RE-IMAGINE COMMUNITY PRACTICE: In Conversation with Howl Yuan + Ania Varez

On Saturday 4th November 2023, Bristol-based artists Howl Yuan and Ania Varez welcomed fellow practitioners and the public into the spaces of St. Anne’s House to be part of the ‘Re-imagine Community Practice‘ event. The group engaged with map making, games, and celebratory dances in the settings of Ania’s Cooperation Disco and Howl’s Arty Farty Karaoke.  

Below you can access the audio and the text transcription of Howl and Ania’s conversation about social gathering, identity, collaborative friendship, celebration, and joy-making practices, answering the questions: WHAT IS THE MIGRANT ARTS COMMUNITY? A CLUSTER NETWORK UNDER SPECIFIC LABELS? THE ACT OF SOLIDARITY OVER TRAUMA? OR CAN WE TAKE A DIFFERENT APPROACH?

Both the event and this conversation are co-commissioned by performingborders and Platforma Festival 2023.

Audio Edited by Baiba Sprance.

Howl: Hey. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. So, yeah, this is the kind of like, not debrief but what I like to call a nice afterward chat after the lovely event we did. I feel very unique or special in a way, that we used to work a lot together, and for many reasons, it kind of stopped and we were always talking about how we wanted to work together again on different projects. And this has finally happened! So yeah, I find it special for me and [I’m] honored. 

Ania: It was so nice to reconnect. We have had such a beautiful, big journey of like meeting in different ways of working together and then, yeah, we’ve both been very busy. Should we start introducing ourselves and how we’ve worked together before? 

Howl: Yes – I’m Howl I am a Taiwan-born, Bristol-based performance worker. I say, “worker” in the various ways you can define it, you know, making, programming, writing, podcasting, etc., etc… And yeah, my practice is often really looking at, a little bit of everything really! I used to really pay a lot of attention on identity, identity politics, and stuff like that and I shifted my focus on migrations, borders and boundaries. And now, as you know, I do a lot of stuff, not really to do with a specific topic. I will let you introduce yourself and we can start to talk about how we work together. 

Ania: Great, so interesting to like… we know each other, but it’s so nice to hear your friend say like, how you’re identifying or defining yourself right now. It’s a nice thing to hear. 

My name is Ania Varez, and I am Venezuelan based here in Bristol as well. Lately, I’ve been kind, for the purposes of the rest of the world, I’ve been defining myself as a dancer and a community worker, and just like in Howl’s case that looks like a lot of very different things depending on the project and depending on the role. 

So, I perform in other people’s works as a dancer. I also make my own work, which is usually much more about collective action. And then, I also facilitate co-creative processes with community groups which often end up being about whatever that relationship and that group wants. So I’m also quite like open to themes. I am interested in queerness and migration and the places where those two things meet. 

I’m also in a moment where I’m a bit like, I’ve lost…. like before I used to be very much about that and now I’m a bit like more open and I’m kind of having this moment of -oh I wonder what comes next and what is it that I’m going to do? But I do know that what’s really important for me is communities and how we can work with other people, like relationships in the making of something is maybe the thing that I find the most important and interesting. And so yeah, that’s kind of where I’m at now. 

And I’m also a community worker outside of the arts. I also work with deprived communities, not in an artistic setting, but just in the places where they live. 

Howl: Yeah, I like when you say lost though, because we somehow kind of share a similar status and I feel like, I take it as a very positive sort of term. I mean, it’s like sometimes I feel panic about being lost, sometimes It’s [also] exciting to be lost. Especially on these particular things. But yeah, so how do we know each other? 

Ania: Well, I want to start this because I guess like the first thing to say is both Howl and I are part of an artist collective based in Bristol. It’s an artist support network called Interval. Interval, back in the day, that must have been 2015 or 16, organized a show, a sort of showcase in a local theater here in Bristol. And my first encounter with Howl, you were performing, like the first time I actually saw you, you were performing, I think. So that was my first vision of you. 

And then we talked upstairs on the top floor of Old Market Assembly and I remember thinking you were very cool. That was the first time I met Howl, and then the first work together that we did was actually, Howl organized an amazing residency in Taiwan in 2017, and I applied for it and went and that’s where we got to know each other much better. 

Howl: Yeah, I have a slightly different memory though, so just for the context of this, that event was called Interval Takeover and the collective is called Interval, we are based above this amazing market called St.Nicholas Market and Interval is a shared resource platform in a very loose way, in a collective but loose way, in terms of how we define it. I think that’s what I like about it, where you don’t really have a come in and have strong expectations of what you should do. 

It’s like you know sometimes we’ll just sit at a desk and just chat over…I think also that for me is really important, that’s almost my starting point of learning how important [it is] just by existing… Like when you sit in the same room, and for example you are typing and trying to write an application and you got a questions and [you ask] “can you help me to proofread?”, you [can] always grab people. Like those really instant, really spontaneous things. But I think that showcase came up from the meeting where we [had discussions] around how [there is a] lack of (I mean some of this relates to things we’ll talk about a bit later) platforms for us to showcase our work. 

We always see each other in the office or in a studio, but we rarely see each other performing or, you know, we rarely see each other’s work because [there’s just] no chance, no platform. So I think that’s the initial initiative and I think it’s Hannah Sullivan, another member [that] decided to do that. So that’s the first one I did. 

But I do remember I saw you, not on the first floor but the ground for when I did my front of house shift…

Ania: Yeah! Maybe… Just to clarify, I still was not a member of Interval. I was fresh to Bristol. It was my first encounter with Interval whatsoever. And so it was a very important moment in my life because then a few months later I became a member of Interval and I have been a member of Interval ever since and [it] has changed my entire approach to living and creating. So, you know, it was a really beautiful thing that that’s how Howl and I met.

Howl: It’s beautiful for me as well. 

[PAUSE: Sounds of people talking, general chatter of a crowd or people moving, the buzz of the outdoors]

Ania: Yeah. So do you want to talk a little bit about the residency in Taiwan quickly? And we should talk also about Back Scratcher! 

Howl: Yes, yes, yes, yes. So we know each other since then, and then you joined Interval and then at the time I had this idea of like… I don’t know, sometimes it’s just my way of making things. You know, sometimes you have this mindset about “It would be really good to have this thing happen”, and [in the end] I try to make it happen no matter what. So, I think that’s where it comes from.I thought: It’d be really good to have this artistic exchange between Taiwan and UK, where I come from. Not solely based on the production, not just about touring, but about actually the artists being indifferent space and knowing the culture. And so it’s a bit like a residency, but it’s not quite because you know, it’s no studio, you know it’s not like you have the space for a month or whatever…It’s a think where youre in a community, it’s quite in your face sort of thing and then yeah, so I had this idea and, and I just, you know, tried to bring people to Taiwan, and at first I was looking around me and I was able to bring lovely you, Ania, and another member I mentioned before, Hannah, another duo, she was in Bali at the time, to Taiwan to Taroko National Park. To a one and a half month residency, which was quite intense, in all kinds of ways – it was a mixture, in a good way and in a bad way… Not in a bad way, in a very draining way. But it was definitely a big learning curve for us, even though sometimes it used to be like, my God, so much, but it’s such a good memory to think of. Yes, that is one and a half months, and we got more close since then and we come back and another idea came out from me – I wanted to do a Scratch Event. But how like, how can we do it?

You know, I think you mentioned Back Scratcher. I think it has it’s own story as well because it starts by you know, scratch means like a work in progress where artists, you know, make the work halfway through and then present and get feedback from an audience. So, you don’t expect a fully developed show, it’s more for them to talk about ideas and share ideas, and as the audience we participated and w, you know, given them feedback in order to grow, it’s sort of a lovely experience in a way that you almost, you know, witness almost like your baby growing. And I think it’s quite nice, at the time I rarely see any of that in Bristol. So I wanted to do that. And I tried a couple of things in the gallery space and I was like: Hmm… Ok, you only can do that much with gallery space. 

It’s not saying it’s bad, but you can only do so much there because of the perception. The way it worked was really established. And then I met you and we were talking about this and you very lovely, and willingly offered to jump on board and we kind of shifted format dramatically! Instead of, you know, doing the gallery space, we actually … I don’t know, how did we find those people though?

Ania: I think we did a call out, basically from Howl’s initial format where he was working in gallery spaces, I can’t remember who suggested it if it was me or you, but I know that from then we shifted into doing it in people’s homes and matching, let’s say, three artists that wanted to share or talk about their work and one host. So someone who would be able to offer at least one room in their house. There was no limitation on anything, on size or… we basically just worked from what people wanted to offer and then we tried to make sure that the experience would work out for people in terms of, okay, if it’s a small space, we cap it at, you know, five audience members, seven audience members. 

If it’s big, it’s like fifteen, you know, like we worked in that way. And then it was just an opportunity for, you know, a few artists to meet someone else, to be more connected to people outside of art spaces, which I’m very passionate about. So instead of necessarily asking people to come to, let’s say, establish artistic spaces, to actually go to where people are, but it was also just a really lovely, you know, thing that could happen in someone’s house. 

I think hosts used to give us the feedback that it was just such a lovely evening to have in their place. And we often really prioritized what the hosts needed. So they would decide at what time the event needed to finish. And, you know, we usually cleaned up everything after and we were very mindful of the spaces that they offered. 

So it was very informal, really low-key. I think all we did was like, maybe buy some beers or something and people could give us a donation for the beer. But there was absolutely no money involved, which, you know, is complex and eventually, I think if we ever did that again, we would need to talk about this but it was a lovely thing in terms of an alternative exchange that didn’t include money. And everyone, you know, artists got a chance to get a conversation started or try something in this very intimate environment and hosts got an opportunity to have a bit of a party in their house, a very artistic party, and then and then they met each other and met the people that came and that was it. So it was all very informal and we basically just handled the communications and the organization. So that’s how we worked together so far!

Howl: Yeah, I mean, just really quickly there are two things I enjoyed about this project a lot, [first] is the kind of intimacy that we create because it is not [expected], you don’t really expect that way of engaging. So, often [what happened] is that you sat very cramped with your friends in a small circle, because we’re doing it in an attic, in people’s living rooms, in people’s bedrooms or in the garden (I don’t know if we did it in the garden but maybe). It’s so many different settings and the layout is always different, but every time in all shows it was very intimate. I think the vibe really helped to create a kind of fluid conversation very naturally. Another thing I enjoyed the most, is like the free or non-purpose house viewings and being able to see everyone’s different life. 

Ania: It was really nice. I had the best time on that, so that was really great. I miss it. Maybe we should bring it back!

 [PAUSE: atmospheric sounds of people speaking and moving, sound of a city]

Ania: All right. Shall we move on? 

Howl: Yes, we can move on to the… I think in this part we’re kind of talking about how we work together. It kind of responds to the further question we are asking here: why are we interested in in community building practice? 

I mean, at least for me, just listening to what you say we do, it’s like – yeah, this has not come out of the blue. 

Ania: I often answer this question because I’ve had people asking me a few times. I think it’s a very good question to ask. I always say that I’m a little bit too Venezuelan not to care about community-building practice. And I guess that well, what I mean by that is my desire to do community building actually has a lot to do with growing up in a country going through a really profound conflict, very difficult, very violent. I saw what happens when people don’t come together. I saw what happens when hatred sets in, and I was very lucky and very privileged within that context, within reason, you know, we’re still in it. But yeah, I didn’t suffer as much as other Venezuelans from other places in the country. Yet it was enough for me to really see what the opposite of community building does, what hatred and division does, and so I feel like I couldn’t have turned out in any other way, Like a part of me just feels like, of course, I’m going to care about this. 

And then, so there was that element. And then when I arrived in the UK, you know, it took me a long time to understand that the thing that would allow me to stay here or anywhere after having, you know, lost my home and lost my base, my country, all of this, the only thing that would keep me somewhere was community. 

When I understood that, I also thought, well, there you go. That makes also a lot of sense. So I think like, you know, my lived experience has really informed my wish to do community building practices. But then the more I live the less it becomes about me. Like those stories, I feel are fading more and more and more away. 

And I know that that’s how the journey started. But now I look around and I just see, well, well of course, look at everything that’s going on. Look at climate collapse, look at, you know, the housing crisis, look at all of these things. And it becomes way less about those original stories. Even though they were the catalyst for me to begin. 

Howl: I think this is very kind of nice the way, I mean, you know, what you’re saying is that you always have this good intention to always be more inclusive and more inclusive, and therefore, I almost see the [inclusion of] more people, more bodies, more stories. 

And then at the center of yourself retreats more, which is not, you know, it’s not a bad thing, isn’t it? So yeah, I’m sure people because, you know, I came almost nine years ago and I’m sure a lot of people, you know, study abroad for whatever reason. Being a migrant or just moving somewhere else, I think, the most prompt emotion they often have to deal with is the emotion of loneliness. I have that a lot and it always feels like, you know, it’s as a society, everything is very nice, very simple, a lot of harmony. But the harmony is by excluding me, I can’t find a way to get it. I can’t find a way to see the way I can participate in this harmony. 

So I think in one way, I guess that’s how I was interested you know, to have this community building practice, to talk about it, to talk about, to have this event, to have this strategy, or just invite people to kind of like… I mean I didn’t necessarily talk about this but, wanted to just [do it together]. 

And then for me to learn, or for us to learn from each other like – oh, so that’s what the community feels like, you know? What does that mean to you, mean to me, and what [expectations come up]. So I think there’s a slightly not as a strategy, but a kind of desire to, to have your way in… That’s my initiative. 

I also think this is related to the pandemic I think I keep saying this but I’m going to repeat it again, one of the biggest things I learned from the pandemic is that we are all human beings before we become anything else. So like as other human being needs, as important as your career artist career, is having nice food, a balanced life, you know, going out and walking and hanging out with friends. Those things to, you know, make you a living human, I would say, including your career as an artist. So I say that because before that I was like, sort of just put myself down to, you know, one show after the other and always an idea, and then you’d overwork yourself. And I’m not sure if that’s, you know, I’ve taken it down a bit now, but, that’s the biggest revealing moment. So after that, I’m attracted to connections with people. So I mean that’s also the biggest thing for me. Just to add. 

 [PAUSE: atmospheric sounds of music, a cafe or restaurant in a city]

Howl: How does our practice, I mean, the event we just did The Cooperation Disco and Arty Farty Karaoke, where did they come from?

Ania: Yeah, well, we’re saying that the event was kind of like the general idea of having this event was yours. It would be nice to hear a little bit about that. And then my bit that I facilitated in the event, which Howl very kindly invited me to, I called Cooperation Disco. 

Howl: So I was invited by and have been having ongoing conversations with performingborders for a while, you know, I kind of showcased some of my work and then I met them in different occasions and they are such lovely people. And I always wanted to work with them. So, you know, we talked about this opportunity. You know, we always kept saying, yeah, we should work together. And this opportunity finally came and it was that one-day event with this budget. So there’s a lot going into this, how I can do things in one day, what is the benefit? Because the offer is quite open, I think performingborders said you can basically do whatever you want! 

I then at the time was asking myself actually what do I need at that point? So I suppose, as a person finally finishing their PhD and in a writing cave. I feel like there’s a need to reintroduce me again to the scene and also I want to catch up with people, that simple desire to be like: Hey everyone I’m still alive, how are you guys doing? 

That kind of a simple will and then yeah I also thought a lot about what does it mean to be a migrant artist community? Like why we aggregate, what’s the reason we come together? Is that over this kind of label? Do we have to always be in solidarity over trauma or is there any other way we can approach it? 

And at the time I was involved with a lot of like Asian/ Southeast Asian artists that talk around joy making, you know. So I think it’s very nice to link these two things together to point to practice. So rather than make an event where we put the production-orientated, we showcase something. I think it’s nice to create a space to practice something you know, like we always want to do. Different practices, different community practices. So that’s why I kind of like thought: Yes! Because, you mentioned about this kind of community building practice, and then I always had this karaoke practice that I really wanted to do. So for my bit I mean, as you know, it’s called Arty Farty Karaoke, partly I liked it because I love karaoke. 

As everyone who knows me knows, I love karaoke. I love karaoke not just because I love singing on it, I also love it because it’s such a fascinating concept, such a fascinating infrastructure. It can be really low key and you can be a rock star for some time, and you can be as soulful as you like, as hyper as you like. You can invite people to sing with you, and it’s got all kinds of different versatility. And then I’ve actually done a little research on karaoke. It was fascinating in terms of how the application is used, some of it really problematic. Some of it is, you know really bringing everyone together. You often see people in a political rally doing karaoke because they want to show that they are with the people, you know, they are with all the, you know, electors, “we are the same”, that kind of thing. 

So, yeah. That’s that’s just part of my desire to, you know, have this… it would be nice to have karaoke with like-minded people. And also we acknowledge the differences because we hosted it as a multi-lingual karaoke. So please sing in whatever language you like and for us, you know, sometimes it’s alright if you don’t understand the language, we need to be a supportive audience. So, you know, be cheerful (depending on what kind of the song is). So, you know, it’s kind of creating an inclusive, interactive, and cheerful moment. So yeah, that’s my aim with this practice. 

Ania: I have to say my relation to karaoke is pretty much linked to you. I used to be so scared. I still am sometimes scared of being in karaoke, but I have been really lucky to be part of many karaoke parties with you in Taiwan and here. And you know, in like, you know, parties with our friends and, you know, all sorts of different contexts. And I can really, you know, I can really relate to what you’re explaining. And I just find it also so fascinating and gorgeous, the kind of way of being together that it creates, it’s just is just really precious. 

I sometimes walk out of those and I wish that all art felt like a karaoke party, like, you know, it all felt like that sort of like both very focused, but sometimes very light-hearted connection into performance, into witnessing, into hanging out together. It just, you know, always, I find it just mesmerizing what can happen in a karaoke party and it’s so varied!

So, yes, big fan, big fan of this! So my part ‘Cooperation Disco’ which in the event we did a Cooperation Disco first and then we did Art Farty Karaoke. So for Cooperation Disco, it’s basically a bunch of community development tools that I mushed together into something a bit more creative. And then I added a touch of dance into it. And so as I mentioned before, I have worked in community development also outside of the arts, and I’ve mostly worked with something called (this is going to be technical, but I think maybe it’s interesting) ABCD, which stands for asset-based community development. 

And what that means is it’s a sort of way of thinking of community development that doesn’t start from troubles or trauma or the problems of a community. It starts with the strength of the community. So asset is resources. So all these tools are all about how can people look at themselves and realize their own strengths, their own power, their own resources, and how can we look at each other and understand the power and the resources and the joy, as you’re saying, that is present in the community.

So that’s a really beautiful way of thinking on how to bring people together. So yeah, I just mixed and mashed, a bunch of those tools and I created this thing where there was a Bristol map in the middle of the room and everyone wrote on three pieces of paper, something they wanted to teach others, something they wanted to learn from someone else and something they knew, like maybe a knowledge of a topic, maybe a knowledge of a place. 

And we all just went around the room and tried to connect these papers together on the map of Bristol. And every time we would manage a connection, for example, somebody saying, I want to learn a song and someone had written in their other paper: I wrote that I wanted to teach a song! We would put them together and then have a little dance around the room to celebrate. 

And for me, Cooperation Disco is all about, yeah, practicing the recognition of our own strengths and joys the recognition of other people’s strengths and joys, but also really practicing celebrating which is something that I feel we forget both as artists and as, you know, people doing community practices. There’s just so much to do. And we never… it often happens that we don’t stop to celebrate the beautiful things that have happened. So that was just about being stubborn and celebrating every little thing because there’s no such thing as a little connection or a little improvement. You know, it all really adds up and it really matters. It was very funny, actually. 

Howl: I quite enjoyed it! I quite enjoyed particularly the dance. Just by the fact that, as you said, it’s like every small achievement is worth, you know, this acknowledgment and cheer. And I find it really inspirational. Really, it is a: Yeah, we’re going to do this! I’m going to do the dance for you! You know, we’re going to do a dance for these connections! You know, it’s not my connection but I’m still going to do the dance and cheer for you. That small cheerful vibe really starts from there. 

I mean, we can just move on to the next question in terms of how the event was. Well actually from my observation, because, you know, it’s not a massive group of people that turned out, which is nice because it creates a more intimate vibe and I suppose by that, people had really generous offers and thoughts and sharings and honest questions, you know, questions for help, question for, you know, everything else. And I thought that is the most precious part of your practice.

Ania: I also felt it was a very beautiful event and yeah, it’s always with community stuff even more than, let’s say traditional art events like a show, I feel like doing community work has taught me that one always has to be ready for two people to come or for 40 people to come, and you somehow need to be prepared for that, especially at the start of something when you’re trying to begin something new. 

So I really enjoyed the group that showed up and what happened in the room and how everything was kind of really, it felt like there was no… it was all very relaxed and very friendly. And yeah, there was just kind of no pretending of anything, you know, It was just all very open and transparent and the seams were visible. 

It had like a DIY feeling to it that was really beautiful and it was just really funny as well, which I think we had quite a nice amount of laughter and lovely snacks, and the space was beautiful. So yeah, I had a really great time and yeah, and I think that how I feel about it, like in terms of, you know, where is this in my learning and in my experience, I’m really interested…We’ve discussed this outside of this conversation as well. I’m interested in what it would take to create some momentum going and like around the practice of coming together, because I think that’s the practice really, you know, a practice of coming together. And then, you know, we may want to get more specific about , ok – who do we want to come together, and then we get into language… Is it people who’ve literally migrated themselves? Is it people with, you know, generational experiences of migration, like the parents or the grandparents, or is it not even that, is it like people who really care about this maybe because they work in the refugee sector, maybe they don’t have this experience themselves, but they are very involved in you know in this and in caring for people that have gone through certain experiences, like, I’m not sure…but the practice of coming together regularly I think is so difficult to propose. 

It’s it’s actually quite a lot. It’s almost against culture in some way because we’re all so focused on our own stuff and everyone is, you know, there’s a lot of really difficult things going around and yeah, we’re all really tired and busy. So actually to ask people to save some space and really almost like give real value to the act of coming together regularly to create community, is actually quite a big ask is what I’ve learned. It’s an important ask and I think that you know it’s good to keep putting it out there. 

Doing this event kind of revived my curiosity about how we can, you know, how could we do this? How could we create some momentum in Bristol for people to come together regularly and just share share their joys, their strengths, share their experiences. 

Howl: I quite like that, just really briefly in response to what you’re saying, it’s really spot on for me, what you said about actually coming together as a kind of practice as well, which, you know, that’s really like I hadn’t thought of it before. 

But yeah, it’s such an important thing because we come together and then common ground can formulate, and because that can formulate, therefore the mature conversation can happen. So it was so many things… But also like this is a big ask and I would say is that because not just from those who come forward, also for those who organize like us, I mean, somehow they kind of require sort of like persistence. Like you have to keep doing this regardless of frequency. You have to keep doing this to let people know there’s actually a thing or to let people know it’s actually a safe space, a safe event where you can come in, share, and just be cheerful with each other. 

Ania: Yeah. And I guess that the difficult thing also is, you know, capitalism and jobs and, you know, all of these other things that, you know, we’re talking about giving value to something that somehow maybe at least at the start, but maybe always, it’s not necessarily material it’s not necessarily you know, it’s not necessarily going to buy you lunch but it’s going to do something else. 

And so this is what I meant about being against culture a bit, in some way. There’s there’s a lot that goes into this, like access and language and all sorts of things. But, doing this event has brought quite a lot of fire into my belly and into my brain about thinking about creating some sort of momentum and wondering what it would take and how to do this fairly and kindly and yeah, and see who else in Bristol may want this and need this too. 

Howl: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! We’re going to have more conversations on that note. 

[PAUSE: atmospheric sounds of a city]

Ania: I think the question that I would like to add for us to close the discussion is: Why is it important for you to make work from a migration experience or through the lens of migration? Like is it important to you now? Is it not? And why?

Howl: I think for me, making work through the lens of migration is the way to acknowledge the differences among people’s experiences. If we’re going to make work from people’s experience as also a way to kind of like resist against or repel this kind of homogenized society, because we are different and those differences are worth attention’s, worth being acknowledged. 

And yet, we’re aiming to acknowledge that at the same time in a very peaceful, kindful, graceful way, rather than in a confrontational way. So that is…you know, if you asked me by now, I would say that maybe it might change in the future. But yeah, I mean, I’m not sure if you had this thought because before it was a lot about me making my story, you know, or the work is coming from my story. 

But at one point I was almost, you know, had this question where, you know, hanging around my head, saying – is my story worth to tell? I mean, as I keep saying these things about myself, almost maybe feels like I’m just like bragging about myself, I slightly shift to – it’s okay to start from, you know, as a self-indulgence as much as you wish, but I always thought it was important to bring everyone or more people in. What does that engage? You know what the story can burden and how it can go wider to engage different people, how it’ll relate to people. So I think that’s the thing maybe I’m more focused on right now.

 And then there’s another really interesting story. I bumped into this artist this year when I went back to Taiwan, she stayed in the States for a very long time, for a couple of years. And reason why she moved back to Taiwan is because she didn’t want to just make about work out of nostalgia. I mean, I kind of assumed about identity politics and migrant status, stuff like that. 

And so there’s a lot of self-deduction to go through, it’s like yeah I can relate to it because I don’t want to just make [work about] this thing, I want to make [work about] whatever. But I was like wait, hang on a minute like what do I mean by “whatever”? Is that the way we’re trying to resist some kind of whiteness, do you know what I mean? It’s going back to the issue of who is that mature body? Nobody…and actually a mature body is a European body. Right. So as I travel to be able to get that status, like you feel that freedom you can do whatever, say whatever or make whatever work… Does that mean that we are resisting some whiteness? And if it’s not then what is it? 

Because her action is moving from the states back to Taiwan. So the context was quite, you know, the identity is literally flipping. So yeah, I feel like I’m saying too much, but this is sort of … yeah. 

Ania: I really relate to what you’re saying. I think. Yeah. For me, I think you said it very beautifully, I don’t know I can say it in any other way but I think to me it’s important to… I don’t, I don’t know… for me it is not like necessarily a primer, like the central lens, migration is not necessarily the the only lens or the central one. I feel like queerness for me comes also side by side with that from my experience. But the more I live, the more I see that there’s actually quite a lot of lenses such as class as well, and you know, other experiences that people may have, that basically do what you’re describing, which is sort of open a crack and like a little space where, you know, difference is really acknowledged, you know, and this kind of existence that can be somehow on the margins of what is established currently as the norm or as, you know or as the priority as the system that we have currently, whatever any of those identities that are on the margin with a lot of differences between them and also with some crossing points, I feel it’s important to consider and to make work from that place. 

So there’s that. But then I also have thought quite a lot about, how in Venezuela people didn’t really make work from any sort of identity politics point of view. Like I don’t remember any of that. I definitely didn’t. And I’m not saying that there’s no politics involved. What I’m saying is that there’s a very different thing when you’re like, you know, making work in a place with no structure, no money, and a a big regime on top of you. You know, people just didn’t… that just was not what would, you know, make the work. People made very abstract work, actually very kind of personal work. And, you know, I remember like the practices that were around me when I lived in Venezuela were much more about like beauty and exploration and very kind of internal questioning and way less about identity politics, way less about, you know, even being in any way direct about a situation that was happening in the world, which I find that very interesting and makes sense considering we were you know, there are dictators and there’s a danger in that. But I also find it interesting that, you know, I didn’t meet anyone making work about any other issue. You know, it’s all kind of this world that is, you know, much more personal and abstract, which, you know, has a lot of value. But then I remember when I arrived to the UK, suddenly I was, you know, either forced or gifted, I’m not sure, this language and this identity and these things that made me go, okay…So I guess to talk to this new world, I need to kind of talk in this language. And so I find it very interesting to keep questioning what my voice is as a migrant artist, as someone who’s migrated and who comes from a very different culture with a different way of making work and has landed here. 

And you know, all of that mixed with my values. I’m always interested in, you know, just sort of questioning what that means and seeing how it grows. Because I do sometimes feel, am I making art like England wants me to make art? Like, am I creating in their language? And obviously I am, I’m speaking in English right now, but you know what I mean? 

I just like, literally, have just adopted the structure of this place and how can I resist that? How can I try to get a hold of what I come from and choose the bits that I want from what I come from, choose the bits that I want from where I live, and maybe make up something else in the middle that is just mine in that particular moment, you know, a bit like what your friend did when she went back to Taiwan, you know, sounds like they just like got rid of the UK element. But could I, for example, without moving back to Venezuela, could I try to stay somehow safe within this world that I’m in now? Yeah. So all of this I find very interesting and I don’t have answers to. But that’s why, that’s why I’m interested in continuing to think about it and talk about it, because I think ultimately we need as many perspectives as possible. So it’s good to keep speaking to a certain degree and making room for others to speak.

Howl: It’s sort of a continuous discussion or exploration, on the thing we’re talking about. We can definitely share this afterwards, but I think it’s important that we [try to do this] regularly. I’m not sure, however it can be, but that’s something to think about. But anyway, it’s lovely to work together again. Yeah, it’s very lovely. Thank you! 

Ania: Yeah thank you Howl for organizing the event and inviting me. I had the best time. And, yeah, here’s to more collaboration soon. 

Howl: Yes! Boooom! Space bomb. See you guys. 

Ania: Bye! 

 [Fade out sound, atmospheric cityscape, music, and a clock recording from the Interval building]

Ania Varez (they/them) is a Venezuelan dance artist and community worker based in Bristol. They graduated with honours from the London Contemporary Dance School. Ania makes experimental and collaborative performances, working with other dancers, artists of other disciplines and with people who don’t identify as artists yet. They have worked with Lisa May Thomas, Laila Diallo, Terrestrial, Fair Play Productions and Shotput Theatre. Their own work has toured internationally (Taiwan and South Korea) as well as in the UK, including SPILL Festival. They are a member of Interval, an artist support network in Bristol.

Howl Yuan, or Yuan Cheng-Po, is a Taiwanese performance maker/writer/curator/researcher. His interests cross cultural identity, mobility, site/place/space and decolonised narratives. His works span different formats but are primarily performance-based, and are presented in theatres, galleries, festivals, beaches or gardens.

Main Image credits: Image: Re-imagine community practice: Social Muscle Club + Arty Farty Karaoke, Bristol, November 2023. Courtesy of Howl Yuan.

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