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Sci-Fi and Twerking Explore the Black Body in This Performance Art Series

niv Acosta's movement-based performance 'Discotropic' abstractly explores black visibility.
January 27, 2016, 3:15pm
All Images courtesy of the niv Acosta and Maria Baranova. DISCOTROPIC: 3rd i side i at WestBeth for PS122's COIL 2016

During the 2015 New Museum Triennial, artist niv Acosta premiered the performance series Discotropic. In the performance, which featured the artist alongside dancers dressed in varying portions of black cloth dancing and chanting throughout the museum to disco and experimental noises, an experimental meditation on the body emerged. Since then, the series has continued to evolve as an abstract exploration of the ways in which the black body collides with science fiction, disco, astrophysics, and whiteness.


“The piece started as a research project,” explains Acosta. “I started [searching] the Internet to find representation of blackness in science fiction books, film, and television,” he says. “I also was interested in how whiteness co-opted disco and how it changed the flavor of disco and how black people participating in disco got weirder and weirder.” For Acosta, in both science fiction and disco, black people came to be invisible because those spaces became synonymous with whiteness. “I wanted to think about people who don’t get the amount of visibility that they deserve,” he explains to The Creators Project. “Discotropic thinks about how that applies to the current climate of racial representation now.”

In the opening scene of a recent performance of Discotropic at Performance Space 122’s Coil performance festival, the artist and a series of dancers begin to “twerk.” They go on for 15 minutes. “We are using ‘twerking’ not just as a meditative practice but also as a way to effectively throw at the audience the notion of ‘twerking’ as a movement owned by the black folks in the space,” explains Acosta. Yet in employing the popular contemporary black dance as a durational technique, Acosta seems to conjure at once the movement of the black body in real life. The repetition dismantles the commonly held notions of the dance to show the multiplicity of meaning that lives in the black body. How it can at times evoke fantasy, move in a way that empowers and sometimes summons racism that invites violence. The entire performance shows the black body in spades.


“We are being really critical about how we are seen and the consumption of the black body,” says Acosta of the way he and the dancers move in the performance, “in a way that’s super confrontational. People think it’s absurd, exhausting, and maybe shouldn’t happen for so long, but it’s about authorship and the black body.”

In the work, Acosta also employ texts he created as a “protest anthem," the idea being that the piece challenges audience assumptions. The movement-based performance, which lasts for roughly 90 minutes, cogently draws lines around what black space is, how the black body can behave in such space, and ultimately how can blackness retains its pitch amid structural and physical violence. “Discotropic is actively trying to dismantle structural racism in its very abstract form,” explains Acosta. “For me, the change I want to see this work impacting is people opening a conversation about how our bodies navigate the struggle.” He adds, “We need each other because racism impacts us all negatively—this is really what Discotropic is trying to teach.”

DISCOTROPIC: ep. 2 sonic from niv Acosta on Vimeo.

For more information on upcoming Discotropic performances, click here.


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