Illustration of Kate Speer and the words Unexpect the Expected Untitled Final Friday Featuring Kate Speer August 30 6 to 10 pm

Q&A with Kate Speer

Kate Speer, dancer, choreographer, and community organizer, is the featured artist for Untitled Final Friday at the Denver Art Museum on August 30. Read our Q&A below to learn more about her and her artistic practice, and then join us at Untitled! (You can see the program of events here.)

How are we complicit in the contradictions of the American dream and what are the inherent dangers of nostalgia?

– Kate Speer

What inspires you?

As an artist, I feel a sense of responsibility to dismantle systems of oppression in my work, point out criticisms in our society, and offer alternative realities for us to aspire to. My main artistic mode is dance, because of the potent identity politics that are mapped onto bodily difference. More than just choreography, dance uses the body as a symbol for social identities, a tool to perform these identities, and a medium for their continual creation and recreation.

The theme for August’s Untitled is A(me)ricana, which is a creative series I have been exploring that exposes the underpinnings of collective American nostalgia, particularly white America. How are we complicit in the contradictions of the American dream and what are the inherent dangers of nostalgia?

The research is inspired by sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right and my own complicity in today’s cultural climate as an American white female. Hochschild spent a year in Southern Louisiana interviewing members of the American Right to scale what she terms “the empathy wall.” Similarly, I am compelled to escape my liberal blue bubble and practice empathy and dialogue, so that we (the collective white population) can move forward, undoing racism. There’s a lot of work to be done, and at the heart of it is listening and communicating in order to collaborate.

What aspects of your creative practice are you excited to share with visitors at Untitled?

In many ways, Untitled reflects my creative mind and the multi-layer approach I use to create performance worlds. I’m excited for visitors to make the thematic connections between the broad array of artists, because that’s the energizing part of the creative process. A key tenet of my creative practice is collaboration, both artistically because of the creative sparks when two minds meet and politically because of the necessity for multiple voices.

There will be performances by two artists I frequently collaborate with, Sara Roybal and Kayla Hamilton. Sara Roybal will be performing a traditional Mexican folklórico work as well as what she affectionately terms mo-fo (modern folklórico), which contemporizes the traditional dance form. Kayla Hamilton is performing a solo that questions what it means to see and be seen—as well as from whose lens we are doing the viewing. These artists have influenced how I make work, so I’m curious what lines of connection visitors will see in our respective performances.

I’m a big fan of immersive, multisensory, multidisciplinary, multiple voices, and re-interpretation. Untitled is an event that offers all of these elements....

– Kate Speer

What opportunities has Untitled given you to see your practice in a new way?

Among seeing my favorite creatives and collaborators perform, I'm excited to facilitate a conversation with local food writer Adrian Miller and chef Jennifer Jasinski about American food traditions. Adrian Miller is the author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time (2013) and the forthcoming book Black Smoke that celebrates the significant contributions that African Americans have made to barbecue culture in the United States. Jennifer Jasinski is a Denver chef behind four award-winning Denver restaurants, Rioja, Stoic & Genuine, Euclid Hall, and Bistro Vendôme. I am interested in how food reflects our cultural and social dynamics while also bringing people together, which will inform the creative direction of my project.

What collections/exhibitions are you connecting to for this event, and how are they inspiring you?

The A(me)ricana theme is connected to The Light Show which explores physical and symbolic representations of light in art. I am drawing on the metaphor “to shine light on” as well as “visible/invisible” in relation to the American cultural landscape: What American traditions do we take for granted? What is the invisible or unrecognized lineage of those traditions? How do those traditions/practices impact (uplift or oppress) other people and communities? How do these traditions/practices unite or divide people and communities?

What do you hope visitors will get out of your Untitled event at the Denver Art Museum?

By shedding light on our American traditions, I hope visitors will question what they hold dear to their hearts and reflect on why they choose to practice these traditions. I also think coming together collectively is powerful, so the evening has fun, uplifting moments like line dancing and pie-eating contests. While at the same time, there are performances and interactive art experiences that handle heavy topics like visibility in relationship to identity. How can we hold these two extremes (or contradictions) in our understanding of our own American reality? And, perhaps for some, what are you going to do about it?

What surprises are in store for visitors?

In addition to performance art, there are going to be interactive art experiences with artists, Tya Alisa Anthony and Moe Gram. A current RedLine Resident Artist, Tya Alisa Anthony’s work observes and reimagines inclusive spaces for people of color through photography, collage, and reliquary. Her happening, American Life Reliquaries, will be exploring themes of identity steeped in ritual by creating your own mini-scene of American Life. Moe Gram is a local artist and designer, heavily influenced by hip-hop culture and urban LA street art. Known for her community enrichment work, she will be facilitating “a quick time out” for folks to stop and reflect on their actions, and make time to process events that impact our worlds. Oh, and also the Untitled DAM staff have devised an old-fashioned competitive pie-eating competition!

What does a program like Untitled mean to the local Denver arts community?

I’m a big fan of immersive, multisensory, multidisciplinary, multiple voices, and re-interpretation. Untitled is an event that offers all of these elements, which is not always the case for many of the art happenings in Denver, such as a visual art opening that only privileges sight, or a solo dance show that only showcases one person’s point of view. Untitled allows a featured artist’s aesthetic and practice to be in conversation with not only the DAM’s exhibitions, but also with other local creatives. I really value how many voices can be part of the one evening. Also by offering multiple entry points, Untitled makes art experiences more accessible. There’s hopefully something for everyone.

What’s up next?

September 2019: I am performing in Boulder-based artist Ondine Geary's new work Radius of Transmission, a multidisciplinary, site-specific exploration of grief in three parts. (absent): Part II is a four-mile, site-specific drive that uses both the metaphor and means of radio technology to insist that, in grief, empty space is not nothing. (abraded): Part III is a dance that shifts the frame from “those gone” to “those who go on” and proclaims grief as inextricably linked to living. (absent) & (abraded): Parts II & III occur in sequence Wednesday thru Saturday, September 4-7, 2019. Tickets will be sold by the car, so coordinate with your friends for a "four pack." For more specifics and to purchase tickets, visit the project's website.

Ongoing: Co-collaborator Kayla Hamilton (performer in the August Untitled) and I are creating a new performance work, titled Place Holder, that exposes how surveillance actualizes and strips identities. The project has been selected as a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation Fund Project co-commissioned by RedLine Denver, CO; Gibney Dance New York City, NY; and Building Bridges Art Exchange Santa Monica, CA.

October 2020: In collaboration with visual artist Frankie Toan and multidisciplinary writer/dancer/filmmaker Serena Chopra, we are devising No Place to Go, a queer haunted house where unrealized fears manifest in an immersive world driven by choice-making and the horror of the binary. The work merges the absurdist storytelling of dance-theatre with tactile, interactive visual art installations to create environments where the audience can examine and embrace the tension between fear and desire. The project will premiere in October 2020, just before the presidential election. The work becomes a timely commentary on the limitation and fear of our political choices in the shadow of the impending election in which we are confronted with our fraught participation in the nation state.

Where can people learn more about you and your work?

Visit my website at www.katespeerdance.org to connect. You can join my mailing list (I promise I don’t send too many) to get up-to-date info about my performances and projects.

Sarah Rockett is the artist programs coordinator in the department of learning and engagement at the Denver Art Museum.

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