Fall 2012

Postmodern Movement in Art and Dance

By Michelle Minick —

While entering the narrow hallway to the main exhibit of Dance/ Draw, the assorted sounds and music emanating from the videos and the bold and bright colors of fabric and knits swirl together in a cozy, lush pile set the tone for the exhibit. This exhibit in the Tang Museum presents nine videos and twenty-one pieces of various artistic mediums, ranging from knit sculptures, paintings, drawings using outlandish and inventive materials, and photographs of dances, dancers and dancing. The focus of the exhibit demonstrates metamorphic revolutions in dance and art. The creation of the Judson Dance Theater resulted from a 1960’s postmodern dance movement and traditional artistic training shifted from nude artwork to the utilization of space and incorporation of the whole body. While there is a predominate focus in this exhibit upon the groundbreaking alteration in art and dance approaches in the 1960’s, the exhibit covers work from the early 1960’s to 2012.

Up until the early twentieth- century, visual art concentrated on the classic form of the nude body because these drawing and painting techniques were the foundation of artistic training. Artists then experimented with new ways of drawing and even used their own bodies in the artistic process. This new perspective produced eclectic and innovative works and featured the use of beauty products on the canvas, chalk drawing on a black stage, incorporation of hair, digital chromatograph print and lithography, and photography of the dancing itself. One of the artists featured, Janine Anotni, has two artworks on display. In one piece she is videotaped swirling her dyed black hair onto the wooden floor of an art gallery. The artwork, “Loving Care, 1992,” displays an example of performance art by blending choreography, art, and replacing the artist’s hand with its body for the production of the art. This particular piece was riveting because the audience is visible in the video. By breaking down the fourth- wall, the performance becomes inclusive. Antoni’s other artwork, “Butterfly Kisses, 1996- 1999,” displays physical and bodily endurance and artistic exactitude. The result of continuously batting her eyelashes against a piece of paper is black, thin waves that make the eye dance with every curve. Another endearing piece of artwork that breaks the boundaries of traditional drawing techniques and incorporates the new mentality of utilizing the entire body to make art was Mona Hatoum’s “Live Work for the Black Room, 1981, 2004.” In this piece, Hatoum performed a repetitive collision between her body and a featureless black stage. Photographs document her performance and reveal her attempting to draw an outline of her body while on the stage. While it was an impossible feat trying to use white chalk to trace the outline of her active, writhing body, her struggles and movement are evident within the forensic crime- scene squiggles and outlines. Hatoum captured her performance artwork in sketchbook drawings and ten black and white prints. Through the creative use of space and incorporation of the whole body to generate drawings and artwork, the artists stretch their skills, minds and bodies in order to break free of timeworn traditions.

The Judson Dance Theater is another example of artists transcending traditions rooted in ballet. Trisha Brown and her contemporaries, Yvonne Rainer, David Gordon, and Lucinda Childs, founded the Judson Dance Theater in 1962, during the postmodernist age of dance. Trisha and her fellow Judson dancers exhibited everyday movement, free- play, and improvisation in their dancing. They wore street clothes and performed outdoors and in other unconventional locations and spaces. They also rejected narrative structure, definitions of gender roles and were void of facial expression while they performed, opting instead for everyday gestures, free bodily movement and natural play.  In this exhibit, the Judson philosophy is displayed in still photographs and video recordings. In terms of traditional definitions and the structure of ballet and contemporary dance, ballet focuses on the lines of the dancer, while contemporary dance highlights the shapes a dancer makes. Photographing dance is harder than it looks- since dancers are always on the move and moving intriguingly about a space, it’s the spontaneity of the movement that befuddles the photographer. Spontaneity of movement is also the premise of the Judson Dance Theater. Babette Mangolte, an avant-garde photographer, was interested in the ephemeral and experimental approaches of the postmodernist dancers, Trisha Brown and Lucinda Childs. Mangolte captures the improvisation and the photograph matches the modular and systematic movement through interacting with the surrounding space. In another video, Robbinschilds (Layla Childs and Sonya Robbins) presents “C.L.U.E.,” Color Location Ultimate Experience, 2007, featuring a collaborative dance project incorporating Layla and Sonya skipping, running, walking, falling and crawling as they dance through a variety of urban and natural landscapes in Southern California and Upstate New York. Each scene reveals how the dancers are connected to one another through their environment, choreography, motion, costume and clothing color. The Judson Dance Theater dance and motion qualities are evident through falling, recovering, and task- based expressions. The different colored outfits and environments mixing together in the video, however, became an interwoven disarray and the rock and roll music in the film highlights this chaotic and disjointed movement piece.

This exhibit, however, additionally demonstrates the intersection of drawing and dance, not just centering on the separate entities. One work that encompasses the intersection of dancing and drawing is Charles Gaines’s “Trisha Brown Dance, Set 5, 1980- 81.” In Charles Gainse’s “Trisha Brown Dance, Set 5, 1980- 1981,” he combines Trisha Brown’s dancing with drawings of her motions. Charles uses numbers to compose Trisha’s shadows in poses as they are layered in a thoughtful arrangement of blue, green, red and black pen ink. The bodily positions are ephemerally captured in a fluid, precise and systematic way, similar to the approaches of the Judson Dance Theater. The ink also comprises of repetitive numbers and colors, synonymous to Trisha Brown’s choreography and her repetitive nature, which exemplifies a connection within the intersection of dancing and drawing. This intersection establishes how there is tension between definition and fluidity and the link represents both mediums in conjunction harmoniously. While dancing and drawing are two different types of art, it is in the intersection where there is a profound impact and creation of a transcendent art.

Through the various mediums and synthesis of visual and performing art, the eye dances and dashes around the exhibit in delight and curiosity. In turn the works are all provocative and together they compose a whirligig of creativity and progressive spirit. As a trained dancer, I was originally drawn to the dance pieces, demonstrating a bias. However, I then became engrossed with the drawings and paintings that were inclusive of dance and yet distinctive in their own right through the materials. This exhibit made me venture outside of what I know and am comfortable with as a dancer and I ventured into an unknown territory of newfound art and artistic techniques extending beyond the traditional use of the hand. It is within the postmodern movement, featured in dance, art and the artistic revolution itself that brought forth a new mentality and way of viewing art.

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