Bree Richards: Hi everyone. I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Worimi people as the traditional owners of the land on which I currently live and work, and am speaking to you from today. I extend my respects to ancestors and elders, past, present and emerging, and to all first nations people joining us for this talk. I’d also like to acknowledge the important, ongoing and longstanding contribution that Indigenous Australians make to art, knowledge and culture.
My name is Bree Richards, I’m a curator and a writer, and it’s a great pleasure to welcome you to this talk, and to introduce today’s speaker, LA based dancer and choreographer Adam Linder. This is taking place within the context of ‘Precarious Movements: Choreography and the Museum’, a research project led by a group of artists, curators, conservators and academics affiliated with UNSW, AGNSW, MUMA, NGV and Tate. Coming up very soon, and co-presented by MUMA and the research group, is Precarious Movements: Conversations, a three-part program taking place on the 20th and 27th of October, and on the 3rd of November, with artists, curators and conservators all reflecting on different aspects of what it is that happens when work of a choreographic nature enters into the museum.
But today, we’re super lucky to have Adam Linder here with us, albeit virtually, to talk in greater depth about his practice, and in particular, the works he has been making for and within exhibition contexts. Adam stretches choreographies into formats of text, costuming, service provision and opera. ‘Full Service’, a survey of his Choreographic Services 1-5, was presented in 2018 by the Wattis Institute in San Francisco and travelled to MUDAM Luxembourg in 2019. Earlier this year, his solo exhibition, ‘Shelf Life’, was commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Other recent solo or two-person shows have been presented at South London Gallery, Kunsthalle Basel, Schinkel Pavilion, Berlin and ICA in London. His works have additionally been commissioned, presented or hired by HAU in Berlin; Serralves in Porto; Sadler’s Wells in London; 356 Mission in L.A.; and the National Gallery of Victoria, among others.
Adam participated in the 20th Biennale of Sydney, and the Liverpool Biennial, both in 2016; and ‘Made in L.A.’, also in that same year at the Hammer Museum, for which he was awarded the Mohn Award for artistic excellence.
So without further ado I’ll hand you over to Adam.
ADAM LINDER: Thanks Bree. Hi everyone. Yeah, I'm dialling in from Los Angeles. So as Bree mentioned, I'm a dancer and choreographer and I started dancing at a very young age. Had a very rich training in jazz, tap, hip hop, ballet. Got quite serious about ballet as a young teen. Moved to London to do pre-professional training at the Royal Ballet School, and then danced as a ballet dancer for several years. And following that, I worked with several really remarkable and inspiring choreographers. Notably, Michael Clark in London, and Meg Stuart and her Damaged Goods Company in Berlin. At around the age of 28 I guess, 28-29, I decided to really focus on my own choreographic practice. I felt like after almost a decade of performing, there were questions and desires burning in relation to how, yeah, how I wanted to kind of produce a voice, a choreographic voice.
And so I really began kind of focusing on making works for the stage but quite quickly realised that I was interested, or I am interested, in choreography, regardless of where it happens. And yet, where it happens, and thinking about where it happens, and how it happens, is a really productive kind of approach to take. So in the last years, say five to seven years, I think my work has really straddled two contexts. The theatre circuit, making original choreographic works for the stage, and then thinking through how choreography can exist, and why it should exist, in relation, and side-by-side to visual practices, object-based practices. So, working within the exhibition format.
I think that it's been really productive for me to kind of toggle between these two contexts. Because even though my questions are very specific in relation to these different architectures, these different histories, these different systems of value, ways of disseminating the work, I find that the interplay between them, brings these questions into sharper relief, actually.
I don't think that I'm a choreographer who has developed a kind of “signature style” in that kind of typical way. Like there's, you know, there's no idiosyncratic movement that defines Adam Linder. But I think what I've been really busy with is working with multiple forms and kind of taking a conceptualist approach. In that each work, the questions that I have for each work, demand a particular form. And so I've often found myself almost reskilling in a particular dance form because that is what is needed for that work.
I've worked with theatrical mime. I've worked with like, kind of functional, pedestrian actions. I've worked with sprezzatura and a kind of like classical posturing. I've worked with, you know, glide footwork. So I think that I'm really a kind of polyglot, and I think what’s at the heart of that is that I am fascinated with dance. And though, since I started dancing when I was eight and I’m now 37, this is quite a long time that I’ve been busy with this form, my relationship just keeps changing. It’s almost like, I don't move away, I just double down, with kind of like a fresh perspective each time.
So, maybe I would start talking a little bit about how I've approached working on the stage. I love the theatre. I think the theatre is a very particular experience, and does something very, very particular for liveness. There’s this kind of social contract that we have. We arrive at the same time, we sit down, we view the piece from the front. As a choreographer, as a director, you can really kind of sculpt the way what you're making is going to be viewed. And with that kind of darkened box, you can use that to amplify images through sound, through surround sound, through kind of saturated light. And kind of use these tools to heighten the electricity of the live moment. And I think that's really for me what the what the theatre experience does best. And when I'm working on a stage piece I'm really considering the dramaturgy. From the minute the lights go down and the piece starts ‘till the end. And it's much more like composing, let's say, a tighter script, where you know that the viewer is going to read from a to z.
Working in the exhibition space is very different. It's a liberal viewing space, it's often a space that is open throughout the day. More often, the pieces that I've made for the extra exhibition space are longer form, or have this kind of modular kind of like duration. And the audience walks into the space and often occupies exactly the same space where the content is happening. Whereas, obviously in the theatre, you have this separation, this demarcation. So for me, they’re the kind of like material reasons why it’s been appropriate for me to work very differently in these two different contexts. But then, there's also two very different histories and two very different ways that works travel around, are disseminated, and are valued. So that's been, I would say that these questions and pondering on these aspects has been what's really occupied me in the last years.
So, I would say that often my work is very interested in staging incongruous, or productively incongruous, meetings. Whether it be between embodied material and linguistic material, whether it's between a kind of, what we would deem as more a kind of like “high art” form versus like “lowbrow” kind of content. Or maybe more philosophically, when we're thinking about like right-brain attitudes versus left-brain attitudes – the rational, the analytic, the systematised, versus the intuitive, expressive, spiritualised. And I think somehow, even though I believe that a lot of my works look and feel quite different, in the DNA, there's always, in the DNA of the works there's always this kind of philosophical conundrum, I would say.
So I will start with, just kind of discussing two of the most recent stage works that I've made because it will give you an idea of how I kind of tackle that sphere.
So this is the stage of The Want. And The Want is a piece that I premiered in 2008 at HAU Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin, and The Want is my most recent stage work and is an opera. I was interested in this idea of, or this kind of like ballsy attitude of like, well I'm a choreographer why shouldn't I try make an opera. I love opera, through my father I grew up listening to it, and I was really interested in this idea of how to collapse the divisions of forms and categories within the opera.
So this is the stage of The Want. And The Want has four performers in it. And two of the performers came from a kind of classical operatic background and two of the performers came from a more dancer/actor/performer background. And I was really interested in, particularly in the performed material, collapsing this. So everyone had to do everything. Everyone had to speak the libretto at times, and sing in a very virtuosic way. Even using bel canto singing. And then really kind of demanding, rigorous, choreography. And I was interested in what would happen, when you know, this was all kind of mixed into the same pot.
The Want is based on a play by a French playwright called Bernard-Marie Koltès who wrote In the Solitude of the Cotton Fields in the 1980s. And I was struck by this work because I felt that it was so simple, so philosophically rich, but so simple in its kind of premise. It's basically a meeting between a client and a dealer, and you don't really know what is being traded. Is it, kind of straight-up mercantile goods? Is it a kind of late-night cruising transaction between two horny men? Is it even two people kind of sussing each other out, and trying to navigate their kind of racial differences? And I thought that the kind of ambiguity between these different connotations was really interesting and actually very relevant still.
So, I adapted the libretto with the writer Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, and we turned it into an original score with the composer Ethan Braun. Shahryar Nashat, who's my partner, he's a visual artist who I often work alongside in several different kind of constellations, did the scenography for this work. So I'll just move down the images, yeah.
I think what was really rewarding and kind of yeah really kind of enriching to see, was how this work was being cooked in the studio altogether. Opera has such a, I mean the conventional, let's say like big opera kind of history, has such a stratified production process. The libretto is written first, then the score comes and then you, maybe as a director you get four weeks to put it on stage. And I was really interested in like, ok how could you work as I would normally work, in a more kind of like experimental devised fashion where you know, everything is stirring and cooking in the studio, and it's because of the transfer of these inputs that guides the direction of the final work. So what was really great to see was how like Jess, who is the woman on the left in this image, and Jasmine who's the woman on the right, who bring this really strong vocal technique, how they could help Roger who's on the right in this image and Justin who's on the left, how they could kind of lift them up vocally, and vice versa. Where there was this real transfer of approaches to embodiment from Roger and Justin to Jasmine and Jess. So I think, you know, this kind of collapsing of who does what and how it's going to be developed, was I think one of the strongest factors of what we what we kind of yeah, achieved with The Want. So yeah, and there is another image.
So then the next piece is, and I might even take us into full screen as long as I don't lose the images. So this is the stage from Kein Paradiso. And Kein Paradiso premiered in 2016 as part of ‘Made in L.A.’, which was at the Hammer Museum. And even though I was working within, even though this piece was shown within an exhibition context, I had asked to show the work in the storeroom in the basement of the museum. Because it was, because I wanted to make a stage work for this occasion, and it was also in co-production with the HAU so I knew that it was going to an actual black box. And I wanted to, having seen the storeroom, which the Hammer calls the annex, I wanted to treat that as a black box. So we had scheduled performances, and it was really like kind of yeah, like a little bit moonlighting a kind of theatre procedure but in the basement of the museum.
So this piece is called Kein Paradiso, which means no paradise in German and Italian. And for those of you that know the restaurant in Sydney, Fratelli Paradiso, I was sitting there when I had to email the title through, like at the last minute. And it was kind of one of those like very off the cuff things but really also kind of perfect. And Kein Paradiso was thinking through some of the problems of abstraction, when they pertain to performing bodies. And kind of thinking about the legacy of abstraction within western modern and postmodern dance kind of practices, or the lineage. Where often it was kind of situated as, or the body is kind of presented as, the body. A kind of universal example of a body that we all might share. And I think today we can kind of understand that presumption of a white, of a white western universalism as problematic. And I was, I had, when I was making Kein Paradiso I had this sentence in my mind of like, the body versus a body. So like you know, this kind of humanist, simply pared down example of the body from modern dance. I wanted to move it more toward the messy particulars of a body. So, in Kein Paradiso we, the work starts with this very simple elemental jumping up and down. Totally stripped down, no affect. And over 50 minutes ends in, ends with this really kind of almost psychotic, masticated, swirling reinterpretation of one of Gena Rowlands’ scenes from A Woman Under the Influence by Cassavetes. And so you go from like the body as matter to body as hyperbolic, kind of messy subjectivity.
And that is Jennie Liu, oh that's myself in the background, and Jennie Liu in the middle ground and Stephen Thompson in the foreground, who you might see in the following images. There you go, oh no, that's me on the right and then yeah that's Stephen on the left. And why I was interested in, like with the visuality of this work, I was interested in in this motif of camouflage. Because it makes things undifferentiated, right? So the scenography was camouflaged, the costumes were obviously camouflaged, the props and the set pieces, so everything would kind of like flatten. And then through the course of the piece we'd have to like push out with our embodied particulars against this kind of flattening, and yeah. I think, just before I move away from talking about the stage works,I guess that I really follow in the, when I work in the theatre, I really follow in this kind of historical mandate of like the gesamtkunstwerk. This idea that the theatre is a place where all of these attributes, and these disciplines come together to create the singularity of that live experience.
And I think, there’s no other historical precursor that kind of set the standard for that better than the Ballet Russes. And I think that somehow for me, I still go back to this like, really experimental and provocative way of taking the theatre on as this all-encompassing kind of engine for visuality and sound and spatial choreographic composition. And the arc of time becomes so particular in the theatre, because of how you’re really scoring, or composing the experience, from the very first second to the last minute. Are there more in this folder? No.
Which kind of brings me to, the other kind of, let’s say the other hand of my work, which is how I’ve been working in the exhibition space. In 2013, I really started to think through how, what would be a model for choreography that wouldn't need all of the baggage and armature of the theatre. That could just talk about and disseminate choreography for the distilled kind of bodily activity that it is. And I didn't know that I was going to develop a series at the time, it happened as I went along. But I was in rehearsal by myself for another stage work and I was kind of just playing with this idea of this faggy wrist action and kind of understanding all the kind of like fruity affect of that. But thinking, oh well wouldn't that be so interesting to think about how something so expressive could like put itself forward as being like functionally efficient.
So I started to develop a series of actions, quite mimetic, that would choreographically clean the room. So this wrist, became this tool for dusting the space and I, yeah, developed a kind of toolkit for this piece that later became Some Cleaning, which was the first of this series of Choreographic Services that I developed between, I worked on the services between 2013 and 2018. And so what evolved was this quite strict and particular format for these choreographic works that would play out mostly in the gallery space, but they could happen anywhere. The idea was hopefully that they would happen anywhere. That they would could be like suitcase works, where I didn't need the heft of the theatre. I didn't need that, all of what comes with that, that ostensibly they would happen anywhere.
So, what kind of, the action or the tenants that kind of cross all the services is that firstly they would be hired per hour or per day. So, there would be a price for them to happen, either for one hour on the Tuesday, or for you know, the whole month of October. And that they are these kind of blueprints for an activity that proposes to do something in the space. And that it's up to the performer who's enacting the service to kind of navigate the tools or the kind of choreographic procedures within each service, either over an hour or over a whole day. So in a way they kind of, they are kind of formulas that can keep playing out. So there's the per hour per day hire, there's the idea that the choreography proposes to do something in the space and the third attribute is that there is a contract that is exchanged with the client, that kind of lays out what the service proposes to do, what the client will receive, what the choreographer will offer, and really kind of yeah, really kind of piggybacks this idea of a receipt for services rendered.
So what I was kind of getting at with this series was like, how can I think about the, what is really at the heart of the value of choreography. It is the particular action playing out in real time and it is the very kind of unique skills that the performers that I work with can deploy to fulfil these services. So, I was really, and often in my work I am, really highlighting that the value of choreography is the skills and the ability and the choices that highly virtuosic and experienced performers bring to it. And so the services were a way of me kind of yeah, formalising that, and I guess shining a spotlight on that.
So let me just pull up again one of these. So, this is actually the contract for Some Cleaning and there's a variation of a contract for each of the services. There are five services, and then I made a footnote, which, the footnote was in 2018 and that was the last one. So it just kind of, it's a very simple contract, it hangs on the wall of the gallery as the work is being performed and it kind of, in a playful way, it kind of delves into this this language of legalese. But really uses a more choreographic sensibility to kind of layout what will happen and like, for example you know, the choreographer agrees to bring a lexicon of actions that dust, calibrate and renew the space. c) agrees to invest subjective expertise into the fulfilment of the service. And I always like this one, which is like, the client b) is aware that by facilitating the choreography to be at work, the choreographer, the client, the viewer and the location are accruing corporeal experience, though this may be difficult to measure in usual terms of efficiency.
So, particularly with Some Cleaning, and here we have Brooke Stamp doing a clean during my Full Services survey at The Wattis in San Francisco. I think Some Cleaning is the first of the services work, in the most kind of direct one performer way, really gets at this idea of like are we willing to think of this choreographic activity that seems to be mimicking or enacting something like very functional, very straightforward, as cleaning the space. Are we willing to think of it, of all the kind of expression and affect in the way that this is done, as something that either is kind of efficient, necessary, and has an intrinsic value. And then this is Brooke doing the drilling tool against the, actually that's not the drilling tool it's the sanding tool, against the wall in Luxembourg during the Full Services show there.
So then, this is Josh Johnson on the left and Justin Kennedy on the right, and they are performing Some Proximity, which is the second service within the series. And that's also in San Francisco. And Some Proximity has three players in it. It has two dancers and an art writer. And what I was interested in serving with this work was a kind of fluid, kind of amalgamation of the skills of the dancer and the skills of the writer. And I was kind of thinking ok, within the pyramid of visual arts, and all of the roles that play out in visual arts, I would say like the performers and the writers are kind of equally at the lowest rung. And so, I was interested in those roles kind of banding together, and kind of, this idea of how the vocal faculty, the vocal and physical faculties of the dancers would bring a kind of proximity to this typical notion of like critical distance, let's say. So what happens is, the writer which is more often than not Jonathan P. Watts. But actually, when we showed this work in Sydney during the biennial in 2016, which is where Bree, you and I worked together, we worked with a writer called Holly Childs. So what happens is that Jonathan or Holly let's say, moves around the context, either the museum where we're actually working, in the case of Sydney it was the MCA, or they go even wider than that. They go like to all of the locations of the biennial, or all of the kind of art spaces in the given city. And they are really working as a critic would. They’re looking at the work, they’re thinking about it, they're making notes, they’re detailing observations and kind of writing these pithy, very off the cuff kind of observations, remarks, bits of gossip and even like short hardcore pieces of criticism. And then the dancers use several modalities to get closer to the text and they kind of turn, by vocalising the text, they turn it into a score for this glide footwork that they dance.
That’s Josh and Justin again in San Francisco. And what was so great about doing Proximity during the Full Services shows, and actually what happened in Sydney, is that because there was so much writing happening, and it was all being housed in this small room where this gliding was happening, it kind of becomes like, as the writing starts to accrue, it really becomes this kind of almost like meta pavilion for like the whole context. I think in Sydney, by the time we got to the end of the week, Holly had pretty much written about every single one of the artists that was like, there was something like 80 artists in in the biennial. So it kind of became this like this meta pavilion where you could tap into an aspect of the whole biennial but housed within this one work. And then that's myself and Justin, and actually Jonathan on the left, doing Proximity in Luxembourg during ‘Full Service’.
And then this is back in San Francisco with Brooke changing over from Some Cleaning to Leah Katz on the right starting with myself Some Riding, which is the third of the services. And for Full Services, we had designed this very particular contract display. Because, what was happening, was that Anthony Huberman, the curator wanted that ‘Full Service’ would be a schedule of the five services over the course of a month, but overlapping. So sometimes you’d have two services happening at the same time, sometimes you’d have one just finishing as the other starts. And he really wanted this way of kind of apprehending the whole body of work together and seeing the differences and the complements between the different services.
It was also the first time that a lot of the performers were seeing the different services. Because you know, we'd been doing them for several years. Some Cleaning had been going since 2013, but like Justin for example, who I’d worked with for a long time had never seen Some Cleaning, and it just never, because he doesn't do that work. So it was a really kind of juicy, productive way of, not only the performers using this kind of side-by-side of the works to bring out new flavours in the individual services, but for the viewer to kind of really see, the very like particular qualities that each service was deploying.
So this is Some Riding, which is the third service, which first happened during my solo show at the ICA in 2015, I believe. And Some Riding in a way, is quite particular because it's in a way one of the most elusive of the services. Basically, what I wanted to do then after Some Proximity, was still keep thinking through this kind of duality or riding of language, what happens when the performing body is riding spoken language, and a very particular embodiment and how can they punctuate each other. So, what I did was I commissioned two essays. One around kind of ideas of the economies of performance and another around the kind of like social resonances in relation to ideas of embodiment. And I would say these are the kind of like two pillars of the whole services series. And I wanted that like, I wanted that the performers and the service in itself would kind of like swallow the theory. So instead of having an exhibition text, instead of having a press release, the work performs its own kind of theoretical framing. So, the two performers deploy this very slow and controlled kind of hybrid of a popping physicality with this like held elongated adagio physicality. And in a way, the way or what how I thought about it was that like that the physicality is really punctuating the orating or the oral delivery of these texts. So yeah, I think that's that.
We can move on to service number four, which is called Some Strands of Support. And basically here, two performers use these kind of hair prostheses as an extension of the bodily. As a kind of sensate, tactile extension of the body, to caress and take care of any given sculpture or statue that the client wants to have haircare enacted on. So, what I was interested in here was like how when it comes to objects like, the most prohibitive aspect of that is touch. Like this embargo on touch. And somehow, by proposing hair, I was able to get around this embargo on touch. And several artists now, through the clients, have allowed us to perform haircare on their objects. And I was interested in, you know, what happens when this kind of when this like, this labour of the haircare, these kind of like very physical working bodies, kind of come up against this supposedly impervious aura of the art object, or the statue. And so, yeah, I think that's what happens with Some Strands of Support. And this is Andrew Hardwidge on the left and Enrico Ticcioni on the right, doing Some Strands of Support at MUDAM.
And this brings me to the fifth service, which is definitely the most kind of elaborate of the services. It's called Dare to Keep Kids Off Naturalism.So I just went, I just took a total left turn on the kind of pattern of titling that I’d established. And I think what I was interested in here, and what was probably already creeping up, which maybe I've arrived at more now is pushing up against some of the expectations of how performance should be aestheticised in the gallery space. And what are the kind of performed qualities that are really happening and so Dare to Keep Kids Off Naturalism basically proposes to teach the white cube how to take theatricality. And the performers move through eight situations that are very visual and sometimes quite absurd or arcane, and really kind of like shift the temperature of the space. And they use these kind of modular costumes, props, to do so. It has four performers. And that's Stephen Thompson on the right. I think it's Justin Kennedy crouched down with this kind of shroud. Then Leah Katz next to him, and Noha Ramadan on the left. And there are these like inflatable costumes, there are these kind of like carpets that like encase the body, but then also become – I think in the next image we’ll see – they become these skirts. And in this situation the performers are hustling the walls. So yeah, I think Dare to Keep Kids off Naturalism was like the first step in bringing me toward the piece that I then went and made for MoMA earlier this year. And somehow, yeah, some of the questions that were playing out there. So I’m going to segue into that.
Ok, so this is a view of Shelf Life, which was the piece that was commissioned by MoMA to be one of the inaugural works for their new space at the 53rd street museum. So, MoMA built this kind of hybrid grey space, as you can see. It's not really a theatre exactly because it doesn't have like particular expectation of how something’s to be viewed in terms of like a kind of proscenium seating, but it's not really a gallery either. It's got one entrance, it's got these dark walls, it's got a full light rig, surround sound. This very kind of, as you see, this very dramatic floor to ceiling window on midtown. And I was invited to make my work alongside Shahryar and he was going to make an original work.
Yeah I think what's interesting is that like where Shahryar and I are totally interested in sharing the, kind of, the occasion or the context, or even the architecture and the kind of infrastructure for the exhibition, but ultimately we make very different works and we're interested in very different things. So really, this idea of like how two artists can kind of like share and even present this kind of productive arm wrestle. So, what he and I decided to do was to create two exhibitions that would alternate every hour. So he had Force Life, which was a series of sculptures and a video, and I had Shelf Life. And you really had this kind of changeover every hour. And as you see, in my work, we really use the kind of backside of the LED screen that his video was playing on. And of course, also like, the whole kind of light, sound, atmosphere, was very different for the works.
So what we decided to do, was basically in our own ways, think through this kind of, let's say like diagram, for how we would yeah, how we would really like build the content for the work. And basically that we both had these entities of blood, barre and brain. And for him it was across sculpture and video, and for me it was across the different roles that were being performed by the six dancers.
So I had six dancers performing four roles. And I think what was really being kind of managed here, was that everyone had to do each role. So in the morning at the 11am session of Shelf Life, you might have Mickey Mahar doing blood, which you see here. He’s the fellow in the middle ground. But then you might come back at three o’clock and see Shelf Life again, and Mickey’s one of the two brains. So I was interested in like what happens when the roles are kind of shared amongst all the players.
And so I think what really transpired with Shelf Life,and I'd like to think that's one of the reasons why MoMA came to me to make a work particularly for this space, was because the studio is neither theatre nor gallery and cannot be kind of defined as sovereign, in its sovereignty as either one of those. And somehow I think that, you know as I've mentioned I'm a choreographer that really thinks through and is busy with these two different contexts, these two different formats. So, I feel like Shelf Life was a way for me to collapse these two approaches and these two entities. And you know, for better or worse, I think that it, you know like, it kind of took attributes from these two ways of working and layered them. So what you have with Shelf Life is a kind of set duration. Because, as you see here, the exhibition you know, on a given minute of the hour needs to change over to Force Life.So there's a little bit more of this kind of like contained timeframe like with a theatre work. But then you have more of the liberal viewing experience where an audience member could come in at any time and it didn't really matter with Shelf Life, if you'd been there for minute zero or not. So, there was a kind of hybridisation of these two things. There's this you know, visuality and costuming and illumination, saturated illumination that I would more do in the theatre, but I had to kind of take the studio for what it was. Which was this kind of architectural question mark, let's say.
And that’s again Mickey in blood and Justin on barre. I think like ultimately Shelf Life takes barre, blood and brain, and thinks about these three entities coming together as a kind of metaphor for the body. And it thinks about how like, the kind of like questions around like biological and experiential longevity in terms of the dancer, and this kind of 2020 hybridisation of like our very fleshy selves and our very kind of like framed and dialled in digital selves, you know, which we can't escape. And you know Shelf Life closed three days before the U.S. pretty much locked down due to Covid. The documentation has a lot of people sitting in the gallery space with masks on. There was even a section in Shelf Life called viral shuffle, which I don't know, I'm not saying that there is something like a premonition going on, but I think that you know, like maybe some of these things were in the air. And I think like, where you have in, you know, in Shelf Life, Force Life let’s say, maybe I have, like – you see like in the background of this image, there's this kind of like umbilical cord that Shahryar made, that's like connected to the screen. So, I think what was really happening in this work was this kind of like messy tethering of these kind of like digital refracted aspects, prostheses, and this kind of like fleshy, sweaty urgency of the dance material. And you know, it’s maybe no coincidence, that we’ve like six months later, all ended up on zoom and doing everything on the back of wired screens and trying to continue our like, you know, embodied, nuanced, kind of material, artistic thought processes, through these like, through these screens. And through these kind of like digital connections. I don’t know what you think Bree, you saw the work. But somehow I think, Shelf Life was hovering there, somehow.
So I guess that brings me to the last thing that I want to talk about, which is a little bit where I’m going with a body of work that’s evolving out of some of the research and thinking with Shelf Life and this idea of building these kind of constellations that operate as metaphors for the body in the exhibition space. And I came to realise after the services, which was so much about like this kind of very strict kind of playing out of like, oh you value choreography well, book it per hour or per day and it's going to be framed in this way and it can be deployed here, there and everywhere. And kind of like setting or underlining how I felt about how choreography could be exchanged when it was outside of its native home of the theatre. And now I feel like, you know, I've moved on from that kind of underlining. I've said what I needed to say. But I'm more interested in in delving into what I've acknowledged to be what the exhibition space can really grant choreography, that for example the theatre cannot, which you know, I've come to understand is real-time. And I think it's like what I'm now busy with is this thinking of how the performers can take real-time, can take this stretch of time that the exhibition space grants to kind of work on themselves, work on their own relations and reflexively think about their own kind of psychophysical subjectivity in relation to also the context that we’re in.
So during the last six months I was able to travel to Sydney, and I was there for personal reasons, but I was able to connect with Brooke Stamp, who's a performer who I feel very invested in, who I'm very close to, and who was in the MoMA work. And we were able to kind of dig back into barre and brain and really think about, ok well if we're not sharing the exhibition space with another artist, the work of Shahryar Nashat, and we don't have that kind of toggling of per hour, how can we really get into the nitty gritty of what barre and brain can do. And so I'm going to show you one or two videos of the work that we did at Artspace whilst on residency there and we, I brought in another performer Leo Tanoi, who takes the role of what I call presence. So this kind of peripheral, but very important, kind of objective presence who can intervene at any one moment. So, yeah I'll show you this. I'll show you some clips from this work that we were doing, which I've since understood is probably the start of a new series which I'm loosely calling Psychophysical Sessioning, which is going to situate different constellations of these choreographic roles, whether it's barre, blood, brain. Or going forward, I could imagine there might be even more organs. And each of these roles has a kind of like specific quality, specific interpretive task that they are busy with, but they are working together. And in Sydney you have barre, brain and presence that are active in the sessioning.
Brooke Stamp: Let me backtrack. Do you ever think that one different move in in your life could have made your future incredibly different? And I have that in relation to L.A.. Not different better or worse, but different.
AL: I could stay here awhile, awake. Put a bit more weight into the right heel. Wait, wait. just let it tip but then recover. Weight is driving into the ground through both heels. Arm wants to release but I circle it and then catch it around the area of my heart. Switch sides and goes to the groin, but then I just return to where I was. Thinking about the back of my neck, but I look behind instead. Wait. Wait. Wait. Index finger to the middle of the bottom of the foot, turn, bring your leg in. This reminds me of Marilyn.
BS: Do you think the contexts in which you or I would have to forcibly say no, could ever be the same.
Leo Tanoi: Could you please expand on that?
BS: Adam asked me, when was the last time I had to forcibly say no. And, it just made me wonder. Would we ever have to say no for the same reasons. As a man, as a woman. Do you think anyone in this room could understand my experience of saying no. That’s just my thought.
AL: So I think that's that's me said and done.
BR: Thank you Adam. I just wondered, if it's OK, I'd like to ask you a couple of questions. And I think just from hearing you talk it's pretty obvious you have a longstanding interest in language as a form. So I'd be really interested in hearing you talk a little bit more about the way that you incorporated text within your work – spoken, sung, recited, whispered – and how that plays out in dialogue with the materiality of the body, and with choreography. How does what you know from dance, or maybe choreographic thinking is a better way to put it, get translated into this other kind of text-based material.
AL: Yeah I am really interested in language and I think it's come up in quite a few forms in my work. I guess that, the way that I generally approach it, is to kind of play with language, you know. In the way that verbal and written language operates in our lives it's such a strict system. It's such a strict kind of coded system, that of course can be interpreted in many different ways, but it's got a strictness that the signs of the dancing body just don't have. And so what I feel that I tend to do with language is, a little bit play with the expectations of the strictness. And that might happen within wordplay, it might happen within the syntax, and it might happen even in the kind of format. I'm very rarely interested in like, in the kind of more systematised form, like the essay form, or the article form. I find that a lot of the language that comes into my work is like developed in the studio, like literally playing with words or playing with how they fall. And I think in terms of like, for example Some Proximity, the language aspect is carried out by someone whose kind of, that’s their profession. You know, a professional writer. And then what happens there is that like, the dancers use all their play and all their kind of like real-time, their knack of real-time, to remix that. And I think ultimately, I'm interested in the kind of sonority – is that the word – of language, like how we hear it. And the kind of like, the double entendre of the meaning and the slippage of the meaning. And a little bit what happens when you know, it's a little bit like tapping the head and circling the hand on the stomach. To try and execute a very particular dance quality whilst also like speaking a text, or trying to manage a text, it's like really difficult and kind of clumsy, but I think that produces something really interesting. And I feel like I'm often in my work, if the two do exist side-by-side, they’re often playing out like that. So yeah, it's like, it's wordplay it's the rhyming sound of the language, it's the inability to kind of stand up straightforward and speak something clearly but be doing this kind of pop adagio at the same time. And I feel that underneath that is this kind of, what's happening in the brain and the body, is this kind of right brain left brain battle, which is why language comes into my work I think, because of wanting to play that out.
BR: And, with the new work that you’re making, and you know, that’s represented by Shelf Life and the sessioning that you were doing with Brooke at Artspace, you’ve talked a little about you know, how invested you are in questions of time, in particular. I’d love to hear your thoughts about how you’re working within or perhaps even against the frame of exhibition time, by which I mean over an extended duration, and within gallery opening hours.
AL: I think that kind of from a performing perspective learning about time, and what you can do with time, is like a never-ending education. Or that's what I'm kind of like realising. And I think what you know, what the exhibition space does is allow for energy to really ebb and flow and it strips away this kind of spectacular expectation of the moment. It allows for the moment to become dull and flat and then like, and then stir up again. And I think what I'm trying to get at with the sessioning is that the real-time and that kind of sitting in presence, is used as a way of accessing certain different channels of reflection. So for example, what you just saw like with Brooke and I, yes brain, which is the role that's more on the ground in this kind of animalesque movement, has the kind of verbal mandate there and barre is kind of interpreting the verbal prompts with the body. But nothing is pre-scripted. We are kind of reflecting on who we are, on our relation, on why we’re at Artspace working, why we’re busy with choreography in 2020. So yeah, I think what I feel is that like, is that this real time and that's why I'm calling it like the sessioning, instead of it being this kind of delivery of a performance for an audience, it's more this kind of spatial container for being present that the performers can partake in. And kind of like delve further and further into their reflexivity. And in the best possible way, kind of like, use that to do like this kind of like psychophysical work on themselves. So instead of like the onus of the work being messaging out, you know kind of like, what the work is about, what it's, how it's communicating to a viewer. What I want from this sessioning is that it's actually a space where the performers use the exhibition to work on themselves.
BR: Just one last question around the choreographic services. You’ve talked about those as being a kind of model for working with dance, an ethic, as it were, but that you weren’t necessarily intending this to be a form of institutional critique. But I’m wondering how you kind of settled on this as a conceptual framework, the form of the contract, say. And also whether this is something that emerged in response to the kinds of conversations you were having with visual arts venues? Were you thinking about the services as a way to advocate for dance in the gallery? As a way to have conversations not only about logistics and compensation, which are of course super important, but also about hospitality and care?
AL: Yeah, I mean I think that there is an institutional critique with, about them, you know, the contract with the aesthetics of administration and the kind of you know, unveiling the transparency of the procedure there. But I like to think instead of them being really about a critique of the institution, they were more about a critique of the, maybe like of the value of the kind of material of performance. So I was less interested in focusing on the actual like institution, the bricks and mortar of the institution, because the services can happen anywhere. I mean, you can be at the ICA, but you can hire it to happen you know down the road in Piccadilly Square, you know what I mean. So it's like, it was not so much about, for me about the institution, it was more about like how the practice of dance would, could be, like the negotiation of the practice of dance between two exchanging parties could be interrogated. Because you know for me, it was also and I remember saying this to an artist friend of mine, it’s like, over the years that we did the services we got better at what we were doing. It got like more interesting, it got more experimental, we got better stamina. And it was almost like, rather than a kind of like rather than a kind of like finger pointing critique, it came to be that it was more like, oh well if you invest in this over time this is going to get richer. And we're going to be able to do this in a kind of richer way. So I think what started off as a kind of like, yes, like underlining, the underlining what choreography needed to be in that space that would differentiate it from the economy of objects, became actually like, less about a kind of like, underlining of the expectations of the get go and more about what these practices would become if there was an over time an abundance of clients and institutions that were willing to invest in in this practice happening over many years. And I think that was something that I couldn't foresee. That only, you know, and thanks to Anthony Huberman who really wanted to put these together. You know, I could only really understand toward you know like the end of developing the series. That's not to say that I wouldn't have the works hired in the future. I will, I mean I still hope to do the services. But yeah, I think it's like, actually it was just like a kind of formula for like, oh can this thing keep going and get richer and what will happen to it in the future and we, yes it needs to be paid for, yes it needs to be kind of like substantiated, but we won't really know what is really at the juicy heart of how this can be performed as an end result. You know what I mean, as a bottom line.
BR: Thank you so much Adam, for being so generous, but it's obviously getting dark there in L.A.
AL: Yeah, can you see I turned the light on. It’s like, night-time fade in.
BR: Thank you. I really hope we can see your work again in real time, gathered together with other humans, super soon. Thank you so much for your generosity.
AL: My pleasure.
BR: And one last thank you just to Hannah Matthews and MUMA, and the research group, for allowing us to have this chat on zoom.
AL: Great. Thanks Bree. See you soon.