Shelter in Place

anna martine whitehead, questions of home @ pivot arts (un)touched – artists in quarantine, june 2020.

Anna Martine Whitehead’s short dance video, Questions of Home, part of Pivot Arts’ (Un)Touched – Artists in Quarantine series, begins with her body wrapped in a Mylar space emergency blanket as if it were a shawl. Soon the emergency blanket becomes many other suggestive props: an abstract shape, a nest, a banner, a wave, a shaft of light, a telescope, a tunnel, a roof, a blindfold, a trap, a trap door, a lean-to shelter, a cottage, the wind itself. The emergency blanket asks a question of home, and perhaps poses the proposition that home is necessarily something unfixed, an answer only whispered on the wind, a restless place, a flag flickering, planted paradoxically on the perpetual motion of inquiry.

At first, she walks backward, slowly, in a circle, getting a sense of things. In rolled-up blue jeans and red sandals, she keeps the silver side of the emergency blanket to her body, the golden side to the empty lot around her. She stares out from the wrapped blanket, focused, maybe even defiant. CTA “L” tracks frame the shot on one side, blue dumpsters on the other, a lone Chicago apartment building, parked cars, and a chain link fence serve as backdrop.

A woman speaks on the soundtrack, non-diagetically, discussing grief as something she feels in her eyeballs, an “aimless focus.” As the woman discusses this “aimlessness,” Whitehead wraps the blanket around her, stretches out her right hand from the side, her face and upper body covered in gold, the silver side fluttering behind her in the wind. She leans back.

Then she suddenly begins to unfurl the blanket in the wind. She turns to her left, holding the flag aloft behind her, vertically, chewing gum, confident, and begins to walk backward. A male voice enters the soundtrack. “I felt like I really connected to the idea of home,” the voice posits, “this place where you are always moving toward or away from, but it kind of like clicks in.”

Whitehead picks up the pace, pivots and turns, turning the flag parallel to the ground, from vertical to a horizontal plane now, gold side up, silver side down. Something remarkable happens. She seems to want to take the emergency blanket one way, into the wind, but the wind picks up and blows a wave through the blanket in the other direction. Rather than fight the new force that has entered the dance, Whitehead responds to it by letting the blanket lead the way, following closely the forms the wind runs through it.

She lets the wave of air flow through her body, not fighting the wind’s energies so much as letting them enter her as well, from toe to head. Or perhaps more accurately put, she moves her body in similitude to the wind, recognizing and acknowledging the energies coming her way on the air, giving the wind credence, familiarizing herself with its resistances, making agreements and having dialogues between herself and the air through the blanket’s shape-shifting forms and her body.

Always holding the blanket, she flows, twists, turns, raises a foot, then drops it back down, pivots, see-saws her weight. She pulls the blanket around her, tightly, and then lets it soar up above her head. At times, she asserts control. She holds sway. In other moments, she lets the wind take charge. In one exhilarating set of moves, she pulls the blanket around her body and it curls like a snake, wrapping almost arm-like around her torso and ankle before Whitehead spins herself out from its grasp.

Whitehead places her head in the blanket as if it were a tunnel. She crouches low, and peers up through it as if it were a telescope. Then, she lets the wind push the blanket up around her head. It clings to her, as if to blind her, or knock her over. Slowly, she pulls it down around her. The blanket transforms from a seeming emergency into a shelter, a lean-to, a cottage, a residence on the unused lot. She has pulled all sides around her body and lies low, out of sight, concealed within its walls. Then, she rises to her knees, holding the blanket aloft like a flag again. Eventually she stands up fully: regal, rigid, upright in the wind.

By the end of the four minute video, the blanket has begun to appear more as an expression of the emergent rather than to be used for an emergency. Never once does it touch the ground. Its gold and silver sides shimmer but they are nothing compared to Whitehead herself, who, while never leaving the empty lot, seems full of actions and reactions, ideas, motions, and emotions.

Questions of Home suggests at least one potential answer to its title: that home might not be so much about the move to settle, but rather a staying agile.

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