Interview: Tyler Rai
Luca Curci talks with Tyler Rai during THE BODY LANGUAGE 2022, at ITSLIQUID ART SPACE – Venice Grand Canal.
Tyler Rai is a performance artist, writer, and researcher. Through performance and movement improvisation, her research questions how we embody kinship and relational empathy with the more-than-human world. Her approach to performance and research is shaped by the work of multiple teachers including Anna Halprin, K.J. Holmes, Mina Nishimura, Emily Johnson, and Suprapto Suryodarmo, among others. Rai’s performance work has been presented at ARC Pasadena, Judson Church, SWALE, SPACE Gallery, Governors Island, and The School for Contemporary Dance and Thought. She has received support from the American Geophysical Union, Northampton Council for the Arts and has been an artist-in-residence at Bennington College, UMASS Amherst, Earthdance, The Sable Project, and Works on Water on Governors Island. She has given lectures about her work in the arts and sciences to students at The Governor’s Institute of the Arts, UMASS Amherst, and the Land Arts of the American West program at the University of New Mexico. Her writing has been published by Contact Quarterly, John Hopkins Center for Humanities and Social Medicine magazine, Culturebot, MA Bibliotheque, and LOAM. She is a co-founder of the curatorial collective, ERRATICS, with Nina Elder and Hannah Perrine Mode, and instigator of transdisciplinary collective, Hungry Mothers.
Luca Curci – How did you get to your current artistic practice?
Tyler Rai – My artistic practice has been shaped by many teachers and places: Anna Halprin, K.J. Holmes, Ruth Grauert, Susan Sgorbati, Laurel Jenkins, Mina Nishimura, Emily Johnson, Carol Swann. These are all artists whose works in dance value the imagination, the knowledge of the body, and emergence in different ways. I studied with these teachers to better understand how to utilize my creativity for healing, and for building other worlds that could be felt and embodied. My current practice involves a lot of listening to space and place and trusting my movement as an extension of place rather than something separate from it. My focus on using dance as a way to grieve has been very much informed by Anna Halprin and the work of the Tamalpa Institute and has also been deeply shaped by the death of artist and friend, Amelie Schindler. Focusing on grief and loss has also led me to feel the capacity for abundant joy and celebration, and I look to my Italian and Jewish lineages for information on how we mourn and how we celebrate as critical forms of embodied intelligence.
LC – What are you currently working on?
TR – I’m currently working on a large-scale work titled Glacier Vigil (the other side of grief is love). It is still in the early development phases, but will ultimately be a vigil for glaciers that is co-created with communities who have historically lived intimately with glaciers. The project will encompass visiting with communities, guiding processes of reflection and creativity together, and concluding with an overnight vigil performance on or near the glacier we are honoring.
LC – What is the most challenging part about creating your artworks?
TR – The most challenging part is how much time they take. This is only a challenge in the context of a capitalist economic structure that values urgency and production over spaciousness, dreaming, and care. The works I make are accumulations of years of thought, experimentation, and collaboration – and I like it that way. Time feeds my artworks, and it seems that in the current economy there is never enough time.
LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it your medium of expression?
TR – I primarily use my art to express what it can be like to be in perceptive communion with our environment and remember beauty. Even when focusing on feelings that can be challenging like grief, I find beauty in giving form to such momentous forces through my body. It’s my hope that my artwork celebrates the beauty of being human, and being human amongst such a vibrant community of ecologies and more-than-human kin. Dancing is absolutely my mother tongue and my primary medium of expression. I dance as a way of honoring relationships between my body, the earth, and other living beings. It is how I see the world, and how I experiment with worlds yet to come.
LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the exhibition?
TR – I admire the emphasis ITSLIQUID places on fluidity, mobility, and accessibility in the arts and the multiplicity of artistic expressions the exhibitions bring together. I was drawn to the theme of the Body Language exhibition and the invitation to consider the human as a constantly changing system that is interconnected with other bodies. This theme felt very resonant with my artistic practice that deeply considers the interdependence between human and non-human bodies/identities. I appreciated the focus of the exhibition on “exploring the connections between desires, needs, and fears” through ritual. Rituals are often a container for opening oneself up to the transformation occurring on a threshold, in a liminal space – between where one has been and where one has yet to arrive. I believe art to be a very powerful form of ritual, helping us into new iterations of a world we want to create.
LC – Can you explain something about the artworks you have in our exhibition?
TR – The artwork I created that is included in this year’s exhibition is a video work of a live performance from 2019. The live performance was a solo that I danced as a way to grieve the death of a friend and explore grief as something I could feel/extend to non-human beings, specifically to melting glaciers. I chose to edit the video of the live performance in order to share the dancing with an audience while not being able to travel and perform live due to COVID. Editing the performance into a video piece became a fascinating study about how memory and grief are altered over time. I experimented with placing some parts of the performance in different locations on the screen which has the effect of displacing time and creating nonlinear sequences of the choreography. That alteration of time and of space feels kindred to the kinds of alterations one can experience inside of a grief process. In addition, experiencing multiple kinds of time and space simultaneously reflects the associative nature of both my memory and my grieving process. In this way, the video work achieves something that the live performance has difficulty enacting, and creates new meaning from past work.
LC – Do you think ITSLIQUID GROUP can represent an opportunity for artists?
TR – Yes.
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
TR – Yes!