Deconstructing borders: Live Arts Bard hosts Where No Wall Remains biennial

Before the Wall by Samar Hazboun

In case you missed it: Live Arts Bard (LAB), the ever-busy residency and commissioning program of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, has been putting on a biennial exhibition for some years now, bringing together cutting-edge artists in many disciplines to explore a common theme. Picture something like the annual Bard Music Festival that serves as the centerpiece of SummerScape, using the life and times of a particular composer to organize diverse programming. For the LAB Biennial, even Bard students get drawn into the whirlwind, taking themed courses that exist only for a couple of years. It’s the brainchild of Gideon Lester, artistic director for Theater & Dance at the Fisher Center and director of Bard’s undergraduate Theater and Performance Program.

Each time he plans a new biennial Lester brings in a distinguished co-curator. This time it’s Tania El Khoury, a multiple-prizewinning live artist from Lebanon, known for installations and performances focused on audience interactivity and concerned with the ethical and political potential of such encounters. Her work has been translated and presented in 32 countries across six continents, in spaces ranging from museums to cable cars to the Mediterranean Sea. Together they have put together a rich and varied program, loaded with commissioned works and premieres, titled Where No Wall Remains, which runs Thursday through Sunday, November 21 to 24. “Political borders, physical borders, historical and contemporary borders, borders seen and unseen, the borders of the body, borders between artforms, between performers and spectators, the borders that divide or define us, borders to be crossed, tested, resisted, destroyed, rebuilt or transcended” are the common subject matter of its contents.

The title comes from a Rumi poem, and it’s not an accident that this biennial is timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. “We started planning [this edition of the festival] in January 2017, in the week that the Trump administration’s ‘Muslim ban’ came into effect, accompanied by increasingly xenophobic rhetoric and the specter of a wall along the US/Mexico line,” the curators write. “The recent near-elimination of the American immigration program, together with an increase of human rights violations on the Mexican border, have made the subject of the festival even more grimly present than we could have imagined in 2017.”

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Participating artists (pointedly invited from the Middle East and Central America) include Tashweesh featuring Basel Abbas, Ruanne Abou-Rahme and Muqata’a; Mirna Bamieh and the Palestine Hosting Society; Ali Chahrour, Rudi Goblen, Emily Jacir, Jason de León, Emilio Rojas and Tania El Khoury herself. Performances and installations – some of them occurring off-campus – include dance, music, screenings and theater pieces, as one might expect, but also break some surprising ground, including explorations of the topic of “botanical colonialism.” The Palestine Hosting Society’s specialty, for example, is a form of political dinner theater that attempts to recapture food traditions that long served as a cultural anchor for a stateless people, but are now fading under the restrictions of Israeli occupation. Its performance, Menu of Dis/appearance ($35), will be presented on three evenings at Murray’s in Tivoli. Emilio Rojas’ Naturalized Borders (to Gloria) (free) is an interactive community-based land art project that will include a group walk, a ritual and an installation on the Bard Farm property of a 72-foot-long line of indigenous crops (the Three Sisters: corn, beans and squash) planted in the shape of the US/Mexico border.

Another intriguing interactive piece is Jason de León’s Hostile Terrain 94 (free), going on during the afternoons and evenings of the entire weekend in the Fisher Center’s Weis Atrium, in which the public is invited to transcribe toe tags with the names and forensic data of actual migrants found dead near the Arizona/Mexico border, and then find their correct position on a 20-foot-long map. The audience will also be asked to chime in during Rudi Goblen’s “concert/play” Fito ($15), in which an immigrant celebrates his naturalization ceremony, presented on both Saturday and Sunday evening at Sosnoff Stage Right in the Fisher Center. El Khoury’s Cultural Exchange Rate ($15), which will have 17 performances at Sosnoff Backstage, is also interactive, that being her artistic calling card.

If it sounds like there’ll be a whole lot going on at one time at a variety of sites, you’re right. Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme’s installation/performance At those terrifying frontiers where the existence and disappearance of people fade into each other (part 2) ($15) happens in the Fisher Center’s Resnick Studio over all four days. Ali Chahrour’s dance piece, Night ($25), will be performed three times in the LUMA Theater. Emily Jacir’s stagework letter to a friend (free) happens all four evenings at Sosnoff Stage Left. There’s also a student-curated Where No Wall Remains Reading Room in the New Annandale House and a festival blog online at https://nowall.bard.edu.

To view the full schedule for Where No Wall Remains and to purchase tickets, visit https://fishercenter.bard.edu. You can also call the box office at (845) 758-7900.

LAB Biennial: Where No Wall Remains, Thursday-Sunday, November 21-24, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson; (845) 758-7900, https://fishercenter.bard.edu.

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