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