Expanding Histories at Austin’s Fusebox 2020

Update: Fusebox Festival’s live events have been cancelled, but they are currently re-imagining the 2020 festival as a virtual experience that will take place online in April.

Artists grappling with the political has been the norm for thousands of years, but when art and social-political questioning merge at an interdisciplinary performance festival like Austin’s Fusebox Festival 2020 (April 15-19), the results can sometimes expand artistic boundaries.

“We’ve never shied away from politics. That’s the nature of making art. That’s always been a part of our festival as reflected by these artists making work right now,” explains Fusebox executive and artistic director Ron Berry, but also admits, “It might be a little more charged this year.”

Yet the renowned artists—local, national and international—who come to Fusebox don’t usually approach either art nor the contemporary issues they dance around—sometimes literally—in traditional ways. Those unconventional approaches might be why Berry and Fusebox curator/associate artistic director, Anna Gallagher-Ross see several 2020 projects as making art out of the inclination to catalogue and examine how the past creates the present, to archive.

Tina Satter / Half Straddle, Is This A Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription. Mladi Levi Festival featuring Frank Boyd, TL Thompson, and Emily Davis. Photo by Nada Zgank.

“A lot of our artists, in really beautiful ways, have been exploring what archiving and archivist can be. They’re using performance to be mediums for multiple types of archives,” describes Gallagher-Ross.

As a project that redefines how we can experience history and the public record, Gallagher-Ross points to one of the performance highlights of the festival, Tina Satter/Half Straddle’s Is This A Room. The piece focuses on the case of Air Force linguist, Reality Winner, who leaked classified information on Russian intelligence service hacking in the 2016 election. Is This A Room reenacts the FBI’s interrogation of Winner, using the official transcript as its script.

“Reality’s trial was quite swift and a lot of people didn’t get to hear the story from her perspective,” observes Gallagher-Ross. “Through this theater production, Tina is actually resurrecting and staging this incredible 57 minutes of Reality’s life, essentially putting the archive on stage.”

Another big performance using historical records for art’s sake will come from Austin’s Rude Mechs in their latest theatrical work, High Crimes, likely about the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. As always with the Mechs’ process that could change between now and the festival.

Not as overtly political, but certainly cultural, choreographer and UT professor Gesel Mason’s No Boundaries uses her own body to archive “this incredible history of seminal Black choreography,” says Gallagher-Ross.

Ingri Fiksdal, Diorama. Photo by Istvan Virag.

Even one of the most expansive projects in the 2020 festival, Ingri Fiksdal’s outdoor installation and performance, Diorama, might have archival elements to it, as Fiksdal fuses dance and the landscape of Carson Creek to create new perspectives on a familiar environment.

“Artists are thinking not just about archives as documents but as different things like the landscape, how can the landscape be written and imprinted by our history and our memory,” says Gallagher-Ross.

While not singled out by the Fusebox curators as part of this archiving trend, perhaps Texas artists Hillerbrand+Magsamen’s (plus Stopschinski and Lynn) 147 Devices for Integrated Principles, and its creation of new functions from the familiar and ordinary devices of our lives has its own sense of creative archiving.

For an international perspective, Berry extended an invitation to Jeff Khan to become a guest curator this year. Artistic director of Performance Space in Sydney, Australia, which produces its own experimental art festival, Liveworks, Khan brings an Australian and Asia Pacific Region focus to the festival. And some of those projects get political in combustible ways, including a Sunday sunset festival send off We Live in Explosive Times, from {the empty set} Emily Parsons-Lord and Sara Morawetz .

PHASMAHAMMER, AE†: JAWS OF THE HORIZON. Image by Tristan Jalleh + Justin Shoulder.

Performance Space and Fusebox are co-commissioning AE†: Jaws of the Horizon, the latest creation from PHASMAHAMMER, the pseudonym of artist Justin Talplacido Shoulder. Gallagher-Ross explains that the Australian-Filipino artist uses “ancestral traditions with new queer mythology in order to project a queer future, and is very much concerned with the ecological crisis we find ourselves in and how we de-center ourselves but also care for ourselves in the process.”

As always, the Fusebox Hub continues the art work into the night, presenting performances, art installations and some interactive projects and exhibitions that illuminate once the sun goes down. For audience participation, look and listen for Toronto-based Choir, Choir, Choir! at the Hub with an audience sing-along, along with The Museum of Human Achievement’s Face//On, which will combine Karaoke with DIY costume designing. Brown State of Mind creates a choose-your-own adventure for the Hub with Be Here Later.

“I think there’s certain projects that just lend themselves to more social environments, club-like environments,” explains Berry, adding, “There’s a lot of work that we’re interested in that floats between theater and museum and club space and the Hub often ends up being a good place for that to live.”

With over a 100 free performances, installations, talks and general weird happenings, festival-goers might want to pick up their own temporal archive/map of the present to be read in the moment and the future, a.k.a the festival catalogue, where the artists selected writers to chronicle their work. Feel free to do a little chronicling of your own in the margins.