State of the Bass: Holy Bass

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It’s a challenge being an artist and creating when you don’t have the right quality of life to do so. But durational performance artists are kind of weird people,” Holly Bass, a D.C. resident, globally-traveled and well-acclaimed teacher, dancer, poet, and performance artist told WI Bridge.

Showcasing the empathy and soulful humanity that defines what has allowed her work to excel, she continues, “We invent difficult things for our bodies to do. Then we ask ourselves, are you happy with yourself? It’s ridiculous. But, this reflects the work, and the process of the work right now during COVID.”

Bass is a dynamic creative force, who, in 2020, has been an artist in residence in New York and Cleveland (New York Live Arts and Cleveland Art Gallery, respectively) while working on other projects in the nation’s capital. In all realms, her work has been timely and significant. The self-determination involved in and success of her process speaks to a more considerable comment that can be made regarding surviving the mood and moment worldwide.

It’s a challenge being an artist and creating when you don’t have the right quality of life to do so. But durational performance artists are kind of weird people,”

Bass is a dynamic creative force, who, in 2020, has been an artist in residence in New York and Cleveland (New York Live Arts and Cleveland Art Gallery, respectively) while working on other projects in the nation’s capital. In all realms, her work has been timely and significant. The self-determination involved in and success of her process speaks to a more considerable comment that can be made regarding surviving the mood and moment worldwide.

Related to this notion regarding her many projects, Bass replies with trademark confidence. “It’s easy to feel stuck and succumb to COVID-related stress and depression. However, my career has helped me develop a comfort with the unknown.”

In Cleveland, her National Endowment for the Arts-sponsored Liberation Labs piece continued her long-time work with at-risk youth and their rehabilitation. “We discussed fantastical devices that could shield you from a racist police officer or transport you out of a problematic situation,” she notes. “I then blended this with thinking about going to San Francisco’s Exploratorium science museum as a child, where using your imagination, and mixing that with science, was encouraged. I then physically created interactive, experiential pieces that could be experienced in a socially distant manner.”

New York Live Arts has also invested the resources to allow Bass to deeply and successfully explore both online and real-time performance art during the pandemic. Most recently, Fall 2020 found her doing a real-time and streaming showcase of her durational dance piece Moneymaker. This piece debuted at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 2012. The exhibition is a dance performance where Bass performs while wearing a pompadour hairdo, a bedazzled cummerbund spelling out $€X, and platform heels. Moreover, she has a golden derriere sculpture strapped to her posterior — all while being viewed in a 5’ x 5’ plexiglass- encased box, facing an outdoor audience. The piece pays homage to Saartjie “Hottentot Venus” Baartman, James Brown, and Bass’ father, who all worked sunrise to sunset as performers and sharecroppers.

“In the grand scheme of 2020, [Moneymaker] is super-important,” says Bass. “So many of this year’s issues are tied into Black labor, women’s labor, the struggle for Black liberation, social justice, voting, and the election. When I performed it in 2012, I did it for seven hours, but I always felt it was best as a 12-hour performance piece, which it was this year.”

“[The 2020 performance of Moneymaker] was super-challenging,” Bass continues. However, she notes that she feels that her creative constraints are a source of her liberation. “They make the audience think, ‘if she’s doing this physically daunting feat, then what more can I accomplish? I can do so much more than I think I can.’”

Bass’ early roots in poetry have also proven restorative amid the madness. “Poetry has re-emerged as a personal ritual for me to ground myself by diving into understanding the magic within myself and my thinking. My earliest artistic output was as a poet, so it’s been nice to dive into my poetry self, by working on some shorter and longer pieces that I’ve submitted for publication.”

Holly Bass’ 2020 has been nothing short of astounding. In reflecting on others’ best advice to take from her process, she offers a fascinating perspective. “The pandemic, itself, is an endurance performance, in which nobody asked to participate. Breaking out of its constraints — especially with art — is key. We have no idea when COVID is going to end. However, art helps us feel alive, connected to the joy of ourselves and others.”

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