Sunday, September 7, 2008

Memory, Nostalgia, Film and Performance at Nexus

It was a rainy evening that brought the Graphic Conscience to the Crane Arts Building for a pair of Philly Fringe performances presented by “asNEXUS,” at the NEXUS/Foundation for Today’s Art. Despite having a name that conjures the sound of a sneeze, the two pieces presented, assembling minutiae and Wanna Kiss Myself, were hybrids of dance, sound, performance and finally audience participation. Dance and movement are not typically seen as graphic art forms, however, the negative spaces created by bodies in motion and the temporal marks of the human form while holding a pose belie this notion.

assembling minutiae

The first of the two performances, this piece describes itself as “an environment designed to explore the construction of memories…thought by neuroscientists to be a dynamic process reiterated each time a memory is called to mind, as minute aspects inhabit separate spaces in the brain and must journey together to form recognizable images.”

Several video projections created an environment for mullet-haired performer Emily Sweeney’s dance/movements (see above, photo by the Graphic Conscience). Most were projected towards the back walls of the performance space, with one at an angle off to the side. From where I was sitting, this angled projection eventually seemed to work, although I wondered about other parts of the audience. At the beginning of the performance multiple projections seemed gratuitous, but began to make more sense as the piece developed.

This piece evolved through projections of several performers in brightly lit spaces illuminating Sweeney’s movements. As the performance continued, she seemed to wrestle, fuck, embrace or seek some sort of ghost or invisible presence. The projections and the droning tones of the accompanying sound performance appeared to embody memories that continue to haunt Sweeney, something relived but not willingly remembered.

At the end of the performance, Sweeney stood in a column of light, and then returned to the fetal position in which she had begun her movements from. It did not feel that Sweeney’s performance came to any resolution with her ghosts; instead it seemed to suggest relief with having escaped the past.

Wanna Kiss Myself

First presented as a film, Wanna Kiss Myself was shot as a site-specific dance/performance in an emblematic Philadelphia row home. Various dancers move through the narrow hallways, stairways, and barely seventeen-foot wide spaces of typical Philadelphia row home architecture. More than anything, I think I enjoyed the site-specific nature of the piece. Director/dancer J. Makary sporadically retained and covered up the knickknacks and chatchkes that define and clutter up our lives. I actually enjoyed the movements more when the clutter was present; it transformed the adolescent pretentiousness of the piece to something more profound.

I was bothered by her sporadic choices to not reveal – they seemed chosen at random. I kept expecting the dancers to pull away the white sheets or paper that was obscuring the objects, but perhaps Makary chose not to just because that would be too predictable.

Makary’s genius may be her ability to imbue the slightest movements with the tension of a grand plie. The film alternates between this controlled rigidity and then releases of oomph and vigor. At the end of the film, she returns to this tautness then allows it to gently dissipate.

After the film, Makary, accompanied by a vibrating goat, came on stage to do a smartass meta performance with barely-willing audience participation of which the documentation will be on display on Nexus’ website and in its gallery from September 11 till October 3. Makary explains that because something she referred to as the “Trans-National Arts Something Important” was coming to Nexus, they needed something “really good” on display in the gallery for when they came. As comfortable as Makary appears before the camera, her live performance felt a little forced and short.

I see a great future for Makary, but I believe that she needs to develop more ease with a live audience. That said, I am interested to see what the eventual exhibition will evolve into, how it will embody Makary's ability to manipulate friction, subtlety, and ironic wit.

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