“There are periods of time that are marked by the music that surrounds them,” says choreographer Mariana Valencia. We are discussing her work Album, which opens today as part of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival. For Valencia, two “psychologies of albums” come to bear in the work: music albums and photo albums.
In preparing for our conversation earlier that day, I found myself turning the word “album” over in my mind, letting its peculiarities—its phonetics and multiple meanings—strike at me. “What does an album incite collectively and also individually?” asks Valencia during our conversation, gesturing to the ways in which albums can create context. “Conceptually, that seemed like a nice scaffold or platform to work from.”
When Valencia and I were teenagers, CDs were the most popular conduit for music. Both CDs and records, even to this day, have a certain materiality and substance to their packaging, often with special notes that foreground the music for listeners and with album art that pairs visual ethos with sound.
In creating her own Album, Valencia taught herself to play a keyboard and wrote four original songs, which rest within the performance alongside other music by Miami Sound Machine, Joan Baez, and The Fugees. “A lot of the notes from my rehearsal books became lyrics, and then those lyrics needed sound to them, and so then I just started tinkering around on the keys,” she says. The fact that her rehearsal notes show up within the work seems to reference the notion of an archive—calling memory into what is happening now.
“I really only know how to play these songs, and don’t know how to play any other songs or read sheet music or anything,” Valencia continues, describing the way that humor and levity tend to show up in this aspect of the work. “If there’s a little glitch, I’m like, ‘Well, this is all of I know of this song, so we’re just going to have to go with it’.”
Like music albums, photo albums are also sites for both convergence and divergence of experience, time, and memory. At face value, photos situated within this type of “album” often portray discrete moments in time. However, photos can also reflect the varied experiences of each individual they reference, “from sharing that room together, from that day, from being that age,” says Valencia.
“No single history is just that history, its the history of everything that surrounded it,” she adds. In this sense, both the photo and music album are resources for thinking about alternative ways that history, or, in the case of Valencia, herstory, might be archived and remembered. Valencia explained that she uses the term “herstory” so that her work of reshaping the archival process will not be sabotaged by its signifier. Herstory also gestures to the strong matriarchal foundations within Valencia’s own lineage.
“I get a chunk of [time] to live in, and so what is that?” Valencia asks, considering what will be remembered of her after her death.
Noting her identity as lesbian Latina, she adds, “I’m probably not going to be the most archivable,” at least given the archiving of history thus far. “So, how do I empower myself to do that? Or, how do I find power within that kind of marginalization or disempowerment?”—especially during this moment in time that contains herstory. These questions have seeded her work.
“It’s kind of like this lineage of: What is my history, what am I aligning with,” she continues, explaining how her Album involved an examination into the the oral histories that have preceded her and lineages she identifies with: her own family’s immigrant experience, her relationship to the postmodern dance artists, and her identity as “a younger queer to the elder queers of, per say, the aids generation.”
As our conversation drew to a close, Valencia, who was in residence at PICA last April, added that she was looking forward to performing Album for three nights in Portland—the first place she will have done so outside of New York City. “As scripted as it might be, as choreographed as it will be, it will always be different,” she says. Of her time in Portland prior to this Time-Based Arts Festival, she shares, “PICA was the most unique of any of the residencies I’ve had. It was really thoughtful, really fulfilling, and super generative and generous. I happily am coming back.”
Catch Album at the Time-Based Art Festival, taking place at PICA, 15 NE Hancock Street, at 8:30 PM September 13, 14, and 15. The September 14 performance will be ASL interpreted. Tickets are $20 general admission, and $16 for PICA members.
Valencia will also be teaching a workshop as part of the Time-Based Art Festival entitled “See, Hear, Here,” taking place at New Expressive Works, 810 SE Belmont Street. Entry is $5 – $15 sliding scale.