A Q&A with co-founder of Meshroom Marika Niko
Marika Niko, co-founder of Meshroom, taking place on Thursday, September 21, shares about the project and its mission to create a space for communal exploration and reflection. Marika says, "between the cozy seating areas and the numerous multisensorial happenings in the space, things are organically and constantly affecting and connecting with each other in micro/macroscopic ways; one is part of the 'mesh.'”
What is Meshroom?
Meshroom is a performance environment that forms an intellectual/intentional community around an open dancefloor. It is a space for transcending narrow languages, ungrounding from fixed realities, and co-creating temporary worlds in movement. Meshroom is shaped by the movement, dreams, hopes and queerness of everyone in the room: it is a weaving of wild minds and soft bodies. All visitors are welcome to move, rest, witness, think, melt and dance with live music and occasional performances.
Meshroom will take place on Thursday, September 21 from 7-9 p.m. in the Rubenstein Arts Center. The event is free and open to the public. Visitors can drop-in and drop-out at any time during Meshroom. Learn more.
How do you hope people will feel after they leave Meshroom?
I always want to ask the visitors in return: “what did it do for you?”
At the same time, an important thing I keep in mind is to design a space that is non-threatening and facilitate the event in a way that never forces any particular form of participation. When there is a participatory element in any performance, it can push people away, since people anticipate that they may have to interact with performers who have an agenda for you. But at Meshroom, no one will force anyone to do anything. It is a space for individual exploration and reflection in a communal setting. But slowly one might realize that between the cozy seating areas and the numerous multisensorial happenings in the space, things are organically and constantly affecting and connecting with each other in micro/macroscopic ways; one is part of the “mesh.”
Photo by Yasaman Baghban
When you started the Meshroom project, you were a student in the MFAEIP program, and now, you are the arts administration fellow at Duke Arts. How has this changed your experience or perspective in creating and facilitating Meshroom?
Even though it was a side project at first, Meshroom became a huge part of my artistic thinking and eventually became my MFA Thesis project. Working with Leo Ryan and Michael Grigoni, as well as my incredible advisors Professors Sarah Wilbur, Pedro Lasch, and Michael Kliën, the two years in the program allowed me to deepen the conceptual and theoretical ideas behind the project. It felt as though the foundation was consolidated during that time.
After doing Meshroom for six iterations in 2022-2023 and formulating my thoughts in the form of a thesis writing, I feel as though it is now time for me to go broader and deeper in my practice. As a Duke Arts Admin Fellow, I feel that my platform and reach has expanded, simply considering the scale of the organization and the imprint it has within the local community. I would love to use this opportunity to explore deeper into what a social choreographic practice is: how do I meet communities across campus and the city, what does it mean to build this porous embodied thinking/moving environment, and how can I contribute to cultivating a culture that habitualizes knowing through our bodies?
You have described yourself as a “nomad” – living in Thailand, UK, the Netherlands, UAE, Japan, and now the USA. Do you think your global background has informed the creation of Meshroom, and if so, how?
Being in different contexts for short periods of time, I often found myself having to make friends and find (somewhere I call) home very fast. My yearning for community in every new place I went to was so strong, even though I knew I had to say goodbye to it again soon. It was the same thing when I came to the US two years ago for graduate school.
This relationship to people, to place, and time has engrained in me the idea that the one constant in my life is change. And this is the core aesthetic of Meshroom. It is designed to be everchanging in its drop-in drop-out format, the choreographic structure of the event, and the improvisatory music and movement. Inviting people into a space of change can on the one hand forest unexpected connections and imagine alternative configurations; but it can also dissolve unwanted relationships or resist having a singular authority. I’m interested in how the back-and-forth and twist-and-turns can allow us to experience different modalities and relationalities, and how these multiple modes of being together can help us question norms and brew empathy with one another.
If you could create a Meshroom anywhere, where would you choose and why?
My hope is for Meshroom to travel. Even though Meshroom came out of this educational community with an aim to weave interdisciplinary connections, I have learned how it has become an effective community transformative tool that meaningfully gathers people across differences. I would love to seed this tool in different places across the globe, where there is the need, and meet a local choreographer, curator, and organizer, who would be interested in localizing the initiative in their context. As for me, I want to take it back home to Japan next. I have some wild movement and performance artists/friends that might germinate an experimental, strange, and extraordinary Meshroom in Tokyo.
Why did you choose to host Meshroom on the Duke campus?
Meshroom was a project that organically came out while I was a graduate student at the Duke Dance MFA Program: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis. In the first semester of the program, my cohort and I were constantly investigating the rawness and richness of our bodies, exploring spirituality, transcorporeality, or transgenerational memory in each movement we made. We didn’t choreograph 8-count steps to create something for a proscenium stage; dance was a process for us to think and a practice for us to excavate and produce knowledge.
It was not long when we realized that there wasn’t a place on Duke’s campus and there weren’t many people who understood what embodied research was with all its complexity and nuances. We felt rather isolated and sometimes underestimated as a producer of knowledge within this research institution. With the encouragement from Choreographer Michael Kliën, my cohort Leo Ryan and I worked to create a space that made embodied thinking relevant to all. We wanted to gather interdisciplinary thinkers across campus and across Durham to and organize a movement environment that centers the body in how we think and perceive the world. We organized our first Meshroom in a place that was familiar to us: the graduate dance studio, The Ark.
About the Artist:
Marika Niko (she/they) is a choreographer, mover, and thinker from Japan. After being a nomad for most of her life ‒ Thailand, UK, the Netherlands, UAE, Japan ‒ she is currently based in the US. She graduated from New York University Abu Dhabi with a BA in Theater and Duke University’s Dance: Embodied interdisciplinary Praxis with an MFA in Dance. They are interested in using choreography as a tool to imagine, rehearse, and experience alternative forms of social organization. As a choreographer, curator, facilitator, and community-organizer, she creates situations that weave different relationships among humans, non-humans, space, and time. Their ongoing work Meshroom (2022 to present) proposes alternative and interdisciplinary ways of relating and thinking through dance by drawing upon two movement disciplines: social choreography and Japanese butoh.
Marika Niko is the co-founder of Meshroom along with Leo Ryan. She plays multiple roles in Meshroom: choreographer and facilitator, designer of the space, curator of the movement and visual/mix-media offerings, and an administrator.
September 21st 2023 7-9PM von der Heyden Studio Theater, Rubenstein Arts Center
Join for Meshroom
Arts / Rubenstein Arts Center, von der Heyden Studio Theater — 7:00 PM – 9:00 PMSep 21