This week I had an unexpected 32-hour layover in Paris (trust me, my life is not as glamourous as it sounds). With the mental and monetary resources for only one museum, I chose the Centre Pompidou. Their current special exhibition, Danser Sa Vie, interweaves elegant works by the likes of Rodin, Matisse and Warhol, with videos, photos and sketches of dancers such as Isadora Duncan, Merce Cunningham and Yvonne Rainer. The contemporary works that were part of the exhibition happened to be some of the more interesting video pieces I have seen in a while –either that, or video art is ideally viewed through the haze of jetlag.
Olafur Eliasson’s Movement Microscope, made especially for this exhibition, is a 15 minute video that documents a day in the life of his studio. Interspersed with the regular routine, were moments of synchronicity between people, conversations through gestures and the occasional body going refreshingly awry. Throughout, the line blurred between performative movement and the measured motions of practiced craft and habit. Though not a new idea, Eliasson’s piece captured simply the ideas of much of the modern dance pieces in the previous rooms: the link between interior and exterior; the body as machine versus the body as natural force. The video also provided an interesting insight into the contemporary art studio as a collaborative space, where technology, nature and humans all collide.
Another piece that had me hypnotized, was French artist Nicolas Floc’h’s Performance Painting #2. In this piece, dancer Rachid Ouramdane stands in one spot, under two steady drips of black paint. The tension mounts as the black residue builds up on the performer’s clothes and skin, growing more menacing with each drip, and his gestures progress from small reactive twitches, to refined responsive motions and then to aggressive flinging of his limbs.
Performance Painting #2 played opposite the iconic video of Jackson Pollock at work and a still of Carollee Schneeman’s Up to and Including Her Limits, underlining the obvious ancestral link between these pieces: all three artists use a very simple set-up to trace the movements of their body through space, and document the drama that evolves within one solitary human. Perhaps the black paint within which the performer dances and flails represents the anxiety of influence; perhaps it is a reference to forms of seemingly innocuous torture; or maybe it is just an excuse to watch the human body do it’s thing. Whatever the artist’s intention, the quiet darkness had me entranced.
Towards the end of the exhibition were a pair of Felix Gonzales-Torres works, Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform) 1991 and Untitled (Arena) 1993. Arena consists of a square of lights, strung in a corner, with two headsets on the adjacent wall. I watched as a middle-aged German couple put on the headsets and started to dance together under the lights. This piece provides the conditions for intimacy and, similar to his well-known Perfect Lovers, emphasizes the transience and vulnerability of a harmonious union–once the dancing couple stopped, the square of light became an active emptiness, eerily peaceful but longing for human occupancy. I don’t know what music the headsets played as I didn’t venture into the work, but I imagined something poetic and bittersweet: Gonzales-Torres was painfully aware that humans don’t run like clockwork and all dances come to an end.