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January 18, 2017

Artist in Residence Spotlight: Vulnerability of Spirit, a reflection by Ash Arder


ash arderThis post is a part of a series of posts from UMS Artists in Residence. Artists come from various disciples and attend several UMS performances throughout the season as another source of inspiration for their work.

Ash Arder, the author of this post, is a Detroit-based artist who creates installations and sculptural objects using a combination of found and self-made materials. Through both process and output, this work investigates the relationship between people, objects, and place in order to understand use patterns and value attribution at macro and micro scales. Ash’s work is primarily rooted in urban culture.

Instructions for becoming a black African man:


What happens after death? What is step 5? Step 6? Step 142?

Nora Chipaumire’s portrait of myself as my father took place in a dark room. A boxing gym in Detroit to be exact. I was with two others: an art critic specializing in the presentation of counter narratives within the contemporary art world, and an artist/curator exploring black mentifact.

Nora Chipaumire
Photo: Moment in Nora Chipaumire’s portrait of myself as my father. Photo by Chris Cameron.

We sat, dark skin, in this dark room in Detroit – a Black city. I was mostly comfortable. The spotlights would get under my skin eventually. Not when they orbited toward the section where we were seated, but when they exposed the audience. The white, white audience perched uncomfortably on bleachers in the round.

Chipaumire’s presence alongside that of two male dancers, in the middle of a boxing ring surrounded by white faces made me self-conscious. The rhythms and vibrations I felt in my gut and in my heart throughout the evening made me vulnerable. Vulnerability produced by comfort and familiarity. A vulnerability of the spirit. A vulnerability accustomed to roaming free when it is called upon. In this space, my spirit wanted to dance but could not. Too distracting were the spirits of others, scrambling to find safety and shelter where there was none. Rather, my vulnerabilities transformed into beacons of redemption. A strange humor arose out of watching this particular group respond, perhaps for the first time, to a story I already knew so intimately. The moment when the choir and the preacher simultaneously direct their energy outward.

With choreographer Nora Chipaumire at Detroit's Downtown Boxing Gym.
Photo: Choreographer Nora Chipaumire at Downtown Boxing Gym. Photo by Peter Smith.

Chipaumire’s voice sounded like pain and love. Her movement’s resembled life and death. She and the other two performers literally held in their hands the stage lights, positioning and re-positioning them in the ring to conceal and reveal themselves and us in the audience. Snarling black bodies leaped from the stage into the audience from time to time. Sweat and spit flying through the air upon jerks and cracks of the bones and backs and hips and hair of Chipaumire and the other performers. Spotlights blinding spectators on one side of the room, while those on the other side search their painfully exposed faces for meaning or comfort or simply a sign that we were going to be OK. That the experience was the good kind of uncomfortable, right? The kind that would eventually go away until we decided to remember them, of course filtering out the parts that might disturb our spirit. The tension in the room made me smile. I thought of my father and his life and smiled harder. I thought of my brother and almost laughed out loud.

Fight. Run. Fuck. Die. This was what I already knew. What black people already lived. For further instructions, go to the place where your spirit is most vulnerable. Where it can dance.

Follow this blog for more updates from Ash throughout this season. Learn more about Renegade this season.