Fluxus, Figure, and Ground: Dance in Visual Arts Spaces |By Katharine Hawthorne and Ben Hersh

Framing movement within visual art spaces invites new ways of looking at dance performance.   It opens opportunities to shift visual priorities and structure performance events in which visitors may follow their attention, free to leave and return as they wish. Unscripted audience movement effaces the divisions between audience and performer taken for granted in proscenium theater.  These spaces liberate the gaze, allowing it to give equal weight and meaning to dance and non dance actions, which in turn introduces a palette of physicality ranging from formal athletic movement to casual, “relaxed” bodies.  Working in a gallery or museum context allows choreographers to play with the distinction between pedestrian and performer, observer and observed. Dance in visual arts spaces is not new, as the authors of this blog note; in this entry I will contextualize it in the interdisciplinary explorations of Fluxus artists from the 1960s-’70s and consider how this movement can inform contemporary work.

The Fluxus movement originated out of John Cage’s famous classes at the New School, and encouraged artists to use normal materials to create novel experiences of the world. Fluxus artists emphasized uncertainty and play by drawing from the Dada and Surrealist movements and developments in experimental music. The work coming out of the movement varied from minimal performances called Events, to operas, films, boxes of materials called Fluxkits, and canvas paintings.  In the United States, Happenings were closely connected with Fluxus Events.  These vastly different art forms were connected by an overarching aim to stage experience as performance and engage the senses viscerally. In the groundbreaking book Fluxus Experience, author Hannah Higgins uses “experience” to refer to “a transactional, interpenetrative framework and its capacity to create a sense of continuity with the world.” 1  In short, the Fluxus ethos creates interactive performance that exists on a continuum of lived experience.

Many of the early Fluxus Events took place at George Maciunas’ AG Gallery in New York and were later curated into museums  and public places worldwide.  Despite its fame, Fluxus maintained a “do-it-yourself” and anti-art attitude.  Fluxus artists also bridged traditional arts spaces with public spaces by intentionally scoring Events outside of traditional arts structures.

“Events,” one of various incarnations of Fluxus activity, correlate most closely with the discussion of dance in visual arts spaces and with scored improvisational performance in particular.  Performer and site were frequently left unspecified, and these open-ended directives, handwritten or mimeographed on index cards, could be performed in almost any circumstance. As such, each Event could unfold any number of experiences, ranging from caring, to exploratory, to destructive, ultimately serving to generate primary experience.

Examples of Fluxus Events & scores 2:

George Brecht’s Word Event (Exit) (1961)

Emmett Williams’ Duet for Performer and Audience (1961)
Performer waits silently on stage for audible reaction from audience which he imitates.

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Dancing with the visual arts, sometimes in museums | By Molissa Fenley

Work that has addressed or considered dance in visual arts spaces

The only piece that I have created specifically for an art museum was Credo in Us, commissioned by Mills College, which premiered on September 22, 2011 at the Mills College Art Museum. Already in place in the museum was an exhibition by the artist Frances Stark employing 12 or so video projectors (as well as some drawings created directly on the walls). The configuration of the museum was daunting at first: 10 or so walls crisscrossed the space, creating a spatial configuration, which was uncommon to say the least! Where to actually dance and where to seat the audience? The great fun of working within such an extreme limitation of space meant for some problem solving to occur. I worked with videographer Patrice Scanlon; she stationed six or so live camerapersons around the space to film the dance to feed into the 12 video projectors of the Stark exhibition. If one dancer were performing in a part of the museum not visible to a particular viewer, that dancer’s image would be projected onto a nearby wall that was visible. Live-fed images of the dancers at far ends of the space then were visible juxtaposed to the live dancers who were right in front of each viewer. The dancers traversed through the space, sometimes in front of the projections, sometimes hidden by the partitions.

Other than Credo in Us, I haven’t really made a work just specifically for presentation in a museum. In 1989, The Floor Dances with sculpture by Richard Long was performed at the Whitney and then later at the Dia Foundation – there the sculpture demarcated the space not the museum’s walls. A section of Trace was performed at MOMA in 1997 in the lecture auditorium but I wasn’t able to use either the actual painting of the décor or a projection; the museum was not set up for that.

Most of my collaborative works with visual artists have taken place in the theater. For Trace, a painting by Roy Fowler was lit from above casting a shadow of the painting on the floor. The dance traveled (traced) down the length of the shadow and across its width.

I am presently reconstructing two works – Witches’ Float with sculpture by Kiki Smith and music by Alvin Lucier (1993), and The Floor Dances with sculpture by Richard Long and music by Henryk Gorecki (1989). For Witches’ Float, Kiki made three sculptures: there was a “floating” witch, a witch inside of her cocoon (mold) and a standing witch which was a plaster cast of me. I was dressed in a kind of white Hindu dhoti with red body paint on my torso, neck and face. All these many years later in wanting to reconstruct the work, only two of the witches can be found in Kiki’s storage. And so the piece becomes a work with two witches!

Although I did not create specific works for visual art spaces, I have made many works in collaboration with visual artists, where the art was a very integral and affected and shaped the stage space changing the spatial orientation of the dance. For example, for a piece Nullarbor, I worked with the artist Richard Long, who constructed a long line of river stones from the top of the stage to the bottom of the stage. The dance took place on only one side of the stage. The dance never crossed the stones, only dancing laterally against the vertical line of the stones and sometimes dancing down the line. The stones acted as a barrier (thus the title Nullarbor, the limestone plateau along part of the southern coast of Australia with its dramatic cliff drop into the ocean). In another work, Sightings made with artist Tatsuo Miyajima, there was a large, ambient, flickering LED structure hung across the back wall of the stage, creating a ghostly presence and changing the space psychologically.

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SFMOMA’s Stage Presence performance series| DDP#13 read-a-long

Define theatricality that takes place in a museum instead of a theater. Do aesthetic qualities of art, or an audience’s relation to it, create its condition? Can art be theatrical without being performed, and is all performance  necessarily theatrical?

Shannon Jackson, PhD, chancellor’s professor and director of the Arts Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, examines the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art‘s series Stage Presence: Theatricality in Art and Media and other current examples of museums making space for performance. In an article on ArtPractical.com, she details the work of Rudolf Frieling, PhD, media arts curator at SMOMA, and Frank Smigiel, PhD, public programs curator at the museum and Dance Discourse Project #13 panelist, in designing Stage Presence.

Jackson questions theatricality as a matter of time, space, setting, form or repetition to ask what museums such as SFMOMA may consider to facilitate engaged viewing of interdisciplinary performing arts. From her article:

On the stages and amid the presences evoked at SFMOMA this summer, we have a place not only for viewing but also for reviewing our habits of encounter….New pressures will be felt when the museum-going habits of the beholder bump up against the theater-going habits of the spectator, becoming evermore complicated when we recognize that going to the theater compels different habits of viewing that depend on the form of the performance. In the end, SFMOMA joins the laboratories of other museums, festivals, theaters, and biennials that are exploring how and why those effects are produced.

Stage Presence and related events and media run through October 2, 2012 at SFMOMA.

The DDP organizers invite you to read along with us, ask questions and provide comment in the weeks ahead. Mark your calenders for Dance Discourse Project #13 at the de Young Museum‘s Kimball Education Gallery on Saturday, September 15 from 2-4 p.m. Panelists Frank Smigiel, Michelle Lynch, Muriel Maffre and Monique Jenkinson join DDP organizers Julie Potter and Emily Hite  with CounterPULSE and Dancers’ Group in conversation on dance in the museum.

Performance in the Museum | By Maysoun Wazwaz

As performance in the museum is an incredibly rich topic for discussion, I thought it pertinent to first mention that in my responses to the following questions posed by the organizers or Dance Discourse Project #13: Dancing in the Museum, I am primarily referring to the contemporary and modern art/dance world, artists and arts organizations. I recognize that the visual and performing arts communities are varied and diverse well beyond these genres and I hope there will be an occasion to hear from those who represent these communities.

Perhaps it has to do with my background as a dancer and also my experience working with and supporting artists that are actively redefining the contemporary visual arts as we know them, but I tend not to think of dance as a separate art form. This may be because I prefer more experimental dance and performance, which fits easily into the contemporary visual arts world than say more traditional dance. I also think art, and especially the more experimental, has the potential to transcend its traditional role and connect medium, practice and profession of any kind especially here in the Bay Area. I find myself continually drawn to dancers who present work that challenges the medium and what we have come to expect of it and similarly I am most drawn to visual artists who pushing the boundaries of their given medium.

I think the priorities for presenting dance in visual arts organizations––museums, galleries, and alternative spaces––are similar to the priorities for presenting the visual arts. The questions and considerations are often the same: Does the artist show potential? Are they making work that is relevant (historically, politically, culturally, socially, etc.)? Is the institution providing an opportunity that might not otherwise be available to the artist? Does it make sense for the institution to work with the artist? Is the work accessible and provide an opportunity to reach new audiences? In addition, one would also consider the needs of the artist––time, space, materials and funding for example––and discuss the possibilities with this in mind.

I imagine that as more visual arts organizations present performance-based work the question of funding (which is always a priority) will take on slightly new meaning. Working with visual artists towards an exhibition that might be up for 4-16 weeks (depending on the institution) is very different than working with a time based artist (performance, music, dance, etc) whose performance may only be one or two evenings but requires a fairly substantial budget nonetheless. In the first scenario, funding stretches over a longer period of time than in the second. It has unfortunately proved quite difficult for a visual arts organization to receive funding from a performing arts funder even if their programming supports performance-based work. It appears that funders (not all) have yet to adjust their policies based on the growing hybridization of the arts.

Since we’re talking about funding I think it’s necessary to say that artists need to be paid for their time and work. It is all too common in the visual arts community for artists to get paid very little or sometimes nothing for their incredible contribution. There are, of course, many organizations in the Bay Area that recognize this trend and therefore make it a priority to appropriately fund their artists. Hats off to them. I’m not sure how or why this became a trend but it doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue in the performing arts community. It may have something to do with the performing arts presenting work through ticketed events. I’ve seen a lot of budgets in my time as an arts administrator and I am always impressed by how much is budgeted for artist fees in the performing arts world. Something to learn from.

Creative Capital and the Center for Cultural Innovation are doing a great job at providing professional development workshops for artists of all disciplines, in which part of what they learn is how to account for their time regardless of what they are being paid. Practitioners in every other field would never consider working for free and why should they? I do believe in charity but there is a limit and it shouldn’t be the only option.  Continue reading

Processing the Cultural Moment of Mashup | By Renee Rhodes

Tino Sehgal, Instead of allowing some things to rise up to your face, dancing bruce and dan and other things looping choreographic action, 2000

One day in the early 90s I was rushed awake from sleep by my parents, excitedly proclaiming new possibilities in instantaneous space travel. We could go anywhere, learn and see anything. This was the first day of the internet at our house. From our starship portal, 1990’s era Netscape Navigator, we explored a still-utopic new frontier. This fantasy was a formative moment, a childhood lesson, about how space and time would increasingly be experienced as oscillating translations between 3-D physicalities and 2-D mediations.

Since that time technologic mediations of physical experience have become quotidian. With devices in hand, many in my community wander in and out of a continual stream of virtual representations.  What kinds of memories do these digital wanderings produce in our bodies and how can dance in the context of the museum be a timely method for responding to this cultural moment?

A year ago, while wandering through the empty, mid-day solitude of the CCA Wattis Institute, I unexpectedly stumbled across a Tino Sehgal work –  in this case Instead of allowing some things to rise up to your face, dancing bruce and dan and other things, a work from 2000. The piece consists of a solitary dancer lying flat on the ground, rolling, folding and spinning through slow and repetitive translations of movement phrases taken from historic performance works by Dan Graham and Bruce Nauman.

This performing body reads as a technology, inscribing long repetitive loops of data to muscles.  An uncanny figure, he slowly spins and rolls, as if half asleep, an embodied conjurer and inscriber of archival movement information; information which he has only seen through mediations. This is a body existing in the present, while in search of the past – existing at the juncture. This is a non-linear narrative about a body fluidly existing within a mashup of time, space and culture and it becomes a relatable and embodied response to the disorientation that mediated experience provides. Perhaps Sehgal’s simple choreographic composition reflects the sort of movement memories produced by these, our digitally wandering bodies; transposed between endless layers of times and space, drifting between endless searches queries through information streams, half-awake, half- experienced, half-shared through a mediated consciousness.

It is with this sort of work that the importance of the museum as a dance site enters the picture. On and off throughout contemporary visual art history choreography and other performance based works, have come to utilize the durational and non-linear advantages of the museum. This practice is not new, but the current resurgence may have something to do with virtuality and digital mediation catching up to us. In order to see beyond our online, mediated disconnectedness, many in the contemporary art world are once again looking to choreography as a method for understanding the sorts of bodies and embodied knowledge that contemporary cultures produce.

The architecture of the museum breaks from the linear fantasy of the theatre, providing a venue where objects and repetitive actions can exist in a sort of non-linear eternity, for an audience in flux and transit. Additionally, the museum can be a useful analog to digital culture — an audience wandering through visual information, drifting and searching through pasts and presents composited into one space. The non-linear choreographic structure is a timely and relatable method for understanding our bodies and the information they produce as drifters between pasts, presents, physical spaces and mediations.

Sehgal’s work provides a contemporary image of a body endlessly inscribing and processing the cultural moment of mashup, at which we live.  The museum can provide the necessarily fluid architecture, audience and durational space/time for works like these. With its extended timeframe and seeking audience, it is a place to engage with durational narratives and experiments about bodies as technologies, ticking on in an infinity – glanced upon by observers, themselves drifting amongst endless streams of visual information.

Renée Rhodes is a San Francisco-based artist focusing on intersections between dance, technology and natural phenomena. Her video, dance and installation work has most notably been featured at SOMArts, San Francisco, Velocity Dance Center, Seattle, La Sala SAM in Santiago, Chile, Nexus Art Gallery in Manchester, UK, and as a part of the Big Screen Project in New York City. Her writing, Moving Makes a Map was recently published in Media Fields Journal. See what she makes at reneeArhodes.com

Dancing in the Museum/Volitional experiences of viewing: thoughts inspired by artists, museums, Carrie Noland, and Jacques Rancière | By Kate Mattingly

“Colony” by Kelly Bond and Melissa Krodman. Photo by Paul Gillis.

The Berkeley events organized by the Arts Research Center and described by Emily Hite and Julie Potter in their June 2012 In Dance article triggered a bunch of questions. I was there, as a moderator, and recently reminded of some of the crucial ideas introduced during the panel when I read these sentences by Hite and Potter:  “Has there been such a thing as museum dance?” versus dance placed in a museum. Instead of an answer to fill the silence that followed, another question surfaced: “What shock, tremor or displacement of force does dance communicate to a museum?”

Rather than exploring performances that have been placed in museums, I’ve been thinking about experiences of movement in museums. I’m interested in how these encounters generate insights and interruptions. I am drawing on theories by Noland (Agency and Embodiment) and starting with two ideas: first, through our bodies we explore and examine sensation, and second, through change or displacement we become aware of what we hold onto, how we encounter difference, and how we consider the unknown. In other words, kinesthetic experiences place pressure on social conditioning and leave traces physically and kinesthetically. Noland writes:

…gestural routines of inscription yield kinesthetic experience that is a resource in its own right, a resource of sensation capable of subverting the institutions of inscription by promising new, unmarked material to record. In short my wager is that the interoception provided by movement can be productive of new cultural meanings.[1]

photo: by Kirsten Luce for The New York Times. Boris Charmatz, center, engages with visitors at “Musée de la Danse: Expo Zéro” at the Performa Hub in NoLIta.

Moving through shows by Tino Sehgal at the Guggenheim (“This Progress,” 2010) and Marina Abramovic at the MoMA (“The Artist is Present,” 2010) brought to the forefront codes and expectations, perhaps explicitly at the Guggenheim when entering the museum I encountered an irate woman screaming at the admissions desk: “This is not art.” Walking along the circular ramps, encountering Sehgal’s interpreters, I gained a different perspective on the design of the museum and diversity of voices within it. Guided ambulation redefined architectural and historical spaces, triggering mental and physical shifts. Boris Charmatz used a similar framework in his “Musée de la Danse: Expo Zéro” at Performa 11. In the New York Times Claudia La Rocco described the work as “a reimagining of the museum: what the space might allow for and what it might hold if populated not by objects but by people.” I was not there for the event but read about visitors engaging with dance history through conversations with artists like Valda Setterfild and choreographic exercises by Charmatz (pictured above).

Jacques Rancière describes particular moments of encounter in his lecture “The Emancipated Spectator” delivered in 2004: “What has to be put to test by our performances – whether teaching or acting, speaking, writing, making art, etc. — is not the capacity of aggregation of a collective but the capacity of the anonymous, the capacity that makes anybody equal to everybody. This capacity works through an unpredictable and irreducible play of associations and dissociations. Associating and dissociating instead of being the privileged medium that conveys knowledge or energy that makes people active – this could be the principle of an ‘emancipation of the spectator,’ which means the emancipation of any of us as a spectator.”

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Dance within a Dance | By Marcela Delgado

The art museum is an inherently active space; it is an unfolding sequence of rooms and vistas designed by the architect to invite and seduce the visitor to move. The movement is improvised within a framework of spatial and lighting cues that guide the visitor to discover the art for herself. To exhibit dance in the art museum, therefore, is to insert dance within a dance that has its preexisting rules and modalities. Where and how do you situate one within the other? How can the constraints and opportunities found in this pairing help choreographers and architects rethink dance and museum design?

Two possible venues for dance within the museum include the gallery and the transition space. Inserting dance in the former would be a frustrated attempt at recreating the black box within the white box. Not only would this space, designed specifically for the display of the static object, compromise the choreographer’s environmental and perceptual control, but the associated viewing times and piece durations would directly infringe on the visitor’s choice of movement. To force the traditional performance format into a gallery would prove too rigid for the visitor and not rigid enough for the choreographer.

Steven Holl, Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. Helsinski, Finland. Photo by Leon L.

The designated transition space between galleries offers a fresh alternative for hosting dance that could stimulate choreographic invention. Architects often use the corridor, lobby, courtyard, and ramp, to put visitor movement on display (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum spiraling atrium ramp and Steven Holl’s Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art peeling lobby ramp), so it seems almost natural for a choreographer to co-opt these sectional overlaps for dance. William Forsythe, Merce Cunningham, Michael Clark, and Trisha Brown have all staged their work in Herzog and de Meuron’s Tate Modern, and have taken advantage of the unconventional vantage points found in Turbine Hall (the audience looks down at the dancers from a footbridge) as well as the sloping dance surface.

The most interesting challenge to the choreographer, however, is how to address the moving audience. One approach would be to decentralize the dance completely and refrain from dictating a set viewing time and space. Dancers could be staged in various transition spaces in the museum and the visitor would view the dance in fragments and from new vantage points while moving freely between galleries. Would the choreography employ more repetition as a result, exist without music, define its own space? Would the choreography and music loosely guide and inspire the visitor’s movement; would dance become an extension of the architecture?

It is exciting to think that the introduction of dance in the museum could disrupt the current trend that is driving museum design closer to that of the nondescript, flexible shed.  Although too much specificity in the gallery would be undesirable for curating diverse art collections, it is possible to imagine a new form of spatial differentiation within the areas of circulation that respond to the specific needs of dance performance. Lighting, physical separation, and vantage points, are all design considerations for transforming transitional space into performance pockets.  Calibrating these perspectives for a moving audience would undoubtedly intensify the sense of discovery within the museum.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York City. Photo by Mike Pick.

Marcela Delgado received a Master of Architecture from Harvard and a Bachelor of Arts and Science from Stanford University. Her experience as a choreographer and dancer has influenced her interest in the temporal dimension of design. Her focus is on the responsive potential of architecture in relation to light, movement and occupation, specifically within public projects that catalyze urban activity and development. Marcela currently practices and teaches architecture in Boston. Her website, www.marceladelgado.com , features selected design work.

Going for the Gold: The Upstart Opportunity of Dance in Museums | By Lex Leifheit

Photo from The Book, performance 2 of 5 in SOMArts Cultural Center’s Main Gallery.
Performed by Avy K Productions. Photo by Elena Zhukova.

I’m writing this piece in August and everyone has Olympics fever. All I can think about is this: if dance-in-theaters were competing against dance-in-galleries in the men’s 100-meter final, dance-in-theaters would be Usain Bolt, and dance-in-galleries would be Yohan Blake.

Bolt is the dominant, popular favorite—an established world champion who can reach epic heights of excellence. But Blake is an upstart, an athlete who beat Blake in the Jamaica trials and gave him the wake-up call he needed to train harder and truly be at his best.

Much is made of Bolt and Blake competing … but they are also on the same team. And so it goes with dance in theaters and dance in galleries. We’re all supposed to be on the same team, but trying to differentiate between the two is anything but safe.

Ask an arts worker about the difference between dance in galleries and dance in theaters, and you veer quickly into a murky field of jargon, assumption, ethics and policy. An informal poll of my colleagues revealed that the gallery curators and art history majors felt the biggest difference between the two was context. I agree, but their explanations were loaded with assumptions about theater that are true of some theater but not all theater. For example, one commented that dance in the theater “has more of a history trying to remove the artist from the present situation,” while dance in the galleries “tries to locate the viewer and bring awareness of the moment and the space.”

Photo from The Book, performance 2 of 5 in SOMArts Cultural Center’s Main Gallery. Performed by Avy K Productions. Photo by Elena Zhukova

I understand what he means within the context of post-modern artwork, but when I apply this juxtaposition with my recent experience of Cara Rose DeFabio’s She Was A Computer at CounterPULSE it does not compute. She Was A Computer was constantly calling on the audience to reference current memes, interact, photograph and be present. The same is true of Picture Jasper Ridge Ann Carlson’s 70-minute performance hike through the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve near Stanford University. Picture Jasper Ridge was not in a theater or a gallery, but in structure and process, the ticketed performance had more in common with a theater experience. It was entirely about the history and context of a space, the audience was intensely attuned to their surroundings, and it was not in a gallery.

If I protest too much, perhaps it’s because in my heart, I’m loyal to dance-in-theater but when I examine how I “vote with my feet” these days, I prefer dance in galleries. The intimacy, energy and versatility of performance in the gallery space are irresistible, as are the possibilities for connection and learning. People will open their minds and see dance in a gallery that they would never commit to if it meant two hours in a theater seat. I love seeing the gallery come to a standstill when a dancer commands their attention, and I love the feeling when a performance that is “outside the box” is a success for the artists.

Getting back to the Bolt-Blake analogy, there is a tension that exists as dance takes root in gallery and museum spaces even when we are on the same team. Within this tension lies opportunity:

For organizations that support emerging artists, communication between a curator speaking the codified language of museums and a choreographer with a previous experience in performance spaces provides a tremendous opportunity for learning.

For presenting institutions that support more established artists, the expanding opportunities for dance provides an opportunity to be flexible and rethink their contract requirements. For example, many institutions require that the artist not perform nearby for six months before and three months after an appearance. This should be reconsidered for artists who have performance opportunities at visual or multi-disciplinary spaces.

Funders, galleries and museums are challenged to think about impact. It’s hard to survey audience members who come and go as they please and dance-in-theaters has a strong advantage in this area. Surveying for the kind of demographic information that many large funders desire is both unpleasant and unwelcome in a gallery setting.

Audience members have the fabulous opportunity to take risks and to break out of their comfort zone, whichever it may be.

I use the word “opportunity” with the full knowledge that this comes hand-in-hand with many challenges. But if Bolt and Blake can compete while urging each other on to greatness, we can seize these new opportunities for performance and go for the next golden age of dance.

Lex Leifheit is the Executive Director of SOMArts Cultural Center, co-host of Feast of Words: Literary Potluck, and has an insatiable appetite for art. She lives in San Francisco.

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