Featured Long Durational Work

UNDERWATERS (we is ready, we is ready) (2014), Taisha Paggett

Duration: Five days

Text by Karina Vahitova and taisha paggett
Cover photograph by Ashley Hunt

During the 2014 Whitney Biennale, artist taisha pagett presented "Underwaters (we is ready, we is ready)" (2014), a five-day performance in The Whitney Museum’s Lobby Gallery. For the performance, paggett created a score and followed it closely. Some parts of the score carried paggett out of the museum and onto the streets. In these instances, paggett's physical presence in the space was replaced sonically via a wearable microphone that broadcasted her presence until she returned. 

In the performance space, the artist had a collection of objects: stacks of black chairs provided by the museum, poster boards, a bucket, black face paint, candles, plates from a local thrift store, a microphone, pastels, and books. paggett also had a case of bananas and, along with water, this was her only sustenance for five days. The objects served various purposes in the performance, and were used especially when paggett dressed in white and embodied characters inspired by fictional African-American archetypes. Each character had a personal performance score, a physical sensibility, and was in charge of redirecting, transforming, and raising the energy in the space to a breaking point, after which the character would transform into the next archetype. At one point, audience members found themselves watching paggett dressed in a white suit "testing the walls of the institution" by throwing plates at the museum's walls.

For the duration of the performance, the artist remained silent except for the instances in which her score led her to interviewing artists Regina Mack, April Mathis, Ni’ja Whitson, Callie Lyons, Kenya Robinson, and Niv Acosta on the topic of Black performance. 

By way of careful consideration of each performance score and the archetypes she embodied throughout the performance, the artist was able to utilize the objects in the room in such a way that by the fifth day, the chairs occupied the entire room in the form of unified concentric circles surrounding plate shards, burnt out candles, and other detritus.

On the final day of the performance, paggett sat amongst the chairs and quietly repeated a continuous mantra with her eyes closed: "We is ready… we is ready… we is ready…”

taisha paggett’s work for the stage, gallery and public space include individual and collaborative investigations into questions of the body, agency, and the phenomenology of race and gender, along with an interest in expanding the languages and frames of contemporary dance. Her work has been presented by the Whitney Museum of American Art, Studio Museum in Harlem, Danspace at St Mark’s Church (New York), Defibrillator (Chicago), Public Fiction and LACE (Los Angeles), The Off Center (San Francisco), and Basis Voor Actuele Kunst (Utrecht, NL) amongst others. In 2005 she co-founded itch, an independently run journal/zine whose content was centered in and generated by the non-commercial dance population of Los Angeles and beyond. As a dancer, paggett has worked with artists including David Roussève/Reality, Meg Wolfe, Stanley Love Performance Group, Fiona Dolenga-Marcotty, Vic Marks, Kelly Nipper, Ultra-red, and with Ashley Hunt in their ongoing collaboration, “On Movement, Thought and Politics.” A recent recipient of a Headlands artist residency and a MAP Fund grant in partnership with LACE, paggett’s current project takes up questions of desire and responsibility as they relate to the queer body, landscape, and the migration of Black Americans in the 20th century. paggett is a member of the full-time faculty of dance at UC Riverside. Her website can be found here.