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Entrée / Encore: Jesus Benavente: I'm Not Dancing, I'm Struggling to Survive


Jesus Benavente: I'm Not Dancing, I'm Struggling to Survive
Friday March 23, 8 PM

Marking the closing of Alina Grasmann’s exhibition Paper Town, Jesus Benavente transforms the gallery into a party scene, replete with balloons, lights, and dance music. I'm Not Dancing, I'm Struggling to Survive is a performance installation that chafes gatherings and policing in our city streets against the Americana of Grasmann’s paintings. Filmed and found footage of recent marches, protests, and police surveillance and activity are projected around the quiet and unassuming town of Agloe, NY, the kind of town in whose name our cities are policed, black bodies, gunned down, and immigrants deported. This performance installation stages the distance between two competing images of America and its current socio-political reality, which feels like the end of a party, and invites you to dance.

Benavente is interested in parties as celebratory events that mark transitional stages in life, such as birthdays, weddings, going away/retirement parties, and even funerals, while also containing a sense of sadness and loss for what preceded it. Here party lights are replaced by flashing police sirens; white balloons slowly deflate on the floor; dance songs are intercut with anti-protest sound cannons; and singalongs become protest chants. The setlist, bookended by sad love songs, is composed of everything from hip-hop to doo-wop and serves to narrate the nation’s current state of affairs, ranging from cultural appropriation to police brutality. Dancing, Benavente posits, be it in the streets of the club, its political and emancipatory potential, is a means of survival and finding happiness in such a period of political transition and upheaval. The sense of anxiety, ambiguity, and danger each of the artist’s work poses, is undercut by a sense of the possible and energy of people in the street and bodies on the dance floor.


Jesus Benavente's artwork is founded in performance. The work expands into other mediums including sculpture, painting, video, and photography. As a Mexican-American from an impoverished community, he uses humor/comedy at his own expense to define and pressure the constraints of culture and convention. He works with his persona, BENAVENTE, to test and explore identity in a world pretending to be post-identity. Formal elements and an informal attitude shift throughout the work. Cars are bisected, working-class materials become artist materials, social interactions transform from mundane to aggressive. These divergent practices/mediums coalesce to create his worldview as a Latino living in Trump’s America.


This performance is presented as part of the Entrée/Encore series. Entrée/Encore, launched in Fall 2016, is a series of artists’ talks, discussions, and performances at NARS Foundation. The program presents residency alumni and artists and curators in-residence in dialogue with the cultural community in NY and abroad. This public program contextualizes multidisciplinary practices and perspectives within the languages of art and critical socio-political concerns.