Although Merce Cunningham, Ann Van den Broek and Meredith Monk seem to have similar avant garde multi-media and/or intermedia work, each artist is unique and independent of each other, and remain true to the spirit of avant-garde intentions. Cage had an impact on all three artists, primarily Cunningham, since they worked together professionally and personally for fifty years. Cage's theories on music and creativity seemed to have slowly seeped into these artists looking to explore outside the boundaries of their disciplines. It takes a boldness to continue to explore the Fluxus and experimental ideas. Although the Avant-Garde seemed confined to the cities and academic institutions, this group's impact is still prevalent in contemporary artist's work as Monks and Van de Broek.
Monk, Van de Broek and Cunningham used multi-media, intermedia and then multimedia again which for me represents the transformation of these states in many of their work. I have watched videos of each of these artist's work and can see Cage and the Fluxus influence in their intent and products. Its extraordinary how well known these artists are in the US major cities, academia, global arena. Cage and Cunningham made an impact on artists since the 60s, but outside of these pockets, these artists are still a foreign entity.
Merce Cunningham was quoted in one of my recent articles on Fluxus artists as one of the most consistent artists to adhere to the Fluxus criteria of chance and intermedia. His work was considered 'baffling and beautiful' at the same time. His dance work embraced just the movement as stated in the following excerpt:
His work questioned the essence of dance,“What interests me is movement,” Cunningham said in a 2005 interview with Bloomberg News. “Not movement that necessarily refers to something else, but is just what it is. Like when you see somebody or an animal move, you don’t have to know what it’s doing.”
I like that I am off the hook to find meaning. I can relax and just watch for the movement alone. I found the lack of meaning comforting. We are always thinking there is a right answer for everything and when there is no answer, its even better. The next excerpt indicates how the audience was tested by his work.
Cunningham never made things easy for his audience. His dances shunned narrative and character. They were simply about dynamic human bodies moving in space. Occasionally the work assaulted the spectator. The 1964 “Winterbranch,” with its Sisyphean movement, its darkened stage from which lights shone full blast into the viewers’ eyes and its abrasive La Monte Young score had people exiting the theater in droves.
I am not sure I would be able to make the grade after being assaulted by lights. Audiences had to endure and be patient, and I think that in our fast-paced society this would be an additional challenge.
Cage collaborated with artists, Warhol, Rauschenberg, Stella, mixing up the media and dancers. The following excerpt provides a glimpse into these forays:
“Summerspace” (1958), with its dancers streaming past Rauschenberg’s pointillist backdrop in leotards that match it; the exuberantly athletic “How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run” (1965); “RainForest” (1968), where the dancers move like jungle creatures among Warhol’s silvery helium-lofted pillows; “Sounddance” (1975), which seems to launch its performers into a violent intergalactic world; “Points in Space” (1986-1987), which takes its title from Einstein's declaration that there are no fixed points in space; and “Ocean” (1994), a magisterial piece that has its dancers framed by concentric rings -- the spectators and, behind them, the musicians.
He described “Ocean” this way in a November 2008 interview with Bloomberg’s Muse TV: “It’s like being in a bath of sound, because it comes from every source around you. In doing it, you find out something else about dance, something that you never thought of before. I always look forward to seeing what that will be.”
I love the last line in this quote. Chance is a major element in his work and even he has no idea what it will become in each production.
In creating a dance, Cunningham sometimes turned to the “I Ching,” the Chinese system based on rolling dice. Injecting an element of chance into his work, he said, expanded his choreographic choices that might otherwise be limited by habit. Zen philosophy, with its emphasis on the present moment, and a keen sensitivity to nature also informed his work.
I like that he also did his dances in site specific locations. Change and chance were the cornerstones of both Cage and Cunningham's work, and the I Ching was used as a template. Cage has conjectured that the purpose of his work was not to bring order out of chaos but to embrace the chaos and live it.
The following two internet sites show the Merce Cunningham dance troupe on You Tube.
The first piece is called Mercat de la Flors, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGU2QQpQlD8
This is a site specific dance in a public building. The dancers are in red leotards and the music is like clanging barges on a port. The dancer's light movements clash with the harsh sounds. Although the dancers are all dancing isolated movements, there is symmetry in the entire piece- which is probably why it is successful.
The next Cunningham dance, Nearly Ninety, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpV5ZY9N-bg&feature=related is a dynamic production on a stage with enormous screens overpowering the dancers. The images on the screen are huge industrial platforms or machines The music plays to the images- discordant sounds and the movements reacting to the sounds. Cunningham would have had all the players in a performance work in isolation until the rehearsal. So improv, adaptability and flexibility of thought was an essential element leaving a lot to chance.
John Cage's music portrayed the inner sounds of the mind or everyday sounds of life. Sort of playing with the duality in life and sound perception. Cage's ruminations with perception and sound is similar to Meredith Monk's work on music. Monk's piece, Dolmen Music for 6 voices and percussion (1979) www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNacNzhcNZI is haunting and far beyond any a cappella I have heard. The performers seemed to be listening to each other then answering each other back in pure voices. I did not think I would like it, but I really did. It was relaxing and hypnotic, taking me to a medieval environment. The performers just performed noises, clear clear notes. I am not sure if it was intermedia or multi-media, yet since it was a performance, based on criteria and several elements, I am leaning towards intermedia. Monk's vocal innovations have been coined as her extended techniques, which extends to Cage and his forays into random sounds and methods.
The next Monk piece is called the Book of Days, (1988) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMFLct2laqw
It starts off literally with a blast in a colored brick wall and moving to a black and white performance from the Middle Ages. Its a combination performance, song, dance, opera and mythic drama. The performance seems like a morality play of deep, dark cultural secrets against the rhythm of a children's song. There are contrasting emotions working to form this strange past and future piece somewhere in an isolated world where the two realities converge.
The last artist I would like to highlight is Ann Van de Broek. Van de Broek is a Flemish/Dutch artist who has truly been a cutting edge dance choreographer and performance artist. In the following art piece entitled Co(te)lette,(2007) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJWYYa7nu6o&feature=endscreen&NR=1 she teams up with the American director, Mike Figgs who filmed this performance. The interesting thing is how he creates an audience and how the audience is forced or not to participate in this performance. This work is very edgy, physically and emotionally demanding for the dancers and the audience. The official synopsis states:
THE CO(TE)LETTE FILM is Mike Figgis' cinematographic adaptation of the dance performance by Ann Van den Broek.
Women and flesh, beauty and perishableness, raw and fragile. A delirious desire overwhelms the dancers. A desire for physical and mental satisfaction. The dancers go from appeal to sensuality, over lust, fleshness, fame, success, reflection and control, to silence. They are slaves of their own desires while trying to get in control of them. Female bodies in a frenzy.
In THE CO(TE)LETTE FILM, three female dancers are shown in a rather intimate atmosphere, in a chicken-and-egg situation between desire and satisfaction. There is no confrontation, nor rivalry. No story-telling, no solution and no ending. Co(te)lette's story is restless and... empty.
The dance and the way it is filmed feels voyeuristic and personal at the same time. A dualism of toughness and glamour. The women are naked and bruised, and as the Los Angeles Times wrote it was “55 minutes of an unrelenting portrait of nakedness and erotica”. Ann Van de Broek stated that:
I am also inspired by contemporary society: a sign of the times, a recent phenomenon or a universal motif. In that sense, my work is also a critical reaction or rebelling against things that go unquestioned, are ignored or are generally assumed to be the norm. I feel the need to fight against conformity. However, this does not mean that there is a clear political, social or ideological message in my work.... "Co(te)lette," — literally "a piece of meat" — was also inspired by French feminist writer Colette.I have never intended to make a loud statement. It is only a subtle undertone in my work. These behavior patterns, impressions, signs of the times and phenomena from my surroundings are the basis of the core concept of every new production and each time they are linked to the general underlying themes that are characteristic of my work: restlessness, struggle, resistance, compulsion/control, fanaticism, nihilism and activity/passivity.
Music and sound play an integral part in the creative process of the choreography.
Through my work and characteristic dance idiom, I want to touch people, to make them think. I allow room for doubt and interpretation for the spectator, as well as for me. Everyday activities are placed in a new context: movement and dance. the selected core concept to movement is done through an in-depth and broad analysis. You could call this process a clinical analysis.
This piece by Van de Broek seems initially like a multi-media work until Figgis adds another element of film and the work takes on another dimension. The oblique angles. The birds-eye view and intimate views juxtaposing the audience's emotions. The film is startling in capturing the raw energy of the dancers against the stillness of the audience. The work is transformed into an intermedia performance that fuses all the elements into 55 minutes of three women dancers. Although Van de Broek's work is not a clear extension of Cage, Cunningham and Monk, the intention is worthy of the Fluxus. The elements and everyday activities that propel the themes and stories. Although this work seems to have definite themes, it is very abstracted so not one message is directed. Each audience participant extracts the meaning of this dance in the context of their persona.
When I think of Cage I see how he provided the fodder for Cunningham, Monk and Van de Broek. They found the elements in his work to transform into their own work. The work of all these artists encompass a certain boldness of spirit and a challenge to the viewer. I was surprised how accessible the work was for a lay person like me. I somehow got the sense I would have to study more stuff to understand the intentions and final products. I thought it would be difficult to discern the good, bad and the ugly of avant-garde work if one was a novice audience participant. I think you just have to take it as it comes and intuit each piece- that was probably the intent.
My obsession these days is Candy Chang, an urban artist, designer, who ties her work to community. She has inspired my latest project with the whole vacant house issue.
We have read 6 essays on what constitutes intermedia, and while I am beginning to see somewhat of a framework, it is still crossing boundaries of its own. A space between understanding and seeing a blurry haze of recognizable form. I see how intermedia becomes more than just a visual experience, how it involves th senses, and how the idea of horizon plays into this- giving the viewer/participant a unique experience depending on their position on the horizon of the work. After so many years in the mindset of "seeing" art, now there is the possibility of feeling it. a much more powerful existence is achieved, and it reminds me of eastern mindfulness, a being that is in the moment, and an awareness of everything that surrounds. this also connects to the udience being inquisitive/curious. if the experience of the art is open to posibilities, then the audience will be invovled, and wondering, interested in what is to occur. This curiosity also for me has a link to eastern thought, in its being in the moment, seeing what is happening. An unfolding rahter than an articulated closed statement.
But then- there is the idea of fusion and separation. i get the melding of media into one form, that if it is fully realized, will result in the creation of a new genre eventually. i have a harder time figuring out swalwell's ideas about additive vs subtractive.
Chunky Move Dance Company:
Higgins writes that after we have this liminal experience that art can give us "we return to the everyday world, and the experience becomes marginal with regard to our daily, normative existence; but the liminal experience has refreshed us and can be a source of energy and meaning for us."
This liminal experience that he speaks so eloquently about made me think about the expectations and disappointment that follows from viewing conceptual piece of work that feel impossible to understand or connect with.
At some point art got stuck in the specific materials of paint, canvas, tradition, order, likes and dislikes and specific composition. These are just a few modes of art, possible outcomes among millions that have not been discovered yet. The avant guard (in this case post-self cognitive) is breaking outside the art of self reflection, emotional experience and beauty and I wonder if it requires a different desire from the audience. Can our desires change?
People think conceptual = boring, lacking emotion, lacking human connection. I think this comes from a place of ignorance but also from the fact that people are starving for something out of the ordinary, more beautiful than life, they want emotional release from art. They want to be impressed, people look to art for entertainment and beauty, look for a pause in their everyday life to be uplifted or inspired. That speaks to the power of art and its ability to inspire and provoke emotion.
If people want art to be an escape from the everyday normal (painful, boring, sad, mundane) life than how will art that is wholly conceptual satisfy? if you work all day in an office, you don’t want to walk into an installation piece of a gallery only to find an exact replica of your office… real life… we want art to take us to something extraordinary- outside o life- bigger than life. This post-cognitive art work is hard for people to “get something out of” because this culture, especially now, is moving towards having information fast, easy-- a database… the attention span of our society is shrinking- more than ever we are looking for spectacle, something to top everything else that we see on the internet.
Maybe the audience will evolve and become so sick of being over stimulated that they beging to crave, like they once craved emotive paintings, a silence, a work that asks more of you, that requires thought and contemplation… maybe we have not fully developed our tastes yet to receive this.
Image: Image via Kuzma/Shutterstock.com
In a recent New Yorker article about actress Anna Faris, Tad Friend cites a test for gender bias in movies. The test, outlined by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in a 1985 Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip (Bechdel credits her friend Liz Wallace for the original idea), asks three simple questions:
Does a movie contain two or more female characters who have names? Do those characters talk to each other? And, if so, do they discuss something other than a man?
I was struck by the simplicity of this test and by its patent validity as a measure of gender bias. As I thought about it some more, it occurred to me how few of the classic works of literature that I teach to my high school freshmen would pass this test: The Odyssey? Nope. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass? Nope. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Nope. Romeo and Juliet. Nope.
What's wrong with me?
For the past two months, I've been working my way through War and Peace. I'm about three-fourths of the way through right now, and I'm both exhausted and exhilarated by the experience. Richard Pevear is not exaggerating when he writes the following in the introduction to his and Larissa Volokhonsky's 2007 translation of the novel:
War and Peace is the most famous and at the same time the most daunting of Russian novels, as vast as Russia itself and as long to cross from one end to the other. Yet if one makes the journey, the sights seen and the people met on the way mark one's life forever.
Tolstoy, as a writer, is alive to seemingly everything, from the heights of military and political power to the most ordinary details of everyday life. As Isaac Babel noted, "If the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy."
Yet even War and Peace passes Bechdel and Wallace's test only barely. I've read 935 pages so far, and I've encountered quite a few female characters. Only occasionally have they talked to each other, however. Even rarer are the times when they've talked about something other than a man.
What's wrong with Tolstoy?
Decades after film critic David Denby graduated from Columbia University, he went back to his alma mater and took the Great Books course over again. He wrote a book about the experience. Near the end of the class's study of The Odyssey, Denby became uneasy with the brutal treatment of the disloyal serving women, who are hanged by Telemachus after he forces them to clear out the corpses of their lovers recently slaughtered by Odysseus.
This brutal execution — which inspired Margaret Atwood to write The Penelopiad, a re-telling of The Odyssey from the perspective of Odysseus' wife — is given tacit approval in Homer's epic. Denby is appalled:
In Homer's terms, of course, the women belong to Odysseus and Telemachus; the men's property has been sullied, and as Odysseus' heir, Telemachus has a right to exact punishment, and that's that….
O evil patriarchy! I was outraged.
Yet Denby, guided by Professor Edward Tayler, comes to see his outrage in a different light:
A book like the Odyssey can never be simply appropriated by one social view or the other; it's too complex, it bursts one's little critique (which in any case is only everyone else's little critique.) The slaughter of the suitors and the serving girls is a morally disastrous moment in Western literature, but having said that, one also has to say that criticism of the Odyssey on feminist and moral grounds is largely beside the point. It would be hard to say the poem suffers as art from its patriarchal assumptions.
So wait — is Bechdel's test "beside the point"?
Is there nothing wrong with Homer, or with Tolstoy, or with me?
In the past fifty years or so, more and more intellectual work has been done, both in the academy and outside of it, to lay bare the ways in which our society — our culture, literature, art, politics, religion, even the most mundane details of our everyday lives — are biased in terms of gender, race, sexuality, and class.
One response to that work has been to sneeringly reject it as bleeding-heart claptrap, as whining political correctness.
More sensitive souls have seen the insights of this work and used them to examine their own consciences — or the consciences of the literary works they admire.
No doubt this process has led to some salutary results. Some people may have amended their patterns of sexist, racist, classist, or heterosexist behavior. Others may have come to see their favorite literary works in new and illuminating ways. Consciousness, to one degree or another, may have been raised.
But this type of examination of conscience can also take on a less salutary aspect: a more defensive posture, a desire to absolve.
Scholar Jeffrey B. Ferguson, in an article in the Winter 2011 issue of Dædalus, speaks to this issue when he writes of the post-civil rights period's "public drama of continuing black anger, the notion of ‘pulling the race card,' and the seemingly bottomless need from whites for confirmation from blacks that racism no longer exists, or at the very least that they as individuals bear no visible trace of the unspeakable sin."
On a literary level, I know how this works: Having been challenged at various times about teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a novel that some parents consider racially insensitive, I have labored long and hard and, I like to believe, successfully, to prove that Huck is an anti-racist novel and that Jim is not a racist caricature but instead a moral hero.
And yet, when I think of Bechdel's test, I realize that such defensive interpretations — both of self and of texts — are also "beside the point."
It's just a different point.
When I realized that even War and Peace, a novel so vast, all-encompassing, profound, and moving, presents a seriously diminished portrait of the lives of women, I began to see that the deeper point of Bechdel's test is not to accuse Homer, or Tolstoy, or me of being sexist.
Instead, the test reminds us that biases like sexism, racism, heterosexism, and classism are the water in which we swim. They pervade our culture. They are our culture, and to such an extent that we sometimes forget about them until someone like Bechdel reminds us.
Instead of seeing sexism — or racism, etc. — as "unspeakable sins" whose taint one must avoid at all costs, maybe it would be healthier to accept that it would be virtually impossible for an individual not to be thus tainted — in other words, to see these sins as not unspeakable but rather common as dirt.
Then, aware of our common dirtiness, we can get down to the business of studying how things get dirty, how dirtiness causes problems, and how, struggle though we may, we can never get ourselves or anything else permanently clean.
Jim Kempner Fine Art Underground is pleased to present LICKED SUCKED STACKED STUCK: A Confectionery History of Contemporary Sculpture, a collaborative project by visual artist, Paul Shore and art historian, Nicole Root. This high-sucrose meditation on sculpture, photography and art history will feature a selection of photographs and videos guaranteed to make your mouth water and your teeth hurt.
There will be a reception for the artists on Thursday, May 5 from 6-8.
Four years ago, while discussing Richard Serra’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, Paul Shore and Nicole Root were struck by the commonly overlooked parallel between candy and contemporary sculpture. Their epiphany began with Shore’s suggestion to make one of Serra’s monumental ellipses out of taffy. This simple proposal soon bred others: From Carl Andre to Tara Donovan, Shore and Root found the work of nearly every major contemporary sculptor to have some sort of sugary counterpart.
Just as Minimalist artists frequented the shops of industrial suppliers along Canal Street, Shore and Root scoured candy stores in search of new ideas and materials. In the mass-produced, modular units of Pez, Wax Stix, Good & Plenty and Hershey bars, Shore and Root saw the work of Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Louise Bourgeois and Tony Smith. Starburst and Twizzlers offered up a rainbow of artificial colors surprisingly similar to those in Donald Judd’s Plexiglas boxes and Judy Chicago’s early sculpture. Even candy in the form of recognizable objects seemed, to Shore and Root, to bear a striking resemblance to the appropriations of Jeff Koons and Haim Steinbach.
Though Shore and Root’s creations range from loose re-imaginings of an artist’s style to explicit reproductions of identifiable works, there is often a physical and cultural specificity in their choice of materials. Robert Morris’s L-Beams take the form of sugar wafers, characteristically vanilla and neutral. The dusty, muted colors of Necco wafers, intended by the New England Confectionery Company to appeal to health-conscious mothers, evoke the natural aesthetic of Richard Long. Likewise, the misshapen bodies and cloying smiles of down-market marshmallow rabbits correspond to Mike Kelley’s grotesque combinations of awkward, homemade toys.
In contrast to recent sweet-based art that emphasizes sophisticated tastes and luxurious settings, much of the appeal of LICKED SUCKED STACKED STUCK derives from Shore and Root’s use of the vernacular. Cheap candy, easily found at the local candy store or bodega, is arranged on Shore’s kitchen table and photographed. In the process, each sculpture is transformed into something at once intimate and digestible—a parody of the high-budget seriousness of much contemporary sculpture and a tribute to its original artists.
A toothpick might be the simplest device known to man, unless that man is artist Scott Weaver.
After 35 years and roughly 100,000 little wooden toothpicks, the third-generation San Francisco resident has created an incredibly intricate and interactive replica of The City by the Bay.
Titled "Rolling Through the Bay," Weaver's project chronicles life in his home city with a kinetic tour through San Francisco's sights, monuments, and history. Ping-pong balls roll down winding toothpick tracks, visiting the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and The Palace of Fine Arts, which contains a heart that, of course, was "left in San Francisco."
"I have used different brands of toothpicks depending on what I am building," Weaver explains on his website. "I also have many friends and family members that collect toothpicks in their travels for me. For example, some of the trees in Golden Gate Park are made from toothpicks from Kenya, Morocco, Spain, West Germany and Italy."
Weaver's masterpiece also features wooden models of a Rice-A-Roni cable car, a dragon for China Town, a psychedelic tribute to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the Painted Ladies (think "Full House” homes) and a miniature of the World Series trophy.
"Rolling Through the Bay" will be on exhibit at San Francisco's Tinkering Studio until June 19.