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Joanna Haigood

Joanna Haigood is co-founding director of Zaccho Dance Theatre in San Francisco, which produces and presents performance work that investigates dance as it relates to place.

Site: place or position occupied by something; a location; a point of interest, sometimes referred to as place; identified by specific qualities and elements: traces of past events, a material memory bank. In performance, site has been used to support ritual; it has been used as material and metaphor and has been defined by its history. The body is a personal site.

From ritual ceremonies to busking to highly produced performance events, communities and artists have been expressing their experience and shaping actions in relationship to site for thousands of years. Sites are chosen for a variety of reasons—some for historic importance, some for their ability to accommodate ideas and structures, some for their natural beauty or devastation, and some for their resonance with past lives, known and unknown.

Rituals are sometimes considered the very beginnings of theater and performance. They are created as a way to understand the world around us, to appease the forces of nature, to ensure social hierarchy, and to bring together a community in spiritual practice. Evidence of early rituals goes back as far as 130,000 years and possibly earlier. It is often the intention and structure of the ritualistic action, combined with its relationship to the site, that create a powerful and transporting experience.

A compelling example of this is a contemporary ritual conceived by Anna and Lawrence Halprin in 1981. Between 1979 and 1981 David Carpenter, also known as the Trailside Killer, committed a string of murders in Marin and Santa Cruz Counties, four of which occurred on Mount Tamalpais. The dance pioneer Anna Halprin and her husband, the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, lived on the slopes of the mountain and, with eighty students and community members, created a ritual meant to heal the mountain and the spirit of the community in the wake of these horrific crimes. Called In and On the Mountain, the ritual was performed in some of the exact areas where the murders took place. A few days after the ritual was performed, police received an anonymous tip that ultimately led to Carpenter’s arrest, ending the dark chapter of this beloved mountain. The ritual continues on the mountain each year under a new name, Circle the Earth, and promotes peace on the planet.

The terms site and place are sometimes interchangeable. Place is defined by experience and by memory, by the traces left behind by people, nature, and events. We assign meaning to place through association, which at times can give rise to deep emotions and insights. It can act as a metaphor.

In 2005 the choreographer Ann Carlson and the video artist Mary Ellen Strom created an installation that challenged its viewers to look at consumerism, specifically the apparel industry, and its relationship to its workers. Located at the site of a former Liz Claiborne store in Lower Manhattan, the piece featured large-scale movement-based video portraits of both union and undocumented laborers in New York’s garment industry. The workers, who have historically been invisible to the consumer, spoke about their personal experiences, shared their cultural practices, and created a poetic movement score that demonstrated the nature of their work. These portraits were placed in the areas where the clothing was once displayed and gave the viewer new perspectives on labor issues, the cultural impact on communities, and the ethical complexities that face contemporary consumers.

The land art movement redefined the role of site in art making. Art was no longer confined to the gallery, and the earth and the landscape could be employed as both the material and the canvas. Elements of the landscape were bulldozed, cut down, gathered, and removed to form a new type of sculpture with a completely different scale. Robert Smithson’s heroic Spiral Jetty (1970) is a perfect example and physically expresses the unstable processes in nature.

With the Delaware River as its site and primary material, Eiko and Koma’s elegant and poignant performance River (1995) beautifully portrays the passage of time and of life. As the light changes from day to night, we see their bodies delicately float and struggle in the water. Every movement is directed by the qualities, energy, and flow of the river in conversation with their bodies. The experience is both mundane and extraordinarily magical. At the end of the work they disappear into the darkness, into the depths of the night, and into what feels like eternity.

Site itself can create and dictate community. Rhodessa Jones founded the Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women in 1989 to explore whether an arts-based approach could help reduce the numbers of women returning to jail. Whereas jails and prison are often sites of alienation and isolation, Jones used theater to create a bond among inmates. Looking deeply at their own stories as source material, inmates were given a vehicle to express, acknowledge, and get perspective on the crises that brought them to jail. Having fellow women hear and validate their experiences let them know that they were not alone. This process has produced powerful theater that is both enlightening to its audiences and transformative for its performers.

People provide the soul of architecture. They give architecture a sort of consciousness that imbues it with meaning far beyond its specific functions. Ghost Architecture (2004), which I created with sculptor Wayne Campbell, focused on the four buildings that previously occupied the site of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. During the research phase, I was struck by the 122 eight-by-ten-foot rooms that once made up the West Hotel, one of the four buildings. They were private rooms invested with private activities. In a way they were sacred places, private surveys of emotions and their various manifestations. For most of us, our rooms are places where we feel safest. They are places where we gather the courage to confront the outside and the places where we recover and recharge for the next round. Perhaps most important is their role as places where we store our memories. We put our memories in our collection of objects, in little pieces of paper that we hang on the walls—reminders. The hotel was originally intended to provide lodging for transient male laborers. Known as one of the finer residence hotels in the area, the West Hotel was sought after by single men working locally and at sea. By 1970 most of its residents were over fifty and living on modest pensions. In 1974 all the residents were evicted, and the building was demolished to make way for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts complex. The site is filled with history, personal and social. It held the story of lives disrupted and the hidden, and sometimes tragic, story behind urban renewal.

Our bodies are the repositories of our personal histories. In somatic therapy—a practice pioneered by psychologists, dancers, and philosophers—the body is considered the paramount site of mediation among our consciousness, our biological experience, and the rest of the world. In this reflective process, our layers of memories and experiences are cataloged in our movement patterns and expressed through the way we interact with the world. This embodied dialectical process is the body as site, and it is key to both understanding ourselves and finding our place in the world.

For Further Reference

Joanna Haigood and Wayne Campbell, Ghost Architecture, 2004. An aerial dance installation centering on the architectural and social history of the site. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.

Rhodessa Jones, The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women, 1989–.

Eiko and Koma, River, premiered 1995.

Ann Carlson and Mary Ellen Strom, CAke (Collecting Action and Knowledge about the Everyday), 2005. A site-specific video and performance installation exploring the apparel industry, set in an empty retail space in Lower Manhattan.

Anna and Lawrence Halprin, In and On the Mountain, 1981. Mill Valley and Kentfield, California. A community dance performance and series of rituals at Mount Tamalpais. Circle the Earth developed from the original performance.

Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970. Rozel Point, Great Salt Lake, Utah.

Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical Intersect, 1975. A large cut in neighboring seventeenth-century houses slated for demolition to make way for the Centre Georges Pompidou.

James Luna, The Artifact Piece, 1985–87. The Native American artist put himself on display in a case at the Museum of Man, San Diego.

Back to Back Theatre, small metal objects, premiered 2005, Flinders Street Station concourse, Melbourne, Australia. Has been performed many times since in malls, streets, train stations, ferry terminals, shopping malls, etc.

The Alexander Technique, a somatic method developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander in the 1890s.

See Also

Participation — Joanna Haigood

Relational — Ralph Rugoff

Experience Economy — Elisabeth Sussman

Joanna Haigood and Wayne Campbell, Ghost Architecture, 2004. An aerial dance installation centering on the architectural and social history of the site. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.

Detail from the score for Anna Halprin, In and On the Mountain, 1981. Mill Valley and Kentfield, California. A community dance performance and series of rituals at Mount Tamalpais. © Anna Halprin. Courtesy of the Anna Halprin Papers, Museum of Performance and Design.

James Luna, The Artifact Piece, 1985–87. Courtesy of the San Diego Museum of Man.

Paul Chan, Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, 2007. Photo: Frank Aymami. Courtesy of Creative Time.

Andrea Fraser, Projection, 2008. Still from a 2-channel HD video projection installation. © Andrea Fraser. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nagel Draxler.

David Levine, Bystanders, 2015. Installation view, Gallery TPW, Toronto. Performer: William Ellis. Photo: Guntar Kravis.

VALIE EXPORT, TAPP und TASTKINO (Tap and touch cinema), 1968. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Bildrecht, Vienna. Photo © Werner Schulz.

My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade), Broke People’s Baroque Peoples’ Theater, 2010. Courtesy of Alexandro Segade.

Richard Maxwell, Neutral Hero, 2012. The Kitchen, New York. From left: Janet Coleman, Bob Feldman, Lakpa Bhutia, Andie Springer, Jean Ann Garrish. Photo © Paula Court.

Miguel Gutierrez and Tarek Halaby in Gutierrez's Last Meadow, 2009. Dance Theater Workshop, New York, September 2009. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Mac Wellman, Muazzez, 2014. Performer: Steve Mellor. Chocolate Factory Theater, Queens, New York (a co-presentation with PS 122). Photo: Brian Rogers.

Janine Antoni, Yours Truly, 2010. Ink on paper, 5 7/8 x 8 1/2”. © Janine Antoni. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Yvonne Rainer, score for “Trio B: Running,” from The Mind Is a Muscle, 1966–68. Graphite and ink on paper, 8 5/16 x 7 5/16". The Getty Research Institute. © Yvonne Rainer.

Susan Leigh Foster, The Ballerina’s Phallic Pointe, 2011, a performed lecture in the series Susan Foster! Susan Foster! Three Performed Lectures, produced by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and performed at the Philadelphia Live Arts Studio, 2011. Photo: Jorge Cousineau.

Opening performance of the exhibition “Trisha Brown: So That the Audience Does Not Know Whether I Have Stopped Dancing,” Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2008. Brown improvises movements across a large piece of paper on the Medtronic Gallery floor, holding charcoal and pastel between her fingers and toes, drawing extemporarily. Photo: Gene Pittman for Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Allora & Calzadilla, Sediments Sentiments (Figures of Speech), 2007. Mixed-media installation with live performance and pre-recorded sound track, dimensions variable. © Allora & Calzadilla. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery.

Martha Rosler, Meta-Monumental Garage Sale, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Lucinda Childs, Pastime (1963), 2012, performed by Childs at Danspace as part of Platform 2012: "Judson Now." Photo © Ian Douglas.

Siobhan Davies and Helka Kaski, Manual, 2013. Photo © Alan Dimmick. Courtesy of Glasgow Life.

“Performance Now,” curated by RoseLee Goldberg. Installation view, Kraków Theatrical Reminiscences, Poland, 2014. Photo: Michal Ramus. Courtesy of Independent Curators International (ICI).

Steve Paxton, Intravenous Lecture (1970), 2012. Performed by Stephen Petronio with Nicholas Sciscione. Part of Platform 2012: “Judson Now,” curated by Judy Hussie-Taylor, Danspace, New York. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Installation view, “Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham—Robert Raschenberg,” curated by Darsie Alexander at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2011. Photo: Gene Pittman for Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Chief Dalcour and the Serenity Peace Birds in “Public Practice: An Anti-Violence Community Ceremony,” curated by Delaney Martin and Claire Tancons for New Orleans Airlift, October 25, 2014. Photo: Josh Brasted.

Ain Gordon and David Gordon, The Family Business, premiered 1993. Performers: David Gordon, Ain Gordon, Valda Setterfield. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein. Courtesy of the photographer and Pick Up Performance Co(s).

Hotel Modern, Kamp, 2005. Photo: Herman Helle.

Janine Antoni, Anna Halprin, and Stephen Petronio, Rope Dance, 2015. Photo © Hugo Glendinning. Courtesy of the artists and The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia.

Sarah Michelson, Devotion Study #1—The American Dancer, 2012 Whitney Biennial, February 26, 2012. Photo © Paula Court. Performers: Eleanor Hullihan and Nicole Mannarino.

Ralph Lemon, How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?, 2009. Archival print from original film. © Ralph Lemon.

Pope.L, The Great White Way, 22 miles, 9 years, 1 street (Whitney version), 2001. © Pope.L. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. Photo: Lydia Grey.

Iannis Xenakis, Terretektorh, Distribution of Musicians, 1965. Collection famille Xenakis. Courtesy of the Iannis Xenakis Archives. © Iannis Xenakis.

Lisa Bielawa, Chance Encounter, premiered 2007. Co-conceived with Susan Narucki. Photo: Corey Brennan, 2010, Rome.

Claudia La Rocco, 173-177 [or, Facebook Is Inescapable], 2013. Headlands Center for the Arts. Courtesy of José Carlos Teixeira.

Pina Bausch and the Tanztheater Wuppertal, Palermo, Palermo, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 1991. Photo: Maarten Vanden Abeele.

Tomás Saraceno, Observatory, Air-Port-City, 2008. In “Psycho Buildings: Artists Take on Architecture,” curated by Ralph Rugoff, Hayward Gallery, London. Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York.

Christian Marclay, Chalkboard, 2010, paint and chalk, 210 x 1,045 inches. Installation view, “Christian Marclay: Festival,” 2010, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Collection of the artist; courtesy of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. Photo: Christian Marclay.

Steven Schick at the “Peacock” in the Paul Dresher Ensemble Production of Schick Machine, 2009, by Paul Dresher, Steven Schick, and Rinde Eckert. Mondavi Center, UC Davis, Davis, CA. Photo: Cheung Chi Wai.

Ralph Lemon in An All Day Event: The End, part of Platform 2012: “Parallels.” Danspace, New York. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Installation view, “Allison Smith: Rudiments of Fife & Drum,” The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT. Photo: Chad Kleitsch. Courtesy of The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

David Levine, Habit, 2012. Installation view, Luminato Festival, Toronto, 2011. Photo: David Levine.

Meredith Monk, Shards (1969–73), 2012. Part of Platform 2012: “Judson Now,” curated by Judy Hussie-Taylor, Danspace, New York. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Berlin, Bonanza, 2006. A documentary project focusing on Bonanza, Colorado, population 7. © Berlin.

Gob Squad, Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good), 2007. Photo © David Baltzer / / Agentur Zenit Berlin.

Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz, Hole in Space, 1980. On screens in front of Lincoln Center and The Broadway department store in Los Angeles, passersby could see and talk to their counterparts on the opposite coast, and many “reunions” were quickly set up, in this early example of video conferencing. Courtesy of the Sherrie Rabinowitz and Kit Galloway Archives.

Hans Haacke, News, 1969/2005. Installation view, “State of the Union,” Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, 2005. © Hans Haacke / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.

Pauline Oliveros, circa 1967. Courtesy of the CCM Archive, Mills College, Oakland, CA.

The Builders Association, Elements of Oz, 2015. Photo: Gennadi Novash. Courtesy of Peak Performances @ Montclair State University.

Ain Gordon, A Disaster Begins, 2009. Veanne Cox. Here Arts Center, New York. Photo: Jason Gardner. Courtesy of the photographer and Pick Up Performance Co(s).

Hopscotch, 2015. Directed by Yuval Sharon. Produced by The Industry, Los Angeles. Photo: Dana Ross.

The Wooster Group, BRACE UP!, 1991. Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte. Anna Köhler (on monitor) and Willem Dafoe. Photo © Mary Gearhart.

Tania El Khoury, Jarideh, 2010.

Joanna Haigood and Charles Trapolin, The Monkey and the Devil, performance installation, 2011. Performers: Matthew Wickett, Sean Grimm, Jodi Lomask. Photo: Walter Kitundu.

Jarbas Lopes, Demolition Now, in “SPRING,” curated by Claire Tancons for the 7th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, 2008. Photo: Akiko Ota.

Lisa Bielawa, Crissy Broadcast (part of Airfield Broadcasts), San Francisco, 2013. Photo: James Block.

Erwin Wurm, One Minute Sculpture, 1997/2005. © Erwin Wurm. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Ethyl Eichelberger as Minnie the Maid, 1981. Photo: Peter Hujar. The Peter Hujar Archive. Courtesy of Pace MacGill and Fraenkel Galleries.

Wu Tsang with Alexandro Segade, Mishima in Mexico, 2012. Color HD video, 14:32 minutes. Courtesy of the artists, Clifton Benevento (New York), Michael Benevento (Los Angeles), and Isabella Bortolozzi (Berlin).

Young Jean Lee, Untitled Feminist Show, 2012. Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York, 2012. Hilary Clark, Regina Rocke, and Katy Pyle. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.

Romeo Castellucci, On the Concept of the Face Regarding the Son of God, 2010. Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, 2013. Photo: Kevin Monko.

Jérôme Bel, Le dernier spectacle (The last performance), 1998. Photo: Herman Sorgeloos.

Troubleyn / Jan Fabre, Mount Olympus, 2015. Performance lasts 24 hours. Photo © Wonge Bergmann for Troubleyn / Jan Fabre.

Siobhan Davies Studios, Roof Studio, London. Photo: Peter Cook.

Emily Roysdon, Sense and Sense (a project with MPA), Sergels torg, Stockholm, Sweden, 2010. Courtesy of the artist.

David Lang’s home studio. Photo © Jorge Colombo.

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1964 (replica of 1913 original). Wheel and painted wood. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift of the Galleria Schwarz d’Arte, Milan, 1964. © Succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 2016.

Historical interpreters from Freetown Living History Museum, as part of Allison Smith’s 2008 project The Donkey, The Jackass, and The Mule, with the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Photo: Allison Smith and Michelle Pemberton.

Rimini Protokoll, Situation Rooms, 2013. Photo © Ruhrtriennale / Jörg Baumann.

Jeanine Oleson and Ellen Lesperance, We Like New York and New York Likes Us, 2004. A “wry look back” at Joseph Beuys’s performance with a coyote, I Like America and America Likes Me, René Block Gallery, New York, 1974. Courtesy of the artists.

Christine Hill, Volksboutique Organizational Ventures, 2001. Mixed-media installation, Kunstverein Wolfsburg, Germany. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.

Andrea Fraser, Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk, 1989. Performance. Performance documentation: Kelly & Massa Photography. Courtesy of the artist. © Andrea Fraser.

Theaster Gates, Dorchester Projects, Chicago, 2012. © Theaster Gates. Photo © Sara Pooley. Courtesy of White Cube.

John Cage, two pages from 4'33" (original version, in proportional notation), 1952/1953. Ink on paper, 11 x 8 1/2" each sheet. Acquired by The Museum of Modern Art through the generosity of Henry Kravis in honor of Marie-Josée Kravis. © 1993 Henmar Press Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission of C. F. Peters Corporation. Photo © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.

Yoko Ono, Painting For The Wind, summer 1961. First published in Yoko Ono: Grapefruit (Tokyo: Wunternaum Press, July 4, 1964). © Yoko Ono.

Rosemary Lee, Square Dances, 2011, commissioned by Dance Umbrella. Square Dances took place in four central London squares throughout a day, with different casts in each: 10 children in Woburn Square, 100 women in Gordon Square, 35 men in Brunswick Gardens, 25 dance students in Queen Square. Each performance involved bells, ranging from a huge church bell that struck every minute; to a handmade musical instrument using bells within its barrel structure, created and composed by Terry Mann; to tiny hand bells for the dancers. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.

Dictaphone Group, This Sea is Mine, 2012.

Joanna Haigood and Wayne Campbell, Ghost Architecture, 2004. An aerial dance installation centering on the architectural and social history of the site. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco.

Ann Hamilton, the event of a thread, 2012–13. Park Avenue Armory, New York. Curated by Kristy Edmunds. Photo © Ian Douglas.

Robert Wilson and Marina Abramović, The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, premiered 2011. Park Avenue Armory, New York, 2013. Foreground: Willem Dafoe. Photo: Joan Marcus. Courtesy of Park Avenue Armory.

Richard Maxwell, Neutral Hero, 2012. The Kitchen, New York. From left: Janet Coleman, Bob Feldman, Lakpa Bhutia, Andie Springer, Jean Ann Garrish. Photo © Paula Court.

Ann Liv Young, The Bagwell in Me, 2008. Photo: Scott Newman, Revel in New York.

Xavier Le Roy, “Retrospective,” 2012–. Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, 2012. Photo: Lluís Bover. © Fundació Antoni Tàpies.

Ethyl Eichelberger as Minnie the Maid, 1981. Photo: Peter Hujar. The Peter Hujar Archive. Courtesy of Pace MacGill and Fraenkel Galleries.

David Levine, Habit, 2012. Installation view, Luminato Festival, Toronto, 2011. Photo: David Levine.

Rimini Protokoll, 100% Yogyakarta, 2015. Teater Garasi, Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia. © Goethe-Institut Indonesien / KDIP Viscom.

Bebe Miller Company, A History, 2012. Angie Hauser and Darrell Jones. Photo: Michael Mazzola.