Notes on the project from the artists
MENGFAN WANG, China / Japan:
“Since we shouldn’t do any arguments during this conversation, I felt at the point that I noticed that there is a conflict point between us, suddenly it opened up a space for me, I mean compared with the daily situation, where I don’t want to have patience to listen to this. At that moment, somehow I could first listen to it and stand back from this person and ask why, at this point, he brings up this question. What has shaped his thoughts? So, somehow I felt very peaceful at this moment, that I could share time with this person to really listen, which I rarely have during daily life. For me, this was a process to get closer to my inner world.
I’m curious about how these questions in the physical interview will affect these people in their future life. Because I feel it’s like some kind of seed that you put in people’s body. For example, for my mother and another friend of mine, they don’t have any physical experience before, so for them, it’s kind of a new structure or kind of tools that bring them, at least in those 20 minutes, back to their body. So, they can kind of think, ah, this is how I feel and then observe themselves. So, I feel like maybe this will grow up in their body.”
JAKEVIS THOMASON, South Carolina, US:
“In the physical interviews, the movement was beautiful, even though it was just simple gestures. I realized, it’s a lot deeper than just movement, it’s actually context that you’re getting. People were actually telling you personal things about themselves. It was beautiful, because we’re in the process of choreography whether we know it or not, and just taking that in while watching, it’s so cool.
And it was nice to listen in the spoken interviews. It made me realize, it’s not the person’s fault for having these certain beliefs or feelings, it really is based off of our experiences. We can’t help how we’re raised, or the people and places that we are surrounded by. It made me think about how impactful my own experiences are to my own beliefs. It’s more than just how you feel at that moment, it’s something that has happened to you, something that you have experienced. There’s a meaningful reason why people believe what they do. It makes me think a lot about what kind of action is useful, when we’re trying to affect change, because obviously it doesn’t help to just fight about things or argue. Now I’m curious, what can we build that somehow uses people’s life experiences to create this kind of space for conversation?”
VALERIE OLIVEIRO, Mni Sóta Maḳoce / Singapore:
“I joined the project in a time where I was considering the nature of conflict and what it does to my body and what it does to people around me, to our nervous systems. I was seeing destructive conflict having an impact like the transference of harm, like it moves harm in a different direction, onto somebody else's ancestral line.
I was curious about the framework for the conversations, where the first introduction to a question or a piece of research is deeply structured. It was interesting to have a structured, guided conversation that’s not facilitated, but still has a container, as a way to approach something that is potentially flammable to talk about – knowing that there’s only 4 questions, this will come to an end soon. I find structure is really helpful when it comes to big emotions, so just having the tool in moving through. And then, how when the pressure is released afterwards, the conversation, the free conversation that happens after, is a result of that deep structure. Just that framework of research that we used. I started to get curious about it as a way to hold to process or certain ideas within a room, or a creative process, and the desire to connect or elaborate or highlight or emphasize, whatever it brings up for people. It creates different synergies, dynamics. And, I felt like the physical interview was a further way to lean into the process, the frame, to recognize that people are who they are and just let them be who they want to be, let them respond.”
JACQUEY NYAMINDE, Nairobi, Kenya:
“What I realized is we are usually very quick to judge, and we don’t take time to actually listen to our friends or family. Because in this project, you had to sit and listen to this person and actually see what they feel, especially with the physical interview, I got to realize that sometimes we just don’t do that, we don’t actually listen, we don’t take interest in what people feel. Having these interviews and the people expressing themselves, I felt like this is probably a part of these people that even their families don’t know. I am very sure that their partners don’t even know what they think about these things.
During the physical interview, it was really emotional, and I saw that sometimes you don’t have to use words to know somebody, it’s just the actions, the actions are enough for you to learn somebody, to know what they like, what they dislike. Even just me asking the questions and looking at them responding, I felt like, wow, I’m actually getting to know this person, I can actually tell when this person is hurt, if I say something now to this person, I would know when maybe I am crossing the boundaries. They were really deep conversations, it wasn’t just something that I was doing because I’m in this project. I got to know these people even more and I think they got to know me more as well. Even after the interviews we would go and sit together for lunch or dinner, just because we felt that a relationship had been built, just through this project.”
ANI JAVIAN, New Jersey, US:
“The project left me really curious about my capacity and other’s capacity to simply listen. And opportunities that we’re provided to practice that in our lives. How are we valuing that? What are the cultural values around that? Do we offer explicit times to practice listening and if we did, how might conflict be different in this world? In one conversation, I left with more empathy, far more empathy than I entered. And I was shocked by that… I felt grateful to them to have opened me in some way to their perspective.
I noted how I was valuing my personal experience vs data and facts. With the people I disagreed with, I wished I had more research to pull out of my pocket and then I just realized how I was valuing my own experience, because when I was talking to the people I agreed with, I didn’t feel that. So, idea of evidence or have something else to back me up and how that placed some sort of value on that vs my personal experience/ perspective.
In the physical interviews, I found just in posing these questions you could see sense of humor come up or insecurity, it brought up such authentic reactions. The verbal interview, while it was also an authentic reaction, felt more composed, maybe because we were talking about an external topic. It felt like I got to know them more in the physical interview than in the verbal. It was a pleasure.”
MAYRA HERNANDEZ, Boston, US:
“What led me to be a part of this project was having the opportunity to think more about heavy topics and have different perspectives on the situation, positive and negative, as people always have an opinion and are coming from a different life experience and a different background. And being able to willingly put myself in the position to have a difficult conversation and being able to think about how I think about conflict or disagreements. I think it adds growth. It gives you better understanding of the person that you're talking to, and it allows you to build a level of empathy for the viewpoint of the person and just to come together and better understand one another.
I think this kind of practice is really valuable and everybody needs to know how to deal with conflicts and agreements and disagreements. And just to recognize how relatable everybody is despite our different perspectives on situations. It brings a level of humanity back into society, especially right now with everything that’s going on. I think for me it’s a little healing, in the bigger scheme of things. I think it’s also like a growth mindset when you can engage in this work. What is the future work that we all do to be better individuals and not just have that reaction of wanting to just yell and get upset?”
ISAAC BLAKE, UK Romani Gypsy:
“It was a privilege to be in that moment, connecting with myself and my community, that was a very humbling experience, and I felt a sense of pride that I was able to identify myself, because I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be able to talk about gay stuff to Gypsies and Travelers. To come in my 40s, now, thinking that I can have those conversations with people in my own community was a privilege, because as far as I was concerned, I could never have those sort of conversations. I felt proud of my culture, proud of me, and proud of the participants. And I think they were very emotional. It wasn’t just a tickbox exercise, it was a real moment in time where you connected and I saw that and I felt honored in that moment.
I expected the spoken word interview to be moving, I didn’t expect the physical interview to be moving (for the participants), because they weren’t dancers, I don’t know why in my head I thought, they’re not really going to connect to the exercise, but they did! This was from the very first one they did, they connected and you saw it and it shocked me, to be honest. They found the exercise thought-provoking, interesting, intelligent, emotional, deep, so many different words. No one ever asks people these questions, and I didn’t know how non-dancers, non-trained people would respond, but it was a very emotional exercise, and also for me because I had to bear witness to them and I could see the emotion in their eyes and their face and you could feel it in the air, the energy, it was some sort of magnet going on in the room.”
NOUR BARAKEH, Syria / Austria:
“I got thirsty to hear from the first interviewee and that energy continued. What was really interesting to me was to consider that the knowledge that I wanted to get, it will come from these people. We have all of this knowledge, all of this information, all of these papers, it’s endless. And then, what’s important in real life is what we reduce out of that knowledge. We digest it and then there’s our behavior. So, really what’s important is the perception of people. But then the output is really individual, it has a lot to do with our own experiences and that’s when I put my hand on the treasure of this knowledge I was getting from these people. Even on the topic as a scientific topic, it was not relevant anymore for me to read more about it, but to hear from other people how they think about it. So, this was a very interesting point about it for me, and a switch. That’s how I learned a lot.
For me at the beginning, I thought, I don’t think I have a gray area about the topic and then the gray area was growing and growing and I ended up with a very big gray area. And that all came from the accumulation of what I learned from these people. I was able to zoom out and see, hah, that might be something that I would consider, so I put all of that in the gray area.”
JUMANA AL REFAI, Kuwait:
“The project is just really interesting because it puts you in a position where you really have to listen to something you don't agree with or isn’t necessarily in line with what you think is right. Sometimes when you disagree with someone passionately, you tend not to listen to what they think or care about what they see. And in a way, you don't make them human anymore, and I feel like with this project, it allows me to really listen to opinions that I might disagree with and to really humanize the person, even though I completely disagree with what they see. And at the same time, with the physical interview, it's so interesting to see how people would respond physically, and how you don't selectively listen to that. You just see them as human beings, as they are.
It felt like after the physical interviews, I connected with the four participants at a completely different level. We were close, but I feel like these questions touch a really personal level of them. Like, where do you feel anger? It not something that you normally ask someone, so I feel connected in a way that was a little different than we ever did. And they were saying, ‘Yeah, Jumana, I feel like with some of the questions, my response, where the movement was being initiated, was the same, like anger and love kind of felt like it came from the same place.‘ It was the first time where they were put in a situation where they had to think about that. It changed something in the way they see themselves.”