Fall Campaign Spotlight: Iván Espinosa

Published: November 10, 2022

Categories: Artist Stories | Artists | Fall Campaign | Featured | Spotlight

As part of our end of year fundraising campaign we are sharing interviews with artists from across Washington State. We ask about what changes they are seeing in their work and community since the pandemic, and how we can best support artists now and in the future. Read more and make a gift today! 


This week we spoke with artist Iván Espinosa (2021 GAP Recipient). Iván is a Latino choreographer of Live performance based in the Olympic Peninsula. His recent multimedia dance installations exploring mycelium fungi networks, bio-sonification and mycelial bioacoustics are at the forefront of INTERSPECIES PERFORMANCE. Iván-Daniel’s choreographic approaches to performance are highly influenced and inspired by his intensive studies of Japanese Butoh. He frequently collaborates with avant-garde musicians and electroacoustic sound artists, as well as with mycologists and art-makers of various mediums, to create sensorially immersive environments. Iván-Daniel holds a Master of Arts degree in Performance Studies from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University (NYU). 

Images from 2022 performance “SONIC SOMA collaboration with Tatsuya Nakatani.” 



How has moving through the pandemic impacted your work? 

The increased social isolation during the pandemic has had an extraordinary global impact, with significant psychological consequences. Changes in our daily lives, feelings of loneliness, job losses, financial difficulty, and grief over the death of loved ones have afflicted the mental health of many. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were cut off from their artistic, emotional, and social support systems. For many artists that depend on live performances and gatherings, the pandemic exacerbated feelings of isolation and disconnection. This is particularly concerning for adults with mental health or other health care needs — that is, people with multiple chronic conditions or functional limitations who require assistance with artistic activities. In an atmosphere of uncertainty, it is essential that we support artists and artistic community building.

Personally, the pandemic made presenting my work to audiences and community members much more difficult. As a dance choreographer and as a maker of both stage performance and installation, live, embodied performance and gathering in real-time is very important to my work. The ability for my work to manifest in live performance has always been absolutely essential to my artistic research. Audience witnessing and participation at live events has always facilitated dynamic, in-person networking and research to occur. But the pandemic has impacted all of this and has forced us to develop alternatives in the face of societal adversity and obstacles to liveness.

In addition, the pandemic has impacted the social dimensions of my artwork and has compelled me to look even more to the natural world and to the outdoors for new models on how to create even more environmentally conscious work. For me, the pandemic became — and continues to be — a time to take lessons from the earth. What is it that has enabled trees and plants and rivers to persist for 350 million years, through every kind of catastrophe, every pandemic, every climate change that’s ever happened on this planet, and what might we learn from that? Lessons such as interconnection, symbiosis, giving more than you take, working with natural law, and sticking together have emerged for myself and my artwork throughout the pandemic. Grounded in connection with the earth, the pandemic has forced me to meditate deeply on how art can help us revitalize our lives and how we can renew our relationships with the natural world amidst adversity.  


What’s possible for your work and community now that wasn’t before? What still needs to change?

In a time of social isolation and societal turbulence, I gathered a group of intergenerational artists from the Puget Sound region, wearing face masks and hearts of hope, to co-create outdoor, multimedia artistic performances that meditate on our interconnectedness with the living, breathing Earth. Inspired by Deep Ecology and Eco-feminism, these performances took place in public parks such as Priest Point Park in Olympia and Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend as a result of the pandemic forcing us to take art outdoors because of indoor venue closures. In a unique integration of acoustic ecology, live music, experimental dance, and performance art, these site-specific performances explore the relationships between landscape & body, sensorium & ecosystem, sound & space, the flesh & the Earth. At the heart of this artwork lies an invitation to think with/as plant, fungal, and arboreal beings. My performances take up mycelium fungi networks as a choreographic model: studying how they somatically relate to their ecosystems and examining what we can learn about the ways they communicate with, dance through, and make sense of the world. 

Even though many indoor venues have re-opened in this mid/post-pandemic era, a lot of my work is still focusing on outdoor performances and site-specific environmental artwork. This has enabled new creative possibilities for my work and my community as I continue to expand the choreographic methodologies that I have integrated in my latest site-specific performances, while also exploring how turning to nature and the More-Than-Human-World as a choreographic model expands our notions of everything from movement and sound to liveness and temporality. Moving forward, I will continue to create artwork that opens people up to new forms of thinking that bridge worlds we know with worlds we may not know, offering imagination, language, and artistic possibilities that build kinship with and deepen our relationship to the earth. 

What support do you think artists and artist communities need right now, and in the future?

The two most significant ways to support artists and artistic communities right now is through more funding and more opportunities to present work. Increased funding is essential to supporting artists because it’s what enables us to continue creating meaningful, impactful, life-affirming artwork. Increased funding is the lifeblood that nourishes culture. Grants like the GAP Awards and the Endurance Grants are extremely helpful. We need more opportunities like this, and more often. In addition, giving artists more opportunities to present their work is crucial. This can be in the form of live performance and live presentations at art galleries and venues in the Seattle Metro Area and also via virtual events dedicated to showcasing artists’ work. Zines and multimedia poetry books or online art journals can be very helpful too. 



Why is it important to support individual artists right now? 

As we continue to recover from the pandemic, it’s so important to support individual artists right now because artists are the ones that preserve and nurture our cultures and heritages, passing along creative ideas and cultural traditions to future generations. The artwork that is created by artists in Washington State inspires audiences and community members to think critically about the world-making power of performance and how art can produce meaningful change. As we face an ever-more-fragmented world, supporting individual artists is a way to contribute to our cultural, spiritual and ecological evolution. In our post-pandemic society, we need to ask ourselves: what kind of artwork do we want to give to future generations? What artistic traditions do we want to help nurture and keep alive? What new systems of artistic support do we want to initiate for our descendants? By supporting individual artists, we help give artistic communities all over our state tools and resources for healing our relationships with ourselves, with each other, and with our most powerful ancestors: the lands and waters and trees that give and sustain all life. 

What did the support from Artist Trust mean to you? 

As a low-income Person of Color (POC) without access to generational wealth, the GAP Award and the Endurance Grant both had an enormously beneficial impact on forwarding my artwork. Living in rural Jefferson County, the opportunities to receive substantial funding are scarce, so the support from Artist Trust made a real positive difference. By treating art as a “luxury” and by continuing to ignore the major gaps in access to artistic resources in a wealthy but very unequal society, we do a disservice to artists everywhere. Access to artistic funding and support should not depend on one’s proximity to wealth and socio-economic privilege. This is what makes the community support of Artist Trust indispensable. Through its varied grant programs, Artist Trust is positively transforming the lives of artists and families all across our state by fostering access to the arts for people of many different kinds, mainly through supporting culture-changing and community-building art-makers that can use the lift.

We hope you will join us in supporting Washington State artists! To make your tax-deductible donation today, visit artisttrust.org/donate. 

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