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Friday March 15 | Session 13:15 - 14:45 (20 min)
De Brakke Grond | Grote Zaal

During the Civil War, Union troops disrupted Confederate logistics by heating and bending railroad ties around nearby trees. The “neckties” functioned as sculptures which symbolically expressed the power of Union forces. From 1933 to 1957, Black Mountain College hosted experimental artists and advanced interdisciplinary progressive education in rural North Carolina. Whereas general Sherman’s troops undermined Confederate military and civil institutions, Black Mountain College ignored traditional institutional guidelines for colleges and remained sociopolitically removed from surrounding culturally conservative southern culture. What is the significance of working as an independent experimental artist in North Carolina in the wake of these historical legacies? What relevance does anti-institutional anarchist politics (advocated by John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and later, Steve Paxton) have for experimental artists working outside of traditional institutional structures?

In this performance lecture, saxophonist and experimental jazz artist Brent Bagwell and I share our collaborative work on these questions by performing a piece that features improvisation scores based on the idea of Sherman’s Neckties. In turn, given that the American South remains politically conservative, we also discuss theoretical and practical issues concerning where experimental performance best unfolds and who its audience is.
Brent Bagwell is a saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer based in Charlotte, NC. While living and working in NYC, he studied privately with jazz musicians Bob Feldman, J.D. Parran, and Roger Rosenberg, as well as composer Elliott Carter. He played for years in The Eastern Seaboard, a trio that released a pair of records on the legendary Italian label Black Saint. Currently, he is one half of the duo Ghost Trees. That group has released three records in the tenor saxophone and drums format and - as a result of a Goodyear Arts residency in September of 2015 - a big band record as a double 7". Bagwell has contributed to or fully composed a number of film scores over the years - most recently Poor Boy - but his primary work for film has been feature-length scores for live performance, such as his original score for Lotte Reiniger's 1926 animated film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, and new music for the abstract films of Maya Deren. In the realm of dance, Bagwell performs regularly with Eric Mullis as part of his piece "The Land of Nod" and their duo collaboration, "Sherman's Neckties," which debuted at the Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival in September of 2018.
Eric Mullis is a Charlotte, N.C.-based dance artist who received an MFA in Dance from the University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee) and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of South Carolina. His current research interests include ecstatic states in charismatic Appalachian Pentecostalism and improvisation across artistic disciplines. Eric is a dance accompanist at the American Dance Festival and at the University of North Carolina (Charlotte), he curates an independent performance series in Charlotte and has recently presented choreography in the North Carolina Dance Festival, the Midwest Alternative Performance Festival, Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival, the Richmond Dance Festival, and at the Black Mountain College Museum. Eric has published essays in Dance Research Journal, Performance Philosophy, Dance Research, Dance Chronicle, the Journal of Performing Arts and Digital Media and is currently writing a manuscript (Pragmatist Philosophy and Dance: Interdisciplinary Dance Research in the American South) for Palgrave-MacMillan's series on Performance Philosophy
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