Curated as part of Grounds That Shout! (And Others Merely Shaking) by Reggie Wilson and presented by Philadelphia Contemporary and Partners for Sacred Places, body(ground) responded to questions of race, place, and religious site in Philadelphia. Created and performed in the cemetery of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, a church frequented by slaveholders and traders and where Absalom Jones, the first Black Episcopal Priest in the US, attended with his then master, body(ground) mediated those questions through the flesh, the decomposing body, and the natural and concurrent decomposition and growth of a cemetery, in stark contrast to the oppressive and un-natural, i.e. against Nature, structures of colonialism and white supremacy.
body(ground) is an improvisational score, created to function as an improvisational loop and devotional act and mourning/reckoning with the space. Beginning from open forms and material explorations of the space - both the tangible materiality and the psychic materiality - I created a score with Vitche-Boul Ra that put our bodies in dialogue with the natural growth and decomposition of the environment and with the discord of a beautiful environment, a full city block open and airy in the middle of colonial Old City, where people casually walk their dogs, the gravestones mark the burial places of people who profited off the sale and degradation of others. We were explicitly asked not to touch the gravestones or to climb on the walls, but the trees and grass were fair game, and the wall in the NW corner of the graveyard is collapsing because it was built by colonists on top of a creek, a frequent watering location of the first nation Lenni Lenape people - a beautiful environment that Nature - trees, grass, water - will retake eventually and which is growing from the decomposition at present. It is both conflicted and going to seed. The site of the final score and from which the piece is titled, body ground, was an exploration of experiencing one’s humanity while attempting to be tree roots, growing through one another. We did this in the only unmarked area of the cemetery. The contemporary staff of St. Peter’s Church do not know why that area is unmarked and left off the burial registry; they presume either the bodies buried there were slaves and/or people whom committed suicide.
Not visible readily on this page is the use of spitting in the performance score as a guttural expulsion and processing presence (not disregard but rather full physical engagement) and fake blood coming from our mouths to mark the ongoing violence done to bodies and bodily subjectivity as the legacy of colonialism and white supremacy.
Bio for Vitche-Boul Ra Vitche-Boul Ra is an Omnidisciplinary Performance Practitioner, receiving his BFA in Interdisciplinary Fine Arts (Sculpture concentration) from The University of the Arts in 2018. Primarily focusing on performance practices in the field of dance, he additionally studied under Donna Faye Burchfield in the UArts School of Dance. Winning the Edna Andrade Travel Scholarship from The University of the Arts in 2017, he studied Balinese dance in Bali, Indonesia to expand his movement practice and theatrical vocabulary beyond the western cannon. In Philadelphia, he has shown solo (+collaborative) works at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Vox Populi Gallery, Little Berlin Gallery, and Hightide Gallery. In New York, Ra performed in Fridman Gallery’s 5th Anniversary Festival, had work selected for the Center for Performance Research’s Spring Movement Festival 2018, and has been curated into the New Dance Alliance's 2019 Performance Mix Festival: 33.