Bwog Staffer Julia Ross used her 6th and final excused absence for her Barnard Tai Chi class to attend “MeMoSa: Untethered 21 with Nona Hendryx,” and didn’t regret it for a second.

As I entered the Movement Lab on the basement floor of Milstein at 5:29 pm on November 4, I was instructed to take off my shoes and sit on one of the 35 cushions on the floor. After getting myself situated, I took in my surroundings. Purple and blue spotlights illuminated the floor of an otherwise dark room, and ominous music echoed and pulsated around me. Despite feeling self-conscious about being the only person with completely bare feet (my socks were in the wash that day), I couldn’t help but become at ease in this calming environment. 

Gabri Christa, the director of the Movement Lab, introduced Nona Hendryx, giving us a brief explanation of her project and her previous work. Hendryx was part of the trio Labelle in the 70s that had a hit song, “Lady Marmalade.” From there, Hendryx launched her successful solo career, creating a variety of sounds from new-wave to rock to soul. Not only is she a singer, but she is a composer and songwriter for productions and films, a social justice activist, a director, a dancer, and an artist. I was amazed to be in the presence of such a talented and accomplished woman.

Then, Hendryx herself discussed the piece she would be performing and the ongoing artistic process. She explained that she’s always been interested in technology and what we can do when we are not bound by the constraints of the physical world. Hendryx has been playing around with VR in the movement salon, along with graduate helpers, to turn her concept into reality. She imagines a world in the future, with ideas coming to fruition easily through technology integrated into our bodies, like cyborgs. We will be untethered, wireless, free. We are currently tethered to different versions of ourselves—the past, present, and future. Hendryx conveys her notion of futurism by blurring the lines between music, motion, sound, and vision. Her process is fueled by her curiosity, and she says it’s about the “getting to the aha” moment. 

Hendryx began explaining the duality of two sides of her, stemming from the psychological theory of the “left” and “right” brain. Attached to her hands were two blinking devices. When she moved her hands in different ways, a variety of sounds pulsed through the room. She was controlling the pitch, the energy, the instrumentals of the music, merely through the wave of a hand. 

It was then that I noticed three books lying on the floor—two were black journals, with the middle one titled “Apartheid of the Sex.” She picked up the middle book and read an excerpt that asked, “Is the categorization of people from the moment of birth as either male or female a form of sexual segregation as pernicious as racial apartheid?” Again, the idea was that in our truest form, there is a fluidity of the sides of ourselves, rather than segregation; in our best state, we untether the separate parts of us and allow them to come together.

The lights dimmed, and the performance began. Voices rose out of the silence, chanting in unison with ominous music in the background. Behind Hendryx, VR images of her, wearing coral as a crown, began dancing, with abstract lines and colors molding and moving around them. The VR versions of her transformed, getting bigger and becoming godlike figures, or shifting into new images, almost like a kaleidoscope. The voices grew louder, singing “love keeps ticking like a clock” repeatedly. Hendryx moved around the room, drifting and dragging her arms to alter the sounds. She spoke poetically about her ideas—about dualities within us, about love, about time, about perception, and about life. The images surrounding her matched her emotions. When she seemed pensive and melancholy, the images were darker. When she came to realizations, the images lightened and transformed faster. 

When Hendryx began singing, bolstered by the chanting of the background singers, I was stunned. The combination of the sounds, the visuals, and her actions, helped me make some sense, or rather make peace, with the unknown. Her powerful voice expressed pain, longing, and curiosity. Her two altered VR faces in the background showed different messages—one was fiery and red and angry, while the other was light, cool, and peaceful. The worlds of chaos and the worlds of freedom within her were colliding. When the lights finally dimmed and the music faded, the crowd, consisting of about 20 people, burst into applause.

The sensations overwhelmed me, but in a positive way that left me hopeful for a future with technology. Hendryx’s piece had only been in the works for a few months, and she said it was far from finished, but I still felt that it was a transformative experience. Although I will no longer have the option of skipping Tai Chi, I now have the invaluable experience of seeing Nona Hendryx’s revolutionary multimedia art in its beginning stages.

The Unofficial Definition of “Mesmerizing Visual Art” via Bwog Staff