[-empyre-] Essential Departures

Tif Robinette tifrobinette at gmail.com
Sat Jul 30 01:37:34 AEST 2016

Hello all! Sorry for my quietness on this forum! I've been loving all the

I just returned from a Essential Departures, a week-long feminist
experiment testing (and subverting) the parallels drawn between women’s
bodies and Nature at Rosekill Farm, a performance venue in rural Upstate
New York, which I have been co-organizing with Poppy Jackson
Jill McDermid (http://www.grace-exhibition-space.com/performance.php?event_id=486
and Mairead Delaney (
for the past two years. Our format is egalitarian and collective, and the
work we make together and separately builds a community of international
artists that support one another both in our public artmaking and private
lives throughout the year. This year 12 women came together to work, live,
eat, and make performance. Mairead Delaney, an Irish-American performance
artist helped compile this bit of writing disseminated out of our communal


What happens when female identifying live artists rattle essentialisms
around being intrinsically bound to Nature? Knowing these analogies are
historically tied to sexist, racist and colonialist discourses around
purity, fertility, and the earth, can we form a new politics of the rural?
Women are subjected to discourses around property and bodies, whether those
bodies be flesh bodies, soil bodies, or bodies of water. We are contested
ground-- possessed or dispossessed. And, no matter where we stand, how we
move, where we come to rest, we will find ourselves on contested ground. We
propose Rosekill as site and opportunity to explore these bodies, exiled
spaces and liminal grounds. Exploring these cracks, cracks as much on our
skin as in the planet’s fault lines, may allow us to consider complicity in
and articulate resistance to oppressive colonial and neoliberal discourses.
We may depart from our usual roads, but we do not come to Rosekill to
escape or retreat. Through performance we have the power to act in these
in-between-places, places of boundaries and borders, to form new bodies and
to diffuse our embodied knowledge through space.

Our week at Rosekill will be collaborative and rigorous. We will approach
our subject with workshops, seminars, discussions, culminating with the
presentation of solo work. We will balance structure and contributing
content with time and space to create and collaborate.

Rosekill Farm will provide a space to incubate and collaborate. Radical
practitioners can share in a process of exploration, and present developed
works on our communal core subject of articulating ourselves as distinct
from, yet responsive to and activist in, our surroundings. Autonomous in
our identities as women, we will consider the immediacy of the body and its
potential for compassionate communication through the nonverbal. How are we
complicit in our own fetishization? We need distinction from essentialized
notions of the feminine in nature to regard ourselves clearly and to act in
proximity to-- not mired in-- our realm.
Our testing grounds will be copses, swamps, and overgrown meadows. Our site
buildings are hay barns and sheds. Our human bodies are earthly, biological
bodies, yes. But our female-identifying bodies are not ‘closer’ to nature
for that identification, nor is nature a woman to be wooed or plundered,
bewitched by or won. Our time at Rosekill will be spent in an attempt to
make distinct our bodies, their actions and our connectivity on site.


This year our work and conversation focused not only on de-essentializing
our selves in Nature, but also reached into our own histories, political
bodies, and communal experience to investigate how to embody the
information that we socially compile into performance actions and
interventions. I have been working with my own narrative, reaching into my
experience growing up in West Virginia then moving to southwest Virginia,
where camo, four-wheeling, moonshine, Bud Lite, mudding, and all other
redneck aesthetics and lifestyle are the everyday. This has led me to be
able to talk about that experience, now that I have removed myself from it,
currently residing in Brooklyn New York. Sometimes we can see something
better from far away.

Here is my ongoing research:

How does the cultural symbolism of flags/politicalized logos/geographic
boundaries dictate our reaction to place/topographies/bodies? How are those
symbols remade into a more complex reading of identity, belonging to a
place, or social resistance? Does the elimination or resurgence of a symbol
through production, legislation, or display hold power to form political or
social ideals, or is it merely giving a unifying voice to long held belief
systems? Through a process of dressing/addressing these issues through
research, performance actions, and embodied productions, I am interested in
navigating one of the most disputed, reviled, legislated, and defended
symbols in the US today: the Confederate flag.


*My fiancé looked out the window. I kept my eyes on the road as we inched
past a dawdling semi-truck. We were driving south through Maryland to my
family’s home in West Virginia. He pointed excitedly at a long field of
cars on the side of the highway. DIXIE CAR AUCTION.  He scanned the
familiar Rebel  X emblazoned on every side of a chain-link fence. “I
thought there would be more flags…” A few minutes later he turns to me,
trying to get a reaction. We passed a road marker for Negro Mountain. “We
are on the south side of the Mason-Dixon line,” I reply and I turn up the
radio. Kanye. *

If it weren’t for the 1948 segregationist Dixiecrat political party, the
rebel flag would still be moldering in poorly lit Civil War Battlefield
mini-museums. Never used as an official national Confederate flag, numerous
versions of the Southern Cross were carried into battle by a few rebel
regiments. One such version has been passed down in my family, a gunpowder
singed reminder of an old familial divide with brothers split between
fighting for the North and for the South. The Dixiecrats, a civil rights
reactionist (racist) political movement, heavily influenced and funded by
the KKK (allegedly), repurposed the rebel flag as a symbol of segregation
in the 1950’s. The flag was flown over Ole Miss in protest of integration,
and quickly added to many of the southern state’s flags in support of the
Dixiecrat’s white supremacist political aims. Production and distribution
of the flag increased from the 1950’s onward, now inundating the consumer
market with batches of ten thousands shipped to the US from China.

Fast-forward to today. My home-state, West Virginia, had a very different
climate post-Civil War to its’ former shared borders within secessionist
Virginia. What is now northern West Virginia broke off from Virginia in the
midst of the Civil War period, taking the southern part of the state with
them through Union military intervention. The ensuing hundred year struggle
in labor wars and European immigration gave the state a rugged
“Mountaineer” pride as opposed to “Southern” pride found on the other side
of the Shenandoah Mountains. This resulted in our own contested symbols of
the coal industry, but little identification with the confederate flag as a
cultural icon.

I didn’t grow up seeing Confederate flags daily until I moved to southern
Virginia in my late teens. Monuments to fallen confederate soldiers, *southern
and proud* bumper stickers, rebel flags waving from front porches, and
Dixieland bikinis drooping from wire hangers at the flea market were all
ubiquitous symbols of the self-claimed disenfranchised whites of the South.
Redneck pride (a term popularized during the West Virginia coal wars,
actually, because the miners wore red bandanas around their necks to avoid
shooting one another) is now being critiqued by Republicans as an identity
politics based faction of the conservative party. The repositioning within
political thought of the reclaimed pejorative term “redneck” as a minority
with specific political and social aims has centered on the debate of the
erection or censorship of what is now known as the Confederate flag.

The confederate flag is the most censored, legislated, and politicized
emblem in America today. Articles are written almost daily surrounding the
production, removal, or erection of this polarizing symbol. A 2015 Gallup
poll found that almost three-fourths of black Americans consider the symbol
racist and almost two-thirds of white Americans see it as a symbol of pride
and heritage. Kanye appropriates it and says “It’s my flag now. Now what
are you going to do?” Walmart stops selling it.

The Dixie flag, originally a battle flag of the secessionist South in
support of slavery, then a political symbol in support of segregation, is
now appropriated by a wider cross-section of America as a battle flag of
cultural resistance to a rapidly non-white majority population. This
“resistance”, I would argue, is not only for a white supremacy, but for a
white *male* supremacy. The boundaries of identity relating to heritage,
geography, or lineage dissolve as disgruntled white northerners descend to
southern pro-confederate flag protests, and the recent surge of confederate
flags at presidential visits and political rallies across the U.S. indicate
that the symbol is morphing into a new call to arms amongst poor white men
across the country.

There is an increasing nostalgia for a fictional time when all white men
were prosperous and powerful. Working class white men with a chip on their
shoulder are flocking to the symbol of a secessionist south, a rebel state
within the borders of the US where DC, NYC, and LA are cut off. This
intangible rebel state is a strange reflection of the original rebellion. A
Civil War that divided the nation, based on 5% of the Confederacy’s
population insistence on their right to buy, sell, and keep slaves, was
fought primarily by southern poor whites and conscripted slaves. While all
able bodied men between the ages of 17-50 were drafted, wealthy Southern
men were allowed to pay a working class man to take his place on the
battlefront. Today, the same class of men discovered an old ideology with a
new pundit’s face and raises their supremacist banner once again.


As a final public performance at the end of the Essential Departures week,
I performed an action then durational work titled MudFlaps. It is the
beginning of my physical performance based investigation of the Confederate
flag. I stuck two mudflap girl silhouette stickers
with the rebel flag on my lower back as both tramp stamps and equating my
ass to truck mudflaps.

You can see images of the performance on my Instagram account agrobaby
<https://www.instagram.com/agrobaby/> by adding me.

Agrofemme: A durational performance "MudFlaps" in which I filled tire
tracks with hose water and fell in a full face plant in the puddle...I
tasted mud and blood from a busted lip and blood and snot ran down my
throat from a cracked nose. I lay still where I fell as the water absorbed
back into the earth until the sun burnt the negative of the decals into my
back. People walked by snapping photos in forensic curiosity. Some people
wanted to help me. #whitewomenarethefaceofracism
#rosekillfarm <https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/rosekillfarm/>
@graceexhibitionspace <https://www.instagram.com/graceexhibitionspace/>

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