In process: Growing Our Own Gardens, part two

This is part two of a blog post describing Matthew Cumbie and collaborators’ weeklong creative residency in Providence and Boston during June 2016. Growing Our Own Gardens has since become a Dance Exchange project led by associate artistic director Matthew Cumbie. Read part one here and see below for ways to get involved.

Dance Exchange is bringing together a team of dancers, artists, poets, and makers for a creative residency January 10th – 13th to continue developing Growing Our Own Gardens and explore questions around queer worldbuilding. Join us for a Works in Progress showing and dance party on January 13th at 7:30 at Dance Exchange. No one will be turned away due to lack of funds and refreshments will be served.


Queer Constellations is one of the structures through which we began developing content Monday morning of our weeklong residency. The process begins with a series of stories, told by half of a duo to the other. The teller takes the listener on a journey through space, describing with text and movement five moments in their lives that relate to their queerness. The listener follows the teller on their journey, joins in their movement, and collects bits of text and movement, which they relay back to the teller upon finishing. We found intense connections as well as disconnections with each other’s stories and surprised ourselves with nodes in our constellations that appeared unexpectedly. Immediately we had reams of material with which to work. We had a way to move forward on that Monday in the studio, provided by the short invitation to return to our bodies, to tell stories, and to listen. The listener’s role is perhaps the most importance piece of the structure. Without the listener, the specificity of the text and movement fall away and the immediacy of the storytelling is lost.

“Empirically speaking, we are made of star stuff. Why aren’t we talking more about that?”

Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts (2015)

This project began, as many projects of queerness begin, in a moment of uncovering, of peeling back what is known for a foray into the unknown or unknowable. We witnessed points in each other’s histories and extrapolated about others’ histories, the stories we inherit by being (called/calling ourselves) queer in this world. There are so many stories we cannot get close to knowing. The work of knowing the dead, of knowing the ways they resisted as well as made pleasure, is the work of reaching for that star stuff. That star stuff is the material by which this new world will be built. When we build these constellations in concert with one another, we get closer to the world we want.

By the end of the week, we had crafted a 30-minute piece. It came to be on a collection of index cards, composed and recomposed on the studio floor until a kind of arc began to emerge. We spoke of each section of material by the names on these cards, named by the content of or the process by which that material was developed. Our shorthand was a measure of intimacy. These words on notecards contained stories, feelings, dialogue, gestures, associations, history both known and unknown far beyond the structure, text, or movement that made it on stage. A touch on the elbow, a particular inflection, a look: these cast offs of communication, these extras to what was said house our intimate feelings for one another developed during (and beyond) this process. Reflecting on the names on the index cards now, their content, the way we spoke to each other through and about the work, I am missing the physical company of my collaborators. I am grateful to have the opportunity to return to the work with them, to be once again fully in the process and to think of this process not so much as separate from our day to day, but as a focusing. How can we sustain this concentration in the present? How can we always be attentive to our forever ongoing (until they suddenly are not) processes together? I think the future to which we gesture is one firmly rooted in this process-of-the-present, of continually returning to our bodies in a space and time that tries to bound them, to remove us from this present prematurely, bind them in knowable and thus disciplinable forms. In process, we are practicing being long and articulating belonging or the possibility of living free from the violent logics of such a space and time.


“Because in taking care of our own, we have also been forced to stay close…I am hard pressed to give up on sex and sociability, especially sociability and even erotics with the dead, as ways of knowing and making.”

Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds (2010)


After we wrapped up the final performance, we piled into the car and hightailed it back to Providence. We avoided Boston traffic for the first time during our weeklong residency only to find ourselves crawling through Providence’s streets, clogged with the dissolving Pride parade. The sidewalks overflowed with parade participants and spectators, the tiredness on their faces showed both the exhaustion of the previous week, the difficulty of celebrating in the wake of violence, but also the capacity to still find the joy of celebrating. Even after dancing together all week, we wanted to go to another kind of party, let our bodies do another kind of dance. This other kind of dance has no index card structure, but we all knew the arc: scan the room, flirt a little, find your spot on the floor, tentatively bounce to the beat/dive headfirst into the ocean of bodies, build to that euphoric moment when the lights, DJ, dance partners, align…We found, lost, and refound these moments together under the guidance of CQQCHIFRUIT and DJ La Spacer, a Chicago based performance artist and DJ duo. Soon after we arrived, CQQCHIFRUIT’s coo grew to a growl, then exploded into a scream, “We’re here. We’re queer. We’re fabulous. Don’t fuck with us.” Our bodies growled, they screamed, they tore at the seems of ourselves to reach beyond the stuckness we had experienced at the start of our residency. Our week together, ending in this other kind of invitation to dance, allowed us to chart more stars and create new constellations.

We can never stop extending these invitations to dance. Our bodies finding euphoria together in space does radical work. They allow us to replenish our stamina for resistance. They allow us to imagine other ways of relating, other practices of intimacy and care. These dark nights, loose hips, and steady beats let us practice being in motion, to suspend what we know about ourselves and others in order to join together in the process of becoming. We are here. We are queer. We are fabulous. Will you dance with us?



About Tyler French

Tyler is a poet and baker, and a recent graduate from Brown University with a Masters in Public Humanities. His interests focus on community-based arts programming and queer aesthetic practices.