Morgan Bassichis

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Artist Statement

My solo performances draw on stand-up comedy and folktale traditions to disrupt normative narratives of progress, identity, and history. On stage my persona traffics in narcissism, self-righteousness, camp, mysticism, and self-help to explore basic questions about the emotional economies of late capitalism and the contradictions of inhabiting a broken world. My work is deeply informed by my background as a community activist and healing practitioner in social justice movements, and my investment in the project of collective transformation. I see performance as a kind of meeting ground to unravel the shared stories that have coagulated into common sense. I have performed at a range of institutions in New York City, including at MoMA PS1 as part of the 2015 Greater New York exhibition, the Whitney Museum, New Museum, Jewish Museum, Artists Space, and Poetry Project, among others, and have received residencies from the Rauschenberg Foundation, Recess, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and BOFFO, as well as an award from Art Matters.

Previous performance projects have been centrally concerned with the ways in which trauma is used and abused politically. My solo When the Baba Yaga Eats You Alive (Dixon Place, 2014) explored the Zionist mobilization of Jewish historical trauma through a rambling contemporary folktale about my own confused return to Poland and two beauty queens who must reckon with a fearsome forest crone. My commission for the 2015 Greater New York exhibition at MoMA PS1, entitled Me, But Also Everybody!, engaged the form of stand-up comedy about three holidays—Halloween, Hanukkah, and Valentine’s Day—as key indexes for historical mystification and amnesia. Seemingly trivial and personal stories descend and devolve into collective ritual to mine our spiritual juncture. An earlier ensemble work I created while living in San Francisco, The Witch House (The Garage, 2013), looked at the legacy of the 1692 witch trials and colonial shame through the wanderings of a group of pre-teen boy witches trying to make some money off their craft. In all three projects I am exploring how collective trauma—what Saidiya Hartman calls our “histories that hurt”—live on in and through us.

My current work has turned towards music, which has opened the next chapter in my storytelling and help me to more fully inhabit the possibilities of the cabaret genre. I grew up on my mother’s songs—Holly Near, Nina Simone, Donny Hathaway, Joni Mitchell, Kander and Ebb, Gershwin—soul, jazz, folk, and musicals, genres shot through with social critique and white appropriation. I learned to play jazz piano from a South African Jew who told me that Jews basically invented jazz; got my acting chops playing the Emcee in Cabaret and Hedwig; and sang in gospel and renaissance choirs. I always knew that people could share and receive stories through music that they couldn’t through the spoken word. Integrating music into my practice has been significant in both form and content. While in residence with the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation during the inauguration of our current president, I wrote a cycle of experimental protest songs that function as quasi-spells to aid us in this period of rightwing repression. Stories about dead pelicans, infectious ticks, murderous grandmothers, and romantic friendship are set to often-incantatory melodies and arrangements (I play piano and sing). I have created a band—Senior Energy—perform the protest songs, and we will travel to the TBA Festival in Portland in September 2017 and do a live album recording the songs at St. Marks Church (organized by Danspace Project), itself an important historical site of resistance, in October 2017, with a longer run in April 2018.

My current project is a commission from the New Museum as part of its 40th anniversary group exhibition, “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon” (opening September 2017), which investigates gender’s place in contemporary art and culture at a moment of political upheaval and renewed culture wars. For the exhibition, I will be making an ensemble musical performance that interprets the beloved 1977 queer fable/manifesto/spellbook, The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions (written by the late gay novelist, Larry Mitchell)through music and performanceThis text indexes queer, feminist, anti-capitalist, utopian world-making that pre-dated both the AIDS epidemic and the absorption of gay politics and life into neoliberal capitalism. Out of print for many years, it has had an increased circulation in this recent period, as younger generations seek out connection with our queer/trans/radical ancestors to guide us through this time of intensified state repression and collective precariousness. I am currently engaged in an oral history about queer communal live in New York in the mid-1970s that will inform the performance, which will be developed and shown over the course of the exhibition.

Before moving to New York, I was a community activist in San Francisco working with queer and transgender survivors of violence and incarceration, and was deeply shaped by these experiences. I have published a articles in journals and anthologies about queer politics, neoliberalism, and prison abolitionism, and currently serve on the Artist Council of Jewish Voice For Peace. As an undergraduate at Brown University, I was mentored by Rebecca Schneider, Joy James, and Anthony Bogues, focusing my interdisciplinary research on radical black political theory, social movements, and playwriting. All of these experiences have profoundly informed who I am and root my artistic efforts in questions of power and freedom.

CV

EDUCATION

BA, Africana Studies and English, Brown University, 2006

SELECTED PERFORMANCES

2017
“Pound Sounds,” Kink and Politics: The Ties That Bind, David Nolan Gallery, NYC
“Daily Meditations,” Recess, NYC
“Song for Daniel Bejar,” Marginalia: Open Sessions 10, The Drawing Center, NYC
“Morgan Bassichis Sings Protest Songs at the Gay Bar,” The Duplex, NYC
“More Protest Songs,” Cabaret Anti Fa, Artists Space, NYC
“Protest Songs,” Song in the Expanded Field, NYU, NYC
“Protest Songs,” I dream of the elections, Danspace Project, NYC

2016
PoLAAT Outro: Pre-Apocalypse, organized by My Barbarian, New Museum, NYC
“Unforgettable,” Readings and performances in response to Zoe Leonard’s “I want a president,” High Line, NYC
“When you’re old enough to read this,” Wendy’s Subway Reading Room at BAM Next Wave Festival, Brooklyn Academy of Music, NYC
“Fire Island Medium,” As If You Me: Fall Mixer, organized by Women & Performance, Center for Performance Research, NYC
“Soft Skills,” Back to School, MoMA PS1, NYC
“Fire Island Medium,” BOFFO, Fire Island
“Lullaby,” Weirdo Night, organized by Dynasty Handbag, Jewish Museum, NYC
“Tipper,” What Now? 2016, organized by Art in General, Vera List Center for Art and Politics, NYC
“Miss Poland & Miss Israel Dig for Brooches,” Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT
“The Door,” 42nd Annual New Year’s Day Marathon Benefit Reading, Poetry Project, NYC

2015
“Me, But Also Everybody: Part I, II, III,” Greater New York, MoMA PS1
“Greg,” Release Party: Wynne Greenwood and Friends, New Museum of Contemporary Art, NYC
“Wait, Dad?” Poetry Project, NYC
“When the Baba Yaga Eats You Alive,” Afterglow Festival, Provincetown, MA
“Miss Poland & Miss Israel Dig for Brooches,” Uncounted #5, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna
“Judith,” Summer Nights on Jupiter, Le Petite Versailles, NYC
“Life Skills,” No Total Weekend, Artists Space, NYC
“Men’s Group,” Metaphors and Their Distemper, organized by Visual AIDS, Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC
“Men’s Group,” Guts, Dixon Place, NYC
“Haman,” Uncounted #4, PARTICIPANT INC, NYC

2014
“Therapy,” Adult Contemporary, Shandaken Project, NYC
Seriously, Though, La MaMa ETC, NYC
“When the Baba Yaga Eats You Alive,” HOT! Festival, Dixon Place, NYC, Anyway Café, NYC
“The Goat Mary Learns to Stare,” The Way We Were 2.0, The Wild Project, NYC

2013
“Ghost Rider,” 24-Hour Ballad, organized by Courtesy the Artist, Recess, NYC
“The Goat Mary Learns to Stare,” Poet Problems, MIX Festival, NYC
“The Witch House,” The Garage, San Francisco, CA

PRIZES/AWARDS
Grantee, Art Matters, 2016
Away Grantee, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, 2013

RESIDENCIES/FELLOWSHIPS:

Analog Resident, Recess, 2017 (recessanalog.org)
Resident, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, 2017
Resident, BOFFO, 2016
Process Space Artist, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, 2015
Fellow, Queer/Art/Mentorship, 2014
AIRspace Resident, The Garage, San Francisco, 2012

PUBLICATIONS

“To Do 2017,” Analog Residency, NYC: Recess, 2017
“Dear #####,” Deadlines and Divine Distractions: Number Three, NYC, 2016
“Four to the Fourth” with Katie Brewer Ball, Leeroy Kun Young Kang & Jaime Shearn Coan, NYC: Recess, 2015
“Baby, This is a Crisis,” UNCOUNTED, Vienna: Secession, 2015
“Queer Politics and Anti-Blackness,” with Dean Spade, Queer Necropolitics, London: Routledge, 2014
“Building an Abolitionist Queer and Trans Movement with Everything We’ve Got,”with Alexander Lee and Dean Spade, Captive Genders, Oakland: AK Press, 2011
“Reclaiming Queer & Trans Safety.” The Revolution Starts at Home, Boston: South End Press, 2011
“Intimate Investments: Homonormativity, Global Lockdown, and the Seductions of Empire,” with Anna Agathangelou and Tamara Spira, Radical History Review,Durham: Duke University Press, 2008
“‘It’s War in Here:’ A Report on the Treatment of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People in NY State Men’s Prisons,” NYC: Sylvia Rivera Law Project, 2007
“COCKTAIL,” International Feminist Journal of Politics, London: Routledge, 9:1,2007

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Morgan Bassichis by Katherine Brewer Ball,” BOMB Magazine, June 22, 2017

WORK EXPERIENCE

Somatic Coach, NYC, 2014-Present
Somatic Teacher, Generative Somatics, Oakland, CA, 2014-Present
Organizing Director, Community United Against Violence (CUAV), San Francisco, CA, 2007-2013
Leadership Team Member, Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), San Francisco, CA 2007-2013