Blogs Untitled (Blog) Acquisitions

Konnichiwa

I have just returned from a Merce Cunningham-related research journey to Japan, where I visited the Sogetsu Art Center’s archives at Keio University in Tokyo and the Kyoto Costume Institute, among many other places.  This work has been generously supported by a grant from the Mellon Foundation, which has also kept me working on the Walker’s Cunningham acquisition […]

I have just returned from a Merce Cunningham-related research journey to Japan, where I visited the Sogetsu Art Center’s archives at Keio University in Tokyo and the Kyoto Costume Institute, among many other places.  This work has been generously supported by a grant from the Mellon Foundation, which has also kept me working on the Walker’s Cunningham acquisition for the past year and a half.  While I reacquaint with this time zone and prepare a more thorough reflection, enjoy these images:

Tokyo Commute

Tokyo commuters in a relaxed mode. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

Tokyo Hamburger

Plastic window burger and fries. Tasty. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

Prada Store

Prada store in Ginza, designed by Herzog and de Meuron. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

Kanazawa Museum

Museum of the 21st Century in Kanazawa. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

Touch screen vending machine in Tokyo subway. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

Touch-screen vending machine in Tokyo subway. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

Shrine atop the Dover Street Market in Tokyo. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

Eleganza in Ginza. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

Eleganza in Ginza. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

Garden in Meiji Shrine, Kyoto. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

Garden in Meiji Shrine, Kyoto. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

Online Screening: Kim Beom’s Yellow Scream (2012)

After discussing his assembled materials–a primed canvas, oil paint mixed with turpentine, a size-3 flat hog-bristle brush–the video’s instructor begins: “The technique to this painting is to incorporate the sound of screams into the brush strokes.” Dressed in a pressed gray dress shirt and pleated pants, he explains to the camera, “A brush stroke done […]

Still from Kim Beom’s Yellow Scream (2012)

After discussing his assembled materials–a primed canvas, oil paint mixed with turpentine, a size-3 flat hog-bristle brush–the video’s instructor begins: “The technique to this painting is to incorporate the sound of screams into the brush strokes.” Dressed in a pressed gray dress shirt and pleated pants, he explains to the camera, “A brush stroke done with screaming is very different from a normal one. … The effect of the screams is recorded with the brush strokes.” He then dips his brush in a dab of lemon yellow paint, leans into the canvas, and lets out an anguished wail as he makes his first stroke: “Aaaaaaaaagh!”

Characteristic of the Seoul-based artist Kim Beom’s humor, the 31-minute video Yellow Scream (2012)–recently acquired by the Walker Art Center and shown for a limited time in its entirety on the Walker Channel–takes its inspiration from instructional television programs. The piece, the artist states, “is like the typical painting lessons of Bob Ross. What I was feeling in the theme of this video is the existential nature of contemporary art (and culture) as well as of artists. There are dynamics of many elements such as absurdity, the bizarre, intelligence, form, seriousness, and creativity.”

In that vein, the instructor, played by an actor, gives a deadpan course on technique, from priming canvases to color theory, while occasionally advising about the Zen-like quality of painting, from visualizing a balanced composition to controlling breath: “Now relax and try to feel your breathing, because screaming is part of breathing.” He then demonstrates his method, treating different types of utterances as if they’re artistic media or hues of paint. His brush strokes are variously accompanied by “a long scream that sounds like when you’re hurt, as if someone yanked your arm behind you or pulled you by the hair”; “a scream induced by psychological pain”; and “a more pained, wronged, and regretful scream.” Nearing the painting’s completion, he advises, “Let’s mix a bit of permanent green and add some refreshing hope and pleasure to the screams of joy.” The final work, he says, achieves a symphonic melding of color and emotion–a “clear, resonating chorus” of yellow.

Yellow Scream premiered at the Gwangju Biennale this fall and screened exclusively on the Walker Channel only from December 6–18, 2012. It will be presented on-site at the Walker in early 2013.

Kim Beom Painting yellow scream7Kim Beom Painting yellow scream8Kim Beom Painting yellow scream6Kim Beom Painting yellow scream2

The Sculpture is Never Finished: An Interview with Vincent Fecteau

  It’s unlikely that Vincent Fecteau’s Untitled (2010) sculpture is seen the same way twice. It hangs on a peg in the gallery’s wall so that the two-sided work can be shown as occasionally reversed and rotated. With each adjustment to its display, the viewer’s discovery of the object is slightly different, exposed to new […]

 

Vincent Fecteau. Untitled, 2010, Walker Art Center

It’s unlikely that Vincent Fecteau’s Untitled (2010) sculpture is seen the same way twice. It hangs on a peg in the gallery’s wall so that the two-sided work can be shown as occasionally reversed and rotated. With each adjustment to its display, the viewer’s discovery of the object is slightly different, exposed to new aspects of its variegated surface, imperfect acrylic paint layers of uneasy hues, traces of papier mâché infrastructure, and range of casted shadows on the flat wall behind it. While Fecteau worked on this series of what he’s referred to as “360-degree sculptures,” each awkward wall-mounted shape consisted of an arduous exercise in not only confronting the limitations of sculpture but also in determining the state of completion for these challenging and indefinitive works.

In a recent interview, Fecteau discusses his sculptural practice. He talks about the development of his work in the Walker’s collection, what he’s working on now (an exhibition of his newest pieces just opened at Galerie Buchholz in Berlin), and the exciting impossibility of making art.

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From the Archives: Jud Nelson’s Hefty 2-Ply

On view through May 27 as a part of Lifelike, the 1,500-pound Hefty 2-Ply made quite a splash when it first landed at the Walker in 1981.  The Walker commissioned Jud Nelson in 1979 to make a piece for its permanent collection; it took nearly two years to carve it from marble. Known for his depictions of everyday […]

On view through May 27 as a part of Lifelike, the 1,500-pound Hefty 2-Ply made quite a splash when it first landed at the Walker in 1981. 

"Hefty 2-Ply" on view as part of "Lifelike" (with Rudolph Stingel’s oil painting "Untitled (after Sam)," from 2006.

The Walker commissioned Jud Nelson in 1979 to make a piece for its permanent collection; it took nearly two years to carve it from marble. Known for his depictions of everyday items — Shirts IV: Van Heusen and Chair are also part of the Walker collection — the artist opted to make a garbage bag bursting with familiar throwaways from the latter half of the 20th century.

Nelson at work on "Hefty 2-ply" in his New York Studio, 1980.

He started by roughing out its form from Italian Carrera marble, using a hammer and chisel, then refined the piece with rotary grinders and finished the details with dental drills fitted with diamond bits. Several items, including products from Coca-Cola, General Electric, and Kitty Klean, date the sculpture to a distinct period and are all identifiable — by the artist, at least — within its bulges and wrinkles.

The artist installing his work in July, 1981.

Nelson, an alumnus of Bethel College and the University of Minnesota, was on hand to install Hefty 2-Ply in Gallery 7 (now the Medtronic Gallery), and the sculpture was unveiled in a special ceremony as part of the Walker’s 10th  anniversary celebration of its Barnes building on July 12, 1981.

Cartoon from the "Minneapolis Star," July 16, 1981

More than 12,000 people showed up for the festivities — some 8,000 more than were anticipated — and Hefty 2-Ply‘s debut stirred up further press and interest, such as this cartoon from the Minneapolis Star.

At the Walker's 10th anniversary celebration

As with so many of the painstaking replicas in Lifelike, the realism of Hefty 2-Ply has a special kind of allure. And while it’s tempting to touch – alas, the the usual museum rules apply to this favorite Walker artwork. 

 

 

International Women’s Day: Leading Ladies in the Walker’s Collection

With registrar Joe King and registration technician Evan Reiter we took a trip to art storage to see the first 5 works by women to enter the Walker’s collection.                     June Corwine Still Life (1945) Oil on canvas Accessioned May, 1946           […]

With registrar Joe King and registration technician Evan Reiter we took a trip to art storage to see the first 5 works by women to enter the Walker’s collection.

"Still Life" (1945) by June Corwine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June Corwine
Still Life (1945)
Oil on canvas
Accessioned May, 1946


Joe King, the Walker's Registrar, with "Rose Planes" (1945) by Irene Rice Pereira.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Irene Rice Pereira
Rose Planes (1945)
Oil on parchment
Accessioned September, 1946


Evan Reiter, the Walker's Registration Technician, with "Rocking Chair Gossips" (1945) by Clara Mairs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clara Mairs
Rocking Chair Gossips (1945)
Oil on composition board
Accessioned December, 1947


"The Door" (1947) by Evelyn Raymond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evelyn Raymond
The Door (1947)
Mahogany
February, 1948

 

"Der Tod im Wasser" (20th century) by Käthe Kollwitz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Käthe Kollwitz
Der Tod im Wasser (Death from Drowning) (20th century)
lithograph on paper
Accessioned December, 1949

Documenting the Drops: Part 1

This past week, the McGuire Theater has been occupied with the unpacking, photographing, and re-rolling of many of the Cunningham backdrops.  The drops came to the Walker folded down and packed in portable touring -friendly hampers and bags (imagine a large sleeping bag in a small scrunch sack).  But now that they are here to stay, they are being rolled […]

This past week, the McGuire Theater has been occupied with the unpacking, photographing, and re-rolling of many of the Cunningham backdrops.  The drops came to the Walker folded down and packed in portable touring -friendly hampers and bags (imagine a large sleeping bag in a small scrunch sack).  But now that they are here to stay, they are being rolled flat on long cardboard cylinders, to eliminate creases and stabilize their condition. Although we have already hung several of the drops in theater in preparation for the exhibition Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham / Robert Rauschenberg, this is the first time that any of the drops are being formally photographed by the Walker’s photographers Gene Pittman and Cameron Wittig. 

The Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Production Director Davison Scandrett has also been on site, documenting some of the drops and other set pieces for the company’s dance capsules.  The Merce Cunningham Trust’s dance capsules will facilitate the licensing and recreation of some of Merce Cunningham’s existing dances, so that even though the company has disbanded, educational institutions and other dance companies can still present Merce’s work. 

The artists represented in this first batch of backdrop photos include Jasper JohnsAfrika, and Marsha Skinner.  The photographers also documented drops by William Anastasi and Robert Rauschenberg, which will be featured in another upcoming post.  

MCDC Production Director Davison Scandrett pulling the Exchange (1978) drop out of the bag. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

The unfurling of the Exchange drop, designed by Jasper Johns. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

Davison with WAC Registrar Joe King, in front of the Exchange drop. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

The backdrop for August Pace (1989), designed by Afrika (Sergei Bugaev). Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

The August Pace drop coming down. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

Backdrop for Change of Address (1992), designed by Marsha Skinner. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

Joe King helping the WAC photographers set up their shots. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

 

Travelogue: Paris

Several weeks ago I went to Paris for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s final repertory performances at the Théâtre de la Ville. My mission was to do recorded interviews with the many Cunningham affiliates who were in town for the company’s last European shows.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company at the Théâtre de la Ville; December 2011. Photo: Abigail Sebaly.

Several weeks ago I went to Paris for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s final repertory performances at the Théâtre de la Ville. My mission was to do recorded interviews with the many Cunningham affiliates who were in town for the company’s last European shows. The Mellon Foundation grant that supported both the Walker’s Cunningham Acquisition and my fellowship position also includes funds for this type of primary research, so, with a Walker portable recorder and collapsible light reflector in my suitcase, off I went.

The Cunningham company has been traveling to Paris since the early 1960s, largely because of the work of advocates such as Bénédicte Pesle, who has been the company’s champion and European booking agent since its early beginnings. In the early days, when French audiences were still resistant to Merce’s work, Bénédicte encouraged Merce to dodge the naysayers’ eggs and tomatoes and plow ahead to the next engagements. Now Cunningham has super-fandom in France, and it is always fun to watch the cult status take over.  The shows usually sell out in a blink, and there are always scalpers and hopefuls waiting outside the theater. The audiences for these two weeks of performances were particularly keyed up. One woman wore an eccentric 3-foot-tall hat, a la Cat in the Hat, which she refused to take off even after the show started. A frustrated audience member took one for the team and shouted “CHAPEAU!” after which she finally got the message. The French audiences also have a unique way of clapping in synch to show their appreciation at the end of each performance. The applause organically goes from chaos to order in an unspoken shift, and it gives me goosebumps every time.

Théâtre de la Ville at night. Photo by Abigail Sebaly

The company presented two repertory programs. In RainForest (1964), which was also presented in November here at the Walker’s McGuire Theater, all of Andy Warhol’s unattached Silver Clouds floated off into the musicians’ pit and the audience.  For the rest of the dance, you could hear them being quietly batted around like beach balls at a football game. Composer Gavin Bryars was in town to perform his composition for the dance BIPED (1999) live with the other company musicians. I got excited about delving into the Mark Lancaster costumes in the Walker’s Cunningham Collection after seeing Quartet (1982) and Duets (1980), two pieces that the company recently revived (Lancaster helped provide design updates for these revivals).

One interview set-up at the Théâtre de la Ville. Photo: Abigail Sebaly

With the videographic help of former Cunningham dancer Daniel Squire, who was already in town for the performances, I did seven filmed interviews and an additional four audio interviews for the Walker’s archive. We taped everything in a Phantom of the Opera-esque rehearsal room on the top floor of the theater, as well as in an ornate lounge on one of the lower floors. With the street din of Paris—lots of motor bike humming and gendarme sirens—providing a sound wallpaper, interviewees recounted these extraordinary stories about their connections with the Cunningham company. Carolyn Brown, a founding dancer with Merce, spoke of Robert Rauschenberg and other downtown New Yorkers transporting their paintings in her husband’s (composer Earle Brown) station wagon in the 1950s, and of the 1964 world tour when the company’s popularity skyrocketed in London, and the dancers subsisted on yogurt. Christian Wolff, composer, scholar and a Cunningham company musician,  recounted stories of being a young student of John Cage’s and sharing a copy of the I Ching with him (from an edition published by Pantheon Books, headed by Wolff’s parents). How might the course of Cage’s compositional path been changed if he hadn’t met this teenaged music student? And vice versa? After speaking to composers, collaborators and former dancers, I was struck by the recurring theme of luck.  Sure, hard work and discipline were common denominators among everyone, but so was serendipity.

The Pompidou has it's own Calder mobile out front, too. Photo by Abigail Sebaly.

In addition to the Cunningham interviews and shows, I was also able to check out the exhibition, Danser sa vie, at the Centre Pompidou, and to speak with Emma Lavigne, one of its curators. In an impressive 10,000 square-foot space, the show explores the intersections between dance the visual arts. One feature that I particularly enjoyed was seeing dance works on film projected in larger than life scale on the gallery walls. The Pompidou also had a Yayoi Kusama retrospective going on. While it was fascinating to see the breadth of her work, it’s definitely a safety hazard to enter her Infinity Mirror Room while jetlagged! Whoa.

As I mentioned, the Cunningham company has been traveling to Paris for many years, accumulating many stories, friends, and memories. One of my favorite tales is when Robert Swinston, dancer and Director of Choreography, left a roasting chicken unattended in his hotel kitchenette and the whole hotel had to be evacuated because of the smoking chicken. Upon being evacuated, Merce apparently asked gravely “Was it one of us?”

Mondrian knitwear for the whole family. Photo by Abigail Sebaly.

Berthillon ice cream flavors. Photo by Abigail Sebaly.

New to the Collection: Carmen Herrera

Born in Cuba in 1915, Carmen Herrera charted her own alternative modernism while working in virtual obscurity for some seven decades. While living in New York in the 1950s, where the male-dominated Abstract Expressionist movement held sway, she made reductive, hard-edged abstractions that predate the work of artists such as Lygia Clark in Brazil and […]

Born in Cuba in 1915, Carmen Herrera charted her own alternative modernism while working in virtual obscurity for some seven decades. While living in New York in the 1950s, where the male-dominated Abstract Expressionist movement held sway, she made reductive, hard-edged abstractions that predate the work of artists such as Lygia Clark in Brazil and Ellsworth Kelly in the U.S. There’s a particularly striking affinity between Herrera’s work and Kelly’s; notably, the two spent the same years in Paris, from 1948 to 1953, and the Walker’s extensive holdings of Kelly’s paintings, sculptures, and works on paper offer up potential for more dialogue between these artists. Her work also proved prescient as Minimalism and Op Art took hold in the 1960s, and with later minimalist developments in the work of American painters such as Brice Marden and Agnes Martin, both of whom are represented in the collection.

It wasn’t until 2004, at the age of 89, that Herrera sold her first painting; like many women artists of her generation, her work was overlooked despite her friendships and associations with prominent male artists like Barnett Newman. Now, however, the artist and her work are now receiving much-deserved attention as critics and curators investigate overlooked strands of 20th-century art in and beyond the U.S. Herrera’s paintings have entered the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum, and the Tate Modern; the Walker’s acquisition is special in that it includes a free-standing sculpture—the only work of its kind by Herrera—as well as three gouche-on-paper works: the blue one, a study for the sculpture, and the red and green studies below.

RELATED LINKS

 

 

Herrera 2010.53.1-2

 

Cataloguing Performance

On Nov. 4, presenters, curators, archivists, and researchers from around the country will come to the Walker and spend the day together talking about what it means to catalogue performance. In preparation for it, I’ve interviewed University of Coventry professor Sarah Whatley about her experience cataloguing the contemporary performance practice of British choreographer Siobhan Davies. Whatley collaborated with Davies on the UK’s first digital dance archive, Siobhan Davies Replay, which at the moment entails over 500 moving images, nearly 2,000 still images, 300+ text files.

Meredith Monk and Ann Hamilton, Songs of Ascension, 2008. Photo: Walker Art Center.

When artists such as Tino Sehgal, Meredith Monk, Danh Vo, Trisha Brown, or Merce Cunningham enter the Walker Art Center’s collections, some vexing issues arise when it comes to cataloguing their often ephemeral, multidisciplinary, and indiscrete works.

On Nov. 4, presenters, curators, archivists, and researchers from around the country will come to the Walker and spend the day together talking about what it means to catalogue performance. We will revisit questions that have existed since the 60s but have become pressing of late: why do it, for whom is it done, what is captured and how, what is discarded and why, what is updated and when, and whose perspective is it… The workshop, led by Philip Bither, McGuire Senior Curator of Performing Arts, and Robin Dowden, Director of New Media Initiatives, will inform design and development for cataloguing the Walker’s 50-year history of performance art commissions.

Abi Sebaly, Cunningham Fellow, catalogs the costumes Robert Rauschenberg designed for Merce Cunningham's Antic Meet (1958). Photo: Gene Pittman.

In preparation for it, I’ve interviewed Coventry University professor Sarah Whatley about her experience cataloguing the contemporary performance practice of British choreographer Siobhan Davies. Whatley collaborated with Davies on the UK’s first digital dance archive, Siobhan Davies Replay, which at the moment entails over 500 moving images, nearly 2,000 still images, 300+ text files. Their team worked together for 30 months before the project launched online in 2009. We spent an hour or so talking about documenting and publishing information on living artists’ performance work.

Homepage for Siobhan Davies Replay.

Some excerpts of our conversation:

Brooke Kellaway: The question of how much to involve the artists is definitely on my mind. It’s their work the catalogue is representing and we want their input—pragmatic and creative. At the same time, with hundreds of artists in the Walker’s collection, we’re trying to construct some sort of coherency and consistency in the catalogue entries. Were you really open to the project evolving in collaboration with Siobhan Davies, or did you from the start have a set structure in mind?

Sarah Whatley: It was very much working in collaboration with the artist, from the beginning. And that was not without its challenges, as you can imagine. In a way, the artist is thinking—understandably and rightly so—about her representation through the online, which is very different from how they’re represented either through what is understood as being the past, and surely the live present if they’re still making work. But of course when you’re building something that has to be robust and stable as an online resource, in a way we had to manage quite carefully their engagement with the nuts and bolts of the backend—to try and get them focused on the more aesthetic frontend part of it. But that could be quite tricky. I think it’s about managing that collaboration so the artist feels really involved and has a real sense of ownership, but on the other hand not permitting them to have too much control. It’s not an easy balance, and we struggled with it—it was all really healthy, all those tensions are ultimately really productive, but there are tensions.

Brooke Kellaway: In making these kinds of new web-based resources, what is your stance on selection in terms of publishing material also accessible elsewhere (such as early press reviews), or focusing more on material that’s otherwise quite difficult for researchers to access, or both?

Electrical diagram for Trisha Brown Company’s Glacial Decoy (1979) at Walker Art Center, 1979. Credit: Walker Art Center.

Sarah Whatley: This is a really important question. Of course the notion of an archive sort of suggests that it’s everything you can possibly get your hands on. And in a way I think the value of something which is archival in nature is in a way the user finds the meaning and connections so it doesn’t become overly curated or selected or edited in putting content up there. But there’s a pragmatic approach as well, which is to say, what can we really achieve in a timeframe that’s going to make this feel like a really full collection? Ultimately I think it comes down to what we can achieve. My advice from the experience we’ve had is to try to include as much as possible, because even if it’s already in the public domain, it won’t be in the same way in the public domain if it’s online because people are making connections that they wouldn’t make when they’re seeing a different copy. On the other hand, once you give people some content, then they’ll be intrigued to find out more content. So it’s a gateway to what else is available. The online means that you’ve got that wonderful environment in which you can put out a lot of stuff that otherwise would not be seen…it might never make it into the public any other way, such as rehearsal material and so on, and that seems to be really valuable from a user point of view, it’s information they really can’t get otherwise.

Brooke Kellaway: Did Siobhan Davies maintain her own archive before you started this project? Did she organize a lot of her content in advance?

Sarah Whatley: No. Well, the Company had a bit of a system—they had quite a lot of it neatly filed, but there was a lot that was still in boxes, and in paper bags, and plastic boxes, and unorganized, and stuff that she thought she owned and she didn’t, and we had to go in and find who owned the rights to things, and so forth…

One of the things that she’s absolutely brilliant about now as a Company, is that every time she does anything she gets sign off for everybody that’s involved in the performance. And this has been really important. Because her practice has shifted a bit, I mean she isn’t making work for theaters anymore, she’s making work in gallery spaces, she’s making installation work, and she’s working with major visual artists. She’s also now collecting like mad, collecting traces of the work, so, whereas some of the earlier works have got very little content—just a few videos, some photographs, and a bit of text—now she’s generating hundreds of images and hundreds of traces of her work, which is in itself quite demanding because we have to add the content. So essentially yes, the company collects everything and then we—the university—put it on the site.

But, it’s an interesting question…I must just ask you about Eiko & Koma’s wonderful website  that is sort of archival in a way.

Brooke Kellaway: This is the perfect example. They’re so completely excited about the Walker presenting this history of their work with the Walker, and at the same time, they already have this beautiful and very rich archive of their own. I’ve been wondering how much our content should overlap—would we be using our resources most wisely if we present a certain amount of the same information? I’m not sure. Of course, as you mentioned earlier, users will make different connections based on the way the material is presented on the Walker’s site, vs. on Eiko & Koma’s site, and elsewhere, and our standards will differ, etc.

Homepage of eikoandkoma.org

Sarah Whatley: It could work very well – users who use yours may jump off onto their website and vice versa. I don’t think it as a problem of duplication, because in a way they are quite different things.

When I was over in the States last year, Eiko & Koma came into a Network meeting that we were having and I was just fascinated by their discussion of Naked, and it’s presence on their site. It was very interesting how they bring their experiences as artists into that space. For example, of course the work is really slow and it takes a long long time to unfold. And they were saying things like, “We had to make it read online…there’s no point of having 17 minutes of doing nothing….” So they shrunk the screen and they changed the time span of the work, and that sort of thing, and they were of course coming at it from a choreographer’s perspective, they were thinking of it from a dance maker’s perspective, which is incredibly valuable. But when it’s their own content in their space, they can do that, they can be sort of playful. So I think it’s just about being careful about how those negotiations are carried through, because you will need to take ownership of what it is you’re doing but also respond to them as an artist thinking, “Well, actually our work reads very differently online.” So of course it’s about a healthy dialogue and a healthy negotiation, but it’s also I think from your point of view being very clear about what your purpose is and what you’re creating, and how does the artist come into that space of your creation, because it is your creative space in a way.

Brooke Kellaway: Absolutely. And I think it’s so important to communicate that dialogue and that negotiation to the user so they come into the site and they really understand our impetus, and our process, and our relationship with Eiko & Koma. To either see it as a collaboration with the artist or not, or something in between. And that’s really important to convey to researchers.

Sarah Whatley: Yes, to make the lens through which they’re meeting the work is extremely important.

Brooke Kellaway: How have researchers responded to your project?

Sarah Whatley: Generally really positive. I mean, inevitably, with something which is a bit pioneering in the sense certainly there’s very little else in the UK which is archival like this, of course they say, “Well now we want the same for all these other choreographers!” So it kind of sets the bar and all of that. But generally, I think one of the things researchers appreciate is the immediate, quick, one-click access to a lot of different material so they can make connections as I mentioned earlier, so they can see very quickly a span of work, they can see how work shifted and changed over time, so they can make quick connections between text-based material and visual material. And we‘ve got the scrapbook tool which is a really easy tool, which means the user can collect those searches and thoughts in a very easy and trackable way.

Also, Davies is not really an artist who goes outside of the UK very much, but a lot of people across the world are now coming into her work, either because they’re intrigued about the archive as an archive or because they’ve found her material and then are seeing her work. So in a way it’s a new way of generating audiences.

Brooke Kellaway: Do you keep it updated with new material that is found?

Sarah Whatley: Yes we do, and that’s really challenging!

Brooke Kellaway: How many people are working on this?

Sarah Whatley: Well, theoretically nobody! No, I’m joking a certain part—because you get funding, and you build the thing, and you put it out in the world, and you kind of go “that’s it,” and of course it’s never “that’s it” because every time the artist makes something new it needs to go up. We want to keep the site fresh, so we do little tweaks with the color palette and things like that, and all of those kinds of things have real costs associated. The University in effect is still managing the updating. But it’s not easy, because again you’re managing an expectation of an artist who keeps making really different work. So of course she’s now saying, ‘”Oh but I want the archive to look different because I’m doing really different work,” and we’re saying, “But we can’t change the back end! The architecture for the archive is the architecture.” We can do some fairly low cost updates but we can’t do anything major.

Brooke Kellaway: Will the project continue indefinitely?

Sarah Whatley: We do have an agreement in place, which is 3 years, which we will then review, and see whether or not the partnership is productive and working for us. Inevitably funding is a big issue in that because it’s really hard to think in terms of how we continue to sustain the archive other than simply adding content. We’ve got licenses in place with a lot of our contributors and we’ll need to renegotiate those at some point, and all of those have costs involved, such as annual server costs, and all of those sorts of things. There are the staffing costs, and staff time. It’s a bit of a myth that once you build an archive it’s done and it’s finished. Of course the technology evolves as well, and already what we’ve started off with 3 years ago is already sort of ancient technology.

Brooke Kellaway: What are your most important pieces of advice for the kind of project we’re doing?

Sarah Whatley: Get as rich information as you possibly can from the artist—such as where exactly did this happen, who was in it—so that you can get as much knowledge about the performance. Because that in a way is what’s most useful for the user—they’re looking for extensive information, and the only people who can probably provide that are often the artists. That’s really important knowledge, it’s really critical knowledge. We thought we were going to be deluged with content, and actually we had to work quite hard to get information out of people. So at times you have content there but you might not have all the information about the content, so ask the artists as much as possible.

And the other thing is to test it, get it out there and prototype, get users in to test it and to tell you what it is they find useful or difficult, and what’s there that they want more of and need. Interestingly, with Davies, she was really not that happy to test it before she felt like it was finished, complete. For us, it was really important to get it out when it was still really a bit scratchy and unfinished. We didn’t try to finish something before users told us what was working and wasn’t working. So go through a series of user testing, it’s really important because ultimately that’s your audience and your user community.

Brooke Kellaway: Thanks so much Sarah.

Sarah Whatley: It sounds very exciting. And I wish you the very very best of luck.

***

If you’re interested in further reading on the topic of cataloguing/archiving performance, here’s a list of sources extracted from a larger bibliography I’ve been composing while working on the Walker’s new collection catalogue (to launch on collections.walker.org sometime next year).

Allender, Paul, Ross Varney, and Sarah Whatley. “Digitizing Siobhan Davies’ Dance.” Body, Space & Technology, 7 (2) (2008): 1-13.

Clarke, Paul. “Performing the Archive: the Future of the Past.” Draft of the talk by Paul Clarke for research project, Inside Movement Knowledge. October 31, 2009.

Edmunds, Becky. “Creating Digital Documentation of Performance.” Video compilation of workshop for JISC Digital Documentation and Performance seminar, September 23-35, 2009, organized by JISC Digital Media and University of Bristol.

Heydenreich, Gunnar. “Documentation of Change – Change of Documentation.” In Inside Installations, edited by Tatja Scholte and Glenn Wharton, 165-171.  Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011. **Heydenreich presented his paper in 2010 at the International Symposium Contemporary Art Who Cares?

Hoffmann, Jens, Klaus Biesenbach, RoseLee Goldberg, Robert Wilson. Artistic Production | Collecting Performance. Recorded 11 June 2009, Art Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

Hölling, Hanna. “On the Afterlife of Performance.” Essay for symposium, The Manifold (after) lives of Performance, November 13-15, 2009, coproduced by DeAppel and STUK Kunstencentrum.

Inside Movement Knowledge: a two-year collaborative, interdisciplinary research project into new methods for the documentation, transmission and preservation of contemporary choreographic and dance knowledge.

MAP (Media | Archive | Performance): a research project on media, art and performance.

Mulready, Thomas. “Performance Art Festival+Archives.Permanence Through Change: The Variable Media Approach, by Alain Depocas, et al. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology, 2003.

Potts, Alex. “The Artwork, the Archive, and the Living Moment.” In What is Research in the Visual Arts?, edited by Michael Ann Holly and Marquard Smith, 119-137. Williamstown: Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, 2008.

Siobhan Davies Replay: online archive of British choreographer, Siobhan Davies. 

The Cataloguing Performance workshop is supported by the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences’ grant-funded project, “CollectionSpace: Cultivating Shared Software Solutions Among Communities of Practice.” Attendees by invite only. Please check back mid-November for outcomes of the event.

Relaxing the Folds

One bonus of working at the Walker is the proximity to primary resources. One minute you can be sitting at your desk, in total office mode, and a few stairs and hallways later you are in the theater, or a gallery space, or art storage, face to face with the actual objects of your study. Around every […]

A view from the grid: Mark Lancaster's backdrop for Rune (1982) being hung in the McGuire Theater.

One bonus of working at the Walker is the proximity to primary resources. One minute you can be sitting at your desk, in total office mode, and a few stairs and hallways later you are in the theater, or a gallery space, or art storage, face to face with the actual objects of your study. Around every corner there are visual reminders of why you do what you do. As the Walker begins to unpack some of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s backdrops, the primary resources don’t get much bigger.

Most stage backdrops are around 30 feet high by 60 feet wide. The Cunningham drops arrived folded down into squares, an origami that needs to be reversed in order to eliminate creases and to assess conservation needs. Currently onsite, the Walker is processing drops by Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Lancaster, John Cage, and William Anastasi. Before being wound onto storage rolls, each of the drops are being hung in the McGuire Theater for a week, pulled taut by heavy piping that is inserted into the bottom of the fabric.

When it comes time to exhibit the pieces, their physical scale presents a logistical and curatorial challenge: How do you adapt a stage backdrop to gallery proportions?  How do you allow viewers to take in the entire piece? Is it a misrepresentation of the work to display only a small detail of it? What happens when you foreground a work that is meant to have moving bodies in front of it?

Robert Rauschenberg's backdrop decor for Summerspace (1958). Photos by Abigail Sebaly.

L-R: John Cage's backdrop, Ryoanji, and a close-up of William Anastasi's design for Points in Space (1986). Photos by Abigail Sebaly.

A curious thing happened to me when I was standing in front of the backdrops in the McGuire, and I observed it happening to others, as well. When the drops were unfurled, the initial reaction was to get close to them, to inspect the patterns and details.  But the subsequent impulse was to turn away from the pieces and look out over the theater seats, to orient oneself to the performer’s perspective.  Rather than merely experiencing the backdrops visually, it’s instinctive to want to position oneself within them.

A visit to the Midwest Arts Conservation Center. Photos by Abigail Sebaly.

Walker registrar Joe King and I also recently visited the Midwest Arts Conservation Center (MACC), where Rauschenberg’s wooden wheeled platforms for Cunningham’s dance Travelogue (1977) are being restored. MACC is housed within the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and is a resource for both museums and private collectors. In the instance of Rauschenberg’s wooden platforms, the scuffs and smudges that one might casually try to scrub off with Windex and a paper towel are instead painstakingly treated with Q-tips and various solvents.

 

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