Jenn Joy’s blog – Conversations Without Walls: Ecstatic Alliances, October 1, 2011
October 18, 2011
Thoughts following Conversations without Walls
Ecstatic Alliances, Saturday, October 1, 2011
Participants: Judy Hussie-Taylor, Ishmael Houston-Jones, David Parker, Melinda Ring, Ralph Lemon, Jeremy Wade, Tim Griffin, Dean Moss. Moderated by Jenn Joy.
To continue the conversation… THANK YOU again to all of the participants for the generosity of your words and time and to Judy Hussie-Taylor for her invitation to imagine these conversations in the first place.
Coming to writing… I’m stealing this phrase from Hélène Cixous as it speaks to the time lag of translation from this first Conversation without Walls into something of a written reflection. I sense Cixous’s relationship to writing is a choreographic one: writing requires movement and a desire to decipher something that might not be legible. Listen to her first line: “In the beginning, I adored. What I adored was human. Not persons; not totalities, not defined and named being. But signs. Flashes of being that glanced off me, kindling me. Lightening-like bursts that came to me: Look!”
The flashes and bursts and trajectories from these compelling conversations are still coming into focus. What follows are my provisional reflections on the dramaturgy of the table: invitation, approach, participation, exit and one final curtain call.
Part of the impetus for this series was to look directly at issues surrounding contemporary choreographic practice to ask how choreography is being thought as concept and as process. What does choreography produce socially, relationally, politically? What openings does it suggest for curating and writing and art-making practices? Why does choreography matter now?
And it does matter now. Dance is the hot medium right now. It is has become the go-to for innovative visual arts curating as witnessed in the Move exhibition at Hayward Gallery in London; On Line: Drawing through the Twentieth-Century at MoMA; Dancing through Life that will open at the Pompidou Centre in November; Dance/Draw at ICA in Boston, as examples of sites where dance offers visual art a different set of techniques or calls attention to the logic of production differently or perhaps more self-reflexively. In these moments, trespassing into the terrain of dance offers “something else” (to steal another phrase this one from Ernst Bloch quoting Bertolt Brecht on the utopian function of art more generally).
Theoretically speaking the figure of dance and the dancer also appear as important conceptual models—of virtuosic mobility or a kind of slippery subversion—that is often unhinged from any specific dance or work or artist. Here I am thinking of conversations with Jacques Derrida (when he cites Emma Goldman, “if I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution” that extends to his assessment of the intertwining of feminine and writing and dancing as an “incalculable choreographies”) or French philosopher Alain Badiou’s essay “Dance as a Metaphor for Thought.” For Badiou dance is a “thought-body” (Nietzsche meet Spinoza) rendering the powerful convergence of corporeality and concept within which dance becomes “the bodily manifestation of disobedianceto an impulse.” In another instance, Italian political theorist Paulo Virno evokes the anonymous abstracted “dancer” to conceptualize a new form of virtuosic labor, an “activity without end product [that requires] a witness.”
How do we think or write or speak across these disparate discourses? How might these concepts translate (or not) into different fields? How do we deal with what Tim Griffin described in the third section Curatorial Interventions (in conversation with Judy Hussie-Taylor and Dean Moss) as the “miscommunications” that happen in these acts of “appropriation across discipline”?
How then is dance being defined and by whom? What then is choreography?
When asked what choreography is, choreographer Jérôme Bel replied “choreography is just a frame, a structure, a language where much more than dance is inscribed.” “The something else” or the “much more” are excesses that cannot quite be articulated. For me, this is the work of choreography and perhaps of choreographic thinking.
Choreography is incredibly seductive as it creates field of alliances or constellations and this happens not only within singular works but also as a curatorial project. So to think or curate choreographically might also pressure the definition of curator as one who deals in context as medium.
Last summer Frakcija: Performing Arts Journal based in Zagreb published a series of ruminations on the work of curating for performing arts. Artist Jan Ritsema opens with a text that aligns the programmer with the doctor, assigning her a prescriptive curative function and then demands instead that we listen to what is “difficult to cure”… what is “undefinable, uncurable, uncuratable,” impossible, horrible. Ritsema’s text is as much an accusation as it is a provocation that also calls attention to the stakes of curating and how the procedures of “selection, assemblage, mediation” not only respond to but also create discourse.
For me, choreography and curation share similar forms—a constellation of seemingly disparate objects, voices, ideas—that when brought together incite something else. Perhaps in the ecstatic moments, the curator becomes what Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls the figure of “the contemporary.” The poet [the choreographer, the artist, the curator who]—firmly holds [her] gaze on [her] own time so as to perceive not its light but its darkness.”
And so if we want to think about choreography and curation as contingent processes than we need to speak specifically to the artists and writers and thinkers and curators (not that these are ever discrete catagories) who are doing this work.
To ask not only what is choreography now, but what is the use-value of choreography now?
Ecstatic Alliances was the first of three events to be followed by Mutual Seductions (5 November) and Choreography under the Influence (3 December). The first section “Genealogies and Retrospection” returned to the innovative Platform series to ask how artists are shifting curatorial models in terms of structure and content and then looks at other curatorial models. Participants included Judy Hussie Taylor, Ishmael Houston-Jones, David Parker, Melinda Ring.
Each of the Platform curators developed quite different strategies for dealing with the resources and time of the series. In her Platform RETRO(intro)spection Melinda Ring cultivated a “durational conversation” with a single choreographer, Susan Rethorst, giving her all of the resources (financial and temporal). Transposing the model of the mid-career survey from visual arts programming to that of dance, Ring and Rethorst opened up spaces to witness history restaged or see the contemporary within past work.
Across these Platforms it is not only the contemporary status of choreography that comes into question, but its relationship to and use of historical precedent and terminology. Dean Moss’s comments in Curatorial Interventions explicitly extend these questions to ask—what is needed right now? How might a curatorial role take on an interrogative function? How might the works themselves work against a too easy “omnivorous consumption” of work?
David Parker spoke about an ethical or democratic impulse that inspired a broad range of work to question relationships between genre and category and generation. Parker spoke of a “cognitive flexibility” exhibited in the work of his Platform Body Madness that moved across different surfaces, shifting between categories and genres. Many of the genres, Parker named share a life as “entertainment” and here began a sticking point in the conversations about the value of dance as entertainment or the taboo surrounding entertainment in contemporary dance. This conversation is still in process….
This to be continued quality also animated the relationships between different “generations” if that is even the word to use. Ralph Lemon evoked the deaths of Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch to ask… “what is culturally happening now?” And both Parker and Lemon called on future generations of artists to take responsibility for making the next move and translating these old forms into something else. A quality that Parker pointed to in Aynsley Vandenbroucke’s work as “summing up” or translating some of the tendencies and categories his Platform investigated in a different way.
Turning toward the future—Ishmael Houston-Jones’s upcoming Platform revisits the seminal series Parallels he curated 30 years ago at Danspace Project in 1982. Bringing back the artists from the original series in different roles as curators the epic Platform will include 47 artists to question, “What is Black?” “And if it doesn’t exist, why not?” To give just a few hints…
“Alien words” as David Parker described those terms that do not sit well with what is being created, witnessed or discussed. Here language often forces a conceptual stutter when placed in relationship to labor of choreography. It was intriguing to note that part of coming to choreography (for myself) and in distinct ways for Judy Hussie-Taylor and Tim Griffin involved a movement from poetics to choreography. Hussie-Taylor speaks of her fall into role of “accidental curator” through the influential work of Anne Waldman and Allen Ginsberg. And Griffin spoke of his work on Mallarmé and Kenneth Koth as linguistic structures that set a stage for thinking about a “corporeal writing” that he brings to his new role at The Kitchen.
This resistant force of language found its most difficult moments in the second section on Ecstatic Uncertaintieswith Ralph Lemon and Jeremy Wade. Returning to questions of uncertainty, ecstatic experience, altered states or what as Hussie-Taylor tentatively calls “performative states of consciousness” I asked how Lemon and Wade’s curatorial work evoked these states? Or how Lemon’s Platform I Get Lost or Wade’s Politics of Ecstasy festival in Berlin answered some of the questions raised in Lemon’s own catalog essay.
“What is the belief network of your art practice, the belief system in your thinking and in the chemical responses of your body?”
“What are some of the (shifting) essentials of your formal concepts? Is there a pattern that has become manifest over time?”
“Do you think your body has a point of view in this (conceptual) thinking, a faith? An agreement, and/or argument?”
“I get lost.”
A pause… then Lemon responded: “I am not interested in belief anymore.” Then he continues “body conundrum… possession… spectators…translation across experience.” How “to think about what a body can’t do?” If the form or container creates something “knowable” “then what can’t be held” or contained?
Wade replies: “choreography is the space of ‘something else’… ecstasy, disorientation, not knowing… sinking into numbness…nightmares…untenable…It gets me closer to god. I don’t know what god is…a threshold to facilitate an experience…to destroy the solid gesture…there is glitter everywhere…ecstatic clouds.”
And then Lemon evokes Steve Paxton and the investigation of the cellular until “ultimately you find something graceful.”
(These ellipses reflect both my incomplete or indecipherable notes and also perhaps the quality of these exchanges.)
Wade and Lemon’s dialogue evoked a more intimate interlude and meditation surrounding uncertainty as question and concept or why perhaps getting lost, ecstasy, joy, difficulty animate these distinct curatorial experiments by Wade, Lemon, and Trajal Harrell.
What use is the ecstatic now? In her mediation on the relationship between the mystical and historical tensions in George Bataille’s writing, Amy Hollywood returns us to the political power of the ecstatic—as writing and as choreographic gesture when she writes: “Only ecstatic attention to the real and its catastrophes can serve as the basis for contestation and change – and that change will always be incomplete, unfinished, and without limit.”
I sense these ambivalences also feed into the responses to the final question asked of the entire group: why choreography now? A question that has already been answered implicitly and explicitly for the last three hours. Yet I desire to hear it answered again…
To be continued…
Join us at Conversations Without Walls: Trespassing on November 2, 2011.