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Spelman College Faculty Stories

Faculty Stories

Kathleen Wessel, MFA

February 2022

Kathleen Wessel portraitKathleen Wessel, MFA, senior lecturer of dance performance and choreography at Spelman,  teaches dance writing, theory, composition and technique courses. She also directs the Spelman Dance Theatre and curates “Studio Sessions,” the Department of Dance Performance and Choreography's master class series. During the 2019 New York Music Festival, she received an award for outstanding choreography for her work on the musical “Flying Lessons.” 

Wessel's Thoughts on Research Day

As I reflect upon the importance of Research Day at Spelman College, I wanted to highlight a recent performance experience I had the pleasure of sharing with two former students: Aquilah Ohemeng,C'2021, and Thulani Vereen, C'2020, Both took part in a gallery performance I conceived of and curated with my Brooklyn-based collaborator Kelly Bartnik. The show was titled, "HomeTraining" and premiered June 5-13, 2021 at the historic H.L. Green building in South Downtown Atlanta.

About HomeTraining

HomeTraining is an Experiential Gallery Show featuring the work of 16 female and female-identifying artists working in a diverse range of mediums including performance, sculpture, textiles, painting, photography, short film, and experiential soundscape. Over the last year and a half, the pandemic has forced more than 5 million women out of the American workforce, and their labor participation rate has plummeted to a level not seen since 1988.

Home spaces transformed into schools, childcare centers, studios, and film sets in service of the necessary, often unpaid labor female artists engage in to make and sustain their craft. How have women artists responded to the national conversation surrounding “essential” work and workers? What has shifted to accommodate new creative spaces, closer quarters, isolating circumstances, diminished funding, and employment/industry instability? HomeTraining is an exploration of the work created when the convergence of home and artistic lives cultivates new ways of thinking, making, and doing.

Aquilah presented at Research Day last year. In April 2021, she presented another iteration of the film for her capstone project in the Department of Dance Performance & Choreography. The film was titled The Flowers that Grew From Our Tears, and as part of HomeTraining, she presented an excerpt titled Miss Mary Beyond Mack. The film "serves as an artistic exploration of the adultification of Black Girlhood and questions the existence of hidden trauma within childhood games." She also performed live as the film was running on loop, and the film included original poetry by Spelman graduate Treasure Tannock.

Thulani was a 1st place winner at Research Day in 2018 under her mentor Jerry Volcy. She was a top student at Spelman and graduated with a computer science degree while remaining an active member of Spelman Dance Theatre throughout. Because I think she's an amazing choreographer with endlessly fascinating ideas, I invited her to join the HomeTraining artists and explore any topic she wanted. She created a work called "Recalibrate the Smile" which she describes as follows:

Recalibrate the Smile depicts a being in process of recalibrating their space by recalibrating their smile. There's something off about their space and the solution seems to be in reshaping and molding their most sacred expression — the smile. Inspired by the living space and character development of Arthur Fleck from The Joker (2019), Recalibrate the Smile is a performance installation meant to explore the impact a smile can have on a living space."

I created and performed a work titled muscle memory for HomeTraining with Atlanta-based movement artist Anna Bracewell Crowder. It was a four-hour durational, improvisational performance that explored our friendship as well as concepts of inevitability, trust, and preparedness.

Performing alongside my two former students in a gallery-like setting was a special experience for us all. I was overjoyed to be able to offer a professional opportunity to these young, brilliant artists, both of whom I had the pleasure of mentoring at Spelman. I've attached the HomeTraining trailer, created by Kelly Bartnik.