Dance Around the Transient Work: When Movement Enters Museums
Choreography started to make its way off the contemporary stage and to head for historical venues some time ago. That has led once again to confusion in the field of dance.
Where orderly audiences used to be the medium through which works were developed, many renowned artists are now setting their sights on museums, seeking insights into a different way of seeing. Exhibition space in a gallery or museum lays a claim to permanence, whereas performances are ephemeral.
That presents a great challenge. Two apparently conflicting models of aesthetic consumption are fused as artists grapple with the idea of performance living on in its historicity. And they refuse to allow museums the pathos of being eternal.
New contexts for old works
However, upon closer inspection, of course, the conflict is not that fundamental after all. Museums have for a long time been defining themselves through temporary exhibitions, i.e. staging works of art for a limited period of time, thereby reactivating works in changing contexts. And choreographers, dancers and performers know that their works can claim much more permanence than is offered them by mere performances alone. We have seen in recent years how fruitful such extended concepts can be.
Retrospectives, historical themes, new interpretations of older stage works and performance events are produced by many European art institutions. The most recent example was the exhibition Retrospective by Xavier Le Roy, which took place at the reputed Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona from 24 February to 22 April 2012. Movements and scenes from Le Roy’s solo works were literally exhibited by dancers there. They were showcased in the museum’s central exhibition area, complete with an announcement of the year in which they were composed and special spotlights. However, the presentation also involved the dancers approaching audiences and explaining to them the exhibited work, their own biographical connection with it and their own ongoing projects. Thus, Xavier Le Roy’s solo works were separated from their author through the medium of the participating dancers while at the same time being re-subjectivised. Recordings of all the performances were available for viewing in a separate working room by anyone wishing to know more about the original. Thus, the intimacy of exchange and the duration of the performances were made into central factors of the Retrospective, underlined museum director Laurence Rassel. This works without a stage and without the author having exclusive authority.
Moments, movement, spaces
Almost simultaneously, the ZKM devoted itself to the question of the longevity of performances in its project Moments. A History of Performance in Ten Acts Historical positions on Performance Art were presented in a number of stages, from Anna Halprin and Yvonne Rainer and Adrian Piper and Marina Abramovic to Graciela Carnevale and Channa Horwitz. This was an apparently improvised exhibition that was interpreted by artists, observed by students and finally performed again in an open evening.
The exhibition MOVE. Choreographing you (2010/11), in contrast, took a look at movement as a driving force in the visual arts, revealing the cross-fertilisation of various artistic practises, while the Ruhrtriennale 2012 exhibition’s 12 Rooms was a retake on an initiative from Manchester. Fourteen artists including Joan Jonas, John Baldessari and Marina Abramovic put on a kind of live art trail devoted to the momentariness of encounters and the reduction of an artwork to spatiotemporal coincidence.
Tino Sehgal (who does not define his works as dance or choreography at all) has been examining the moment of encounter between a (dance) artwork and an audience who do wait in their seats to see what will happen but wander around as they please. In calculated situations, museum visitors “experience” people in spaces. Their very presence, sometimes embellished with a few actions, statements or narratives, form the artistic framework. Following a number of individual exhibitions at major museums, Sehgal is also represented at this year’s documenta.
Existing concepts of stability are no longer relevant – that is a basic insight of contemporary culture. The eternal values and works of the educational canon have given way to momentary arrangements. Cultural heritage has become an archive from which ever new interpretations emerge and are temporarily inscribed on the present. Museums do justice to these findings by lending an exhibition’s aura of intransience to the immediacy of performance as a mere action. But even what is intransient changes. It becomes just as vivid, and thus vulnerable, as the choreography’s narratives. Movement art in museums thus teaches us that ultimately, we cannot rely on anything anymore. But this certainty is becoming a safe haven in the culture industry.
is an academic assistant at the University of the Arts Berlin. From 2007 to 2011, he was in charge of the project area “Cultural Heritage Dance” for Tanzplan Deutschland.
Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
Any questions about this article? Please write to us!