Refusing to be Disposed


Created and Performed by Ashley McQueen | Hollins University Master's of Fine Arts in Dance Thesis

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I performatively redefine my role as a woman in America by manipulating and reappropriating symbolic elements within the installation in response to the body politic of the audience.
— Ashley McQueen

Through a multidisciplinary installation with live performance, Refusing to be Disposed presents a female body as a force of power — claiming space, demanding to be seen, and desecrating the American flag in an effort to symbolically dismantle our country's patriarchal umbrella and the metaphorical (and literal) borders women face. 

The Installation

The surrounding space is engulfed by painted and distorted American flags hanging from the ceiling, with the sounds of John Phillip Sousa echoing throughout the hallways of the venue. As the audience enters the performance room, they are met with an audio and projection installation, a mix of distorted clips from the SchoolHouse Rock “Suffering Till Suffrage” song with various ambient sounds and virtual paint splatters layering the images. 

The work progresses through various mood and color shifts, all exploring femininity as spectacle - and my relationship to the audience within our intimate context. I make my way into the paint, ultimately mixing and spreading it all over the white tarp and my own body. The projection fades into quick cuts between a sideways American flag (resembling prison bars) and a stark white screen. Subtle paint fumes fill the room.

The transformation of both the dancer’s body and performance space represents a shift in power and control. The audience exits as I continue moving - folding soaking wet flags and moving through puddles of paint. The culminating floor painting remains in the space post-performance, physical evidence of the labor.

I remain in motion, as the work we have to do as women is never finished.

Research and Structure

 I chose to use the waves of feminism as a loose historical and structural outline. The first section (the audience’s entrance) represents my initial impressions of the first wave of feminism, the era of the Suffragettes—the upper-class white women’s fight for the right to vote, which overshadowed the nonwhite women’s fight against both gender and racial equality.

The introductory section parallels my own past adolescent ignorance of what feminism was; I use an environment of predictability spliced between “marketable utopia” and underlying  rupture. The introduction fades into varying shades of blue projection, leading into the “striptease,” or the stripping of the flags. Each flag represents a layer of conditioned patriarchy—oppression, objectification, inequality. Each flag is an acknowledgment that, while I am in control of my actions, I am still controlled by the capitalist, nationalist umbrella. Once all flags  are off, I am left with four flags sewn together with one end around my neck, an elongated flag leash representing oppression, objectification, and women as property (of men and of the system). Inspired by the second wave of feminism, I toy with my own “radical” experience, exploring femininity as spectacle, “masculine” movement interpretation, power dynamics of sexual exploitation, and desecration of the flag as protest.

The third wave of feminism (argued to be between 1990’s-2010) is embodied in the final section of the work using red, white, and blue paint complemented by a bold series of quick video cuts. I see this section representing the various resistance movements that intersect one another (more so now than ever before). The audience witnesses a chaotic scene of movement, video, sound, and paint. Change happens before their eyes; a clean space becomes messy, blue and red become purple, and the dancer is finally free to move without the constriction of a distorted American symbol. 

This work represents the fourth wave (existing from 2012 to present) by living inside of it. The performer and audience are part of a Fourth Wave movement by actively participating in an event of resistance. 


Contact Ashley McQueen

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All photos by Orfeas Skutelis; MFA Dance Thesis presentation, Hollins University 2018