Jaime Shearn Coan: on Laurie Berg’s “The Mineralogy of Objects”
January 11, 2016
Berg’s cast consists of four female dancers (including herself) and Tanya. This corresponds to the four figures in Joseph Cornell’s box, Variétés de Minéralogie Object (1939), labeled (in translation) “greenish; reddish; blackish; Cleopatra-ish” along with the cut-out image, which appears as a shadow image—a non-image that is still present. The box also corresponds to the black box of the theater; it is a stage, with its elements of dimension, foreground, background, space. It is an encounter that takes time to experience.
Berg performs a visual reading of Cornell’s box on her website, applying dance terms and concerns to his construction. She then digitally manipulates the construction to create two alternate versions: the second of which I will now address. This image is actually two images overlaid: Cornell’s box and a still from an earlier version of Berg’s performance. A finger can be seen pointing from the audience, barely visible to the left of the frame. The four dancers, in brightly printed one-piece costumes, appear among Cornell’s figures, transparent, half-embodied, so that it not clear who is more real. The red lighting of the stage fills the box, opens it, but Cornell’s frame remains solid around the scene, accentuating the static nature of the still image.
When it comes to the dance however, Berg is interested in what moves and breathes, in female bodies with agency: “We are a unison machine, a string of beads, an energetic force rejecting our own objectification in the refusal to stay still.” The performers, we are told, will “translate [Cornell’s box] into a collective, kinetic exercise.” They do not do this solely through the vehicle of their own bodies, but through the manipulation of a representation of the female body, in fact a representation of the objectification of the female body. For Tanya, who I mentioned in the beginning, is an inflatable sex doll. In his review, the New York Times critic Brian Seibert rather blandly and dismissively remarks, “It seems likely that Ms. Berg has the objectification of women on her mind.”
I watched the four dancers blow Tanya up, toss her around like a beach ball, wrestle her, line up with her according to Cornell’s placements, slow-dance with her, and toss her like a hot potato, all while moving through a tight rhythmic choreography. What strikes me is not just that the topic is on Berg’s mind, but that, in a display of clever and wicked ingenuity, she is actively grappling with it.
— Jaime Shearn Coan