Posts tagged Bagtazo
MOVEMENT STUDY: MERCE CUNNINGHAM - FILMDANCE, COLLABORATION + COMMON TIME
MerceC_525_525.jpg

It took me three years to write this article, and now that LACMA in Los Angeles is doing an exhibition on Merce Cunningham, I feel compelled to finish it. The reason I’ve taken so long is because Merce Cunningham’s body of work is immense and I just couldn’t figure out how to reign this article in. Plus, I mostly used books for this research so it took me forever. But rather than write a 500 page essay, I decided to focus on my favorite aspects of his work, and split this article into mini chapters, so apologies in advance for the fragmented essay, I just really want to get this thing out already!

A pioneer in choreography, Merce Cunningham pushed the envelope with modern dance, giving birth to new dance forms that moved away from traditional ballet (though his technique is still very rooted in the structure ballet requires).

Having first caught Martha Graham’s eye in the late 1930s while in college at the Cornish School in Seattle, WA, he was invited to join the Martha Graham Dance Company in New York City in 1939 where he danced for six years. As early as the 1940s, Cunningham was creating avant garde dance in collaboration with his life partner, John Cage. The two explored how dance and music could exist independently of one another rather than create dance movements dictated by the rhythm of its music.

In 1953, Merce Cunningham started his own dance company, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, creating what is now known as the Cunningham Technique during his time teaching at Black Mountain College outside of Asheville North Carolina (if you read these articles you know I’m obsessed with everything that came out of there).

Film Dance

My favorite aspect of Merce Cunningham’s work is known as filmdance. Because Cunningham wasn't happy with the way his choreography had been portrayed through film when television first started broadcasting dance performances, he created filmdance, which was dance performed with the screen in mind. It seems filmdance was also extremely important to Cunningham himself, as I found in a piece he wrote called Four Events That Have Led to Large Discoveries, in which he lists as the third "event" as the beginning of his work with video and film in the 1970s. (Common Time, Fionn Meade)

mitchell_tv-rerun1.jpg

Around the time television started dominating the way in which people consumed dance, Cunningham opened his Westbeth New York studio in 1971, where the filmdance was born. His first filmdance was self-titled Westbeth, and was filmed over weekends in the Fall of 1974. (During this time, site-specific performance was just starting, and naming his first piece Westbeth was no coincidence). The amazing thing about the Westbeth studio was that it had been made for television filming, which is one of the reasons Cunningham was drawn to the space. In New York, many large rooms have columns obstructing the open space, but this studio was originally Bell Telephone Labs in the West Village, which happened to be the studio where the first television transmission had taken place sometime in the early 1930s.

During my studies on the Westbeth performance, I ACTUALLY FOUND THE FIRST RECORDING of its performance!

Below is a 30 minute video and at the time I found it, it had 40 views. If you have the patience, try watching the whole thing, and if you don't still watch some of it because HELLO this is the first recording of Merce Cunningham's film dances. OMG

The early filmdances weren’t yet perfected, so it wasn't until his third filmdance, Locale (1979-1980) that film was shot continuously with no cuts. Being the collaborator that he was, Merce Cunningham hired filmmaker Charles Atlas to join his technical staff when he opened the Westbeth studio, and it was Atlas who played a large role in honing in on how to best film these filmdances.

In addition to the studio being perfect for filmdance, Westbeth had an office whose windows looked out onto the city streets. Many of the movements Cunningham used during this time were based on the movements of pedestrians he saw moving about New York City from his office windows. This is why though some gestures in Cunningham’s work seem odd for dance, they are still somewhat familiar.

Merce Cunningham + John Cage

From press images of Root of an Unfocus, 1944. Barbara Morgan

From press images of Root of an Unfocus, 1944. Barbara Morgan

Now, to go back to the beginning since Cunningham’s story is long and super interesting, I’d like to discuss some of the dance events that led Cunningham to his film dances. While dancing with The Martha Graham Dance company, Cunningham held his first solo performance, which was in collaboration with his partner, John Cage. Experimental in nature, the performance Root of an Unfocus in 1944 was Cunningham’s first public performance where dance and music worked independently of each other. The dance was created after Cunningham realized, “Music and dance could be separate entities independent and interdependent, sharing a common time.” Regarding this performance, Cunningham later stated, "The main thing about it–and the thing everybody missed–was that its structure was based on time in the same sense that a radio show is. It was divided into time units, and the dance and music would come together at the beginning and the end of each unit, but in between they would be independent of each other. This was the beginning of the idea that music and dance could be dissociated, and from this point on the dissociation in our work just got wider and wider" (Common Time, Meade).

Merce Cunningham and John Cage

Merce Cunningham and John Cage

Cage & Cunningham met in Seattle in 1938 where Cunningham was studying dance at Cornish School. Cage was the new dance accompanist and composer there. (Cage had just moved from Carmel, CA with his then-wife). Cage was exploring the "simultaneousness of music" and would break down time in terms of ‘divides of time and space,’ drawing on the floor to demonstrate his guidelines. Cunningham saw Cage’s approach as a strict way to guide movement in ways that the traditional relationship between dance and music had not before.

Cage was a very interesting man himself. At the age of 19, Cage dropped out of college and went to Bauhaus school in Dessau during 1930-31. Being exposed to Bauhaus' interdisciplinary approach to art, Cage returned home to create music from unconventional instruments such as anvils and car parts in the late 1930s. By the 1940s, Cage had created new sounds with what he called a "prepared piano," lodging screws or rubber between piano strings to affect tonal changes. The avant garde approach John Cage took with his music was a perfect fit for the way Merce Cunningham wanted to explore dance, and so the two became collaborators, eventually leading to their relationship as life-partners.

John Cage’s “Prepared Piano”

John Cage’s “Prepared Piano”

Following Cage's first use of “chance in music” in 1950, Merce Cunningham tossed a coin to determine the outline for a sequence of isolated movements through the use of chance, and then pieced them together for "unexpected results." Through the use of chance, Cunningham was able to achieve movements that he had thought couldn't be done. The impact of John Cage’s perspective can be seen throughout the arc of Cunningham’s creative life. Complimenting one another so well, the result of their more than 500 collaborations is impressive.

Black Mountain College

After leaving the Martha Graham Dance Company, Merce Cunningham spent three "formative summers" at Black Mountain College in 1948, 1952 and 1953. To me, Black Mountain College is like the Bauhaus School of the United States. So many important artists came out of Black Mountain College. Also due to WWII, some artists of the Bauhaus School ended up in the US, eventually teaching at Black Mountain College as well, and with them, they brought their interdisciplinary approach.

One such Bauhaus artist, Josef Albers, worked at Black Mountain College from 1933 - 1949. (I love him, read this article I wrote on Albers a while back if you care to). In 1948, the same year that Cunningham and Cage first visited the school, Albers invited them back as teachers and performers in the school’s Summer Sessions. That year’s summer session is now considered legendary, as heavy hitters of the American art world all convened there before many of them earned the fame they have today. (For a good article about this summer session, go here).

Robert Rauschenberg

During their time participating at Black Mountain College, Cunningham and Cage were still based in New York, where Cage was teaching at the New School. And as I mentioned, in 1953, Cunningham formed his company, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Being the collaborator that Merce Cunningham was, he hired the company’s first art director, Robert Rauschenberg in 1954 after working together at Black Mountain College. Cunningham asked Rauschenberg to make something for 'dance area' something "he could move through, around, and with” and from there, Rauschenberg created amazing sets and costumes for Cunningham dances for several years.

ROBERT RAUCHENBERG FOR MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY

ROBERT RAUCHENBERG FOR MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY

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(I ran a piece on Rauschenberg’s role with the Cunningham Dance Theatre a while back. If you’d like to read that, go here).

COMME DES GARCONS

After forming the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Merce collaborated with many others, including Rei Kawakubo, the designer for Comme Des Garcons.

COMME DES GARCONS FOR MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY

COMME DES GARCONS FOR MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY

COMME DES GARCONS FOR MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY

FILMDANCES

Here are some of my favorite videos I’ve found on the internet of Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s FilmDances

Merce Cunningham lived until 2009 and I will say that not attending one of his workshops before his death is one of my few regrets in life but at least his work is memorialized in Cunningham Technique courses all over the world.


Courtney Cady, ©2018


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Merce Cunningham Trust

Merce Cunningham: Co:mm:on Ti:me, 2017. Walker Art Center

Changes: Notes on Choreography, 1968. Merce Cunningham

Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art, 2013. The MIT Press

Black Mountain Studies Journal (blackmountainstudiesjournal.org)

Arts Summary: Merce Cunningham Common Time at Walker Art Center, 2017


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PERFORMANCE STUDY: NELLY AGASSI'S MANY FACES
Bedroom, 2005

Bedroom, 2005

I don’t usually write about contemporary artists in this Periodical, mostly because I feel like I have a lot of catch up with learning about art history, but today I want us all to get to know Nelly Agassi. Since I have so many pictures of her work I am planning on posting on Instagram, I thought it necessary to give her a moment here.

When I first came across Nelly Agassi, I actually thought she was a historical figure because her work isn’t trendy or very marketing-driven the way most well known young artists work tends to be today. (At least those in my immediate orbit, I’m sure there are other great artists I don’t know about because I’m in fashion and not the art world).

Agassi was born in Israel and currently lives and works between Tel Aviv and Chicago. The majority of her work is performance based, though she does create installations as well. Working with a variety of materials, her own body, and performance, Agassi stands in a genre of her own. She is at once a site-specific performance artist and a performance for video artist, as well as an installation artist who works with body art and mixed media. Because of her dynamism, she’s one of my favorite living female artists.

Below is a roundup of my favorites I’ve found of hers so far:

Wall Dress, 2002

Wall Dress, 2002

Still from Video, “Tear Meter,” 2009

Still from Video, “Tear Meter,” 2009

Remains, 2002

Remains, 2002

Innermost, 2008

Innermost, 2008

Borrowed Scenery, 2004

Borrowed Scenery, 2004

Still from Untitled Video, 1999

Still from Untitled Video, 1999

Whispers, 2004

Whispers, 2004

I don’t have much to say about her since I don’t want to be a creep and investigate a living person’s life without conducting a proper interview, but I hope you enjoyed these <3


COURTNEY CADY, © 2018



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THEORY STUDY: GUISEPPE PENONE'S ARTE POVERA - MANIPULATED NATURE
Image courtesy of Fendi

Image courtesy of Fendi

I went to Rome for the weekend after visiting some factories in Italy recently. Although extremely beautiful, being alone in Rome was fairly boring except my time at the Fendi HQ on the outskirts of town. Unbeknownst to me, Fendi actually plays a big role in modern Rome, having paid to restore the Trevi Fountain and taking up headquarters in a building Romans call the 'Square Coliseum.' Locals call the building this because of its classical Roman arches in an otherwise modern rectangular buildingThe building formally known as the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana was commissioned by Mussolini, and is a bit of a controversial building on its own given its fascist origins. Designed by architects Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Bruno La Padula and Mario Romano, the travertine marble building was intended to be the centerpiece of Mussolini's new Roman empire, but was abandoned after WWII. The building was essentially in disrepair until Fendi took on restoring it in 2015.

Being so bored in Rome got my wheels turning, "what else is there in this great city besides tourist attractions that I can do without knowing any locals? And then it hit me that some Arte Povera artists lived and worked in Rome! After asking around for anything Arte Povera, I was instructed to go to the Fendi HQ to both see the amazingly rehabilitated building and to see Guiseppe Penone's exhibition that is on display on the ground floor of the building.

A long cab ride into what appeared to be 'normal Rome,' ie not touristy or super-duper old, and probably where a majority of Romans live, I reached the monumental building. It seemed like it was five stories in the air, just on the ground level. I entered through the marble stairs and was greeted by one of Penone's trees.

Image courtesy of Fendi

Image courtesy of Fendi

Having recently moved to New York, I actually thought the tree was just a sad winter tree like so many I see in my city, but upon closer inspection, I realized that there were metal pipes and sculptural elements in the 'tree.' Admittedly, my heart raced a little faster once I realized I was looking at Penone's work. There's something so exciting about experiencing something in real life that was once only experienced through the internet.

In the main foyer of the building, I entered the exhibition area where I was immediately confronted by Penone's Soffio di Foglie, or 'Breath of Leaves.' The current exhibition at Fendi is just a recreation of Penone's original, but I presumed that the impression of the human body in the pile of myrtle leaves was created by Penone. My mind went to the images I had seen of his body on the leaves in 1979. I missed that moment in time, but the pile here in 2017 excited me. (Funny how a pile of leaves can do that).

Arte Povera, the genre to which Penone's work belongs, literally means poor art. It is exclusively Italian, and a reaction to the high production and high price ticket art of the post-modern era. Using common objects (such as leaves and trees in Penone's case), Italian artists worked to both criticize contemporary art and to create a new genre. 

You can see a brief essay I wrote on Arte Povera here.

Observing Penone's work in such an environment was paradoxical to me, and after I looked at the pile of leaves for a while, I burst out in laughter (thank goodness I was the one of two others visiting at the time). Being in a Mousollini commissioned building that is now operated by luxury brand Fendi is the antithesis of 'povera.' The whole thing seemed ridiculous to me for a moment, but I suppose since arte povera's conception, a gallery setting in and of itself undermines the driving force behind the artwork. And I think that's ok because no matter what the reason it's being made, art really should be for the people, and the first step to getting it there is for it to exhibit in a gallery. Plus artists deserve to have their work exhibited in a respectable place.

Fortunately, the Fendi exhibition was free to enter, so I let my mental tangent stop there. Beyond 'Breath of Leaves' were sculptures of tree forms, holding what looks like pieces of Roman ruins. Penone often examines the tension between humanity and nature, and these pieces fit very well with my experience of Rome where ruins would literally have been engulfed by nature were it not for humans actively manicuring the growth.

Below: Fendi

Below: Fendi

 
Blurry image courtesy of my iphone

Blurry image courtesy of my iphone

 

There was also a black polyptich (top left) comprised of four panels painted black with with graphite haphazardly drawn all over. As I looked at it in amazement, I also recalled a time in my life where I might have thought, "I could have made this." The drawing was seemingly aimless, representing some kind of scales on an animal or maybe the surface of a water worn rock, with solid painted boards that take no real skill. But nowadays I understand that I couldn't have made it, one because I wouldn't have thought of it (most importantly), and two, I didn't make it, Penone did, and if I had used the same materials and had the same objective, my work would have resulted in something completely different.

At the time when Arte Povera was first exhibited, it is said that many critics didn't consider it art. A pile of rocks, sticks and other natural objects especially repulsed lovers of so-called high art, where there tended to be a preference for modern materials such as lucite, acrylic and plaster in sculptures, which is exactly why I look to Arte Povera so often.

Fashion is so overtly made by people of privilege, and it reinforces class structures just by virtue of its cost, and though Bagtazo may not use as common of materials as Arte Povera artists did/do, I like to think of my entire brand mission to be a big 'fuck you' to the mainstream fashion world, so thanks for reading along as I explore my heroes.

Beyond the first section of the exhibition, I found a sparse forest of pillars and a felled Penone tree. I really enjoyed this section, as it seemed to be created for the space. The wood-like glossy stone floors and the stark white gallery walls coordinated with the real wood with rich color variation, made to sit on pillars or plaster looking bases made me feel like I was in a reverse-city setting. Usually human manipulated natural materials creates at least a village-like if not urban environment, but in this case, the natural objects were manipulated to create a man-made natural environment.

Another blurry shot from my iphone

Another blurry shot from my iphone

In the second room, one of my favorite pieces lines the wall: Penone's series of self portraits where he made the same expression but changed out reflective contact lenses in some of them. Between my love for repetition, self portraits (not to be confused with selfies), and the subtly of the contact lenses, the photos kept my attention for close to a half hour... I basically just slowly walked past each one, stepped back, look at the series as a whole, went back to inspect each individual photo, etc.

Also, I mean, look how hot he looks:

 
Penone's self portrait (one of many in a series)

Penone's self portrait (one of many in a series)

 

Also in the center of the second room is a hollowed out tree with many broken branches. It reminded me of a canoe or for some reason, a parody of the table used in the Last Supper. 

Maybe because Penone grew up in the wooded town of Gargessio, Italy, Penone's work focuses on the connection between humanity and nature. Through this lens, he manipulates nature (much like we do as humans in general), but he keeps much of the natural integrity of his medium, which often deceives the viewer. Like when I mistakenly thought the tree outside was a sad winter tree, for example.

I'm not totally sure what he 'means' by creating any of these things, as I haven't read any interviews or know if he has ever explained his work in terms of meaning to anyone, but I do enjoy considering how keeping the integrity of the natural materials he works with makes me think and feel.

So anyway, if you're in Rome soon, I highly recommend visiting Fendi HQ.


COURTNEY CADY, © BAGTAZO 2017


BIBLIOGRAPHY

All images not credited, or clearly the artist's original work, were taken on my phone.

How to Spend it, Fendi Salutes Giuseppe Penone in a New Exhibition.

Yaetzer, Natural Affinities: Fendi Hosts First Contemporary Art Show in Rome Showcasing Works by Giuseppe Penone.

 


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