Not Your Everyday Art Space – YBCA Spurs Conversations on Labor and Ecology

A dancer in echo::system — treadmill dreamtime

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts curates art, music, performance, and dance. So why not curate community as well — a place to share concerns and ideas? That’s the idea behind the Public Squares that YBCA holds, based on questions that have been asked by 100 people who inspire the team at YBCA. Marc Bamuthi Joseph, YBCA’s chief of program and pedagogy, points out that we have places to come together to worship, to cheer, to celebrate — what about a place to dream and inspire one another together? So that’s what they’re aiming for in the Public Square.

The one coming up asks the questions “Why Work?” and “How Do we Coexist with Ecology?” It will feature Grisha Coleman and Green Collar Comedy, hosted by Kat Evasco. Why comedy? Well, if you’re talking about environmental work, that’s framed by race and class, Joseph says. And when talking about environmentalism, we need to first talk about having a diverse society, the same way we need a diversity of crops in our fields. So for an empathetic society, the first thing we need is cultural diversity, he says.

[jump] “All that is mad serious and hella deep,” Joseph said. “The other side of that is to respond with comedy, so the  question they’re asking is what’s so funny about the end of the world?”

The question “Why work?” is personal, as well as social and political, Joseph says, challenging us to look at how our labor generates dignity for ourselves and for others, and to look at who we are working for.

Grisha Coleman, a dancer, writer and scholar who brings together the focus on labor and ecology in her echo::system — treadmill dreamtime, running in place, which draws the audience into an multi-media performance and installation. The performance features a nomadic group experiencing a desert environment through their machines –treadmills, so they are walking without traveling. In the installation, the public has access to treadmills that display a digital simulation of a landscape, so the audience can reflect on their impact on the natural world.

In a nice understatement, Joseph says Coleman “has a lot on her mind.” He thinks her performance responds to labor, ecology and health in a beautiful way.

“She does it through a sense of dreaming,” he says about Coleman’s performance. “She asks folks to navigate a projected environmental landscape and to vision quest what world might look if we were detached from devices.”

Joseph says that YBCA doesn’t just want to be making statements about work and art and labor, and the Public Square gives them a way to be a kind of incubator asking questions – with intellect and humility – of a wide swath of people.

“We have traditional artists, but we also have in the mix lawyers and economists and coders getting together in an art space,” he says. “It’s totally appealing and deeply sensual and really funny.”

Public Square: Investigations of Labor and Ecology, Saturday, April 16, 4–8 p.m., at YBCA, 701 Mission Street, $10, 415-978-2787

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