For this year’s FLUX: Grant Park, artist and choreographer Lauri Stallings will debut “Land Trees and Women,” a live piece that investigates the process and mapping of women as ritual. In a conversation with Flux Projects, Stallings talks about the inspiration behind the commission, the new attention on women’s voices, and why artists need a seat at the table in conversations about Atlanta.
Feifei Sun: Women and ritual seem to be common themes in your work. What inspired “Land Trees and Women” for Grant Park?
Lauri Stallings: I was researching the folks who live around Grant Park and how the land has been shuffled around. I was interested in the intergenerational history of the land and of the private homes—and ownership of those homes, and the dirt and trees surrounding them. That inspired a desire to learn more about the process of how we obtain things, how we inherit things. And most land is inherited by men — around 75% or so. I wasn’t sure where the women were, even though we take care of communities, we take care of the land — we’re the inherent leaders of the future.
FS: Did this absence of women feel particularly resonate this year, as the #MeToo movement has spread and women have reclaimed their spaces and voices in a way we haven’t seen in recent years?
LS: You know, a few years ago a curator asked me to intentionally create a work with female moving artists. Just hearing that out loud — that he had to explicitly say a piece with women — changed me. So yes, I think creating this work during a time when women’s truths are coming to surface — even though they’ve been around since America was built—is important, and this year has really proven it’s time to excavate those truths and dig up shit.
FS: What did you find during your digging and excavating for this project?
LS: I was really interested in exploring the primitive. The first fossils and artifacts found of humans pointed to the fact that women were instrumental in shaping their communities, in creating some of the tools of early society. Earlier you asked about women and ritual, but I’d say women are ritual. This is the essence of who we are.
FS: Tell us about the actual construction of this project. What’s unique about this commission?
LS: This is the first time I’m working with modular sculptures, which I had to develop because I asked if we could hang from and climb on the trees, and the answer was no (laughs). So I had to find other ways to incorporate suspension. I’m also working a lot with magenta — the color has powers in our retina and pupil, and I thought we could all use more power to be brave and to share our truths.
FS: How did creating “Land Trees and Women” change the way you view and think about Grant Park?
LS: It certainly expanded and widened my understanding of Grant Park as a whole. It has an incredible amount of complexity around it that dates back to the early days of Atlanta’s founding. Thinking about our Civil War and civil movements — I think Grant Park embodies them both. During the performance, we’ll actually be laying down, our ears to the ground as a way to acknowledge the layer of empathy and ancestral vibrations that are still present in the park.
FS: Yes, it seems movement—and meditation—are also common themes of your work.
LS: Yes. In my mind, movement and meditation can’t be separated. So much of the move I generate is coming from a place of contemplation. I’m excited about this work as part of the resistance—that by living a certain way, that, too, is a certain form of resistance.
FS: What originally made your fall in love with choreography?
LS: I grew up in the rural parts of Florida, and my brothers and sister and I had to teach ourselves how to move in and out of places that weren’t structured, or weren’t developed — I grew up on the other side of the tracks. We often had to do that in groups, and we’d get lost in the woods and have to find our way out. I remember learning the trees and the patterns of various trees — sometimes I was in sand dunes, and I sunk down into the ground and got lost and molded myself to the earth. That’s why I’m still in those places, where tough things happen — it’s fundamental to my work. And exploring how to take it to a conventional space.
FS: In fact, taking your art to a conventional space, the Atlanta Ballet, is how you arrived in Atlanta. Tell us a bit about that journey.
LS: I started coming to Atlanta in 2006 and had a three-year residency with the Atlanta Ballet. They asked to work with the hip-hop community [Stallings’ work led most notably to big, a coloration between the artists including Big Boi, of Outkast, and the Atlanta Ballet], where I got the explore the tightness, frankness, and great vibration here in the city. And eventually I founded Glo in 2009 to continue that work.
FS: Having worked as a choreographer and artist in the city for a dozen years now, what advice would you give to community members who are looking for more ways to support you and fellow artists?
LS: The first is to just show up at our events. Come out and support our work. The second is to help us get a seat at the table when it comes to conversations about the city—particularly how the city is growing. For example, instead of tearing down a building, could you ask an artist how we could help preserve it? And lastly, help us access the overwhelming economic wealth here. We’re the city of the Dream. “I have a dream” — that’s from here. We have an obligation to build not up, but across—across identifies, issues, and creative possibilities.
About Feifei Sun
Feifei Sun is a writer and editor based in Atlanta. She previously worked at Vanity Fair and TIME, and her writing has appeared in Slate, Dwell, Garden & Gun, and more.