We had the good fortune of connecting with Yon Natalie Mik and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Yon Natalie, why did you pursue a creative career?
I love to work with imagination. I think it’s a very powerful form to study life in general and it offers me a good place from which I can grow an artistic and research practice, that can be empathetic and useful to others.
I believe that we all, whether we pursue a creative career or not, ultimately act and think from a place of imagination. Through my work, I like to think about its generative and destroying potentials, and how it penetrates our daily lives, making itself known in our language, values, beliefs, and other tools, that we use to navigate and build our society, which in turn, regulates our bodies and our relationship to others.
I chose a career that allows me to perform and to research performance because it’s about studying bodies in movement…it’s about asking what makes them move, how they move others, and how this creates change. I love dance because its existence is so dependent on the relationship to other people who experience it. It never gets boring because whether I do a solo piece or an artistic collaboration, it’s always a dialogue, the process of building a relationship and letting go of control.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My artistic practice manifests in performances, writings, and moving/still images. The dance vocabulary is an experimental mix that draws from Korean and Indonesian folk dances as well as Ballet and Western Dance styles. For the choreographic process, I often use material from historical archives to write speculative fiction. For some time, my work resulted in fantasy stories about ghosts and spirits, insects, stones, wilted plants, and other weird creatures that don’t have names yet. People told me that my dance looks grotesque… elegantly pleasing and comically ugly at the same time. I’m still figuring out where that really comes from, but maybe it’s because my stories often are concerned with the dark and hopeful side of topics, that I’m interested in such as language, sexuality, race, or spirituality. For example, my ongoing work Black Odonata is a story about a fantastical dragonfly with black teeth. She is a friendly creature that likes to smile, but most others perceive her smile as horrid and repulsive. I performed her for the first time in 2017 when I came across the history of the widely vanished ritual of blackening teeth, which used to be popular among many Asian regions.
My most recent project Studies on Squats was born from the observation that I was squatting frequently while continuing dancing during improv pieces to find some relief for my spine after a back injury because it distributes forces equally on the back and the legs. It became a long series of movement studies that look at injured bodies, how we’re trained to think and sit straight, how the invention of the chair and colonial encounters broke the world into “low” and “high” seating cultures, and why popular culture gave my squatting many names such as Primal Squat, Asian/Slav/African squat, or jail/prison pose.
My research practice is closely connected with my artistic practice. They feed off each other. But I also enjoy the fact that it goes beyond my own artistic work, and that it can document and study works by other people that inspire me.
How did you get to where you are today professionally? Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges, and what are the lessons you’ve learned along the way?
It was not easy, but family and friends ultimately gave me the strength to endure and overcome challenging times. I’ve learned to be patient, to appreciate the beauty of slow and small things in life, and to listen carefully to my body. I feel it’s helpful to construct things as they move. I’ve also learned to re-appreciate the productivity of the spiritual and sacred. Not only in relation to the idea of religions but thinking about the power of therapy and how violence has distorted not only material infrastructures but our psychological infrastructures, too.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
The studio and garden of Peace Lily Press & Microfarm in Long Beach. It’s practiced by artists Kiyomi Fukui and Michael Nannery who among others make and teach about non-toxic printmaking and biodiverse organic production.
I also recommend Gusto Bread in Long Beach, an artisan bakery owned by Arturo Enciso and his partner Ana Salatino. I met them in 2016 when Arturo gave a tea ceremony inside the Listening Garden, a collaborative garden installation I did in Little Tokyo. I like his slow and old-world baking philosophy.
Visit Tomorrow Today, a bookshop in Chinatown. I became friends with them in March of this year when I was on a weekend stroll through Chinatown on my way to grab lunch at Lao Tao (another place I can recommend if you want to try Taiwanese street food) and was instantly struck by their thoughtful collection of books, secondhand books, and zines. They offer free printing for activists and protestors. 10% of all sales they donate to changing organizations.
LibroMobile in Santa Ana. It’s a mobile bookshop by author, educator, and performance ethnographer Sarah Rafael Garcia. I like that LibroMobile is mobile, traveling to different places including the Alta Baja Market with an accessible book collection that supports writers of color, Spanish and bilingual books. They recently opened the Crear Studio that hosts additional events like readings and exhibitions.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I like to give a big shoutout to Virginia Arce, Erin Gordon and Paulina Gimpel. I feel lucky to co-edit our collaborative publication project The Invisible Archive with these three talented women. They each have fascinating creative practices as curators, writers, and artists, and I learn so much through my collaboration with them. For the journal, we publish texts on performative experiences and are interested in the invisible labor, politics, and challenges attached to practices that are vulnerable due to their ephemeral nature, institutional neglect, cultural bias, or politically unpopular content.
Christian Alvarez, Michele Caliari, Julia Pfister-Mischkowski, Charlie