BY Scott Roben in Reviews | 20 MAR 12
Featured in
Issue 146


BY Scott Roben in Reviews | 20 MAR 12

Tseng Kwong Chi Bill T. Jones Body Painting with Keith Haring, 1983, Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery

For its 75th anniversary, The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston presented ‘Dance/Draw’, an exhibition conceived by the ICA’s Chief Curator, Helen Molesworth, which provided a historical basis for a recent trend in contemporary art toward integrating dance. (Recall, for example, the numerous dance-based pieces featured in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, or Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla’s gymnastics-based work at the US Pavilion in Venice last year.) The show was a meditation on the intersections between visual art and dance over the past 40 years, including as examples artists who experiment with dance, dancers who translate their work into drawing, and artists who occupy a space in between. Feminist art received particular attention – more than half of the 48 artists included in the show were women. What made the exhibition especially timely was the fact that it could be understood as an examination not only of the overlaps between dance and drawing, but more broadly of the overlaps between modes of presentation and representation.

The show commenced with works demonstrating drawing’s ability to encode movement. Trisha Brown’s Untitled (2007) is the byproduct of a dance she performed on the surface of the paper while moving a stick of charcoal with her feet. When viewed in conjunction with other works surrounding it, including David Hammons’ Basketball Drawing (2001) and William Anastasi’s ‘Blind Drawings’ (1998–2010), made by holding a pencil to paper on a rattling subway, Brown’s work invites the possibility of reading dance into the movement of any mark-making implement. Elsewhere, a film of Yvonne Rainer performing a dance choreographed specifically for the hand (Hand Movie, 1966) completed the picture of the hand’s capacity for dance. A small screen displaying Janine Antoni’s performance Loving Care (1993), in which Antoni painted a gallery floor using her own hair in place of a paintbrush, extended the merging of movement and mark-making to Abstract Expressionist action painting via its feminist critique.

Despite the title ‘Dance/Draw’ giving equal emphasis to both activities, most visitors never saw a dance performed live (a small series of performances took place in the ICA’s auditorium). There were instead various forms of reproduction, its effect on performance becoming a central concern. This often resulted in a complicated interweaving of the present with the represented, such as in Babette Mangolte’s documentation of performances by Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs and David Gordon in the early- to mid-1970s. Our awareness oscillated between the performances represented and Mangolte’s own presence within those spaces. Other works muddied the distinction between the present-ness of dance and its representation: Cory Arcangel and Frankie Martin goofily insert their own dance into a video game environment (414-3-RAVE-95, 2004); Charles Atlas presents Yvonne Rainer in the form of a film that confounds documentary and performance (Rainer Variations, 2002); and Jérôme Bel intersperses dance with biographical monologue in his documentation of a fictional dancer from the Paris Ballet (Véronique Doisneau, 2005).

One of the pleasures of the show was its assertion of figurative drawing’s potential to act as more than representation. For example, for her project Untitled (2009–10), Amy Sillman created a series of 27 drawings derived from a process of observing couples in intimate situations, re-drawing them from memory, and finally transforming them into abstract compositions. In the process, the original, ephemeral moment from which the drawings were created is lost; instead, that directness is reinstated through the physicality of the gesture and the heaviness and crudeness of the charcoal lines which ‘dance’ across the surface. We do not only see the drawings, we experience them bodily, too. Nearby, Silke Otto-Knapp’s silver paintings of dancers approached the problem somewhat differently by merging a figure with a reflective surface so that the image and its support exist in perpetual tension.

The logic that unified the works in ‘Dance/Draw’ was at times fluid, but this was a strength, insofar as the exhibition was neither too didactic nor linear. Indeed, it ran in a kind of loop, where the first and last rooms fed into one another: the same wall text introduced the show at both ends, encouraging visitors to enter from one side or the other. This served the intention of the exhibition, resisting hierarchies and embracing the heterogeneity of the artistic practices that it encapsulated.

Scott Roben is an artist and writer living in Berlin.