Verb Dance Blog

Beside: an Interview with Gerard & Kelly (Part 2)

By Katy Dammers

Apr 25, 2014

Part 2: Verb Dance

K: Let’s talk about Verb Dance, the piece you did the first weekend. Can you tell me a little bit about how the verbs acted as directives for the dancers? Would you call them dancers? Or would it be performers?

R: In Verb Dance we’re working with two highly skilled dancers and their initial task was to not allow movement to become dance in some way. 

K: What is movement versus dance? 

R: I don’t know if I know. We’re in a theater space, but we didn’t want to create the illusion that the theater commands in some ways. So through many different actions we wanted to be very literal about our presence. This is a black box was the first realization. This is a riser system, this riser system cannot be removed, and it is in fact what largely lodges the space as a black box. So we deconstructed it to its essential structure. We moved it all to the other side of the room and in that process we recorded it, classic minimalist move, and played it back and that becomes the sound score. So this is what you’re seeing, this is what it sounded like to create it. Or decreate it, deconstruct it. And then the discovery that the essential structure of the riser system was made of steel through some association led us to think of Richard Serra and his wonderful practicum that he invented in 1967 for everything that he could think to do with steel, which itself was inspired from his looking at Trisha Brown dances and listening to Steve Reich music.

B: He’s embedded in that moment we all like.

R: Which in some way is primal to the Kitchen. So then Serra’s given us 108 verbs for everything he could think to do with steel and his investigation was ostensibly to see where does sculpture happen, when does sculpture happen? At what point does my activity with steel become a sculpture? So he kind of lets sculpture hang in the room somehow.

B: Literally.

R: I think then our first step was to transpose that to a question of choreography or dance. When does movement become choreography or when does it become dance? And so the first part of the score is for a performer to move through Serra’s syntax beginning with “to roll, to bend, to crease, to fold” and working all the way to his actually 109th verb which is “to continue,” which is kind of meta already. Meaning he was already thinking about this as something, a practice that he would continue to return to. So that was the first move. The next move was to basically shift this into a process of interaction.

K: Right, that’s when the second dancer is added.

R: Then the verbs start to be used to mediate one another’s movement, using the system of 108 magnets stuck to the steel structure and then ultimately one another’s bodies. We were interested in, it’s very subtle, but again that shift from “verb list,” or “actions to do with oneself,” to “verb list” as a series of interactions, getting to that interactive space. I think it’s a different medium than what’s going on upstairs, but it is similarly trying to enact a partnership using different terms. And I think similarly there’s a role for the viewer which is unpredictable and over the course of the few presentations we could already see the variable of the viewer and his or her participation – how close will they come, will they speak to the performers, will the performers engage with them? At a certain point you realize we are in a room together. 

B: Will they engage with the score, how will they take the situation of the deconstructed black box? There was I think for some people a desire to kind of contain that and return it to a black box. 

K: At the opening there were some people that just sat down, as if the stage space had been flipped. 

B: Exactly, and that’s very interesting to me. But I hope that because there are different modes of spectatorship and the piece is open to it that might make people hopefully aware of what they’re choosing. How they’re choosing to relate to this artwork – becoming more conscious of those institutional regulations that we’ve internalized in a way. We’re supposed to act this way in a theater or this way in a gallery, or this way in a performance, we’re supposed to look this way at dance. All of these things are ingrained. I think a lot of our work has been struggling with those and trying not to be determined by that institutional framework. 

K: Both of you are dancers. How do you push up against that? Do you want your work to be seen as dance or visual art? Or the two side by side?

 R: I think that I’m very interested in dancing and the use of dance as a form of expression or articulation. I’m not so interested in dance as a medium at this point.

K: Why so?

R: I think that in many ways the dance field has become stymied and there’s a lot of different reasons for this that I might speculate, but I think that the institutions are not able to support the kind of experiments that need to happen to keep the field alive. And I really don’t know what’s going to happen. For me that’s a concern. At the same time I think that our work has simply just taken us in another direction, maybe partly influenced by that realization or observation, but also I think that once you engage with the exhibition context, the space of the exhibition, the time of the exhibition, we deal with it as a site with its own discourses. When you know its own histories and you know the movement from sculpture to installation to performance, you’re not dealing with dance. You might be dancing, you might be using dance, you might be thinking of choreography in an expanded way, you might even be unearthing certain terms like choreography and dance as they may have already existed in performance art and installation, but you’re explicitly working within a history of visual art. And I think that that is a transition in our work and something we’re very excited about and engaged with. Some of the reasons for that I can understand and some other reasons I can’t understand – how do you know why you do the things you do? But I would say that it’s important to me and probably to both of us that dance and dancing are not negated. I’m interested in how those forms – the forms of dance and dancing – can be motivated within the exhibition context to animate new ideas within the history of that site and to extend projects from sculpture and installation that I’m interested in. I think dance could be useful.

B: I think it’s an important question, but I think to sidestep the question a bit, I think that our work together is kind of driven by a question that is both outside of dance itself and art itself, both as medium and as institution, and is really coming from something that is both very personal and political. It’s that classical feminist dialectic - it’s this subjective investment in relationships that have some degree of kind of responsibility or fidelity and how that relates to a larger world and specifically the formation of a queer subject in relationship to other queer subjects. Those questions for me are more generative than whether it’s dance or whether It’s art because I think those questions can be asked using a variety of media that exist for us now in the so-called post-medium condition.

K: So it’s less about the medium for you and more about the larger questions.

B: Well I think the medium is very important, but I’m also interested in other kinds of media like time and memory. I think this is very interesting territory, but I think it’s also important to distinguish between what is an institutional question, a field question, a medium question, and a project question – what is the question, the questions in your work that are driving it? What we definitely see right now in the discourse is the kind of art-dance thing, but I don’t want to reduce my work to that intersection, though I do think that’s interesting and important.

K: Have you learned anything new that’s been exciting or unexpected for you? How do you think that might propel you towards your new project or your next iteration of Timelining?

B: That’s a really good question. I do feel like I’m continuing to learn about the work, that’s why I think we’re still here. In many ways I think the best advice to an artist is you open the show and you leave. So sometimes I feel like – why am I still here? – but I’m still learning about it. One of the major things that was a discovery, that was unplanned, was that during the opening weekend that the downstairs space, the theater, started to approach the kind of attention of a gallery public – people came and went, they had conversations, it was sort of like the distracted mobile spectator. Whereas upstairs, which I wasn’t expecting at all, there was almost the attention given to a theater – people were quiet, hushed, paying attention, generally kind of moving away from the performance, kind of creating, not a proscenium, but creating a performance space and an audience space. That scene to me was a reversal. The spaces were upheld, it was a white box and a black box, but the temporalities were reversed. And that was the discovery, I learned about that. It was exciting for me because I felt, specifically in regards to the black box, this potential that I could work in a black box in the future. I was really nervous about working in the theater, right now for some reason, that is the site of a lot of problems – some of which are very exciting and some of which just are like “I’m over those problems.” So that was exciting, I learned that, I learned that about The Kitchen as well, that there’s flexibility within these two spaces. Even upstairs in the gallery, the time of the theater is present in the space, in the history of the space. So there’s something lingering there. The Kitchen is a very unique site because of that, those two temporalities that are taking place.

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