by Byron Woods
Multi-media artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph noticed that there wasn’t a lot of overlap between the environmental movement and the people actually living in some of the most compromised environments in America. It got him to wondering why—and wondering if increased communication, exchange and cooperation between these populations were possible.
“Obviously, folks of color and folks in low-income communities have had survival practices for generations that have often gone unnoticed by the environmental movement—and unseen by ‘corporate green’,” noted colleague Hodari Davis, at a “Life is Living” festival in New York. Similar festivals over the past year in Chicago, Houston and Oakland, Calif. have attempted to redefine environmentalism in the context of hip hop culture—and have served as “field work” for a new performance piece that asks if art can facilitate community organizing and environmental change.
The name of the work in progress is “red black and GREEN: a blues.” And since it’s the latest participant in UNC’s “Process Series,” an audience in Chapel Hill sees an early version of two sections from the piece tonight.
“What we’re trying to do is create space on different levels for new work to be developed,” notes curator Joseph Megel.
This week, the three-year-old program for professional works in progress hasn’t just provided Joseph and collaborators Theaster Gates and documentary filmmaker Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi with studio time.
“We’ve created the opportunity for them to talk to professors in urban planning and ecological sciences here, so there can be a deepening of the discussion with scholarship on ecology,” says Megel.
Joseph’s last performance at UNC Chapel Hill was “the break/s: a mixtape,” a multi-modal work incorporating dance, dj’s and documentary video into a personal history of hip hop culture that played in Memorial Hall in January, 2010. Joseph’s performance style is undeniably kinetic, mixing polyrhythmic choreography, music and spoken word into what he terms “ritual magic as performance, and ritual magic in performance.”
The time in Chapel Hill “has given him time and space to work with Theaster in ways they haven’t had before without being under some sort of spotlight,” according to Joseph Megel. “They’ve crystallized a lot of ideas about how they want to move forward.”
Tonight’s showing includes material from two of what will ultimately be four sections of a final performance piece: spoken-word meditation accompanied by soundscapes by Gates and documentary footage from Chicago’s festival by Jacobs-Fantauzzi.
As always in the Process Series, the audience will deliberate after the presentation on the effect of the work they’ve just seen. Showtime’s 8 p.m. at Gerrard Hall. Admission is free.