Obsolescent Performance: Tercer Cuerpo/Timbre 4 at the MCA

September 27, 2013 · Print This Article

Tercer Cuerpo,the claustrophobic experimental play by Argentinian company Timbre 4 opening at the MCA next weekend, takes place, according to director Claudio Tolcachir, in “an office that doesn’t have any more reason for being, its services have no meaning.”  While remaining in the office set, characters as obsolete as the space in which they labor appear to act in other settings, other places. Tercer Cuerpo is partly about labor and identity, particularly the disappearance of sustainable, meaningful jobs for people. What happens to these characters, and us, when we must find meaning in our lives apart from a career or calling? The always-already obsolescence of the form of theater makes the piece of interest to representing labor in contemporary performance and medium specificity in dealing with contemporary collapses of space and time. But the company Timbre 4 is also a landmark for contemporary Argentinan art practices; their home base in the working-class Boedo neighborhood of Buenos Aires has become a hotbed and model for independent, experimental theater and performance.

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Tercer Cuerpo, courtesy of the MCA 

 

This Spring MCA’s Yolanda Cesta Cursach talked with Tolcachir about the approaching Chicago debut of Timbre 4. Her interview, translated by Cursach, appears below.

YC:  In Tercer Cuerpo, it seems the playing area is some undeniable womb for five very different biographies.

CT: Tercer Cuerpo is a fragmented telling of 5 simple stories crisscrossing the solitude of these individuals immensely incapable of dealing with what life deals them.

The decadence of the playing area reflects the characters’ personal disorientation. They want something from their lives. Simple things. Things that in general can be had. But they don’t, and this situation causes them enormous shame.

What I like in live theater is getting absorbed and at the same time taken by the story to an uncomfortable place. But this still depends on an intimate place, for my discomfort being the spectator can identify with the great and the small. With what is being known in my heart. In that divide between laughing at the same time that we could cry is where we identify with others.

YC: Timbre 4 has toured widely outside Latin America. What’s the audience’s response to your plays?

CT: It’s fascinating, sometimes foreigners are even more demonstrative that Argentine people. I don’t know if that’s because they find the plays odd. When you write a play, you think of the audience of your country. Furthermore, these plays are shown with subtitles, so I don’t know whether the translations are alright or not, I just trust the translators. I remember once, in Dublin, a man asked me, “Did you get inspiration from an Irish family?” In France, for instance, people asked, “Do all Argentine mothers sleep with their sons?” European people are amazed by the fact that we Argentine artists create plays with a very low budget. They can’t believe some actors rehearse for free and, even so, the plays are still amazing.

YC:  You seem to be interested in alternative family ties.

CT: I believe that everything revolves around the family—building a family is building a society too. Hamlet can be a political play or a family drama. I’d rather make the spectator feel involved with the story between the characters than anything else.

YC: Timbre 4 is an ensemble. What is your connection after 12 years since forming ?

CT: Our theater is about investigation, and we have modest beginnings keeping us aware of our city’s social situation and the multitude of other storefront theaters’ beginnings. From staying together all these years we manage to overcome the limitations of our neighborhood and of experimental theater, so that we can get the regenerating public which we so want to reach.

YC: What’s the difference in Argentina between mainstream plays and storefront plays?

CT: I’ve performed a lot in mainstream theatre, as an actor. The production scheme is different. When you are directing a mainstream play, you ask for a couch and the next day you have it in the set. In off-theatre plays, you have to get in your car, start your engine, go to a market and buy the couch yourself. But then, the feeling between the actors is the same. I’ve never directed a play I didn’t like. I couldn’t direct a play if there was a bad working environment.

YC: Why make theater at all? What is so irrepressible about treating your writing this way?

CT: In my case it’s completely selfish. Theater makes me happy, I feel alive, excited from it, and to be honest I’m not good for anything else. Investigation, risk, collaboration, unraveling and breaking routine each time never ceases to seduce me.




Process Notes: An Introduction

September 17, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Hannah Verrill

I’d like to use this bit of time-space to introduce a series of posts that will use process as a way of looking at and unpacking a handful of contemporary performance practices.

Each segment exists first as an encounter between an artist and myself. In the space between maker and observer, together we excavate a process, a series of actions that the artist is currently using to create performance material. Each exchange is specific to the work at hand, necessarily time-based, and unfixed in form.

The writing, produced in response to each exchange, seeks to mirror the kind of thinking that happens for a viewer after a performance has ended. The faulty and exuberant process of sifting through, assembling, and organizing the experience of such an ephemeral form.

Why focus on process? I’ll take my cue from Gertrude Stein: in order to know we always have to go back. 

I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and it was through my mother and her involvement as a performer with Elise Long’s amorphous dance-theater company Spoke The Hub that I began performing at the age of four. Long’s performance projects were interdisciplinary, using movement as their main component but regularly incorporating visual art and spoken text.

In one of my earliest performance memories I am six years old on a large stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I am hiding behind a set piece waiting for a cue and watching Elise Long, dressed in a magnificent red lobster-gown costume, deliver a monologue to an audience of hundreds.

Two years later I was cast in Meredith Monk’s work The Politics of Quiet; an ensemble piece addressing the Bosnian war for independence and Sarajevo in the 1990’s. I recall the intensity of the audition for this piece: my eight-year old body crossing a room slowly, picking up a vessel, feeling its weight and carrying it with me through space, and later being asked to sit as still as possible, my legs folded in front, focusing my attention on the air surrounding me.

In contrast to these kinds of engagements, my experience with performance as a kid was just as often marked by amateur experiments: strange dance-theater pieces thrown together in collaboration with cousins and staged for the family after thanksgiving dinner; solo dance numbers set to Fleetwood Mac and performed for my brothers, my dad, and a video camera; improvised movement by myself and for myself in the attic space of my home.

Three months ago I completed an MFA degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago focusing in performance. From where I stand now in relation to these childhood memories, I am aware not only of the performances themselves—events characterized by the work meeting an audience—but also of a much larger and more complex sea of experiences surrounding and generating the work. Time does its thing and I am still standing inside of the processes of those past works: the scaffolding comprised of auditions, rehearsals, trials, notes, periods of waiting, of watching, of thinking, of doing.

Performance theorists assert that in the instant of performance, the work experiences a kind of disappearance. With twenty-two years as a performer, I have felt time and time again the loss that comes with a performance’s end. My experience of my body as a learning-thinking-moving-performing thing, never fully knowing or comprehending the work that I was just then putting forth towards an audience—a you. This repeated rehearsal of loss drives my desire to spend time with and examine rigorously the nature of a process that works towards a disappearance.

What remains and what comes next? In a disappearing present, the past and the future takes on considerable weight. Process asserts a present. If we can agree that as a form performance undercuts the value of a static or fixed product—an end result—the questions of what remains and what comes next persist. How can the weight of the past and future be leveraged, made light and moveable? I can commit to the present just like I can feel the weight of my feet on the floor, just like I can feel my breath as it rises and sinks through the space of my torso—through a focus of attention. I will practice that attention to the present by way of this series called Process Notes.

Hannah Verrill is an artist living and making work in Chicago, Illinois.




Endless Opportunities: Of the Job, Performance, School and Travel Sort

August 10, 2013 · Print This Article

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1. Oxbow Development Coordinator

Ox-Bow is seeking a Development Coordinator. This full-time position based in downtown Chicago with occasional trips to the Saugatuck, Michigan campus.

The Development Coordinator works with the Executive Director and Development and Marketing Director to implement and support key initiatives (appeals, events, cultivation and stewardship activities, etc). This position’s primary responsibility is to provide integral support for Ox-Bow’s fundraising and donor marketing efforts (with annual targets of $1.5 million and growing) and join a vibrant, creative Ox-Bow team. The Development Coordinator reports directly to the Development and Marketing Director. (more here)

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2. New Urban Arts in Providence, Rhode Island  is accepting applications for a new Director of Programs.

We seek a candidate who believes in the power of creative practice and lifelong learning. The complete job posting follows.

Founded in 1997 with seed funding from the Echoing Green Foundation and Brown University’s Swearer Center, New Urban Arts is a nationally recognized arts studio and gallery for high school students and emerging artists in Providence, Rhode Island. Our mission is to build a vital community that empowers young people as artists and leaders to develop a creative practice they can sustain throughout their lives. We have been recognized as a national model for engaging underserved teenagers through the arts.

The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities has given New Urban Arts a Coming up Taller Award, the nation’s highest honor for youth arts and humanities programs. We were one of only nine organizations selected to participate in ARTOGRAPHY, a multi-year national Ford Foundation-initiative documenting and disseminating the artistic and organizational practices of exemplary diverse community-responsive arts organizations. Each year we serve over 300 high school students, 25 emerging artists and 2,000 visitors through free youth programs, professional development, artist residencies, public performances, workshops and exhibitions. We have a permanent staff of six and an annual operating budget of over $450,000.

The Director of Programs designs, manages and oversees year-round arts mentoring programs for high school students and emerging artists. S/he connects with the community (especially high school students, artist-mentors, parents, and school personnel) to create a learning environment that conveys a sense of belonging, risk, and responsibility. S/he works closely with the executive director to assess the effectiveness and ensure the feasibility of programs. S/he strives to foster a rewarding workplace that is stimulating, trusting, and results-oriented, where the mission of New Urban Arts can thrive. The Director of Programs reports to the Executive Director. (more here)

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3. Go to Paris and get paid for it via The Georgia Fee Artist/Writer Residency.  Application period closes August 16th.

The Residency is open to visual artists of all mediums, art writers and critics, 24 years or older. Recent graduates are especially encouraged to apply. The selection will be made based on the merit of past work and the potential for future success, the ability to independently develop new work, and the proposed project’s relevance to the city of Paris. Recipients will be required to maintain a blog, which will be posted on ArtSlant.

The Georgia Fee Artist/Writer Residency in Paris provides the recipient with lodging for 2 months in an apartment in the 14th arrondissement, travel to and from Paris, and a stipend to be used for studio space, materials, and other costs.

For Frequently Asked Questions on eligibility, submission guidelines and materials, please check here.

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3. a.pass is an artistic research environment that develops research on performativity and scenography, in an international artistic and educational context.  NEXT CALL FOR PROJECTS: APPLY BEFORE THE 1st of SEPTEMBER 2013

 

a.pass offers a one-year artistic research training program at post-master level for artists and theoreticians, based on the principles of self-organization, collaboration and transdisciplinarity. a.pass participants develop an independent artistic research project, with a personalized curriculum in a shared and collectively created research environment. 
 
The a.pass artistic research center develops, documents and archives tools for qualitative and relevant artistic research practices. The research center uses this growing archive to communicate and interact with the artistic and educational field and functions as a forum for the development of a critical approach on artistic research. a.pass emphasizes the relation between the research practices and a broader societal field, and encourages engaged transdisciplinary practices.

In the context of its artistic research center, a.pass offers a tailor-made PhD trajectory fo
r doctoral students that gives the possibility to develop the practice-based part of their PhD research in collective research environment. More info here. 
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4. MAYDAY an intensive workshop on the praxis of PERFORMANCE ART by VestAndPage (VERENA STENKE & ANDREA PAGNES) at DEFIBRILLATOR GALLERY on Monday 9th – Friday 13the September 2013 from: 6 – 10pm each evening, with a final presentation of the participants on Saturday, 14th September. While the workshop does cost money to participate, there are a few select scholarships available, and those who sign up before August 17th pay $75. Thereafter it is $100. Space is limited to 15 students. Find out more about the workshop and instructors by going here. 
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5.  SOMA: a different take on the MFA approach (and one that comes with funding). English speakers, there is a catch: you have to learn Spanish. Application deadline:  October 23, 2013

Calle 13 #25 Col. San Pedro de los Pinos, 03800 Ciudad de México.  SOMA offers a two-year program for training contemporary artists based on continuous exchange between young artists and established professionals through courses, workshops, one-on-one critiques and studio visits. SOMA’s faculty comprises artists, theorists, and curators with extensive experience in their fields, both nationally and internationally. This program is for students who have already completed a bachelors degree in visual arts or related studies. All students accepted into the program area are granted a scholarship of 80 percent of the total cost of attendance. Check it out here. (All classes are conducted in Spanish.)  

 




Experiencing Medium(s), Archiving Medium(s): John Q’s The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration

June 27, 2013 · Print This Article

Introducing Essays

Atlanta-based idea collective John Q premiered its work The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration at the Atlanta Cyclorama on Friday, May 17, 2013 and Saturday, May 18, 2013. The performance, an essay as John Q calls it, insists on exploring the phenomenon of queer migration into urban spaces, Atlanta being one of them. Using the space, movement, and pictorial qualities of the Cyclorama along with archival materials of queer filmmaker Crawford Barton, native to Resaca (about an hour north of Atlanta), later based in San Francisco, John Q essays (used here as a verb) a narrative of history, creative production, queerness, and geography.

In the broadsheet for the performance, John Q lists the definitions for essay as a noun:

“1. a short literary composition on a particular theme or subject, usually in prose and generally analytic, speculative, or interpretive. 2. anything resembling such a composition: a picture essay. 3. an effort to perform or accomplish something, attempt.” [1]

Used as a verb, essay can mean: “to try; attempt” and “to put to the test; make trial of” [2] or “to put to a test” and “to make an often tentative or experimental effort to perform” [3]. Derived from Middle French noun essai, derived from the verb essayer, which comes from Late Latin exagium which means an act of weighing, the word “essay” refers to something active, performative. [4]

Similar in roots to “essay,” “assay,” as a noun refers to

  1.  archaic: a trial, attempt
  2. the examination and determination as to characteristics (as weight, measure, or quality)
  3. analysis (as of an ore or drug) to determine the presence, absence, or quantity of one or more components; also: a test used in this analysis
  4. a substance to be assayed; also: the tabulated result of assaying [5]

As a verb:

  1. a. to subject (a metal, for example) to chemical analysis so as to determine the strength or quality of its components; b. to bioassay
  2. to examine by trial or experiment; put to a test
  3. to evaluate; assess
  4. to attempt; try [6]

The two words, though originating in similar if not same roots (assay originates in Anglo-French), now aren’t used interchangeably (in a simple online search, I came across forums discussing if the two are interchangeable – this is a big deal). At some point, the Latin word which expressed the action of weighing and measuring was split into the action of weighing in thought and weighing concrete objects. How are these two distinct from each other, though? Does the decision to weigh a concrete object necessarily come from a weighed thought experiment, or vice versa? John Q’s weighing of the Cyclorama, the site of the performance, a 42 x 358 foot panoramic painting of the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta, a complex of history, politics, and space, straddles multiple methods of investigation and examination, perhaps similar to the divided essay/assay. Paired with the Cyclorama is the weighing of Crawford Barton’s archive. As Wesley Chenault of John Q states:

In some ways, the provenance of the Crawford Barton collection did similar work as the Cyclorama in that it allowed us to think about his life in other ways, as patterns of movements and migrations between rural and urban spaces, not primarily as it related to San Francisco. Through letters, films, and more, Barton’s personal papers document his connections to Resaca and Atlanta, archival traces that map over the military campaigns that occurred in both areas. Atlanta, as Sherman understood over a century before, is a city defined by its relevance as a transportation hub in the Southeast. For many, it has long served as a nexus, where motilities of bodies, desires, and histories converge.  Crawford’s correspondence from his time in the city, for example, illustrates how one young gay white man navigated the sexual landscape of the mid-to-late 1960s. Placing Crawford in the Cyclorama, then, allowed the collective to attempt – thus the essay form – to explore not just notions of movement and migration, but also the ways in which they relate to identity, place, archives, and memory. [7]

Description

The performance can be broken down broadly into three parts:

  1. Beginning: the standard Cyclorama narrative while the audience goes through the standard revolve around the painting
  2. John Q takes over the narrative, delivering its essay while the audience continues to revolve in the space while the programmed lights highlight particular aspects of the painting
  3. John Q’s members, one by one, leave the theater and move into the auditorium, inviting the audience members to join them for screenings of Crawford Barton’s films.

The ending space of the performance (the auditorium) is generally the starting point for a tour of the Cyclorama: a video presentation of a Civil War reenactment. In the script of the essay, John Q states: “During a regular visit to the Atlanta Cyclorama, the presentation would begin with an interpretive film in the auditorium and then move here into the space of the painting. Tonight we ask you to navigate the space of the Cyclorama backwards with us, moving metaphorically against the grain of history and exploring, perhaps for the first time in public, a sampling of the film work of our current queer subject, Crawford Barton.” [8] Later, John Q states: “Instead of following Crawford’s biography to its end, we bring you back to his migrations.” [9]

John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.

John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.

The films present the Castro, the famous queer district in San Francisco, and of travel. Minimal in their composition and editing, the films are observational in nature; unedited,  perhaps unscripted, they seem to hold the lives of those featured in the films. Resaca, GA, Barton’s hometown also happens to be “the site of one of the first battles in the Civil War military Atalanta Campaign.” [10] What seemed to draw John Q to Barton’s work was the potential to examine his migration to the Castro from rural Resaca in a larger phenomenon of migration, queer migration, and differentiations of space. One of the films depicts men running through golden fields, bare-chested. While watching this moving-image, I was struck by a deep-seated fear – something that causes one to run, to run fast and far away. Especially after witnessing a scene of carnage, destruction, and death represented in the Atlanta Cyclorama, the potentially and possibly joyful images of rural play take on a more morbid atmosphere. Are these fields that of “amber waves of grain” – fields that speak to the national project of America; the fantastic golden countryside? I have to ask then, if these fields aren’t filled with joy, what then are they filled with and why are these men running? Is this moving-image representative of the larger phenomenon of queer migration that prompted John Q to realize this project? What does this mass movement to urban centers mean for America’s rural spaces?

The essay John Q presented during the second turn of the painting starts with General Sherman’s ability to really see geography and an aside about Napoleon’s extensive map collection, both juxtaposed with Borges’ map the size of the place it represents, an absurd exercise of cartography. At one point, John Q points out to the audience that how the painting is viewed is highly controlled:

“In the first turn around the Cyclorama, controlled light directs your attention to the scenes under discussion. The seating apparatus itself takes you on a turn that controls what spaces draw your attention and when. The narrative is set. Your gaze over this space has been determined in advance. It is a visual, pre-cinematic form, which presents the unfolding of geography and history as seemingly inevitable.5 You are a witness to History.6” [11]

One thing to consider, however: can my experience be completely controlled by another, unseen forces, or composition? Do the spinning gears and directed lights completely focus my attention to the spot I’m supposed to? Can I close my eyes, turn my head – experience this painting differently from the way it’s presented to me? This ability, to close the eyes, refuse to look at the space indicated, has much to offer the archival work that John Q does in its public projects and the ways in which they invite the audience to engage with the particular archives presented. In an interview with Julia Brock for History@Work: A Public History Commons from the National Council on Public History, they describe the way they view their work as public scholarship and what this means for its reception, particularly what their take on “public interventions” is. Joey Orr explains that “The learning that takes place in a publicly constructed project is not unidirectional and can never be predicted in advance, so I do not assume our job is to wake people up. I do hope some of our work intervenes in a more street-level, quotidian way into the spaces where people are carrying out their everyday lives.” [12] Andy Ditzler further adds: “I don’t think any of us see ourselves as ‘educating the public,’ partly because we’re members of the public as much as anyone else, and as much as we’re artists or scholars.” [13]

John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.

John Q. Campaign for Atlanta. Photo by Cory Locatelli. Courtesy of the City of Atlanta.

Experiencing Medium(s)

One aspect of John Q’s performative project is to examine the ways in which we experience painting, video, and installation: how we see; how we navigate the space that shapes and contains them. The painting, though it may appear to be a static entity that can be simply viewed and understood from any time or perspective, is shown to be extremely vulnerable to time and space, the order in which it is viewed in relation to the re-enactment video that is usually shown to the audience before moving into the space of the Cyclorama, facing the gigantic circular painting. When asked further about their take on intervening in a “normal” visual experience, Orr explained that the project is interested in

“how might we visualize the past in ways that foster different kinds of relation to place and history. How might we deal in fragments, the quotidian, memory, and weak theory instead of proliferating the kinds of power that seem structurally reinforced by forms like battle paintings and cycloramas … We understood from the outset that many people would not be familiar with the visual culture theory we were invoking, and this might mean that the connection between how landscape is visualized in cycloramas and how it is visualized through the lens of Crawford Barton’s camera would somehow seem strange. These two very different modes of visuality begin to reflect one another, though, in the context of a critical contemplation of how we do the work of invoking the past.” [14]

In Husserl’s essay “The world of the living present and the constitution of the surrounding world external to the organism,” he writes that space is a “system of places.” [15] In the case of the space of the Cyclorama, there is a multitude of places that coalesce in this one site. It is the site of John Q’s performance, the place of itself in this present moment, the place of the Civil War Battle of Atlanta, Illinois’ cornfields where it was commissioned, Resaca – where the Atlanta Campaign began and the birthplace of Barton, the migration telos for a queer community of which John Q speaks, a pre-cinematic place that records the history of technology in its 360o turn. The Cyclorama itself and its revolving proscenium seating affords the audience explicitly multiple perspectives; an exaggeration of the way we perceive and make sense of the world: “The entire present world which appears as actual is rather a totality of perspectives for me.” [16] For Husserl, there is phantom space, a transcendent space that gives space itself while still being able to change through time and with our changing orientations and perspectives, thus perceptions. The Cyclorama is constituted by this phantom space, but also by a plethora of phantom bodies: soldiers, civilians, slaves, Crawford Barton, migrating queer individuals and communities.

Underlying this space is the seemingly coincidental, the encounter that occurs during times of travel. John Q arrived at the Cyclorama and Barton through what would seem to be mere coincidental experiences that then led them down particular paths, which were manifested in the performative essay. Following the notion of “intervention” mentioned above, the surrealist found object presents itself as a model of surprise, the uncanny, and coincidence. Resaca, GA, only about an hour’s drive away from Atlanta, becomes an uncanny figure – simultaneously familiar and strange. One of the films of Crawford Barton’s John Q presented is of a car journey, passing by signs that advertise Georgia Peaches. The passengers of the car smile and look into the camera.

Crawford Barton. Film still. Courtesy of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

Crawford Barton. Film still. Courtesy of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society.

Ross McElwee’s film Sherman’s March follows a different path than General Sherman’s March to the Sea, begun in Atlanta, which is the end point of the Atlanta Campaign and the site of the Cyclorama. [17] Initially a project that intended to follow Sherman’s destructive path, McElwee ends up following women he becomes intrigued with and attached to; a journey back home to the South. Desire, violence and war, and geography become entangled in the movement through the space of the South. Ross McElwee is attempting, trying, experimenting with what love may be for him in a time of nuclear proliferation, the subtitle of the film and recurring theme that continues to creep into his thoughts and dreams. Pat, the woman introduced to him by his parents who becomes somewhat of an obsession for him, an ambitious actress who is herself searching and trying to become what she wants to be, takes McElwee to Atlanta. There, McElwee describes Atlanta post-Campaign; it was a city composed of children, women, and elders – supposedly a weakened and helpless place without its male influence.

What are cities, urban spaces? What do they mean to us? What are we to make of Atlanta? A southern metropole, remnant of war? What of the space surrounding the city? The space between Atlanta and other US cities? John Q’s use of the Cyclorama signals the ways in which urban space becomes a nexus of lives, loves, losses, and travels. Not only does the performance question who is allowed the position of contemporary flâneur, [18] but also who must take up this position and where. The performance shows us that the metropole and its varying representations hold within them an entanglement of histories, memories, and modes of visuality and experience. 

Notes:

[1] John Q Broadsheet

[2] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/essay

[3] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/essay

[4] Ibid.

[5] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/assay

[6] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/assay

[7] Personal interview with John Q, June 16, 2013

[8] John Q, The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration, 2013.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Personal interview with John Q, May 30, 2013.

[11] John Q, The Campaign for Atlanta: an essay on queer migration, 2013. Here, they footnote [5] Jonathan Crary’s Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture and Anne Friedberg’s “The Mobilized and Virtual Gaze in Modernity: Flâneur, Flâneuse” and [6] Alison Griffiths’ Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums, and the Immersive View.

[12] http://publichistorycommons.org/library/brock-john-q-interview/

[13] http://publichistorycommons.org/library/brock-john-q-interview/

[14] Personal interview with John Q, June 3, 2013

[15] Edmund Husserl, “The World of the Living Present and the Constitution of the Surrounding World External to the Organism,” trans. Frederick Kersten and Lenore Langsdorf, in Husserl: Shorter Works, eds. Peter McCormick and Frederick A. Elliston (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 250.

[16] Ibid., 239.

[17] Ross McElwee (dir.), Sherman’s March: A Meditation on the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation (1986).

[18] Susan Buck-Morss, “The Flâneur, the Sandwichman, and the Whore: The Politics of Loitering,” New German Critique, vol. 31, no. 2 (April 1989): 217-236.




Geometric Qualities : An Interview with Jaye Rhee

June 14, 2013 · Print This Article

 

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I am accustomed to diminishing the importance of an individual dancer’s history in the course of a staged performance. Unconsciously, it’s as if I imagine performers congealing for a moment on a stage in order to manifest the agenda of an invisible author. For dancers, especially, it is always about the body — the body as a structure capable of grace and choreographed strength. Over the last month, artist Jaye Rhee debuted a 4-channel video piece that engages the body as a minimalist structure, while emphasizing the dancers’ previous life in The Merce Cunningham Dance Company. The Flesh and the Book places these figures in a musical score of five rubber bands, flattening a three-dimensional space into an illusion of two. The bodies enact a series of choreographed gestures, who’s style and form evoke a Cunningham past — like moving archives of embodied knowledge. The Flesh and the Book, closes tomorrow at Doosan Gallery, 533 West 25th St. in New York.

Caroline Picard: How did you first conceive of The Flesh and The Book? 

Jaye Rhee: In 2007, I made the work called “Notes.” At that time, I was interested in re-producing two things: a popular children’s play called “Rubber Band Play,” and re-staging visually resembling it as musical notes. It is also known as “Chinese Jump Rope” in America.

The rubber band play requires memorizing all the steps and jumps from the beginning till the end as rules with repeated practice. That, I think, is methodologically similar to learning playing music instrument in a way because learning a musical instrument also requires both brain and body memory. So the Chinese Jump Rope Play and leaning a musical instrument become parallel. I wanted to re-produce both events at the same time.

Rules and regulations often governed my childhood and I couldn’t help but think of that when I worked on the Notes.

When I worked on Notes, I knew that it would become the mother piece of another work.  One art work often yields another work. Even though I am the one who creates the work, it is as if the work has a life of its own, one more quick-witted than me. In other words, many times, art works are a lot smarter than I am.

I was sure of two things when I worked on The Flesh and the Book: 1) I am going to play with space more, for example, three-dimensional space transformed into two-dimensional space. Only the size of the figures and trace of the movements will allow viewers to feel the space. 2) I want to work with mature dancers.

I did not have title for the new work. While pondering that, I happened to think of the poem Brise Marine by Stephane Mallarmé, and the first line reads, ”The flesh is sad, Alas! and I have read all the books.”

I wrote the sentence down on my sketchbook.  And after some time, especially when I started to meet dancers for the project, I realized that my knowledge of dance and dancers did not come from direct bodily experience, but had been learned through books. It is completely out of context of the poem, but the words flesh and book  stayed in the title. Also, it is hard not to think of book as music sheets, flesh as body, and dance.

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CP: What is like working with the dancers that used to work for Merce Cunningham? Did you spend a long time developing the piece with them? 

JR: It took a long time to find dancers. When I started to search for dancers, I looked for dancers who had gone through the transitional stage in their career as dancers.  Many dancers face career changes early in their lives compared to other profession. And being a dancer is not just a profession but is also an identity. Thus I didn’t want to work with dancers who were physically young. I searched  for dancers who already experienced the high peak of their physical youth, in other words, someone who has already been there.

While I was still searching for dancers in 2011, Merce Cunningham company disbanded; that event made me wanted to work with them even more. I always liked the geometric quality that Merce Cunningham company had and was excited to work with them. They seem to embody a reminder — something that was once there. We know what they were, we will remember it. It’s like a once-young body, or the idea youth.

It took a while to meet Cunningham’s dancers.  In the beginning, I attended Merce Cunningham dance workshops and met many great modern dancers who were not necessarily Cunningham’s. Then again at the Cunningham’s technique classes in Fall of 2012, I met original dancers of Merce Cunningham with a help from Robert Swinston.

The dancers I worked with are great.  Once I met them, I knew that it was going to be great. Everything went very rapidly.

CP: You also had another collaborator with this work, Elliott Sharp. How did you all work together? What were the dynamics like?

JR: I asked Elliott to come up with specific sound that I can use for the project, and he gave me 67 sound files. I selected ones that are appropriate for the dancer’s movements.  Communicating with other artists is not always easy. Art is abstract, concept is abstract, and language itself is abstract. But then there is a moment that everything intersects. That’s when the magic happens.

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CP: I feel like you’re interested in the body as a unit, of some kind. Everyone wears black, standing in relation to the same 5-line structure in an otherwise white space. In your case, however, you platform the dancers’ history. Do you feel like something of that history with Cunningham is ghosted into the viewers’ experience? What happens to the dancers’ history with Merce Cunningham in The Flesh and The Book?

JR: I was more interested in the character and history of individual dancers under the umbrella of Merce Cunningham Company. Cunningham dancer’s movements are Mercified but individually they all have different characteristics. We all have different history as individuals, but there are also larger histories which a family shares as a smallest unit of the society, then there are larger groups and larger groups…..and so on. Merce Cunningham dancers make up another kind of familial unit. Even though the dancers’ movements were different, a few audiences actually recognized that the dancers somehow evoke Merce Cunningham’s style.

CP: Thinking about the work asa 4-channel piece, and then seeing framed stills from the video, I wanted to ask you about movement and how that ties in. In other words, does the piece change for you if the “movement” (which refers I think to music and dance) is extracted? How do you think of your photographs as compared to your video?

JR: I consider these mediums separate, with different approaches for both. It’s like siblings with same parents. Each medium has its own life. Different mediums show different aspect of one thing. I use the photographs because they capture the 2- dimensional representational quality.

CP: How does this piece ties into some of your other work? I noticed that you have done a number of works that play with the idea and structure of environment. I was thinking about Bambi, for instance, or Polar Bear, Swan, Cherry Blossoms, Niagra; really so many of your works seem to juxtapose a still tableau with a playful in-time interaction. Is The Flesh and The Book on a similar tip?

JR: For The Flesh and the Book, the performers held a string (thick black rubber band) between them.  The strings were at least 3 meters away from each other. I really wanted to expand the idea of transforming 3-dimensional space into a 2-dimensional tableau look. So that a viewer can only feel the space by following the dancers’ movements very carefully and watching the body scale change. The Flesh and the Book is a special work which is leading my interest into working in 3-dimensional space. I think I can say, the lines between performers sort of played the role of a tableau – an invisible and flexible tableau.

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