Vancouver-based artist Kelly McInnes creates socio-political dance that asks big questions. As an active subversion, McInnes’s work requires from her audiences a longer, more focused attention span through which she hopes they can connect with their own bodily sensations. Along with artist Rianne Svelnis, McInnes is a co-facilitator of the dance and theatre collaborative creation workshop MINE Youth Project. The free workshop is in its second season and is offered to a diverse group of youth from age twelve through twenty-four. As part of the collective Pressed Paradise, with artists Arash Khakpour, Heather Lamoureux and Diego Romero, McInnes makes socially conscious and challenging work.
The Dance Current featured McInnes in our March/April 2018 issue. The following is the longer conversation that ensued.
Emma Kerson It’s clear that you openly acknowledge your privilege as an artist. How does this understanding of privilege translate/enter the work you create? Do you have any advice for other creators making from a place of privilege?
Kelly McInnes This is a question I ask myself often when I’m making work. I continue to learn of the privileges that my body grants me and how I can hold myself responsible to this in my life and work. I think a large part of it for me has been about naming my privilege(s) within the work to deneutralize the white, cis, able bodied experience, making it but one experience instead of a presumed norm. In my latest work, SHINY, which challenges the normative beauty standards enforced upon women through mass media, it felt important for me to unpack how my biases frame my perspective within the content. I believe by acknowledging these privileges and letting the audience know I recognize that we all have a different experience with the content, yet are still all oppressed by it, allows us to collectively move through the work as allies and individually relate it to our own experience.
I am grateful that through this process I was able to further realize the importance of whose bodies interpret my work. I’ve chosen who I’ve worked with not only from my interest in their interpretive work, but also through my close peers that support me and are invested in my work — those that I have felt comfortable to share the vulnerability of the creative process while developing my practice. As I continue, I move with the intention to question more thoroughly the bodies that I present by considering race, gender, age and ability in my choice making.
Another aspect of my practice is community engagement. With dance artist Rianne Svelnis I co-facilitate MINE Youth Project. This collaborative creation process and workshop combines dance and theatre to explore consumerism, fast fashion, identity, body image, history and memory using clothing as the main focus. I wanted to design a platform to share my passion with a broader community. The project is free to participate and offered to youth ages twelve through twenty-four of any level of experience. Now in its second season, the project has engaged a diverse group of twenty-five youth, many who don’t normally have access to opportunities such as these. I feel very grateful to have had the opportunity to engage with arts and dance from a young age because it was transformative for me through my adolescence. I hope to provide this opportunity to as many youth as I can.
I also try to be conscious of my impact on the neighbourhoods I work in. Often I work in Chinatown, Gastown and the Downtown Eastside. The spaces I can afford to live and work are in these areas, but I feel conflicted realizing my presence there as a young artist supports gentrification. One way I try to subvert this contradiction is by boycotting the zones of exclusion in the area and only supporting places that have been around for a long time or are owned by the long-time community members.
I feel I still have a lot to learn and unlearn surrounding my privilege, but some questions I often ask myself are: Why am I creating? How does my presence impact where I am? Whose voices are not being heard/seen/felt if mine is? How can I give back? How can I share opportunities that I am afforded?
EK Connecting to the humanity of the body seems important to you, as you push for socio-political awareness. How does this idea compel you into the studio?
KM I often begin my creative process by challenging aspects of my past and present experience. I examine these within my broader community/society. Creation, for me, is a healing process. It gives me an outlet to feel, question and transform my perspective and behavior — working through trauma while empowering myself.
In our society of constant stimulus, I intend to make work that requires a longer, more focused attention from audiences. I also invite people to reflect on and connect with their own body and sensations. Sensation and presentness are experiences that capitalist culture attempts to take from us. I explore how pleasure can be a form of resistance and I am also interested in transformation in the body, consumption, voyeurism, ritual, gaze, subversion and magnification of the everyday. I go between working with objects and image to give material form to ideas. Then I focus on how to bring attention to the live reality of our bodies. I flow between beginning my process with a clear theme and by exploring aspects of the physicality and aesthetic, until the idea or intention excavates itself through the process.
EK You have a lot of experience with site-specific, durational, multidisciplinary and installation based works, and your collective, Pressed Paradise, had a Special Projects Residency at The Dance Centre to create in non-traditional spaces. Have you noticed a difference in your audience’s reaction/response/connection to more guerilla-style performances as opposed to that of a paying audience coming to a proscenium theatre?
KM There are two big differences between a paying theatre audience and people that stumble upon my work in public spaces — expectation and consent. Unlike an audience that chooses to attend a performance and is expecting to engage with it, publics that encounter performance are surprised by the fact that it is even happening, especially in Vancouver where there isn’t very much guerrilla performance going on.
I have encountered people with an array of reactions including excitement, confusion, curiosity, joy, anger, indifference. I suppose you could say that about theatre audiences as well, so the main differences for me are the expectation and also the familiarity. With guerrilla-style performance you can engage people that don’t often or ever see performance in the theatre. It is interesting because it makes performance more accessible to a wide range of people. Our performances can challenge those who ignore these issues from their place of privilege, while also inspiring and engaging those whom the theatre is inaccessible to. With my collective, Pressed Paradise, made up of artists Arash Khakpour, Heather Lamoureux, Diego Romero and myself, we often get asked what we are doing, why and where it’s possible to see more things like it. Through doing this type of work we have had many conversations around the socio-political topics the work is addressing, as well as dialogue around performance and art in general. It’s exciting to imagine that perhaps our audiences were inspired in some way.
EK What’s next for you as an artist? What do you hope to do in the future?
KM Well, I just premiered my first funded production, SHINY, this past December, which felt like a big accomplishment at this point in my career (after starting two years ago). I would really like to share the work with more audiences and so I hope to find opportunities to tour it. I also just finished a residency in Monterrey, Mexico where I was collaborating on a new piece, A menos que quieras bailar, with Mexico-based artist Areli Moran and Vancouver-based artist Rianne Svelnis. While there, Rianne and I performed our duet Rolling Boil, which we created this past spring. We are looking to find touring opportunities for these works and plan to bring them to Europe in 2018.
I suppose my intention at this point is to find opportunities to present my work outside of Vancouver more often. I have spent the last few years creating almost non-stop, which has been amazing and I feel I’ve learnt so much about creative practice, my interests and aesthetic. The works develop a life of their own. I feel them grow through each audience they connect with.
I will continue to develop my community engagement practice and am in the planning process for a youth project for SHINY at the moment. Over the next year I hope to further develop my work, Acclimatize, a collaboration with sound artist Roxanne Nesbitt, that questions our relationship with our bodies, carnal pleasures and natural habitat. I plan to do further research on climate change, dictatorship and robotics to inform this new work, which is set in a dystopian reality in which we endure a deficiency of nature