Conversation Without Walls: Mutual Seductions (excerpt)
September 6, 2016
Curated by Judy Hussie-Taylor and Jenn Joy, Conversations Without Walls began as a series of dialogues on contemporary choreographic practice. Mutual Seductions, held on November 5, 2011, specifically addressed the relationship between dance and visual art. Participants included Connie Butler, DD Dorvillier, Mika Rottenberg, Suzanne Bocanegra, Jenny Schlenzka, Brennan Gerard, Ryan Kelly, Mika Tajima, Huffa Frobes-Cross, Jonathan Burrows, and Matteo Fargion. What follows is an edited excerpt of an exchange between Butler, Dorvillier and Joy discussing the 2011 MoMA exhibition, On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century curated by Butler and Catherine de Zegher, and Dorvillier’s choreographic work Danza Permanente which had its U.S. premiere at the Kitchen as a part of “Crossing the Line” festival in 2012. Click here for more of Joy’s thoughts on the Mutual Seductions conversation and look for other Conversation Without Walls excerpts in future Journal issues.
Conversation Without Walls: Mutual Seductions (excerpt)
Connie Butler, DD Dorvillier, Jenn Joy
Jenn Joy: My hope for today is to break from this discursive split that happens between dance and visual art that often ends up in defensive conversations and instead think of choreography as a mutually seductive practice. A technique or strategy that is about trespassing across in different ways, and to look at what is revealed, or left behind, or produced in this moment. To begin we will trace some thoughts around choreography of line and of labor, asking what a feminist practice might be and how these forms engage with institutional critique.
Connie Butler: I co-organized an exhibition with Catherine de Zegher called On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century that originated with a notion of Catherine’s of tracking a history of line through the 20th century. We began looking at visual art. Both of us have done a lot of work on the sixties, in particular on artists like Richard Tuttle and his exploration on line. Lygia Clark, who I am also now working on, made in 1963 this incredible piece called Caminhando, which is actually a Möbius strip. It’s an enacted, cut line that she had the idea could be dispersed out into the world and people could perform their own lines, if you will.
We are thinking about that kind of work and wondering if we extended it back and forward, could we find and make a history of line. If you go earlier in the century you see futurist artists, painters who are very clearly looking at dance and movement and making work that had at that moment a much more mimetic relationship to dance and movement. It became really important to us at a certain moment to actually have live movement, actual movement, in the space of the gallery. Jenny Schlenzka and I came together to work on a program. I was thinking about this idea of the curatorial and the choreographic, and thinking about the atrium at MoMA and how that space represents, as you were saying Jenn, this consolidation of power at the MoMA. That everything about MoMA historically represents power or certainty, singularity of narrative, hegemony, all these things; that we are every single day trying to disrupt somehow on the inside. I think we saw the opportunity of working in that atrium as a disruption or at least now looking back on it I see what we did as that. I think in the space of the institution of MoMA it did bring something almost political, or in some ways activist to that museum.
DD Dorvillier: In this particular piece [Danza Permanente] we’re transposing music of a Beethoven string quartet and making it invisible or attempting to make visible music in silence. There are four dancers because there are four instruments and each dancer takes a line. One of our biggest concerns in the making of it is not only learning the autonomy of one’s own line, but actually, without disrupting that autonomy, trying to weave the other three into it, in order to make so-called visual music. There would be no way to not engage the question of how to work together or how to demand the dancer do it again and again… and again and again and again. Each time I’m confronting, asking somebody to work not only for me, but for the making of this other thing. That question of labor is always an immediate negotiation or it’s always an immediate state that is happening. Usually, because we’re working we don’t really think about it, but this piece in particular seems like a testament to work, somehow because the nature of it is a translation. Instead of hearing the violet sound, you’re seeing somebody not be a violet sound, but you’re seeing a violet sound with the body. Whether we succeed or not with it, there’s still the labor of it. Or the attempt. I would love it if that labor gets lost once the piece is completely manifested and you see it on stage, but I don’t think it gets lost. My idea is not to make it look easy or look difficult, whereas there might be an ideal in certain dance forms to make something look natural or like butter. Effortless. Here there’s not necessarily an aesthetic to make it look effortless or effortful. It’s just so that what is, is revealed. Although I say it as if it is pure, I know it is not. I don’t know exactly what to say about it in terms of my position vis-à-vis labor or dancers working or choreographers working with dancers or people working together, but I know it’s definitely a dynamic that is alive and that’s the reason why we do it live.
Jenn: I remember thinking about No Change, an earlier piece, where you are rearranging all the cords, the sound effects and the microphones on stage. I felt the dance part of it, the choreography, was about revealing this labor of the studio.
Connie: I’m thinking about what you’re describing, this problematic of the liveness, and how that extended your studio practice or the objects. I’m thinking there is an analogous thing when the liveness extends the exhibition and the static narrative of the exhibition and the exhibition space, at a place like MoMA or wherever. Into this other kind of time and space, because there are many ways in which obviously experiencing a live person making something is very different than experiencing a static object on the wall. One of the biggest ones was time and what it did to the time of the viewer. We’re always talking about how the experience of contemporary art requires a different kind of time and a slowing down of time. It is one thing to march by all the paintings, almost in a sort of conveyer belt kind of way. Then you get down to the floor of the contemporary artists and how can we really slow people down to understand these works in a different way, that require a different kind of engagement in time. That’s what I think the making of a live work in the atrium space, but probably any space in the museum, how that changes. In the exhibition, one of the last works that you encountered was a video on a flat screen of several works by Cool/Balducchi, who are a performance duo. They don’t want to be called performance, but it’s the easiest term to use. Here, Maria Cool and Fabio Balducci allow their work to be shown as video, but in fact the way that they see it ideally experienced is over time. So that they don’t perform the work with a beginning and an end, but in the museum space they make the work all day long. The viewer comes in and out of the experience of something just being made.
Jenn: What are the politics in terms of the feminist undertones or not? What is it that choreography as a dynamic model offers as a way to activate some of those things?
DD: I consider it all the time. I have no idea. No, I must have an idea about it, but it’s in the work. There is something really important about the translation of this emotionally powerful, dominant music into bodies in silence for a dance stage. I can’t do anything but describe it. I can’t get to the actual “what are the politics of it.”
Jenn: I feel like that’s a really interesting space though? It means that the language is not quite there yet to articulate what that would be, right?
Connie: I think what you just said: the unknowing, the uncertainty. It sounds so ridiculously easy to say that that is in some way gendered. I don’t even want to say it. But again in the context of our show, we ended up feeling like the network of ideas that we were laying out was as much an undoing of history as much as there was a putting together of one. Or making a history that was so speculative and almost eccentric, that you were left with a state of opening up and unknowingness.
DD: I just have to say that I really like this image of rehistoricizing something, undoing something by rehistoricizing it, breaking it open by actually constructing it in history. That’s given me some words for what I just described. I do feel like I’m taking a historic work and rebuilding it out of these bodies that you’ll only see at the performance. There is some aspect of this, using a traditional structure, or using a structure that is already pre-existing, even a methodology that is already pre-existing and making something that won’t completely be that thing, but is completely reliant on that thing. There will probably be some disruption of silence in order to enhance silence. We never hear, we see the music. That’s the biggest goal.