Artist Wu Tsang wins 2018 MacArthur Fellowship in advance of premiere at EMPAC’s 10YEARS celebration

October 9, 2018

Artist Wu Tsang has been named a 2018 recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Working in residence at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute since 2016, the “Genius Grant” honoree will premiere a new collaborative performance work, Sudden Rise, at EMPAC 10YEARS on October 13.

Another EMPAC alumni, choreographer and performer Okwui Okpokwasili is also a recipient of this year’s MacArthur Fellowship. Okpokwasili performed her recent dance-theater work Poor People’s TV Room at EMPAC in February 2017, following a 2012 performance of Miriam with renowned choreographer Nora Chipaumire.

Wu Tsang is a filmmaker and performance artist whose works explore hidden histories, marginalized narratives, and the act of performing itself. Tsang’s work often emerges from collaboration. Her acclaimed 2012 feature film Wildness, which documents a weekly club night at an immigrant gay bar in Los Angeles, is exemplary of this approach.

At EMPAC, Tsang works as part of the collective Moved by the Motion, an interdisciplinary ensemble formed with longtime collaborator boychild in 2013, which comprises an expanding group of artists including cellist Patrick Belaga, performer Josh Johnson, and electronic musician Asma Maroof. The making of Sudden Rise extends and is informed by each of its members. The resulting cross-fade of ideas and actions dissolves the dominance of one discipline over another, and deliberately entangles language, movement, image, film, and music. An early performance by the collective was first presented at EMPAC in April 2016.

Commissioned for EMPAC’s 10YEARS, this work comes to fruition with the premiere of Sudden Rise on the three-day event’s final evening. Staged in the EMPAC Theater and built around the text Sudden Rise at a Given Tune, co-written with poet Fred Moten, the performance weaves fragments of Langston Hughes, Jimi Hendrix, Hannah Arendt, W.E.B. DuBois, and James Baldwin around elements of Shakespearean tragedy and “phantasmagoria,” an 18th-century form of horror-theater in which actors perform alongside ghostly apparitions projected on scrims.

Sudden Rise stages trauma and resistance as not only tragedy but also a site of remaking through the entangled formations of Blackness and queerness. Through direct contact between performers, words, and music, Sudden Rise makes visible how gestures, languages, and techniques are inherited and reproduced, imagining a new dimension in which deep historical memory and contemporary bodies are entwined and processed on stage.

Sudden Rise will be performed on October 13 at 9:30PM as part of EMPAC’s 10YEARS celebration.