Social Movement And
Unknown Afters

Studio Notes

Derrais Carter, Black Revelry (2019), lecture & screening. Photo: Marcel de Buck.

Derrais Carter, ‘Black Revelry’ (2019), lecture & screening. Photo: Marcel de Buck.

Summer holidays are in full force and, with them, the tourist season. Throughout Europe people are travelling again, across regions and states. Some move more tentatively, some with a certainty in their stride. At the same time, the pandemic continues to spread. Many countries are seeing an uptick in infection rates, while in others time and togetherness slips back into familiar grooves. The ease with which borders are traversed by those with ‘acceptable’ legal status and/or EU citizenship is no longer a given. Where different realities of what it means to be living through a pandemic rub against one another, borders re-close amid travel bans. These realities are as uneven as ever. Mobility is as uneven as ever. In a moment in which the European Union is praised for having established an unparalleled €750bn recovery fund for post-COVID-19 reconstruction in the worst hit areas, the question of Europe’s ‘neighborhood policies’ along its external borders remains more pressing than ever. Through this set of unprecedented conditions, many are only now seeing small glimpses of what has been a reality for others for so long: imposed limits on social movement.

Social movement was the field of inquiry that If I Can’t Dance engaged to re-approach the textured landscape of performance and performativity for its seventh biannual programme (2017–18). With artistic, theoretical and somatic practices, we mapped out what social movement could mean when looked at through the lens of performance: from large-scale collective manifestations, to the politics of access to mobility, to the bodily vernaculars of our social gestures, to what occurs when bodily idioms and their legibility travel across historical and cultural contexts, and from one body to another.

Here we are excited to offer a peek into the Edition VII Reader, which will be launched in the coming months as part of our fall programme. The Reader is a document of our Social Movement trajectory, and further unfolds our research with a wider community. These three texts included here, are each motivated, respectively, from one of the movement directionalities that divide the publication Gathering, Embodiment and Care: scholar Thomas F. DeFrantz’s essay ‘The Black Beat Made Visible: Hip Hop Dance and Body Power’; artist Ayesha Hameed’s script ‘A Rough History (of the destruction of fingerprints)’; and yoga teacher Gregory Lennon’s ‘Body Awareness and Healing: One Yogis Story’ (based on his contribution to Radio Emma). This cluster of readings highlights the incredibly wide scope of social movement(s).

As we at If I Can’t Dance and those around us have been grappling with what summer holidays could look like with the new limitations on our movement, Hameed’s script – first a study and later a film and performance – has made us pause and shudder. The ‘new normal’ for us, restrictive as it may seem, still pales in comparison to the brutal realities that have marked certain lives for quite some time. Set in Calais, Hameed’s exploration of ‘how skin acts as a terrain whose topography both enables and restricts movement’, reveals the violent struggles between bureaucratic systems of surveillance (the Dublin agreement) and migrants’ attempts to circumvent such pervasive tracking methods – circumvention here meaning the burning of fingerprints. But Hameed’s text also stages moments of community resilience and care, recounting stories of squatted spaces and shared meals together with descriptions of partial self-immolation. Survival indeed means many different things at once for individual and collective bodies caught in the flows and frictions of global movement.

Under the conditions of the pandemic, community resilience has taken on new urgency across a range of groups, both for those poetically charted by Hameed and for many, many others. In the United States, where our current research commission Derrais Carter resides, the ‘first outbreak’ is not yet over. Numerous regions there, like elsewhere in the world outside of the European Union, are going back into lockdown as space in hospitals once again reaches capacity. From within this situation, Carter continues to develop his project with If I Can’t Dance, Black Revelry, which takes up Ernie Barnes’ 1976 painting Sugar Shack as a cipher through which to open up accounts of Black sociality. Working in a radio-based combination of personal voice, theoretical citation, popular song and choreography, Black Revelry offers forth what Thomas F. DeFrantz has called ‘corporeal orature’ – music, movement, memory and the affectual pleasures of embodied social life.

The resulting ‘Quiet Storm’ broadcast Carter will deliver this winter emerges from our situation of restricted mobility and Carter’s own confined conditions (the show airs from Carter’s house in Arizona), but its resonance echoes far beyond this. Black Revelry reverberates with the sounds of a record’s uneven ridges and sometimes uncomfortable lyrics if not also the soothing beats and seductive grooves of time and togetherness.

With the registers of social movement thought and felt in the work of Hameed and Carter swirling in our minds as we finalize edits on the Reader and purchase recording equipment for Black Revelry, we head into our holidays differently this year. Alongside and within the day-to-day work of copy edits and online orders, we are imagining what it might mean for an institution like If I Can’t Dance to centre a politics of survival – a politics, that is, which is contingent upon maintenance of, and care for, bodies and their manifold on-the-ground realities – as the starting point for our daily practice of continuing to live and move together through these summer months and in their unknown afters.

Team If I Can’t Dance

Marcel van den Berg, Frédérique Bergholtz, Anik Fournier, Sara Giannini, Megan Hoetger, and Hans Schamlé

First published: Friday 24 July 2020
Featured researcher: Derrais Carter