Long-time friends and artist colleagues, Lucy Lee Yim and Enrico D. Wey, share a recent tete-a-tete whose tone and pacing reveal the intimacy of their friendship. Sentences overlap and words and concepts sync up in the way that intersubjective borders reveal porosity, humor, and the kind of collaborative nature of conversation. The questions comes up: Where do I end and you begin? Or, as Yim phrases it: "I’m becoming you. You’re becoming me." But distinction maintains another important gravity with respect to Yim and Wey's dialogue fluidly and rambunctiously moves through a range of concerns involving Asian (and/or) American identity, performance personas, vortexes and whirlpools, pigeon-holing vs. positioning, one's artistic audience and community, and belonging.
December 14, 2015
Enrico Wey: We’re going to be very formal about this. My first question to you is: Where are you at the moment?
Lucy Lee Yim: You mean geographically? Or all of it.
EW: I’m not clarifying on purpose.
LY: Oh, I like this. I like this. This mystery. I am… I’m describing it as getting chewed up and then spit out the other side of something. And I’m directly speaking to post- show Devastation Melody process. I am outside of it now. It was kind of uncomfortable at first but now I’m actually really enjoying it. For once in my life I have a lot of space around me because I’m not involved in someone else’s project. And being in that process made me realize I really wanted to shift my practice. Now I actually have the time and space to think about what that even means. So… I’ve had these little performances over the past few months that I’ve been doing, and I’m really casually and very playfully going about it. I am really excited about some of the things that I’ve been doing. I’m like, ‘oh something’s really shifting’ and describing it like ‘I’m just tripping the fuck out.’ [laughter] Like, someone just gave me some drugs, and I’m trippin.’
EW: Can you tell the audience [laughter]… a little bit about this?
LY: Well I have an alter ego, and, oh man, my alter ego has a stage name that I won’t reveal quite yet.
EW: Admittedly, I only have a very vague idea of what Devastation Melody is, besides from being an awesome name.
LY: In summation I went into really dark corners of my Asian female psyche, through the research of Anne Chang’s Racial Melancholia. I utilized it like a guidebook as a way to develop language around it. And it brought up a lot of neurosis, and a lot of paranoia around identity and identity work as capital “Identity Work” inside of the contemporary art world… I’m still unpacking how I feel about it. I was really nervous about getting promoted as ‘Lucy Yim is doing this work about Identity and Cultural Identity… blah blah blah… 'nervous about pigeonholing myself or essentializing. There was a censoring I was doing too.
LY: Now that I’m outside of it, I realize, ‘Man, I was really trying to find this balance between how much do I say and how much do I not say.’ And I don’t have any answers around that. But I think I could have said a lot more.
EW: That feels familiar.
LY: Yeah, I feel fucked up about it. I’m curious because what I see in the solo that you are making is how explicit you are being both about your work and in your work. I was not being explicit at all. Or I don’t think I was. Well tell me about how this time around you’re not being as explicit as before. What does that word mean to you, and then what does that look like in relation to your last solo?
EW: It looks like…
LY: It looks like your hair is longer? [laughter]
EW: That’s explicit.
EW: No, no, no. When you said, ‘I’m not even sure if I said what I needed to say,’ you know. The solo that I did in Portland. What was the space?
LY: Holocene ?
EW: Yeah but the text in it, there’s actually one line where I say, ‘Who am I to say more than I already have, or have I even said enough.’ So it was really funny that you just said that.
LY: Hmmm. Whoa.
EW: That was eight months ago.
EW: It’s in the text itself, I can show you. That’s exactly what I said.
LY: [Laughter] Shut-up!
EW: What’s really interesting to me about what you said just now is that… I mean, I don’t know exactly how explicit the solo really is.. It’s definitely a lot more explicit, personally, in terms of being a bit closer to this Asian male masculinity trope that I’m now more curious about, but more so because it resonates with this “in-between” positioning. I have been realizing that this sense of displacement is actually not the right word for it. I don’t think it’s necessarily being displaced from something. But it actually presents as on a level of centering…
LY: Oh, wow! That actually just made me think of some things, but continue. Finish your thought.
EW: I think it’s just this idea that all these things that are… converging. It’s a convergence and a centering. And on some level, depending on how you look at it, if you place your body, or you place a person at the center of that, you realize that it’s not… if you say that, ‘No, I’m the center of where this is coming from,’ then on some level it feels different. I don’t think it necessarily is different, because it’s realizing that this space — this in between — is where I’m supposed to be. As opposed to —
EW: As opposed to being away from something that you’re supposed to be in. But that said, I mean, there are still always moments when I’m, like, ‘what is this consideration?’ Is it about, like, ‘what is home?’ or ‘how do i locate this sensation of home?’ Somehow it goes back to that. But the more that I am thinking about the idea that, like, this “home” is really the only thing that I know, like these are the things that I know, and these are the things that I know about the world, and this is how I’m processing… in that case, that means I’m at the center of this particular vortex.
EW: And, therefore, everything else surrounding it is spinning around it. I should be able to see clearer if I’m thinking of it in that way. But if I suddenly take that space and go, ‘Oh, I really don’t feel like I belong here, I don’t really feel like I belong here…’ then suddenly I’m off-base.
EW: But I’m really interested about what you said about pigeon-holing, because you’re already saying, ‘oh, I don’t know if I did — if I said too much’…’I don’t know if I said anything’…’I don’t wanna be pigeon-holed’ and you’re saying, like, one thing. That you felt was explicit. Which it probably wasn’t explicit based on our cultural backgrounds! [laughter] It was probably just all shrouded. And you were like, ‘God! It was so bare!’ And everyone’s like…”I think i know where she’s going?”
LY: That’s what I mean, Rico. Like, fuck! [laughter]
EW: That’s going in the…
LY: Well… Uhhhh…. OKAY!.... so there’s this thing of like, your tendencies as a performer and as an artist, right? Your tendencies meaning: how do you move? What kinds of aesthetic choices do you make? What kinds of timing choices do you make? All of the technical things, right? You could examine that in a performative person. And all of those technical things became super important to me, to look at as reflections, perchance, of “cultural background.” I thought about getting comments in the past: ‘Oh, you’re a very subtle mover,’... [laughter]…‘Do you have a background in tai chi?’ Getting questions like that and my response being, ‘No [laughter] I don’t.’ And then an internalization that follows. Questions like, What is that about me? And is that true? Am I being read that way? Am I giving that off? Is that true? If that is a truth, why is that? And of course there are definitely cultural things, you know, that really make sense, that I have. I think I’m in a place where I’m looking at that, and challenging them. I’m challenging my own tendencies to be soft-spoken and reserved and polite and peripheral and all these things that I would identify as very… Asian.
EW: Okay, so here is… here are a couple questions, actually. Was your… your parents were immigrants.
LY: Yeah, I’m first gen.
EW: Okay. So am I. Sort of…
LY: Yeah, it kind of depends on what you consider. You know?
EW: Right. Uh… well I mean I think it’s really important to differentiate the ideas of what it is to be Asian. That’s one thing.
LY: Yeah. For sure.
EW: But also… this specific identity of, like, Asian American. Which sometimes feels like, Wait, does that exist? But also…
EW: What is first generation? Because it also comes from a background that is influenced and is shaped by this idea of making a name for yourself, or making sure that your children can do better, and that you have everything that you need to move forward. That’s steeped in economics as well as…especially, specifically, in education. So, the ideas of being that first generation Asian American as you say, is a very specific identity. So we are speaking from a very particular lens. And I think you and I would also speak very differently because you were raised in Southern California and I was raised in Taiwan. So there’s that difference. But I think I am actually quite interested in this…when I consider those ideas of what we’re looking at or what… I’m looking at… It’s always that Asian and/or American…or neither. [laughter]
LY: Yeah… you had said just a second ago, ‘Asian-American. Does that exist?’ ‘What is that?’ I feel like that actually sums up my experience, in general. Does it exist? Do I exist? Do any of these things exist? You just listed off all of these things to stress the importance of creating distinction inside of this really generalized identity.
LY: When we’re in conversation with that generalized identity it’s important to make those distinctions. We could go on and on forever and ever about making those distinctions because we are individuals and we are human beings. We are not one thing, you know?
LY: I start to spin because… what the fuck are we talking about any more? [laughter] What are we talking about any more!? The thing I go to is, ‘Okay, this is my experience and the things I’ve internalized,’ and my body is read in certain ways, and I have had distinct moments in my life where because I could be read as an Asian female that I have had certain kinds of experiences that other Asian women have also apparently had. I am looking at those intersections. What is that? What’s the conversation there? My work wasn’t about that at all, but that’s where I start to go when I really think about what my body speaks in the world.
EW: God, there’s so many directions that we could go into with this…
LY: Well, talk about your work. I think that you’re making this piece, right? Because there are so many directions. And even when you’re making work there are so many directions. Why go in this one? I’m curious about what you were saying about being less explicit in this next solo. What kinds of choices are you making and what kinds of things are you exploring?
EW: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. The first solo that I made, you know, which is funny, a bunch of people that I had never met and there was like a full-on audience in Portland [laughter] like, there was like a very specific response there, and a very particular response from the people in the audience in New York that I was really amazed by. I don’t know, maybe on some level it felt a little bit personal or maybe it tugged on some things that aligned themselves in familiarity. But at the same time I was so…
EW: Uh… Perplexed? No, I think I was actually dejected by it.
LY: Oh… okay.
EW: Because actually, it just like sort of…
LY: What… can you give me an example? Did someone say something… or was it a feeling that you were having? You know…
EW: I don’t know if I can say this on tape…
LY: Oh… Hmm… If you could describe it… I’ve been doing this lately because I’ve been tripping out. If you could describe it as an image, what would your image be?
EW: Um… [laughter] A twinkie in an abandoned parking lot.
LY: Yes! Perfect! [laughter] Ding, ding, ding!
EW: Well I mean, no, no, no. You know it’s something about the process of… it’s moving, happening very quickly, and it felt like I was back to the beginning. No matter how far I had gotten in the process of thinking about these things I like to call ‘cultivated mythologies’ regarding sexual positioning or desires or this sort of white neutrality and/or superiority in terms of a cultural aesthetic of desire. For a long time I was like, ‘Well… do I want something white? Do I want to be white? Do I not want anything to do with white?’ And there are these things about really saturated deep hues and colors that come with gay subcultural aesthetic and queerness and diversity and when there’s additive color and light, RGB, layered on top of each other, it actually just becomes different shades of whiteness.
EW: So that was sort of like the main thing of it. And it was sort of this particular moment that like once I was done I realized that I had just started.
EW: And suddenly, I was like, ‘Is this really something I can continue on, or not?’ Is this something that I can really stand by? I don’t know. Actually, no. I never felt this notion of pigeon-holing. I thought of pigeon-holing before I did it. I don’t feel pigeon-holed after.
EW: On some level I feel like the ideas of being pigeon-holed as an ‘Asian artist’ or an ‘artist’ or any of those things, is that I didn’t… is that people would come up to me and be like, ‘You must have a martial arts background.’ And I’d look at them blankly. I don’t really remember where I was getting at with this.
LY: I don’t know how much of a mirror to put up right now. Right now I am hearing you talk about your process, how you are dealing with whiteness inside your work, this concept of whiteness inside of your work…. and you are listing off all these things that you don’t want—I don’t want this, I don’t want that, and I don’t want to be pigeon-holed…. and when I hear you talk sometimes, I can identify myself in that voice. I do that same thing. And it feels a little bit like a whirlpool that I spin inside of.
LY: …. I don’t want the emphasis to be here or to be there. For Devastation Melody that was a huge concern. I didn’t want the emphasis to all rest on this one thing, because the experience [of identity] isn’t like that. [laughter] You know?
LY: But, because it’s so many things I start to feel that [the work] isn’t focused enough. Maybe it’s too open. And then these ideas around feminine energy, ambiguity and abstract… Is that coming from my aesthetic preferences or choices because of ‘x-y-z’ reasons around my identity, specifically my Asian female identity? Is this me being afraid to not say more? I come back to that because I just kept coming back to that.
EW: I don’t know what’s going on with you and I right now. You’ll say a word, and I don’t know if it’s because it’s something that I just said, or if there’s a word or a keyword, and then suddenly you’re saying it. Or if it’s something that I’m picking up on. (I don’t know where you end and I begin.) [laugh]
EW: Sometimes I look at like these ideas of coincidence and I’m like, ‘actually no!’ I think I’m just really hyper-sensitive to certain things in the moment. So if you realize, ‘Oh that person’s sucking on a red lollipop’ and you’re like, ‘Wow! That’s so connected to blah-blah-blah-blah,’ maybe your actual self is just hyper-sensitized to look for those connections. So when you just said the word ‘whirlpool’ it goes right back to this thing that I’ve been thinking about. That I had just recently been writing about that relates the shape of a vortex… to something that… to Ezra Pound. [laughter]
EW: And the Vorticist movement.
LY: I don’t know anything about the Vorticist movement.
EW: So Ezra Pound, the poet, who was humiliated and charged with being an anti-Semitic fascist.... He wrote this thing called The Vortex. I was relating this idea of vortex in the same way that you would make work as someone who is an other or someone who has been humiliated. Somehow the ideas of humiliation or otherness is related to this idea of…and that body is somehow the center of the whirlpool and therefore, the idea of these swirling possibilities situates that body in the center of it.
EW: Also, when you center yourself in that, as I said earlier, is that, like, you can actually see all those moving parts more completely.
EW: And this idea of using the past. Ezra Pound at some point says: “All the energized past, all the past that is living and worthy to live. All MOMENTUM, which is the past bearing upon us, RACE, RACE-MEMORY, instinct charging the PLACID, NON-ENERGIZED FUTURE. The DESIGN of the future in the grip of the human vortex. All the past that is vital, all the past that is capable of living into the future, is pregnant in the vortex, NOW."
LY: Mmm, yeah!
EW: So it was funny that you said ‘whirlpool.’ [laughter] Where did this come from?!
LY: I think that there’s a reason why we’re talking right now. And why we’re friends in the first place. You know? I mean… I never really thought about it sooner. We met each other in undergrad, and then had our New York time together, and then we had all this time and distance but we still stay connected. I think it’s because we have vastly different experiences, but I think somehow, have been connected through our hyphenated identity. And I’m not going to list off why I think that is because I don’t really know, but I just think that there’s something there. Every time I see you I’m just like, ‘Wow!’ And our appearances right now have shifted, are changing. [laughter]
EW: We’re both getting older.
LY: We’re both getting… Yeah! [laughter] I’m becoming you. You’re becoming me. So, one thing I was going to say, was… And this is how I felt doing Devastation Melody. Do you think anyone is going to care about this conversation that we’re having right now? Are these things that we’re bringing up… who’s listening? And I often have this feeling ‘I don’t actually know’…When I made Devastation Melody, I did it, and I was like, ‘I don’t actually know who my audience is’…
LY: I didn’t know who my audience was and I feel like that was a detriment to the work. I realize, ‘I don’t know who I made this for… [laughter]
EW: You probably made it for yourself. I mean, I’m pretty sure. I make work for myself. And that’s maybe a terrible thing to say, but…
LY: Yeah! No, of course. Of course we make it for ourselves, but I don’t know, I guess in that broader sense maybe the question is: Who’s coming to these shows? Is anything that I’m doing relatable — not that it needs to be — is this relevant? That kept coming up. Is this relevant?
EW: Well, relevance is tricky. I mean, the ideas of relevance have come up a lot recently. In terms of like, exactly how much information is coming at us, at any given moment. And like, how much we can actually absorb and what we choose to take in. After…and then, you know, what happens to seep in on the side, you know, if you’re looking at Paris, and you’re looking at Beirut, Baghdad, Yola, ...All these different places going through…incredibly chaotic times. And it’s interesting to me, because you brought up this idea of relevance, or ‘who even cares.’ I don’t come across as it but I think I’m actually quite idealistic. And I keep going back to this idea of José Muñoz’s queer utopianism…queer utopia. I think there’s something about this idea of what you do as sort of actualizing into something that — or like looking towards the future. Eng Beng Lim says something in his book about gay Asian performance, and it’s critical…
LY: About who? About what?
EW: He talks about gay Asian performance —
LY: Gay Asian performance?
EW: … speaking mostly about Justin Chin, the Asian SF based writer/performance artist who recently passed away, and more theater-based work, but within that, the gamut acts as an epistemic irritant, and contributes to an accrued knowledge that becomes something, that becomes a greater force.
LY: Mhm. Sorry you broke up.
EW: Through the doing. And not, like, the product of it, on some level. The doing is adding to a larger body.
LY: Yeah, I feel that, totally.
EW: I believe that it does exist, and I hope that it does exist. I mean, we look at these ideas of queerness and being non-binary and interested in this idea of the undefinable. These are the things that are happening in terms of identity. The fluidity of race is also something that I feel is really sticky, particularly in the United States. There’s still a very strong positioning of black and people of color…
LY: Uh huh.
EW: …being two separate things.
EW: That’s one thing that I think I’m just going to leave there. And that’s something that I think is kind of…
LY: Is what?
EW: That is quite tricky.
EW: But I think there’s also something about what are those identities that we’re actually trying to incorporate and understand in terms of race. Asian, Asian-American, and that… Being inclusive of all those things in a sort of queer state, and a sort of racial state, and doesn’t… isn’t… somehow feels different. I feel a lot of that actually goes down to… well I don’t know. Speaking as someone who presents as Asian is that… I come from a particular minority in this country that doesn’t... that is…really widespread knowledge… or, stereotypically is known as a people who don’t have voices.
EW: And, that we are left, sort of, muted. That’s not necessarily something that’s being… pressed upon? I think a lot of it is there’s this cultural baggage of being… ‘Don’t ruffle any feathers.’ So, there are so many sides to the same thing. There are so many folds. But I think that’s something that I find really particular. I think that’s why I felt very disheartened by doing this thing, where it suddenly felt like maybe I have a little window where I can speak up. And I don’t know if anyone’s listening. And maybe I didn’t say anything at all.
LY: Uh huh.
EW: But I don’t think that the idea is to be making bold claims or statements.
EW: I think that also might be a cultural thing. [laughter]
LY: Yes. It continues. The layers continue.
EW: But I do believe that there was a sensation of… I don’t necessarily feel that I’m silenced, that I’m being silenced. But I do feel on some level I am assumed to be.
LY: Uh huh.
EW: … which is different. And also…
LY: And also what?
EW: …And like, in… And also violent.
LY: Yeah. I’m identifying with that questioning. One thing I just thought was, ‘Oh, okay, yeah… we’re both making contemporary performance work.’ So, already we have some baseline of privilege, you know?
LY: So this thing of ‘Who is this for and who’s listening?’ That makes me think what is this and what is this performance world and what is it made of and who is it supported by, you know, etcetera. But then listening to you speak, I realize — and I’m sure you hear these things when I speak too — you can actually see how internalized a lot of this--the questions. Because you’re like, ‘Oh…is it me? [laughter] Is it? You hold yourself responsible. Well, who’s standing over my shoulder telling me not to speak?
EW: But there’s a dynamic in that process, a dynamic that we see, that we’ve experienced, I think, that actually is, instigates that.
LY: Yeah. Yeah.
EW: I don’t know. I mean there’s… Oof. There hasn’t been a particular civil rights movement that’s strong enough where I can be, ‘that was fucked up!’ There were definitely things that were fucked up—like internment… or killing a bunch of Chinese railroad workers.
LY: Yeah. I have something to say about that, though, because this whole time I was thinking… I was looking at the idealization of whiteness and its construct, not having access to it but wanting it. That was something I was bringing to Devastation Melody. I was realizing how much of the violence that I have experienced has also been directed by whatever my concept of ‘Korean-ness’ is. And so, I feel a lot of the violence towards my own body. As if my own body betrayed me, you know? [laughter] I don’t know! I don’t know if we want to go down that road, but it seems important. It feels like there’s this constant, ‘Oh, well, it’s me, it’s me, it’s me’ thing that starts to happen…. That I do, anyway. ‘You’re totally responsible, Lucy for your own perception of yourself in this world.’
EW: Right. I mean, I think that’s also something that I… it’s really confusing. [sigh] Because also, you know…
EW: I also lived in Asia. I was raised in Asia, and that is also very homogenous. [laughter]
LY: Yeah, yeah.
EW: And diversity, whatever that is, does also — but it doesn’t exist in a weird… on a completely different level.
EW: And, it’s really hard to say. I don’t…
LY: I really experience my feelings around identity as tension. I collect and gather all these thoughts and ideas and read a lot of stuff. And then, something completely crumbles and dissolves. And it can happen in any given moment. and I’m, like, ‘I don’t even know what any of this even fucking means!’ ‘What is diversity?’! What are these statistic checkboxes that I’m placing myself under?! I feel this with my sexuality too. Because of this I find that queerness is where I feel most at home, because I feel like it contains a lot of the paradox and problematics that are part of the experience of this body in the world. Does that make sense?
LY: Yeah, and I feel… I’m like, ‘Oh!’ The fact that I am a person of color in this world who grew up in a certain environment which made me super aware of the fact that I was a person of color. Was that experience actually a part of my queerness? And I say YES, because I don’t think that they’re separate at all. I feel that my hyphenated Asian-American-ness is queerness. That’s kind of what I’ve arrived at as of late. It’s all part of the same soup.
EW: Do you think you’re ever gonna stop?
LY: Stop what? Talking? [laughter]
EW: No but…I ask that sometimes. I think I really start getting on a roll with some of this shit, and… I feel like I’m shoving my foot in my mouth right now. Um…
LY: Stop making work?
LY: No. I think it’s going to look different. It already is looking different. And I’m interested in that. I think my work is really moving away from any identifiably ‘identity politics.’ I want to find distinction but I also want space to hold all the things, all the contradictions. I want there to be an openness with distinction. But I don’t want the distinction to be like a checklist.
LY: Now I’m out of the whirlpool. My process is opening back up. I’m continuing to question all the things I was while making Devastation Melody but now I’m not concerned with how it lives in my work. Before I was really concerned. I was trying very hard. I think in the trying that I was becoming both constipated and paralyzed.
LY: Yeah. I’m really happy to not be in that space right now. It was exhausting.
EW: Yeah, that sounds nice.
LY: Yeah! Because you’re in it right now! So, you are probably in the vortex.
EW: It’s very strange because a lot of it is that I don’t think I get to engage in a conversation here in Germany. It’s just I feel like I’m very outside of it. That said, I always feel like I’m outside of it. I don’t think I’ve ever been in dance and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a lot of circles. I think part of that is by choice [laughter] and my upbringing.
LY: But there’s the feeling of not being in something as a choice, or the actual reality of not being in something as a choice. What do you mean?
EW: I’ve cultivated this sort of space that’s not really feeling like I fit in, anywhere?
EW: Which bleeds into making work. Which bleeds into not wanting… wondering ‘why even bother.’ Knowing that probably at some point, I won’t want to say it out loud, or say it in this format. But I don't — But I think those thoughts will still continue.
LY: You do?
EW: Yeah, always. But the thing is actually thinking about these things will continue. It might never present itself in public, ever again, but it will still continue. It’s sort of this process of the world. But I’m living outside of it right now. I’m currently living in Berlin. And that, to me, makes me feel a stronger desire to engage.
LY: I literally just got an email from Biba, just now. [laughter] Saying, ‘Hey, how about that conversation with Rico?’ Anyway, just wanted to put that on the recording.
EW: Yeah. Hi, Biba. So… [laughter] But I think that’s what it is. I really don’t…
LY: Could I… I don’t want to disrupt your flow, but I’ve been writing some notes here, and there’s a pattern emerging that I’m seeing.
EW: Is there?
LY: Yep, There’s a pattern! [laughter] You’re talking about being Berlin, and being outside of it – What is, in your mind, the center?
EW: Oh god!
LY: What is the inside? I consider myself inside, even though I live in a bubble. But I know that this bubble that I’m in here, in Portland, is connected to larger bubbles.
LY: That all the bubbles are connected, or forming a thing, you know? I am pretty dedicated to that idea. Otherwise, I’m a free-floating entity and it all really means nothing? And maybe it does, but in my reality, I’m connected to a center. And I’m wondering, from where you are what that means to you.
EW: Right. To be perfectly honest, right now, the way that… I’m thinking geographically. I’m thinking about…
LY: Like, the U.S.?
EW: Yeah, sociopolitical situations, and conversations that are had in the United States.
LY: Oh, Okay.
EW: And that what I enjoy about being in the United States is that the conversation is taking place.
LY: Yeah, OK. I see.
EW: And I can engage. Being in Europe I feel like I can’t. Part of it because I’m a foreigner but also on another level is that certain thought processes around it are foreign here. [laughter]
LY: Yeah! Yeah, totally.
EW: Being away from it makes me want to engage more in it, I think. Because I spend most of my time right now away from that conversation. And when I was in the conversation in the United States, I didn’t want to talk about it at all. I didn’t want to have anything to do with the fact that this is the way that I look. Like when we think about the idea of what is the ‘neutral body.’ I was like, Yeah, neutral. Ok, cool.’ [laughter] And then, ‘Wait, hold on!’ [laughter]
LY: You know what I say?
LY: I’m not neutral I’m just stoic.
EW: You just don’t want to deal with that. Well, what is that? No I don’t want to… ‘Oh no, Oh god, that’s weird!’ That makes me feel funny but I don’t even want to deal with it. And suddenly being away from the space where those funny feelings don’t exist for a lot of people, I was like, ‘Wait, hold on! Let’s talk about this!’ [laughter] Why aren’t we talking about this? Why aren’t we even talking about the fact that that should be uncomfortable! That should make you question, and feel a little bit like, ‘Oh, that’s weird.’
EW: I’m not saying it doesn't happen here. But there’s this sort of level of immediacy that I really appreciated about the United States that I don’t get here. I don’t get in Europe. Maybe that’s just because of my personal space and maybe I don’t have that opportunity. But I really don’t feel like it exists.
LY: Yeah. No, I think that the U.S. is a place where there is a conversation around race. Some places do not even approach it. It’s built into our education system to some degree. We know what that word is and we talk about it. I think that is distinctly American.
LY: I mean, what do I know? Us Americans just think we know everything. But we know nothing. [laughter]
EW: Oh my god…
LY: Let’s not put that in, no just kidding. What were you going to ask me?
EW: I was going ask you if you ever feel like you’re a sidekick even when you’re alone?
LY: Ooooh! [laughter] Well I have an alter ego now! So I literally have a sidekick. And I do feel a split-ness in myself — of my persona, of my personality, of my being. I think I’m in a place where I’m starting to embrace that more and not center myself around one value system. Honestly I think that coming into my queerness has been a huge part of it. It’s integrating by applauding, how disintegrated my experiences are.
EW: [laughter] Mhm.
LY: Are you ok? [laughter]
EW: No, no, no, no, no, no, no! It’s good, it’s just I’m formulating another question, and it sounds really horrible, and then…
LY: I love your horrible questions.
EW: Um, I’m just trying to relate this all back to some sort of performance space that we’re existing in at the moment. And, I’m wondering if you feel, as a person who presents as Asian to the rest of the world…
EW: Don’t do anything that is discernibly Asian is that the performance community considers you to be this, sort of, considers you as white? [laughter]
LY: I never ask the audience what they consider me as. I think I ask myself that question and how I would like to be considered as. Actually I do feel really fucked up about it. Recently I’ve been making so many jokes about my inner white dude. I have an inner white man in me. I think I want to stop making jokes about it, because I realize that it feels violent… but then there’s also something about that statement that reflects something about how I’m looking out from my almond-shaped eyes.
EW: Oh my god! [laughter] Did you just... [laughter]
LY: Just to let you know, we have five minutes.
EW: Yeah, well you have your straight white dude. I have my straight white girl.
LY: You have a straight white girl?
EW: I do have a straight white girl. But I.
LY: Does she exist because you’ve been dancing with white female bodies?
EW: Not necessarily personally dancing with them. There was a time I wasn’t even considered a dancer by most people, actually. [laughter]
EW: And neither do I, actually. I’m still confused about that. Um, no. I mean I witness it. It’s a space that’s populated by a lot of straight white women.
LY: Yeah, but how do you experience it internally? That’s my question. Can you give an example of how she lives in your body? How do you utilize her?
EW: How do I utilize her?
LY: Yeah, you’re obviously moving through the world with her in your body.
EW: I think it’s almost reflective. I mean, you know, I see so many white bodies on stage. It’s internalized. Seeing that, or witnessing some show. I mean, I think it’s changed. I mean, there’s also a little white boy in my body, playing in me. Growing up around only white people for the first couple of years of my life, and being the only Asian boy, I imagined myself, and the way my face would move, if I felt it was moving in an exaggerated way, I would see myself as a little white boy.
EW: … In my head. And it continued. And it doesn’t necessarily change. Because, what can I see in my body that I’m seeing expressed on stage? And that a lot of it is, like, ‘Oh, I’m getting a lot.’ What sort of knowledge and what sort of information am I accruing by being in a space that’s populated by mostly white people? Someone, a friend of mine, actually called me out on it once. It was like, ‘Well, you choose to stay in these places that are mostly populated by white people.’ And I was like, ‘No shit. [laughter] I’ve been in performance, and that’s…”
EW: That’s the space that you live in. You come to know. That is the space that I’ve lived in since I moved to the United States.
LY: Right. Yeah.
EW: I mean, I moved to Sarah Lawrence. [laughter]
LY: Yeah, you’re a part of it. It’s a part of you, you know? Yeah. Hm.
EW: So, if you dance for someone, if you listen to them, if there’s someone who was teaching you, they’re in effect, giving information that is passing through their lens, and passing through their hands, and passing through their body. And you are taking information in. And therefore, yeah, there is definitely a very strong…
LY: Desire to learn and know what that is and do your best at communicating what they’re asking you to communicate? [laughter] Contribute…
EW: Yeah, but I realize that I’m never going to be long-limbed and balletic!! [laughter]
LY: Yeah. Fuck! I mean, yeah…
EW: Part of the reason why Butoh exists is because they look like you and I.
LY: Short-legged people.
LY: Yeah, I know. Maybe that’s what I’m going to be doing when I’m 80.
EW: Maybe. I’ve spent a lot of time working on this new piece. Whenever I straighten a limb, I’m incredibly conscious and incredibly critical of it.
LY: Because of its relationship to, like, European dance forms?
EW: Yeah, it doesn’t look right in my body and…
EW: And as much as I aspire for it to be lean and stretched out and elegant… it isn’t.
EW: And I feel like no matter how it looks, it always looks… it’s kind of troll-like. [laughter]
LY: I’m going to respond to that by saying…I’ve decided to just give in to my, like, ‘troll-like-ness’… [laughter]
EW: Your troll body.
LY: I’m like, ‘C’mon troll body! Whaddya got for the world? Someone’s gonna like ya!’ You know? [laughter]
EW: ‘Come out from under that bridge!’ … Come outta that bridge, Or, whatever.
LY: I’ll try not to be a creep. Okay, we should wrap it up!
EW: Yeah, we should wrap it up! I’m not sure that’s a good ending point.
LY: Well, could we end it in this way? This might be cheesy, but I’m curious how you define home. And you were listing off — you said before, ‘locating sensation of home in the things that you know’ and I thought that was an interesting description of home, for someone who’s constantly traveling for the past four years or so. I’m curious what that means to you. I’m curious because I’m thinking about it for myself.
EW: I mean I guess the first thing I can say is it’s an unfinished business. All of it. I mean, the idea of locating a space in the world is kind of an anomaly to me. It’s always like something I’m going to be looking for. So, on some level I don’t think I’ll ever know. But at the same time, what I do know exists in these particular moments of engagement.
EW: I was understanding, this is what I can offer, and this is where I am at, and these are the skills that I have, and this is the information I am able to work with. Sometimes that also feels very limiting, and actually causes me to limit myself. I think what it is, on some levels, that home is an uncomfortable place where it’s this idea of being at home, or being at home with oneself, and knowing that home is where the heart is, or whatever. Any of these things. Blah blah blah blah blah. To me, home is, like, an uncomfortable place.
EW: What about you?
LY: I will riff off of what you’re saying and tie it back to troll body, because I was talking about split-ness, and queerness, and questioning what is that space that can hold all of ourselves. You were talking about discomfort, and earlier you said the word displacement. The idea of a troll body is hilarious, because we obviously aren’t trolls and we’re both fairly decent looking people. I mean, you’re hot! [laughter] For myself, I want to feel at home with my troll-self and with that discomfort. One way I get that is by having conversations like this, and creating things. I think art… I think the world of art — I’m not going to say the art world because they’re two separate things —I think the world of art is where I am wanting to make my home. This is why I think I will continue to keep doing it.
EW: Mhm. Hm. Well it makes you feel like you’re part of something, right?
LY: Yeah, otherwise it’s all just a big, fucking, empty void. [laughter]
EW: Oh dear lord.
LY: Oh dear lord.
aesthetic identity, choreography, dance, Enrico D. Wey, Lucy Lee Yim, personal identity