Damaris Ferrer



Damaris Ferrer, is a multidisciplinary artist/mover, choreographer, teacher and mother. She was the Artistic Director of Bailes Ferrer, Flamenco Music and Dance, from 1995 till 2012 at which time she shifted her focus to dance and artistic advocacy, thus renaming her company, Cultural Arts Exchange. Although no longer Director of Cultural Arts Exchange, Damaris is still involved with the organization and is currently an adjunct professor at Broward College, Nova Southeastern University, and a founding member of FARO, which serves as a facilitator for opportunities that allow for artistic discourse, exchange and interchange between artists working outside the margins of academia. In 2016 she received her MFA in choreographic research from Jacksonville University where, through work guided by Ana Sánchez Colberg, she developed processes within her own practice for breaking away from fixity in language and movement. Through this work she now implements such processes into her teaching methods in order guide students towards finding personal, undiscovered, physicalities outside of coded movement language as well as how to engage embodiment when one is working within such codes.  In addition to her work in dance and movement, her continual investigations regarding fixity has lead her to tearing images in order to redefine, remake and return their original meanings, resulting in collages that have served  as both initiators for choreographic output and as repositories for choreographic explorations. In 2017 she began publishing fragments of her life-stories, along with some of her collages on a blog, titled Loose and Connected Thoughts. 

Responding:
The topic of the Materiality of Exile that is being explored by Ana Sánchez-Colberg is one that connected to my experiences growing up between the island of Puerto Rico and the island of Manhattan. As I reflected on the environments that have informed me, the tally of relocations added up to fifteen; so far. In this project Ana continues her exploration within the prime numbers; this time inviting us to construct, dialogue and archive as we explore and respond while following the rule of 11, or as she describes as One that faces it’s absolute self.  

In thinking about facing my absolute self, I have chosen to respond by posting, for 11 days, the results of my search for artefacts that represent my many relocations.  The accumulated materials will then be reshaped into a collage that ……… [who knows what will emerge] An 11-day act of curating the past and reviving it in the present. An 11-day journey where I unpack rather than pack.

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 November 2, 2019 (Day 1)
I called my mom a few days ago to see if she could send me photos of the different homes we have lived in, to which she responded "well coincidentally, I have it on my list to go through the boxes of old photos tomorrow."

I call my mom La bruja superior because she always seems to be a few steps ahead and her intuition is usually spot on. In the mean time there is a tomb stone, made from a cereal box, on my table. It is a Dia de los Muertos project that my son made in memory of his great Grandmother, Maria Antonia Ferrer Castro, or as I called her, Abuela Mery. She passed on a year ago at the age of 99 which means she saw alot of shit happen on this Earth. When preparing his project my son asked me about her so he could include a short biography about her. "Did she travel?" he asked.

I knew she did once to the United States with my Grandfather and his siblings. It was some kind of great road trip that she loved to talk about and there are photos of it in a box somewhere in her abandoned house in Puerto Rico. I also knew that for the most part, my Abuelo and Abuela lived simple, uncluttered and stable lives in that same house which they traveled away from one time to attend my wedding.

My mom always told us that she went to a different school for every grade. It was hard for me to understand that but I knew it was true because when I would visit my Grandparents (her parents), my Abuela Lali always had things in boxes because she just got tired of packing and unpacking.


November 3 (Day 2)

Unearthing things can lead to a mental journey through an endless labyrinth. I MUST FOCUS on the task at hand, Where did I live and what have a carried with me? My search seems to continue to lead me to boxes that were unpacked from other larger boxes. What was not kept was too big to haul around for a life time so collecting bits of this and that becomes the thing to do. A box of photos, another with letters, another with journals. Books are always lugged around; those are always the heaviest boxes that I insist must go where I go. Today, among the clues I find a material that holds time, memory, light and color. It will be my medium for this work.




My past reality captured in the material. "What sorcery is this?" those not of that time might ask.
Material-Reality of my past which all fits in a box.
The negative as an archive.
The negative as holding place for memory.
When I hold it to the light, I see myself.
1 - 1

November 4 (day 3)

Posting yesterday's thoughts since I fell asleep, head bobbing over computer, last night after a long day of extra special mom challenges. And so the rock continues to spin regardless.

The small boxes are deceiving. Who knew they held a lifetime?
Ana!!........what have you gotten me into? Within each dark brown elongated piece of plastic I can make out the moments while feeling overwhelmed by the fact that each small box, which I willingly carried with me for all these years, is jam packed with thousands of such moments. Where do I begin? The order of each space, place, time is unique to my past movement and I am thinking about how to revive the materials in this present time. The old timeline is no longer; not even inside the boxes which remain only a place to store. In other words, nothing is labeled or in sequential order. That is so like me to put things in their category yet leave them as contained organized chaos.

The order no longer matters as I hold the material. What can this become in my present through this practice of recalling, remembering and, most importantly, letting go of the idea/belief that these negatives must live in dark boxes till the end of time. The fact is that their time is done because in THIS time, images appear and disappear on screens and people no longer pack away and relocate  with boxes of negatives.




Day4

The material will reveal the direction I go in. My plan has taken a left turn down an unknown dark road because that is what happens when you remain open to the pulls and tugs of art making.
I sit and write and continue to ponder the topic of exile and time while surrounded by a tangible medium that holds time in its tiny dark frames.
Time seemed to moved slowly until I sat down to think about the past.
I thought about the women in the dessert and the landscape they wake up to each day. It is a world without such time-markers as old books, furniture or dusty boxes.
Time in the dessert is marked by light.
How wonderful to fill a room with light, to play with shadows and lay on a warm floor.
I bet one would no longer measure past time.

Day5

I woke up thinking about stained glass and whether the brown of the negatives created enough contrast if I somehow mount them on glass. 11 panes of glass that came hold the fragments of my story in fragmented pieces. Then a moment of doubt because of that stupid thing that keeps interrupting my spacing-out, TIME. Then another moment of clarity as I log in to read Ana's morning post. Bueno, Pa'lante, on to test the possibilities.




Past, present, future. I love that I see me now in the then. 
This unmarked road is very giving.
So are new places, yet for many years I resisted the thoughts of the new and the unknown. Such thoughts brought me sadness because I believed I was settled. They brought me sadness because I would hold on to feelings of loss rather than those of newness and adventure. The good thing about time is the weight of its accumulation that holds me steady now.

Day 6

My exile was involuntary. My mother's was voluntary as she lugged her babies back and forth, making decisions about where to settle...........temporarily.............at that particular time. What did she need so she could provide us with what we needed? Exile seems so harsh a word, however I do understand its many dimensions as I focus on the necessity of voluntary exile that one can trace back and consider as migratory routes.

At what point did I become " de alla fuera"? That is what the kids used to ask my brother's and I when we would stay with family on the island for Christmas or during the summers. At first I would just say yes without giving it much thought until I got older and felt sadness for no longer being considered a genuine member of my favorite place in the world.  Am I really just a visitor now?
At some point, I lost my language and learned a new language called Spanglish which was how we ordered hero sandwiches at the bodegas on Manhattan island and also complimented each other in school.
"Let me get a ham and cheese hero with mayo y una bolsa de papitas and a Malta"
"oh my god I love your jacket, que chuleria, where did you get it, te vez bien cute"

I can't be "de alla fuera!!"
I know what it is to sleep with un mosquitero over my bed and I also remember going into that awful outhouse. I sleep soundly to the chorus of coqui frogs and I washed my hair in a cold river.
I can't be "de alla fuera" because I hung my clothes to dry in the sun, bit into guavas without washing them first, and helped my abuelas pull the gandules out of their pods.
I can't be "de all fuera" because I loved eating those raw gandules and because a few sugar ants floating in my lemonade was no big deal.

When I was "alla fuera", I knew how to take trains and buses, I knew how to sense for weirdos following me, and how to spot a dollar cab. In the city I went to museums and dance concerts and loved walking through the parks. The pace was faster and the pizza was heavenly. "Alla fuera" I knew the difference between a bagel and a bialy and I knew where to get a good Boricua meal from those who also left the force field.

Where am I now and for how long?


Day 7


Back to the materials, materiality, matter, reality. I am finding it difficult to begin to re-purpose, re-term……………..destroy the negatives despite the fact that they have been collecting dust in those boxes and unmissed for so many years.
Who am I holding these for? When did I take on the responsibility of creating these unburied time capsules?
Perhaps it is because each small frame is like a small house containing furniture and people and pictures on the walls.  
I like to build houses; ask Niurca and Amber.

Despite my hesitation, I continue to search for more glass panes and sorting through the endless images. I will not sort them or date them because that would defuse my momentum forward.  I am not the person to do that tedious work of cataloging ; remember I went only as far as making sure they got stored in boxes. 

But back  to houses.  I loved Clara’s story of her childhood and the importance of the floor.  How wonderful to have that open space to share and continuously convert to the next activity.  There are a lot of things in my house, however I refuse to get a coffee table or an area rug or a couch because I love to have that open space.  When my children were small we spent hours on the floor playing, building, painting. I taped large brown paper to the floor so they could create maps and towns for their small cars to roll through.  Now they are older and the floor is mostly mine to roll and move on.  Clara’s memory made me realize that I really need to get rid of more furniture. 




Day 8


The Beautiful Unknown.
In choreography I am much more focused now on letting the process reveal my next direction. How quickly I was reminded of this important process on day two when I pulled that lid off of the box of old negatives; a material I had never considered during all my pre planning.  Silly me thought I knew where this practice of RESPONDING was going. “Shut up and listen. Be still, listen some more.”
Now what? Which way? What will happen next? These are questions often asked in a state of eagerness or fear of what we want to be prepared for. We are never prepared for what is unknown and we need to get that into our thick skulls.
I think back to my relocations and the conversations in my head that often caused me unnecessary worry and stress because those same questions bombarded me and made me fear the loss of my current place rather than feeling excitement about what was to become my next chapter. Today I understand that I was/am free to roam, free to discover, free to lug my crap where ever I want, unlike many who cross boarders unloaded because they do not get that privilege. In either case the questions are similar, Now what?, which way?, what will happen next?, yet the answers are very different and carry very different levels of stresses and anxieties. The weight carried by those who cross boarders because they must and not because they want to, is heavier than all my almost fifty years of crap in boxes and suitcases put together.
Perspective helps.

I grab the scissors.  

I begin to cut.

I think of winding roads and maps. The scissor is my vehicle and I try to stay within the frame of the negative because I feel like the image should drop out from the center of its frame. I keep moving, swerving, bending the road until the first piece falls out.

I repeat.

What is and what was is beautiful to me.









Day 9

Bits of thoughts.

Mark making was on my mind all day today. The organic shapes that emerged yesterday, almost tribal or indigenous, seem to point me back to the Earth and all it gives us. The various shades of browns much more prominent now that negatives have been divided into a negative and positive space; each negative beside it's alter ego.

As a child I remember making angels in the snow and then standing above the imprint I had made, amazed that I created wings and a long belled dress. I thought it was wonderful how this happened, I thought it was magical.

In photography, the negative and positive space is what holds the emotion of the image. It determines what is important and what fades away into the background.

This past summer I climbed into some caves where the ocean enters and exits just as it has for hundreds of years. It was there that I traced the petroglyphs left by the Tainos of what was then Borinquen. A swaddled baby,  a sun, a funny face, a large cauldron, a grouping of faces, a frog. I stared at each one for a long time and felt as if I had entered another dimension as the sound of the ocean, just beyond the rocks next to me, echoed through the caverns. "They were here and now I am here to read their symbols" I thought to myself.


Day 10

I rested body and mind today on this 11th day of this 11th month and one day away from my 11 days of collecting materials that quickly became a single material. I woke up today thinking of glass boxes and green houses covered in stained glass. These thoughts are still bouncing around in my thoughts as they have not landed yet in any other form. I know the clues are all there but I refuse to force them or manipulate them just yet. Light, symbols, glass houses, boxes, transformation of what was; the puzzle is materializing.
The 11 women ground me so I do not feel a need to push ahead before I am sure of the next direction. The interviews, stories, the rocks, the dirt and sand, memories, tears, Ana's scratches and bruises. When you really want to know and really want to dig, you don't worry about the marks left behind as evidence of the immersion.






DAY 11

Last night I switched to smaller scissors to see if I could work in more detail. The symbols that emerged exited me and also looked almost like a new language. Of course this caused me to not sleep last night because every time I saw the symbols in my thoughts, my body would do a strange wiggle which also forced my cat to relocate. This morning I focused on the cut out shapes and understood that it was movement, although some also reminded me of cactus and desert plants that thrive on the heat and sandy breezes. A movement score perhaps that gives importance to the arms and hands, or a blend of spacial mappings and gestures. Everything is clearly unclear before me so its time to play a new game for the next 11 days.
It is time to move the body.



Finding movement and sound
Day 1

It is 11:00pm and I am finally in bed after a very long and over loaded day. My plan to find quiet time so I could move and write was quickly thrown into a the blender of life as I began a 9:00am tech rehearsal at Broward College followed by class after class, another run through, pick up my boy child, more driving, more classes and, of course, strong rain storms.
The rain was wonderful because it reminded me to slow down and to seek out ways to reconnect with my thoughts so I played Ana's beautiful sound score in my car. As I listened I thought of the 11 trigger questions she posed to the women and made a mental note to answer those for myself.



The sound score also made me think about the feminine regiment/schedule that changes hands immediately, from family to husband, when the young brides leave home. The voice of the woman was strong and sure when she told us how she did not want such a life. How did she know at such a young age, that she wanted to live a life of discovery and freedom.? How did she manage to push through the weight of tradition, voices and judgement?

1. A favorite dance - Salsa
2. A favorite song - wow, so many. Today its Tchaikovsky's Valse Sentimentale
3. Description of country left behind -  Lush, real, simple. The air carries salt and clay. Magical.

As I teach my evening classes I resign to the fact that this was my movement for today; a movement of thoughts and the movements I pass on to the women that show up every Wednesday evening for their beginning flamenco class.

4. Memory of a perfect moment or dream - Running down the steps in El Yunque (Rain forest in Puerto Rico) with my brothers and my mother while heavy rains came down upon us. All I could do as I ran down, what seemed like endless steps, was laugh and laugh laugh so hard.

5. Description of your hands - Big, long, Long branches.

The women love their flamenco class. They are surprised by their own progress and excited by the rhythm patterns that they are finally settling into.  I introduce a new movement phrase, un marcaje.

6. Description of current place - A growing town that still has horses. It is hot, bright and has lots of parks. I love parks.

7. Description of your eyes - Dark brown. When I am angry I do not need to say anything.

9:00pm and class is over which means the chatter begins. Both the start and finish of class are social events which I call the hen house. The women come from home or from work for their class which provides them with some fun exercise, stress relief, funny moments, good gossip and great music.
un, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez, un, dos.

8.
9.
10.
11.

The last 4 questions are missing. Ana, HELP.

 Day 2 : Hands

Last night, day 2, I failed in my attempt to post these notes. The body protested and put me to bed.
Yesterday's thoughts were on hands. So may small hand-like figures emerge in the cutting of the negatives and then the question of describing my hands. Also, I had to finish the last four trigger questions. Thank you Ana.

8. An important person : My mother who's title went from mami, then mom, sometimes ma, and now mami again. We live far from each other and longing to somehow change that soon.

9. Work gestures, gestures of hopes, of loss : I move and the gestures emerge when my thoughts are informing my body and my body moving is generating more thoughts.

10. Favorite words: curse words in Spanish are very satisfying. In English they seem vulgar. Maybe because in Spanish they just roll off the tongue like rap song because they come out as just one long word. "carajomecajoenlamierda!"

At some point I began to notice my mother's hands. They are strong and heavy and not frail or fancy. My mother's hands are always busy and unafraid to pull things apart when needed.  After my children were born my hands got bigger. I believe they did so because I kept my babies attached to me, like small bears clinging to a tree, for a long time. My branches held onto them at all costs.



Day 3: The 11th question at 11pm

11. Who are you? : I am an always-becoming being. That is how I understand things now which gives me much more space and much less self criticism. I am not who I was because time moves forward.

Women tend to go through what I call the "on hold state." It is a time when we put ourselves on hold in order to be sure that the needs of others, such as children, spouses, parents, students,  friends and so on, are taken care of. Sometimes years go by before one realizes that the true self has been dormant and waiting for it's turn to just be.
Who am I  when I no longer need to take care of my children?
Who am I in this older body?
Who am I now?
The layering of sounds and words, voices and music in the sound scores, being created by Ana and the women, remind me of segments of life that remain in  my memories. I remember this, but not that. I forgot her, but not them, I thought I had that story correct.

As I hold the negatives to the light I recall places and people who I have forgotten and or erased all together. I see the outline of their image yet I draw a blank.




Day 4: Listening through the static

The composition of the audio tracks made me sit and think about how we listen and what comes through to each person. What is it about layers of sound and voices that make us physically lean in, with head cocked to one side and eyes slightly squinting? I remember as a child listening through the static of the television for some kind of clear language that would let us know that we were close to achieving the perfect angle for the antenna, or the wire hanger, that sat on top. Listening intently for clarity was a very different kind of listening, and as soon as the picture would appear, that clarity would once again fall back into the everyday sounds of the house and therefore it was no longer necessary to listen so hard.
Three years ago my younger brother and I worked on the soundtrack of our childhood. It did not contain text because I was investigating movement and how different bodies receive what comes from outside themselves, however it layered our auditory memories from the two islands we knew; one that gave us rumbling subways and the other that gave is the crowing of roosters.

The a.m station in the kitchen gave us the news in Spanish
While the tea kettle screamed to be removed from the flame.
Coqui's organic calls and responses
The hissing steam of the radiators
The slam of the screen door by the kitchen
The hissing of hot oil for tostones
High frequency screeching of metal on metal
"stand clear of the closing doors"

As I listen to the audio tracks I feel like the layers and pauses give the stories a new life and new importance.
I really lean in.

Day 5 : Negative shapes

Every time I cut another negative I enjoy the sounds and the texture of the action of cutting. Today I created more shapes although I have not yet figured out how they will be used.