Judy Hussie-Taylor is executive and artistic director of Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery in New York, where she established the Platform series of programs and performances.
All of us worked totally committed, shared every intense emotion and, I think, performed miracles, for love only.
Installation is the act of putting some “thing” into place. It is utilitarian, pragmatic. Install the toilet. That said, installing the urinal upside down is one of the great meditations of the twentieth century.
Installation artists create works (events, constructions, performances, or situations) taking into account environment, architecture, and/or specificity of space or place to construct or choreograph multifaceted sensorial experiences. Strategies may vary in accordance with the aesthetic or critical intentions of individual artists or collectives. Installation works are often participatory, explicitly or implicitly challenging conventional notions of audience, viewer, or spectator.
Installation became the dominant art genre of the 1980s and 1990s. Material concerns, metaphorical resonances, experiential alternatives to the art-historical canon, and performative presence came to define the art of these decades.1
Dance’s contributions to the history of installation art is worthy of further consideration. Carolyn Brown recalls that during the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s first European tour, in 1964, Cunningham and Cage created “events” in response to invitations to present their work in museums:
In Vienna, we were scheduled to perform our work in the Museum of the Twentieth Century, but it had no theater. . . . Merce and John created a special format, reminiscent of Cage’s 1952 Black Mountain Happening. This format would . . . [allow] the company to perform in almost any situation, from New York’s Grand Central Terminal . . . to the Piazza San Marco in Venice. . . . For want of a better title, [they] called the performance in Vienna “Museum Event #1.” . . . Forty years later, Event #725 took place in Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in London.2
Dance installation—dance out of its proper place (the theater)—alters and heightens perception. As Claire Bishop has noted, “Perception is understood to be something mutable and slippery: not the function of a detached gaze upon the world from a centered consciousness, but integral to the entire body and nervous system, a function that can be wrong-footed at a moment's notice.”3 Bishop speaks to the situation we find ourselves in when we are in close proximity to live dancers and performers, as we are in the installation, without the distancing, separating conventions of the lit stage and theatrical expectations of the black box.
Whether on the proscenium stage or in a black-box space, the wobble is conventionally considered a mistake, a failure. But the proximity of spectator to performer in an installation context offers startling intimacy; one hears breath, sees sweat, and feels the swoosh of the moving body. The spectator sees and senses effort and effortlessness. The “wrong-footed” wobble invokes something else, kinesthetic empathy, a fluctuation in consciousness, the ineffable. We share the mutable and perceptually heightened space with the performer, with whom we perform and perceive. In this context, performance is about perception and implicates the spectator.
In a discussion of Eiko and Koma’s installation Naked at the Walker Art Center, Eiko said, “We think that the body offers a radical questioning, particularly in a museum context—not asking questions necessarily, but questioning as a state of being. For us a body, or the acute sense of remains or the lack of a body, is always a part of our artistic pursuit and a larger conception of a possibility for art. It is a frame and a space: A body gives other objects and situations scale and reference.”4 Bodily presence offers a radical frame of reference. Perhaps the only tenable frame of reference is shared vulnerability. Her statement echoes Rauschenberg’s statement about emotion and commitment and performing miracles.
Alain Badiou writes, “The encounter between two differences is an event, is contingent and disconcerting, ‘love’s surprises,’ theatre yet again.” He continues, “Love is above all a construction that lasts.”5 I recently asked Ralph Lemon, “How long does the ineffable last?” He replied, “As long as memory.”
I spent the past two years immersed in the memories of Judson Dance Theater artists while researching Platform 2012: “Judson Now” for Danspace Project’s 2012 season. The artists recollected the porous nature of experimentation across disciplines in the early 1960s, suggesting that Judson’s influence is too narrowly circumscribed. Interviews with seminal Judson artists revealed memories of performative installation events from this period; these innovative cross-disciplinary pieces call for a revision of the conventional narratives of both dance and installation art.
Experiments by artists working with and in the body in the late 1950s and early 1960s—pioneered in part by Anna Halprin and her students Trisha Brown, Simone Forti, Meredith Monk, and Yvonne Rainer—were critical to the artistic advances that came to be known across several disciplines as minimalism. Forti’s Dance Constructions, first performed in 1961 as part of La Monte Young’s evenings at Yoko Ono’s Chambers Street loft, mark a seminal moment in the history of installation, dance, and sculpture. These and other early works by dance artists and sculptors hovered between minimalist sculpture and dance.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, first published in English in 1962, profoundly influenced an emerging generation of New York artists. Merleau-Ponty’s claim that perception is not simply a question of vision but involves the whole body resonated with concerns of artists of this period: “I do not see [space] according to its exterior envelope; I live it from the inside; I am immersed in it. After all the world is all around me, not in front of me.”6
According to Forti, early pieces from 1960s were intended to be experienced as both dance and sculpture: “Huddle, Slant Board, or Hangers, which is not as well known and is a series of ropes hanging, looped from the ceiling so that you could stand in the loop. About five people would stand in those loops, in a sense hang there, and four people would walk among them bumping—not bumping on purpose but just walking through, which would cause them to bump and sway. I saw that as a sculpture and also as a dance.”7
It is clear that Judson Dance Theater’s radical experiments were influential and generative for artists across disciplines. Unfortunately these experiments were not captured on film, and we are left, for the most part, with photo documentation and the artists’ memories. Carolee Schneemann recalled an installation constructed by Charles Ross at Judson. Ross installed an eight-foot-high platform throughout the Judson Church sanctuary, on which he placed chairs, numerous car tires, and multiple bedsprings. Performers and dancers performed in, around, and on the precarious structure during concerts on November 19 and 20, 1963. Schneemann recalls inviting Ross “to contribute something. What did he contribute? 180 fucking chairs that we had to crawl around. It was terrifying. It was a mountain and any wrong move could bring everything crashing down.”8
Schneemann’s performance installation Water Light / Water Needle (1966) at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery’s Parish Hall blurred the lines between performance event and sculptural environment. She recalled, “We worked long and hard and the Church never complained about hammering ropes into the supporting structure. There was no insurance. A friend . . . did the engineering and he structured the pulleys and weights and [figured out] how to keep the ropes there. There was no question of endangering the audience who were positioned under us. If we fell, they were going to have to react. That was part of the work.”9
There were eight performers, including Schneemann and Meredith Monk, navigating ropes and pulleys in constant contact with one another but never touching the floor. Schneemann has written, “With performers climbing on suspended ropes, it was conceived as an aerial work for ropes rigged across the canal at San Marco . . . finally realized at Saint Mark's Church in-the-Bowery (Venetian namesake), then later rigged in a grove of trees to be filmed. The transparencies of Venice still motivated the actual aerial arrangement of ropes which enclosed or surrounded the audience seated below." 10 It was performed a second time, in a “grove of trees” as a site-specific outdoor installation on the Havermeyer Estate in Mahwah, New Jersey.
Robert Rauschenberg’s Spring Training, created and performed for the 1965 New York Theater Rally, curated by Steve Paxton, is yet another groundbreaking performance installation of the Judson era. Paxton remembered Trisha Brown wearing a wedding dress, Deborah Hay tap-dancing, and, at the end of the one-time-only event, Christopher Rauschenberg releasing thirty turtles with flashlights taped to their shells into a darkened hall. In a 2012 phone conversation, Paxton told me that the shadows on the walls made the turtles appear like dinosaurs. He later wrote in an e-mail, “During the turtle event, Bob walked around in the space on homemade wooden stilts . . . dressed in a flannel shirt with a plaid pattern, the normal sort, sleeves rolled up, in white underpants which just barely showed beneath the shirt. . . . There [was] an implied danger to the turtles in this setup, only a threat. Of course, the turtles [were] clearly visible to the stilt walker due to the flashlights.”11 For months I imagined reconstructing the “turtle section” at Danspace Project, imagining thirty turtles in a waddling dance across the St. Mark’s floor, the disorienting flicker of flashlights, and the haunting dinosaur shadows.
The following are dance installation events “that do not enter into the immediate order of things”12: Trisha Brown’s Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1970/2008/2010), performed first in SoHo and then, decades later, at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Ralph Lemon’s An All Day Event. The End (2012) at Danspace Project, New York, and Lemon’s Untitled Duet (2010) at Danspace Project and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2012); Sarah Michelson’s Devotion Study #1: An American Dancer (2012) at the Whitney; Tacita Dean’s Craneway Event (2009) at Danspace Project, commissioned by Performa; Meredith Monk’s Ascension Variations (2009) and Juice: A Theater Cantata in 3 Installments (1969), both performed at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Installation’s art-historical precedents have been thoroughly considered by art historians, notably Claire Bishop and Juliane Rebentisch. ↩
Carolyn Brown, Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2009), 387. ↩
Claire Bishop, Installation Art: A Critical History (New York: Routledge, 2005), 48. ↩
Eiko Otake, in “Talking Dance with Eiko and Koma” (interview with Philip Bither), The Green Room (blog), October 27, 2010, http://blogs.walkerart.org/performingarts/2010/10/27/talking-dance-with-eiko-koma/. ↩
Alain Badiou with Nicholas Truong, In Praise of Love, trans. Peter Bush (New York: New Press, 2012), 29, 32. ↩
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind,” in The Primacy of Perception, ed. James M. Edie (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 138. ↩
Simone Forti, in “In Conversation: Simone Forti with Claudia La Rocco,” Brooklyn Rail, April 2, 2010, http://www.brooklynrail.org/2010/04/dance/simone-forti-with-claudia-la-rocco. ↩
Huffa Frobes-Cross and Judy Hussie-Taylor, _Conversation with Carolee Schneemann (New York: Danspace Project, 2012). ↩
Ibid., 45. ↩
Steve Paxton, e-mail to the author, July 2, 2012. ↩
Badiou, In Praise of Love, 28. ↩
Cunningham/Cage Events, beginning with the 1964 International Tour.
Artists/collaborators: Merce Cunningham, John Cage, David Tudor, Robert Rauschenberg
Venue: Sogetsu Art Center, Tokyo (and subsequent locations).
Robert Rauschenberg, Spring Training, 1965. Part of the First New York Theater Rally, abandoned CBS studio, Broadway and Eighty-first Street, New York, May 1965.
Eiko & Koma, Naked, 2010–11. Walker Art Center, Baryshnikov Arts Center, MCA Chicago.
Meredith Monk, Ascension Variations, March 5, 2009. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. A one-time-only performance including aspects of Monk’s Songs of Ascension (2008) and her seminal 1968 performance at the Guggenheim, Juice.
Ralph Lemon with Nari Ward, An All Day Event. The End, March 31, 2012. A ten-hour performance installation with ten performers at Danspace Project in St. Mark’s Church, as part of Platform 2012: Parallels, curated by Ishmael Houston-Jones.