Pancouver-Logo

Become a Cultural Navigator

Become a Cultural Navigator

In Zephyrs, choreographer Justine A. Chambers offers a reflection on the space between people when they come together

Justine A. Chambers
Justine A. Chambers hopes Zephyrs encourages audiences to think more about human interactions.

A YouTube conversation between two American intellectuals was the catalyst for a free evening dance show at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Zephyrs, by Justine A. Chambers, will fill the Libby Leshgold Gallery with haze and light on Thursday (April 6) for performers Steph Cyr and Sophia Gamboa.

Over Zoom, Chambers tells Pancouver that she came up with the concept after listening to University of California Berkeley philosopher and Gender Trouble author Judith Butler and Princeton University philosopher and Race Matters author Cornel West.

“Judith Butler said something to the effect about the space between us being all there is, actually, and that’s where we meet,” Chambers says.

It prompted the choreographer to also ponder what a French intellectual, Édouard Glissant, wrote about le métissage. She likens this French noun to creolization, creating the possibility of multiple permutations when two things come together.

“He talks a lot about what happens when we meet and what’s happening in the trembling between us,” Chambers says.

Zephyrs came about because the curator of the Libby Leshgold Gallery, Vanessa Kwan, invited Chambers for a mini-residency. Kwan asked her, musical artist Loscil (Scott Morgan), and performance maker Ryan Tacata to each use the “white cube” of the gallery as a venue for sound- or body-based performances.

Their three creations comprise Soft Launch. It’s the first exhibition organized by Kwan since becoming curator last fall.

“I’m opening up the space of possibilities for this particular venue,” Kwan tells Pancouver on the same Zoom call. “Things that have always fascinated me are not dissimilar to what Justine’s talking about with the space between us. For me, what is really fascinating is when we come out of our disciplinary assumptions and allow for other things to happen that we don’t expect.”

Vanessa Kwan is the curator of the Libby Leshgold Gallery at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Photo by Rachel Topham Photography / courtesy Vanessa Kwan

Chambers cherishes Proudfoot’s contribution

The Libby Leshgold’s very high ceiling, for instance, enabled the first show, loscil’s Adrift, to investigate what sounds would work in the gallery.

“He also did a projection from the ceiling onto the floor,” Kwan notes. “And that wouldn’t really be as possible in other spaces but it was really because of the height we were able to get a good size of the projection—and also the sense that it was coming from above. But you couldn’t tell exactly because the ceilings are quite so high.”

Chambers, who’s the exhibition’s second artist, has created a range of projects, including Tailfeather. For this, she choreographed dances that her grandmother, Delores Hutchinson, described doing as a young Black woman on Chicago’s South Side.

In addition, Chambers has staged dance performances in galleries. But in the past, it was always in relation or in the vicinity of the art. This time, Kwan turned over the entire gallery to the creators.

“We’re right in the centre, but we’re filling the entire gallery with theatrical haze,” Chambers explains.

This will be lit by Chambers’s longtime collaborator James Proudfoot, who also partnered with Loscil and Tacata. Chambers reveals that she and the two other artists make use of the same white carpet, providing continuity through the exhibition.

Meanwhile, she describes Proudfoot’s timing as “really impeccable”. Moreover, Chambers emphasizes that he is not simply a lighting designer who supports her work. Rather, she declares that he’s a top-of-the-line artist who listens to what she’s working on with movement, and then fills in the other 50 percent

“He’s such an incredible conceptual thinker,” Chambers says. “I would say he’s a conceptual artist who works with light.”

Watch Cornel West, Glenn Greenwald, and Judith Butler discuss COVID-19 mandates in 2021.

Dancers beckon and repel

Their work will ensure that the entire space will be activated. In fact, Chambers reveals that as soon as Kwan invited her for the mini-residency, she felt like she wanted to create a cloud in the gallery. And by filling the space with haze, it will give the audience a chance to actually see the air.

Chambers describes Cyr as an “uncanny valley dancer” who can be quiet and “very otherworldly”, while also being an “incredible technician”. Meanwhile, the choreographer points out that Gamboa has a background as a street dancer and is incredibly versatile, upbeat, and fun.

Street dancers are known for engaging in cyphers. And Chambers finds the ethos of these battles tremendously appealing because they’re often not antagonistic.

“The appreciation for the other person is always visible,” she says.

In fact, Chambers likens this to when jazz musicians encourage members of their band to rip into a lengthy solo.

According to Chambers, the dancers’ gestures in Zephyrs will revolve around beckoning and repelling. In this fluid space, the audience may not always be sure which one is happening, depending on one’s vantage point.

“When does a beckoning gesture go from being something that’s being brought in to eventually being about pushing away?” Chambers asks. “You’re not seeing everything but you’re always seeing something.”

The Libby Leshgold Gallery presents Justine A. Chambers’s Zephyrs, featuring performances by Steph Cyr and Sophia Gamboa, at 6 p.m. on Thursday (April 6). It’s part of Soft Launch, which enables visitors to experience the Libby Leshgold Gallery as a space activated by live events, auditory installations, and unexpected interactions. Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.

Take Action Now

Pancouver fuels creativity and promotes a more inclusive society. You can contribute to support our mission of shining a spotlight on diverse artists. Donations from within Canada qualify for a tax receipt.

Share this article

Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

Subscribe

Tags

Related Articles

The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish Nation), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation). With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.

The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

© 2023 The Society of We Are Canadians Too Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions

We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.