Loose Canons: Alexa Wilson
Loose Canons is a series where we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.
Alexa Wilson is a Berlin based, Auckland-born dancer and choreographer, whose work includes Magic Box, Toxic White Elephant Shock (for which she won the Creative New Zealand/Tup Lang Award) and Star/Oracle which she toured in New Zealand in 2014. This Auckland Fringe, Alexa returns with her new solo work 21 Movements, a collaboration with photographer Nicholas Watt. 21 Movements has also recently been performed at Zurich's Manifesta Biennial 11.
Art house cinema
Aside from music, art house cinema has been one of the most conceptually inspiring and emotionally moving art forms for me throughout my life. As a teenager in Auckland in the early 90s, before the Internet and social media, the New Zealand International Film Festival was my portal to the world. From the age of 15 I recall going to way too many weird and incredible films, many of which still linger in my mind today. Wild at Heart by David Lynch might have been my first art house film, experienced accidentally when I was 13 or 14. In my early 20s I discovered filmmakers Tarkovsky, Pasolini, Herzog, Jodorovsky, Goddard, and the Maori woman filmmaker Merata Mita whose documentary Patu about the NZ 1981 Springbok Tour Protests was a defining political art experience for me. Two of the most amazing filmmakers of our time are women from New Zealand: Merata Mita and Jane Campion.
I love the subtlety and power of film in both narrative and experimentation, it’s incredibly evocative, complex and intense. If I had the patience for the process and tolerance for the industry (gender) politics I would make films, but actually I have neither. Hats off to those who do. Performance and choreography suit my propensity for an organic and collective process, something live and real, which is relatively spontaneous and immediate. And fun. It is everything that film is not, and yet the poetic imagery of film haunts my performance work. I love the way subtitles in foreign films look like poetry. It’s my dream to make a live work for a movie theatre, I have even had dreams where the audience is in the movie theatre while the performance happens everywhere but the screen.
When can one start or stop being honest? Although I am also a rationalist and academic, I do believe in healing. By that, essentially I mean transforming pain to healing, sickness to wellness, by going into what’s causing the problem. Paradoxically healing occurs in the so-called grey area. Energetic healing is practiced in many cultures. It stems from a deeply connected relationship to nature. I hear the rationalists cringing and fair enough, each to their own. However, it’s known and been practiced by indigenous/cultures for thousands of years. Living in balance with our own planet is something we know we have lost, and along with this, our connection to our own inherent (healing) power; something we are again searching for.
I don’t recall exactly when healing and transformation came into my consciousness as an actual 'thing', it was probably an incremental process, just starting with aligning with myself and what interested me – my body and creativity. This took me to dance school, which changed my life. Somewhere early in my dance career, a very brilliant, intelligent friend said to me, “What you are doing is shamanistic”. I'd never even thought of this and knew little about it. I'm aware that in recent years in contemporary dance/art, 'shamanism' has become both a trend and an awkward culturally appropriated question mark. Healing practices have been practiced in most cultures for centuries, even in the West. Dance and performance reactivated a powerful practice for me of transformative socio-political healing. But it's something difficult and elusive talk about, as women’s power has been oppressed for so long and lost on the level of healing.
Berlin has been the single most confronting and impactful transformation in my life so far – like the mentor and teacher I've been searching for. I have an ambivalent relationship with Berlin. There, I have grown up from wild child and been inspired, been exploited, had so many amazing times and grown impatient and bored. Mostly it’s been a city and story of love. I've lost and found love and I've lost and found myself in Berlin. Berlin is everything you do not want to face in yourself. I have seen so many people come and go, grow and change and stay the same in Berlin. It’s not for the faint hearted. I’ve watched the world grow around it, like a garden, into it, storming it, gentrifying it, protesting it, just as I have been a part of that. I have experienced it go from a hyped whisper to the epicentre of Europe, building itself back from layers of an 800-year history. I read somewhere that it harbours more pain than anywhere on the planet from its history. Whether that's true or not, I feel a lot of energetic fog in Berlin. I have felt it eat people alive, sooth people, heal people and toss people out. I became a better artist and lover, friend and activist in Berlin. I have learnt stillness in an ever changing place.
Hours spent trying to get a visa or work are some of the most humbling experiences I have ever had, along with watching a supposedly cold and harsh people melt and show their warmth. It will always make me laugh with its absurd abruptness and sudden rage. Berlin’s heart is cool, yet so desperate to melt. It attracts incredible people all hungry to expand. I feel lucky to have lived in a such a powerful and bizarre city. I will miss Berlin when I go and will probably not look back. As a city, its been the love of my life so far. It’s definitely been a love story.
I think I was born with art in my tiny bones – like ethereal creators stamped Art on this little one. We’ll go with Performance/Dance/Art. Anything along those lines. A bit of theatre, a bit weird, some music bones, a bit of comedy and plenty of movement. I remember when I first saw Sandra Bernhard’s performance art film Without you I’m nothing in 1995. There’s always a seminal piece which turns you. It was Sandra Bernhard for me. There was really no going back from there. I also learnt about dance theory at Auckland University, whilst watching local Unitec contemporary dance shows, and going out dancing and doing martial arts going “OMG you can make ART THROUGH THE BODY”.
Performance art was super mysterious to me – Karen Finlay was my first impression of it. Then I discovered choreographer Sean Curham locally who was making super interesting work and to this day is a major inspiration. Everything I made in the early days with such naïveté (which I still try to capture today) was experimentation. We had no internet and even when we did I learned about someone like choreographer Jerome Bel way too late. Sometimes isolation can be better, sometimes it’s the worst thing ever, and that is what motivated me to move to Berlin. Though New Zealand remains a massive inspiration source. So yeah, I’m a choreographer. And a performance artist, and and… I make art. It’s my passion, my calling and my greatest expansion. There’s been so many moments of wanting to run back (could I really be a lawyer?) but the only way through for me is through. I regret nothing and feel more grateful every day and every year I am an artist. I love art and artists. So much resilience. We know the art industry is fraught, but we are part of a larger mirage.
Probably one of the most activating influences on my art practice has been our current and changing political climate. I am a post-9/11 artist. How defining that event was on my life, my career, our world, and consequently my art. 9/11 happened the year I graduated, wide-eyed, from dance school all fired up to share my tampon footage amidst the chaos of my dance career. The Iraq War was exploding and I was clawing at the edges with a desire for a new artistic language or multiple languages in performance to express the dawning intensity and complexity of our times. The year I moved to Europe and settled uneasily during this time in Berlin, world economic crisis occurred. For the past 8 years since, the world has been wobbling into social uprising, ecological crisis, war, entrenched neo-liberalism, surveillance, social media expansion, increased and stark feminism, Black Lives Matter, an increase in rich and poor divide....towards a looming collapse of our unsustainable co-existence with our planet.
And here we are, trying to live, love, grow, settle and make art. I am part of a movement of artists hoping to bring some connection and a sense of dignity to humanity (albeit through “politics so hot right now”) by simply questioning – reminding ourselves that the best place to start is with the small, the live, the present, the intimate and the vulnerable. Gestures of awakening. I feel brave enough for it, but acknowledge we are here to help each other through whatever is coming.
21 Movements runs from 9 – 11 March at The Basement Theatre.
Tickets available here.