The National Museum of Contemporary Art (NMOCA), Korea is mixing things up this summer with an exhibition exploring the connections between art and dance by bringing together a remarkable lineup of international visual artists, choreographers and dancers. Thoughtfully curated and beautifully executed, ‘MOVE: Art and Dance since the 1960s’ is one this summer’s must-see exhibitions for creators in Seoul.
‘MOVE’ is an exhibition that seems to defy categorization. One one hand, it is history-heavy, documenting the work of many artists of the 1960s and 1970s responsible for pushing dance and performance beyond its traditional limits. Then again, it is not without contemporary context; roughly half of the works in the show belong to the 21st century, a great many of which were commissioned by the Hayward Gallery in London (home of the original ‘MOVE’ exhibition in 2010). It is an exhibition of objects and performances, with a critical quota of video works as well as a digital multimedia archive to support the exhibition’s conceptual framework. In short, ‘MOVE’ is the total package; engaging visitors on numerous levels and offering a comprehensive account of the interaction between art and dance—and everything in the middle of these two creative practices.
The majority of the works in the exhibition focus on direct communication with exhibition-goers by changing how they interact with their surroundings—either by restricting, liberating or guiding visitors’ movement. Bruce Nauman’s Green Light Corridor (1970), an immersive installation designed to unpleasantly alter one’s perception of equilibrium, is one work that intensifies visitors’ awareness of space via restrictive means. This uncomfortably narrow passageway, illuminated by green fluorescent light, must be traversed to be experienced, forcing visitors to surrender themselves to the physical limitations of the work and intensifying their awareness of the bodily self and sensory perception. Other works, such as Adaptation: Test Room Containing Multiple Stimuli Known to Elicit Curiosity and Manipulatory Responses (1999/2010) by Mike Kelley reverse this approach, drawing attention to the relationship between the body and its surroundings by encouraging open-ended interaction as a vehicle for self-discovery. Finally, works of a third sort—those that guide or direct one’s movement—are perhaps the exhibition’s most readily accessible. In large-scale interactive installations, such as those by William Forsythe and Lygia Clark, the movements of museum visitors activate these works and—in a sense—bring them to a state of fully-developed completion.
A superlative instance of this (in performance form) is Production (2010), created by Xavier Le Roy and Mårten Spångberg, activated continuously for the better part of each day in the museum’s Circular Gallery. In this ‘happening performance,’ the ephemeral nature of performance itself is taken as a conceptual basis; the very heart of what the entire exhibition is about. Production doesn’t stand on ceremony; it takes place within a nondescript empty area of the gallery and its participants (to call them ‘performers’ would not only be inaccurate, but also antithetical to the aims of Le Roy and Spångberg) could be easily mistaken for visitors to the exhibition. The resulting effect is an attempt to de-commodify dance/performance, challenging the artificial construct of choreography by essentially forsaking it as a formal/systematized aspect of the creative practice. Whereas improvisational dance is nothing new, the participants in Production take the idea to a new level, opening themselves to—and indeed, encouraging—interruption by museum visitors. Spectators play an equal role in this ‘happening performance’ by initiating conversations with the dancers, who in turn drop what they are doing and engage in this new form of ‘improvisation.’
Dance performance, lest we forget, is a major component of the exhibition’s contents. On any given day, there are no fewer than nine different performances for visitors to take (part) in. Although ‘MOVE’ largely seeks to upset conventional rules of the performer-spectator relationship, in certain cases these conventions nonetheless prevail. This must not be interpreted as an ultimate capitulation to traditional avenues of dance performance, nor a ‘necessary evil’ curators were compelled to accept in order to justify inclusion of some big-name artists. Rather, this is just one more example of how this genre-bending exhibition challenges its viewers to wrestle with the (often polemical) implications of the convergence of art and performance.
Andy St. Louis is an art writer based in Seoul. He is an editor at ELOQUENCE: international creators magazine and runs Korea’s only English-language art blog, Seoul Art Fiend (www.seoulartfiend.com). Follow him on Twitter: @SeoulArtFiend.
A version of this article was originally published in the July 2012 issue of ELOQUENCE: international creators magazine, a Seoul-based monthly print publication by, for and about creators everywhere (www.eloquence.co.kr).
MOVE: Art and Dance since the 1960s
6 June – 12 August
National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea