Movement Matters: An Interview with Jose Santiago Perez

Movement Matters is a monthly column by Michael Workman that investigates performers whose work intersects politics, policy, and issues related to the body as the locus of socio-cultural dialogues on race, gender, ability and more.

For this installment, we sit down with visual, performance and movement artist Jose Santiago Perez to discuss absence as an appropriate artistic response in performance, and the influences of theoretical thinking on dance and performance in their work. An edited transcript of the interview is presented here.

“With/Held (Aproxymate)”, Soft Sculpture, International Museum of Surgical Science. Photo by Olive Stefanski

Michael Workman: You’re originally from Los Angeles, correct?

Jose Santiago Perez: Yes, I’m originally from L.A., a first generation immigrant from there. I lived in L.A. until about 2002 and then I started to move up the west coast. Right before moving to Chicago in 2013, I spent about ten years in the Bay Area. So, in terms of movement and dance, my first exposures were in the Bay Area — so, Keith Hennessy and Ralph Lemon’s work in San Francisco, and even just historically too, there’s Anna Halprin.

MW: Right. Especially with Halprin the approach is rooted in nature, as opposed to [Merce] Cunningham’s conceptualist, interdisciplinary New York school. I’ve been tracking your work for awhile, and remarked on seeing some of the sculptural work you have up recently at the International Museum of Surgical Science. You approach art, movement and performance as intimately connected, and it was that intersection in your work that drew me to want to learn more.

JSP: Yes, I was having this conversation with Colin Pressler, the curator [at the IMSS], about how my focus was starting to shift away from the live element of those sculptures — having the performance itself withheld from the audience and just having the artifact. And thinking about the climate we’re in right now — I haven’t really made the connection, but there’s something about this particular embodiment that I’m in right now that feels a little more vulnerable than usual. It’s hard to talk about because it’s really complicated, but I can only really talk about it from being inside the performance and having a certain kind of gaze on my body as a sort of brown, effeminate male. There’s something difficult to manage around that. I haven’t fully figured out my position right now but it feels like a way for me to retain some agency around how and who gets to gaze on my body, and who gets to consume that. I kind of feel like, by withholding it a little bit, I get to retain some agency. So, how do we talk about performance-based sculpture when the performance itself is withheld? It starts to get a little bit tricky, and so when it came to how I would proceed at Defibrillator, that aspect came out a lot more.

MW: You’re referring to your upcoming night of performance at Defibrillator with UK-based artists Gary Winters and Claire Hind?

JSP: Yes. Joseph Ravens [the director of Defibrillator Gallery in Noble Square] reached out and Mark Jeffries at SAIC [the School of the Art Institute of Chicago]. The SAIC Performance department is putting together a program, so I think [Ravens] was trying to pair guest artists with recent alumni. They’ll be showing work in the main space of the gallery and I’ll be showing downstairs. There’s this Thursday evening programming they just started doing called Tiny Garage, and we’ll all three have open studio during that time. So for that, I think I will have my body in the space and available and that’s a shift I’m working with right now. It’s a little clunky, I’m not really sure where and how that’ll work out but given the kind of conflicts in the world we live in right now — I feel like I’m in a protective, survival mode. So if I can exert some energy and agency over how my body’s consumed — by whom and at what time — even if it’s the illusion of agency or a fantasy of empowerment, I’m willing to grasp that and, just in terms of myself—I’m incredibly shy as a performer—there’s a way in which this kind of gestural way of working allows me to honor a way of being in the world too, which is weird, right? Because I know there are a lot of shy performers and it’s like, “Why are we even working in this mode anyway?!”

MW: Well, sure. Part of it is the reflection you get from the introspection and that you need some way to put it out there into the world?

JSP: Yes, and I’m also interested in this idea of performance not being the product itself, but a mode of production, a process of making.

MW: I love that. You’ve read Andre Lepecki? I’m very steeped in these kinds of ideas in my own work about the expanded field of dance as choreographic practice, with the work product being the interaction that takes place.

JSP: Yes, when I was at SAIC Lin Hixson really turned me on to Lepecki, and especially one short piece called Ghostly, about movement and spectrality. It resonated with me because that was the kind of work I was doing then.

MW: It’s interesting. And frankly, Lepecki is writing in dialogue with a lot of theorists in and around Chicago who are writing and thinking about dance, but also about movement and performance art in a larger sense, which for me is rooted in the historical avant-garde. I’ve written a lot digging in and finding points of connection across the disciplines about these ideas, the work of Susan Manning, Sally Banes, both of whom Lepecki refers to repeatedly, and lately you have Elise Archias. These kinds of thinkers, fostering these locally-rooted philosophies of the art forms that define its international outcomes.

JSP: Yes, exactly.

Jose Santiago Perez’s work “Soft Sculpture” is on view at the International Museum of Surgical Science, 1524 N. Lake Shore Dr. through Oct. 1. Additional upcoming events include contributions to the Tiny Garage series Sept. 30 at Defibrillator Gallery, 1463 W. Chicago Ave.; performance documentation displayed Sept. 24-30 at Roman Susan Gallery, 1224 W. Loyola Ave.; and participation in “Moving_Image_00:02,” a biannual festival of moving image works created by Chicago artists taking place Sept. 22 at Latitude, 1821 W. Hubbard St.

For more information on the artist, please visit

Please send questions, comments or tips to Michael Workman at Each Spring and Fall, as a corollary to the Movement Matters column, we also present a series of symposia and performances at different locations throughout the city based on topics developed out of and indexed from both the columns and live discussions.

Our next event will be the Artist’s Roundtable at Comfort Station on Sunday, Oct. 1 at 2pm, followed by The Creative Industrialization of Social Practice at Defibrillator Gallery on Monday, Oct. 9 at 7pm. Each live event is filmed for adaptation to the Movement Matters documentary web series on dance, performance and movement art, premiering in 2018 on Open TV. Please join the Movement Matters Facebook page for information on additional forthcoming symposium, installments in our performance series, broadcast dates and times, archives of past columns, and to join in on future conversations.

Author: Guest Contributors