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WHITEWALL: Tell me about your involvement with the Calder Foundation.
DERRICK ADAMS: I was invited by Katherine Cohn, Associate Curator of the Calder Foundation, to create a work of my choosing. I proposed a work that focuses more on performance and that incorporates literature and music. I also began researching the foundation’s archives in search of any overlap between Calder’s time in New York and wondering if he ever spent time in Harlem during its Renaissance period, hoping maybe because Calder was an artist working around that time, he may have frequented jazzy clubs and poetry readings uptown during the 1930s.
The Harlem Renaissance was my point of reference, and I was interested in how I could highlight bits of information I found on Calder relating to sound and image. I felt I could represent an interesting juxtaposition, maybe even complimentary.
WW: “Once upon a time…” employs teenagers to recite and perform Harlem Renaissance era poems. What was this experience like for these kids? Do you think engaging youth in poetry with something more interactive like a performance is a way to encourage interest in the arts?
DA: Most kids in the Black American community are familiar with the poets of this period in American history. Especially because this era in history is responsible for the development of so many genres in contemporary culture today, including visual arts movements, rap music, spoken-word poetry and other forms of literature.
An event usually in the form of a talent show that takes place in urban city neighborhoods and is held in community centers or churches. The program usually involves kids singing, dancing, and reciting poems. Most poems selected to perform are from the poets of the Harlem Renaissance era, which I find most fascinating, to hear youth reenact history as a performance.
I want to channel that energy into my performance for Performa 13, having young performers reciting poems by Gwendolyn Bennett, Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Claude McKay against musical arrangements by classical composer Philippe Treuille played by a quintet. We collaborated on interpreting the gesture of each poem and how to reimagine them as a musical score.
WW. Your work investigates larger social and cultural structures through a Deconstructivist lens. What made you want to explore these issues?
DA: I personally feel this information is important to revisit because it is impactful. It is even more effective coming from young people.