Issue #178
Any Port In A Storm November 11, 2011

Yvonne Rainer, Three Satie Spoons, 1961. Performed as part of “This is the story of a woman who…” Theater for the New City, New York, 1973. Photo: © Babette Mangolte (All Rights of Reproduction Reserved). Courtesy of Broadway 1602, New York.

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Yvonne Rainer

Dia:Beacon, New York

October Performance Series
by Lauren Klotzman

Aside from a commitment to the art historicization of the 1960s and 70s aesthetic moment, what is the underlying meaning behind the Dia Art Foundation’s recent commitment to a contemporary dance program? The institutional presentation of pieces by Tricia Brown, Merce Cunningham and Yvonne Rainer contain the impulse to “museumify” postmodern dance: to not only re-present these seminal works, but also to do so in the context of the converted warehouse space of Dia:Beacon, bringing them in proximity to the intellectual construct and historical canon of the object-based works of the same time-period.

Alongside the highly-challenging prospect of conserving Land/Process Art, Dia attempts to write the freshness and urgency of the Judson Church—a highly-influential group whose early 1960s experimentations forever transformed dance practice—into the historical canon. It’s not a mere commitment to Minimalism, per se, as the expansion of curatorial impetus beyond the object speaks to the Foundation’s attempt to function as an archive with the purpose of preserving an ethos that defined a historical moment.

These goals inherently function as an act of resistance, one which works against an anachronism. The ephemerality of the work (think: the ever-changing condition of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, the deterioration of Amarillo Ramp) butts up against their perceived “timelessness.” Similar issues of perpetuation and conservation are ever-present in the dance world. Rainer’s oeuvre—like that of any choreographer—suffers from the ephemeralities of performance and the impossibility of a singular and concrete existence. However, the simplicity of her scores contradicts their precision and reality as rigorous choreography. Work stemming from the workshops of Anna Halperin, Merce Cunningham and the Judson Church—the type of performance work heralded by Dia—is radical, revolutionary and conflicted for this reason, bearing similarity to their phenomenological sculptural counterparts.

To say that Yvonne Rainer's work is "minimal” is somewhat of a misnomer, for while it pares down the performative act to certain essentials, it is not without artifice. In resisting itself, it writes politics and injects humanity and beauty into the utilitarian. This fact is featured prominently in Dia’s October program, which consisted of several of Rainer’s earliest works and a few revamped versions of her seminal Trio A (1965).

Rainer's work is essentially comic, ludic in it's grasping of what may or may not be seen. Her gesture, in the first movement of Three Satie Spoons (1961), points literally and delicately (as if to say, "Here, ma, look at what I can do!") while simultaneously directing the vision of the viewer away from the body of the performer. This is the tension that defines wit. Its presence seems humorous in context of the "serious." We must take this humor seriously, as it is also an act of resistance, political at its crux. It is a question of vision and sustenance, comedy and tragedy that writes the act of spectatorship-- specifically the reception theory of dance as the viewing of the female body—as a witty comedy, rather than a solemn, overtly-feminist lament.

This brand of resistance is most palpable in the presentation of the final movement of Rainer's Three Seascapes (1962), a notoriously radical piece of choreography wherein the performer, shrieking, grapples violently with a piece of tulle and a pea coat. At Dia, the dancer's hysterics elicited effects of both shock and giggling as her screams reverberated throughout the warehouse space. However, it was the stillness that followed the action that clearly struck the audience most powerfully. The tone and content here, spare and harrowing in contrast to Three Satie Spoons, is undeniably political, an overt feminist statement on mere surface value alone.

One cannot help stifle a giggle, as it is difficult to take the radical feminism coincidental to Rainer's production wholly seriously in today’s world. The fact of the matter is that Yvonne’s “hysterical” score was inscribed with a sophistication in mind, one which—like the humor of Bruce Nauman—has been wrapped with tragicomic resistance, intent and panache. It is deadly serious in its political objectives, yet its provocation is enacted with a certain level of wit that disarms the receiver, gives the message unprecedented access and marks such techniques as a deceptively powerful brand of commentary and incitation.

Dia's program—as a celebration of the freshness and urgency of 1960s era utopian political resistance—is poignant in present context. On the train platform heading back to Grand Central terminal, Rainer wears a black velvet coat with an oversized pinback attached near the hem reading "Occupy Wall Street." In conversation, she mulls over the prospect of a sit-in at Artists' Space later that night. The train arrives, overcrowded with passengers. The troupe splits up, and Rainer sits next to a stranger. It is, in itself, a form of repetition: a movement, a score. For beyond formal ritual, these events suggest a system of common values and a promise of potentiality that resistance—be it found in political insurgency, tragicomic tension or against the physical laws of entropy—is perpetual, prescient and present.

Lauren Klotzman is an artist/writer based primarily out of Austin, Texas. For more info, see:


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