Local brings awareness to Guantanamo Bay


“We were interested in exploring fear and things we were afraid of. And how the physical body in a gallery space would be powerful for us,” Colleen Hooper, of Second and Morris streets said.

Hooper and co-artist Liz Reynolds decided that their installation piece for “Recipro•city,” an exhibit at Old City’s Painted Bride Art Center, would explore these themes, in light of the then-newly passed National Defense Authorization Act and the 10-year anniversary of Guantanamo Bay.

“It was something we felt was important in raising people’s awareness,” Hooper, 33, said of the act that allows indefinite military detention without charge. “I think it’s something we, as citizens, were concerned about. I just thought it wasn’t getting the type of coverage in the media that I thought it should have been.”

The resulting work that premiered April 6 and is on view through June 3 is called “Indefinite Detention.” The piece features an installation of jail-like bars, a sound collage of politicians speaking about Guantanamo and, for its debut, Hooper and Reynolds dressed in hoods with nude-colored garments to add a live element.

“We had a friend dressed as a guard. Each of us was hooded, we had hoods over our faces and handcuffs so we couldn’t see anything. He would lead us through the crowd of people downstairs without being able to see,” Hooper said of the April 6 live portion. “We had a stool in front of our exhibit and we stood on the stool for 10 minutes or so, standing still.”

The performances elicited 54 written responses — with some responses still streaming in from attendees that did not see the live element — which the artists plan to use in another live event at the installation tomorrow.

“At the next opening, we will be sharing responses with people, sharing with the audience in different ways. When people come to the structure, I’m going to give them an audience response and ask them to read them and record them,” Hooper said. “They’re echoing back the response to the performance in April. They are getting to learn someone else’s reaction to the situation.”

Hooper and the 10 other artists that collaborated to create the multiple installations that make up “Recipro•city,” which the gallery describes as, ”an exhibition-led inquiry into contemporary practice of communal exchange,” were looking to investigate sharing as an art form.

“We wanted to give people a platform to reflect on how they feel,” Hooper said.

A Bear, Del., native, Hooper began creative modern dance at age 4 before starting ballet at age 8.

“[I was drawn to contemporary] because it was very expressive,” Hooper said. “When I was 10, my ballet teacher told me I was too short for ballet. I could move to Europe and dance, but I was so young and afraid of that. I had in my head that modern was more flexible in terms of the type of body you could have and it was exciting. It was expressive movement.”

Twenty-three years later, Hooper now stands at 5-foot-2, which she admits is on the smaller side for ballerinas, but also notes there are many notable successes for those of a similar stature. Regardless, she is thrilled she pursued her first passion.

She studied dance and English at Washington D.C.’s George Washington University. After receiving her bachelor’s, she moved to New York City, nine days before Sept. 11, 2001.

“It was definitely very difficult and it was scary. I didn’t think about leaving. I was really excited to be there, but it was quite a challenging first year,” Hooper said. “I was trying to get used to everything and find my way around. It was so much more challenging and in some other ways, a lot of people came together and really reached out. There was a sense of community that I probably would not have had if I came at another time.”

Hooper spent the next seven years pursuing what she had moved north to do: Choreograph. She was dancing, working in arts administration and choreographing her own pieces.

“I decided to come to Philadelphia to get [a master’s in fine arts] in dance at Temple. I had a goal of teaching college and furthering my dance education so I’d have more to offer to students. And to continue developing as an artist,” she said.

Temple was attractive as it was one of the institutions that allowed graduates to be the lead teacher in many undergraduate classes. Hooper took full advantage, helming eight classes over her three years of master’s studies, which she finished a year ago. However, she continued to branch out into the dance community.

“The last site-specific work I did was in Bella Vista,” Hooper said of September’s “Revolving Spaces” that her and artist Francis Gremillion, of Broad and Daly streets, put on in conjunction with the Fringe Festival. “It was traveling dance music and art performance centered at 10th and Carpenter. We traveled [east on] League Street and [up] Ninth and then [west on] Kimball. It was a celebratory performance that was about revealing and deepening the ties in the community.”

The Fringe piece gave the soon-to-be Pennsport resident a chance to connect with the local community. The performance pair joined the bocce league and spent the summer nights practicing in Bardascino Park, 1000 S. 10th St., where neighbors would often take notice.

“It was recommended to us by a friend who had lived in that neighborhood. We wanted a place that was a gathering place and that kind of captured the old and new Philadelphia,” she said. “That was both historic and new residents and new immigrants — an area that was a mixture of all of those.”

Moving to her Pennsport home shortly after the performance, Hooper didn’t miss a beat.

“I’m actually, believe it or not, I got a university fellowship to do a Ph.D in dance, so I’m still at Temple,” Hooper, who began her final set of graduate studies in September, said. “The fellowship provides funding to study for two years of coursework. Then you can begin teaching and writing your dissertation.

“I’m focusing on community performance and community dance.”

Community dance, Hooper said, is focused on working with non-dancer community members and creating pieces.

“You create a performance with people in the community and it’s based on finding a collective meaning,” she said.

Currently in the research phase, Hooper is excited to bring this disciple into greater awareness in Philly, and to continue to grow as an artist, both in school and out.

“I think Philadelphia has a lot of potential. The Mural Arts Program has done so much community work,” Hooper said. “I really like South Philly — being in the city and close to things and art. South Philadelphia is a wonderful community. It’s a really friendly, nice place to live and I’m looking forward to getting to know more people this summer.”

Contact the South Philly Review at editor@southphillyreview.com.