Responding to PICO and the DDP #13 Panel | By Katie Gaydos

After witnessing the Performance Indeterminate Cage Opera (PICO) as a part of the John Cage Celebration at the Berkeley Art Museum last weekend, and then attending Emily Hite and Julie Potter’s recent Dance Discourse Project on dance in museums, I’ve been thinking a lot about appropriation and artistic context.

Back in June one of the many open-ended questions Julie Potter and Emily Hite raised as they launched their Dance Discourse Project in their In Dance article “Dancing in the Museum” was, “How can movement function in a space designed for another kind of art and a different kind of looking?” Their question lends itself to further inquiry: Do our expectations and perceptions, as viewers, shift depending on the venue or context of a dance piece? How can dance engage its context in dialogue? And what responsibilities do dance artists have when responding to existing exhibits within a museum?

At the Berkeley Art Museum last weekend a group of almost 30 dancers in conjunction with a large group of video artists, composers, designers and live musicians set out to pay tribute to John Cage in what presenter John Sanborn titled PICO (Performance Indeterminate Cage Opera). The dancers—a handful wearing sensor-like cameras strapped to their heads, others nude, some wearing bright colors carrying empty picture frames—became a sprawling, chaotic, circus-like tableau. While starting in the main atrium, it wasn’t long before the improvising dancers took free range of the museum, challenging typical audience-performer dynamics and ways of both looking and being seen.

Yet as PICO performers weaved throughout the museum, juxtaposing, and at times almost colliding with, the museum’s existing and unrelated Barry McGee exhibit I couldn’t help but wonder how PICO was speaking not only intentionally to John Cage but also unintentionally to Barry McGee. As I was looking at a large-scale McGee painting on the second floor a dancer approached me with an empty picture frame and began a series of mime-like gestures. The encounter with the dancer momentarily interrupted (and in doing so altered) my encounter with the McGee painting. At the same time, my proximity to the McGee painting colored my encounter with the dancer.

“Barry McGee piece and dancer.” Photo by michaelz1

As PICO—whether intentionally or not—engaged the McGee exhibit, I started to question the ways in which PICO paid tribute to John Cage. I couldn’t help but wonder if PICO was an accurate interpretation of John Cage’s work. Unsure of whose call that is to make and suspecting that perhaps John Cage’s work refuses the notion of accurate interpretation in the first place, I still wondered what John Cage would make of it all. Would he feel honored? Misunderstood? Amused? Proud? Does it matter? In PICO’s program notes presenter John Sanborn remarks, “My approach to celebrating Cage, Duchamp, and Paik is to detail the connections among their legacies and address the quandary of what we do with the knowledge they left us. Yes, we can play Cage’s music, we can view Nude Descending a Staircase as an object, and we can watch Global Groove and compare it to the TV we grew up with—but how do we activate their ideas? We do it by plunging headfirst into expression, without the formality of a frame, a score, or a TV series.”

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Instincts: How museums alter emotional sensation and motion | By Raissa Simpson

Push Dance Company :: Mixed Messages from pushdance on Vimeo.

Certain modern-day museum exhibitions taking cultural heritage as their subject depict a painful history, driving viewers to cringe or embrace. For instance, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Propaganda exhibit, focusing on Nazi Germany’s propaganda, has strongly affected me. Beyond recognizing direct lessons from the repulsive ramifications of propaganda on Jewish culture in Nazi Germany, I am struck by a personal acknowledgement of what cultural struggles do to drive audiences to public spaces.

Enter the question: How are museums and galleries selecting dance to activate their spaces, and how does dance change when its context comes artistically charged with a particular point of view? I have had two experiences presenting my own works in museums. The first museum work was Mixed Messages at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in 2011, made possible by The San Francisco Arts Commission, Zellerbach Family Foundation, and Dancers’ Group’s Lighting Artist in Dance Award, based on my own experience with Mixed (Race) Heritage and underrepresentation. My more recent museum work was Dances for Trayvon in 2012 commissioned by dance anywhere® at the Oakland Museum of California.

As an artist, it’s possible to burrow yourself inside the cultural importance of a project, never letting anyone else into the creative process. Conjuring up a cultural dance at a museum requires willpower not to get stuck in your own cathexes, and instead to consider how the structure of your work can facilitate an audience-driven experience. Herein lies the beautiful surprise of introducing my dances to a museum venue: My process did not predict how the presenter, the audience, or I would react in the aftermath of the production; what was clear, though, is that we all wanted to feel something.

What enhances the performance experience in museums are people, who often mill around the dance space. Dances for Trayvon at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) was a lesson in transforming people or sculpting the audience into art spaces. With thanks to OMCA’s outdoor chair exhibit, I pulled chairs hanging on a wall into a skewed seating arrangement for those audience members wanting to sit as they watched an off-beat dance improvisation about the untimely death of teenage Trayvon Martin. Whether it was the children playfully imitating me or adults brewing over the Trayvon Martin case, seeing the many ways the audience interacted with my work brought my attention to unexpected outcomes garnered by museum dances.

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Notes from New York: Performa’s “Why Dance in the Art World?” panel | By Kate Mattingly

Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt present: Why Dance in the Art World? Sept. 17, 2012 at Judson Memorial Church. Moderator: RoseLee Goldberg. Panelists: Ralph Lemon, David Velasco, Jenny Schlenzka; introduction by Jennifer Homans.

It was a capacity crowd. People lined up in the stairwell of Judson waiting to see if all the reserved places were occupied. I noticed a mixture of familiar faces from the art and dance worlds, and a moment of disconnect when I walked into the sanctuary and saw rows and rows of chairs, a table with microphones for panelists, and a podium. Not the typical set-up for Monday evening performances at this venue. Judson to me has been a place of surprises and inspiration. I hoped that focusing tonight’s attention on dialogue would elucidate ideas that interest me about intersections of dance and the art world. This is a topic that has intrigued me since the Berkeley symposium Making Time, in April, and the recent Dance Discourse Project, but after two and a half hours I left Judson feeling that I had been momentarily engaged and deeply frustrated. The highlights for me were Ralph Lemon and Jenny Schlenzka who offered insights into the complications — and crisis — of museums and dance. The other panelist, David Velasco, listed names and events (he admitted he did not have much knowledge or familiarity with dance) that, to me, reinforced the hierarchies being imposed by museums rather than the potential to jostle or disrupt staid ways of seeing.

The talk began with RoseLee Goldberg introducing the speakers and acknowledging the dance celebrities in the room: NYCB principal Wendy Whelan and Bolshoi Ballet dancer David Hallberg were at the event (both dancers were named by Goldberg and seated a couple rows in front of her) and this seemed to elevate the status of the affair for Goldberg. I found this strange, but then remembered the first speaker was Jennifer Homans, author of Apollo’s Angels, a book that Goldberg praised in her introduction: “it sits by my bed and I give copies out like candy to people who come to my office.”

Before giving the podium to Homans, Goldberg mentioned a list of important dancers that included “Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Oskar Schlemmer, Yvonne Rainer, Pina Bausch, Butoh and Bharatanatyam…” (a bizarre mingling of two non-Western forms with names of western artists ), then described her childhood in South Africa. Since she had grown up seeing Zulu dancing she never could separate definitions of art from dance. Her last line – her belief that “the art world is always radical, permissive… dance in the art world is good for us, good for dance, good for art, good for humanism” – left me wondering who was included in “us.” More about this when I get to Ralph Lemon’s ideas….
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Drag in the museum | DDP#13 read-a-long

Dancer and drag queen Fauxnique, revered for her spellbinding stage performances, also photographs well. The Huffington Post recently interviewed the artist, otherwise known as Monique Jenkinson, about her reenactment of one of Cindy Sherman‘s portrait subjects as part of a photography project responding to SFMOMA’s Sherman retrospective. Jenkinson, a Dance Discourse Project #13: Dance in the Museum panelist, is a 2012 artist in residence at the de Young Museum.

From the Huffington Post:

I work in theaters, nightclubs and museums, and explore connections and tensions between art and entertainment.
I love the humor in [Sherman’s] work, and that there is almost always simultaneous play and pathos. I love that there is a lack of slickness in some aspects (wrinkled fabric we see reused from era to era, plastic plants and un-seamless makeup) in the midst of such incredible attention to detail…. And of course I love her powerful explorations of femininity and the fact that she is a very powerful woman artist.

Hear more from Jenkinson at DDP#13 on Saturday, September 15 from 2-4 p.m. at the de Young Museum’s Kimball Education Gallery. The event is free and open to the public.

Dancing *and* the Museum: Reflections on Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 in London | By Jasmine Chiu

A view of the main entrance to the Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 exhibition at the National Gallery, London.

In reflecting upon the Dance Discourse Project #13’s theme of “Dancing in the Museum,” I would like to offer a few thoughts on the notion of dancing and the museum that have been provoked by a recent major collaboration between the National Gallery and the Royal Ballet in London.  Originally conceived as a contribution to the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the city’s four-year Cultural Olympiad, Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 (July 11-Sept 23, 2012) is the creative brainchild of a collective of London’s eminent cultural institutions, including the National Gallery, the Royal Ballet, and the Royal Opera House, in addition to leading contemporary artists, designers, musicians, and poets in the United Kingdom.

At the heart of this collaboration, three iconic 16th-century paintings by the Venetian Renaissance master, Titian, have been on display at the National Gallery and have provided the direct inspiration for three major dance commissions by the Royal Ballet.  Exhibited together for the first time in the same gallery space, these large-scale paintings (commonly referred to as Titian’s visual equivalents of poetry, or poesie) depict the mythological scenes of Diana and Callisto, Diana and Actaeon, and The Death of Actaeon, which were inspired by the legendary Roman poet Ovid’s epic narrative poem, Metamorphoses.  In response to these powerful works and as part of her last season as the Director of the Royal Ballet, Dame Monica Mason developed three unique choreographic commissions featuring the work of some of the most notable choreographers in London including Kim Brandstrup, Alastair Marriott, Wayne McGregor, Liam Scarlett, Will Tuckett, Jonathan Watkins, and Christopher Wheeldon.  Pairing these choreographers with three contemporary artists, Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross, and Mark Wallinger, this highly collaborative project resulted in the creation of three distinct new ballets—Diana & Actaeon, Machina, and Trespass—which were showcased in four sold-out performances at the Royal Opera House in July.

Much can be said about the three striking dance commissions as stand-alone pieces in and of themselves; however, for the purposes of thinking about dancing in/and the museum, it would be equally beneficial to elaborate further on the ways in which the National Gallery has responded to these resulting dance works in a unique curatorial dialogue.  Hailed by critics as “a Diaghilevean multi-genre collaboration” that combines dance, music, art, design, and poetry under the overarching umbrella of a museum space, the Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 project can be distinguished from other manifestations of dancing in museums due to its highly interdisciplinary nature.[i]  For Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, even though the dancing component of the collaboration was central to the overall project, no live dancing was ever featured within the galleries.  Unlike other instances of dancing in museums which have to contend with the challenges of presenting live performance in the context of a somewhat foreign gallery milieu (as highlighted by many of the previous posts featured on this blog), Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 has kept the traditional exhibition and performance spheres largely separate.  Instead, the National Gallery has devised a clever exhibition surrounding the three Titian paintings which simultaneously honors and deconstructs the dancing element.

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Current conversations on museums presenting dance | DDP#13 read-a-long

In case you missed it, the New York Times recently ran an article on the art world’s interest in showcasing dance. Looking closely at the Museum of Modern Art‘s upcoming series Some sweet day (October 15-November 4), brought to life by guest curator Ralph Lemon, writer Claudia La Rocco outlines other recent collaborations between visual arts institutions and performing artists. Numerous choreographers and curators weigh in on what practical, aesthetic and social questions arise when presenting dances inside spaces built for objects.

From the article:

This is a moment when we’ve kind of tried to blow open the definitions of what and who belong in these places of culture,” said MoMA’s associate director, Kathy Halbreich. She is one of several galvanizing figures to have come from Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, a forward-thinking outlier that has long integrated live art into its vision. “Which is interesting, because politically I think things are closing down,” she added, referring to the “recalcitrant positions” that now curdle much debate in American society.


For [Jenny Schlenzka, an associate curator at MoMA PS1] and many others one of the most exciting aspects of placing dance within a visual-art context is what this often fraught transaction reveals about these two insular cultures.

Comment here or join the Dance Discourse Project #13 discussion on September 15, 2-4 p.m. at the de Young Museum’s Kimball Education Gallery.

Thanks to  DDP panelist Michelle Lynch for flagging the Times article.

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