Posts tagged Performance Art
MOVEMENT STUDY: MERCE CUNNINGHAM - FILMDANCE, COLLABORATION + COMMON TIME
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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)

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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: PINA BAUSCH'S 'WALZER'
 
STILL FROM WALZER, 1982

STILL FROM WALZER, 1982

 

For several years, I've tried to write about Pina Bausch, but her work is so complex that I haven't figured out how to do it properly. Plus, there's not a lot about her online in English, and going to the library to check out books is more than I have time for these days. 

So, I've decided to bite off what I can chew, and start writing about her individual performances instead; beginning by focusing on Walzer, a 1982 piece first performed in Amsterdam.

Bausch began working in a time when West Germany was still a thing. A classically trained ballerina, Bausch helped forge modern dance, eventually forming her own dance theatre called Tanztheater Wuppertal. (Tanztheater is a combination of dance and theatre, as the name suggests, which was created by Bausch's teacher, Kurt Jooss).

After completing grade school, Pina received a scholarship to go to Juilliard in New York in 1960. Two years later, Bausch returned to Germany.

So now, after many years of much ado, check out the few clips I could find from Walzer

 
 
 
 
 
 

Out of all the performances Pina Bausch has choreographed, Walzer is of the more difficult ones to find in video online. And there are very few reviews in English. But since I'm a nerd and have a sign-in to an academic journal catalogue, I was able to find a review of the original 1982 performance written by Helen M Whall in the Theater Journal Review:

Walzer takes place in a ballroom located on board a transatlantic oceanliner docked in the harbor at Homburg [sic]. No doubt a party is about to begin, a send-off gala, perhaps, or an evening of organized fun on shipboard. The guests, women in long strapless gowns and men in dark suits, begin to arrive...

When not dancing or chasing each other, they lie about the large stage, empty but for a grand piano far left and a few potted trees and some chairs along the edges... building human pyramids and changing their patterns whenever they please, or drawing foot steps and following the "leader." Other ships may come and go – "Welcome to the Prince Hamlet" and "Homburg wishes you a good voyage," we hear the loudspeaker system announce – but this one seems a pleasure cruise suspended in mid-voyage, holding the promise of "La Vie en Rose" forever, as Edith Piaf's song, played on a taped recording, suggests.

By creating a type of dance-theatre Bausch conveys emotions more severely than dance alone can. Her signature gowns on female performers gives a vintage air to her aesthetic, as does the story taking place on a ship; but the absurdities going on in Walzer forces the audience to look at the performance through a post-modern lens. 

Since I only have three partial clips of Walzer to look at, it's pretty difficult to analyze the piece as a whole, but I'll just do like historians and archeologists did with the Greek fragments and just work with what I've got.

It's hard to say what bausch 'meant' in putting this performance together, but I know from translated interviews that she was more interested in how emotion can make one move, rather than how movement can evoke emotion. And we can infer from the title, Walzer (German for waltz), that the piece is centered around people waltzing.  Maybe the piece was an absurdist nod to the "vie en rose" as described in the review above that was taking place all over the world in the 1980s and continues today with the "Peter Pan" culture the boomers accuse my generation and younger of living.

Throughout the performance, it seems that there is one fairly hysterical woman. First seen screaming at the sight of another party goer's acrobatic dives, later having a full-on fit, and lastly begrudgingly dancing along to a choreographed waltz with her fellow ship mates.

In the second clip, it is clear that Bausch uses the hysterical woman to comment on the objectification of women, as well as the dying standards of what it means to be a "lady." She is also very much pointing out that a dancer who knows ballet has the free will to do otherwise with her body. Because Bausch was a classically trained ballerina, and could not have pushed the envelope without mastering the classical framework, I think the portion of the second clip where the young woman walks about with a "ballet turnout," talking about what she can do as opposed to what she wants to do, is very important for Pina Bausch's work.

I wish there was more to see so that we could piece together what Walzer 'does' because I think that Pina Bausch certainly conveyed some good messages with this performance, but since the rest is left to speculation, I will stay in wonder for now. I see that I can purchase a dvd (lol) but it only has clips of this performance. So maybe we will never be able to see the piece in its entirety, but I'm glad that I got this draft (that has been sitting here since August 2017) completed. My first attempt at covering Pina Bausch took me forever and it's not even a whole piece. Haha.

Now that I've shown myself that covering her work piece by piece is feasible I hope to study her work more soon. Keep posted.

xoxo


COURTNEY CADY © BAGTAZO, 2018


BIBLIOGRAPHY

REVIEWED WORKS: WALZER ; NELKEN BY PINA BAUSCH, PHILIPPA WHELE & HELEN M WHALL. THEATER REVIEW JOURNAL, VOL 36, NO 2, THE MARGINS OF PERFORMANCE, (MAY, 1984), PP 240-243

FEELING PINA: HOW THE CHOREOGRAPHER MOVED PEOPLE, VELLEDA C CECCOLI. PSYCHOLOGY TOMORROW MAGAZINE. NOV 5, 2012


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INSTALLATION STUDY: CLAES OLDENBURG'S CONSUMER GOODS
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In elementary school I had the same art teacher from Kindergarden through the 5th grade. One year, she taught us about pop art. She told us to think of ordinary objects that we could make out of clay, so I made a glass 7 up bottle with a crack in it. (I decided since pop art was a movement from the 60s, I should do a vintage ordinary object. Plus my dad had a cool 7 up wooden crate and I wanted him to like my work, so it seemed linear at the time). The broken bottle was my favorite sculpture I ever made, but I was as terrible at glazing then as I am now, so it came out 'statue of liberty green,' leaving me slightly disappointed. This was one of my first lessons in how difficult it is to get something you see so vividly out of your head correctly.

Looking back at pop art is not always easy for me because a lot of what popularized it is really terrible in my opinion. And some of what pop artists did later in their careers (during the 90s especially) is unforgivable. But, growing up in Southern California, I've always had a thing for fake food displays, which were found at fast food restaurants like Foster's Freeze's. These little displays always seemed like accidental pop art to me.

 
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In the vein of Foster's fake food displays, while poking around on pinterest recently, a friend of mine (Dorothy Hoover) posted a picture of Claes Oldenburg's The Store. I had never heard of Claes Oldenburg, but his work caught my eye, so naturally, I began researching.

The Store, 1961-1962 First Claes Oldenburg work to catch my eye

The Store, 1961-1962
First Claes Oldenburg work to catch my eye

Claes Oldenburg was born on January 28, 1929 in Stockholm. Son of a Swedish diplomat, Oldenburg spent his early years in New York until 1936, when his family moved to Chicago. In early adulthood, Oldenburg studied literature and art history at Yale between 1946 to 1950, and continued his education back home at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1956, Oldenburg moved to New York where he worked in the library of the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration. After three years of working in this enviroment, Oldenburg started to make figures, signs and sculptural objects out of papier-mâché, and everyday materials. This work led to his first exhibition, The Street in 1960-1.

 
 

The Street exhibited at the Judson Gallery (at the Judson Memorial Church, my favorite location for art in NY during the 60s and 70s). The exhibition showcased ordinary objects and everyday consumer goods made from cardboard, burlap, and newspaper that recreated scenes from street life in New York City.

Abstract Expressionists are credited for having introduced ordinary objects in their artwork beginning in the 1940s, but it wasn't until pop art hit New York that these ordinary objects were not only depicted, but they were also used as medium. During this time, Oldenburg fueled a movement that influenced other artists through the 1970s, opening up a variety of media as fair game.

The Store - First Gallery Exhibition at Green Gallery

The Store - First Gallery Exhibition at Green Gallery

In 1962, Oldenburg created my favorite exhibition, The Store, which was a comedic display of a somewhat distopic throwback to New York's Five and Dime stores where everything from mops and men's shirts, to canned foods and seasonal decor could be purchased. In a rented store front in the East Village, Oldenburg again used materials from everyday objects. 

Years after the exhibition, a compilation of Oldenberg's writings were published as Writing on the Side, including a 1961 diary entry where he discusses his concept behind The Store:

The Store, or My Store, or the Ray Gun Mfg. Co., located at 107 East 2nd St., NYC, is eighty feet long and is about ten feet wide. In the front half, it is my intention to create the environment of a store by painting and placing (hanging, projecting, lying) objects after the spirit and in the form of popular objects of merchandise, such as may be seen in store windows of the city, especially in the area where The Store is (Clinton St., for example, Delancey St., 14th St.).

This store will be constantly supplied with new objects, which I will create out of plaster and other materials in the rear half of the place. The objects will be for sale in The Store.

From the entries published in Writing on the Side, we learn that leading up to his creating The Store, he meticulously catalogued every sandwich, can of beer, box of cigarettes and brand of soap he purchased, as well as every cafe and restaurant he visited as a reference for his body of work. 

From here, Oldenberg continued to create and work with ordinary objects, making an ongoing series known as Soft Sculptures. These are some of the funniest pieces in my opinion, because with the help of his first wife, he sewed oversized everyday objects such as cake (which he hilariously calls Floor Cake), toilets, and household appliances. Considering the early 60’s was still feeling the affects of the 1950’s futuristic, perfect, automated, domestic ideologies, Oldenberg's almost grotesque, and very hand-made portrayal of these objects was a jab at the American Status Quo, and perhaps at the same time, an homage to what seemed like a dwindling way of American Life.

Around the same time that Oldenberg started making sculptures, he also participated in performance art at the Judson & then later at The Store. These performances made by pop artists were known as Happenings, and Oldenberg's particular theatre was called Ray Gun Theatre. The main idea behind pop art was to take art out of the 'white walled gallery' and 'off its pedestal;' an idea that had not yet become palatable to the everyday art lover. By turning the audience into "just another object" the performances were meant to express the frustrations artists had with the status of the art world at the time.

From the attention received between The Street, The Store, and Soft Sculptures, as well as his time working at the Judson, Oldenberg is now credited with helping create the Pop Art movement, which began in New York. But shortly after his first exhibitions, Oldenberg moved to Los Angeles in 1963, "because it was the most opposite thing to New York [he] could think of." (Funny because I left LA for NY for the exact same reason). 

 
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Once in LA, Oldenburg created a performance called AUT OBO DYS, a quintessentially Los Angeles performance done in a parking lot. After this work, Oldenburg shifted his focus to sketching and idealizing large-scale sculptural monuments in public spaces. In 1967 his first sculpture was afforded by New York city cultural adviser Sam Green. This was Oldenburg's first outdoor public monument known as Placid Civic Monument, which was a performance made behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a crew of gravediggers digging a 6'x 3' rectangular hole in the ground.

Oldenburg was met first with criticism and opposition, because his works he wanted to create were gigantic public sculptures of ordinary objects. But today, most of Oldenburg's recognizable work comes from this period and is displayed in public spaces throughout the United States.

To be honest, I appreciate his progression, but I LOOOOVE the 60’s work and just don't appreciate his later work as much. For this reason, I'm not posting any pictures here but you can find them very easily on the internet.

However, fast forward more than 50 years and Oldenburg's Store is showing up as a major influencer for in recent exhibitions, including a fake Bodega in NY's meatpacking district and at the Volta Fair in NY where clay/plaster mops, bottles of Tide detergent and an overturned studio stool covered in chewing gum directly recreate objects using Oldenburg's concepts behind The Store.

 
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Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2017



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FEMALE STUDY: SENGA NENGUDI'S FLESH & GENDER IDENTITY
 
 

I’ve made it a point to highlight underrepresented women in western art history, and I have written about Latin Americans and Eastern Europeans, and yet still no black artists. But I mean, how many black artists are mentioned in the same breath as Max Bill? Why are there still entire books dedicated to black artists, rather than integrating them with their contemporaries? Why is it so hard to even find black artists in history?

I'm half Filipino and half Irish. Growing up I never realized I was racially different from anyone, as my corner of California was racially diverse. However, as I've gotten older, racial identity has become very important to me. The Filipino family name, Bagtazo, was chosen in homage to this.

For black artists in America, racial identity seems inextricably related to their work. It's as if one cannot be a black artist without discussing being black. And with good reason, as I think there is no racial identity as inescapable in the US. When I decided to write about a black artist, I will admit I didn't know where to begin. But then I found American artist, Senga Nengundi.

Senga Nengudi, was born in Chicago in 1943, but grew up in Los Angeles. Originally named Sue Irons, Nengudi took her working name early in her career when a friend from the former Zaire started calling her by that name.

Senga Nengudi was part of the avant-garde black art scenes in New York City and Los Angeles during the 1960s and 1970s. Some of my favorite of her works involve panty hose. Panty hose are one of the few things that have catered to the varying shades of skin tones since before the civil rights movement, and so I think it’s super cool that Nengudi used them in her work. (Because duh, all women are candidates for shaming and social decency norms).

 
 

In 1977, Nengudi worked with Hassinger for a performance piece in the same vein as RSVP, improvising movement entangled in a web of pantyhose at Just Above Midtown Gallery in NYC. According to Nengudi, the performance was made to symbolize how women are restricted by societal gender norms. These performances were captured on film in stills, where Nengudi appeared as an androgynous figure, in attempt to defy gender definitions.

Since moving to to New York, I’ve really missed the gender neutral values of the west coast. Black boys in Oakland wear earrings with vintage turbans that one may have seen their grandmothers wearing in the 60s. Young boys in LA wear skirts and paint their nails. To think that Nengundi was doing this in New York in the 70s blows my mind because it was not only advanced, but it must have been viewed as extremely radical.

In 1979, Nengudi performed Ceremony for Freeway Fets under a freeway overpass on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. The performance was made with her collaborators, Hammons and Hassinger from Studio Z Collective. Nengudi crafted costumes and headdresses from pantyhose for the performers.  Hammons and Hassinger played the roles of male and female spirits, while Nengudi's character represented a spirit that united the genders. Both the performance and music were improvised.

I was able to find a slideshow with the original music, and an audio interview of Nengudi, which can be viewed below:

 

In 2007, during her residency at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, she created a video installation entitled "Warp Trance.". The film was made to communicate the experiences of textile workers. (As some of you know, I have been working in manufacturing for over a decade, and so I'm really into this, even though I think the aesthetic is v 2007 video art).

 

From 1970 through the present day, Nengudi has performed nearly thirty original pieces, and has exhibited in sixty-five group and solo shows combined. Nengudi is a prolific artist whose focus on racial and ethnic identity has remained strong throughout her work. She also explored gender politics and identity from the beginning of her career in the 1970s, a topic that society has just began to discuss publicly in the last few years.

I actually saw Senga Nengudi's work in Los Angeles at WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution exhibition at the MOCA in Los Angeles in 2007 without realizing it. The show in its entirety had young me in tears, but I remember looking at her pantyhose piece and thinking how great it was. The installation looked like boobs and balls all at once. And I was all about the nipple back then, so that piece really got me.

 
 

Nengudi continues to work today from her Colorado Springs studio. Since 2007, she has re-performed many of her early works, as well as exhibited a number of retrospectives.



Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016


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FEMALE STUDY: REBECCA HORN'S COMMON THREAD

Still from: Unicorn (1970/72)

The reason I like The Cure is partly because no matter what song is playing, you can tell that it's them just by their sound. This is the kind of continuity I value in my own aesthetics as well. Underlying concepts create themes, which I build upon each time I make a new collection. But no matter what I make, it is similar to every other Bagtazo piece.

Artist Rebecca Horn has worked similarly throughout her life. Creating various works with the same logic, Horn develops her current work from the preceding. Elements may be readdressed, yet appear in totally different contexts. And somehow though none is quite like the other, you can see the common thread throughout her work.

White Body Fan, 1972

Rebecca Horn, born in Germany, lived much of her life in (the former West) Berlin. Starting her career in the 1970s with performances such as Body Extensions, Horn worked within the confines of femininity in order to push the boundaries of visual art. 

Her Body Extensions work included many performances for film, that were re-performed at times. Building costumes that allowed for objects to protrude from her body, she moved about wearing these objects in attempt to "explore the equilibrium between body and space."

Still from: Touching the Walls with Both Hands Simultaneously (1974/75)

Often interested in simultaneity, Horn's common thread in the 1970s can be seen above in, Touching the Walls with Both Hands Simultaneously and below in one of my favorite performances for film, Cutting one's Hair with Two Scissors Simultaneously (1974). While the two performances are visually dissimilar, Horn is exploring the simultaneous use of both hands in unconventional ways.

Playing with scissors, Horn uses an ordinary object to explore her notions of 'body extension' and simultaneity. I really love this piece because of the subversive rebellion against femininity that is expressed by a woman cutting off her long hair. At times I don't believe Horn's scissors are sharp enough to even cut hair. And at the end of this piece, I get nervous she's going to miss and cut her eyelash. But when it's through we're left with her ambiguous expression covered with the two scissors. (The youtube comments on this video are hilarious also, fyi).

As the 70s pressed forward, Horn continued to explore costume and began incorporating her interest in wings and feathers, which is a theme she carried on from White Body Fan in the early 1970s through today. 

"Feather Prison" costume still from Der Eintänzer (The Gigolo), 1978

Also playing with the ballet motif, Horn worked with ballerinas to create simultaneous movements while confined in the costumes she made to further explore simultaneity.

Der Eintänzer (1978)

From her work with simultaneity, Horn began exploring what she called 'kinetic sculptures' in the 1980s and 90s. This work applied the same concepts she used in Body Extensions, only where in Body Extensions the human body was the source of energy moving the objects she created, now the energy source was electronic kinetic movement. Much of this work was site-specific, and the artist chose culturally significant venues for their exhibitions whenever possible.

Also in 1991, Horn created High Moon (bottom left), which applied similar concepts as one of her Body Extensions sculptures, Overflowing Blood Machine, 1970 (bottom right). Since the 70s, Horn began making mechanical sculptures to bring motion to inanimate objects. The idea was to put human desire or movements that belong to the living into ordinary objects. At the time Overflowing Blood Machine was exhibited, Horn had a naked male wearing the suit, and the base of the 'machine' was filled with actual blood that flowed through the tubes. With High Moon, blood flows through tubes, into a reservoir before slowly dripping out of two rifles. In both pieces, the viewer is left to interoperate the significance of the blood.

Working in an era where the female artist laid claim to blood, the above two images are my two favorite comparisons of Horn's work. 20 years of building on the same concepts can lead to similar but different results. The common thread throughout Horn's work are her ideas. Motifs and the use of the same materials are what visually tie everything together, but without her core concepts, the common thread would not be the same.


Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2016


DESIGN STUDY: ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG'S COSTUMES & SET DESIGN

ROBERT RAUCHENBERG FOR MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY

I've been focused on dance history a lot lately. While studying dance, I've been reading about (and trying) Cunningham Technique. Cunningham Technique is a dance style based on the theory that dance and music should be able to exist independently of each other while sharing the same time and space. This technique was developed in the 1950s by choreographer Merce Cunningham and his partner, composer John Cage. The two worked together to create music and corresponding choreography that played a major role in the shaping of the American avant-garde from the 1950s through the millennium.

In the 1950s, Robert Rauschenberg, a former student of Bauhaus' Josef Albers at Black Mountain College (see my blog post on that dude from a few weeks ago, he rules), Rauschenberg began designing costumes for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Though Rauschenberg is mostly known for his work in Assemblage or Combine Art, his work with costume design, set design and lighting with Merce Cunningham and later, Cunningham's students Paul Taylor and Trisha Brown are the strongest elements of his work in my opinion.

Throughout his career, Rauschenberg not only designed sets, costumes, and lighting, but he also performed and choreographed his own works. Being an artist working in various genres, Rauschenberg blurred the lines between his performance work and his work with other media, often creating pieces in his studio that would later become props, such as Minutiae (1954), which was later used for a Cunningham performance, or First Time Painting (1961), that was made while Rauchenberg was on stage at the American Embassy in Paris as part of the performance Homage to David Tudor (1961). Rauschenberg also created scenery by using found objects and sounds, developing his concept of “live décor,” or scenery generated by human activity.

Rauchenberg performing in his own performance called "Pelican" (1963) after working with the Judson Dance Theater.

Rauchenberg's involvement with Cage and Cunningham positioned him at the cutting edge of postmodern dance, giving him access to performance on a greater scale. After nearly a decade with Cunningham, Rauchenberg worked with the Judson Dance Theater in New York during the 1960s (see my previous post on Meredith Monk for more on the Judson Dance Theater). The Judson Dance Theater is also one of my favorite parts of dance history because as an experimental collective, they included dancers, visual artists and performance artists, which resulted in performances free of narrative, emphasizing instead the purity of movement: sometimes conventionally dance-like, but also with mundane movements.

Through the 1980s to 2000, Rauchenberg continued designing costumes and working with performance, making a large body of work that is now considered art in its own right. Many of his pieces from sets and costumes are displayed in museums and galleries since his death in 2008.


Courtney Cady ©Bagtazo 2015



SOCIAL STUDY: ARTE POVERA & ART AS COMMODITY

I find myself growing increasingly disturbed by the commercialization of "the alternative." What was once non-conformist has become totally generic. There is now a Williamsburg in every city. Newly 'revived' places considered desirable because they are 'eclectic and liberal' have become the familiar. We've returned to a time where Americans believe that looking and behaving a certain way will make them happy. But instead of a having a nuclear family and a white picket fence, we're all "creative," we eat at hip places, we travel, we wear vintage, we buy artisanal everything

Of course this cultural phenomenon is a reaction to mass production and the utter destruction that the past few decades have inflicted upon humanity and the environment, but we've effectively replaced a blind acceptance of Betty Crocker products with a blind acceptance of gluten free products. Only I find it worse now, because today we all know that advertising plays into our subconscious, we know that everyone's internet lives are curated, and yet we consume the new standard, believing that doing so can make us 'different' from 'everyone else.' (Not to mention tons of people and brands are simply repeating the work of others and parading as if they're original).

And yes, farm to table restaurants and organic foods are wonderful, it's important that we consume more consciously, but I'm starting to think modern society is a throwback to the 1950s, but this time around everyone's in indigo; and consumption, though less corporate, is far more commercial because we're all a brand. We're all patrons of propaganda. Nearly everyone has a website. 'The individual' is a consumer product, and quite frankly I'm calling everyone's bluff (hence the rant). But instead of getting too upset and turning on humanity, I've decided to study a period in history where similar sentiments were turned into art.

"Live in Your Head. When Attitudes Become Form," Arte Povera Group Exhibition, Bern, 1969

When thinking of artwork that reacts to my current woes, Germano Celant's "Manifesto" for the Arte Povera movement comes to mind. In the manifesto titled, Arte Povera: Appunti per una Guerriglia (Notes for a Guerrilla War), the opening lines state, “First came man, then the system. That is the way it used to be. Now it’s society that produces, and it’s man that consumes.” Using language that was political and revolutionary in nature, Marx and a "rejection of consumerism," Celant's manifesto was a social critique. This manfiesto was first published in Flash Art magazine in 1967, after the group's first show, and is now considered to be the launch of the short-lived Arte Povera movement in Italy, a movement which lasted through 1972.

The name 'Arte Povera' literally means "poor art," and was adopted because the artists worked as a group to counter 'high art,' criticize capitalism, class struggle, and the commercialization of fine art by using "poor mediums."  At a time when art was being produced in an industrial fashion (think graphic design techniques used in pop art processes, for example), and abstract minimalism had overstayed its welcome, dominating the market to the point where it was no longer cutting edge, but had become palatable for every day consumption, postminimalist artists emerged in Europe and the US.

During this time, Arte Povera artists made use of ordinary objects such as rope, plaster, metal, soil and wood as mediums, shying away from traditional, rigid art forms, since the latter were thought to be concerned with emotion and individual expression. In a sense, this movement was Italy's specific type of postminimalism because performance, process and land art were applied to create installations, but how they differed from artists working with similar mediums and likeminded agendas elsewhere, was that Arte Povera emphasized the rejection of consumerism and the branding of the artist.

L-R: "Shaman Showman," Alighiero Boetti, 1968; "Che Prendo il Sole" (I sunbathe), Alighiero Boetti, 1969;  "Che Fare?" (What to Do?), Mario Merz, 1968; "Igloo di Giap," Mario Merz, 1968, reads: If the enemy concentrates, he loses ground; if he scatters, he loses force.

In effort to curb the emphasis on the individual, Arte Povera exhibitions were formatted in such a way that it was difficult to distinguish each artist's work, completely undermining the conventional gallery format that traditionally brands an artist to make their work ready for consumption. With interest in creating a dialogue between art and the viewer, where the viewer is free of preconceived notions, the Arte Povera exhibitions aimed to form a different experience of the art on display. By using familiar, everyday materials in a gallery setting, this goal was further solidified. Hence viewers were left with only the materials, the forms in which the materials were put together, and often, words one would otherwise find in combat or revolution propaganda, without being spoon fed the meaning, the need to consume the art, or branded artists.

"Muretto di Stracci," (Wall of Rags) & "Venere Degli Stracci," (Venus of the Rags) 1967 Michelangelo Pistoletto 

While it is difficult to say whether or not Arte Povera's attempt to remove a brand from their art was achieved, (I mean, they gave it a name and worked within certain parameters), I think it is more important to overlook the trend of the "fly on the wall" method that most artists and academics were adopting at the time, to focus on Arte Povera's call for attention to consumerism and branding in general. Considering Arte Povera was in a sense, a reaction to the homogeneity of the Post-War West that went on in the 1950s, I think my comparison of our society today with the 1950s again shows a need for awareness of the blind consumerism and branding our society participates in currently. 

Bagtazo isn't a brand. It's a name I have given to the work I create. And while the aim is to make a living from my work, I've been really giving thought to how I would like to go about doing that moving forward. Because ultimately the success of Bagtazo relies on you. The consumer. I can make beautiful things, but I can't live from making them without you.

At a time when so many people have 'start ups,' the economy is basically in the hands of the people in a way that it hasn't been in the past 50 years or more. So maybe if we put a little thought into how we're consuming, how we're selling (and let's take it beyond caring where it's made or buying into the ubiquitous stories people tell up about how the brand was born from sunshine or some heritage nonsense) and really put some thought into how and what we're consuming, perhaps we can insight the revolutionary air of the 1960s once more. After all, I feel like we've been living in the 50s lately, so maybe there's only one place to go from here... who knows.

"Artist's Shit," 1961 Piero Manzoni


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2015



PERFORMANCE STUDY: ASCO AND A BRIEF DISCUSSION ON DISPLACEMENT IN LOS ANGELES

Returning home to LA after two years of being away, it's easier to see the changes that are taking place. I lived in this city for eleven years before taking off, so to step back and see it from a new perspective, while at the same time understanding its long history, has been very influential on me. Given that cities in the US are experiencing regeneration after decades of neglect, with the majority who previously preferred suburbs and small towns now showing a preference for the city, every major urban area is going through similar changes. But still, I can't help but to resist some of the change happening in my own city, perhaps because I felt I 'belonged' to the LA that once was.

I mean, I feel so connected to LA that I shed a tear for a few closed shops in my old neighborhood. Seeing a completely vacant storefront of a business that had been around since before I was born really bummed me out. It's like a new type of person has taken over Highland Park, and where I may have been guilty of once being the gentrifier, now I'm pointing the finger at the new people for putting in vintage stores on every block and opening coffee shops where a variety of small businesses once served the community. I feel displaced, not having a sense of home in my own neighborhood, and refusing to support the spike in rent. Regardless, obviously these businesses are serving the new community, otherwise they wouldn't thrive, so maybe it's me who's unable to adapt. In effort to do so however, I asked myself to look at history to see how other people have dealt with this.

Another time LA experienced a huge overhaul was when the freeways were constructed. Neighborhoods were literally cut up. Houses razed. Major streets closed. (And this, actually, was a nation-wide phenomenon as well). Before the late 1970s, suburbs and neighboring counties could only be accessed from the city through major street routes. But once the car took over in the 1950s, LA modeled itself after the success of the first freeway in the world, The Arroy Seco Parkway, which was a small section of what is now California's 110 freeway that connected Los Angeles to neighboring Pasadena. So began a campaign to easily connect the entire city to the outside world that lasted through the late 1970s. As a major side effect of this long construction period, communities were ripped apart, thousands of homes were demolished, and people were displaced. And as one might suspect, a majority of the demolition was of lower income neighborhoods housing minorities. 

Asshole "Mural", 1974. Harry Gamboa Jr. (Featuring the four founding members of Asco).

Towards the end of the freeway construction era in Los Angeles, an artist group of Mexican Americans known as Asco formed, almost in reaction to what was taking place in their neighborhood by Harry Gamboa, Jr., "Gronk" Nicandro, Willie Herrón and Patssi Valdez in Boyle Heights. (Asco means nausea in Spanish). During the freeway construction, Boyle Heights endured the erection of 5 major freeways, with two large interchanges; diving the neighborhood through its center, demolishing thousands of homes and businesses. At the same time, the Vietnam War was taking place, and many residents of Boyle Heights were recruited to join the military. Combine that with the blatant racism against Mexicans in the US during that era, and yeah, Asco had a reason to be pissed.

But what's so great about Asco is that instead of bitching and moaning, they turned their suffering into art. They explored performance art, and brought new takes to old ideas. Playing with the tradition of murals in Mexican culture for example, Asco made live murals with people, and took photographs or recorded their performances. (As seen above). They also adapted traditional Catholic themes, paying homage to their culture, while simultaneously brining awareness to the injustices they collectively endured.

The First Supper After a Major Riot, 1974, Harry Gamboa Jr

My favorite of these performances is seen above. A take on The Last Supper, where the performers are wearing traditional Dia de Los Muertos costumes (in December around Christmas time, however) in the same location where a riot had broken out a few years prior after rubber bullets were shot by police at a group of protestors demonstrating against the Vietnam War.

Two years earlier, Asco had done a similar performance, replacing the Christmas Parade that was revoked as a result of the riot, with a performance parade entitled, Walking Mural, that took the old parade route, only this time it ended at the US Marine Corps recruiting office. Dressed as the Virgen de Guadalupe, a Christmas Tree and the Holy Trinity, the group made a procession with reference to the Stations of the Cross, carrying a large cross with them through the streets, effectively recruiting people in the neighborhood to march onto the military recruiting office to shut it down. If only for a day, Asco was successful in making art meaningful.

Living in the "Entertainment Capital of the World," Asco also did a series of short-lived performances they called No Movies. These performances consisted of costumes and filmic scenes set up for one or two photographs. The intention was to make images that appeared to be film stills, only there was no actual film associated with the images. 

In the early stages of Asco's No Movies, group member, Gamboa, upon realizing the Chicano* artist community was underrepresented at LACMA (the city's only contemporary art museum at the time), approached LACMA's curator to ask him why this was the case. It was reported that the curator's response was, "Chicanos are gang members who don't make fine art," so Asco turned around and played out the stereotype by spray painting their names on the entrances of the museum. In an act of iconoclasm, Gamboa photographed Patssi Valdez posing with the "graffiti." This No Movie was called Spray Paint LACMA, and later became one of their most famous. I found a rather witty description below a slide in, Urban Exile: Collected Writings of Harry Gamboa, Jr, (1998) that said, "All entrances of the museum are spray painted with the names of Herrón, Gamboa and Gronkie, transforming the museum itself into the first work of Chicano art to be exhibited at LACMA."

At a time when Mexicans in America were extremely marginalized, Asco spoke out through performance and imagery to question the status quo. They also disregarded the 'rules' of fine art, paving the way for experimental modes of art, especially with the use of performance, the topics of identity, and the application of still and motion pictures with otherwise fleeting performance work. 

More than 30 years later in 2011, ironically, LACMA hosted a large retrospective of Asco's work, which is where I first learned of them, so I guess their resistance finally paid off. I doubt my resistance against the current wave of displacement in Los Angeles will be quite as effective, considering I'm just writing blog posts about it and turning my frustrations into jewelry pieces and hats, but who knows...


*I chose to only use the word Chicano when it was used by the group itself. I was taught that Chicano is a term used to identify oneself as Mexican American, but with a distinction that 'Chicano' connotes oppression. As this term is interpreted in many ways, I opted to not use it in my own right in effort to stay neutral. 


Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2015


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FILM ANALYSIS: YAYOI KUSAMA'S 'SELF OBLITERATION'

Coming back to LA after a nearly two year hiatus, I'm strangely feeling more at-home with all the entertainment billboards. In San Francisco most ads are tech related, or bills selling alcohol and fancy destination hotels. But in LA almost everything is about film and television (save for the occasional laser hair removal or cosmetic dentistry advert). 

Being surrounded by the effects of Hollywood, I've been thinking about the history of filmmaking. Considering the massive crews it takes to make a blockbuster, and juxtaposing that with prosumer access to filmmaking technology, I've been trying to imagine a time when editing required the actual cutting of film. When access to, and understanding of filmmaking tools were very limited, imagine how much effort it took for a performance artist or an independent filmmaker to successfully execute a watchable film.

Film formats suitable for amateurs were introduced at the turn of the 20th century, but it wasn't until the advent of Kodak's Super 8 in the mid 1960s that easy-to-use cameras became ubiquitous. With this accessibility, American avant-garde artists started using film as a medium for performance more than ever before. During this time, pop art, modernism and feminist art had taken up discussions on 'the image,' the self, and popular culture in general and so film was applied as one of the platforms to further this discussion.

Of these avant-garde films made in the 1960s, my current favorite is Yayoi Kusama's, Self Obliteration (1967). Kusama, born in Japan in 1929, has recently made a come back with exhibitions all over the world since 2010, but prior to her reemergence she had gone into the shadows, mostly of her own depression, since the late 1970s. Often working with repetition, dots, circles and spheres, Self Obliteration showcases the span of Kusama's work at that time through filmic depictions of her performances and installations.  

In reference to one of her earliest pieces, pre-dating the making of this film, Kusama inadvertently explains her concept behind Self Obliteration, including the film's name, and her motivation for the circular motifs in her work, by citing a particular experience she had as a child:

One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness. As I realized it was actually happening and not just in my imagination, I was frightened. I knew I had to run away lest I should be deprived of my life by the spell of the red flowers.

This single experience, it seems, affected Kusama so much so that her above mentioned memory is thematic throughout the entire span of her work from the 1950s until now. Despite the marked hippie overtones that show through in her work even contemporarily, Kusama is able to express feminist ideas and challenge the status quo by applying simple and repetitious imagery whose undertones transcend her otherwise overt 1960s aesthetic. Her ability to make such an impression is what separates her from the rest of the "psychedelic," nude, and so-called politically based acts of the American hippie movement of the 1960s, distinguishing Kusama's work as high art rather than a fleeting pop cultural trend, so it makes sense that 50 years later, her work is finally getting recognition.


Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2015


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MOVEMENT STUDY: 'DAS TRIADISCHES BALLETT,' OSKAR SCHLEMMER, AND THE BAUHAUS THEATER

In the early stages of design, I often study art history. This time around, I frequently looked to Bauhaus, a Modernist art movement that spawned from art schools in Germany, and eventually spread throughout Europe in the early 20th Century. My initial impression of Bauhaus was limited to architecture, typography, and design. And then I delved deeper, learning that the group's ethos combined art forms, similar to the American Arts and Crafts movement of the same era. This philosophy, which discarded academic traditions by giving equal weight to various arts, resulted in a multi-disciplinary corpus of work.

Most standard art history timelines omit mention of Bauhaus, and yet the group's work impacted society to such an extent that fonts developed by Bauhaus designers are still used today. Not to mention the returned interest in Bauhaus graphic and textile design, which is happening contemporarily. I also think that the current trend of calling oneself a “maker” indirectly adopts one of the core principles of Bauhaus, namely its attempt at uniting creativity and manufacturing. In melding these two components, Bauhaus was able to encompass various art forms, and so beyond architecture and graphic design, came textile and costume design, as well as dance, performance and theatre.

It is with the latter that I am most intrigued. Partly because many of the participating artists were female, but also because of the bizarre and beautiful nature of the work.

In 1922, Oskar Schlemmer, a professor in the Theatre of Bauhaus debuted Das Triadisches Ballett (The Triadic Ballet) in Stuttgart, Germany. Schlemmer used the human body as a medium, experimenting with pantomime and ballet with this performance, which toured Europe through the mid 1930s. By incorporating costumes that reduced the human figure to geometric, formalist shapes, Das Triadisches provided strange and humorous imagery via dance and dress. 

The Schlemmer Theatre Estate describes Das Triadisches Ballett choreography and color settings, stating that the origin of the title, "Triadic Ballet" derives from the division of the acts:

The first part, which takes place on a stage dressed in lemon yellow colors, is a comedic burlesque. The subject of the second part, on a stage dressed in pink, has a festival/ceremonial air. Finally, the third part is developed in a mystical/fantastical way before a totally black background. Three dancers, two men and a woman, perform twelve dances of alternating forms.

The costumes deliberately limit the participants’ freedom of movement due to the weight of the materials they are made from, their forms, and the masks worn. They are walking architectural structures that move in a comic fashion, playful, sharp, and clumsy across the entire stage. For his figurines, Oskar Schlemmer took advantage of the new technologies of the era, “the scientific apparatus of glass and metal, the artificial members that are used in surgery, the fantastic military and diving uniforms."

I often draw from military costume for inspiration, and so I am especially intrigued by Schlemmer's style in military design. It goes to show that artists can share influences with dissimilar results. I also really love working within certain restraints, like using a Polaroid camera instead of a digital, or in this case dancing in restrictive costumes. If dancers can perform a ballet without restriction, what happens when the artist places themself in a box? Schlemmer's approach in designing the costumes before the choreography explored just that.

In 1968 Das Triadische was reconstructed and performed in a thirty minute piece for German television by Margarete Hasting, Franz Schömbs and Georg Verden. The re-performance of this work was a major feat because it is said that about eight minutes of the original score by Paul Hindersmith remained at the time of reconstruction, and that if Schlemmer had made a more detailed record of the choreography, it no longer existed. Everything was pieced together from notes, mostly from the archive of Schlemmer's 1938 costume and design exhibition at MoMA. Thus the performance and the costumes may not be completely accurate, given these circumstances. It is unclear to me whether the costumes were reconstructed entirely at that time since a few of the original costumes remain in the archive, but there is record that some had to be remade from Schlemmer's drawings.

Regardless of whether the re-performance is entirely accurate, the work is incredible. It is funny to me that what was "modern" in the 1920s was just as modern in 1968, and remains modern today. Generally, what was once experimental later becomes the norm, though in this case the experimental elements of the work with regard to costume and movement remain.

Schlemmer's original work influenced the costumes in Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), providing evidence that his designs were seen as futuristic from the start:

And in 1974, David Bowie appears as Ziggy Stardust wearing a costume designed by Kansai Yamamoto which closely resembles a costume from Das Triadisches

 
 

In both cases with Metropolis and Bowie's attire, the costumes are viewed as 'cutting edge,' despite being variations of Schlemmer's ballet costumes from the early 20th Century.

In 1977, Das Triadische was reproduced again, this time by German choreographer Gerhard Bohner. It looks like Bohner's version toured through the 80s because I found a funny review from 1985 in the New York Times on the piece, basically calling his version total shit.

Finally, in 2014 Das Triadische was performed yet again in Berlin, this time based on Gerhard Bohner's reconstruction. But since Bohner's work received such poor reviews, I'm not sure what resulted from the latest iteration.  

Being passed down in an almost folkloric way, Schlemmer's work has been preserved verbally and through imagery, leaving reperformances open to interpretation. While still relatively unknown, Das Triadisches has invariably influenced aesthetics, even at the end of the post-modern era. 


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo, 2015


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MOVEMENT STUDY: MICHAEL CLARK AND ANTI-BALLET
MICHAEL CLARK & LEIGH BOWERY

MICHAEL CLARK & LEIGH BOWERY

Two years ago I was in pain to the point that I couldn't get out of bed. After numerous tests, I learned that the cause was due to an irreversible nerve issue in my brain. While searching for a remedy, I read that neuroscientists say with my condition, the brain responds well to movement, as long as the motions are not associated with pain or treatment for the pain. This made me realize that I could do ballet as therapy. I had danced for 17 years during childhood, but stopped in my 20s because I thought everyone was too square.

Since rekindling my interest in ballet, I've discovered choreographer, Michael Clark on the recommendation of a friend. Michael Clark's work is often referred to as "anti-ballet" or "post-punk ballet," which sounds like the best form of ballet I could think of.

In the 1980s Clark formed his own dance company after a brief stint with Ballet Rambert following his studies with the Royal Ballet School in London. Clark had danced since he was four years old, beginning with traditional Scottish dance in the town where he grew up. In the early days, his company performed with post-punk groups, The Fall (my fav), Wire, and Leibach. Their wardrobe was made by another of my favorites, Leigh Bowery, as well as designers Bodymap and Trojan, who later became known for their 'club kid' fashion in London and New York.

Among these, I find his work with The Fall and Leigh Bowery the most influential. In 1983, filmmaker Charles Atlas made a faux cinema verite film about Clark called Hail the New Puritan, in which some of Clark's best work was captured (in my opinion). The film is titled after The Fall's song "The New Puritan," and includes three dances to music by The Fall, with company members clad in Leigh Bowery costumes.

I think I love this work so much, in part because of the dances themselves, but also because of the conceptual art surrounding the movements. Clark remarks on this work in an interview saying, "It was easy provocation with costumes or props--like the middle finger, or costumes with bare asses, or dildos on stage. It was often about extraneous things, not necessarily about the dance. But back then these gestures were important, because ballet is so rigid." Beyond bringing a flexed foot to ballet, Clark's 'extraneous things' provoked timely statements regarding gender, 'normative behavior,' corporate advertising, and sexuality that went beyond a 'fuck you' to classical ballet.

Clark continued in this vein through the 90s, until he hit a wall and took a break for three years. (Leading up to this he had become a heroin addict, sort of on accident, as he had wanted to do a solo piece for The Velvet Underground's, Heroin, and thought it "disingenuous" to not do heroin during this process).

I find relief in knowing that someone so prolific had to stop to take a break, even if it was to kick heroin. That makes Michael Clark more human to me. People like to posture as if they're only their work, especially in creative industries, and I know from experience how difficult it is to put one's ambitions aside in order to take care of yourself. In this type of work, your creations consume you, and so to put this on hold, even for a good cause, is something like death.

In 2001, he resumed his work in choreography, returning with homages to Stravinsky, The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, The Stooges, and David Bowie.

Clark's last production came in 2013, and so I'm not sure what else he's working on, but I can't wait. I'm surprised that with how well-received his work is, he is not better known. Much of his productions are difficult to find on the internet, despite the media coverage he gets afterwards. However, there is a contemporary documentary on him that I highly recommend, as well as dozens of reviews on his various performances.

I think the best thing about being a designer, for me, is that I get to continuously study, and find out about new things as part of my process. Learning of someone whose work combines fashion, ballet, post punk, conceptual art, and performance art makes me giddy--the way I felt when I discovered these subjects independently of one another in my youth. Plus this growing knowledge of my creative predecessors will undoubtedly influence my work, which is what designing, to me, is all about.


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo, 2015


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FEMALE STUDY: ANA MENDIETA

Whenever I go into design mode, I think about gender bending and unisex or un-gendered fashion, which always takes me on a fun ride. While rifling through moodboards, I began studying the work of Ana Mendieta, the late artist whose work with the female body in the 70s and 80s forged the way for women in the contemporary art world.

Aside from a few images, I knew very little about Mendieta before my study, as I mostly encountered her work on tumblr. But Mendieta's story is actually quite compelling, and I now consider her a significant part of American art history.

Mendieta came to the US as a refugee from Cuba at age 14 with her sister. She lived in refugee camps her first few weeks in the US before being placed in foster care in Iowa, where she eventually went to art school before working in Mexico and New York City. At this time, identity was a big topic of discussion, and working with blood had become a medium exclusive to the feminist artist. Mendieta applied both mediums as a means to convey somewhat autobiographical performance works she called "earth-body" work.

Her early pieces made in Mexico, Silueta, included explorations with body art and land art, where the female body was used almost as a corpse that became part of the landscape.

Upon her return to the States, she produced, Chicken Piece, in reaction to the rape of a student at the University of Iowa, where she covered herself in feathers, using blood and a decapitated chicken.

Then in 1982 she performed works she called, Body Tracks, where she used her body as a stamp and blood as the ink

I really love how blood was used as a sign of femininity in her work.

But just as her reputation was growing momentum, Mendieta fell to her death in 1985. This topic is pretty controversial because it was during a drunken argument with her husband (artist, Carl Andre) and it is unclear how Mendieta fell out the window of their 33rd floor apartment. Some speculate that he pushed her out, but the court ruled after a three year trial that she accidentally fell out or perhaps jumped out because there was enough reasonable doubt that Andre didn't kill her.

Seven years after Mendieta's death in 1992, activists holding signs that read, "Where is Ana Mendieta?" blocked the entrance of the Gugenheim Museum's opening show as a means in part, to discuss her enigmatic death, but also to highlight the absence of female artists in high profile exhibitions. It is said that there were more than 500 women present, so I'm not sure why I can't find photos. (I guess mainstream media didn't cover it and people didn't have iphones. And also probably because the stuffy art assholes were bummed about it). But what remains as a legacy is included in a book released in 1999 called, Where is Ana Mendieta?: Identity, Performativity and Exile, by Jane Blocker.

I have yet to read Blocker's book, but as I said, I think Ana Mendieta is an important figure in American art history. Not just as a female, but also as a representative for immigrants exiled to the United States. She played a major role in performance in the 1970s and 80s, experimented with land art, brought blood to the white wall gallery setting and helped voice the feminist movement even after her death.

Bad. Ass.


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo, 2015


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