By Aiano Nakagawa
Kim Ip is a Bay Area based dance artist and choreographer. Originally hailing from New Zealand and Hawai'i, Kim and I crossed paths during undergrad at Mills College. I've always been a fan of her work and her brain, and am so excited to share this peek inside with you. Kim and her dancers Phia Colmenarez, and Rose Huey were kind enough to invite me to their rehearsal where I got to see their process unfold. They are some of the fiercest, baddest bitches I've ever encountered.
"Steep in Hurr" is inspired by mass media depictions of the female performer aka the video vixen. This piece is a hybrid of installation, projection, and dance, confronting hypocritical systems that govern their mediated bodies. Begging the question: why can we not express our sexuality through dancing without struggling to enforce agency over our bodies?
Aiano Nakagawa: Why did you decide to begin exploring the female performer, sexual power, and body agency?
Kim Ip: I began exploring these ideas in my thesis work at Mills College. I always go back to this idea of feeling like I’m contained or boxed within the expectations of my body and gender in ways I cannot control. I can only control what I wear and the steaze/attitude I bring to my body at any given moment, but I still feel the male gaze dictating and containing the way I behave, regardless of the space I inhabit public/private. Dance is a way that I can find agency in the way I move my body--it is a place and time where I forget “the gaze” exists.
AN: Can you elaborate on the idea of the “video vixen,” how is she depicted? Where did this depiction come from?
KI: I read an article on Karrine Steffans, a former video vixen and author of “Confessions of a Video Vixen”. I was intrigued by her career and her involvement in the rap music video industry. I wanted to explore the parameters of being a video vixen and understand the athleticism, grace, and pure steaze that carries video vixen-hood. I have mad respect for women like Karrine Steffans, Amber Rose, Blac Chyna, and the list goes on... they've managed to establish a long term career beyond the shelf life of their video vixen fame. Karrine Steffans is a New York Times Bestseller, Amber Rose has been a huge advocate for Slut Walk and Feminism, and is about to have her own talk show, and Blac Chyna owns a Lash Bar franchise. They have all achieved a trajectory beyond dancing in videos, which many would equate to success; this calls into question the cultural norms of success--why is dancing as a video vixen not enough for the rest of society? Is it because this occupation utilises the body to generate income? Why does society have such a problem with commodifying the body? This realisation clarified that society doesn't let women “recover” from such achievements. Mainstream culture won't forget that Amber Rose started stripping at 16 or that many of these women got their start werqing their bodies in a strip club. These physical herstories are memorialised in media--their paper trail lives on TV and is archived on the internet. The most important and unfortunate takeaway I got from my research is that mainstream culture will box these women out of utter confusion and intimidation of their overt sexuality. They will find a way to “Scarlett-Letter” any woman who uses their body sexually, especially those who use their bodies to generate income. I'd also like to disclaim that I cannot fully empathise with women who are involved in the video girl industry. The industry is predominantly black women leading the way for others to follow (watch 50 Cent's Disco Inferno). Utilising my Asian body in this piece felt at times radical and appropriative. I researched a lot to sensititse myself to the culture and experiences that many of these women had and have.
AN: Do you personally find this depiction to be harmful or empowering?
KI: I had many conversations with collaborators, Lyft line passengers, cute old couples at La Farine, and friends about my feelings on the public vs personal opinion of these video vixen/warrior women/olympians. I have no issue with the video vixen continuing to be a staple of rap music videos and displaying their amazing athletic and physical abilities (because let’s be real, shaking your ass is really physically taxing and takes immense lower back flexibility and core strength). Where I have a conflict of interest is when the professional boundaries of a video vixen/performer are broken. From what I’ve read of Karrine Steffan’s accounts of music video shoots, there were many interactions that went from performer to sex worker in a split second; these interactions weren’t necessarily consensual, but rather were motivated by providing for her son and maintaining job security. It blows my mind that Karrine Steffan’s complicity in performing sexual favours on and off set hinged on survival. I highly recommend doing research! There’s a treasure trove of articles on Karrine Steffans that give insight into the nature of the video girl industry.
AN: As a woman (if you identify as one) do you find sexuality to be empowering, why or why not?
KI: I absolutely do, but I think sexuality is subjective for every person. Everyone has their own experience with how they express their sexual feelings or what I’d like to call “feeling yourself”. To be honest, I have fleeting moments of expressing sexuality because again I have my own set of reservations, led by fear, that manipulate my behavior...it’s human...it’s survival, right? When I feel safe and comfortable to do so, I let loose and it feels wonderful, freeing, and fierce!
AN: Did you create the installations, videos, and dance, or was this a collaborative project?
KI: Nick Navarro (aka Pseuda) is my best friend, soul seestur, and collaborator. They realised the installation and video. I choreographed the movement in collaboration with the dancers (Rose Huey and Phia Colmenarez). There was a bit of fumbling trying to storyboard the piece with Nick, whose process is informed by drag performance and video work, but we were able to strike a balance that feels supportive and complementary to both our visions. I am incredibly lucky to be collaborating with such a visionary!
AN: How do you feel these different medias help further your further your point? Like why not just dance?
KI: Video was necessary for this piece. The installation, a 7 ft. wooden box, that I’m contained in was also necessary and one of the first ideas discussed with my collaborator, Nick. This piece hinges on the video vixen, a body physicalised in media, and what her societal box represents to anyone wanting to emulate her sexuality; these are images or boxes we are presented with as an ideal of femaleness, augmented by the male gaze. We want to create this video vixen world from the very moment you step into the space.
AN: Any other comments about the performance or experience?
KI: I can’t express how appreciative I am of all the support I am receiving from my friends. I feel very fortunate to have received this residency from SAFEhouse Arts/Joe Landini. This was the push I needed to get my rusty wheels moving again two years out of Mills College! I definitely think my collaborators are onto something, and I have plans to take this piece beyond this iteration and can’t wait to see where else it will go. If and when you plan to come see the show, I highly recommend wearing your fiercest club outfit because your being there is as much part of the ambiance as the mylar and gold chains ;)
Don't miss your opportunity to see "Steep In Hurr"