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NEXT WEEK, CHRISTIAN COLLIER ADDS SOME OF his own ingredients—spoken word, music and dance—to the Hunter Museum’s current exhibit on the Harlem Renaissance to create his own take on a well-rounded artistic gumbo.
When Collier began performing around Chattanooga after he moved here from Florida in 2006, his shows blended spoken-word performance and music from his band. Sometimes he sang. But this “words and music” approach has gradually evolved into a meatier renaissance gumbo, with Collier as both wordsmith-musician and chef-curator.
The change started at the end of 2008, when he saw a documentary about The Executioners, a New York DJ collective, in which one of them said if you could devote yourself to one task for a year, barring all distraction, you could become a master of it. So he issued himself a challenge: What would happen if he threw himself into poetry, performing everywhere that he could?
“I said yes to every opportunity that came through the pipeline,” he says. “And that laid the foundation to everything I’ve been able to do since.”
In 2009, he published Ghosts and Echoes, a chapbook of his performance pieces and other work composed for the page. All those yesses got him established on the Southeastern open-mic scene. He started the Speakeasy open-mic show at The Camp House, which led to more performance opportunities, and the MANIFEST multi-art performance series, which led to opportunities to curate shows like the one coming up at the Hunter.
In November 2013, he produced a CD entitled Between Beauty and Bedlam, which includes spoken word, hip hop and ambient music.
As the focus of his work has broadened, he has also cultivated the art of letting go. Rather than sweating every detail, rehearsing to perfection and stressing in real time over any flaw in his performance, he tries to let the work happen and find its own form. Part of that is accepting a few rough edges.
Collier’s busy schedule reflects that diversity of performance types. Last month in Nashville he did a show at The Cannery with Jessica Nunn from his band.
“The strings are such an emotive thing,” he says. “It brings this emotional power in. It can just shift in a second. It adds a different emphasis to a lot of the works. I’ll hear Jessica do something and it completely changes [my] delivery. It keeps me on my toes, and I think it keeps people coming to see it on their toes, too.”
There’s the Hunter show next week, followed by an April 26 Camp House gig with Function, which just won the Road to Nightfall competition.
“What I’m doing doesn’t alter what they’re doing, and vice versa,” he says. “We just found a way for it all to make sense.”
On May 10, he performs a poetry set at Poetry In The Brew in Nashville. The next day he’s back in Chattanooga for a performance art piece he has created for Tim Hinck’s New Dischord festival. He doesn’t want to give much away about this piece, which includes music, dancers and spoken word, but he will say, “It uses the female body to articulate the thing, but its overarching theme is intimacy. I’m going to interview women and let them speak for themselves” through recorded interviews that weave through the live performance.
After New Dischord, he’s in Ithaca, New York at the beginning of June for another poetry set, but it sounds like this open-ended, improvisational genre crossing is the direction he’s heading more and more.
He says the New Dischord piece “looks like it’s a piece that’s really not going to end, its always going to continue to evolve,” he says. “In my opinion, this piece is the most daring and vulnerable thing I’ve done. I like working for things, I like people to see the effort. It’s like doing math equations: I want you to see the work.”
He cites a line from his favorite poem, “The Odyssey”: “ I am a part of all that I have met”, which Ulysses delivers after going through endless trials trying to reach his home.
“All experiences—good, bad and otherwise—inform the self,” he says. “In the past two years, everything I have done, as diverse and worlds apart as it seems, is really the same thing. It’s just a matter of perspective.”
Christian Collier’s “The Word, the Sound and the Image: Meditations on the Harlem Renaissance Civil Rights and Beyond,” will be at the Hunter on April 10, at 6 p.m. For information about his shows, book and CD, visit ichristian3030.blogspot.com