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An Innervated Guest

Durational performance for Chelsea Music Festival

Performed by Saba Shabbir and Fred Brown

July 2022

Chelsea Music Festival is delighted to present a durational performance created by 2022 Visual Artist-in-Residence, Jonathan VanDyke.


VanDyke's new work takes inspiration from the complex siblinghood of Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn – whose works and lives are the central focus of the Festival – while investigating conditions of togetherness that came into sharp focus during the pandemic. An Innervated Guest explores the power dynamics that might unfold between intimates over the course of a few hours or an entire life. VanDyke notes: "We learned to relate differently during the pandemic, many of us 'together' more than ever before, and many of us sustaining loneliness and loss, all while asking vital questions about belonging and inclusion. How do we remain deeply present to one another, in real time and space? How do we find each other, again, through periods of dissonance?"


Moving in and around Van Dyke's immersive installation of paintings and sculptures, the two performers–Fred Brown and Saba Shabbir–make sounds in response to one another, using only their voices, bodies, and what they find in the gallery space. Instructed not to use language, the performers manifest possibilities for communicating abstractly and beyond the spoken word.


VanDyke's performance score defines qualities that Brown and Shabbir learn to embody in an intensive series of rehearsals, and then improvise from continuously over the course of three hours. VanDyke notes that he chooses "this intentionally long duration as a way to exhaust one's initial gestures and move into a realm of the unknown." Not unlike a musical score, VanDyke's performance score includes such qualities as tempo and volume, while also defining a range of movement and relational qualities–such as interrupting one another, mirroring each other, and turning away from one another. The performance compels audience members, who may come and go as they please, and may stay as long as they wish, to imagine how two people might build, take apart, and re-build a relationship, especially within the context of loss and grief.


VanDyke notes that, "For the Mendelssohns, gender discrimination played a major role in the ability for Fanny to gain recognition and opportunities to perform her work. I draw upon my long-term exploration of, and participation in, queer partnerships. This performance 'troubles' patriarchal conventions around such qualities as dominance and submission, because the two performers exhibit manners and behaviors that unfold across a constantly shifting spectrum of possibilities, never settling into binaries."


Long invested in multidisciplinary practice as both an internationally recognized artist and teacher, VanDyke began collaborating with actors and dancers in 2006. An Innervated Guest marks his first foray into sound.

This project was made possible through the support of The Chelsea Music Festival. Special thanks to Melinda Lee Masur and Ken-David Masur, Artistic Directors, Karen Seapker, Tiffany N. Fung, and the festival's 2022 interns and festival staff. The performance and exhibition took place at High Line Nine, NYC.

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