In keeping with my interests and research in phenomenology and embodiment, this article addresses four disparate works that are currently on view in Atlanta. Drawn from four separate shows — Coloring and In Translation at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (ACAC), Live Amateurs at MINT Gallery, and Gyun Hur – A System of Interiority at Get This! Gallery — these installations address and provoke bodily experience. Unlike the other works in these shows, other than possibly Anne Lindberg’s at ACAC, these works invite the viewer to inhabit the space they create. Each of these installation-based and -esque works instantiate a world within the particular gallery space. Broadly, these four pieces can be grouped into two categories: color fields/dimensions and bodily encounters. Rutherford Chang’s We Buy White Albums at ACAC and Gyun Hur’s A System of Interiority at Get This! both open to the viewer an experience of color. Jonathan Bouknight’s Two Dancers; One Carries the Weight of the Other at ACAC and Maggie Ginestra’s Angel of the Interior Heaven at MINT create moments of encounters with the human form, its materiality, and that of our own.
Traces of Color
In our everyday existence, our perception of color does not correspond to a geometrical color wheel. We do not necessarily examine the red of a fire truck when we see it wheeling towards us in our rear view mirror; rather, the red speaks to us, telling us to pull over, signaling to us that there is a fire, a situation, somewhere that needs to be tended to. In this confrontation with color, the pure red that exists as a particular wavelength does not concern us. The object, the red firetruck, exists as a phenomenon in our everyday being. Both Rutherford Chang’s and Gyun Hur’s installations create situations where objects are allowed to rest in their object-ness and our perception of their colors in their particularity are brought forth.
In the case of Rutherford Chang’s installation We Buy White Albums, included in the show Coloring at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, the color white, which, depending on which theory of color and perception you choose, may not be a color at all. Chang, in his use of a white object, exemplifies the ways in which bodies and objects collide, rub off on each other, imprint themselves upon the other. If white here is considered the gathering of all light on the spectrum, we can push the metaphorics of accumulation and negation; white as a manifestation of maybe both of these. By a process of collecting first-presses of the Beatles’ White Album, Chang presents us with cultural signifiers that have visibly and explicitly been shaped and affected by bodies. Though each of these vinyl covers is white and was released in 1968, the installation presents the viewer with a range of color, wear-and-tear. Some of the album covers have drawings on them. Some have stains and spills. Some have an exaggerated impression of the vinyl disc lying inside; years of pressure worn into the album sleeve. The wall installation, though not touchable, allows the arranged albums to resonate with touch; the fingertips “feel” the cover without touching it; the fingertips can sense those who have touched the album before. Apart from the wall are album bins that the viewer can sift through, allowing her to touch these objects with her own hands, connecting to the hands that have touched this very object before. The signs of history and others’ beings are traced, etched, scuffed, buffed, and impressed into these seemingly identical and mass-produced commodities. Accompanying the installation is an audio piece that is a layering of 100 copies of the songs from the White Album on top of each other, which illuminates the subtle differences between each of the albums; the “various scratches, dust, and differences in the pressing of the records.”  Even though these commodities are machine-made, the audio points to the object’s own materiality and the ways in which the body’s handling of them further affects their material conditions. In a way, Chang’s piece illuminates the ways in which, as Merleau-Ponty states, “each object … is the mirror of all others.” 
At Get This! Gallery, Gyun Hur’s new installation work A System of Interiority creates a constantly changing experience of color for the viewer through its use of multiple constructed layers. Built in an L-shape against two walls of the gallery, the work consists of a structure made of glass panes resting on columns of bricks with mirror panels connecting the glass to the cement floor. On top of the glass panels are three piles of hand-shredded silk flowers and powders in magenta, yellow, and orange. Underneath the glass panes, on the cement floor, is a ground of brown/black dirt and another material that sparkles. Above, a lighting system in three parts: a two-sided color-changing track, a standard can light, and a panel holding a grid of naked lightbulbs. This installation does not give itself easily to any vantage point; it requires exploration. Sitting on the ground at the vertex, the point where the two large glass panes converge, I witness the piles multiply in the mirrors against the back walls and those on the ground partially covered in dirt. Peering under the panes, into the dirt directly, a miniature landscape opens up that gives the illusion of a highway underpass; the stacked bricks transformed into concrete columns. The earthy brown contrasts with the black sparkles that reflect the lights above. The magenta, yellow, and orange piles, radiate color on top of the glass while the mirrors underneath them reflect other, more muted colors. The ways that the surfaces of glass, mirrors, piles of powders, and dirt reflect each other and the viewer, opening a field of tranparently-opaque relations, which according to Merleau-Ponty is a certain translucence: “The fully realized object is translucent.”  We delve into it in our perception of it, but only to a certain extent; not all of the object is perceptible at once; it hides something within itself.
Constructed Bodily Encounters
In our everyday experience, when we see bodies, we recognize them as human bodies like that of our own. However, Descartes (in)famously states in his Meditations of First Philosophy from 1641 that those bodies wearing hats and coats he views from his window could in fact not be human bodies at all: “But what do I see aside from hats and clothes, which could conceal automata?”  In art works that make use of the human body, particularly that of the living, breathing, fleshy human body, the problem becomes how to regard these bodies. Since they are part of a work of art, what is their status as objects of my gaze? Who are these people I am looking at? Is it ethical for me to gaze upon their forms? How should I contemplate them?
Jonathan Bouknight’s installation, included in the show In Translation, also at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, consisting of a video monitor on one wall and five 7.5 ft tall drawings on the opposite wall, is a manifestation of the problematic experience of watching moving bodies and then viewing a seemingly static representation of them. The piece, part of Bouknight’s Gaze Series, the work’s process creates multiple possibilities of embodiment. The video depicts two dancers; a man and a woman, wearing grey – the woman in a grey top and shorts, the man in only grey shorts, bare-chested. The angle of the video, at first disorienting, allows the viewer to penetrate the space between these two bodies that are at times intermingled, at times only touching. The layers of drawings on 7.5 ft tall pieces of butcher paper gaze at this video. Each day of the exhibition, Bouknight works in the installation space and draws the video. In order to see the video, Bouknight has to turn his back to the drawings, thus making them blind contour. The drawings, made using black acrylic paint, have a movement all of their own. When focusing on the drawings, the audience is not able to see the video, and vice versa. This limited perception, intentionally created by the artist, allows the viewer to see each aspect of the work on its own – the drawings are not merely illustrations of the video. They are a layered exercise in line and movement. The viewer can lift one drawing to reveal more layers of drawings underneath. Each layer a manifestation of a particular viewing experience that is translated onto paper. Both these aspects of the work produce certain corporeal consciousness and affectivity. The layers of drawings bring about a similar weightiness that is felt when attending to the video of the two dancers; a play of movement, shifting arrangements, and physics enter into my own bones, muscles, and sinews.
At MINT Gallery, within the jam-packed show Live Amateurs, lives Maggie Ginestra’s performance and installation Angel of the Interior Heaven #s 1 – 4. A card table with four folding chairs surrounding it is in a back corner of the gallery. On the table is a plate of nibbled on cookies, cards, and hand-felted scarves. Now, these chairs are empty. They were complete with sitters at the opening on January 11, 2014. They will remain empty until the closing of Live Amateurs on February 7, 2014. During the first performance, the sitters, naked save the hand-felted scarves, conversed with each other over cards, cookies, and wine. Other than trips to the bathroom, these nudes remained inside a privately public space; audience members were onlookers except when sneaking a cookie. These bodies, so exposed to the viewer, yet also so distant, provoked otherworldly and mystical imagery. They might have been those gods sitting atop Mount Olympus watching the mortals below. However, these gods were not concerned with we mortals; they seemed indifferent to our presence. These performers, on display for us, elicited somatic responses. The viewer was faced with the decision to gaze — perhaps only a sidelong glance, a glance perhaps engendered in our gender. It was not necessarily the initial confrontation with the naked human form that created a moment of discomfort; something else in this arrangement blocked my gaze. Perhaps something related to the poetry Ginestra provides with the performance/installation: “For the angels of the more interior heaven are able to speak with men by means of spirits of the interior heaven, thus this is effected mediately.” (Emanuel Swedenborg, from The Spiritual Diary (1747). The terms “interior” and “mediately” being most important here. The gallery during an opening is usually an openly voyeuristic place: we gaze at the art on display and the other patrons that for the night share our space. But in this case, it was uncertain what my role here was: mere onlooker, voyeur, participant; there is an unease provoked by this ambiguity. Do these beings want me to interact with them? Am I supposed to serve as a sort of mediary between their internal space and their external surroundings? Or, do they want me just to leave them be? This is the moment of decision that I have to grapple with, which demands me to negotiate my bodily arrangement and positionality.
Return to Our Perceiving Flesh
Perceiving artwork is a bodily experience; the viewer is always perceiving the work from somewhere in some body, in some particular embodiment. This is not only true for installation work that more or less explicitly invites the viewer’s body into the scene, but also for paintings, digital work, and etc. In Heidegger’s essay “Origin of the Work of Art,” he describes a painting of peasant shoes made by Van Gogh as the creation of a particular world that we gain access to; we can imagine the possibilities of these shoes and the way they become equipment for the person wearing them.  I’m interested in how works are able to create new worlds for us to inhabit, on the micro scale — Chang quite literally creates the space of a record store in the gallery that we can peruse, though we always find the “same” record with every turn, and also on a macro scale — Ginestra’s “angels” trace out an almost ethereal world that we cautiously navigate. These installations make us hyperaware that in our viewing of them, we have to negotiate the space the works carve out and the other viewers’ bodies that are also present. In doing so, we are forced to return to our contoured, fleshy, perceiving bodies.
Both In Translation and Coloring are on view at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center until March 8, 2014.
Live Amateurs is on view at MINT Gallery until the closing reception on February 7, 2014. Maggie Ginestra will stage another instantiation of Angel of the Interior Heaven during the closing reception from 7-11pm.
Gyun Hur’s A System of Interiority is on view at Get This! Gallery until March 1, 2014. The gallery will stay open until 7pm on Wednesdays in order to experience the light change to night in the installation.
 Rutherford Chang’s statement for Coloring.
 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Donald A. Landes (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), 71.
 René Descartes, “Meditations on First Philosophy” , trans. Donald Cress, in Philosophical Essays and Correspondence, ed. Roger Ariew (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett, 2000), 112.
 Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” in Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper, 1993).
Guest Post by Jane Jerardi
Miguel Gutierrez comes to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago this weekend with one of his newest works, And lose the name of action. The evening-length piece features a striking cast of note-worthy performers – Michelle Boulé, Hilary Clark, Luke George, Miguel Gutierrez, K.J. Holmes, and Ishmael Houston-Jones. Inspired by Jørgen Leth’s film The Perfect Human, the elusive logic of dance improvisation, philosophical quandaries about the brain, and the 19th century spiritualist movement, the piece draws connections between the analytical and the unexplainable, grappling with the limits of language and the ever-present spectre of death. It features music by Neal Medlyn, lighting design by Lenore Doxsee, and film/text by Boru O’Brien O’Connell.
Often cited as a provocative voice in the contemporary dance and performance scene, Gutierrez — like many in his generation — works across mediums. His poems appear as published performance texts and he designs solo performance works as well as projects with collections of performers and collaborators under the moniker the ‘Powerful People.’ A Guggenheim Fellow, his work has appeared as such venues as the Festival D’Automne in Paris; the TBA Festival/PICA in Portland, OR; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN; UNAM in Mexico City, and ImPulsTanz in Vienna, among others. Equally admired as a teacher, he has built a following for his improvisation/choreography classes as well as his ‘DEEP Aerobics’ workouts. In mid-January, I met Miguel Gutierrez at the Abrons Arts Center amidst the first weekend of the American Realness Festival – an annual festival of contemporary dance and performance in New York. We chatted in a quiet spot near the dressing rooms about his upcoming engagement at the MCA – including the powerhouse cast performing, the ghost hunt they went on during a residency to build the work, and the limits of language when it comes to dance. Here are some excerpts from our conversation…
Abrons Arts Center, New York, NY, January 13, 2013
Jane Jerardi: Maybe first we should start first with you just talking a bit about the genesis of the project you’ll be performing at the MCA, And lose the name of action?
Miguel Gutierrez: Sure. I think I’m going to paint my nails as we do this [pulls out two shades of blue metallic nail polish] if that’s okay with you.
JJ: Sure. Talk about mind and body…!
MG: It feels like the right question to paint your nails to… Well, the piece really came out of a couple of things. In some ways it was an extension of Last Meadow [Gutierrez’s previous piece], which is unusual for me, because usually when I finish a piece I want to change gears. But, by the time we got around to finishing Last Meadow, I realized I was only beginning to understand what I was doing. Towards the end of the project, I was introduced to this book The Meaning of the Body, by Mark Johnson, which calls for getting rid of the mind/body split, once and for all. It’s beautifully stated, but reading it as a dancer, there was a moment where I thought, “This seems fairly obvious.” For a person who has any kind of relationship to somatics, you of course recognize that the mind and body are connected; that perception is an embodied practice, and that all contexts are experienced through a sort of corporeal interaction. I thought to myself, This sounds like a contact improv class. And I thought, why is this new? I think it was that initial indignation that led to the piece. I felt like why isn’t this something that is known? The second impulse for the work, was my dad. My dad had a series of neurological problems in 2008. He had a series of blood clots in his brain that were note properly diagnosed for several years. He had stroke-type things and then seizures, which then progressed during my research for And lose the name of action.
JJ: That sounds scary.
MG: Aside from the fact that it sucked, I think a couple of things came out of it. Here was a person I knew in a certain way, and suddenly he was changing. It sounds sort of basic, a basic experience of change. I say basic, but it was a quite radical. Suddenly, I was subjected to doctors telling me, This is what’s happening, This is what’s not happening – but no one knows what’s happening. Everyone is guessing. You start to see that that the way we constitute a sense of self and reality are deeply subjective. And, out of your control. You’re in the hospital with your dad and there’s nothing you can do, aside from being present. At the time I was thinking, “What is it that I can offer here? As a dancer? As a person with some naïve study of somatic practices?” I can be present. I can be an emotional support. I can be resonate and present in a way that is specific to what I do. It felt clear, but I felt very conscious that I don’t share a language with these doctors. I can’t assume they know of specific somatic practices or say, “Hey, have you heard of the Feldenkrais Method?” or “Do you know about Body Mind Centering?”
JJ: You realize how marginalized some of these movement practices are.
MG: Absolutely. I mean marginalized isn’t even the word. They’re invisible. I started to see how when people talk about brain, they are talking about mind. Lots of words are being used interchangeably. There’s a lot of lack clarity in definition between disciplines. How is it that we have the same vocabulary but we aren’t using words in the same way? I started to examine the value system around my teaching and practice. What is valuable about an improvisational performance practice? It is a kind of knowledge and a way of knowing, but quite different than other modes of knowing. And I though about Why am I so invested in this ‘unknowing knowing’? Why am I so mistrustful of alleged truths? That was all the stuff that led me into And lose the name of action. Then, I started thinking about ghosts and the paranormal. What about an immaterial body? What about a discipline of study that doesn’t even presume that the body has to be tangible anymore? When we had our first residency we went on our first ghost hunt.
JJ: Tell me about that.
MG: We went on this ghost hunt with paranormal investigators–crazy ladies in Tallahassee, FL… which sounds funny, but are these ‘paranormal investigators’ wrong? For them, it is true. If they see a ghost or hear a voice, if they’re having that experience, then that’s their embodied truth. That’s what’s going on here in this conversation of perception and truth. If I experience my father as my father even if he’s in a coma, is he not my father? If I feel that this is blue [pointing to his nail polish] and this is a lighter blue than the other blue [pointing to another bottle of darker blue nail polish] and I have a certain feeling about it. Am I wrong? Because there’s actually no way for me to definitely know how blue this is. It’s all these kinds of…
JJ: Big questions. Really big questions.
MG: So, yeah [laughing] that’s what the show is about. [Joking] It’s just about a couple small things…
JJ: So how did this all play out in your explorations in the studio?
MG: A lot of talking, a lot of improvisational exploration… In the piece, the bodies are the proof of themselves.
Because of the way that the piece exists – even though the audience is onstage, even though people are really close to us – it feels like something is at a distance. I had originally thought it would be really great to make a piece that didn’t involve bodies at all. I mean why do there have to be bodies? It’s so weird and silly – why are there bodies on stage at this point in history? Can’t we just go…
JJ: Totally virtual?
MG: Yeah – not even virtual or holograms – but… there are people that are doing that – work that’s about post-human bodies – but, I am still invested in the interpersonal dynamics of being in the room with people. That’s what keeps me interested in my work.
JJ: I think it goes back to the value thing. What’s at the core of what you do?
MG: And where do you build knowledge? Where do you build a sense of how you understand things and how you perceptively locate yourself in the world? When I look at dance, I can understand it. What does that mean? Not one specific, concrete meaning. Rather, as I’m watching the dance, I am understanding it and grappling with comprehension. And that perceptual act becomes a way to construct meaning. That doesn’t necessarily translate easily into language. I mean I like words. I can talk. But, dance actually offers another perceptual experience in time. I don’t think this is exclusive to dance, either. Mark Johnson argues that reality is actually an aesthetic experience. He doesn’t use this exact language – but we’re choreographing our way through our lives. And, that feels really powerful in relationship to what performance or a body in action can do. It doesn’t always happen. Most of the time, dance is written about exclusively as a visual rendering but, that’s not the whole picture…
Working with Deborah Hay was pretty instrumental for me. Something she would say is, “The movement is just a costume for perception.” And, I feel that’s really true. That’s my experience of dancing actually… So much of what intrigues me about dancing is about contending with myself in the moment. And all the fucked-up-ness of that question.
JJ: “Contending with things in the moment” is the way that people talk often about improvisation. You’re working with a pretty incredible set of improvisers as collaborators performing in the work. I wondered if you wanted to talk a little bit about that? I mean it’s a very diverse, powerhouse group of people.
MG: Yes. I wanted to have a group – well first, that weren’t all young 20-year olds. I wanted a diverse age range for this piece. I hadn’t worked with a group of people who were older than me before. And, I wanted a group of improvisers who could own themselves in a very clear way. I wanted to work with people who seemed restless or curious. And, I feel like that’s pretty true of this group!
JJ: So, you’re working with Michelle Boulé…
MG: Hilary Clark, Luke George, KJ Holmes, and Ishmael Houston-Jones. At first, I was a little like – oh my god, who am I to tell these people what to do? It really did feel that way. Which was great, because I wanted to be challenged directorially.
JJ: It seemed to make a lot of sense to me because you’re dealing with a kind of big existential topic – life and death, philosophical truths such as ‘person-hood’ and ‘being.’ It requires a certain maturity.
MG: Yes. It feels important that the audience is looking at people who have contended with things. I also think that I was going through something about casting in general. This thing that often happens in the dance field is people don’t take into consideration the representational value of the bodies that are there.
JJ: Which is kind of saying, maybe the visual does matter. The way that we read bodies matters.
MG: Absolutely. Bodies come marked. But, it feels like often the problem with the visual rendering thing is that people ignore it in the most important aspects in some ways. Because they think “I’m dealing with abstraction.” Or, something neutral. I know that when I first went into dance as an adult, I was excited about how it contrasted to theater, because I didn’t feel like I could get type-cast in the same way. I didn’t have to audition to fulfill just one thing. It wasn’t like – “Oh, I’m that Latino kid.” So, it’s funny to have come full circle and now become hyper-conscious about who is on the stage. But also, I think now more than ever – the way artists work – you’d be hard-pressed to find a choreographer whose not working explicitly collaboratively with their dancers. Although, I sort of suspect that’s always been true. There’s a real thought around how you have people involved in your process.
JJ: I wonder if we could talk about some of the other collaborators involved and, some of the sources because in a way you could think of sources as collaborators.
MG: Somewhere towards the beginning of the process I read Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. I realized that writers give themselves permission to do so much. You really can go there. You can interrelate different things. A novel – or that kind of novel let’s say – doesn’t aspire to be minimalist. Certainly there’s editing. But it doesn’t see reduction as the only compositional value to explore. As someone who has struggled with living in an aesthetic climate where minimalism is privileged above all else, I’m excited to encounter work that deals with interrelating or association. I started to realize that what we were making – in a sense – was a novel. For example, each dancer wears multiple costumes in the piece – I’d never done that before. Or, even having people leave [the stage space].
JJ: By having people leave and re-enter there could suddenly be chapters.
MG: Yes, I really feel like the piece does unfold in that way.
JJ: Even though a lot of the piece comes from the idea of embodiment, you’re also using text in the piece. Could you could talk a little bit about how the text figures into the work? What drew you to using text?
MG: The bulk of the text it written by Boru O’Brien O’Connell (who also collaborated to create video projections). Some of the text is an appropriation of George Berkeley’s writings.
Text is often used as the locator of meaning. And, if it exists in a performance – that’s when we’re like – there’s the meaning! That definitely happens in this piece. But, it also functions as a texture. It functions…almost like a kind of perfume….
JJ: That’s a nice image.
MG: …A kind of experience that’s not even exclusively about it being attached to understanding.
And lose the name of action appears at the MCA, Chicago January 31 – February 3, 2013. For more information and tickets: http://www.mcachicago.org/performances/now/all/2013/884 This performance is part of the IN>TIME Festival. http://www.in-time-performance.org/
Jane Jerardi is an artist working in the media of choreography, performance, and video installation. Currently based in Chicago, her work has been presented at such venues as Transformer and The Warehouse (Washington DC), Defibrillator (Chicago IL); Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church and the LUMEN Festival for Video and Performance (New York), among others. She is one third of the cohort that runs Adult Contemporary, an alternative art space in Logan Square. She teaches at Columbia College, Chicago, where she is also on staff at the Dance Center.