands up’ Ferguson protests and Black Lives Matter movement. Drawing on the historical and charged nature of each shape of the hand, it seemed to me a kind of dance, which signified various articulations of protest and pronouncement. Taken together and presented in an altered context, removed from the game, I believe represents a hopeful declaration for the future, drawing on the aggregate spirit of those who have embodied the gestures previously.
I’m really curious why you decided to start this program of projecting on the INS building and what the site has to say?
Britta: There’s so much packed into those gestures! About the idea to project onto the building, last year, when I first projected a video onto the space during the Seattle Art Fair, my main goal was to find any kind of venue where I could show something. I’m a tenant in the building, and at some point I realized that the wall, which is quite hidden from the street, is directly in the line of sight of the Centurylink Field parking structure and the light rail line, meaning that there was a high likelihood that attendees to the fair would be able to/ forced to see it, albeit from afar. No one else had plans for the porches that evening, so I got permission and set things up.
This year I wanted to provide the space to someone else, and I thought it might be good to engage the history of the building a little more. I think of you as someone who responds really thoughtfully to places and has an ability to make art that is both simple and strong, which is a requirement for this particular space. I thought your background as an immigrant to this country might also bring some resonance; the building’s history as a processing center as well as a detention center are both intense.
I was excited when you first mentioned that you were thinking of using hand gestures, partly because one of the few remaining elements of the building’s detention area is a pair of painted hands on the wall where detainees were told to put their hands when they were being searched. But the gestures you are working with mean so many more things.
I think your re-thinking the game as one that isn’t zero-sum is especially important now, during this world-wide crisis of displaced people and debates about where they are welcome or not, as well as who bears responsibility for creating/ contributing to the instability of their lands of origin.
In another line of thinking, one of the interesting aspects of movements of resistance is the dimension of inward communication- that groups are not just signaling to an oppressor, but to themselves, and finding their own strength in each others’ communications of strength (an empowered act, as you said). I see that in the gestures, that they have the potential to signal both unity and resistance. Maybe it’s related to embodying a communication, which also seems like a dance concern.
Do you have other thoughts about how the gestures/ communications might affect different communities? You have been filming Yesler Terrace residents, how is that choice informing the project?
D.K.: Thanks Britta for such thoughtful and generous insights. I love that you are both aware of and mining the history of the architecture in this program. Like swords to plowshares, the transformation of the building from a detention and processing facility for immigrants into a site for cultural production is profound. Yet I imagine the memories and ghosts are still embedded in the walls and inform certain particular expressions; which I am grateful to have made aware with this work.
The video is a collection of hands from 11 people. 6 of the individuals belong to an artist collective of which I’m a part, New Mystics, the remaining 5 are from participants in the Youth Media program at Yesler Terrace. Most of the students in the program are recent immigrants and I thought it fitting to include their history as expressed in their hands. In developing the concepts for this work, the phrase of LOVE PEACE POWER became more and more pronounced as a way to describe each articulated shape of the hand and the expressive meaning contained in the gestures. Years ago, I attended a protest march which was organized as a silent procession. The emotional resonance of walking down streets with hundreds of others in relative quiet, hearing our collective footsteps, stays with me and informs of the power contained in communal purpose and presence. As someone who was part of a marching band who performed at many protests and actions, the gathering of bodies observing a kind of speechless code was inspiring and made me clumsily think of the procession as a herd of elephants; potential disruption was expressed but implied. I was imagining such a scenario with this work, where choreography of hands could express dissent, resistance, hopefulness, unity, and love in specific ways removed from slogans and chants; not to diminish the power of the raised voice, rather in homage to the rich history of the raised hand and fist, as agents of the provocative. The charged nature seem akin to an innate talisman which individually and together can summon greater forces.
Britta: That’s excellent. Thanks so much for your thoughtful work, D.K.; I hope to see more of it soon.
D.K. Pan is an artist investigating the intersection of place & memory – through video, performance, installation & interventions – exploring the interstices & histories of site; the personal & collective body.