Bringing Breakdancing Into the Performance Art Realm

In preparation for his upcoming performance in Dupont Circle, The Phillips Collection asks performance artist Jefferson Pinder questions about the event and his work at large. See Part 1 here.

Dark Matter 2_Matthew Clay-Robison

Still from Jefferson Pinder’s Dark Matter. Photo: Matthew Clay-Robison

These questions largely focus on your performance art. Have you or do you work in other mediums?
JP: Yes, I am an interdisciplinary artist. I create sculptures and objects, paintings and collages. An older worker of mine titled Capsule(Mothership) is being installed in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.

How has your work changed over the years?
JP: I started my performance practice solely using my body. Over the last five years or so, I’ve begun to remove my body from the picture and now I primarily work with other performers. I got fatigued of looking at myself in my video work and I discovered that I could see my work better if I stepped away from the center. Not to say that I do not perform anymore—I do—but now I’m content with directing the action.

Are there any artists, art historical or otherwise, who inform your work?
JP: I am first and foremost informed by my mentor Dr. David Driskell. I feel fortunate to have his presence in my practice. I am a fan of William Pope.L and Bruce Nauman. In a strange way I am repulsed and attracted to Vanessa Beecroft and Matthew Barney. I like how the body plays an essential role in their work. I think Beecroft has gone off the deep end with her recent work, but I am inspired by her early pieces. I also find Francis Alÿs‘s work of great inspiration recently. I’ve been following him for years but most recently saw a show in Mexico. It was incredible.

How will this iteration of the performance differ from the original performance in 2014?
JP: Well, a lot has happened since the last time this piece was performed. In November of last year, people were still trying to figure out what would be the aftermath of Michael Brown’s murder. The Lionz of Zion and I really sought to physicalize a lot of the actions that took place in Ferguson. The performance was seeking to bring some of the actions closer to home. Since then, we’ve dealt with uprisings in our own area. We are excited to add some new elements in the piece that extend the conversation to include Freddie Gray and Eric Garner as well.

Your work is both emotionally and politically charged. What do you hope viewers walk away with?
JP: I hope the viewers will walk away thinking about the power of the uprisings over the last year. I hope they will have a deeper appreciation for breakdancing as an art form, in particular how it can fit into contemporary performance art models. I hope this performance will open up an understanding about movement and the potential that breakdancing has to be a political genre of expression.


From Collage to Performance Art

In preparation for his upcoming performance in Dupont Circle, The Phillips Collection asks performance artist Jefferson Pinder questions about the event and his work at large.

Dark Matter 1_Matthew Clay-Robison

Still from Jefferson Pinder’s Dark Matter. Photo: Matthew Clay-Robison

What is your creative process like?
JP: My creative process is like a whirlwind. I’m gradually accumulating materials and ideas based on what I see and hear. I begin to make abstract and bizarre connections related to the world around me. I’m a passionate person and I have an urge to interact with things that inspire me. Images, music, people…I started my career working on collage and to this day I still consider that to be a part of my creative practice. I’m constantly attempting to put things together that might not completely match-up. That’s the challenge and inspiration for a lot of the work that I do.

What themes do you most often pursue?
JP: Most often I’m pursuing themes that deal with the black body. I come from a theatre background and I’ve learned over time how political the “black body” is in our society, so most of my work deals with conversations associated with this.

You’re also performing Dark Matter(s) at the Driskell Center the evening before your Dupont Circle performance. How do you feel the space will (or will not) change the experience?
JP: Since the Dupont Circle environment is open, I hope that we will attract a crowd of people that are not expecting to see performance art in that location. The piece was designed to be performed outdoors, so I think onlookers will be surprised to see stylized, socially-conscious breakdancing in Dupont Circle. This brings the performance to the people. I don’t know how often The Phillips Collection has the opportunity to communicate with the public this way.

What is most challenging about being a performance artist?
JP: With a project like this there are logistical challenges. Directing seven professional dancers to speak as one is a challenge as well. The B-boy spirit is a strong and independent force. Working together politically is a new paradigm. Most people believe that an artistic practice involves solitude, paint brushes, a moody spirit…for a performance artist who works collaboratively the challenge is to work successfully with other talent. To be able to step aside and understand that my selected performers are the best people to execute my vision is tough. Sometimes you want to believe that your practice is all your own, but for me, I am the director in this piece. I am the impresario of sorts—making sure everything happens the way I want it to, the way it needs to happen. I think a lot of folks don’t understand the complexity of an endeavor such as this; we will walk a tightrope between being didactic and entertaining. Hopefully we will find the poetry that lies in between.

How do you think your performance speaks to the DC community?
JP: I don’t know exactly how my work will speak specifically to the DC community, but for as long as I can remember, I don’t think anything quite like this has been done in Dupont Circle. Obviously there are political undertones that DC is constantly dealing with regarding race and class, but my focus is making a work that speaks to the physicality of uprisings. In general, I think artists can only be responsible for making good work. How it resonates will depend on who shows up and how the performance plays out. This is my focus. I want to be sure that all of the performers are giving their all and that the environment is right for an amazing piece.