Dance, music, and political performances are often thought to be ephemeral, inscribed in the moment. Yet these acts that supposedly disappear often return. Their traces persist in physical forms such as photographs, films, and documents, and in immaterial forms—as memory, legend, and feeling. These echoes continuously animate performance in a collective way, turning audiences into participants, and preparing them for insurgency.
We in MoMA’s Department of Media and Performance took a cue from the art forms we care for, looking both backward and forward, like a Sankofa bird that moves forward while looking behind. At the start of the COVID-19 global pandemic, with the closure of the Museum and the suspension of live performances, we remembered what had come before, and reached out to the artists we had worked with in the past. Under those initial conditions, both our bodies and minds felt fragile, so we wrote to those who know the precariousness of embodiment: choreographers, dancers, artists who work with performance. We asked them about their visions of the future, requesting letters, an intimate form of communication borrowed from an earlier time. Such epistolary exchange feels necessary again now, when physical proximity to strangers and those we love is challenged and all the more urgent.
Since we first wrote in early April, an unfathomable number of people have lost jobs and lost lives from the pandemic, as well as police violence. The pandemic, a new bodily crisis, collided with a centuries-old war on Black life; in just the last month, a chorus of people have amplified their voices and bodies to struggle for a future without white supremacy, picturing the abolition of the carceral state and a world in which Black people can fully thrive. We align with this future as we contemplate the letters that artists shared with us.
Performing at a Distance unfolds with one letter a week, a durational approach that reflects the temporality of performance and social change.
—MoMA’s Department of Media and Performance
A new letter is added every Tuesday.
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker