Yoana Wida in “On Display” in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Image courtesy of Heidi Latsky Dance

Living Sculptures

Honouring International Day of Persons with Disabilities

On Thursday, December 3, in honour of the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the New York City-based, physically integrated dance company Heidi Latsky Dance (HLD) will host an immersive durational performance and living installation “On Display Global (ODG),  in partnership with the NYU Tisch School of the Arts and United Nations. For 24 hours, from midnight to midnight Eastern Standard Time, audiences can tune into Zoom to watch participants from over 100 cities take part in the performance.

Conceived in 2015 by choreographer and filmmaker Heidi Latsky, “On Display” was originally a commission for New York City’s Mayor’s Office to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and involved two performance sites in New York City and Hobart, Australia. “On Display” imagines a ‘living sculpture court’ where members from the disability community and beyond take the form of human sculptures arranged in a public or private space. Last year, “On Display” grew to include an impressive network of 87 cities in 22 countries. Notable locations have included the Whitney Museum and Times Square in NYC, Shanghai Himalayas Museum, MARS Discovery Centre in Toronto, and Korea’s Oil Tank Cultural Park in Seoul.

This year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, ODG will be realizing the sculpture courts through an uninterrupted 24 hour livestream on Zoom, where participants are scheduled back-to-back from locations as far as Australia, China, South Korea, Peru, Bangladesh, and Iran, to name a few, as well as numerous sites throughout North America and Europe. While the majority of participants will be video conferencing from the safety of their own homes, audiences can also anticipate seeing “living sculptures” on rooftops in Tehran, a field in Germany, and the Boston Architectural College, where participants will be socially distanced with specially designed, wearable phone holders by architect Rosa Weinberg. Through this new online format, for the first time ever viewers will get to experience the truly global nature of “On Display.”

Heidi Latsky spoke with me on the phone from her apartment in New York. For her, being able to showcase a worldwide community in ODG is vital to “celebrating tolerance and honouring people’s differences.” Originally from Montreal, Latsky has been working with the disability community since 2006, creating dance works for people in ways that push the boundaries of the art form, as opposed to merely using movement as a form of therapy. Her practice focusses heavily on filmmaking and interactive technologies within the field of physically integrated dance.

Latsky opens up about how this year’s 24-hour live format brings many exciting new possibilities. “It is much more accessible for everyone,” she says, “not just for people with disabilities.” Now, people can perform or watch at any time of day from the comfort of their homes. As the UN reports, across the globe there is a population of one billion people who experience a form of disability. “On Display” seeks to embrace this scale in a real way with its expansive, intersectional, and global vision of inclusivity that acknowledges the disability community amidst many other communities that identify themselves by age, sexuality, race, gender, and body type. “We’re as broad as we can be in terms of who can participate in this,” Latsky says. She elucidates, “Yes, it is an International Day of Persons with Disabilities so we are focusing on that day, but how beautiful to [also] focus on that day with people from all different cultures and backgrounds.”

I ask her what audiences can expect to see when they zoom-in to the sculpture court. Latsky replies that it will be a meditative experience, as “the sculpture court itself is 99% still.” On top of that, everyone will be muted in order to create an entirely silent space for observation. Latsky explains, the intention is for viewers “to have the opportunity to really look, especially at people who they [ar]en’t normally comfortable looking at.” The gaze is an integral part of the installation as an instrument of agency, and ODG plays with the tension between the viewer and the viewed, often blurring the roles of audience member and performer to challenge conventional notions of beauty.

Latsky reminds me that to stay motionless and silent for even an hour requires a considerable degree of endurance and “virtuosic focus.” While several past participants admit that “On Display” is not an easy task and can be a particularly vulnerable experience, they view it as part of the challenge and artistic risk, rather than a deterrent. As HLD company member Donald Lee articulates, what they are doing is “opening up a transformative dialogue on what an ideal society would look like, [and] would mean.”

At the end of a particularly difficult year, the event brings a restorative message of celebrating our shared humanity, vulnerabilities, and differences. There will be a sculpture court dedicated to those we have lost in the pandemic titled “In Memoriam” from 8 to 9 a.m. (EST), and a sculpture court in memory of the victims and survivors of the explosions in Beirut, Lebanon from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. (EST).

Viewers can watch the “On Display Global” 24-hour livestream on Zoom from 12 a.m. on Thursday, December 3rd to 12 a.m. on Friday, December 4, Eastern Standard Time. Individuals or groups can also register as a participant in the sculpture court.

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