By Emma Leavitt for Brain Arts Org
April 15, 2020
"What does art look like if we cannot touch, be in physical space, or collaborate in person anymore? How can we be a mirror for the world and ourselves as artists?"
I was scrolling through Facebook the other day when I caught a glimpse of local noise and performance artist Lani Asuncion picking up a megaphone, hoisting herself up a rock wall to stand upon a bridge in Franklin Park, and singing “Imagine” by John Lennon into the abyss. A couple folks walk by the screen with their dogs, children, throughout her performance but otherwise, she is alone. It was super raw. Something about it really spoke to me. It made me think about how the experimental artists we love are constantly the ones doing the messy, imperfect work of innovation in the creative sphere. Change comes from the margins, and we’re all in the midst of a huge transformation right now, so I thought it would be a good time to check in with Lani and see where she’s at. -- Emma Leavitt
First off, how are you doing?? How are you coping?
After coming out of extreme survival mode I feel like in this third week of shelter in place and quarantine days I've been able to find some rhythm in the day-to-day. Luckily I'm healthy and can work remotely, but the isolation takes a toll on my mind. It is amazing how important it is to physically connect with others even if it is just a smile or a short conversation. I think this experience is really showing us all how important we are to each other as a community and how each of us makes up this city of Boston.
What inspired you to climb onto a rock and sing through a megaphone? Do you see it as a performance or protest?
I've been trying to figure out what performance looks like in a time when people are supposed to distance each other from one another. Even though I could do private performances the need to connect is strong right now and we are all feeling it. I wanted to do something that could easily be shared and accessible to all. The megaphone is also a tool used in activism, allowing those to be heard in a place where oppression may cause silence. In this case, silence is caused by social distancing and I wanted to penetrate the disconnect it has begun to cause between us all. I see this as performance in protest to what is and isn't happening.
Why that song?
I thought of all the songs I could sing and Imagine by John Lennon was the one song that was well known, relatable, and spoke the words I wanted to share. I hate that this is happening, I hate that people are dying, and I really dislike that we are physically disconnected from one another, but I think it is a time for everyone to rethink their values, day-to-day rituals, and observe the change that has made room to discuss things like equal rights and environmental sustainability. The first thing I noticed when this all started going down was how unprotected essential workers were but are being asked to continue to work as we all scrambled to protect ourselves. The song basically asked, can we imagine a place where all lives are essential? Where everyone has healthcare and there are enough tests to go around? Where everyone has healthcare because our government really cares if we live or die. I'm not alone in wanting equal rights and good quality of life for everyone, this should not be something that is a dream or only lives in the lyrics of a song.
Did you have any public responses? Were they positive, negative or neutral?
Most feedback was positive and people said they enjoyed the performance, there has not been much feedback but a lot of people viewed it and showed support which is a lot right now when everyone is being overloaded with online life and screen time. One of my friends said how this version of the song was better than when the celebrities sang it the night before. I wasn't aware that was a thing because I don't really watch TV but think it is good the song was already being presented in this context.
Do you have any future plans for performances or engaging your creativity in a public way?
I would like to do more similar performances but asking if other people have megaphones and would like to join me. If anyone is interested I'd love to do something, maybe even get 2-3 people out at acceptable socially distanced spacing and sing a constructed song together.
What are one-way creatives that can make the most of this moment?
Continuing to create is critical but I think it is important to figure out what that means right now. We've been given a rare moment of pause, where the whole world is being asked to stay in place and physically disconnect from each other. This is unprecedented. What does art look like if we cannot touch, be in physical space, or collaborate in person anymore? How can we be a mirror for the world and ourselves as artists? I don't really have any answers and will continue to navigate in a way that I hope creates more connection and light when things feel heavy and hard.