Michelle Puetz, Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Curatorial Fellow at the MCA, sat down for a virtual chat with Wu Tsang and boychild to discuss ideas of play, collaboration, and Justin Bieber. The MCA presents their new collaboration, Moved by the Motion, Aug 6.
Michelle Puetz: I’ve been thinking a lot about collectivity and collaboration, and the ethos of collectively building and sharing ideas is something that has always struck me in your work, Wu. Can you say a little bit about the process of collaborating on this performance—how it started and how it has evolved?
Wu Tsang: The performance is an ongoing series and also part of a larger film project that I’ve been working on with boychild. It initially evolved out of “playing” around in rehearsals for the film—sometimes we play to get into the character and story—and then we decided to explore it further, to examine and disrupt the roles we inhabit as director and actor.
MP: I saw the installation of the film project, A day in the life of bliss, when I was in Berlin—it’s incredible. What kind of play are you referring to? Do you switch roles (explanatory/active)?
WT: In the beginning I was still working on developing the story and script in Stockholm and I asked boychild to help me to better understand her performance/movement. So we began exploring how her movement could tie into to her character (named Blis) and the story.
boychild: Yeah, play became a useful medium to communicate with each other.
MP: Aah, play has to be one of the most—if not the most—useful way to communicate! boychild, how does the movement in the film and in the performance relate to the story? How did you adapt bodily movements to ideas or plot developments?
bc: First, in these exercises I developed a “vocabulary” of movements that I already use to help Wu understand what each physical articulation means to me. As he developed the character and the script, we worked together to create a series of performances, many like my own boychild performances, and adapted them to the story.
MP: I was struck by the final dance/movement sequence in A day in the life of bliss. How did this evolve?
bc: In the final scene, Blis comes home from the nightclub and has a “victory dance.”Wu describes her as being “in her power.” It’s this state of being where there is full trust in your expression and emotion. It’s this final state of bliss that I seek in my performances.
WT: Yea, the last dance is definitely like the grand finale, after the character has overcome her obstacles of the day. Blis is kind of a classic sci-fi hero. I wanted to use genre to help ground what is otherwise a pretty experimental performance art film. boychild’s movement also inspired the narrative arc, because I had in mind the feeling of the ending, based on her performance, I worked backwards, asking myself, how can I build tension through plot so that this moment really pays off?
MP: Yes, this is so evident in the physicality of the movements and their expansiveness in the space . . . but there was something quite melancholy about it for me as well.
bc: I think there is something very melancholic about victory, coming to the end of something requires self-realization and change.
WT: Something that really inspired me about boychild’s movement, which is one of the reasons I wanted to work with her on this project, is the way that her emotions seem so connected to the movement—like there is this direct connection/expression of feeling that is not based in language. As a director, this is something I am always hoping to achieve with the actors/performers I work with.
MP: Are any of these boychild performances available online?
bc: Most of the performances that are live are only documented on phones! Which is why I’m so excited about this project—I think that Wu has an incredible talent to reproduce the energy and emotion that is an evasive aspect of the live performance.
MP: Yes, the performance in A day in the life of bliss was brutal because it felt so wild and as though it was evolving as it was being recorded. How “scripted” or rehearsed is the movement in that film or in the performance, and how much does it shift and change/base itself in improvisation?
WT: With both this performance and the film, I think it’s equally important to have a script and to allow space for improvisation. The script is meant to guide everyone (including the cinematographer for example) to get on the same page about what’s supposed to be happening at any given moment. This structure gives us more freedom to interpret, each in our different roles.
bc: The rehearsal for those scenes only existed as live performances in clubs and as conversations and the “play” exercises that are now a full performance of its own.
MP: I just started reading Seed to Harvest by Octavia Butler, and as a result have been thinking a lot about past and future worlds, telepathy, networking, and what it means to be human (or rather, what it will mean in the future), which connects to some of the ideas that I’ve been mulling over after seeing A day in the life of bliss. What have you been reading/watching/listening to for inspiration?
WT: Definitely reading a lot of Octavia Butler, China Mieville, William Gibson, Fred Moten, and I’m also inspired by my cowriter Alexandro Segade’s work.
bc: Yeah, we’ve been eating up Octavia Butler.
WT: I’ve been researching a lot on biometrics, face recognition technology, and HRI (human robot interaction).
bc: I’ve been watching a lot of Justin Bieber and pop performances in preparation for the final set of shooting.
WT: Oh yea!
MP: Recent Bieber?
MP: His messy rawness?
bc: His live performance, pop performance. In addition to Lady Gaga a few years back, Beyoncé at the Super Bowl, and Miley’s live tour.
MP: Excellent, thanks you two!