Sites from Stephanie Leathers

Sites photo by Brian Livingstone

Sites photo by Brian Livingstone

Who? So many dancers, musicians, and photographers.

What? Sites. Durham embedded performance art.


Where? Next at Durham Fruit and Produce Co., 305 South Dillard Street*, previously everywhere.

When? Friday, February 16th, 8pm

Stephanie Leathers’s Sites is performance art with all its rough majesty and temporal futility. It is the epitome of “you had to be there”. It is not subtle. It is harsh and thundering. It makes you ask questions about why you engage with art.

Stefanie Leathers from a performance at Pleiades Gallery

Stephanie Leathers from a performance at Pleiades Gallery


If art is a metaphor, what is the distance between what art is saying and what society is doing? What if it is nil? Is art then a metaphor or a much more dangerous and rebellious act of protest? Totalitarian societies have had to ask themselves this question seriously, with deadly consequences.

I have argued in these pages previously that art is embedded in the society it comes from, it isn’t owned, but it is rooted- think soil and a plant.

In an era of extreme wealth, rapid development, and Trumpian ostentation is Durham pushing back or caving in? Art is at the forefront of that debate.

Leathers’s Sites modern dance performances are embedded in Durham and specifically Durham’s ever changing development. The performances are ephemeral one-offs, you saw it or you didn’t.

photo by Chris Vitiello

photo by Chris Vitiello


photo by Chris Vitiello

photo by Chris Vitiello

Leathers and Sites have danced on rooftops and in what was once dubbed the “Pit of Gentrification”.

When Leathers is the primary dancer, Sites frequently involves ropesbinding, and stray bits of string. I recall Leathers unfurling herself over a very long hour out the door of an art gallery into Chapel Hill Street to the confusion and consternation of passers-by.

Leathers frequent lathers herself into a sweat, her eyes, and face obscured by her dark hair. The Indy Week called her performances “trance-like”. I would concur for the performer, yes, but for the audience the inactivity is palpable in a way that invites self-examination.

There is another human being, a sweaty, intense, purposeful human being, moving about the floor in front of you, entangled.

photo by Stephen Raburn

photo by Stephen Raburn

Ergo, who the fuck am I standing here watching this?

Sites photo by Kim Gray

Sites photo by aureole photo

My friend Lee Moore pointed out to me that Sites is the old Durham way in that it is highly collaborative. So many people have already participated, from the music angle Tommy Rau has been a staple, but Johnathan Lawrence Harmon aka The Real Laww, John Le Sueur aka JLa, and Curtis Eller have all made music for and with Sunday Sites. This Friday the music will be The Lice; a trio featuring Duncan Webster of Beauty World and Hammer no More the Fingers, Nick Wallhauser, one of the Raundhaus co-founders, the polymath Rau.

Anna Barker Sites photo by Stephanie Leathers

Anna Barker dances in the Durham Skate Park photo by Stephanie Leathers

The coterie of  other dancers who have performed? A less than exhaustive search of Sunday Sites dancers included Anna Barker, Emily Aiken, Ally Lloyd, Nicole Oxendine, Anne Talkington, Kristin Taylor, Syndney Vigotov, Stacy Wolfson, Ashlee Ramsey, Myra Scibetta Weise, and Jody Cassell. (Apologies to anyone I missed.)

Photographically Kim Gray, Brian Livingstone, Chris Cherry, and Stefanie Leathers herself have been among those documenting the series. I am eagerly awaiting the physical exhibit that documents Sites.

Besides the roof and the pit, Sunday Sites has danced in the Durham skate park, The Pleiades, Major the Bull’s Plaza, the old Liberty Arts at Goldenbelt, the abandoned Fishmongers site that is now St. James Seafood, the storage building on West Seminary Avenue, y mas y mas.

Sites at Seminary Storage


Sites at Seminary Storage 2

Again the Indy’s Michaela Dwyer said it well, “Leathers’s …SITES series is a performance art map of Durham development.”

This is what I thought about Sunday Sites when I first wrote about Leathers and the series in 2016. I stand by it.

It [Sunday Sites performance] is the tree growing in concrete. It is the possibility of anything happening anywhere. It is a tiny nudge that says this space is not gone. It is not useless. No space is useless. All can be transformed. This is the DNA of hope. It is the substance of what can be transformative. The recognition that all spaces and all places can be transformed.

I was reminded of the old REM tune that asks you to, stand in the place that you live, stand in the place that you work, and challenges you to look at them differently than you have before…


*Yes, the legendary home of 305 South Anti-Mall. If you don’t know, ask somebody.

Aaron Mandel

Aaron Mandel is a writer and an accomplished public speaker. He is the publisher of the Clarion Content. For more than a decade, the Clarion Content has covered Durham’s arts, politics, music, and cultural milieu. From breaking news stories to the hottest local acts, the Clarion Content is on the scene. The Clarion Content published more than twenty distinguished guest columnists and garnered nearly a million views. Mandel is a volunteer for the Durham Mighty Pen Literacy Project and serves as the President of the Board of Sustain-A-Bull Durham, a local small business collective with more than 200 members. He writes regularly on the Clarion Content and has been quietly writing fiction since the 4th grade. Mandel has been published in the Raleigh News and Observer. He has also produced numerous art shows, including, “Durham under Development”. He was a featured speaker at “The State of Publishing” conference. He has presented to Durham Chamber of Commerce, “Chamber U” on the “New Media”. He has also served as the play-by-play announcer for the D.B.L., a Durham youth basketball league. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Religious Studies from Indiana University in Bloomington. An avid policy debater at Indiana and a Nation Debate Tournament qualifier, Mandel was also a member of the New Jersey State Champion two-person Policy Debate Team. He has lived in North Carolina, New Jersey, California, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Indiana, and Baja California, Mexico.

Be first to comment