Ben Pryor talks about Festival TBD: Emergency Glitter

Ben Pryor talks about his new festival at Abrons Arts Center/Henry Street Settlement July 24 through 28

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Time Out New York: Because you don’t know?
Ben Pryor:
Because I don’t know. And also part of my struggle with it is that I realized in my own process that I haven’t been going out like I used to. I’m getting older! I’m living in Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn, which is not on the Lower East Side, so I’m not popping out to the club at 2am just to say hello or see what’s happening. Plus, am I even here in town? My travel schedule’s been so crazy. But at least I know that and I’m trying to be more active about getting research together; I have interns now who are 23 and gay in New York, and I’m like, Oh, that’s me! And then I’m like, Oh that’s not me actually anymore and what happened there? [Laughs]

Time Out New York: What do you think about so many pieces being created for the marketplace? It seems like you’re trying to pull away from that in this festival.
Ben Pryor:
Well, I think the marketplace is an interesting question and problem and situation. It exists. It’s inevitable. Part of me feels that a lot of people actually aren’t making stuff for the marketplace—specifically, younger New York artists. I don’t even think they have a sense of what that is in some ways. And it feels really challenging for me, because in the role that I’ve created for myself, it’s very much about market and being this agent-y kind of figure and selling these things and so when I go to see work, one of the questions is: Can we pack it up and take it on the road? Some of the artists I’ve worked with hate that about me. And I see it as being problematic in some ways to the artistic process: You want to have your process, and you want to make what you want to make, so it’s this struggle of how much do you make something for the marketplace or not? I feel, not quite the villain, but I understand how that’s not necessarily productive from an artistic place. Though I’m also like, if you’re not considering this, what are you doing? Is this just being made for this moment and is that okay, or do you want to engage this thing and try to do it? I just feel for so many New York artists that it doesn’t even become a question. And then you have somebody like Trajal who’s taking that on and owning that and has made that work in this way—the series has totally changed his career. I think a lot of younger artists have seen that. People are like, “The concept is my favorite part of the whole series,” and the way it engages marketplace and scale and creates product for all of the different places in a way that an artist might not normally do so.

Time Out New York: Whose curation do you follow in New York?
Ben Pryor:
I’m looking at everything constantly. I think the whole platform series [at Danspace Project] has been so instrumental in my thinking. Realness really came out after the advent of that, and I was like, This is my platform. [Laughs] That’s been huge. I feel it’s so much more refreshing from an intellectual standpoint or in entering the work. The spring season was less curated than the platforms perhaps.

Time Out New York: But some of it came out of the platforms.
Ben Pryor:
Yes, totally. Maybe it was about something else: supporting these artists on their next thing.

Time Out New York: It was an interesting experiment to see if what hit then could come back.
Ben Pryor:
Yeah—outside of its fully explored context, it becomes a different thing. But it was so refreshing when [Judy Hussie-Taylor, Executive Director of Danspace Project and Artistic Director of Danspace Project's Platform series] started doing it. The seasons are curated, but not in this way that a curator makes a statement and is crafting something more specific and pointed, which I feel like the platforms do, versus like the NYLA [New York Live Arts] season. Not to say anything bad about the NYLA season, but in “Parallels,” [Ishmael Houston-Jones’s platform focusing on black dance], there’s a specific idea we’re exploring here, and that’s not the case in anybody’s season, even at BAM. Joe’s [Melillo] not putting forward any ideas here in a pointed, clearly written way. It’s a different thing, and I feel it’s so much more refreshing from an intellectual standpoint or in entering the work.

Time Out New York: And it’s not cookie-cutter: There’s an idea around the pieces, but there are so many entry points.
Ben Pryor:
Yes. It’s very refreshing and very simple. Why did it take so long for that to happen? Catch and Aunts—whatever they’re doing is so important. I’ve called them all together to just have a conversation [as part of the festival]: I feel like we’re peers. Class Class Class and Catch and Aunts and Realness—we’re all unincorporated. We’re all these highly visible programs that hold a lot of the community in New York. Are we going to keep doing that? Are we going to try to incorporate? Do we then have institutional identity? I already feel like I have that! That’s something I have to struggle with or react against; it’s something I feel that influences people’s perspective of work in a way that I didn’t realize was going to happen. I’m really dealing with this myself in terms of figuring out where I go from here. There’s no job for me to go get. I’ve tried.

Time Out New York: Have you? Where?
Ben Pryor:
Oh my God, yeah. All sorts of stuff. I interviewed once at PICA. I was one of the finalists for the Yerba Buena position. I was approached by the Whitney to interview for the curatorial position. It was like, Whoa. That’s crazy! None of them have worked out for whatever reason. Meanwhile, I have this legitimate and successful program. I need to own that, and I need to knock on every foundation’s door in New York until they give me some money to actually pay the artists real fees and myself to run the program and make this thing viable. Right now, it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.
Festival TBD: Emergency Glitter is at Abrons Arts Center/Henry Street Settlement July 24–28.

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