Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Disappearing Acts

And to make an end is to make a beginning
                                                                    T.S. Eliot

The cyclical nature of time is a reoccurring theme in Sara Wookey’s solo performance Disappearing Acts & Resurfacing Subjects: Concerns of (a) dance artist(s) then and now, which had its US premier at Automata last weekend. The work, constructed in three parts, is a lecture conveyed through the use of movement, text, and projected media. Wookey began the work on a darkened stage illuminated by a bare bulb held on the end of a long cord. She moved slowly towards the audience, swinging the bulb with greater intensity until she produced an ellipse of light that hovered over the stage like a magical sign. This luminous marker referenced the path of a creative trajectory that is forever impacted by both memory and time.

Wookey drew upon her extensive career working in dance and public interventions in Europe and US, as she spoke about a kind of visceral memory. She contrasted the movement knowledge contained in her body against the disembodied stacks of video tapes that clutter her studio apartment. Which is a more true representation of the original performance, a collection of gestures recalled from memory or the mechanical reproduction? Wookey is concerned with what is always lost in gestures to capture the live performance and she favors acts of erasure over attempts to secure permanence. In this vein, she danced a fragmentary sequence of movements that comprised all the dances she could remember from the past ten years of her practice, ending with a clocklike motion as she made a loud ticking sound.

Sara Wookey, still image from reDance, 2011

At two points, Wookey directly engaged temporal issues by dancing with a version of herself from the past. In the first instance, she recreated a movement from a projected still image. Her body in real time could not match the frozen precision of the photograph, and the live posture slowly deteriorated under the weight of gravity as the Velvet Underground's I’m Sticking with You filled the spaceLater in the performance, Wookey moved along with a video of herself dancing in her apartment on the occasion of her 40th birthday. The “birthday dance” was a spontaneous bodily expression and she explained the difficulty in learning movements when they were detached from the original purity of experience. It is hard to recapture the past, especially the emotional eruptions of joy or despair.

Disappearing Acts & Resurfacing Subjects continually circles back to issues of the value of dance, ownership, and preservation. References to Trio A, Yvonne Rainer's seminal dance work from 1966, occur throughout the performance. As one of only five instructors certified to teach Trio A, Wookey is part of the legacy of Rainer's work. Wookey's body is a conduit to transmit Rainer's work into the future, and It is daunting to consider the fragility of the body-archive that is forever vulnerable to injury and decay.

Sara Wookey, Trio A, 2011 Photo: Guy L'Heureux

I want to suggest another mode of thinking: When we, as artists, accept or reject work, when we participate in the making of a work, even (or perhaps especially) when it is not our own, we contribute to the establishment of standards and precedents for our cohort and all who will come after us. 
Sara Wookey, Open Letter to Artists, in response to auditioning for Marina Abramovic’s MOCA gala performance, November 2011

Wookey’s concern for the preservation of dance and the importance of artist labor rights is evidenced in the now infamous letter she wrote in regard to Marina Abramovic’s 2011 MOCA gala performance. She devoted a section of Disappearing Acts & Resurfacing Subjects to “the letter” and shared the note of regret she received from the Abramovic project when she declined to participate. Wookey also showed quotes from the community in response to her action. This brief section of the performance illuminates the disparity between European and American models of arts support and questions the notion of competition against the more utopian goal of a supportive arts community based on truth and goodness.

Sara Wookey, image from Disappearing Acts & Resurfacing Subjects, 2013

At several points throughout the performance, Wookey showed a projection of a snail, inching across the frame followed by a slowly dissipating trail. Wookey, like the snail, keeps moving forward, propelled by her own will against the fleeting nature of time. Her path will also dissolve behind her, left only as a trace, a memory of what has been lived and lost.

…And to make an end is to make a beginning…

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