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RadicalPresenceNY.org: Chronicling Black Performance Art’s History Online

Dr. Zira (played by Coco Fusco), psychologist and chimpanzee from Planet of the Apes, takes the stage to deliver a lecture, Observations of Predation in Humans. The self-proclaimed “Friendliest Black Artist in America,” William Pope.L, instigates a 25-hour marathon reading of the John Cage’s 1961 anthology Silence: Lectures and Writings. Theaster Gates presents Holding Court, […]

Coco Fusco as Dr. Zira in Observations of Predation in Humans: A lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist. Photo via RadicalPresenceNY.org

Coco Fusco as Dr. Zira in Observations of Predation in Humans: A lecture by Dr. Zira, Animal Psychologist. Photo via RadicalPresenceNY.org

Dr. Zira (played by Coco Fusco), psychologist and chimpanzee from Planet of the Apes, takes the stage to deliver a lecture, Observations of Predation in Humans. The self-proclaimed “Friendliest Black Artist in America,” William Pope.L, instigates a 25-hour marathon reading of the John Cage’s 1961 anthology Silence: Lectures and Writings. Theaster Gates presents Holding Court, a space made of furniture salvaged from a shut-down Chicago public school created towards the end hosting transparent dialogs between the art world and its publics. The director and chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem receives artists, professional and amateur alike, to review and discuss their work.

These are just a smattering of the fascinating holdings available only on RadicalPresenceNY.org, a website designed and coordinated by William B. Marshall; Jamillah James, former communications coordinator at The Studio Museum in Harlem; and Monique Long, the Studio Museum’s curatorial fellow, that is dedicated to preserving the work of black performance artists as featured in Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art. During its six months in New York, the exhibition displayed 100 pieces by 36 artists and hosted 38 performances and public programs staged throughout the city at Artist’s Institute, Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center, Fales Library, the Goethe-Institut, the High Line in Chelsea, Performa, Roulette, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Third Streaming, and Tisch School of the Arts.

The show originated at Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston under direction of the museum’s Senior Curator Valerie Cassell Oliver and subsequently moved to New York, where it was held in two parts. The first ran at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery from September 10 through November 7; the second from November 14 through March 9 at The Studio Museum in Harlem. On July 24, it opens a five-month run at the Walker.

Tamika Norris, featured on the homepage of RadicalPresenceNY.org

Tamika Norris, featured on the homepage of RadicalPresenceNY.org

Both the exhibition and the supplementary website are notable for the scope of their achievement. Radical Presence tells a new history of performance art and adds an invaluable new frame of reference for thinking about black artistic production in America. The website augments this mission to tell a history of black performance art by extending the lifespan of the endeavor and facilitating public access to these works of art and their related documents.

Among the site’s many gems is its extensive documentation of the historic performance of Senga Nengudi’s seminal (or, perhaps germinal) piece from the 1970s, R.S.V.P., wherein the artist’s long-time collaborator, Maren Hassinger, activates the work’s fleshy sand-filled pantyhose affixed to the gallery wall by moving her body through the piece—and thereby pulling, twisting and knotting it. Previously known primarily as a still object, the video shows it being activated, allowing a new reading of it as at once a dance and a sculpture that highlight the gracefully restricted movement of the dancer’s body and the materiality of feminine existence. Included in the site’s documentation of the piece are behind-the-scenes photographs of an intensive workshop in which Hassinger and Nengudi trained three younger artists to enact this groundbreaking piece. In an interview in the digital archive Nengudi explains its less-than-apparent source of inspiration: “You know, people talk about Richard Pryor and how his comedy was true stuff: whatever he was feeling, he gave to the audience with no buffer. In a sense, this was me laying my guts on the line.”

Documented discussions, presentations, and roundtables are among the scores of unique digital items that enhance the experience of the exhibition. These took place throughout New York City and feature the artists in conversation with curators, academics and one another about the legacy of this work and of the particular issues it presents to museum collections. Connected with #RadicalPresenceNY is the Fales Library and Special Collections blog “Documenting Black Performance,” a platform used by the library’s curators and interns to share historic documents relating to black radical performance in the arts scene of SoHo and the Lower East Side from the 1970s on through the ’90s.

Similarly held in the site’s video archives is footage from “Three Duets, Seven Variations,” a series co-presented by the Studio Museum’s Associate Curator Thomas Lax, and Performa Associate Curator Adrienne Edwards. This group of events brought together six intergenerational artists to demonstrate longstanding themes in black performance art. Tameka Norris was paired with Senga Nengudi to present work that explored the female body. Jamal Cyrus performed next to Benjamin Patterson allowing for a look at their conceptual (and humorous) explorations of sound and music. And Zachary Fabri was partnered with William Pope.L in an engagement that demonstrates the influence of John Cage and postwar art upon black performance artists then and now. Each of these once ephemeral performances now has a permanent home on the website.

Given the importance of this ensemble of works, the online home for Radical Presence will be a key point of access for both visitors who see the exhibition in Minneapolis and future scholars and art lovers who wish to continue to engage the history of this important movement.

 

Post–The Exception and the Rule

By Susy Bielak, Karen Mirza, Brad Butler, Yesomi Umolu We are about to tell you the story of a journey. An exploiter and two of the exploited are the travelers. Examine carefully the behavior of these people. Find it surprising though not unusual. Inexplicable though normal, incomprehensible though it is the rule – Bertolt Brecht, […]

By Susy Bielak, Karen Mirza, Brad Butler, Yesomi Umolu

We are about to tell you the story of a journey.
An exploiter and two of the exploited are the travelers.
Examine carefully the behavior of these people.
Find it surprising though not unusual.
Inexplicable though normal, incomprehensible though it is the rule

- Bertolt Brecht, extract from The Exception and the Rule

Image courtesy Alexandra Harley/Veronica Ochoa

Image courtesy Alexandra Harley/Veronica Ochoa

Last Thursday night, in the midst of a blizzard, a collection of players and spect-actors created a forum in the Museum of Non Participation. Within the space of the gallery, we enacted a play, Bertolt Brecht’s The Exception and the Rule, whose very subject was on trial.

Also, on trial, were these questions:

  • Where does power reside in the room?
  • Who gets to speak, and who is silenced?
  • Which facets of a narrative will come to light?

Within Brecht’s play , the “rule” implies a legal language or a directive, while the “exception” evokes being ungovernable or searching for an alternative to either the state or the free market. Together, they act as both a statement, that “the rule cannot exist without the exception,” and a question, as to what a state of exception might be. Through the story of a merchant and his servant, The Exception and the Rule explores themes of capitalism and economics, labor and hierarchy, legislation and state ideology, hiding and secrecy, and the lack of union rights.

Image courtesy Alexandra Harley/Veronica Ochoa

Image courtesy Alexandra Harley/Veronica Ochoa

As described in our prior post, a significant part of Karen Mirza and Brad Butler’s engagement at the Walker and in Minneapolis was working together with Twin Cities’ citizens to translate this play, using methods of Augosto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed in a series of four day-long workshops. The performance—presented as a one-night only event–was the culmination of this immersive work. How do you take process-based practice and the intimate space of a closed workshop to the open and very public space of the gallery? These were the challenges and the risks at play as we presented our interpretation of the play to an audience of between 80 – 120 people.

                 7

I am the narrator
I am the translator
I am the transcriber

I am the one who bears witness
To the uncomfortable being of other
In that in-between space

Who holds the tension in this space?
Who has author(ity) here?

- Andrea Jenkins, extract from Deep Privilege

The audience, or spect-actors, were brought into the Rules of Engagement through the Games for Actors and Non Actors:

GameofActors

Within the performance, there were formal contradictions between flow and rupture. Ruptures came from literally breaking out of Brecht’s tale through freeze frames and Forum Theater. Through freeze frames, players and audience alike were able to pause and silence the performance in order to interject narratives/opinions/discontents from their own lives and experiences. In Forum Theater, a real event was enacted in which the spect-actors were invited to take up the position of the oprimido and re-imagine the scenario, in order to affect change.

co-erced, manipulated, guided, coaxed, rehearsed, coddled,
cajoled, nursed, pushed into…..forgetting a—l-l of that mess-s-s-ss-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s through …..

- Veronica Ochoa, extract from of 13 ……

There were tensions between image (Boal) and narrative (Brecht). Throughout the course of the performance, players cycled as readers made their way through the script. Multiple players voiced single characters, while, simultaneously, others generated improvisational tableaus (the body as phonetics). Both pushed against binaries, engaging the simultaneous roles as oppressors and oppressed.

In conclusion, we find ourselves in a contraction, in the space of having generated new modes of language, and acknowledging the limits of language. There’s an inability to find a means to speak to all of the registers on which this work operates–mute, voiced, gestural, political, social, personal, anguished, agent.

(nos)-otr@s *

A reconfiguration of nosotros, the Spanish for WE. There is nos, the subject “we”. This is the people with power [the oppressor, colonizer, privileged] contained with-in—– hyphenated —–yet in constant exchange with the other, el otro, the oppressed. I add the @ to have both-genders-in-one and in order to neutralize the masculine predominance that exists within the Spanish language.

- Rigoberto Lara Guzman

This can’t be the conclusion.

The performance—an ephemeral, manifold act—was, and is, experienced through a host of positions (of body, perspective, etc.). We acknowledge that this work can only be documented collectively. We invite you to join us in the process by adding to the comments stream below.

Happy Birthday, Merce Cunningham: We Hardly Knew Ye

“What is this indescribable event in a dancer’s life (when he loves dancing) that arises, given all the shit, the terrible hours of work, the grumbling and malaise of a company, the point-of-vertigo fatigue when he one day drops it all and dances…and some internal-infernal hook holds one at a peak for those few seconds, […]

“What is this indescribable event in a dancer’s life (when he loves dancing) that arises, given all the shit, the terrible hours of work, the grumbling and malaise of a company, the point-of-vertigo fatigue when he one day drops it all and dances…and some internal-infernal hook holds one at a peak for those few seconds, if you are extremely lucky, minutes.”—Merce Cunningham, from Other Animals: Drawings and Journals by Merce Cunningham

The secret inside of Merce Cunningham's cape for Antic Meet (1958). Photo: Abigail Sebaly

The secret inside of Merce Cunningham’s cape for Antic Meet (1958). Photo: Abigail Sebaly

Today we salute Merce Cunningham with an extract of Deli Commedia (1985), one of his short dance films directed by Elliot Caplan.  The piece has hues of the physical comedy of Commedia dell’Arte theater, realized with the aid of pastel Reebok high tops and the worm.  Although the dance was originally paired with music by pianist Pat Richter, the segment here is a masterful blind date mash-up with Black Sabbath.  This is why we love Merce.  His invitation for us to embrace chance pairings allows for even the most unlikely unions to seem so right.  Merce and Ozzy Osbourne, the collaboration that nearly got away:

 

 

Stanford Makishi Visits the Interdisciplinary Work Group

Early on in our Interdisciplinary Work Group convenings, a fundamental question emerged: Is our focus solely concerned with collaborations that happen among artists, or are we also drawn to how the interdisciplinary could apply to our daily work as Walker Art Center staff members?  While our diverse range of IWG invited guests spoke to both […]

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L-R: WAC Senior Curator of Performing Arts Philip Bither, WAC Assistant Curator of Performing Arts Michèle Steinwald, WAC Associate Director of Public and Community Programs Susy Bielak, WAC Cunningham Research Fellow Abigail Sebaly, Asian Cultural Council Director of Programs and Deputy Director Stanford Makishi

Early on in our Interdisciplinary Work Group convenings, a fundamental question emerged: Is our focus solely concerned with collaborations that happen among artists, or are we also drawn to how the interdisciplinary could apply to our daily work as Walker Art Center staff members?  While our diverse range of IWG invited guests spoke to both types of exchange, it is important to note why this distinction came up.  One observation is that we cannot overlook the methods we use to facilitate and realize an interdisciplinary project.  In this case, the rules for engaging across disciplines are not solely the prerogatives of artists themselves.  Instead, as curators, designers, educators, and researchers, the techniques that we use to develop and support interdisciplinary projects must themselves be responsive to the dynamics of working among multiple fields and departments.  This may demand re-examining the language that we use to talk about a project, or re-thinking the pacing of the project’s timeline.  It may even require that we set up alternate physical workspaces in the building so that we can be closer to our collaborator colleagues.  Whether we are artists, or staff members of an arts institution (or both!), interdisciplinary work pushes us to reassess how we negotiate not only multiple practices and voices, but also a more fundamental series of human relationships.

For my IWG guest, I invited Stanford Makishi, who is currently the Director of Programs and Deputy Director of the Asian Cultural Council in New York.  As a former dancer with the Trisha Brown Dance Company, and now a high-level arts administrator, Makishi is familiar with interdisciplinary work from both artistic and administrative perspectives.  For his IWG presentation, Makishi was offered complete freedom on how to format his talk.  The resulting conversation was a fascinating biographical survey of the numerous transitions that have occurred in his own professional life.  Even though Makishi has had numerous shifts in his career, from editor to dancer to development director to program director, there is also a remarkable consistency to his approach: Do not diminish your opportunities by immediately rejecting an idea that may seem daunting or beyond your capabilities.  Work hard at a project, but do not be afraid to make a change if the project ultimately doesn’t fit your interests.  Do not shy away from unusual professional hybrids (such as being a professional dancer while also working in development).  In a leadership role, carefully weigh the individual strengths of your team and allow others around you to lift the group, even if this may sometimes mean sharing tasks that you would like to keep for yourself.  When fostering collaborations, try to understand and acknowledge the perspectives of the various partners, seeing the circumstances through their eyes.  Although these may seem like fairly universal, basic tenets to abide by, they have clearly served Makishi well throughout his career.

Writer Susannah Schouweiler was also on hand for Makishi’s visit, and chronicled our discussion in the following report.

————

In late November, a group of Walker staff in the center’s “Interdisciplinary Work Group” – curators, artists, programmers, designers, researchers and educators – gathered to chat with polymath artist-turned-administrator Stanford Makishi, who had been invited by Cunningham Research Fellow Abigail Sebaly. As Makishi describes his hugely successful, wide-ranging career path, his work approach is distinguished by expansiveness, and an openness to change and unexpected possibility. At one point, he says, “I was at the right place at the right time, to have all these opportunities open up to me. These shifts didn’t happen by design. I’ve had many people open doors for me; one thing that was really important to me was saying ‘yes’ to everything.”

Makishi’s career is as much a story of friendships as it is one of individual accomplishment; because of this, it isn’t surprising that his leadership style emphasizes mentorship over competition. His experience across fields and disciplines has been varied, but it’s also taught him again and again that fruitful collaboration and felicitous creative partnerships often don’t just happen – particularly in the workplace, they’re fostered by someone and nurtured by a perceptive, responsive management ethos up top.

Background and career pivots:
Born and raised in Honolulu, Makishi is a natural interdisciplinarian: a Harvard Economics major who, upon graduation, turned to focus on a career in dance. He remembers, “When someone suggested that I might possibly be talented enough to be a professional dancer, I took that to heart and worked really hard. I happened to be in New York when what became the company of my dreams, the Trisha Brown Company, was holding auditions. I gravitated to the kind of work she did anyway, and had taken a bunch of classes taught by her company members while I continued to study ballet.  I auditioned for the company and got in, and I became good friends with Trisha.” After five or six years, he told her he was ready to transition out of the company. Makishi recalls, “Trisha asked me to stay on for another two years and devised this plan where I would, in that time, become the organization’s development director. That meant I gradually spent more and more time in the office, writing grant proposals and the rest, while I was still dancing. The transition was very strange – I was often going straight from rehearsal, still sweaty from dancing, to do paperwork in the office – but it was also organic.”

After working as the Trisha Brown’s development director for a year, and serving another short stint in the Proposals Department at Sotheby’s, Makishi was hired by the editorial department at Carnegie Hall. They brought him in as a marketing associate, but he quickly moved through the ranks, and in a few short years was offered a spot at the helm of the department; soon thereafter, he was offered the directorship of Creative Services for the whole organization.

He credits the expansive work ethos of the place, as much as his own initiative, for his rise: “It’s a tremendously warm environment filled with very talented people — a really great and generous place. My various positions there had so much to do with simply being present and willing.” At Carnegie Hall, his tasks included editing all the educational materials produced by the venue – including all the detailed materials for teachers and classrooms, programs; as a result, he worked with all the various departments, their executives and staff. “One colleague in particular, gave me access to all these meetings that I wouldn’t have otherwise been a part of,” he recalls, which gave him invaluable entry to all manner of areas of expertise, and afforded him a chance to speak on behalf of various interests in the organization at various times. “It was an unbelievable opportunity to learn.”

During his time at Carnegie Hall, he reconnected with Trisha Brown: “She asked if I would work on a project that involved staging a production [Winterreise, at the Paris Opera] with a lot of my old friends in the company. The offer was irresistible, given all I had going on at the time. But Carnegie Hall allowed me to accommodate rehearsals into my schedule.” And during that project, “there was a pianist who knew Mikhail Baryshnikov…”

And once again, those connections led to a career pivot: after a matter of months, Makishi took the lessons gleaned from his years at Carnegie Hall to take the reins at New York City’s new Baryshnikov Arts Center as Executive Director.  In his four years there, he established the center’s residency program, and ended up heading a major theater construction project and capital campaign.  As with so many things in the course of his career, Makishi said yes again, and set about learning, on the spot, what he’d need to pull the building project off and keep doors open at the same time.

And now, after stints as artistic director of New York City Center’s Fall for Dance series and serving on various boards for other organizations, Makishi spends much of his professional energy working on behalf of cultural cross-pollination between Asia and America as director of the Rockefeller-funded organization, the Asian Cultural Council, shepherding the professional development and creative growth of hundreds of individual artists across the globe by funding and facilitating intercultural study and travel.

Putting the interdisciplinary, collaborative workplace into practice:
Our conversation shifts back to modes of work – the practical business of operating within the teams of a larger organization, of leading and being led in various sorts of creative projects across disciplines. Bartholomew Ryan, a visual arts curator, asks Makishi,”By the time you got to the Baryshnikov Arts Center you had all these pockets of experience and also the opportunity to begin with a relatively blank slate, with a new organization. Based on all your experiences, what was the working culture you aimed to create and inculcate in your new team? How did you go about setting that up?”

Makishi responds:
“I had some really inspirational leaders — firm and warm. I also knew how horrible it was to be on the receiving end of a tyrant’s direction. I’d worked at a smaller organization, Trisha Brown, but also for very large organizations – Carnegie Hall, Sotheby’s. There were just five other staff members when I got to Baryshnikov Center, but I’d learned from Carnegie Hall how to divide work in ways that are really efficient. But, really, I just had to improvise. I looked to my experience at Carnegie Hall: I thought about the culture there, how I felt so loved and valued, and how it made me want to work really hard for the organization. I knew I wanted to recreate that in this other environment, even with the much smaller scale. We were stretched– our staff was small – and it was a challenge, because I didn’t want our mostly young staff to get used to the idea that they should be working until 1 in the morning (like I had at Sotheby’s), so I probably took on more than I should have on myself.”

Michèle Steinwald, a curator with the Walker’s Performing Arts department, follows up: “At Carnegie Hall, having all those streams of information come through you from all those departments, navigating all those various interests and points of view: As you considered the sort of work flow you’d institute at the new Baryshnikov Center, what was your strategy for avoiding the silo-ing that often happens in organizations?”

Makishi replies: “We did many things together at Baryshnikov Center, because we had to. We were all in one room together:  we all knew what the others were doing. With so few people, everyone very talented, we didn’t have specialists. At a place like Carnegie Hall, you tend to get very specialized – you go down one track for 20 years, your expertise became very niche.” With a small organization, where professional agility is not just desirable, but essential, the sort of silos of knowledge Steinwald refers to, he says, you just don’t have a chance to become entrenched, much less calcified as happens in much larger institutions.

Abi Sebaly, observes: “You mentioned that, at the Baryshnikov Center, you ended up taking on more of the work yourself to ease the pressure on staff members. As a manager now, how do you balance that willingness to take work on with a trust for your staff members, delegating those responsibilities and duties to them?”

“I love working – I love what I do,” Makishi says. “And it’s hard to give away the good parts, but it’s important to delegate – it’s a necessary part of developing a staff member, giving them a project that you know really well so you can be useful in that relationship [as they begin to learn the ropes].”

Strategies and tactics for collaboration:
Susy Bielak, from the Walker’s Education and Community Programs Department is interested in strategies for collaboration: “There is a system at play here at the Walker, some levels of specialization –on the spectrum, we’re somewhere in the middle of your experiences, it sounds like. Can you offer some insight on tactical collaborations? It sounds like you’ve had some beautiful mentorship – but what about those instances of working together where collaboration isn’t quite so natural, so easy.”

Makishi responds, “The residency programs I’ve worked in all champion natural collaborations, self-chosen collaborations, but I don’t think that’s the only way to work together. For myself, I’m very fond of matchmaking:  As a manager, I’ve occasionally put two people together who weren’t natural pairings, but where there was one person I thought would benefit tremendously – like medicine. Maybe, as a result, I needed to be a diplomat, when one of the pair drove the other crazy, but these could still be very useful partnerships.”

He says, as a leader in such situations, “it’s my role to see things through another’s eyes, to make the bridge. [Inculcating that sense of collaboration, even among unlikely partners, then] becomes a very gentle admonition to think a certain way, to empathize and try things from a new perspective.”

On the other hand, he says, “when two people naturally gravitate toward each other, I think one should take advantage of that, allow them to boost each other. But that kind of partnering is easy, isn’t it?” He says, for him, the strategy linchpin is in putting the right team in place from the beginning, selecting a complementary mix of qualities and working styles: “It’s important not to worry so much about hiring quickly, but hiring correctly. To put the right person in the right job, so that they love what they’re doing – so they’re just where they want to be.”

 

Open Call: The Exception and the Rule

Are you an artist with a foot in activism, a community organizer, or a small business owner? Are you someone who questions the status quo? Are you interested in uncovering structures of power and exclusion? Are you the exception and the rule? This spring, London-based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler present a collection of […]

Are you an artist with a foot in activism, a community organizer, or a small business owner?
Are you someone who questions the status quo?
Are you interested in uncovering structures of power and exclusion?
Are you the exception and the rule?

Brad Butler performing Act(ion) 000167, Blackwood Gallery, Toronto
Courtesy SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Center), Toronto and Blackwood Gallery, University of Toronto Mississauga

This spring, London-based artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler present a collection of film, text, and performed actions in the exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal, on view in the Walker’s Medtronic Gallery from April 18 to July 14, 2013. As part of this project, Mirza and Butler are inviting local residents to workshop and stage one of Bertolt Brecht’s short “learning plays” The Exception and the Rule. The “rule” implies a legal language or a directive, while the “exception” evokes being ungovernable or searching for an alternative to either the state or the free market. Together, they act as both a statement, that “the rule cannot exist without the exception,” and a question, as to what a state of exception might be. Through the story of a merchant and his servant, The Exception and the Rule explores themes of capitalism and economics, labor and hierarchy, legislation and state ideology, hiding and secrecy, and the lack of union rights. The artists invite you to eat, talk, rehearse, and perform together in order to explore and enact how these themes play out in our daily lives, as well as to consider how these can be extended to the audience as active participants.

The Exception and the Rule is one of Brecht’s several Lehrstucke or teaching plays. Brecht himself translated the term as “learning play” intended to educate people primarily about socialist politics. Typically, this form of political theater privileges function above content and foregrounds collective teaching and learning through various modes of performance. It attempts to break down any division between author and audience through reflexive gestures that reveal the “mechanics of theater.” Through this and other plays, Brecht developed a way for non actors to learn through playing roles, adopting postures, getting rid of the divide between actors and audience, and focusing on process rather than a final project. Working in the same vein, Mirza and Butler encourage you to enter into the project with the spirit of mutual enrichment and collaboration, where personal experiences/expertise and collective interpretation ultimately converge in the public presentation of the play.

Dates and Times:

Friday April 5, 7–9 pm: Social evening with participants (optional)

Saturday April 6, 11–6 pm: Games for actors and non actors facilitated by Karen Mirza and Brad Butler, based on Brazilian director Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed, a tool for social change

Saturday April 7, 11–6 pm: Forum theater–development of the games method and thinking through the implication of the audience in the play

Saturday April 13, 11–6 pm: Close reading of The Exception and the Rule and development of characters

Sunday April 14, 11–6 pm: Voice work, performance and body choreography

Thursday April 18, 7 pm: Public presentation of The Exception and the Rule in the Walker’s Medtronic Gallery

We ask that applicants commit to being present for all sessions, your regular participation is essential for the group to work as a whole.

Apply Now!

To participate in the workshops and staging of the play, please fill in the short application form here, by Friday, February 8, 2013.

Applications are free and open to anyone, however registration will be limited to up to 10 individuals. Hospitality and a small stipend will be offered to the selected participants.

If you have any questions about the application process, please contact Yesomi Umolu or Susy Bielak

Olga Viso’s 2012 Highlights in Twin Cities Culture and Beyond

In 2012, Walker executive director Olga Viso traveled across the state and around the world, from Minneapolis, New York, and Kassel to Gwangju and Beijing. Reflecting here, she shares her highlights from the year that was. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s final performance at the New York Armory, with set designs by Daniel Arsham, launched my […]

In 2012, Walker executive director Olga Viso traveled across the state and around the world, from Minneapolis, New York, and Kassel to Gwangju and Beijing. Reflecting here, she shares her highlights from the year that was.

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The Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s final performance at the New York Armory, with set designs by Daniel Arsham, launched my new year at midnight January 1, 2012. It was an unforgettable night of great dance, poignant emotion, and heartfelt tribute to one of the great choreographers of our time.

Jim Hodges, Untitled (2012)

Jim Hodges, Untitled (2012)

The arrival of Jim Hodges’ boulders on the Walker’s green space commenced the spring season, creating a new destination for visitors atop the Walker’s hill. Hodges will be the subject of a retrospective at the Walker in 2014.


Philip Glass’ surprise solo piano performance in honor of Walker Director Emeritus Martin Friedman at Martin’s tribute organized by New York’s Madison Square Park Foundation. Glass was among an assembly of artists, including Chuck Close, Frank Stella, and Claes Oldenburg, who joined me and Whitney director Adam Weinberg in toasting Martin’s legacy.

Pierre Huyghe, Untitled (2012)

Pierre Huyghe, Untitled (2012)

Pierre Huyghe’s unmonumental outdoor project for dOCUMENTA(13) in Karlsaue Park in Kassel, Germany stands out as one of the most potent public projects in recent memory. Huyghe’s commission embraced the themes of documenta like no other work in this sprawling international survey that happens every five years.

Still from Wim Wenders' Pina (2011)

Still from Wim Wenders’ Pina (2011)

The screening of Wim Wenders’ Pina inaugurated the Walker’s newly renovated Cinema and its new 3-D capabilities, made possible by a major gift from the Bentson Foundation.

Matt Bakkom, Fair Oaks (2012)

Matt Bakkom, Fair Oaks (2012)

Matt Bakkom’s project in which he repurposed benches in the public park across the street from Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Bakkom painted nearly 40 benches, each inspired by the color schemes of original art works from the MIA’s collection. Labels for individual works appear on each bench. Go explore!

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China’s Terracotta Warriors: The Emperor’s Legacy at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts was one of the Twin Cities’ exhibition highlights this season–a beautifully designed exhibition with breathtaking objects and impressive scholarship.

OlgaWeiwei

My visit with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in his Beijing studio to discuss ongoing work for a potential commission on the Walker campus.

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Minneapolis mayor RT Rybak’s rallying tweet during the world’s first Internet Cat Video Festival (and the Republican National Convention) that welcomed 10,000 people (and some celebrity cats) to the Walker’s Open Field.

lowercasep

“Lowercase P: Artists & Politics,” a series of interviews published on walkerart.org (edited by Paul Schmelzer) to coincide with the US presidential election cycle of 2012.

Jasper Johns' set elements for Walkaround Time (1968) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Jasper Johns’ set elements for Walkaround Time (1968) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art hover above musicians performing a work by John Cage, December 2, 2012

Jasper John’s set design for Merce Cunningham’s Walkaround Time (1968)–borrowed from the Walker’s collections–serving as the centerpiece of the current exhibition Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg and Duchamp at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

rolu for rosemary

During its Open Field residency ROLU staged a reading of James Lee Byars’ 100 questions from The Black Book in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in memory of the Walker’s late librarian Rosemary Furtak and created in collaboration with MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey.

Screengrab from the online interactive timeline for Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde

Screengrab from the online interactive timeline for Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde

One of the most memorable and important shows I saw in 2012, Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde at the Museum of Modern Art–curated by Doryun Chong, it opened in November–brings fascinating new research to light. Walker audiences will recognize works by Tetsumi Kudo, Genpei Akasegawa, and artists from Gutai in this show that is a visual feast.

Still from Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing (2012)

Still from Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (2012)

Joshua Oppenheimer’s unforgettable world premiere of The Act of Killing at the Telluride Film Festival. This film forever re-imagines the form of documentary filmmaking by having the perpetrators of war crimes in Indonesia (now elderly) personally re-enact their stories for the camera.

Signage at the entrance of Andy Ducett's Why we do this. Photo: Flickr user starfive, used under Creative Commons license

Signage at the entrance of Andy Ducett’s Why we do this. Photo: Flickr user starfive, used under Creative Commons license

Andy DuCett’s ambitious “Why we do this” project at the Soap Factory in Minneapolis created an interactive exhibition and stage set for public performance.

FireCliff 3: In the presence of Monster

Looking back on the evening of Thursday 30th May, when Minouk Lim in collaboration with Minneapolis-based choreographer Emily Johnson presented the performance FireCliff 3 in the Walker’s Burnet gallery, it is rather difficult to recall the intricacies of the piece. This is made ever more complex by the fact that I was privy to its […]

Photo: Gene Pittman

Looking back on the evening of Thursday 30th May, when Minouk Lim in collaboration with Minneapolis-based choreographer Emily Johnson presented the performance FireCliff 3 in the Walker’s Burnet gallery, it is rather difficult to recall the intricacies of the piece. This is made ever more complex by the fact that I was privy to its development from concept to realization, so my thoughts are inevitably filled with successive impressions of it. For me, the performance exists as series of fragments of half finished and half completed movements, recollections of late night rehearsals and early morning Skype conversations, continuous reviews of scripted elements and sounds samples, all conflated with countless musings on the pragmatics of lighting, sound and crowd control. I suspect this is also how Lim and Johnson experienced that evening; as they stood at the crest of a figurative firecliff in the darkened gallery, ready to deliver for the first time to an expecting audience.

Despite my fuzzy memory, on the night, the work presented itself anew, and as I watched it unfold, certain elements that repeatedly came to the fore during the project’s gestation resonated once more. As such, in place of providing a play-by-play review of the performance, which will do it a great disservice, I offer a reading of it through the singularity of the word Monster. Yes, Monster. This particular noun came into Lim and Johnson’s joint vocabulary during the very early stages of their conversations, which were conducted via emails and Skype sessions given their relative distance from each other – being in Seoul and Minneapolis respectively. In an early correspondence Johnson writes about her explorations of “the ongoing creation of Monster” in a new choreography she was developing at the time.  Speaking about the menace of this at once real and imagined fiend, she conjured images of terror, fear, evil and destruction in relation to the natural world, socio-cultural relations and oneself.

Instinctively for some, Monster takes them back to childhood – to the creature under the bed (or in the wardrobe) that is a signifier of childhood fears and uncertainties about the world beyond the safe space of the bedroom. For others, Monster is the mythical being that populates old wives tales and urban legends. Ostensibly fictive, it often exists as a constructive coping mechanism in places that have faced real moments of trauma. Being from across the proverbial pond, the Monster to the north in Loch Ness is an international calling card for tourism to the region as well as a representation of belonging and shared belief (or skepticism) across the communities of those great isles. Even more menacing for some, in the complex realm of geopolitics, Monster poses a very real danger to real lives in the form of military action, seemingly dormant terrorist threats or even multilateral sanctions that purport to serve a greater good. For no matter what side of the geographical or ideological border you are on, the specter of war and conflict signal a very monstrous end.

Photo: Jenna Klein

All these strands converged poignantly in FireCliff 3, as Johnson’s scripted monologue and choreography returned the audience to the place of childhood memories and family interactions. In the haphazard yet formal gestures and poses of the five dancers, we witnessed the “feasting and dancing, talking and making things” of days gone by. Propelled into a space that narrated the ritualized effacement and remembering of the past, of time hurtling forward and receding back into personal consciousness, benign movements took on ominous tones. Surely we were not to trust the saccharine and homely landscapes Johnson’s choreographed bodies created, because beneath all this there lay palpable moments of loss, death and anxiety – Monster was indeed very present.

Photo: Jenna Klein

Likewise, as the narrative transitioned to Lim’s inner voice, we were brought within reach of the mental state of individuals and communities who live in the shadow of potentially monstrous neighbors. For the artist, this is most evident in the threat to the north of South Korea’s territorial boundaries. By extension, Lim’s script also articulated the dangers of seeking protection or release from the grip of Monster – and the ‘by any means necessary’ dictum that usually guides such desires. In this case, the rampant militarization of borders that has gripped her country in the name of maintaining the political impasse and the contingent relationship with western powers, particularly America, have in themselves become stifling facets of daily life. Lim summed this up beautifully when she uttered:

“I want to be part of you
I want to be chosen by you
I want to praise you and commit myself to you
I willingly show you the back of my neck”

On a broader level, Lim’s metaphor of vampirism and self sacrifice also extends to the quest for modernization and the compulsion to partake in capitalism’s global project that has gripped emerging economies in the late 20th century. This is has proven itself to be an ideal that consumes hearts, bodies and minds indiscriminately – a fact that Lim experiences firsthand living through rapid social and spatial change in contemporary Seoul. In touching on this very salient point, FireCliff 3 ultimately asks: ‘where do we to turn, when in an attempt for self preservation and progress, we succumb to Monster and end up replicating its features?’ This question lingered heavily in the air as the audience stared at their reflections and that of the infrared feed of the performance through the mirrored screen ahead of them. Thus begging the question, might we be able to turn to each other for emancipation?

Photo: Jenna Klein

If as the performance proceeded, there appeared to be no resolution to this conundrum, then this was certainly helped by sound director Byungjun Kwons’s fascinatingly anarchic soundtrack, which mixed sound samples from Korean Pop culture, Top 40 hits and traditional Korean instrumentals with aplomb. Under the weight of this aural onslaught, the performers oscillated between desperation and exhaustion. Similarly the assembled audience was caught in the belly of the beast unable to escape its raging tumult.

Nevertheless, amongst the darkness and melancholy, there was much light in the performance, both symbolically and literally. For essentially, both Lim and Johnson infer that when there is no one else to turn to, then courage must come from within. The kernel of this idea can be traced to earlier exchange between the collaborators, where Lim writes of conceiving “Monster as courage…who is not afraid of dying and darkness…” Sharing this sentiment, Johnson adds “Monster as flame of light, as courage to be reborn.”

Photo: Jenna Klein

At this point, it is important to mention the use of Lim’s wearable sculptures and Portable Keepers throughout the performance as it points to the possibility of countering the destructive forces of Monster. Constructed from scavenged industrial materials that are piled and pasted together, these objects at first sight appear to be of little use or import. But as the dancers go about carrying, holding, hugging and raising them aloft, contorting their bodies to the uneven forms, they take on a peculiar functionality.

At various junctions in the performance, the wearable sculptures become shields or appendages to the human frame, at other moments they are mere adornments –for a short while transforming into impromptu headdresses or jewelry. These vignettes gesture towards the overturning of fear and sorrow into direct action and resilience that often follows cataclysmic events of social change, political upheaval or natural disasters. Whether we consider the use of raw material as emergency shelters, or the shifting of social oppression into a revolutionary spirit or even the translation of acts of terror into an ethos of tolerance, Lim’s tactile sculptures embody the overwhelming ability of the human spirit to push through all costs. In the end, it is clear that Lim and Johnson encourage their protagonists and the audience alike to be consumed by the mess and mayhem of Monster – to emerge from within its bowels. Monster thus transposes into medium for constructive reawakening and rebirth.

Photo: Jenna Klein

Fittingly, the performance ends with Lim starkly describing the death of an unidentified lover, juxtaposed with a projection of her 2009 moving image work Portable Keeper. As the figure in the video carries a totem pole fashioned by Lim through the busy streets and construction sites of Seoul, the performers unravel and raise aloft a limp fishing net weighed down by latex. In this closing sketch, Lim and Johnson allude to the reclaiming of forgotten lives, memories, most importantly, a foreseeable future, that can be brought about after succumbing to and surviving the presence of Monster.

 

 

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.

(more…)

Happy Birthday, John Cage: Do You Know This Cake?

Today we, like many others, are remembering John Cage on what would have been his 100th trip around the sun. In 1982, in honor of Cage’s 70th birthday, the Walker produced the exhibition Happy Birthday John Cage. In addition to showing works by his friends and collaborators such as Louise Nevelson, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg, the exhibition also featured pieces from Not Wanting to […]

John Cage celebrating his birthday with an unidentified friend in Minneapolis, September 1982. Courtesy Walker Art Center.

Today we, like many others, are remembering John Cage on what would have been his 100th trip around the sun. In 1982, in honor of Cage’s 70th birthday, the Walker produced the exhibition Happy Birthday John Cage. In addition to showing works by his friends and collaborators such as Louise Nevelson, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg, the exhibition also featured pieces from Not Wanting to Say Anything about Marcel, 1969, a series of screenprinted plexiglass plates (“plexigrams“) that Cage produced with Calvin Sumsion. The 70th birthday celebration also included music and dance performances, poetry readings, a symposium called John Cage: Art and Influence, and the masterful yin/yang cake pictured above. If you have further details on the story behind this cake, who produced it, or what it consisted of, please help our archive fill in the details.

 

 

Introducing Untitled (Blog)

It’s been seven years since we launched the Walker Blogs, and with the release of our new homepage back in December we thought it was finally time for a refresh. You’ll notice that the design has changed to align with our new website and we’ve used the opportunity to rebrand each of our core blogs, […]

It’s been seven years since we launched the Walker Blogs, and with the release of our new homepage back in December we thought it was finally time for a refresh. You’ll notice that the design has changed to align with our new website and we’ve used the opportunity to rebrand each of our core blogs, focus our offerings, and give readers a better sense of what they’ll find inside. Don’t worry though, the name might have changed, but this is still the blog of the Visual Arts department, and we’re committed to using it to amplify and give insights into visual arts programming, exhibition making, and the Walker’s collections. The blog’s moniker, Untitled (Blog), is a play on the open-ended qualities of contemporary art, something we hope will be reflected in the nature and variety of postings in the coming years. Enjoy!

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