BREN­DAN FER­NAN­DES

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - BOOKS -

The path: Trained as a ballet dancer, Fer­nan­des, 39, was born in Kenya, raised in Canada and now lives in Chicago.

He “uses dance to fore­ground queer em­bod­i­ment, con­sid­er­a­tions of la­bor and cri­tiques of colo­nial­ism in his prac­tice,” the Whit­ney wrote. He’s cur­rently an artist-in­res­i­dence teach­ing at North­west­ern and has a collaborat­ive dance piece, “A Call and Re­sponse,” on­go­ing at the MCA through Oct. 13.

The Bi­en­nial: “I’m ac­tu­ally sit­ting in the ex­act spot where I got told. It was July 3 when I found out. It meant the world to me ’cause the Whit­ney is one of those ex­hi­bi­tions that traces the his­tory of what’s hap­pen­ing and what’s rel­e­vant in the art world. It was one of my ca­reer goals, and I have ful­filled it.”

Keep­ing the se­cret of hav­ing been se­lected, which artists agree to do for a pe­riod of months, was not easy, how­ever. In plan­ning the back­drop for his work at the Whit­ney dur­ing the em­bargo pe­riod, “I re­mem­ber be­ing there one day with like a Ben­jamin Moore paint swatch book,” Fer­nan­des said. “And a friend was like, ‘What are you do­ing?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, you know, just hang­ing out at the mu­seum with a paint swatch book.’ ”

The work: Fer­nan­des’ work “The Master and Form,” a sculp­ture of dan­gling ropes be­hind a cen­tral sort of pipework form re­sem­bling a jun­gle gym that gets pe­ri­od­i­cally “ac­ti­vated” by a group of dancers, oc­cu­pies a full gallery in the Whit­ney. “I just as­sumed that maybe they wanted to show a piece of it,” Fer­nan­des said. “But no, they were like, ‘This is your space and we want to have the whole ‘Master and Form’ in this ex­hi­bi­tion, and we’re go­ing to sup­port you to have it ac­ti­vated con­tin­u­ously.”

As the dancers move, “long, slow, ar­du­ous and kind of liq­uid,” through ballet po­si­tions and move­ments, “the ques­tion is al­ways about the kind of ideas of mas­tery and form within the ballet tech­nique, but also look­ing at how a body is sup­ported but also bur­dened by th­ese de­vices that be­come kind of like BDSM fur­ni­ture. It’s also ques­tion­ing our masochism as dancers.”

The piece was first shown in and com­mis­sioned by Chicago’s Gra­ham Foun­da­tion for Ad­vanced Stud­ies in the Fine Arts, but it grew for New York. “I started work­ing right away with Nor­man Kel­ley ar­chi­tects here in Chicago to make the ren­der­ings,” Fer­nan­des said.

Chicago vs. New York: “I used to live in Brook­lyn, so I did the op­po­site (of oth­ers’ paths). It’s three years now. I am for­tu­nate, and I love Chicago. I’ve fallen in love with the city. I bought a home. I was in­tro­duced to an art com­mu­nity that was very wel­come and sup­port­ive. It has chal­lenged me and given me space to do things I don’t think I could have done — I hate to say it — in Brook­lyn.

“The first week I was here, I met Madeleine Gryn­sztejn, the di­rec­tor of the MCA, at an open­ing. And she didn’t know about my work that well at the time and just knew I was an artist. And the first thing she said to me was, ‘Wel­come home.’ And that was some­thing that has stuck with me.”

The con­tro­versy: Along with a ma­jor­ity of the artists and col­lec­tives in the show, “I signed a let­ter to ask for Kan­ders’ res­ig­na­tion, but I was al­ways go­ing to stay in the Bi­en­nial be­cause I wanted to find a voice within the in­sti­tu­tion. We al­ways talk about how we de­col­o­nize spa­ces, how do we chal­lenge spa­ces? I think by step­ping out I erase my voice and I don’t have a plat­form.”

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