Re: Writing for the Walker/Mn Artists

Writing towards and beside SENDING OUT THE SMOKE FOR FUTURE FIRES: across the ether, 2021, part of Choreographers' Evening 2021

Black and white photo of herbs, paper, charcoal wrapped in plastic.
1Julie Tolentino, SENDING OUT THE SMOKE FOR FUTURE FIRES: across the ether, 2021. Photo: Julie Tolentino.

Julie Tolentino <t************@***.com>
Sat 11/20/21 10:52 AM
To: Gastineau, Emily <e***********@w********.org>
Cc: Valerie Oliveiro <v**********@*****.com>

Hi Emily & Val,

First hello—hope you are well! 

Currently, we are at these locations:

JULIE:   LAT 41.120193   
         LONG: -106.229033
VAL:     LAT 1.3547970056533813
         LONG 103.98958587646484
EMILY:   LAT 44.9679991
         LONG -93.28877

Second, want to thank you for your patience! I have made a few decisions on my submission and I am hoping that this will be okay. Val, I really wanted to go over the last email I sent to you and I am sure things are hectic and full where you are, so I made a choice on a text!


  • I made an object (performative object that encloses elements of a performance & the text I chose to include is its press release. —> I know this seems dumb, but it is uniquely written by myself and Commonwealth & Council gallery editor Mark So. This press release has been as important as the work—which is a very key work for me—made in 2019. It is also related to a commission at Performance Space New York and subsequent projects/thinking/exchanges since. 

*need to credit MARK SO

  • The objects are done (I will send an image) which consist of herbs, charcoal, leather, and gold leaf sealed in a textured plastic wrap. Each contains a cut-up copy of the release—though it will not be fully evident that it is a press release. They are very light as the contents are compressed. 

As object: This creates a kind of LANDSCAPE in one’s hand.

Contents include:

  • Herbs (in various combinations and quantities): mugwort, damiana, rose, peony, sage, Wyoming sagebrush, marigold. 
  • Charcoal is a small brick of Japanese charcoal wrapped in metallic gold thread (another staple from my work.)
  • Text did not need edits, however, it did require me to rethink how to work with my text and then to cut the texts into pieces and assemble the innards in a way that each one is unique. Another kind of “edit” or “cut.”


The project is a performative object AND includes a text and surrounding elements from my work.

  • The project that I am offering will be distributed at the theater on the night of the performance. For the writing online—it will only be “pointed at” in the web portion. & as we know, what we are reading IS the web portion.

As we discussed, my preference is that the writing is not to be separated from the piece itself; the piece itself is both a performative object and writing (as the writing exists inside of the sealed object.) —> However, the idea of the work is that it is interactive—and that the text may be physically embedded or absorbed, and possibly, conceptually, unreadable/inaccessible.  

It will be received with instructions that suggest that the work can be “held”—i.e., never opened, never “seen” outside of its current state, AND never read


the work is asked to be opened —> and the contents: burned. 

Both former and latter are performances: 

  • In this former, the project is a performative object (and it is “sealed,” like memory and shared as an object.)
  • In the latter, the project is talisman—a performative object that may create a kind of interactive “performance” with the MN community. 

This work in both forms offers a way of connecting/performing/being present together —> via smoke.

So here is the reveal—the writing and performance and the performative object are transformed into a SMOKE. That is the ultimate goal of the project.

HOWEVER, having done this before, I know that people will resist opening the object <!> and this is totally fine. 

This “work” is a bundle:

It is a small artwork that exists both conceptually and materially. It follows the rules (it is a piece of writing, it is performative.) It is part of Mn Artists and the performance evening by being handed out randomly. It can be interacted with or held/collected. If it will be thrown away, it is preferred that it is shared instead—with another. It does not have to be opened. The potential for it to become a smoke is all that matters. The fact that it lives with someone else’s decision is all that matters. Much like a live performance or a text—it is released into space and its afterlife. It is held by our experience of exchange.


As we anticipated, there is not enough for an entire 100+ audience! 

I have worked within the $200 budget—including the shipping, specialty plastic, herbs, charcoal, leather pieces, gold leaf, and as you know, it exceeds the budget! I made as many as I could with the materials. I also included local foraged sagebrush (it is so fine and smells so beautiful!) and I have worked as quickly as possible given this Fall. Unexpected, filled with changes—for all of us, I know!

What is needed is a final discussion on how to put “something” on the web to mark my inclusion—and perhaps, I want to propose something like this email (with edits, of course.) 

This email would go online—and would be seen as my writing contribution accompanying/as part of the project.

In some ways, this is the more important writing —> the writing of and in relationship to Val as the curator of this performance/writing evening, and Emily as editor, collaborator.

For me, the writing that constitutes planning is rarely seen in performance—and as an artist who has been an advocate for other artists, as an artist who has tried to use words to support artists and my own project—and because I am not a “writer,” I do see how kind of full, excessive, desirous these types of emails are. How hard they strive to be understood.   

These writings are filled with desire and the hope for connection and understanding. 

They circulate amongst artists and participants, artists and institutions, artists and curators. 

They ask things from the institution and communicate both art and resource.

We are all often playing multi-roles. The artworks too, play multiple roles.


For me, this is the writing that I am trying to share—while not being lost merely in ideas—in the way that I use performance through and with and as objects. I am trying to expose true interdisciplinarity and reveal the TIME we spend together to make things happen. To look at the language (and lack of “good” writing skills) that these emails take up. And how hard we have to read for and towards each other.

To reach into the brilliant community of artists that Val/Emily you bring together for this project in a city far from my own, or where I cannot join you—is to also weave the time we have already spent, continue to spend, and will spend through personal and professional and artist occurrences in our lives while making this. What I send to you is an example of how writing and texts work for me—and it is my way of sharing a performative gesture, a way of bringing us together in the ether, the smoke, the distances of COVID, the ways our bodies are separated right now—me on residency, Emily surprised to be home from hers, and Val taking deep care “at home.” The overlap of performance and writing is so embedded in our ways of being.

I know this contribution asks much more of your time, the Walker’s time—than an invitation to a night of performance and writing. I have engaged in so many gorgeous experiences of writing and seeing and feeling and doing and moving with you, Val—that this seems appropriate to share. And this is a work—of writing and performance—and it was my way of making a performance with people during COVID. 

  • This is a similar object derived from another project—my final MFA project (however I had enclosed two small booklets of writing with the herbs and gold, etc.) This was in 2020 when all was fully shut as I was wrapping up a graduate degree at 100 years old. 

The “complication” or the complexity of this project, and my approach, clearly integrates all of these things. And it has been a lot for all of us, as we have lost 3/4 of a million people in this country alone and have been upending closed doors to discrimination(s.) Of course, we have been picking up the work of activists and ordinary people working across the globe. This is a tribute to them—all of the parts, people—here and lost—>particles it takes to be together somewhere. This project isn’t exact—but in its awkwardness and its potential for not being fully “known” or understood, we take some changes to connect along the way. 

I will stop here. I am thinking that we should publish THIS—this email. Val’s invitation. And? 

Meaning, this goes on the website. 

NO object. 

Like performance, sometimes you have to be there. 

Sometimes you “get it” and sometimes you don’t (in relation to the object itself!)

I will also offer a short text to distribute WITH the object, to point to what this is, what it is doing in their hands! 

I thank Val for letting me dream this into being. For Emily for being so open to editing a moving text and idea. To Julie Voigt (who may remember me from 90s David Roussève company touring—or Ron Athey & Co.—with Divinity, Pigpen, Ron, and I at the Walker via Patrick’s Cabaret…a lifetime ago) for receiving the package in her name for the Walker. Thanks to the ushers who will be kind to join in our scheme and encourage people to share in the experience by sharing the objects in thought and action.

Sorry it has taken so long but…all the reasons. 

I have loved putting these together, spending so much time thinking of how this has come to be, and the afterlives of its distribution.

Val—be sure that you get your choice of objects (they are various sizes!) Emily too. 

  • I can forward larger images.

I knew I would like to expand this project from 2020—and I am so grateful, Val, that you present me with your invitation—including my “extra” needs. Sorry—not sorry!  : )

I hope you find a generous place of working through being together on the planet as performers/writers in this gesture. &, as you know, I find myself on the precipices of movement and art and writing and have worked behind the scenes and with various kinds of institutions for so long (mostly unseen, misunderstood, very materially shifted by these encounters regardless of being “known” for it)—so this notion of putting it all up in smoke as a connection is my offering, to the belief in ephemeral connections, and the materiality of (unseen) touch—a place often filled by words/memory/change.

I will be in touch with UPS/FedEx delivery tracking. 

Much love, 

*Note: the GPS coordinates need updating.

Emily, I put you at the Walker.

Val, I put you at the Singapore airport.


xoxo j
Julie Tolentino (she/they interchangeably)
Tolentino Projects
Fall 2021++:
MacDowell, Peterborough, NH, October 2021
UCROSS Herb Alpert Residency Prize, Clearmont, WY, November 2021
FOREVER YOUNG, Art Basel Miami Beach, December 2021
UCLA Alma Hawkins Chair at World Arts & Cultures, Winter 2022
NYU Steinhart Scholar-in-Residence, Sept 2021-2022
homeLA commission: LOVE COME QUICK, Los Angeles, March 2022


Julie Tolentino (Filipino-Salvadorean, she/they interchangeably) is an interdisciplinary artist invested in durational performance, installation, object-making, and texts. Her work has been shown at The New Museum, Aspen Art Museum, Nevada Art Museum, Thessaloniki Biennial, Performance Space New York, The Kitchen, Participant, Inc. (NY); Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions-LACE, Commonwealth and Council (Los Angeles); The Lab (San Francisco) amongst others. She is the senior …   read more