Jenn Joy’s blog – Conversations Without Walls: Mutual Seductions, November 5
November 23, 2011
Mutual Seductions with participants: Connie Butler, DD Dorvillier, Mika Rottenberg, Suzanne Bocanegra, Jenny Schlenzka, Brennan Gerard, Ryan Kelly, Mika Tajima, Huffa Frobes-Cross, Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion. Moderated by Jenn Joy. Followed by questions with Judy Hussie-Taylor.
…to continue from where we left off in October.
The title for this second conversation event Mutual Seductions acts as a cipher for my own desire to escape from the claustrophobic categorization of something called dance versus something called visual arts. When framed as a polemic, I sense we immediately find ourselves facing a dead end that doesn’t allow for attending to qualities of contingency, influence, implication, proximity already present in works across discipline. So instead of playing out this either or framing, I want to shift the frame to think about choreography as a mode, technique, concept that already underwrites these practices and techniques or perhaps becomes a point of contact across disciplinary lines.
And then this returns to the refrain of these “conversations without walls”: why choreography now? What does choreography offer in the midst of this particular moment of cultural crisis when one response to the incredible frustration with power, media, and impotence of speaking against has exploded or rather been directed into a multiple occupations in real space. How might choreography as concept and practice figure in this dynamic?
Put another way how might choreographic strategies figure in thinking across political possibilities of art? A few weeks ago, artist Paul Chan was speaking with Boston ICA curator Helen Molesworth in conjunction with the exhibition Dance/Draw and described “politics as concentrating power and art as dispensing of power.” Concentration and dispersal—choreographic moves with very different implications.
So rather than use dance, dancing, choreographing, choreography as ciphers for something that is simultaneously corporeal and mystical or an enigma of illegibility that is called upon to act as an escape route from other representational models, I want to look for specific languages and practices around how choreography is being deployed in disparate sites and for different means to ask what the politics of this transmission across disciplines and discourses might look like.
In the last conversation, Ralph Lemon described choreography as “body conundrum… possession…spectators…translation across experience.” And Jeremy Wade continued: “choreography is the space of ‘something else’… ecstasy, disorientation, not knowing…the untenable… …a threshold to facilitate an experience…there is glitter everywhere…ecstatic clouds.”
Choreography as conundrum, translation, disorientation, glitter everywhere, these qualities speak not only to dance but generatively to other mediums and practices as well. So rather than return to the question asked by Carrie Lambert-Beatty in the Dance/Draw catalog: “What is at stake when art goes dancing?” We might instead attend to the choreographic impulses already intrinsic in works across media. Perhaps then dance can become something else than either “a remainder, dangling outside the main equation […or] a supplement—the seemingly appended, extraneous element that in fact reveals the insufficiency of the thing to which it is attached” as Lambert-Beatty concludes.
And so my wish for this particular conversation was to break with the divisive split between dance versus visual art and to look instead at the mutually seductive work of choreography as a technique, strategy, concept, as trespassing across. What is revealed, left behind, or produced?
For me, choreography invites a rethinking of position and orientation in relationship to politics, to speech, to language, to composition, to articulation (sculptural, anatomical, linguistic, sonic) that incites a more extended dynamic, one that has moved beyond the implications of its early etymology. As discussed by André Lepecki, the term orchesographie was first uttered around a table shared by a young lawyer learning ballet from his Jesuit priest. In its early pedagogical moments, choreography as the literal inscription of movement is marked by demands of the church and the law. In contemporary usage, choreography (as concept and practice) instead describes a structure that is connected to physicality and inscription but is not only that; choreography figures an occupation in and of space and perhaps might model latent movements of social occupation.
I was thinking of this misé en scene of lawyer-student and theologian-teacher when witnessing the gorgeous Endless Love/Reusable Parts by Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly that premiered at Danspace Project the weekend following this conversation…thinking about but only for a moment. Quite quickly the four corners of the more claustrophobic space installed with the sanctuary at St. Mark’s Church roll open and shift angles to suggest multiple rooms and passages as the dancers stand and speak and move through the disparate apertures at some later moments tumbling into the audience as they embrace and roll along the platform seats and then return to the floor. What I see and what I hear are often disconnected through repetition and relay and the effects of this transversal always shifting dramaturgy.
This is as much a choreography of utterance as it is of dance; one dancer listens and speaks and is recorded but not amplified and then another listens and speaks and is not amplified while the earlier versions now resonate through the space and on and on. This repetition works to break down the sameness of the score and any singularity of narrative that might become recognizable through the act of the refrain. Instead reiteration produces gaps and uncertainties, gorgeous shifts of balance, confusing placements of knees to floor as arm wraps head awkwardly gently to kiss on the forearm, to roll over and under and across, and kiss her own, his own, their own arm again, lightly. Endless Love/Reusable Parts undoes the pedagogy of dance through intimate and obscured listening and illuminates the implicit (and usually unacknowledged) erotics of knowledge transferred as gesture, as movement, as word.
This process of listening and speaking and recording, listening and moving in a sense also structures the dramaturgy of the table for these Conversations without Walls, a series of dialogues that trespass across disciplinary lines through language around a small round table.
I invited the opening group provisionally titled, Trespassing, including Connie Butler, DD Dorvillier, Mika Rottenberg, Suzanne Bocanegra to speak about their recent projects and current obsessions, but then asked explicitly about the use of line in their work as I was trying to trace a perhaps too literal arc connecting different approaches to choreography as labor, as feminist practice, as institutional critique.
An attention to line is made explicit in the curatorial framing Butler speaks of in relation to the exhibition One Line: Drawing through the Twentieth Century (co-curated with Catherine de Zegher) in which they look to work in the 60s specifically Richard Tuttle and Lygia Clark, as examples, worked to shift the line “off page into space, into bodies, and then into networks of line and movement as metaphors of social space.” Here the line extends into the space of the exhibition itself and determines the viewer sight lines activating a transfer from linear to spatial that Rottenberg describes in her own drawing practice as the lines in the drawings become “actions that index her entire body” and movements and that these drawings act as a kind of choreography that becomes “much more crazy” as the work develops.
The interruptive force of line in social space or as architectural irruption allows for Rottenberg to speak of horizontal and vertical lines within the videos that reflect a kind of “emotional architecture” that is subjective to each particular body. Butler also spoke of the radical presence of the dance in the MoMA atrium as a disruptive counter to the singularity of narrative and certainty haunting this particular space (one always ghosted for me by Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk confronting Claude Monet’s Water Lilies).
In a moment when critical mass is the more operative mode of resistance, I was struck by these descriptions against Catherine Lord’s evocation of line as that which crosses from theoretical to political to geographic when she writes:
“Lines make mass. It’s impossible to imagine a built environment in any Anglo/European territory without lines that make thickets of sociality, lines that organize lived experience into intersections of verticals and horizontals and are braced by planes. Fretful, such lines are fissured by entropy: greed, acts of war, economic triage, neighborhood hostilities, patterns of neglect, general disrepair […] Lines punch holes in walls, write subtexts, indicate paths of refusal and webs of subterranean links. Lines intervene in space. Lines have political intent.”
Transposing a concept of lines for one of dots and score, Dorvillier spoke of learning the autonomy of one’s own line and then trying to weave it together with the other dancers in her current project of translating a piece of music to four dancers. There is “inevitability of intersection but also impossibility.” Bocanegra’s translation of the imagined fall of dots from a Seurat painting creates a new score for a ballet dancer en pointe. Performing on a percussive stage, the idiosyncratic rules of ballet generate a scary strange sound score. Moving across dance and music through painting and back.
And what are the politics of these particular projects? Dorvillier pauses, hesitates… “I have no idea” and yet it has to do with the important emotional power of music and Butler continues by marking the “uncertainty, not knowing…” that happens when something is pulled apart, an “undoing of history” for speculation and to re-describe.
The second group, Intervention and Collaboration, including Jenny Schlenzka, Brennan Gerard, Ryan Kelly and Mika Tajima extends this language of uncertainty and historical undoing to questions of “contingency and precariousness,” as Gerard explains, that problematize the function of the objects and performances within the institution, gallery or museum.
I imagine this speculative force at work in Gerard and Kelly’s Endless Love/Reusable Parts, a piece that began as an idea and then voice recording during the witnessing of Tino Seghal’s The Kiss at Guggenheim. A work as Schlenzka described that was bought by MoMA and loaned to the Guggenheim for the exhibition, radically disrupting the ways that museums acquire objects and also preserve them. Against what Gerard and Ryan called Seghal’s “heteronormative representation” (and performed under the spiraling ascension of This Progress), their performance deployed The Kiss as audial instruction or score to incite “endless possibilities” of coupling and undoing. And rather than allowing dance to function as the intimate or authentic work against the static of painting or sculpture, Kelly and Gerard agitate for an active play between material and immaterial labors; one that foregrounds the exquisite techniques of each performer to open up “multiple lines…that are impacted by the performance relationship” as Kelly explains.
Extending these thoughts and also those of Butler, Mika Tajima speaks about instrumentalizing the institution and making something that speaks to the “structure of power within it.” Describing her collaboration with Charles Atlas at SF MoMA, Tajima points to performance as a space of “productive interference” that examines how performance is used in relation to representation within social space. For her exhibition she built a film-set housing her own geometric abstractions and built architectural objects and then invited celebrities like philosopher Judith Butler to lecture as she and Atlas filmed. Yet Butler’s lecture was never the “show-stopper” but always interrupted by her film blocking and cuts. Through tactics of obscuring and interrupting, Tajima asks how we might illuminate an “image in art history that we don’t yet know… or set up conditions for this to appear.”
In the final hour on Critical Labors, Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion, Huffa Frobes-Cross, and DD Dorvillier speak about the conditions of this labor across a range of their works. And in disparate ways, it seems that precariousness acts as a generative force in negotiating the conditions of choreography as concept and practice. Perhaps alluding to what Jonathan Burrows names the two blessings of dance that it “demands a recognition…demands a status…[but] has no status” and, as Dorvillier adds is “precarious.” This relation to precarity is not simply as Huffa Frobes-Cross proposes an “immaterial labor” but one that deals with “embodiment” and “rematerialization” enacting perhaps an “anti-formalist gesture…Hegelian third…” Choreography becomes important in this moment as it seeks to address these qualities and conditions from an aesthetic but also physical perspective that as Frobes-Cross suggests might not always be “absorbed and translated to the digital.”
And as the third hour continues, the conversation seems to slow and dilate as Dorvillier, Burrows and Fargion speak about the “always fallible and always failing” logic of the structures they each invent. Language takes on a material force as the syntax comes undone, gains velocity or slows, at some moments even moving toward what Miguel Gutierrez (in a different conversation) calls a “choreography of incoherence.” Describing The Quiet Dance and The Speaking Dance opening at Danspace Project that week, Burrows explains that the work arose from an interest in “eliminating the question…why don’t they speak?”
Or as Dorvillier asks: “What do key changes feel like?” Fargion continues that “find[ing an] equivalent to harmony is impossible…absolutely impossible…beautifully impossible… What is harmony? What is the color blue?”
And in these moments another quality of choreography begins to appear… one that is not only a “composition” or “choreographic field (Burrows quoting Jerome Bel) but importantly a “preparation” or “prologue” as Dorvillier suggests for what is to come.
to be continued…