Monday, 28 March 2011

Does Po.Mo. Mean Grim?

(Published at London Festival Fringe
When I think of 1970s New York artists, living in communal lofts in the wake of free love, the second wave of the feminist movement, and Vietnam war protests, I imagine a collective driven by hope. But as the Barbican exhibition reveals, the artists were interested in the grim reality of urban decay and chronic unemployment, the horrors of industrial waste and homelessness, and George Orwell-style nightmares of a fractured and hyper-anxious society. The soundscore is industrial noise, grating and static, a refrain more suited to Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 than to post-modern dance.
Making work a decade after Judson Dance Theatre, Trisha Brown (a member of Judson), Laurie Anderson, and Gordon Matta-Clark shared the collective’s concerns. Dance was about pedestrian movement, stepping out of the proscenium, saying “no to spectacle” (Yvonne Rainer), and exploring alternative surfaces.
Watching Brown’s famous Walking on the Wall (1971) is a discombobulating experience, like you’re witnessing the moonwalk – not the Michael Jackson avatar, but rather people gliding on the moon’s surface, moving their limbs with deliberation to keep them from walking off in a different direction from the rest of their body.
Matta-Clark set up an enormous dumpster called Open House (1972) in SoHo, and invited people to walk in and out of its maze-like corridors. He made it a hobby to collect “gutter spaces” in New York, unusable and unsustainable buildings, at local auctions.
Anderson was interested in technology. Her installations range from a table on which you place your elbows, so that your arms function as earphones; a ghostly electric chair, part of a derelict recording studio, that moves of its own accord, rotates at odd moments, flickers on and off; and a ten-inch clay model, a “fake hologram with sound” that talks to you about its experiences on a shrink’s couch.
Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970s
Barbican Art Gallery
Till May 22, 2011

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