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November 10 2010

Andrew Motion on Rousseau

The former poet laureate considers The Toll-Gate, in which the French artist painted the place where he worked as a tax collector

October 12 2010

How the 60s New York arts scene revolutionised dance

New York in the 1960s saw a creative explosion as dancers, artists, poets and musicians came together – in a church. And the dance world is still feeling the fallout

It's a sweltering September day in New York and Yvonne Rainer, one of the most iconoclastic choreographers of her generation, is having lunch in a SoHo restaurant that offers, among other mysterious and expensive things, "teenage lettuce". It's a world away from the bohemian SoHo that Rainer inhabited back in the 1960s, when the area's lofts were home to artists of every hue.

Yet Rainer, straight-backed, fiercely cogent and still creating work, remains true to the decade when downtown Manhattan was a pressure cooker of creativity and experimentation. It was a time, likened by some to 1920s Paris, when choreographers, painters, writers and musicians went on a collective mission to reinvent their art forms. And it was a time, in particular, when choreographers and visual artists formed a new bond, collaborating and influencing each other. The results changed both stage and gallery for ever.

"The art world was so much smaller then," Rainer says. "The same group of people were involved in music concerts, art events and dance concerts. It was an exhilarating time, a very heady time."

One of the key venues in this cultural explosion was a large Baptist church, presided over by a former-marine-turned-minister called Howard Moody, who had unusually hip, libertarian views of what his ministry involved. Impressed by the creative buzz emanating from Greenwich Village and beyond, Moody opened up Judson Memorial Church to local artists who needed space to exhibit, rehearse or perform but couldn't pay rent.

The minister astonished everyone with his tolerance of what went on in his church – as long as it didn't happen on a Sunday. Rainer once staged a work with naked dancers. "There was a huge scandal," she says. "I think the church was threatened with excommunication from the main Baptist organisation. But Howard didn't care."

In 1962, Rainer and a small group of passionately experimental choreographers founded the Judson Dance Theatre – but it was never just about dance. Musicians, poets and, above all, visual artists gave in to its pull, all of them participating in collective workshops and many, despite having no training, performing in works choreographed there. The most famous participant was Robert Rauschenberg. "He loved being around dancers," Rainer says. Others included sculptors and conceptual artists Robert Morris and Alex Hay. "We were a community of people who partied together, ate together, travelled together and worked together," says Hay. "I don't see anything like that today." It felt, he adds, like a family.

Pelicans and parachutes

Ideas were transmitted between dancers and artists almost by osmosis. Rauschenberg – fascinated by the idea of extending visual art into performance – was one of the first artists to try choreography. He made his debut with Pelican, in which he rollerskates dangerously around Carolyn Brown, the serene, exquisite Merce Cunningham dancer. Both are wearing parachutes that billow behind them like giant dragonfly wings. Some film of the 1963 piece survives, confirming Rainer's memory of it as an "extraordinary work".

This fascinating footage is one of the highlights of Move: Choreographing You, a new show that opens today at London's Southbank Centre. Its aim is to capture and celebrate that vital moment in the 1960s when, as curator Stephanie Rosenthal puts it, "artists began exploring the world through their bodies as well as through their eyes". As well as dance inspired by Morris's minimalist sculpture and a re-creation of an early "happening" by master assemblagist Allan Kaprow, Move boasts The Fact of the Matter, an installation by William Forsythe that makes its spectators become dancers by having them swing and clamber through a forest of gymnast rings.

Morris performed in many Judson works but also choreographed four of his own. Rainer remembers these as "beautiful pieces" in which Morris's dance language evolved through an unusual method: the performers shunting and shoving huge, free-standing wooden structures about the stage.

But the choreographers were just as fascinated by the visual artists. Rainer tried to find the dance equivalent of Morris's sculpture, his simple objects and pared-down forms. In We Shall Run, she created a seven-minute piece from 12 dancers running in patterns around the floor.

"There were just so many ideas floating around," says Lucinda Childs, another Judson choreographer. "I grabbed on to Bob Morris's minimalism but pop art was fascinating to me, too." Her solo work Carnation was the performance equivalent of one of Rauschenberg's "combines", or works assembled from seemingly random images and objects. Childs, a meticulously beautiful dancer, enacted a grave but nonsensical ritual that involved assembling a hat out of hair curlers and a colander, and making a weeping assault on a blue plastic bag.

"I was always trying to shock the others at Judson," says Deborah Hay, another choreographer. "Trying to make them go, 'Is that really dance?' It was a blast." But, despite the free trafficking of ideas and opportunities, there was one sense in which the dancers felt inferior to the artists. "They had so much more pull than us," says Rainer, "because of their contacts with powerful galleries and critics. Bob Rauschenberg was the most powerful. In fact, it was through him that we began to get invitations to perform elsewhere. In a sense, we were the dancing girls who were brought in at the tail of the meteor."

It didn't last. In the mid 60s, as pivotal members began to go off to explore their own projects, the Judson collective unravelled. But the conceptual links that were forged between them have proved much more durable. Move not only includes work from the Judson era but a huge variety of material built on its foundation in the decades that followed.

Backwards and in the nude

All the issues that so preoccupied Rauschenberg, Rainer and their peers, such as the blurred divide between artist and performer, the relationship between body and space, the possibility of turning gesture into art, remain provocatively alive in the contributions to Move – including the latest work from Spanish performance artist La Ribot, which provides a detailed list of instructions to the spectators, suggesting actions to perform as they watch.

But one of the most telling examples of the power that Judson has wielded over the contemporary art world is Trio A, a work Rainer choreographed in 1966. The piece, which will be danced at the Hayward once a week, involves a four-and-a-half-minute phrase of movement, performed in a studiedly neutral fashion with dancer or dancers averting their eyes from the audience. Over the years, it has been staged in many ways: nude, backwards, as an hour-long solo. Even at its first showing it acquired a degree of notoriety. Rainer had made the decision to have wooden slats thrown loudly on to the side of the stage throughout, causing one irritated viewer to grab a slat, tie a white hankie to it, and signal his surrender.

"Now," Rainer says, "Trio A has become a kind of fetish," and she has started keeping a catalogue of how it has been used in other people's work: there was a collection of paintings by a Norwegian artist, each one inspired by its moves; and a piece of New York performance art in which a film of Rainer dancing was screened alongside four hip-hoppers from Harlem attempting the choreography. "That was a disaster," she grins.

But Rainer also has plans of her own. Soon to turn 76, she is going to dance the work again herself, live. "It will involve a new kind of effort with grunts and groans attached," she says. "It will be a whole new form. I'm going to call it Geriatric Trio A." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 08 2010

Four short links: 8 October 2010

  1. Training Lessons Learned: Interactivity (Selena Marie Deckelmann) -- again I see parallels between how the best school teachers work and the best trainers. I was working with a group of people with diverse IT backgrounds, and often, I asked individuals to try to explain in their own words various terms (like “transaction”). This helped engage the students in a way that simply stating definitions can’t. Observing their fellow students struggling with terminology helped them generate their own questions, and I saw the great results the next day - when students were able to define terms immediately, that took five minutes the day before to work through.
  2. Software Evolution Storylines -- very pretty visualizations of code development, inspired by an xkcd comic.
  3. asmxml -- XML parser written in assembly language. (via donaldsclark on Twitter)
  4. Poetic License -- the BSD license, translated into verse. Do tractor workers who love tractors a lot translate tractor manuals into blank verse? Do the best minds of plumber kid around by translating the California State Code into haikus? Computer people are like other people who love what they do. Computer people just manipulate symbols, whether they're keywords in Perl or metrical patterns in software licenses. It's not weird, really. I promise.

October 06 2010

Four short links: 6 October 2010

  1. “Poetic” Statistical Machine Translation: Rhyme and Meter (PDF) -- Google Research paper on how to machine translate text into poetry. This is the best paper I've read in a long time: clever premise, straightforward implementation, and magnificent results. There's a very workable translation of Oscar Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Gaol" into a different meter, which you'll know isn't easy if you've ever tried your hand at poetry more complex than "there once was a young man called Enis". (via Poetic Machine Translation on the Google Research blog)
  2. Android Most Popular Operating System in US Among Recent Smartphone Buyers (Nielsen blog) -- the graphs say it all. Note how the growth in Android handset numbers doesn't come at the expense of Blackberry or iPhone users? Android users aren't switchers, they're new smartphone owners. (via Hacker News)
  3. Government Data to be Machine Readable (Guardian) -- UK government to require all responses to Freedom of Information Act requests to be machine readable.
  4. jQuery Fundamentals -- CC-SA-licensed book on jQuery programming. (via darren on Twitter)

October 02 2010

What Ever Happened to Modernism? by Gabriel Josipovici | Book review

If you're looking for a solution to the current debate over modernism in Gabriel Josipovici's book, look elsewhere

"Why," BS Johnson once asked, "do so many novelists still write as though the revolution that was Ulysses had never happened?" Almost 40 years on, the question remains valid, and Gabriel Josipovici should be well placed to answer it. He is a distinguished novelist, critic and teacher, a polyglot scholar and a research professor at the University of Sussex. Here he argues, rightly, that modernism in the arts must be considered not simply a period or a style, but a deeply rooted response to crises of truth, authority and originality that stretch back to Cervantes and beyond.

As that synopsis suggests, What Ever Happened to Modernism? is essentially an academic book, and its appearance in the review sections is largely due to a classic literary spat stirred up by a Guardian journalist. Professor Josipovici objected that a few disparaging comments about Amis, Rushdie et al had been taken to represent a thesis that was in fact "not interested in personalities" – a defence that would have been more convincing were it not that the chapter in question mounts an ad hominem attack on those "English pseudo-Modernists" and their "beady-eyed refusal to be taken in by highfalutin language".

Headlines aside, the book itself is a welcome intervention in the long debate about the difference between art and entertainment, although it's a shame that Josipovici is not always as lucid or precise as one could wish. While making a point about a passage of early Wallace Stevens, for instance, he explains Stevens's response to the impasse of modernism by recalling "what Donne long ago recommended: 'He who would truth find/ About must and about must go'". The quotation is superfluous to the argument, but it is good advice, and would be even better were it closer to what Donne actually wrote:

On a huge hill

Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will

Reach her, about must, and about must go,

And what the hill's suddenness resists, win so.

It's a small slip, but hardly a minor one, since the point of quoting Donne's labouring lines is that the metre requires of a reader the kind of struggle counselled by the words, just as Stevens requires of his difficult verse that it strain towards an essential truth while holding open the possibility that such truths might remain out of reach.

It's hard to fluff the couplet unless you're dealing solely in abstractions, which should be a warning about the abstractions that too often pass here for reasoning. More to the point, a sceptical reader is unlikely to be persuaded to pay more attention to the prose of Robert Pinget, or to the music of György Kurtág, by a critic who has just made a molehill out of a metaphysical mountain.

So what did happen to modernism? Professor Josipovici seems reluctant to answer his own question, other than to hint that it may have crept back to the continent whence it came, shaking its head ruefully at the provincial attitudes of small-minded, beady-eyed Britain. Can that be true? Or might it simply have gone to ground in its natural habitat: the small presses and little magazines? And can we take seriously a book that raises the issue without mentioning – to name only a few writers – Henry Green or James Hanley, Alasdair Gray or Angela Carter, WS Graham or Iain Sinclair? After all, to complain that McEwan, Barnes & Co aren't living up to the legacy of British modernism is a little like complaining that the cheesemonger has run out of chalk.

In 2004, a similar media storm was brewing around Randall Stevenson's volume in the Oxford English Literary History, which had favoured the abstruse poetry of JH Prynne – a modernist of a kind – over that of Philip Larkin. Asked by the Today programme to adjudicate, the late Frank Kermode replied, generously: "Why can't people like them both?" To tackle that question, which is more than rhetorical, would entail thinking hard about arts education, about publishers and prizes, and about the failings of critics and journalists. It is worth pondering, and remains to be answered: there are no solutions here. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

September 02 2010

Men of Words


Regions: Middle East

In this moving and visually stunning documentary, Director Johanne Ihle travels to the mountains of Southern Yemen to capture an ancient practice amongst Yemenite men. The stark contrast between oral tradition and an increasingly digital age of documentation, has been juxtaposed in the tribal regions of Yemen, where men who gather to share their poetic thoughts on politics, current events, and social issues, record everything on audio cassette. While seemingly antiquated in comparison to other global communication advances, these tapes act as strong weapons against political and religious censorship.

Men of Words | Link TV

February 14 2010

Ein Mann schreibt

Paris, 1959: Der Schriftsteller William Burroughs bei der Arbeit.

Foto: Loomis Dean (LIFE). |

“The Subliminal Kid moved in and took over bars cafes and juke boxes of the world’s cities and installed radio transmitters and microphones in each bar so that the music and the talk in any bar could be heard in all his bars and he had tape recorders in each bar that played and recorded at arbitrary intervals and his agents moved back and forth with portable tape recorders and brought back street sound and talk and music and poured it into his recorder array so he set waves and eddies and tornadoes of sound down all your streets”

William Burroughs, “Nova Express” (1964)

(Gefunden bei Ordinary Finds)

Hierzu siehe auch:

Cut-ups. |
Erntedank-Gebet von William S. Burroughs. |
William S. Burroughs, A Junkies Christmas 1. |
William S. Burroughs, A Junkies Christmas 2. |
William S. Burroughs, A Junkies Christmas 3. |
William S. Burroughs, A Junkies Christmas 4. |

Reposted fromglaserei glaserei

January 17 2010

Linkshirn-Larry und Rechtshirn-Rachel

Dies ist die Geschichte eines siamesischen Zwillingspaars, das sich ein gemeinsames Gehirn teilt – und zwar jeder genau die Hälfte davon.

Larry und Rachel, jeweils rechts- und linkshirnig, haben komplett unterschiedlichen Charakter. Sie hassen einander, und die Menschen, denen sie begegnen, haben ziemliche Schwierigkeiten mit ihrer Abnormität. Aber der Haß und die Lust auf Rache verbinden sie, und eines Tages kommt die Gelegenheit…

Sally Andersen Ward, “Left-brained Larry & Right-brained Rachel”:

Reposted fromglaserei glaserei
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