by Susan Rotilie
Last Wednesday evening a group of 18 people joined tour guide Lucy Yogerst and me for a tour of Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham/Robert Rauschenberg. It was a tag-team tour in which Lucy and I shared our enthusiasm for the installation of costumes, sets, videos, and artifacts that are part of Walker’s recent acquisition of the Cunningham Dance Company archives. We told stories and viewed objects related to the long and rich collaboration between the choreographer Cunningham and artist Rauschenberg.
In the end, however, it was clear that the typical gallery experience of looking at displays and discussing them lacked the vitality and life the objects had originally embodied when part of a performance. So, what did we do? We took a risk that is not usually part of our tours.
Inspired by a gallery guide written by associate director of education, Susy Bielak and research fellow, Abigail Sebaly, along with a tour plan for high school students developed by tour guide Marvel Gregoire, we invited our group to channel Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and their third collaborator, composer John Cage, to create a performance piece together. We focused on a response to Rauschenberg’s’ set piece Tantric Geography for the 1977 dance Travelogue. The work is a linear sculptural composition incorporating Duchampian bicycle wheels with chairs facing different directions installed diagonally across the gallery space. Five volunteers stepped up and they were asked to isolate a small gesture inspired by a word such as curve, tilt, twist, or arch (or not). They moved along the set piece, pausing, turning the direction of each chair, and repeating their gesture. The rest of the group, inspired by John Cage, provided a sound scape of voice- and body-generated “music” to accompany the dance.
We may not have reached the level of art or dance of the artists inspiring us, and our only audience was the gallery monitor Ann Norberg, but the experience was kind of magic and our tour ended with applause, laughter, and camaraderie.
Maybe you think sound making and movement in the gallery is reserved for school kids, or you feel unprepared to break out of your own inhibitions; however, in the case of the Dance Works exhibitions, alternative ways of experiencing the galleries seem to be called for. Moving beyond simply looking and talking about objects to a place where the art is experienced through our bodies and spirit leads to a new level of engagement with these artifacts, and an in-your-bones understanding of the rich collaboration from which they were created. And you don’t have to be a dancer or part of a guided tour to have this experience. The gallery cards with suggestions for moving through the space in Dance Works I are free for the taking right inside the entrance to the Medtronic Gallery. Come on….get moving!
Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to katie(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)