A Recap: GT Durational Portraits at Yellow Fish

We engaged in creating durational living portraits: 8 portraits COMPLETE in 4 and a half hours,  Saturday July 12th, 2014 @ Yellow Fish Epic Durational Performance Festival
Titles: Landscape  #1, Still Life, Self-Portrait (with Kardashians), Family Portrait, individual Portrait (sweaty hair lip), Landscape #2, Graffiti, and Drag Portrait (recreation of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962),

: artists (people: kt shores, Paris Hurley, Alyza DelPan-Monley, Olivia Ruggieri, David Moggia (aka EmpeROAR Fabulous!!!), Sara Ann Davidson, Hendri Walujo, Loren Othon, Will Courtney, and me, Syniva Whitney), 2 chairs covered in rug backing, an area rug made of rug backing, latex sculptural elements, wigs, fruits and vegetables

About the Portrait Scores (the blurb):
-these portraits are inspired by art history and drag
-these portraits test the possibilities of portraits+melting like butter
-these portraits demand slow and sticky shape-shifting, nervous breakdowns and funny realizations

Info about Gender Tender and my durational mindset:
Gender Tender is an interdisciplinary performance group that I founded with my real life partner, Will Courtney a bit over a year ago now. I’m behind the concept and direction (oh! interdisciplinary how you might ask? we are all about the dance, theater and sculptural jams, oh and we get laughed at a lot so comedy? and abstraction? Is frustration a medium?) and Will is my muse (prima man-errina if you will), lead performer and does a lot of the production end business side of things. I think the way we think about identity way too much as a pair of *queers (*genderqueer and *trans respectively) but the identity + performance intersection is crucial to why we make the art we do.

Andy Warhol is one of my durational art icons (I’m thinking of the Screen Tests and the way his long movies are portraits in motion…Empire State Building, Blow Job…). The idea of “the personality” in repeat in his films, prints and paintings as a way of thinking about groups of people, as a way of thinking about consuming and creating identity, as a way of thinking about homosexuality and gender really interests me as a choreographer that works with actor, dancers, musicians…Warhol is a great place to start looking at portraits and wondering: “why this person?”…is  the portrait as an entryway to asking questions about individuality, perfection, assimilation….do things become clearer the longer we look? The history of making images of people places and things is complicated, the challenges of what it means to represent someone at all (the copy, the gesture, the essence), the erasure of oppressed identities because of tradition, oppressive beauty standards….the portrait is ripe as an idea to wonder about how we look at people.

I’ve spent time immersed in the conceptual art world as an artist and academic, I have a lot of debt I owe for an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago I got a long while ago. In art school I used to obsess about the material and physical, the spirit we put into making something and the commodity produced for consumption (my problematic love continues for Minimal Art, Pop Art, Fluxus and the psychadelic (poster art especially)), because you see…there I was…in reality a lower class, brown, queer, punk ass, scholarship/loan kid thinking I could do the cultural work for me and mine, fuck the money, this was for me, I exist! So does my queer family. WE ARE HERE. WE ARE QUEER. LOOK. THERE ARE MY ALLIES. LOOK. And then I realized I was learning to sell my “unique” identity, sell out the complicated and messy (interesting! exotic! fashionable!) bits of my artist/performer self, my chosen family, my vulnerable underbelly… I wonder, is it because so many are so lost, expectations are so high? Are people just so excited/offended to know anybody that says they know who and what they are and what is beautiful about themselves? Even in the face of everyone saying NO don’t touch me get the fuck away from me?? My *genderqueer + *trans family, my LGBT family…we know this old strange story so well. How important in can be to know how others perceive you, how important it is to see others as they need to be seen.

Artists I  think are pretty rad and play with duration and personality and movement in their work: Nan Goldin! Ana Mendieta! Bill T Jones! Yoko Ono! Adrian Piper!). I think this is what performance can do so well in so many different ways, this is what movement can do, let’s show ourselves, let’s perform within and about the messy and the unknown, the triumphs and the regrets of body awareness, the wastes of time we’ve all thought ourselves to be at some point…let’s perform within the waiting, the memories of loved ones and hated ones, made up and lost ones… maybe TIME is the most valuable material we have, ok not maybe yes….and shit gets awkward. And we move or say something we don’t expect. Or we do it perfectly, or we mess up, or we want to delete that photo or steal that expression, become another to find ourselves. And this isn’t new in dance or performance art,  (yes, Marina wowed me as a kid I mean really that ex of hers and the bow and arrow thing? well, shit) but to ENDURE is oh so satisfying and opens up space to consider time and emotion, the way we limit ourselves using the parameters how we think time works,  and how meaning, making and moving intersect…it’s whoa deep right? And this work isn’t always deep, sometimes it’s hilarious or uncomfortable. But it did happen in the gallery with those people and that’s what we’ve got to remember the time we spent (and some FB photos and some documentation).


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excerpt: GENDER TENDER in Go/Long

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I was completely taken aback by the slapstick sumo-cum-football match in Gender Tender’s Go/Long. Dressed as twins in collegiate football jackets over a Grecian gold tunic, the pair starts out head-to-head, then moves into a tug-of-war using a jock strap. It was a stand-up comedy as much as dance with extended poses and antics such as letting stiff arm movements turn into baseball and traffic signals.

Melissa E. Feldman/Notes on Next Fest NW 2013 at Velocity Dance Center
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a snippet of the Heartbreak Workout featuring the amazing sounds of Golden Space from GENDER TENDER in HEELS and FLATS at the 2013 Seattle Fringe Festival

video: Vida Alapour

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Thank YOU

Thank you to our generous GT supporters:

Emily Batlan, Sara Ann Davidson, Maryam Steffen, Mark Krantz, Nora Sharp, Sayward Schoonmaker, Alicia Walker, Doug Mora, Lori Whitney, Anna Conner, Erin Hunter, Liz Panelo, Allie Hankins, Eric Gamoral, Callie Swedberg, EmpeROAR Fabulous!!!, Annie Terrell, Diana Prechter, Heather Stansbury, Lauren Brazell, Jessica Rawlings, Gena Barnabee, Nikolai Lesnikov, Ryan Johnson, Devi Bhaktananda, Anonymous, Patricia and Buster Reimers, Jenny Lowery, Spark Awesome, Steve Lundeen, Vanessa DeWolf

Special thanks to our presenters and partners:

Studio Current, Gay City Arts, Project: Space Available, Velocity Dance Center, On the Boards, Oh Snapz! Productions, Pidgeoncoop Productions, Queer Social Club, Lily Divine Productions

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GENDER TENDER preview for Sync or Swim presented by Gay City Arts this past January 2014. Video by Justine LaViolette. Music by Golden Space.

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Past and Present GENDER TENDER performers, musical collaborators and artists include:

Ariskany Records
Christine Abdale
Vida Alapour
Mimi Allin
Eric Eugene Aguilar
Emily Batlan
Adam Boehmer (Tenderfoot)
Lauren Brazell
Ava Cole (Golden Space)
Will Courtney
Sara Ann Davidson
ALyza DelPan-Monley
Vanessa DeWolf
Dahlia Elisabeth
EmpeROAR Fabulous!!!
Steven Gomez
Alice Gosti
Kathryn Hightower
Rachel Houser
Kristi Krein
Ryan Law
Justine LaViolette
Joyce Liao
Mary Margaret Moore
Loren Othon (Golden Space)
Lily Maureen
Juliana Meira do Valle
Sayward Schoonmaker
Tikiri Shapiro
kt shores
ilvs strauss
Eli Steffen
Lydia Swartz
Annie Terrell
Jan Trumbauer
Hendri Walujo
Tyler P. Wardwell
Syniva Whitney
Belle Wolf
Meng Yu

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Will Courtney and Syniva Whitney are the co-founders of GENDER TENDER, an interdisciplinary performance project rooted in dance + theater that began out of the desire to make work in a safe and rigorous environment for trans*, queer*, questioning and allied artists of all kinds. GT brings many different people together from the worlds of dance, acting, comedy, installation art, burlesque, writing, music and more. Will is the lead performer for the group and Syniva is responsible for concept + direction, choreography (set and scored) and is the writer and visual designer for the company as well. All cast members contribute their mojo, talent and unique improvisational skills.

Gender Tender has performed at Velocity Dance Center, Washington Hall, On the Boards, Mo’-Wave: Seattle’s Queer arts and Music Festival, Gender Odyssey, at the Satori Group’s Lab at Inscape in Neil Ferron’s event Hotel Party Vol 1 and Vol 2 as well as a part of Alice Gosti’s durational series  «PLAY», Modern Dance Behind the Pink Door and the Yellow Fish: Epic Durational Performance Festival all in Seattle, WA. GT premiered their first evening length work HEELS and FLATS at the 2013 Seattle Fringe Festival and Will and Syn premiered the duet Go/Long at the 2013 Next Fest NW:TOUCH at Velocity Dance Center. The GT crew shared their latest evening length work Sync or Swim at Gay City Arts in 2014. GT most recently shared part of the new work PA/CK at the Seattle International Dance Festival in June 2014.

 FOUNDED 2012.


Will Courtney + Syniva Whitney: Queer romantic relationships and family structures, shape shifting, Warhol worship, reality television, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, the day to day challenges of navigating hetero-normative culture as queer wizards…this is the stuff Willsyn is made of. Will is a trans* navigator and a cartoon grand piano. Syniva is an ever shifting gender fucked landscape and cartoon anvil. They have been “together together” for 16 years in a non-cartoon like way. They sometimes perform as the draglesque duo Leon and Neon Beige of the House of Beige.

Will is a healer, performance artist and actor. He was the muse and lead in Syniva’s short film SHOT DAY that screened at the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and at Translations: The Seattle Transgender Film Festival. He is also one of the co-founders of GENDER TENDER and often performs with Syniva in duet and ensemble mode. He was a performer and an unusual photographer (took pics in performance mode of the action onstage) for Vanessa Dewolf’s project “Score for an Unrehearsed Ensemble” at the 2012 Northwest New Works Festival. He has danced in works by Shannon Stewart and appeared with Syniva in Shelby Earl’s music video “Swift Arrows” directed by Neil Ferron.

Syniva is obsessed with the heart felt, slippery and dangerous subjects of identity, power, emotional and physical movements, high and low culture and trash and transformation. In addition to being the dad of GENDER TENDER (choreographer, writer, director, latex maker) Syniva has danced in works by Maureen Whiting, Paris Hurley, Vanessa DeWolf (as performer and visual designer), Shannon Stewart, kt shores, Alyza Delpan-Monley and Jan Trumbauer. Their artwork, installations and experimental videos have been exhibited across the country at places like Roxaboxen Exhibitions and Heaven Gallery in Chicago, Femina Potens and STUDIO gallery in San Francisco and more. They have performed at: Project: Space Available (Seattle), Siberia Bar (NYC), Performance Works Northwest (Portland), in the CALTRANS system (Bay Area) and Velocity Dance Center (Seattle). Syniva received their MFA in studio art from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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