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Performance/Theater/ Dance

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Experimental Encounters with Art in the Making

In Alien Agency, Chris Salter tells three stories of art in the making. Salter examines three works in which the materials of art—the “stuff of the world”—behave and perform in ways beyond the creator’s intent, becoming unknown, surprising, alien. Studying these works—all three deeply embroiled in and enabled by science and technology—allows him to focus on practice through the experiential and affective elements of creation. Drawing on extensive ethnographic observation and on his own experience as an artist, Salter investigates how researcher-creators organize the conditions for these experimental, performative assemblages—assemblages that sidestep dichotomies between subjects and objects, human and nonhuman, mind and body, knowing and experiencing.

Salter reports on the sound artists Bruce Odland and Sam Auinger (O+A) and their efforts to capture and then project unnoticed urban sounds; tracks the multi-year project TEMA (Tissue Engineered Muscle Actuators) at the art research lab SymbioticA and its construction of a hybrid “semi-living” machine from specially grown mouse muscle cells; and describes a research-creation project (which he himself initiated) that uses light, vibration, sound, smell, and other sensory stimuli to enable audiences to experience other cultures’ “ways of sensing.” Combining theory, diary, history, and ethnography, Salter also explores a broader question: How do new things emerge into the world and what do they do?

A History of New Media in Theater, Dance, Performance Art, and Installation

The past decade has seen an extraordinarily intense period of experimentation with computer technology within the performing arts. Digital media has been increasingly incorporated into live theater and dance, and new forms of interactive performance have emerged in participatory installations, on CD-ROM, and on the Web. In Digital Performance, Steve Dixon traces the evolution of these practices, presents detailed accounts of key practitioners and performances, and analyzes the theoretical, artistic, and technological contexts of this form of new media art. Dixon finds precursors to today's digital performances in past forms of theatrical technology that range from the deus ex machina of classical Greek drama to Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk (concept of the total artwork), and draws parallels between contemporary work and the theories and practices of Constructivism, Dada, Surrealism, Expressionism, Futurism, and multimedia pioneers of the twentieth century. For a theoretical perspective on digital performance, Dixon draws on the work of Philip Auslander, Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, and others. To document and analyze contemporary digital performance practice, Dixon considers changes in the representation of the body, space, and time. He considers virtual bodies, avatars, and digital doubles, as well as performances by artists including Stelarc, Robert Lepage, Merce Cunningham, Laurie Anderson, Blast Theory, and Eduardo Kac. He investigates new media’s novel approaches to creating theatrical spectacle, including virtual reality and robot performance work, telematic performances in which remote locations are linked in real time, Webcams, and online drama communities, and considers the "extratemporal" illusion created by some technological theater works. Finally, he defines categories of interactivity, from navigational to participatory and collaborative. Dixon challenges dominant theoretical approaches to digital performance—including what he calls postmodernism's denial of the new—and offers a series of boldly original arguments in their place.

The choreographic stages a conversation in which artwork is not only looked at but looks back; it is about contact that touches even across distance. The choreographic moves between the corporeal and cerebral to tell the stories of these encounters as dance trespasses into the discourse and disciplines of visual art and philosophy through a series of stutters, steps, trembles, and spasms.

In The Choreographic, Jenn Joy examines dance and choreography not only as artistic strategies and disciplines but also as intrinsically theoretical and critical practices. She investigates artists in dialogue with philosophy, describing a movement of conceptual choreography that flourishes in New York and on the festival circuit.

Joy offers close readings of a series of experimental works, arguing for the choreographic as an alternative model of aesthetics. She explores constellations of works, artists, writers, philosophers, and dancers, in conversation with theories of gesture, language, desire, and history. She choreographs a revelatory narrative in which Walter Benjamin, Pina Bausch, Francis Alÿs, and Cormac McCarthy dance together; she traces the feminist and queer force toward desire through the choreography of DD Dorvillier, Heather Kravas, Meg Stuart, La Ribot, Miguel Gutierrez, luciana achugar, and others; she maps new forms of communicability and pedagogy; and she casts science fiction writers Samuel R. Delany and Kim Stanley Robinson as perceptual avatars and dance partners for Ralph Lemon, Marianne Vitali, James Foster, and Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. Constructing an expanded notion of the choreographic, Joy explores how choreography as critical concept and practice attunes us to a more productively uncertain, precarious, and ecstatic understanding of aesthetics and art making.

A Biography

When Marina Abramović Dies examines the extraordinary life and death-defying work of one of the most pioneering artists of her generation--and one who is still at the forefront of contemporary art today. This intimate, critical biography chronicles Abramovi?’s formative and until now undocumented years in Yugoslavia, and tells the story of her partnership with the German artist Ulay--one of the twentieth century’s great examples of the fusion of artistic and private life.

In one of many long-durational performances in the renewed solo career that followed, Abramovi? famously lived in a New York gallery for twelve days without eating or speaking, nourished only by prolonged eye contact with audience members. It was here, in 2002, that author James Westcott first encountered her, beginning an exceptionally close relation between biographer and subject. When Marina Abramović Dies draws on Westcott’s personal observations of Abramovi?, his unprecedented access to her archive, and hundreds of hours of interviews he conducted with the artist and the people closest to her. The result is a unique and vivid portrait of the charismatic self-proclaimed “grandmother of performance art.”

The Improbable Life of Charlotte Moorman

The Juilliard-trained cellist Charlotte Moorman sat nude behind a cello of carved ice, performed while dangling from helium-filled balloons, and deployed an array of instruments on The Mike Douglas Show that included her cello, a whistle, a cap gun, a gong, and a belch. She did a striptease while playing Bach in Nam June Paik’s Sonata for Adults Only. In the 1960s, Moorman (1933–1991) became famous for her madcap (and often unclothed) performance antics; less famous but more significant is Moorman’s transformative influence on contemporary performance practice--and her dedication to the idea that avant-garde art should reach the widest possible audience. In Topless Cellist, the first book to explore Moorman’s life and work, Joan Rothfuss rediscovers, and recovers, the legacy of an extraordinary American artist.

Moorman’s arrest in 1967 for performing topless made her a water-cooler conversation-starter, but before her tabloid fame she was a star of the avant-garde performance circuit, with a repertoire of pieces by, among others, Yoko Ono, Joseph Beuys, John Cage, and Paik, her main artistic partner. Moorman invented a new mode of performance that combined classical rigor, jazz improvisation, and avant-garde experiment—informed by intuition, daring, and love of spectacle. Moorman’s annual festival of the avant-garde offered the public a lively sampler of contemporary art in performance, music, dance, poetry, film, and other media.

Rothfuss chronicles Moorman’s life from her youth in Little Rock, Arkansas (where she was “Miss City Beautiful” of 1952) through her career in New York’s avant-garde to her death from breast cancer in 1991. (Typically, she approached her treatment as if it were a performance.) Deeply researched and profusely illustrated, Topless Cellist offers a fascinating, sometimes heartbreaking, often hilarious story of an artist whose importance was more than the sum of her performances.

Hamlet's Negativity

A specter is haunting philosophy—the specter of Hamlet. Why is this? Wherefore? What should we do?

Entering from stage left: the philosopher’s Hamlet. The philosopher’s Hamlet is a conceptual character, played by philosophers rather than actors. He performs not in the theater but within the space of philosophical positions. In All for Nothing, Andrew Cutrofello critically examines the performance history of this unique role.

The philosopher’s Hamlet personifies negativity. In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet’s speech and action are characteristically negative; he is the melancholy Dane. Most would agree that he has nothing to be cheerful about. Philosophers have taken Hamlet to embody specific forms of negativity that first came into view in modernity. What the figure of the Sophist represented for Plato, Hamlet has represented for modern philosophers. Cutrofello analyzes five aspects of Hamlet’s negativity: his melancholy, negative faith, nihilism, tarrying (which Cutrofello distinguishes from “delaying”), and nonexistence. Along the way, we meet Hamlet in the texts of Kant, Coleridge, Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, Russell, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Benjamin, Arendt, Schmitt, Lacan, Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida, Badiou, Žižek, and other philosophers. Whirling across a kingdom of infinite space, the philosopher’s Hamlet is nothing if not thought-provoking.

In this challenging but exhilarating work, Sha Xin Wei argues for an approach to materiality inspired by continuous mathematics and process philosophy. Investigating the implications of such an approach to media and matter in the concrete setting of installation- or event-based art and technology, Sha maps a genealogy of topological media—that is, of an articulation of continuous matter that relinquishes a priori objects, subjects, and egos and yet constitutes value and novelty. Doing so, he explores the ethico-aesthetic consequences of topologically creating performative events and computational media. Sha’s interdisciplinary investigation is informed by thinkers ranging from Heraclitus to Alfred North Whitehead to Gilbert Simondon to Alain Badiou to Donna Haraway to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

Sha traces the critical turn from representation to performance, citing a series of installation-events envisioned and built over the past decade. His analysis offers a fresh way to conceive and articulate interactive materials of new media, one inspired by continuity, field, and philosophy of process. Sha explores the implications of this for philosophy and social studies of technology and science relevant to the creation of research and art. Weaving together philosophy, aesthetics, critical theory, mathematics, and media studies, he shows how thinking about the world in terms of continuity and process can be informed by computational technologies, and what such thinking implies for emerging art and technology.

Phonokinetoscope

Rodney Graham’s Phonokinetoscope (2001) is a five-minute 16mm film loop in which the artist is seen riding his Fischer Original bicycle through Berlin’s Tiergarten while taking LSD, to the soundtrack of a fifteen-minute song (written and performed by Graham) recorded on a vinyl LP. The turntable drives the projection of the film; the film starts when the needle is placed on the record and stops when the needle is taken off. Graham’s ride evokes the Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman’s famous 1943 bicycle ride home after an experimental dose of LSD as well as Paul Newman’s backward-facing ride in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; the accompanying music presents a thicket of riffs and borrowings. As the images and visual details repeat in the film’s endless loop, the artist’s Phonokinetoscope refers to a surprising number of works of art and literature, displaying a world rich with subtle meaning.

In this illustrated study of Phonokinetoscope, Shep Steiner describes the work as marking Graham’s transition into a new medium. Steiner positions Graham’s practice in relation to postminimalist practice and that of other artists including Dan Graham, but especially, Ian Wallace and Jeff Wall; considers Graham’s rhetoric of playfulness; and finally, beyond the web of references, argues for a notion of allegory and memory theater keyed to the durational work yet satisfying the aesthetic standards of static art. Phonokinetoscope, Steiner argues, looks back to Graham’s earlier works focusing on the notion of protocinema and forward to his later musical preoccupations.

Digital Philosophy and Choreographic Thoughts

Digital technologies offer the possibility of capturing, storing, and manipulating movement, abstracting it from the body and transforming it into numerical information. In Moving without a Body, Stamatia Portanova considers what really happens when the physicality of movement is translated into a numerical code by a technological system. Drawing on the radical empiricism of Gilles Deleuze and Alfred North Whitehead, she argues that this does not amount to a technical assessment of software’s capacity to record motion but requires a philosophical rethinking of what movement itself is, or can become.

Discussing the development of different audiovisual tools and the shift from analog to digital, she focuses on some choreographic realizations of this evolution, including works by Loie Fuller and Merce Cunningham. Throughout, Portanova considers these technologies and dances as ways to think—rather than just perform or perceive—movement. She distinguishes the choreographic thought from the performance: a body performs a movement, and a mind thinks or choreographs a dance. Similarly, she sees the move from analog to digital as a shift in conception rather than simply in technical realization. Analyzing choreographic technologies for their capacity to redesign the way movement is thought, Moving without a Body offers an ambitiously conceived reflection on the ontological implications of the encounter between movement and technological systems.

Movement, Art, Philosophy

With Relationscapes, Erin Manning offers a new philosophy of movement challenging the idea that movement is simple displacement in space, knowable only in terms of the actual. Exploring the relation between sensation and thought through the prisms of dance, cinema, art, and new media, Manning argues for the intensity of movement. From this idea of intensity--the incipiency at the heart of movement--Manning develops the concept of preacceleration, which makes palpable how movement creates relational intervals out of which displacements take form.

Discussing her theory of incipient movement in terms of dance and relational movement, Manning describes choreographic practices that work to develop with a body in movement rather than simply stabilizing that body into patterns of displacement. She examines the movement-images of Leni Riefenstahl, Étienne-Jules Marey, and Norman McLaren (drawing on Bergson’s idea of duration), and explores the dot-paintings of contemporary Australian Aboriginal artists. Turning to language, Manning proposes a theory of prearticulation claiming that language’s affective force depends on a concept of thought in motion.

Relationscapes takes a “Whiteheadian perspective,” recognizing Whitehead’s importance and his influence on process philosophers of the late twentieth century--Deleuze and Guattari in particular. It will be of special interest to scholars in new media, philosophy, dance studies, film theory, and art history.

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