Blog Post

Reflection on Autonets at Zero1 Biennial in San Jose


Some quick screengrabs from the video are here:

I want to put some thoughts down here to record and remember what happened this weekend and reflect on the process. What I’m extremely happy about with regards to Local Autonomy Networks / Autonets at the Zero1 Biennial is the process. I have been saying and trying for the last year to remake my art process from something that was stressful, traumatic and spectacle oriented towards something which could be healing and nourishing for myself, and my collaborators, and which could be not a spectacle. For this performance, I chose two primary collaborators, and through our meetings we decided together that a group choreography would best express the concept of building networks to prevent violence against women, queer and trans people, people of color and differently abled people. But to achieve a group choreography, we needed many more participants than we could bring from LA, we thought.

Our plan was to hold a workshop in San Jose for Autonets, and develop movement in the workshop to use in the performance. We did this, combining my knowledge of Theater of the Oppressed with Allison Wyper’s knowledge of the Pocha Method to create a workshop environment for a group of participants who work in performance, theater, performance studies and community organizing. These gestures built on two aspects of community based, prison abolitionist responses to violence: 1. That we already know violence and how to respond to it 2. That in order to develop our own responses to violence we have to use our creativity to develop stratgies, including the creativity of our bodies. The performance was in effect an exercise in network building, community building, developing group trust and group awareness and exercising non-verbal communication in crowded street environments.

The only thing I wish had happened differently was that there seemed to be very little outreach done in San Jose. We had only one participant from San Jose come to our workshop. Ultimately, our little road trip which brought 6 participants from Los Angeles made up the bulk of the participants.

What emerged from this workshop was a group choreography of movements created by the participants using the dance technique of flocking to turn them into a group choreography. To this we added the strategy of “civilians” which Nick Mirzoeff has described as used in the Occupy movement where groups of activists will disperse and blend into crowds, seeming to be “normal people” when police violence is too great, only to regroup later. We did this with Autonets in the Zero1 (e)Merge street festival, merging into the crowd, seeming to be just another disinterested flaneur like art viewer, only to group together when we saw the lights on an autonets hoodie activate or a group start to do their gestures.

While I don’t know how much the audience understood of the piece, I do know that we brought a shift in affect to the street festival. Some of our gestures seemed like self-defense, including yelling “STOP” together as a group, some of them were more comical and some were more dance inspired. While some audience members laughed and others seemed concerned and interested, I heard some say “look it’s a flash mob.” By the end of our hour of repeating our gestures, grouping and disappearing, our last set was the strongest, with our gestures well practiced and more synchronized, and in this round members of the audience began to join in. I think about 5 audience members joined us in our performance, which was another effect we were hoping for.

Reflecting on this process and moving forward, I think this was a great step for Autonets towards building the Los Angeles Autonet, a network of people who are learning to trust each other and will hopefully stay engaged as we move towards later steps of the project including creating agreements about keeping each other safe and finding technologies, perhaps including wearable electronics, that can aid us in communicating in order to have more safety and autonomy.

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