As a reader of WUSSY, you’re likely familiar with Jared Dawson through his performance work with Legendary Children as Lavonia Elberton, as well as his poetry, writing, and yoga instruction. But this December, trust that you are not familiar with the Church of Lavonia Elberton, staged with funding by a grant from Idea Capital Atlanta.
We spoke with Jared about the project, ritualistic practice, the relationship between yoga and art, and more.
Catch the Church of Lavonia Elberton, premiering at 7:30PM on Sunday, December 6, at Nirvana Yoga Studios, and every Sunday night in December.
Tell us about your process in developing and planning the Church of Lavonia Elberton.
TCoLE has taken so many articulations and permutations through this year. The project began with the idea of creating an event, a single evening of performance. A transaction—this is the thing I have made, and here I offer it to you for viewing. As I developed the ideas of the project more, it became readily apparent that I was looking to create a space of time, a series of events that would foster a sense of community much the way that a Church does.
You have to understand that Church was my life growing up. You didn’t just go to Church on Sunday morning—there was Sunday morning and Sunday evening, Wednesday night, Thursday morning chapel service at school (attached to the Church), and usually one or two other nights for social events.
As I thought of what I wanted TCoLE to bring into the lives of its members, I began to feel the desire to create such a comprehensive opportunity for participation through the project. One evening, one event was all well and good, but I wanted to pack more of a punch than that. As I began to develop the material for a series of performances, a new rub, a new catch entered the arena.
Artistic events tend to have a social quality to them, a time for a couple glasses of wine and a new picture or two for your Instagram. Which, duh, is wonderful—it’s fantastic to spend time with people who enjoy things similar to what you enjoy. The only problem is that I want to save your soul. Or well, maybe more accurately, want to remind you that your soul’s never been in danger. Talk about heavy. What began as adoption of the Church’s forms and behaviors became gravely serious to me. And as it became serious, I realized that I needed to create my own actual Church. My own space. My own forms. My parents always wanted me to grow up to be a pastor and now I finally have. Only, I’m not preaching their Salvation.
What do you see as the relationship between the Church of Lavonia Elberton and organized religion?
TCoLE is directly inspired by and a response to organized religion. There are certain ways that hu-mans behave when they function as a group. There are certain things that they give up and there are certain things to which we gain access. There are parts of Church that I miss—mostly the singing. There really is nothing on this Earth quite like singing together with a group of people. TCoLE is an exploration of this group dynamic, allowing Lavonia to work with and through the collected energy of a community. You can’t make a stew with just one ingredient and each particular quality that participants will bring to TCoLE by their attendance will be threads in the tapestry that Lavonia’s weaving. This will also be a practice of queering—taking an established institutional space and altering it so that it might fit the lives and practices of the participants rather than the other way around.
What inspires the ritualism in your work? What texts do you draw on in that regard?
Basic magick theory: The body follows the brain, the brain follows the breath, energy follows the brain; the brain and the breath can affect energy. Rituals are nothing more than actions in the body that focus the mind, allowing the practitioner to gain increased traction on the energy with which they are working. You can almost think of a ritual as a groove in the fabric of reality, a place worn smooth and dimpled by the repeated utterances of a prayer or series of movements—energy has a familiarity in flowing through that particular pathway and travels it a bit more quickly and with more predictable results. This is why we have Hail Marys and Spellbooks.
My research base for my style of magickal working is fairly diverse, but the ritualism of the majority of my pieces and TCoLE in particular come from personal narratives—stories that I develop in my writing practice that create a universe from which the actions I take and words I speak originate.
What would you say distinguishes this project as a performance art piece, rather than a yoga instruction (forgive me if that’s the improper term)?
Not improper at all—folks have seemed to assume that because the series is taking place in a yoga studio that it will necessarily be a yoga class. This isn’t a crazy assumption, but the only yoga that will be occurring will be super gentle and accessible—we’ll be working more with breath and meditation than crazy postures. I also wouldn’t say that there is a distinct separation between the two. There will be both a portion that is more like a yoga class and a portion that is more like a performance art piece—don’t worry, you get the combo platter with The Church of Lavonia Elberton.
Speaking more broadly, do you see yoga (in whatever form it’s found in popular and everyday culture) as art? If so, is it always or only sometimes art? If not, why?
Not necessarily. I would say that there can be an art to it—but the yoga that is popular everyday culture is not. Most yogis are what are traditionally referred to as “householders.” In its purest practice, one studies in a monastic environment at an ashram—no money, no job, no lover, no problems (other than transcending this mortal coil in search of the subtle and sublime). If one were to practice at that level, where every aspect of the life is devoted to this practice, than sure, I’d call that art. Lululemon stretch pants and wheatgrass shots, though? Not even close. Yoga was never intended to operate within an economy of capitalism—or hell, within economics at all. However, there are a lot of folks, including myself, that have found expansion, grace, and truth through this practice that though diminished from its purest/most extreme form, still carries illumination.
What is the defining aesthetic of this project? What should attendees expect at a performance?
The hybridization of Atlantean Royal High Magick and Appalachian Hedge Magick. Which is to say that the narrative arc this project draws inspiration from is the conspiracy theory that as Atlantis sank, a group of colonists fled the watery metropolis and settled in the Appalachian mountain range. This project imagines the intersection between these two metaphysical systems—one ordered and formal and one harvested from the land. This Lavonia is but one member in a long line of prophetesses from this intermarrying.
Attendees should wear loose comfy clothes.
They should expect gentle stretching (accessible to all bodies), coaching through breathing techniques, and guided visualizations. We’ll be playing with energy work (both singular and group), beginning with developing our innate sensitivity to the energetic field within and around us and working towards directing, moving, and forming these energies. We’ll be talking about basic energetic principles/metaphysical theory, giving participants a firm foundation of knowledge and understanding from which to approach the later energetic exercises.
You could think of it as Lavonia Elberton’s Finishing School for Expansive Hu-mans.
Is it important for attendees to go to all of the performances in the four-week period, or do you expect to see new faces each time?
I would love for folks to come to every single performance but am not married to this happening. There will be some similarities from week to week, but the series is intended to build on techniques and practices learned in earlier weeks. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t show up for the final week if that’s the only one you can make—I wanna see each and every one of you as many times as I can.
What was it like to work with Idea Capital Atlanta?
Idea Capital has been a dream and a pleasure with which to work. Finding organizations eager to fund projects of the nature which I make can be a little challenging but Idea Capital has felt like a great fit through the entire process. My fellow grantees are a diverse group creating great work in Atlanta and I am so honored to be counted among their numbers.
Have you thought about future projects at this stage? Anything you can hint at?
I have, I have. TCoLE will be holding services again in the spring to host a series of Shape Note Singing/Sacred Harp workshops to utilize the throat’s magickal nature. This will be paired again with gentle stretching, breathing exercises, guided visualizations, and group energy work, culminating in a final Sacred Harp service led by Lavonia Elberton.
See Lavonia Elberton at the Church of Lavonia Elberton, December 6 at Nirvana Yoga Studios, and every Sunday night in December.