In the Season of Shadows

Artist and organizer Alaura Borealis reflects on their ambitious and far-reaching artistic project that spanned venues, communities, bodies, and the infinite spaces of the mind.

I had to write this at a day’s dawn. I had to make myself write about Season of Shadows on a morning with no shadows at all, beating the rooster and the long shadows of daytime for the heavy task of explaining my daily rhythm. Or maybe this dawn is all shadows, tall grasses blending into trunks into street. One thing leading to another. A kind of morning where anything is possible, and even though I race the sky through its blues and pinks, I know the other side of this no-shadow, all-shadow dawn will cradle me, too.

My body feels alone at a time like this one, neighbors making their own coffee and their children sleeping late weekend sleeps; I feel it in the space between us, measured by the speed wind can rally before splashing into my skin. Sometimes, the space between me and the world feels too great to grit my teeth and bear; I take a breath and I know this lonely feeling is a lie. If I listen past the wind, foot-candles measuring higher on the horizon, I can hear birds sending out their morning songs. They know I’m listening. They’re singing about those little daily eclipses of our world, just like me.

Beginnings and in-betweens  

I began research for the social art project Season of Shadows in early 2017. I had been feeling lost in the throes of chronic pain and finally gave in to scheduling a minor back surgery. For the decade prior to that procedure, I felt like I didn’t have the language to explain the magnitude of my hurting. Even for people who wanted to understand my bodily experience, there seemed to be no markers to legitimize my disability. After the surgery, with the production of a scar, I suddenly had something to point to.  

I spent the months that followed reflecting on the tools we use to try to explain our otherwise hidden experiences. How can we articulate the nuance of our spirituality, class experience, sexuality, race experiences? How do I explain my gender to another person and feel like they truly understand?

I’d been out as nonbinary for a few years but still very young to the task of articulating my gender, so I leaned on my peers in interviews as a part of my research. We talked about all the intricate pieces that flow together to inform our gender, how these experiences are so universal and not universal at all, and eventually worked to find metaphors for our complicated lives. We would then transform these ideas into art pieces, giving shape to unshapely things, but it became clear that we would never be able to physically articulate all of the metaphors we were building with our minds.

At the end of the day, it was that intimate act of collective imagining that made Season of Shadows a critically social process. Without conditions, we practiced our queerest arts of mutual care and of witnessing. Even my own metaphor (that my gender is like a shapeshifting shadow, taking up space and taking up no space at all) only found its place in small details within larger performances.

Collective imagination  

After over a dozen interviews with peer queers, we fabricated art and events throughout late 2017 and early 2018. I held costume making parties and an installation at Everyday Gay Holiday, Halloween parties for playing dress up with Queer Pressure. Then, “Unpredictable Forms,” a sort of reverse Yoko Ono Cut Piece performance with ArtFly in Eau Claire (it turns out that replacing scissors with a sewing needle makes a performance no less harmful and a lot less “reverse” than adding clothes to a body may seem). Children’s workshops with StageQ and Whoopensocker. Window display conversational pieces at the east-side Chocolaterian Cafe, before their fire. A more traditional exhibition of mixed media works at Black Locust Cafe. 

First came research, then interviews, then performances, and then an exhibition at Overture Center for the Arts throughout Spring 2018. Project interview excerpts and photographic documentation of our events hung on the walls; successfully presenting the performative work, where dialogue is a necessary ingredient to its livelihood, posed a unique challenge that we confronted with regular artist talks, community conversations about gender, and light-based workshops within Overture. 

Now, I’m here. I’m dwelling on the light as it brightens the sky around me, white dots of sunshine bouncing off leaftops, dampness lifting. I’m tired from a marathon of art-making, art-talking, art-living, but more than an aching spine or a heavy plate, I feel the anticipation of more to come. 

The next stage of Season of Shadows is a major writing project, and I brace myself for the process of reflecting on my gender journey, my community’s journey, and the futures towards which we’re propelling ourselves. I feel the sunshine on my face and a shadow behind the place I rest. I feel gratitude for my neighbors, just out of sight but not out of touch, and I step into the full day ahead. 

To read Season of Shadows interview excerpts or find more from Borealis, visit alauraborealisart.com

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