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Perpendicular Dialogues • Essay by Jack Livingston

Perpendicular Dialogues

Here we are. Let us say Yes to our presence together in Chaos. —John Cage

If one catapults oneself into outer space such that one’s vision includes the so-called larger picture, it might be possible to see that most human endeavors are in some form an attempt to make sense of chaos. The project that has evolved as Perpendicular Dialogues did not begin in a void (since that is socially impossible), but did begin as an open-ended meeting of minds with no particular agenda other than to make something happen. The result of this series of conversations between five artists conducted over 17 months is not perhaps a traditional collaboration in which the group moved toward one common goal, so much as a series of individual works that play off of one another and that have been influenced, shaped, and changed by the ideas of the others.

In a conversation about writing, John Cage told Joan Retallack, “You know, you can always begin anywhere.” It would be possible to locate (map) the origins of Perpendicular Dialogues in numerous places, but I will place the center point of my virtual Mercator projection inside Denise Tassin’s head. Rather than censoring her artistic process, Tassin chose to remove boundaries, allowing all ideas and materials to become playgrounds for thought. The result is a map of her imagination and internal thought process. Using objects that range from sequins and Necco wafers to finger condoms, pills, biology, and current events, Tassin has created a topographical history that moves from childhood to the present. Time becomes an object; but her map rather than defining space and boundaries, opens them to the infinite. She has also projected her drawings/musings into the bodies of others. Throughout the year, Tassin and the dancers conducted movement experiments that are incorporated into the visual fabric of the exhibition.

Woodson imagined a map as a pathway plotted in successional movements through space, causing her to think linearly as opposed to gesturally. The sectional nature of her dancers’ movements occurs as a series of vignettes loosely based on Tassin’s images, while the influence of Tassin’s work spurred her to more completely design the space within which movement takes place. Integrating the shape and lines of the stage and the gallery with the shapes and lines of the dancers, space itself becomes a form of action, while the dancers take on qualities of sculpture and drawing. Through the use of the gallery and via Rueb’s online presentation of the dancer’s daily travels, aspects of performance take place outside the confines and the context of the proscenium, such that audience members must shift their bodies and their attention, creating an expanded spatial, social, and bodily awareness.

Rueb’s Stomping Ground examines where people move, juxtaposing Cartesian space and virtual space and the mapping of choreographed versus everyday movement. Dancers wearing Global Positioning System devices track their daily movements as they go to class, visit friends, and do errands. The maps of their wanderings accumulate on the gallery walls and on line in an indexical diary that reveals habit rather than personal narrative and transfers footsteps taken on solid ground into the space of the virtual. Rueb also maps the gallery space with an implicit grid of horizontal and vertical banks of TV monitors, while 12 small cameras capture the movement occurring within that invisible net(work). Everyone becomes a performer as both the formalized movement of the dancers and the random movement of passersby flicker across the screens, breaking down bodies and creating a new sense of how they move through, fit into and are shaped by space.

If Rueb looks at the where of movement, Andrew Cole is dealing with how dancers move, creating sound from gesture. Movements are no longer a response to sound; they are one and the same. His is an aural map of the finite space of the individual body. Because this space/body is in constant motion, its musical map continuously changes and recreates itself, and the dancers become generators rather than receptors of music.

In Perpendicular Dialogues, lines between the performative arts and the visual arts are blurred as dance, sound, painting, video and drawing all play with permanence and impermanence. Connections between time and space are revealed through Rueb’s tracking of bodies in front of the camera lens and Tassin’s capturing of insects and forest detritus on her sticky paintings. Each catches movement, but Stomping Ground’s hold on its bodies is fleeting and devoid of physical contact, while Tassin’s paintings pull objects to them and physically detain them. But permanence is relative; insects and leaves will eventually decay in a slow movement of disappearance. Perhaps the difference between technology and biology is just a matter of time.

Laura Burns
Artist and Director of the Rosenberg Gallery, Goucher College

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