Unreal Nature

August 22, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:33 am

… you have an ideal form in mind and it’s always a little bit different because you are breathing . . . because you’re exhaling this time when you approach it and you were inhaling the last time.

This is from an essay “Walkaround Time: Dance and Drawing in the Twentieth Century” by Cornelia H. Butler in the book On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century by Cornelia H. Butler and Catherine de Zegher (2010):

One of the great discourses of the last century, meandering yet persistent, is that between dance and drawing. … [M]ovement and the lines of drawing are linked in a fundamental embrace, an ebb and flow, a confusion of meaning informed by the evanescence of real life in the space of representation. An eccentric and perhaps unlikely narrative can be traced in parsing the specific moments at which dance and line respectively aspired to the status of art — that is, at which each moved away from a contingent relationship to other art forms and struck out, attempting freedom or release from the discourses of media specificity and a direct engagement with the space of the real, with the everyday, and with life itself.

It might be said that the history of dance in the twentieth century is one of movement aspiring to be art in ways separate from the mimetic function assigned to it in the classical ballet of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The equivalent might be said of drawing. In key moments spanning the century, avant-garde artists can be found writing on the line, sometimes in ways more adventurous than can be tracked in their work. These thoughts are often inspired and provoked by direct observation of physical movement in the real world or, in its various modern forms, of dance.

Vasily Kandinsky

… In an intense if brief period of exquisitely low-fi production, the Judson Dance Theater’s series of dance works and performances at Manhattan’s Judson Church in 1962-64 formalized the shift from expressive modernist choreography to experimental, antihierarchical, radically boiled-down movement, as in Yvonne Rainer’s We Shall Run (1963), in which twelve performers — both trained dancers and nondancers — run in demarcated patterns.

… For dance historian Sally Barnes, this cross-media ethos of radical exchanges among disciplines, anticipating much of the foment around dance and performance today, consistently emphasized the aleatory and embraced whatever lay outside “choreotypic codes,” in Halprin’s phrase:

Perhaps even more important than the individual dances given at a Judson concert was the attitude that anything might be called dance and looked at as a dance; the work of a visual artist, a filmmaker, a musician might be considered a dance, just as activities done by a dancer, although not recognizable as theatrical dance, might be reexamined and “made strange” because they were framed as art.

… This making strange of everyday activities and movements finds a correspondence in Merce Cunningham’s dance work Walkaround Time (1968) … Cunningham’s title beautifully sets up notions that figure into this mapping of drawing and dance: in the early computer workplace, he writes, “walkaround time” was a term for a space/time activity that programmers would engage in when, having input data into a mainframe … they would then pace around for a while to span the boredom while the [mainframe] computer [of 1968] digested and processed. … The literal marking of time through movement, through walking around to get to the other side of waiting, is a useful metaphor for drawing as an activity both intimate and quotidian, related to artistic processes and gestures close to the studio and to the daily practice of drawing and dance.

[ … ]

Vasily Kandinsky

… It seems no accident that Rudolf von Laban’s creation of the system of dance notation still primarily used today ran parallel to the pedagogical notes of Kandinsky and Klee during their Bauhaus years. Kandinsky speaks of line as “the imprint of energy — the visible trace of the invisible” on the page, while Laban, a founding figure in German modern dance, regarded his linear recordings of dancers’ gestures as “trace forms” in “the land of silence.” [Laurence] Louppe remarks on the proliferation of dance notation in the twentieth century, and indeed, once Laban published his system in 1928, it almost immediately became a widespread discipline, answering the practical needs of dancers to record a work for reperformance and the development of a repertoire. Visual artists similarly may be inspired by “trace forms,” images of a line expressed in the body or otherwise liberated in the visible world, to think in ways that go beyond the formal innovations evident in their work.

[ … ]

… In 1995, Alÿs walked through the cities of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Gent, in his native Belgium, holding a leaking can of paint that left behind a dripped line of color. … Repeated in Minneapolis in 2001 and Paris and 2002, this work, The Leak, initiated a group of works including The Loop (1997), an action addressing the trauma of cultural translation and immigration signified by the Tijuana/San Diego border, and The Green Line, a paint-can walk through Jerusalem along the line drawn on a map in 1949 to divide up territory after the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War, and essentially demarcating land newly seized by Israel.


… Among the proclivities of recent art history and curatorial practice is a return to, even an obsession with, so-called “professional marginals.” As Pierre Bal-Blanc has said of Krasinski and others, “These are artists who were for the most part left out of the dominant history, and whose work involved a practice of the everyday and a reflection on shared common space, from the intimate to the monumental . . . [they] have each given priority to a form of art as a critical, concrete, daily practice.” I want to propose a notion of what I’m calling the extreme analog of the present as a way to understand a return to line in current practices of both drawing and dance. Reflecting on practices of drawing, dance, and movement-based performance since the 1960s, one can draw a loose genealogy of works that engage with the idea of the ordinary, the plane/plain, and the analog as a transgressive methodology and a means of generating form. Though not directly reacting to digital-age attention deficits, these artists are formulating a practice of the everyday that refigures the consciousness of the viewer, focusing on line, time, space — a radical return.

Trisha Brown began to make drawings on paper as extensions of her body and of her work in dance. In a description of trying to draw a perfect square, she remarks,

I like the fact that in dance you try to be organized in what you are doing, but the biology of the body just doesn’t permit that kind of precision. And especially if it’s covering ground and engaged with speed and variety. It reminds me of how difficult it is to perform; that you try for a perfect form, you have an ideal form in mind and it’s always a little bit different because you are breathing . . . because you’re exhaling this time when you approach it and you were inhaling the last time. There’s this little throb of variation that goes on which often shows up at the edges.



1 Comment

  1. How beautiful…

    Comment by Felix — August 22, 2011 @ 9:18 am

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