Layering of Slices: ATOM-r Presents The Operature

March 25, 2014 · Print This Article

 

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By Autumn Hays

This past Friday I attended The Operature an exhibition by the collective ATOM-r (Anatomical Theatres of Mixed Reality) at the National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago. This exhibition was held in two parts an interactive installation and 90 minute performance showcase. ATOM-r’s participants include Mark Jeffery (choreography), Judd Morrissey (text and technology), Justin Deschamps, Sam Hertz, Christopher Knowlton, and Blake Russell (collaborators/performers). The ATOM-r collective explores the application of forensic science and anatomical mapping, as viewed through the through the scope of performance, technology, and language. What struck me most about the exhibition was the poetic consideration of the body and the layering of segmented perspectives visually, technologically and through dance. This is especially true of the performance where the dancers bodies move like they are being examined for medical display, like they caressed with love or sex, like in battle, and like the ritualistic laying out of the dead all in one sequence. When combined the layers of sourced gesture seem not as if disjointed but in an embracing collaboration of movement. I feel my observation of this exhibition is like looking through a magnifying glass peeping in to catch glimpses at what is a large body of accumulated research.

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The installation included a 15 monitors that displayed the interactive exhibition’s language poetry and digital art that seemed like entries dense with interconnecting references selected from an accumulation of archived materials. The Operature. Attendees are able to pick up cards with medical and anatomical imagery and show the QR-code to a camera provoking a response and changing the exhibited material as a corresponding text begins to dance across the screen blinking in and out. On other screens images of head cut into thin slices spin resembling the process of cross-sectional scans of bodies under anatomy study, or the presentation of anatomical evidence on glass slides. The dissection of slices is also seen in the exhibitions use of language fragmentation and the multifaceted perspectives created by technology that includes both in the installation and performance.

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Upon entering attendees are prompted to download an app that allows them to interact using their smartphones during the installation and performance. Audience members found themselves taking on the roll of investigators drifting around the exhibition looking for signs, images, and codes that they could scan using their camera phone. Once scanned, these images display technological overlay ghost images and text that seem as if they had already been there, invisible, waiting for you to discover them. Often I find technological interactions to fall short but there is something consistent about the concept of a phone app that allows you to view an augmented reality layer in an exhibition based off anatomical theaters, where the audience becomes an investigator of anatomy. It was one of the best uses of interactive technology I had experience in an exhibition. This inclusion of the technological other worlds slips in and out of the subjective, pushing realties/non-realities together and is an integral interaction when used during the performance piece.

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image from phone application

The collective stratum of reference is something you encounter in every aspect of ATOM-r’s performance. One can view the piece from multiple vantage points choosing to sit in pews, walking among the performers, or standing above the performance looking down on it as in an operational theater. As the performers dance Judd plays the role of conductor, controlling projected displays of text reiterating those used in the installation, and reading them aloud as he performs.

ATOM-r - The Operature (image provided by artist)

He also provides the attendees with a technological viewpoint, displaying his live video of the performance showing the virtual reality ghosts we first encountered in our own investigations of the installation. The spoken language of the piece was delivered in the same cold cut tone as a scientific manual but had the touch of deeply personal poetics of the struggle with the body. The text provides us with many concepts such as the examination of the body as house, the treatment of the dead, and the histories of anatomical theater. One of the most interesting sources is the text sourced from the “stud file” of writer Samuel Steward describing details and observations about his various erotic encounters with men. These excerpts when juxtaposed with the anatomical body texts create an interweaves narrative of the gay male body.

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The expert choreography composed by Mark Jeffery and his collaborators holds the audience captive while working in correspondence the technological devices. The all male group of performers embraced, wrestled, fell, carried one another around the room like corpses, posed for examination, removed and readjusted each other’s buttons and zippers, each performer functioning simultaneously as the displayer and the displayed. Even the lights become dancers moving around the room and repositioned by performers. Observes peer into the dancers bodies, guided by the ever-present examiners lights. As the scenes are constructed I am reminded of the painter Thomas Eakins and his paintings of medical theaters. The audiences enters ATOM-r’s The Operature like a crime scene, attempting to paste together all the clues given through the use of dance, poetry and art as evidence. To quote text from the exhibition, “the evidence looked back at you awkwardly and defiantly”, asking you investigate the margins of these clues. Your reward for your exploration is an involved and richly layered experience that speaks to the poetics of anatomy and left me feeling touched to the bone.

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If you would like to see it for yourself the exhibition continues till March 29th. There will be two more shows this coming weekend on Friday and Saturday. The interactive exhibition is open at 6pm and performance begins 8pm. National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago, 175 W. Washington, $15 at the door. Here for more info.

(images provided by ATOM-r. Photo Credit: Katie Graves Photography)




REMINDER: We Are Perceiving Bodies: Observations of Four Works on View in Atlanta

January 23, 2014 · Print This Article

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.

Rutherford Chang. "We Buy White Albums." 2006 - ongoing. Image courtesy the ACAC.

Rutherford Chang. “We Buy White Albums.” 2006 – ongoing. Image courtesy the ACAC.

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.” [1] 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.” [2]

Gyun Hur. "A System of Interiority." 2013. Image author's own.

Gyun Hur. “A System of Interiority.” 2013. Image author’s own.

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.” [3] 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?” [4] 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. Installation view of drawings component of "Two Dancers; One Carries the Weight of the Other." 2013-14. Image courtesy the ACAC.

Jonathan Bouknight. Installation view of drawings component of “Two Dancers; One Carries the Weight of the Other.” 2013-14. Image courtesy the ACAC.

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.

Maggie Ginestra. Performance view of "Angels of the Interior." 2014. Image by Jill Frank courtesy of Ginestra.

Maggie Ginestra. Performance view of “Angel of the Interior Heaven.” 2014. Image by unknown photographer. Courtesy of artist.

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. [5] 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.

Jonathan Bouknight. Installation view of video component of "Two Dancers; One Carries the Weight of the Other." 2013-14. Image courtesy the ACAC.

Jonathan Bouknight. Installation view of video component of “Two Dancers; One Carries the Weight of the Other.” 2013. Image courtesy the ACAC.

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.

Notes

[1] Rutherford Chang’s statement for Coloring.

[2] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Donald A. Landes (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), 71.

[3] Ibid.

[4] René Descartes, “Meditations on First Philosophy” [1641], trans. Donald Cress, in Philosophical Essays and Correspondence, ed. Roger Ariew (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett, 2000), 112.

[5] Martin Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” in Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper, 1993).

 




INSTALLATOR

October 29, 2013 · Print This Article

“Tumblr is a great way for people who don’t create content to share content thus lending their life some kind of creative import.”  This is the somewhat omniscient Jayson Musson’s tweet from a couple of weeks ago.  The more I think about it – and I have been thinking about it way too much – the more I realize that he’s probably right.  There are a lot of people on Tumblr and I am one of them.  And I cannot get enough.  But you know what, I don’t care if these people haven’t created the content they’re posting, at least they’re posting content – which, in of itself, is a creative act.  And it’s visual, and I personally am constantly learning from it.  It’s a visual literacy of the highest import.

My own Tumblr, Installator, is a curated (for lack of a better term) blog of other people’s content.    Installator (wrapit-tapeit-walkit-placeit) is essentially a compendium of art in a state of movement – being installed, de-installed, moved, crated, knocked down, hung, lifted, cleaned, screwed together, and on and on.  It’s about art as an object, but decidedly not the object that most people understand it to be.  Not precious, or in some cases priceless, well-lit aesthetic nuggets that just seems to appear on walls, or pedestals, in fields, on buildings and above couches.  These are images of artworks that are not static.

Sometimes I wonder if people who go to museums or galleries think these things just kind of magically appear overnight – like some sort of aesthetic fairy flitting down to delicately place a painting on a wall with their sparkly fairy-dusted level.  Well they don’t, and there is a magical coterie of individuals who do make it happen: art handlers/preparators/riggers/etcetera.  I am not an art handler, though I have done my fair share of handling art (I’m also married to a former preparator).  It is with the utmost respect for these folks that I showcase them in the photos that make up Installator.  Other people are impressed too.  Of the many comments I do get on one photo or another – a common one is some form or another of: “I want to do this for living!”

Looking for images can be a pain in the ass, but when I find a good one I get really excited.  I have a loose set of criteria that I stick to when finding them; ideally it’s a large jpeg; includes an image of a person(s); is of an artwork or artist that I admire; is visually representative of the act of installing or de-installing and has to be stimulating to look at.  Funny pictures help, as do process-oriented sets of images.  I mostly start with a Google image search including an artist’s name (or sometimes an artwork) and the word “installing”.  Another route I take is plundering the Facebook photo albums of museums.  I find that European museums do the best job of documenting their behind-the-scenes, but there are a few museums with their own oft-updated Tumblrs, blogs and websites (the Dallas Museum of Art, Contemporary Museum of Art, Houston and the Walker Art Center are tops.)

At this point it seems as though a lot of Museums are catching onto this peeking-behind-the-curtain-thrill.  Many of them are sharing much of the work that goes into setting up an exhibition, not only by posting more and more images for the public, but also using it as a form of education about the lives of artworks.  This can only be healthy.  It humanizes the pricelessness that these objects are assumed to have once they enter the institution.  It also showcases the care for these objects from a preservation standpoint.  I thought this quote from the Chrysler Museum of Art was interesting, even though the images they did post were some of the most beautiful I’ve come across: “We generally do not discuss anything related to the movement of art. There are lots of reasons for this, ranging from the obvious (security) to the obscure (proper protocols and handling).  …. We rarely if ever actually photograph art being moved. This is [a] field where mistakes are not an option, and a great work of art being damaged because somebody tripped over a photographer just can’t happen.”

There is also what I cannot find.  I have a mental list of artists whose work I would very much like to see installed.  There are also museums that simply aren’t interested in showing how work travels from the bowels of their storage to the walls of their galleries.  Outside of Instagram, commercial galleries very rarely show images of their artists work being installed (though Salon94 has a great blog that features this).  Along the same lines, it’s often difficult to find images of art fairs being loaded in.  Artists who have their own websites also rarely show images of their work from this viewpoint (Sterling Ruby and Martin Eder (?) are a couple of exceptions).  Holy Grail images would include almost anything pre-1980, better yet pre-1950.   The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art (watermarks excluded) is by far one of the best resources I’ve found.  As far as mediums go, who knew it was so hard to find images of drawings and photographs being installed?

A short wish list, in case anyone was inclined to do some of their own digging and submit: Morris Louis (a good one, though this one is pretty good), Allan McCollum, Eve Hesse, Cady Noland and On Kawara.

8.-de-Menil

What’s next? I thought an old fashion artbook might be a good way to harness a lot of what’s happening on the Installator tumblr.  There is more to mine here: from the relational aesthetics of it all to the art historical precedents of installing art.  However, after looking into it and making a couple of inquiries, I realized that it would never happen.  I don’t own these images and I certainly wouldn’t want to deal with the red tape (from artist to gallery to museum) about ownership and rights.  Nonetheless, I do worry that with the fleeting nature of screen-scrolling, people aren’t really looking.  Good old fashion page-turning sounds nice to me – maybe one of these days.  For now, I’ll still be looking for content and posting it for my 137,507 “followers”.

 

Bio: Britton Bertran ran 40000 from 2005 to 2008. He currently is an Instructor at SAIC in the Arts Administration and Policy department and the Educational Programs Manager at Urban Gateways. An occasional guest-curator, he has organized exhibitions for the Hyde Park Art Center, the Loyola Museum of Art and several galleries. You can find him trying to be less cranky about the art world on twitter @br_tton.  Stay tuned for a couple more guest posts where Britton will be waxing poetic on what’s wrong with the Chicago art world circa 2013, while thinking out loud about how to fix it and another post about looking forward to 2014 (and maybe a top 10 list of sorts too.)

Above images:

  1. “KULTÚRA NAPJAINKBAN, dan perjovschi után szabadon” (via richardlivesus)
  2. “The Acrobatic Sculptures of the Rooftop Garden”. Alexander Calder’s “Man” being installed at SFMOMA
  3. MoMA staff dismantling Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” (1937) for shipment to Spain. Photo taken on September 8, 1981 by Mali Olatunji. Image © The Museum of Modern Art, New York
  4. “Monumental wall sculpture by Ellsworth Kelly installed on Dartmouth campus.  This major site-specific work, titled Dartmouth Panels, was commissioned by longtime arts patrons Leon Black ‘73 and his wife Debra, who contributed $48 million towards the creation of the center.” (artdaily.org)
  5. “This piece is made of ceramics, a medium which Robert Arneson helped bring to a full-fledged, independent art form. Typically, large-scale works such as this would be made out of bronze or marble. Luckily for our installation crew, this piece is hollow, meaning it only weighs between 500-700 lbs. Heave-ho!” (SFMOMA)
  6. “This incredible sculpture by Turner Prize-winning artist Anthony Gormley, consisting of 40,000 clay figures, has been put on display at an empty Tudor manor house…. It took five days to place the humanoid characters into position across the ground floor of Barrington Court, a National Trust Property near Ilminster in Somerset. The installation ‘Field for the British Isles’, was originally created in 1993 and has been loaned to the property by the Arts Council Collection through its Trust New Art Programme.”
  7. Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Placebo), 1991. Installation process. Image courtesy of the Williams College Museum of Art; photo by Roman Iwasiwk (curatedobject.us)
  8. Dominique de Ménil supervise l’acrochage d’une toile de Barnett Newman en 1991. | Dominique de Ménil oversees the hanging of a Barnett Newman’s painting in 1991. (Marc Riboud, circa 1991, 38 x 52 cm via Galerie Verdeau, via tongue depressors; via bruvu)



The Place of Utopia: gloATL’s Blue Astro Turf Swings

August 22, 2013 · Print This Article

Introduction: Laying the Floor

This July, I participated in the gloATL Summer Intensive. gloATL is an Atlanta-based dance company that creates physical installations for the public. During the Intensive, there were six of these installations that focused on the concept of utopia for a series of “utopia stations” that was part of its series Liquid Culture: a collection of gestures and sensations from an asphalt perspective that had occurred during the summer for the past few years; this summer was the last of these installations. Lauri Stallings, the choreographer and founder of gloATL, considers these performances installations – physical and public installations; the series is described as “physical installations [that] are unveiled as public utopia stations for arriving, leaving, and staying for awhile.” [1]

During the first weeks of the Intensive, Stallings described to us her interest in utopia, referencing Thomas More’s book Utopia (Of a republic’s best state and of the new island Utopia (De optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia)), published in 1516. What seemed to be impelling Stallings to the notion of utopia is that the word utopia has multiple and somewhat contradictory meanings. The statement for this summer’s series of utopia stations describes that “[t]here is a double-meaning in the term “utopia,” being both a good place (eutopia) and a no place (outopia).” [2] The perplexing concepts of “good” and “no” together propelled me to enter the work. During this discussion with Stallings, the company, and fellow intensive participants, I mentioned that it seemed that “no place” had to be impossible. Wherever there is being, there is movement. Even between two atoms, there is an ever-so-slight vibratory motion. Animate form, or life, is exactly that, animate. It moves. [3] If “no place” cannot possibly exist, then what of the “good place”?

gloATL. Utopia Station 1. Liquid Culture 2013. Soundtable. Photo from BURNAWAY flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/burnaway/sets/72157634525912059/

gloATL. Utopia Station 1. Liquid Culture 2013. Soundtable. Photo from BURNAWAY flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/burnaway/sets/72157634525912059/

All of the installations involved swings, swing sets, and the encouragement of public engagement with the swings. For Stallings, this is a gesture of ultimate freedom; the ability to partake in the childlike joy of swinging within public space. Each installation also had blue astro turf designating a stage of sorts that at most times separated the dancers from the public. However, Stallings said that even this space should not be maintained as an eternal divider. She keeps in mind that a member of the public could always step over the edge of the floor and enter the space of the stage.

In looking back on this Intensive experience and observing the installations while reading Plato’s Republic for my PhD comprehensive exams, I find myself in a rather perplexing state of body-mind. Both Thomas More’s Utopia and Plato’s Republic describe a space where all would be good – proper governance, happiness, order, common property. Both of these spaces are fictional, however, and cannot possibly exist in the real world; a confluence of the double-meaning – a good place that is no place. In encountering a work that attempts through dance to create a utopian space in the current world we live in, the troubling passages in Republic become more clear instances of the perceived dangers of artistic freedom. [4] However, maybe the utopian installations illuminate these same passages in terms of a Platonic sarcasm; since the idea has been so pushed to the edge, it has become ridiculous.

 

Being There

As a participant in the making of the work and also as a viewer, my experience of the series of installations straddles multiple spheres of engagement, perception, and bodily recognition. I have to admit that those three weeks of July were among the hardest I have lived yet. The physical exertion of dancing for hours six days a week was taxing. The emotional investment was more than I had expected. The mental exercising was beyond what I had encountered before. Being in a PhD program at Emory, I don’t often have the opportunity to use my body as the material of my thought and production of work, so putting myself in the mode of bodily “thought” was an exercise in mental gymnastics.

Inhabiting another’s work was something I had not experienced before. Taking on someone else’s idea as my own and incorporating it into my own body was more of a challenge than I could have imagined. The ability to fully take on the choreographer’s concept as inspiration for one’s own bodily experience is a skill that I fully respect. It amazes me to see gloATL dancers express these concepts with their whole bodies; each finger is doing something special; each facial twitch is a culmination of an entirety of being. As Stallings says, “the movement is in your fingers.”

Stallings process is an incredible one to witness. Starting with an idea, it traverses into often unexpected territory, blossoming into full body expression. This part of the process, called “Process” by gloATL, usually came after a warm-up led by Stallings or other gloATL dancers. This wasn’t any sort of warm-up though. Called “Tools,” it was an exploration of internal bodily connections that make movement manifest externally. All movement generates from the inside and radiates towards an external form that can be witnessed. Coming out of a Gaga tradition, a dance technique and vocabulary formulated by Israel choreographer Ohad Naharin, “Tools” is a way to connect to the pleasure of movement. Even when difficult, the ability to move is a pleasure in and of itself. One of the goals is to constantly search for the unexpected places in the body that initiate movement. Stallings often said that if you feel you are comfortable with a particular movement, it’s time to move towards something previously undone, unthought, un/not-moved.

After finishing the intensive and going back into my usually more stationary world of reading books and writing words on a screen, I feel that the world of movement has infiltrated my world of stationary contemplation. I realize that the movement was there all along and that it’s just that I have begun to accept it more fully into the life I am living.

gloATL. Utopia Station 2. 10th and Piedmont. Liquid Culture 2013. Photo by Thom Baker. http://www.artsatl.com/2013/07/review-gloatls-liquid-culture-series-finds-breath-simplicity-freedom-great-outdoors/

 

Swinging Release

During the last installation I participated in with gloATL, I felt something inside come up into my throat. Maybe a purely physical experience, but something tells me that it was more. At the end of the installation, we invited the audience into the middle of the blue astro turf floor by leading them using our elbows as the anchor for them to hold onto. There, after looking into each other’s eyes, we decided as a group to speak: “You have only to say yes.” With childlike wonderment and excitement, about the beautiful swing sets, about the blue of the astro turf, about being there moving, the group performing in the installation let go with screams, laughter, and every other kind of expression that erupted from the core. At this point, something inside my body crept up to the top of my throat, something was attempting to escape through my mouth. I stopped still. If I moved anymore, that thing would exit my body onto the astro turf. I couldn’t fathom that happening. It was a purging that I couldn’t handle happening at that time.

gloATL. Utopia Station 4. Woodruff Arts Center. Liquid Culture 2013. Photo from BURNAWAY flickr.

gloATL. Liquid Culture 2013. Woodruff Arts Center. Photo from BURNAWAY flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/burnaway/sets/72157634714580973/

I went home that night after the installation and tried to process what had happened to me. The next morning during process, we went over that moment. The same thing kept happening. Whatever was in there wanted to be let go, but, for some reason, I couldn’t let it. I sat down in the hall outside the studio. My body couldn’t accept what it was saying. The connections between my body, my mind, and my internal emotional existence were confused with each other. It seemed that my mental thoughts couldn’t keep up with the internal movements of my emotions and body. I couldn’t keep it together. I couldn’t participate in the last installation. Of this, I am deeply regretful. I wish I could have made it through, but something, I’m not sure what exactly, kept me back.

Maybe it was the thought of utopia, a freedom I couldn’t comprehend. That feeling deep in my belly that rose to my throat threatened me simultaneously with the “good place” and the “no place.” Something in my unconscious body-mind didn’t understand what that even could mean. How could I occupy that position of “good place” and “no place” at all, let alone at the same time? Maybe this is what Plato was warning against: a radical disorder. If the body, mind, and soul cannot be easily divided and categorized, what happens to that being and the rest of the world she inhabits? Music and gymnastic together as dance brought be to that precipice of disorder that was begging to erupt. This eruption of bodily order holds within it the potential for ultimate freedom from restraint, but also ultimate devastation of a creeping chaos.

gloATL. Utopia Station 3. Goodson Yard at The Goat Farm Arts Center. Liquid Culture 2013. Photo by Ralph Williams. E37 Photography. http://e37photography.blogspot.com

gloATL. Liquid Culture Series 2013 at Goodson Yard. Photo by Ralph Williams. E37 Photography. http://e37photography.blogspot.com

This is the experience that Stallings created – for me, for the public, maybe for the other dancers themselves. Though these installations are meant for public interaction, it is rare that you see an audience member claim the space as her own. The dance floor remains a dance floor for most of the time until glo explicitly invites the public to join them. There is a timidity to dance and art viewing even with the explosion of socially-engaged and participant-driven art. However, during one of the performances at The Goat Farm Arts Center, one of the participants decided to take control of the space. He took on one of the swings hanging from the rafters as his own. He did not want to get off the swing, even when approached by glo dancers that needed the swing to perform the choreography. Eventually, with some silent, eye coaxing he got up and off the swing. In the public sphere, it is impossible to claim a particular space as purely your own. Part of the freedom the series of installations points to is the freedom to not grasp so tightly.

During the ending section performed at The Goat Farm Arts Center and The Woodruff Arts Center, we played a game of switching and racing for swings. It was so satisfying to attain the glory of the swing, but at a certain point, while swinging with pride, watching the other dancers in the middle of the floor fidget with anticipation and wide eyes, I decided to jump off the swing, give it over to another to enjoy. That might be the space of utopian contradiction – both the “good place” and the “no place” together; the space suspended in air where you joyfully float, exiting the swing in order for another to occupy it.

gloATL. Utopia Station 4. Woodruff Arts Center. Liquid Culture 2013. Photo BURNAWAY flickr.

gloATL. Liquid Culture 2013. Woodruff Arts Center. Photo from BURNAWAY flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/burnaway/sets/72157634714580973/

 

For more images of the installations, check out BURNAWAY’s flickr sets for gloATL’s Liquid Culture installations at Historic Old Fourth Ward, Goodson Yard at The Goat Farm Arts Center, and Woodruff Arts Center.

For a great review/write-up of the 2013 Liquid Culture series, check out Cynthia Bond Perry’s article “gloATL’s “Liquid Culture” series finds breath, simplicity, and freedom” published on Arts ATL.

Notes:

[1] Statement for Liquid Culture: a collection of gestures and sensations from an asphalt perspective, gloATL, http://gloatl.org/upcoming/whats-next/ (accessed 8.21.2013)

[2] Statement for Liquid Culture: a collection of gestures and sensations from an asphalt perspective, gloATL, http://gloatl.org/upcoming/whats-next/ (accessed 8.21.2013)

[3] Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, The Primacy of Movement, 2nd edition (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2011).

[4] See for example Plato’s treatment of music and gymnastic as the best tools for educating the body and soul to be temperate, courageous, and good. However, there are stipulations attached to these training methods; no innovation is allowed. Since music is claimed to be the most mimetic art, it comes with a certain power that must be controlled. I don’t think it is surprising that this art form is paired with an art of the body, gymnastic. (Plato, Republic, Book II, 376; Book III, 410; Book IV, 424; and etc.) Also consider the discussion of music and gymnastic in relation to the proper form of narrative in poetry, pure third person narration, which does not inhabit the person of a character and speak through him or her. In Book II, section 377, Plato asks whether music also includes literature, and further, whether this literature is true or false. This leads the members of the dialogue to a discussion of what stories should be allowed to be told and which ones are dangerous to the ears – too influential.




Suspended Radiophonic Breath Terrains: Anna Friz and Coppice at Tritriangle

July 25, 2013 · Print This Article

Anna Friz and Coppice performed in their audio installation at Tritriangle on 5/25/2013 in Chicago, IL. The two installations and two live performances occupied the gallery as co-existing organisms. [1] Each stemming from Friz’s and Coppice’s own larger overarching projects, Friz’s Nocturne and Coppice’s A Vinculum Variation are iterations, though it becomes clear that these iterations are not repetitions, but manifestations of differences in space, time, and materiality. The artists filled the spaces above my head and below/around my feet with sounds produced by other bodies: people, instruments, apparatuses, and radios. The two installations created the terrain in which the live performances inhabited. The earthy landscape, coupled with a cloud of respiration, constituted a world of transmission that enabled relationships to form in and between bodies.

Anna Friz "Nocturne" and Coppice "A Vinculum Variation." Photo by Amanda Gutierrez.

Anna Friz “Nocturne” and Coppice “A Vinculum Variation.” Photo by Amanda Gutierrez.

Installation Navigation

In the space of Tritriangle, tiny blueish-silvery lights floating in air illuminate 82 small silver radios suspended from thin silver wires, a cloud of radios. In one corner of the space is blue light; in two other corners, yellow-gold illuminations. The blue corner holds three hand-built radios by the inventor George Kagan, an accordion, a harmonica, a chair, a mixer, and other sound equipment. Two radio transmitters fixed near the ceiling, send signals on two different frequencies to the 82 suspended radios. The radios, hovering at different levels around my head, emit gentle sounds of an accordian-played melody, breath, and radio static. The golden-brown corner contains a chair, an accordion, a box. Another corner contains a set-up with tape players, speakers, and an inductive mixing table with devices that send signals to the speakers lining the room close to the floor. These speakers emanate sounds of breathing, bellows of an accordion, air passing through processed reeds, the crackling paper inside a shruti box, pressure cuffs, and a funnel. In a third corner, golden light illuminated that illuminates a metal funnel.

A Vinculum Variation; Coppice’s Archived Air Contours

For the installation and performance at Tritriangle, Chicago-based duo Coppice (Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer) created a listening experience that compelled the listener to navigate and inhabit the space of the gallery in a fluid way. Before the performances, the audience could walk freely around the space and stop to observe what was emitting from the various speakers lining the room. During the performance, the audience stilled and the artists and the audio material activated. Cuéllar, playing the accordion and free reeds, moved his own body around and through the space, while Kramer used two custom-built apparatuses: his customized inductive mixing table and customized cassette tape player. Kramer, kneeling on the floor, using this table, which “redistributes the sounds of the Vinculum archive as they are played back through small speakers resting at different locations on its surface,” [2] changes the location from where sounds poured. The cassette tape instrument Kramer designed and created is able to “make a record of the sonic space that also reproduces the recording from moments ago while simultaneously recapturing its own output.” [3]

These devices together create space and time that shift and refuse to remain static or linear. The changes in the part of the room that contained the raw recordings from the Vinculum archive created a constantly changing environment of breathing; audio materials from their ongoing-archive emerged in the space and surrounded the audience with breath. Cuéllar, changing positions throughout the space of the installation, used the accordion’s keys and bellows to breathe sounds throughout the room. Coppice’s contribution to the installation as a whole grounded the audience and the space itself creating a material terrain the viewer could navigate and explore.

Coppice "A Vinculum Variation." Photo by Amanda Gutierrez.

Coppice “A Vinculum Variation.” Photo by Amanda Gutierrez.

Coppice’s installation and performance at Tritriangle emerged from its ongoing project since 2010Vinculum, a constantly shifting index of sounds, bodies, and space that involves isolating and highlighting particular sounds that are specific to Coppice. Sitting down with Cuéllar and Kramer in their studio, they describe their interest in the “behavior of sounds” [4] and the ways in which different sounds demand a different kind of listening. However, Coppice is not necessarily interested in making the listener more aware of the plethora of quotidian sounds that may surround her. Rather, the listener is encouraged to connect to the collection of sounds Coppice draws from to create their compositions. The work is deeply self-referential in its consistent pointing back to itself, its own self-reflexivity. The recordings, which are used to form Coppice compositions, are stored and categorized as specimens the listener can study and discover within the work. Coppice’s archival process, which involves recording the sounds and storing them in built containers or vessels – hand-sewn pouches or built wooden boxes (for Vinculum Specimen Edition), produces a peculiar meditation on the nature of cataloguing. What is capable of being stored? What should be saved? The individual entries/specimens can then be accessed and experienced by the listener in a multitude of ways. Coppice encourages the listener “to play the discs simultaneously on repeat from multiple players when possible.” [5] However, the listener has the ability to change the order and method of playback to create her own way of experiencing the archived sounds. The archive is not static and is rather presented as a collection that is open to change and re-arrangement; it is an “open composition.” [6]

Coppice describes the sounds of Vinculum as quiet and having to be found from a particular point of view. Because Coppice is concerned with each sound’s specific experiential condition, the recordings in the archive capture the particular spatial arrangement necessary to recognize the sound, making the archive one of space and the way the listener and the instrument inhabit space. Many of the sounds Coppice finds, makes, and records relate to the human body and its rhythms. The breath that passes through a tube and the air that traverses through the bellows of an accordion or pump organ indicate the necessity of the body to the production of that sound, whether it is the musician’s breath, hands, or feet interacting with the instrument or apparatus. They claim that it is the “air on the edge of things” [7] that makes its way into the auditory. Coppice’s sounds that insist on the “air on the edge of things” found themselves in conversation with Friz’s dreamy cloud of radio breath that floated above their audio terrain.

Nocturne; Anna Friz’s Radiogenic Objects

Canadian sound and radio artist Anna Friz, who is currently based in Chicago, performed second, immediately following Coppice, in the installation’s landscape. While the suspended radios picked up the transmission of an accordion-played melody, Friz began to play that same phrase in the middle of the space. The recordings emanating from the tiny radios and the live instrument in the installation mingled together in a sea of sounds and lights. When the recorded melody ended, Friz used the live accordion with its bellows to create a drone, filling the space. At one point, Friz got up, put the accordion down, turned on the handbuilt radios, picked up the harmonica, and began to play the instrument, sending it through the transmitters to the radios filling the space above my head.

Anna Friz "Nocturne." Photo by Amanda Gutierrez.

Anna Friz “Nocturne.” Photo by Amanda Gutierrez.

Nocturne is an iteration of her radiophonic installations that began in 2006 with You are far from us, a project she has been transforming since its premiere at Radio Revolten Festival at Ärtzejaus in Halle, Germany. The work explores the notion that radio technology is not disembodied, and that it actually holds within it traces of bodies and perhaps even allows us to overcome distance between bodies. Friz materializes the radio’s possible embodiment through voice and its breath, corporeality, and emotion. Breath and radio are intimately linked; Friz describes the phenomenon of the breath and radio static as sharing the same frequency range – a fascinating aspect of radio’s embodiment. She also describes the radios and their tendency to drift from their frequencies as a precarious bodily situation, not unlike human and nonhuman animal bodies that are subject to their environments and situations. The radios are in relationships with each other, though mediated through the multiple radio transmitters that populate the ceiling of the space.

The first manifestation of the installation You are far from us involved four transmitters, 50 radios, and 5-10 hand-crank Grundigs. This installation focused on the disastrous human condition and the ways in which it is transmitted and created through radio. In her statement for You are far from us, Friz asks the question: “What nearly inaudible signals, transmitted in moments of intensity or crisis — what do people seek to transmit, in a moment between the intake of breath and the breath held, waiting, in tension?” [8] Further, in turning to the specificity of the radio, she states that “[b]uilt on breath and other bodily exclamations typically absent from regular radio broadcasts, the radios operate at the limit of their capacity to transmit emotion.” [9] This interest in the radio as entity and performer itself is something Friz has been working with, an evolvement of her earlier work which conceptualized the radio as containing within itself people and that “the voices emanating from the radio were the voices of the little people who lived inside. Turn on the radio, the little people begin to talk, change the station and they change their voices. I imagined the radio people waited inside while the radio was off, ever ready to perform at the click of the dial.” [10] Now, she conceptualizes the radios themselves as the performing entities, not tied to a necessarily anthropomorphic view of the world. This is not to say that the radios are entirely outside the realm of human experience; they experience the precariousness of the world in perhaps a similar way. They tune in to frequencies and then drift off, floating and locking into a new one — a new world experience.

Friz describes the radios suspended in the floating cloud as sleeping, experiencing REM cycles, taking in the day and processing it through dreams. Nocturne at Tritriangle is an outgrowth of the section “Nocturne” from Friz’s previous installation You are far from us, with the section’s intent being “stilling the breath and relaxing [the radios].” [11] Friz emphasizes that she chooses to privilege the auditory over the visual in the installation because it helps the listener “focus attention on moving through space” [12] and instills the notion that the listener is a sensing body. The stilling of the breath and the radios drives home this recognition. When limiting one sense, other senses heighten. The viewer is no longer dependent on the two orbs situated in the front of the head as guides through space. The audio creates spatial relationships that enable the viewer to navigate the space at her own leisure. This navigational drifting relates to the radios’ own drifts. The radios experience the phenomenon of capture effect, thus causing them to detune and find a new channel to occupy. For Friz, the detuning isn’t necessarily about interference, since the notion of interference corresponds to a cybernetic theory of communication with involves fidelity to a message. Rather, she is interested in exploring “fields of influence.” [13] The radios’ detuning don’t mark a deficiency or breakdown. Instead, the tuning into different frequencies seem to reflect human and nonhuman animal choices to take a turn, go down a different path. The suspension of the inhale, [14] creates the space in which life is lived, with all of its precariousness.

We Breathe

Coppice and Friz created an environment in which the audience and the device could all breathe together, exchanging exhalations and inhalations actualizing a cloud of respiration. Focusing on the breath allows us to recognize that we are constantly exchanging material from our own bodies with the world. Though, this body in its continual state of exchange shows us that the molecules in our own bodies aren’t static and can’t always belong to us; these molecules are only finding themselves to exist within us for a passing moment in time. “The breath does not belong to the self. It enters and exists of its own accord. It inhabits the empty space of the lungs for brief periods and the same molecules and particles may never enter again.” [15]

Notes

[1] Personal conversation with Anna Friz and Coppice at the performance, May 25, 2013.

[2] Coppice, A Vinculum Variation, http://www.futurevessel.com/coppice/work/performance-installation/a-vinculum-variation.

[3] Joseph Kramer, “Episode 31: Porous Notion: Index Fragments and Interpretation,” Radius (Oct. 2012): http://theradius.us/episode31.

[4] Personal interview with Coppice, June 5, 2013.

[5] Coppice, Vinculum, http://www.futurevessel.com/coppice/work/recordings/vinculum.

[6] Personal interview with Coppice.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Anna Friz, You are far from us, http://nicelittlestatic.com/sound-radio-artworks/you-are-far-from-us/.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Anna Friz, Who are the people inside your radio, http://nicelittlestatic.com/sound-radio-artworks/who-are-the-people-in-your-radio/.

[11] Personal interview with Friz, June 8, 2013.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Friz describes the inhalation as suspension.

[15] Meredith Kooi, “Aristophanes’ Hiccups and Relational Spasms,” given at Location/Location symposium organized for Field Static: A Group Show About the Object, Co-Prosperity Sphere (Chicago, IL: June 6, 2012), 6.