Email Correspondence between Dance by Default curator Melinda Ring and artists Michael Mahalchick, Martin Kersels and Liliana Dirks-Goodman
December 11, 2012
As a part of PLATFORM 2012: Judson Now, Melinda Ring curated an evening entitled by Dance by Default, with performances by Liliana Dirks-Goodman, Martin Kersels, and Michael Mahalchick, who, like those of the early Judson Dance Theater, collaborate with choreographers and work with dance in other ways. What follows is correspondence between Melinda and the artists.
Hi Michael, Martin, Lili,
I’d still like to write a curator’s program note, and feel like I need a little more information from you all to aid me.
Lili, thank you for your answers to my original request for personal aesthetic-thought-connections to Judson Dance Theater.
For Michael, and Martin…I’m interested in hearing any ideas like this from you guys, but…
I realized that, really, I’m interested in hearing more about your artistic relationships.
In choosing you for this program I was thinking more about the societal aspects of Judson. In particular I was thinking about the visual artists and composers that were part of the mix of performers and instigators. I chose the three of you because you are all trained primarily in another field, not choreography, art or architecture, but each of you have a deep on-going conversation with some choreographers.
Martin, I’m referring to our conversation.
Michael, at first I was thinking only of luciana [achugar], but then your bio reminded me of your other collaborators and work for Movement Research.
Lili, it was your work organizing AUNTS, and then too, your other collaborations, but especially AUNTS, which somehow seems very neo-Judson to me.
So what I’m interested in hearing about is what draws you to these relationships, something about their nature or the conversation, and how these relationships affect your “primary” practice.
Martin, too, if you have anything to say about Rudy Perez and his influence on you, that would be helpful to have too.
Thanks in advance, Melinda
Here are some thoughts about my connection to Judson Dance Theater:
Today, a sculptor named Garth Evans came to speak to my students. Afterwards we were talking about performance and he made a statement about European performance coming out of sculpture while American performance came out of theater. He knew he was making a gross generalization, but it made me think about my trajectory of performance coming out of dance and then my sculpture coming out of performance. I said my dance-performance-sculpture trajectory made more sense to me than a theater trajectory because theater’s reliance on language did not provide a good basis for producing sculptural work. On the other hand, the fact that dance provides bodies in motion makes it a more natural progression (at least for me). But dance–especially modern or contemporary dance–also provided an example of a work without narrative. A work without narrative that is very human because of the presence of exertion over time. This was what was inspirational to me. It did not have to make “language” sense, it just needed to make “movement” sense (or body logic).
My first brush with the history of Judson came through the workshop Rudy [Perez] offered at Lin Hixson’s studio. I think Rudy used exercises and told stories from the Judson and it really opened my mind to the possibilities of what actions a body can produce. Especially my body, which was an untrained body not in “dance shape.” I know Rudy liked bodies in “dance shape,” but I believe he was open to the possibility of alternate body forms. At least that was the feeling I got. From there I learned more about Judson and it became somewhat of a mythical place to me. A place where departments did not exist. This was very attractive to me. You see, I was still an undergrad student at a state university trying to figure out what I wanted to do–make films, make paintings, make graphic design, etc. And the problem was that a university has department–a film department, a dance department, and art department, etc. But if people from different departments (fields of endeavor) at the Judson could work together, then maybe I could create a practice that was not built from one department. So I took film classes, art classes, design classes, etc. This was not always easy and I was not always a top student, but almost intuitively, I built myself a Judson style curriculum. Or so I thought.
Melinda, I hope this helps a bit. I need to get home a have some dinner and go to sleep. I’ll talk to you Thursday. Safe flight.
I suppose that the way I entered the “dance dialogue” was via luciana achugar. Although we knew each other previously socially, I knew little of her creative practice as a choreographer. Prior to “discovering” what she was doing my creative practice consisted of making sculpture, music and performances and I had not given dance much thought. I could probably say that up until that point I had no idea that “dance” as an expressive form had any relation at all to what I was interested in. Then I saw saw luciana’s work SUPERella and it was a revelation! The exploration of space and form, the subjectivity of the viewer, the materiality of the “body” and its ability to create meaning, among other aspects, absolutely related to what I was interested in. I realized that in many ways we were speaking the same language, perhaps with different dialects. The world of “dance” opened up for me. I found myself exploring this world more, having conversations with others in the dance community and eventually developing working relationships with members of this community that enriched and informed and encouraged development in my own practice. As someone who was also making “performance art” it reassured me that there was a community of people who appreciated live time based art as something more than just silly, unserious, light entertainment for attendees of gallery openings to write off as boring examples of egotistical attention seeking. It also challenged me to thoughtfully consider all aspects of my actions in my performances. It sensitized me to the subtle nuances of expression that are at play in live time-based work. It helped build my belief that performance was more than the silly joke that the art world at that time liked to ghettoize it as. The dance community opened up and invited me in, allowed me to be part of the conversation, and made me a better artist.
I hope that is enough! (I find writing hard!) Feel free to ask me any questions.
When I first went to an AUNTS event I had just moved to NYC from LA (I’m from Colorado). I think it was sometime in the spring or summer of 2006. I hated LA and part of why I moved to NYC was the art. My good friend from freshman year dorms, Laurie Berg was living out here and she had been dancing and taking class at MR. I moved in with her and a few other dancers and started hanging out with them, helping them with artistic elements in their pieces and going to see shows. Laurie had started helping with AUNTS and she invited me to a show. I was really impressed by a lot of things at AUNTS, it wasn’t cleaned up like most art I had seen in galleries or museums and theaters, I could actually see the artists doing their art. It was in process and unprecious, but it was still given the same kind of weight as a finished piece, it was enjoyed and performed at that intensity. It was kind of collaborative, in that the artists seemed to be having a conversation with each other or part of a similar camp, however, they were all acting independently and their identities as individual artists seemed preserved. As an audience member, I was also empowered in the situation to enjoy the events on my own terms, watching a piece, walking away in the middle, getting a drink, talking with my friend, dancing. All of the things I wanted to engage in outside of simply sitting and watching the performances were equally important in terms of how the events were organized.
Jmy Leary was the main AUNTS organizer up until she moved to LA in 2009. She started AUNTS in 2005 with Rebecca Brooks. I started helping with AUNTS sometime in 2007, I think the first thing I did was co-hostpopulous for the MR spring fest. After that I started making screen printed posters for some of the events. I still make all of the posters and screen print a lot of them. And then when she moved to LA she asked if Laurie and I wanted to take over AUNTS and keep doing events, which we said yes to. Up until a few weeks ago, I lived in a 3500 square foot loft in Bushwick so we have hosted a lot of events there, which was amazing because it was free and allowed us to do events without having to think about it too much.
Now, after having AUNTS as my project for the last 3 years, this is what is important to me about AUNTS:
- I know that dance is always in a precarious position economically, especially in this city as it gets more expensive, but, I think that we have used this as an opportunity to explore abundance in sharing resources. We predominantly deal with sharing the non-monetary, which is space and time, I think those are two of the most important things to making a dance. We focus on those two elements and then branch out into sharing other things like audience, drinks at the free bar, clothing and other items from the free boutique, more recently we have made an effort to have a shared meal for dancers before the events… at the New Museum we were focused on sharing residency/rehearsal time, etc. None of this is exactly ideal but it’s idealistic and a lot of really interesting and beautiful things come out of it that wouldn’t if everyone had exactly all of the rehearsal space, residencies, and show opportunities that they needed to make as much work as they wanted. I’m curious to see if in the future it has an impact on the form–the way that dance is consumed and created and perhaps the aesthetic of it as well, but we are only seven years old so, we probably have to do it for much longer.
- Saying Yes. This is sort of our mantra, we obviously have to say no to some things but, we really try to always: put an artist in a show if they ask (we don’t review work samples), let them try what they want with the caveat that they have to do it themselves (they can have any light or sound or mess but they have to bring it or a person to operate it and they have to clean up their own mess), and they can show any duration of work within the duration of the entire event (usually a max of 3 hours). In my mind this is a move away from curation.
- Nontraditional spaces are also important. I think this was born out of not being able to get into institutions but, as we have started to do some shows in more traditional proscenium stages we have realized that this architecture is so overpowering it actually limits the amount of experimentation that the artists and audience are willing to do. It’s amazing how the presence of a simple raised platform automatically orients an audience, they just do what the architecture tells them to do. Chairs are also tough for us, we don’t like chairs. There are also the rules of the institutionalized spaces that makes it hard for us to do the above two points.
- Last little tiny thing is that we say AUNTS is dance, even though we don’t just show dance, it’s all kinds of things like video, theater-like performance, music, installation, puppetry, it’s everything that wants to be included.
I’ve done performances at AUNTS and I know that it can be one of the scariest, most difficult situations to perform in. It is miserable to fail there, even though there is nothing lost if you do because people don’t really notice, however, I think it’s also the most fun when you succeed. I’ve seen some of the most amazing crowd reactions and ecstatic performances, it just makes you believe in the power of the art and human connection above all else. I could probably go on about AUNTS but, the truth is that there are a few intentional things that we do and then the rest just happens, somewhat by chance.
On the note of how this affects my primary practice. Specifically with Maggie, we have created a type of collaboration that we have been calling coincidental collaboration. Basically, we work independently coming together mainly for conversation about what types of subjects we are interested in, not very much utilitarian types of conversation like what it looks like or what it is but, a lot about feelings and conditions that are external to the art–sometimes, I think I don’t even fully understand what Maggie is saying but, I’m just absorbing her body language and other non-vocabulary communication and that somehow gets channeled into what I am making. Then at a certain point the things we make start to inhabit the same place physically. It takes a certain amount of trust that we are each going to make the right thing and that they will go together but, it always seems to work out and create an interesting situation. I also have spent hours and days and months making the pieces that have gone into Maggie’s performances and in the end when it’s done I like the release. I feel very precious about my practice but I feel very unprecious about the products–I’m equally curious about the ways that it will fail as I am with the successes, and I trust Maggie to take over at a certain point and to use the objects in the way that her artistic practice tells her too, so, I have to design a certain amount of possibility into them without dictating what will happen. (I also routinely absorb old projects into new ones, destroying something to make another) I think this is what led me to AUNTS and what has become fortified from it and created my world view. Optimism and trusting others, letting things fail, starting over again, making on a continuum, non-preciousness, acting autonomously but with respect to the community.
I’m not sure if any of this is specifically shown in the piece that I am doing on Friday but, it does come out of that process and sense of experimentation. I wouldn’t say that I am a dancer or that I make performances but, it has started to become an important source of discovery and experimentation and it’s the community that I am engaged in.
Hope this helps.