New School News

Image courtesy of the Geo Wyeth and Shimmer, Rotterdam, NL. Photo by Jhoeko
Image courtesy of the Geo Wyeth and Shimmer, Rotterdam, NL. Photo by Jhoeko

Eugene Lang College’s Performance in the Age of Pandemic Brings Artists to the Virtual Campus

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, students, teachers, and workers all had to figure out how to conduct their work remotely. For The Arts program at Eugene Lang College, the pandemic presented an added challenge:  Students could no longer  experience the vibrant arts culture of New York City in person. Now, as ability to experience live events remains limited, Lang’s Performance in the Age of Pandemic event series brings performing artists and scholars to The New School to share the ways they have been affected by and are responding to this global issue. The series explores life for artists during health crises like the COVID-19, AIDS, and 1918 influenza pandemics.

“Performing artists have somehow continued to make and show work from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic amidst the challenges presented by the radical reorganization of life we’re all experiencing,” says Neil Greenberg, Dance program director and professor of choreography. “The invited performing artists and scholars have been asked to join the New School community to consider how they and have responded to and been affected by this pandemic, in the process exploring the performance of absence, activism, the body, care, community, confusion, escape, introspection, liveness, politics, protest, and beauty during these tumultuous times.”

Performance in the Age of Pandemic provides an online venue for virtual talks, studio visits, and conversations with artists, curators, activists, and scholars around the world. Before the pandemic, Lang’s New York City location gave students access to cutting-edge artists and performance spaces, where they experienced the dynamic arts culture of the city. The series was conceived by the Contemporary Dance and Visual Studies programs in the early months of the pandemic, in response to a call from then-Dean Stephanie Browner for programs that made compelling use of online formats. The Platform courses have since expanded to encompass all of Lang’s Arts programs.

The current series is the third iteration of the Arts Platform, an online venue organized under a unifying theme. This semester’s theme acknowledges the challenges artists are experiencing due to COVID-19, which has demanded that many of them reconceive their notions of live performance. “For many, Zoom became both a venue and a tool through which they could capitalize on limitations and make meaning from the aberrant—for example, from the latency of online live performance,” says Greenberg, who is facilitating this semester’s Platform.

Participating artists have included Joshua William Gelb, who used his home closet as a stage for his Theater of Quarantine presentations; composer and musician Pamela Z, who discussed the intimacy of playing to the camera, something she isn’t able to do in the large proscenium theaters in which she often performs; and poet and performance artist Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, who provided multiple ways to interact with his Chameleon project, like using the voice and text app Discord to focus on the human voice without visual distractions. These presenters were selected from faculty nominations and represent a wide range of disciplines, working methods, approaches to spectatorship, and race, sexual orientation, and gender identities.

With just a few events left this semester, Greenberg hopes that viewers consider for themselves what can be learned from performance and what questions it raises during this pandemic and others. “What connections might be forged to other ongoing pandemics such as racism, colonialism, and environmental destruction?  What might be made visible during these times about the importance of social connection, about liveness, about embodiment?  By seeing the artist behind the art, performance might be made all the more rich, resonant, nuanced, and meaningful.”

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