Visiting Artist André M. Zachary Creates Afrofuturist Visions

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Dancing Afrofuturism

We live with an abundance of boundaries and in many parts of the world are witnessing a return to politics of control. There are boundaries around our space, our time, and even thoughts. André M. Zachary, a powerful choreographer and performer, creates work that challenges the idea of boundary and control through both content and form.

André Zachary and Norah Zuniga Shaw collaborate in the Motion Lab at ACCAD.

André Zachary and Norah Zuniga Shaw collaborate in the Motion Lab at ACCAD.

Intermedia Collaboration

In Autumn 2018, Livable Futures co-sponsored a residency by Zachary in the Motion Lab performance research space at ACCAD. Working with students from the Department of Dance (where he was a visiting professor for the full semester), producer Norah Zuniga Shaw, and a team of ACCAD faculty and staff, Zachary explored all the possibilities of the incredible intermedia technologies on hand in the Motion Lab. Founded by Shaw and colleagues in 2005, the Motion Lab features a bevy of interactive media tools, modular scrims and screens, real-time motion capture animation, virtual reality, lighting, sound and other theater technologies. “It is designed to allow artists to explore their ideas with minimal boundaries and iterate more quickly to develop deeper integration between the tech and live performance,” explains Shaw “and André took full advantage of everything our Motion Lab has to offer, in part because he is both an artist and technologist and so he engaged easily in the interdisciplinary boundary-busting collaborative ethos we have.”

Stills from video recordings of Zachary’s  Well of Pearls

Stills from video recordings of Zachary’s Well of Pearls

Creating for Multiple Perspectives

Over the course of the semester, Zachary created Well of Pearls, an interactive media performance exploring the boundaries we place on ourselves and the possibility of more limitless identities. In collaboration with composer, Charles Vincent Burwell, Zachary immerses the audience in video projections and sound intermixed with live performers. Zachary says, “Well of Pearls is an example of a space that literally is shifting. The projection surfaces are moving all around you. The narratives in the performer's bodies, some of them are built from themselves—from the work and narratives that they have written. It's for me, trying to amplify their voices and then allowing them to really affect the space and allowing the space to affect the viewer, allowing the viewers to really be close and personal to performance in a way that they never would have seen before.” Zachary and his collaborators at ACCAD designed the interactive projected media to be revealed on and through the hanging scrims and responsive to any movement in the space. It is impossible to take everything in at once and you are invited to move and see from many perspectives. Zachary says, “we are not trying to lock your imagination into a fixed state where you sit in your seat; watch that, receive this. We're saying, enter this space and be prepared to be turned upside down. And, I think, that in this type of creative environment, we’re able to communicate this. And the performers are able to have literally, a new experience every time they do the work.”

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Afrofuturist Livable Futures

Both boundarylessness and open control speaks to Zachary’s work with Afrofuturism. When you ask Zachary what are themes in his work, he will emphasize the importance of Afrofuturism.  The beginnings of Afrofuturism started in the mid 1950s and is most often linked to musician, Sun Ra’s sci-fi funk. But Afrofuturism is not just about music. It extends into visual arts, literature, fashion, and literature. The contemporary visual artist Nick Cave, is associated with Afrofuturism, as is the work of feminist science fiction writer, Octavia Butler. The themes of Afrofuturism encompass, feminism, alienation, and reclamation. Using dance, Zachary’s Well of Pearls confronts these themes directly and indirectly. Zachary says, “I'm really interested in moving the black cultural experience through dance and movement and sound through the lens of Afrofuturism and its relationship to technology to film to media and also uncovering new narratives–rewriting history. Well of Pearls is an example of work that can really be pulled from what it means to be black in this diaspora. It is really considering dimensionality. So for me the work is about unearthing what is not seen…or the layers within us that is more than just a box you check–more than just ‘oh you're this and you are like this.’ No, I'm more than that. I’m interested in the limitless possibilities of blackness.” And to be a viewer in Zachary’s work is not to be passive, we are, whether we are conscious of it or not, part of the narrative. Our presence mixes with the collective. Our own histories are enmeshed in the performance.

Within the Livable Futures community is a shared value for emergent thinking and an awareness that livability will always be shifting and changing to accommodate current conditions. We are all responsible for the future even if we are unaware of this responsibility.  The concept of future is one that will always be connected to the past–to history. Zachary creates spaces where the past can be just as emergent as the future. He shows how we can reconnect with the aspects of our cultural history and connect these with our own emergent possibilities.