Closeup Image of polished vintage wood flooring at CFPA - Center for Performing Arts in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Works in Progress: Blog Post #2, Ben Swenson-Klatt

Each Works In Progress Resident will contribute several blog posts over the course of their residency. This second post addresses the artist’s experience during the residency, and their progress on their work.

Bens’s project looks at the relationship between masculinity and violence.

Details about the presentation on April 20th and 21st: HERE.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those solely those of the artist.

– CFPA Mpls

How do I make relevant work as a white cis-gendered male in 2018? This question surrounds a lot of my process, particularly as a young emerging artist who is often given little time or space. And why should I be given space? Oversaturated with stories about white males, America does not credit the wealth of brilliant stories about feminine, black, brown, biracial, first nation or disabled characters simply because they don’t fit the societal “norms.” Due to these norms, my privilege as a white person and as a white male often gives me too much space. So my process has begun to push away from the personal. I have a story, but it is not the one that needs to be told right now. And so, what am I left with? I am left with an opportunity to display. To display an idea, a question, a problem, and my body.

The idea of centralizing art around the body of an individual feels incredible radical in this age, because everything about our world attempts to remove us from our humanity. I recently had the experience of taking the workshop “Exercises for Rebel Artists” with Saúl García-López at CFPA.  Saul shared the radical performance pedagogy of La Pocha Nostra, whom García-López is a core member of. García-López writes about this pedagogy as, “embodied theory and embodied artivism” which I felt was an unique way to focus my own work. La Pocha Nostra’s work is exciting to me because they focus on developing work that is fresh, challenging, border expanding, and always inviting the audience to actively engage. As a participant in the workshop, I was constantly engaging with others. One of the exercises that still sticks in my mind was the simple act of gazing into another participant’s eyes for over 10 minutes. This suddenly felt revolutionary in breaking down barriers between us or even between a performer and the audience. The final presentation of human art installations – filled with items both personal and everyday, surrounding our breathing bodies – became an energizing station to provoke my personal action and recognition towards human existence both as an individual and collectively.

“We view each performance project as an effective catalyst for thought, action, and debate” – Saúl García-López

Can art really be a catalyst for change? Who is willing to be affected by change? In creating a new work for the ReClaim series, I have been asked who this story is FOR: a performance about masculinity, about gun violence, about the slow and painful progress that is A.M.E.R.I.C.A. This performance is about these issues, but it is also about deconstructing a status quo. It is about challenging, pushing back, and questioning all that we are told to believe. And it is about displaying my white, male body: to question our societal norms, norms that give white men space to dominate with physical violence, in the form of guns. That’s a lot. But I’ve found that I most enjoy seeing work or producing work that tackles an issue filled with questions and contradictions. Questions provide us with room to start conversations, or even challenge our own beliefs, and this might lead to quantifiable change.

I don’t know if this work will change anything. But I have to try. As someone with recognizable privilege, change starts with a white man saying, “I have had enough.” I cannot allow guns to continue holding prominence in this country. I refuse to be a part of a narrative where masculinity is laid out like a freshly ironed suit, or handed to me in the form of a gun at a shooting range, where someone might say, “Don’t worry, it’s fun. It will make you feel strong. It will relieve the stress.”

I’ve watched as kids – not just teenagers, but KIDS below the age of 13 – shout at the top of their lungs for change.

I’ve watched as white male politicians have bent there heads in shame and then quickly pocketed the money handed to them from the NRA. I’ve watched men listen to no one, making up their own un-researched, un-proven, rules which no one has voiced support for.

Masculinity is free to flex his muscles and tighten his grip even more, around the neck of America.

Masculinity walks free.

Masculinity walks to another store, purchases a gun with his privilege and his desire for power. And he will walk again into another school, another church, another office. And he will take innocent lives again. The kids will scream and shout until their voices are gone. But still the cycle will continue.

This piece is my attempt at change. So come witness my body and together let us judge, debate, and question the reality of our country.