“NET/WORK: As Below.” Photography by Steve Campbell, 2022.

NET/WORK is an ongoing multidisciplinary record of disabled life created by D. Allen from 2018-present. NET/WORK has been and will be: a process-based performance, a durational installation, a series of movement experiments, an archive of drawings and photographs, a collection of handknit and sewn textiles, a score of voice and environmental sound, an ever-evolving film. At its heart, the work is a survival strategy for its maker. It is also an invitation for connection through our shared truth: embodiment. Although NET/WORK centers around queer, trans, disabled/chronically ill embodiment, it is a world that extends towards anyone who reaches back.

The most recent NET/WORK performance, “As Below,” took place in November 2022 at The Cowles Center Tek Box as part of the 7th Annual Right Here Showcase, co-produced by Marcela Michelle and Paul Herwig. “As Below” is a 40-minute solo work that includes two handknit textiles, “Performance Textile #2: Tube” and “Performance Textile #3: Web,” two handsewn quilts, a hand-stuffed mattress made of repurposed foam and bedsheets, original text and audio, improvised dance solos with mobility aids, and excerpts of Darnell Moore’s podcast Being Seen with guest Eddie Ndopu in Episode 4: “Creating Space.”

This piece began during a Generating Room residency in the Cowles Center’s Target Studio as a response to the overwhelming social message that disabled people would be better off dead. In grappling with the medical industrial complex to receive a wheelchair and get other basic needs covered, I used my time in the studio to venture into the underground realm of the dead. Unexpectedly, instead of finding death and despair in the dark dirt, I felt connected to so many other forms of beyond-human life and experienced rest, warmth, care, and healing in that fertile space. In “As Below,” I bring audiences into the ground with me before returning to the domestic interior of a bedroom, which is where so much of my disabled life takes place. And after a bit of rest, I invite us to consider the possibility of disabled flight, taking to the air in a scene similar to that of my 2019 performance, “Flight Experiment #1.”

“NET/WORK” as a whole began as a collision of several seemingly-disparate creative modes: large-scale knitting as a way of measuring time in the presence of illness; unvarnished audio notes about my experiences as a queer & trans person living with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS); sketchbook drawings of an imagined performance/installation space that would accommodate not just my physical access needs but also my desires for pleasure and comfort while performing; and videos of three short movement experiments I generated at the Mallard Island Artist Residency in summer 2018. In May 2019, with the support of a 20% Theatre Company’s Q-Stage: New Works Fellowship, I performed the first iteration of this project as an hour-long solo stage work. The performance included original audio/text, video projection, direct audience engagement, improvised movement, and an 8×8 foot handknit textile installation that I had created during the gestation period leading up to the show, which literally and symbolically supported my movement onstage. I performed an untitled precursor of NET/WORK at Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories, curated by Xochi De La Luna, in February 2019 at Pangaea Theater; following the Q-Stage debut, I performed a new piece, Flight Experiment #1, at Squirrel Haus Arts in winter 2019.

Since its debut as a stage performance, I have continued to make work under this title across media, occasionally presenting components/materials/experiments publicly. New components and experimental explorations between 2019-2021 were generously supported by a Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship. I have also collaborated with photographers and other performers to document and develop new material, but the project has remained largely a solo endeavor.

Presently, NET/WORK includes the following textiles: an 8×8′ net knitted during a winter of deep illness; a body-sized tube with drawstrings on both ends, which takes on the form of whatever–whoever–crawls inside; a floral memory quilt made with bedsheets and table linens from the artist’s friends and family; a scrap lap blanket, knit with remnants of yarn leftover from other projects over the span of four years; and several other large-scale works in progress.

From January-June 2022, I was an artist in residence at The Cowles Center’s Generating Room Residency, where I utilized weekly studio space to develop the movement/dance components of NET/WORK beyond the domestic spaces I’ve had access to during the pandemic. With this gift of space and time, I was able to renegotiate my relationship to movement in a studio space and invite seven collaborators to join me in the studio (both virtually and in person) in one-on-one sessions. These sessions with others jumpstarted a new collective aspect of NET/WORK that I will continue to develop in coming years, in which I am not performing alone. Introducing others to my performance textiles and the framework for adaptive dance I’ve developed through NET/WORK was joyful, as was learning from my fellow artists and their body wisdom.

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