I remember the first time I stood before the Pacific Ocean.
The sound of crashing waves, the infinite horizon, the voluminous clouds.
You see, I was raised with my feet in the Atlantic, and the Pacific, mama pacific, she’s different. She has a different weight, gravitas. Standing before her is like standing before the calling of a destiny that I didn’t know I had.
For so long I’ve heard a whispered, haunting call inside my chest asking me to do something, but I didn’t know what. The whispers were muddled in all the noise of my life.
When I set out to develop fault lines as a multi-year performance project that ghostly presence changed to a yes yes yes this.
I started this project with huge dreams. Dreams that I still hope to one day materialize, but are not yet here. I wrote to potential collaborators with an ambitious timeline that stretched into 2025 and included international touring, simultaneous livecasting performances in multiple locations, an online archive of ancestrally guided movement practices, and more. Some of it came to fruition over 2021, 2022, and 2023. We toured nationally, bringing fault lines to Mānoa (Hawai’i), Los Angeles (California), Columbus (Ohio), and New York. Performing collaborators engaged with embodied vocal practices to learn a beautiful, haunting originally composed song out to the ocean and to one another in the performance. And in May, pateldanceworks made an offering of this work in the Bay Area in collaboration with queer and Asian artists amidst ongoing pandemics entrenching inequality and eroding the already brittle infrastructure we stand upon, in a place where we were told performance like this had not happened before.
I wanted to work primarily with artists that identify in the spectrum of queerness, as expansive and generous as it is. I think often of bell hooks when I think of queerness. In a talk at The New School in 2014, hooks offered that queerness is a place and a space that requires invention and innovation. She said, “‘Queer’ not as being about who you’re having sex with, that can be a dimension of it, but ‘queer’ as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.” Queerness transcends gender and sexuality (and encompasses them) to embrace the othered. To do queer on this fault line is to hold generous curiosity with generous imagination, affording a space that can language the un-languageable into being. The queerness of the portal reveals for us a space made for queerness to speak and thrive and live. More than that, I believe in queerness and time travel. Performing in the work, I felt time travel happening with the performers and viewers. Are we tracing the lineages of history, identity, absurdity into the past and future simultaneously, adding to a queer mycelium network of memory, experience, and creative generosity?
In all the time I wrote about this project, I returned to a refrain about what I hoped the project would be able to do: fault lines generates a ritual portal - a doorway across generations and geography, a metaphorical opening of the earth returning us home. That is why we have to do this: To return home is to reconcile and complete our lineages; to become good ancestors; to resolve our fate and be free.
For me, this speaks to my values about being an Asian American artist as well as working toward a decolonial approach to the creative process. I think back often to Ocean Vuong’s provocation on the importance of being an Asian American artist:
“If you are going to be an Asian American artist, be prepared to be unfathomable to the rest of the world...You’ll be inconceivable...As an Asian American, when you dare to have your own agency, your own dreams, when you no longer become the instrument, the empty vessel of larger, pre-made art, you will be called pretentious, you will be called unrestrained. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it…Be prepared to be inconceivable and then be prepared to innovate beyond that because we need you and we are ready for you.”
As an Asian American artist, I have often struggled with a desire to be legible, to feel legible and accepted. Even now, in 2023, Asian American artists, choreographers, and dancers continue to be invisibilized, forced into assimilation, told (like many others of the diaspora) that we are too much. Sara Ahmed suggests that when we are made invisible, “we experience the world as all the more sensational; what is ordinarily overlooked or looked over appears striking” and that the “past is magnified when it is no longer shrunk.” Nothing has been discovered or rediscovered, it is just there, constant and churning; in this work, I tried to create a space for the performers to magnify a past that is acutely relevant. The past that is embodied in the work is experienced on a scale that is present and real in the here and now. It is magnified because it is no longer held back. The scale is shifted, and thus we are shifted with it.
This work was performed in a theater, two galleries, a former church, and on a cliffside. The May 2023 activation of this work was situated upon a bluff made of sedimentary rocks, formed along the San Andreas fault line over the last two million years, and resting upon the Yelamu village most likely called Ompuromo, speculated to mean "Ocean Flea Place". The only known coastal Ohlone creation story tells of the mythical coyote whose wife ran away into the ocean and was transformed into a sand flea.
I thought a lot about these places as the work was coming to life and continued to develop. I thought about what it means to remake a place and reimagine a future for these spaces. During the May 2023 iteration, I thought deeply about Fort Funston (as it is called now) as a site to make dance.
Where might we find a land that isn’t currently or has been a site of violence in a settler colony?
In that place it felt clear that we had the opportunity to dream something else, and to me that feels meaningful. It is public land, which, when land becomes rematriated, I believe will be one of the first places to be returned to the historical and contemporary indigenous stewards. There are no theaters, no parks, beaches, stores, galleries, universities, or offices that exist on land free from historical violence. We can see it with greater clarity in this one, and to me that’s an opportunity to remake our land dreams and future a new space. We can allow the land to act as a memory field. And I truly believe that this project acted as and continues to act as an emergence of something else.
I want to believe that we are helping “conjure, anticipate, and dream a world that is otherwise. ‘Otherwise,’ as articulated by Ashon Crawley, is ‘a word that names plurality as its core operation.’ Otherwise conveys that ‘It does not have to be this way. This can change. We can be something other than this.’ Otherwise does not collapse into false utopias, rainbow chimeras, or coercive expectations of healing and cure” (Catherine Cole).
This otherwise feels like an entry into the decolonial futures that I dream through performance.
Decoloniality is complicated. At times, I feel that it has become so oversaturated in this contemporary moment that it is becoming unhinged from its meaning. At other times, it feels absolutely descriptive of what I hope to accomplish as an artist. When I speak about decoloniality I talk about how I believe in cultivating liberated relationships, centering marginalized voices through embodied research and experience, and engaging with decolonization as an ongoing practice of care. I work toward an understanding that to decolonize is to center marginalized voices and experiences, to practice empathy and listening, to be available to dream a new future, to value the people over the product. For me, a decolonial approach includes breaking and reimagining structures of power that have flattened many of us at the margins into singularity.
Kency Cornejo writes that “decolonial futures are created by people who still endure the legacies of colonialism, who have been imagined out of histories and futures, and whose bodies and lands have been forced to serve as testing grounds and battlefields in Western narratives of progress. They function on a simultaneity of being, a defiance of a linear timeline of progression, where past, present, and future bend, rotate, and reverse to graze each other and locate colonial wounds wherever they may hide.” Cornejo goes on that “for historically oppressed peoples, imagining future narratives and worlds from which they have been imagined out of, rewriting narratives that defy colonial logics of time and space in order to assert and claim their own futurity and exposing injustices produced and silenced by the tools of western progress are radical gestures of creation and a decolonial act.”
Decolonial acts are not easy, but they are sacred and necessary. The desire to make this project and to work in the world of queer improvisation with Asian American artists is an important calling to heed. I am finding that in the months following this project the ghostly presence that I carry with me continues to whisper, but it’s more like a continue on, continue on, continue on. I continue to look for ways to listen, be available, and create improvisational work amidst the wildness.
I hope that this work continues to develop and grow as a calling home, a portal opening, a ritual practice, a dream, and a whispered yes inside my chest.
Director: Bhumi B Patel
Director of Music: Rachel Austin
Performing Collaborators: Sholeh Asgary, Rachel Austin, Hannah Melekaiao Ayasse, Tessa Nebrida, Bhumi B Patel, Elizabeth Sugawara, and Emma Tome
Costume Designer: iris yirei hu
Co-Technical Directors: Kevin Lo and Michael Mersereau
Administrative Support: Syon Davis
Production Support: Syon Davis and Em Kane
fault lines is made possible with support from The Alameda County Arts Commission, Dance/USA, The Center for Cultural Innovation, The Rainin Foundation, The Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation, USAAF, YBCA, the California Arts Council, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, Urban Arts Space, HRLA, the Asia Pacific Dance Festival Conference, Movement Research, RoundAntennae, PUSH Sanctuary, the Unrehearsed Residency, CounterPulse, Destiny Arts Center, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and numerous individual donors.