Still of Kathy Acker in conversation with Angela McRobbie at the ICA, 1987; modified by The Wooster Group. Copyright ICA, London
The ICA presents a newly commissioned performance based on Kathy Acker’s 1982 play Desire. Facilitated by Kate Valk and fellow members of New York’s seminal experimental theatre ensemble the Wooster Group, along with London-based artists Erica Scourti and Danielle Braithwaite-Shirley and theatremaker Soraya Jane Nabipour, this interpretation will be the play’s first-ever public staging.
Interweaving themes around gendered and familial desire, cultural colonialism, and artistic ambition, the play draws liberally on literary greats – moving between characters from the works of Shakespeare, James Joyce and Emily Brontë. Like much of Acker’s work, Desire appeared in several published versions: first in two parts over two issues of BOMB Magazine in 1982, then as a section within My Death My Life by Pier Paolo Pasolini, which was included in the collection Blood and Guts in High School plus two (1984) and later in Literal Madness (1988).
The ICA’s commission stems from the correlations between Acker and the Wooster Group’s bodies of work, both of which share a foundational milieu in late-1970s New York, and integrate source materials such as texts and documents, developing methodologies of copying and reconstitution.
A month-long residency in the ICA Theatre precedes the production of Desire, led by Valk in collaboration with Wooster Group members Erin Mullin, Eric Sluyter and Enver Chakartash, artists Scourti and Brathwaite-Shirley, and theatremaker Soraya Jane Nabipour.
The Wooster Group
is a New York-based ensemble who create and perform original works for theatre, dance, film and media. Founded in 1975, the group has remained at the forefront of experimental theatre under the direction of Elizabeth LeCompte. As one of the ensemble’s original members, Kate Valk has performed in all of the group’s works since 1979. In 1997, Valk co-founded The Wooster Group’s free Summer Institute for state secondary school students. In 2012, she was Associate Director to Elizabeth LeCompte for the group’s collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company on Troilus and Cressida
. In 2014, Valk directed Early Shaker Spirituals: A Record Album Interpretation
followed by THE B-SIDE: ‘Negro Folklore from Texas State Prisons’: A Record Album Interpretation
in 2017. Among other honours, Valk has received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts and a Foundation for Contemporary Arts artist award, and served as a mentor in the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.
Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley is an artist working predominantly in performance, animation and sound, combining the three to communicate their experience and survival as a Black Trans person. Brathwaite-Shirley uses sound to communicate intense expression as they digitally construct a world that centres Black Trans experience. Wanting to restore Black Trans existence, they explore the desire to meet buried bodies like theirs, dreaming of a Trans archive where Black Trans people could share their buried experiences. They are currently making a video game to achieve this. Brathwaite-Shirley has presented their work at Tate Britain, Barbican Centre, Auto Italia, and Mimosa House, and at Brighton Festival. They have recently compiled sound design for shows at the Wellcome Collection and The Yard. They have been invited to talk at a variety of institutions including The Photographers Gallery and Royal Academy Schools.
Erica Scourti is an artist and writer, born in Athens and now based mostly in London. Embracing contingency, humour and lo-fi media, her work explores autobiographical writing and bodily inscription in the performance and representation of subjectivity. Solo shows include Chief Complaint at Almanac, London and Spill Sections at StudioRCA, London (both 2018). Group shows include the High Line, New York; Wellcome Collection, London; Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna; Hayward Gallery, London; and The National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), Athens. Her writing has been published in Spells (Ignota Press, 2018) and Fiction as Method (Sternberg, 2017) and she is guest editor of The Happy Hypocrite (2019). She is currently undertaking an AHRC-funded PhD in Goldsmiths’ Art Department.
Soraya Jane Nabipour is a Sheffield-based theatre maker. She is researching the work of New York City Players for her practice-based PhD at the University of Sheffield. Nabipour also works for experimental theatre company Forced Entertainment as a workshop facilitator on their education programme Art Breakers.