“What if we saw the art at Wanås as a collection of choreographic objects instead of a collection of static sculptures?
The exhibition SculptureMotion connects sculpture and motion today, going beyond the mobile phone and the motor, and including moving image and performances with six contributors, one of which is an artists collective. William Forsythe’s oeuvre forms the starting point for the exhibition. He is a trailblazing choreographer, but this exhibition puts his choreographic objects in the limelight for their Swedish premiere. The artists begin with the concept of motion, investigating inroads and interests—adding, being, reproducing motion, being the memory of motion, and emphasizing the dual meaning of the word “movement”.
Sculpture is associated with permanence, even if artists have challenged this understanding for decades by creating transient sculptures and sculptures that move. Within the kinetic arts, art relating to movement, Alexander Calder (1898–1976) was a pioneer. He took modern sculpture down from the pedestal and created new ways of looking at art. His mobiles, which move with the help of wind or mechanics, change constantly, and Calder stated that just as we can compose colours, we can also compose movements. In 1936, Calder created the set design for dancer Martha Graham, but it would be almost 30 years before he realized a production in which sculpture was not just a part of the background. In his Work in Progress (1966) at Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, mobiles were brought on stage and the forms interacted in a performance with surprises at every turn. At one point, a group of cyclists appeared; the spotlight mainly shone on the geometric forms: the sculptures were performing.
Outside Moderna Museet in Stockholm stands Calder’s colourful sculpture group, The Four Elements (1961), which moves with the help of a motor. The sculpture group was constructed for the exhibition Movement in Art in 1961. In the exhibition Calder, who 30 years earlier had created his first mobile, was the older colleague of artists such as Jean Tinguely from Switzerland (1925–1991). Tinguely worked with metamechanics, artworks that created movement using calculated anti-precision and slipping gears. The first of three total versions of the exhibition was Bewogung Bewegung at Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The following year, in the same place, Tinguely was the “engineer” behind the exhibition Dylaby, which began in the concept of a dynamic labyrinth. With the focus on touching, experiencing, and interacting, he and five artist colleagues transformed the museum. At Moderna Museet, too, Movement in Art was followed by further collaboration with Tinguely, along with artists Per Olov Ultvedt and Niki de Saint Phalle, who together presented the legendary SHE – A Cathedral in 1966. They created a monumental sculpture depicting an approximately 25-metre-long prostate female body with an entrance between the legs, where there was a small bar. Other functions took place in other parts—the body was a shell for the activity. These exhibitions constitute key references to movement in Swedish art history.
Outside Sweden and Europe, Brazilian artist Lygia Clark (1920–1988) described that she wanted to create anti-art within art, and to work with objects that move us, but in another meaning. She wanted to expand the boundaries of artistic experience and transform our understanding of the artistic object—it was not the end goal but a tool for transportation that would open us up towards other worlds. Lygia Clark developed sculptures that we could hold and use to create sensual experiences. An early sculpture series is Bichos (1961). It consists of metal sculptures meant for bending with the hands. Her objects were sometimes even simpler: in a series that she called relational objects in 1966, she took a plastic bag, filled it with air, closed it, and put a stone on top of it. Holding the air-filled plastic bag, manipulating it, causes the stone to move. With this material, Clark felt that she had created a body. The objects were created to highlight the creativity inherent in each of us. Clark’s early works were created in Brazil, which was under military rule from 1964 to 1985. We can understand her and her colleagues’ art from this context; they expanded the range of people who had access to the artwork and removed it from the museum. Tinguely, too, was clear in challenging the institution, and he opposed the museification of his artworks—with artworks that exploded and burned up, he railed against the understanding of an artwork as an object to be collected. Even if Tinguely is associated with mechanical sculptures, he is linked to Clark in their shared interest in the active participation of the audience; both brought movement and sculpture together, linking one to the presence of the other.
In the very tall, narrow publication for Movement in Art in 1961, Museum Director Hultén writes: “Art is on its way to becoming active and dynamic. It is leaving the old forms that hold true to a static worldview and a society that strives for stability.” For Hultén, the 233 exhibited artworks did not have to mean or suggest anything, but they had “the potential to be a latent attack against estab-lished order.” Time has passed, but beyond historical examples: what constitutes active and dynamic art today?
In the video Suspense (2008), William Forsythe binds himself in long, hanging ropes, winding them around his body, knotting them until he is completely tied up, only to then laboriously loosen the ropes and free himself from imprisonment. Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd participated in Movement in Art and the catalogue depicts a man who was bound tightly to a chair. The title of the work, Mascot, was the opposite of the exhibition theme. In William Forsythe’s oeuvre, there are multiple variants of the same motif, but in his works, the bound body becomes active. In StellenStellen Films (2013), two dancers lie interlaced: heads, hands, feet seem bound to each other; there is no rope, but the bodies are unambiguously connected. In 2016, the motif appears again with Alignigung, which Forsythe describes as an English-German wordplay—align/allein and einigung—where we follow two dancers’ bodies fit closely together. They never let go of each other and are occupied with threading themselves through the negative shapes that appear between their bodies. All of the works are carried out by dancers who, with incredible experience and control, investigate movement. A trained dancer is always conscious of how the body behaves in and towards space. In Lectures from Improvisation Technologies, Forsythe shows this thinking with a drawn line that is manifested in the video and demonstrates the body’s relationships when he moves. It is like a matrix for ballet, just as clear as artist Sol Lewitt’s instructions for his murals. Based on a theoretical idea, the lines are put together and the result, the drawing, makes the idea concrete. In Forsythe’s case, the idea is realized through movement. In the film Solo (1997), he dances what has been explained: in the seven-minute piece, theory becomes practice through compressed, performed movements. Since 1997, Forsythe has also researched movements for non-dancers with his choreographic objects.
Forsythe created the first variation of Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time from 2005 for dancers, but it gradually developed into an invitation to whomever came into the room. Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time consists of weights suspended from cords hanging from the ceiling. In the art gallery at Wanås, 444 weights fill a large room. Our assignment is to go through the room without bumping into the weights. We move based on what we see. In some versions, the cords are connected to motors that are guided by sound; in others—as at Wanås—it is the draft and visitors who set the weights in motion. With these choreographic objects, Forsythe wants to create meaning beyond what we see. He describes the primary principle: “physical engagement is the means to understanding the class of actions to which each choreographic system refers.” The choreographic objects are choreographic ideas, represented in a more lasting form.
Outside the art gallery, the trees are in motion—but not only from the wind or birds lifting off from branches. The branches move based on a composed sound in Forsythe’s Aviariation. Visitors do not discover how the branches have been connected to the inaudible sound source, but we see the motion—perhaps we see the pattern in it—with added movement, the trees become choreographic objects for the entire exhibition period. In 1989, too, Forsythe worked with trees, using a rope to fasten 50 trees, growing along a canal, to a pillar in the water. Over time, the trees adapt their growth and slowly take new positions, but stretched over the long run we are not able to register the change. We have to compare pictures of before and after. The temporal perspective gives the work a serious dimension, but movement is often connected to play and pleasure—Forsythe had this in mind when he created White Bouncy Castle (1997), a white bounce house. In the structure, normal motion becomes exaggerated as we ricochet around inside, and the experience of the body in space becomes tangible. Forsythe’s white bounce house is reminiscent of Wanås’ white-plastered, crenellated castle. In his new work for Wanås, Underall, Forsythe has chosen to start with a completely different type of building, an abandoned henhouse, and allows a gentle movement to be in focus. We can step into the structure and the weight from our bodies sets it in motion. Then, if we close our eyes or if several people are inside, we can experience the movement more strongly. With this work Forsythe adds movement to an existing object, a henhouse, and throws us off balance. As with so many of his objects, we gain the experience of ourselves by being aware of movement, and by ourselves being set in motion.
While Forsythe has dedicated his oeuvre to organizing bodies—many with one, one in response to many—artist Éva Mag begins with herself. In the film Gyertek Gumizzunk/Let’s jump twist, Mag jumps the twist with adult friends as a melancholic soundtrack plays. In the film, we see a street lined with identical houses. Along the street are parking spaces, and outside every house stands an identical carpet stand. The film takes place in Transylvania, where Mag grew up. In the art gallery at Wanås, a carpet stand can be found in her exhibition space, the one Mag sat on and dangled her legs from, hung from and climbed on.
The stand is a sculpture of a corporeal memory, it is centrally located in the exhibition space and, together with the other objects, creates an obstacle course. On the room’s left wall are metal objects, making it possible to move upward along the wall, to literally “climb up the walls.” In tremendously difficult emotional situations, we often use the saying “falling down into a dark hole.” In language, we turn to metaphors to describe feelings of sorrow, insecurity, and a loss of control. Climbing up the walls is a metaphor for unfathomable angst, but describes a motion in the other direction, upward, the need to get out, get away, to leave an unbearable situation. Mag gives form to a physically impossible motion for humans, to literally climb up the walls.
The body houses memories, it does not forget, but the obstacles in the exhibition are not only there as flashbacks or memorials. They constitute a real obstacle course, one that would require strength and endurance to complete. The objects are a place for physical training, to equip the body when confidence is lost, to ensure readiness. Obstacle courses are used in military training. In parkour, the urban landscape is the obstacle course, with the goal of attaining physical and mental strength. In the room at Wanås, the different objects on the wall show where the knee can rest, the elbow can gain purchase, the foot can push off—the spaces are tailored to Mag’s height and strength, and placed so that it would be possible to move forward. Through the room runs a braided fabric design that expands into the shape of a cocoon creating a body.
At the far end of the room is a video with the demanding title Stand up! In the video, the artist lies down on the floor under a clay body. The body covers her and weighs her down. Mag has worked with clay bodies since 2013. The first was a part of a 24-hour performance, Directions and Shapes in a Woman’s Body – Clay I, where the starting point was a block of clay that Mag first shaped into a body lying down in the foetal position. She then modulated to a figure on all fours and, because it lacked reinforcements, Mag could continue the transformation of the figure. In various works, Mag has attempted to lift the bodies upright without them falling apart so that she could understand them, test how they might become alive; she has placed them on racks, creating an outer structure to hold them up, compensating for their lack of strength. In the film, she is not able to get the clay body to stand up, nor is she able to get herself up; the clay body weighs her down like a lead blanket that has pinned her in a wrestling match.
Sonia Khurana meets us lying on the floor in the film Logic of Birds (2006), but it is not a body she is fighting against. Her placement on the ground is a conscious choice. “Through performance, I can engage with the constant struggle between body and language, to achieve a corporeal eloquence,” Khurana writes. “You who pass through this room, I invite you in,” begins her suggestion to the observer in Lying Down on the Ground. A sit-in denotes resistance, but lying down is different. Who lies on the ground? On city streets, in the public sphere, the sitting body arouses immediate associations with homelessness, vulnerability; she who sits or lies on the ground owns nothing, has nothing to lose or has lost everything. In the prostate position, we are passive. We do not produce anything more than, possibly, our own dreams. In the exhibition room we hear the artist’s voice as she talks to the visitor: “I propose that through the act of lying down on the ground, we would share a space of existence, if only momentarily, to perform an inconsequential act.” Sonia Khurana, 2009, an excerpt from the text, vocie and video lying-down-on-the-ground: additional notes. Proposal as poem.
Khurana makes the seemingly passive act of lying down active. In Forsythe’s object Towards the Diagnostic Gaze (2013), there is also an invitation: “Please keep the object completely still.” The object is a feather duster. If we hold the handle, the feathers reveal that what we thought was still is not completely still; the feathers tremble when we breathe and the smallest movement becomes visible. The task is impossible, the movement inevitable. In the same way as John Cage’s silent composition—minutes, without music, that still contain sounds because it is never completely silent—Khurana’s stillness is a movement, a state of extremely slow motion. Khurana’s proposal is an ongoing performance that we enact if we lie down. During the exhibition period, we can help each other draw the contours of our prostate bodies on the floor; together they emerge as a drawing. It becomes playful, but the body contours also contain a strong reference to the body outlines police draw at crime scenes. Outdoors there are silhouettes in plexiglass of Khurana’s prostate body, like puddles the shape becomes pronounced on the ground. They are two-dimensional, unlike Mag’s clay bodies. The three-dimensional, temporary sculptures are our own bodies. When the artists themselves become a part of the artwork, we approach performance, and when the art is composed of everyday actions, we approach another boundary—the distinction between art and life. Khurana says in her proposal: “Through ephemeral sculpture and casual drawing, we can find the ‘art’ between life, concept, and object.”
Henrik Plenge Jakobsen’s sculpture needs neither wind nor motor to move; his sculpture quite literally walks around. He makes live sheep become art and tell of a historic event. Queen Marie-Antoinette of France (1755–1793) had sheep in Le hameau de la reine, The Queen’s Hamlet, a model farm with 12 cottages that she had built near the château Petit Trianon. The Hamlet was a retreat from court life in Versaille, and a fantasy of a lost paradise. In The Hamlet there was a modern, progressive dairy described as a “summer drawing room,” where guests could find nourishing foods such as milk and fruit that had primarily been produced on a functioning farm nearby. Marie-Antoinette had The Hamlet decorated with over 1,000 porcelain vases adorned with her monogram, that were to be filled with flowers and spread a pleasant smell. The model was created by a painter and there were other examples of model farms in this period. There is no proof that what one description of the place claims about Marie-Antoinette’s pink sheep is true, but on the other hand, we know she never said: “Let them eat cake” (or more accurately, “Let them eat brioche”), when there was a shortage of bread and people were starving. The sentence appears in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s memoirs Les Confessions, written in the mid-1760s when the Austrian princess had not yet moved to France and was only a child. Then, as now, snapshots—images or statements—become a potential spark that can begin a change in the same way that photographs have become central and impacted public opinion, as during the Vietnam War, for example. Plenge Jakobsen stages a historic image in a historic environment, an event that changed Europe and meant that France shifted from an absolute monarchy to more power to the people, the King and Queen were executed, and the revolution included a bloody civil war.
Plenge Jakobsen often returns to the acts of violence in society, in Burned Out Kindergarten and Smashed Parking, among others, which are stagings of what the titles describe. Curator Marianne Torp connects Plenge Jakobsen with situationist thinking, formulated by theorist and activist Guy Debord: a strategy to truly criticize society in open, uncontrollable situations. Many of Plenge Jakobsen’s works can be described as something between action and performance. In Dollar Drop (2004), the artist, along with Jonas Maria Schul, distributed 1,000 dollars from the back of a truck. Those who witnessed the event threw themselves after the money. The artwork in itself is not an important object—the resulting action is the important element.
Even within painting, movement was an important feature in the 1950s and 1960s. Making painting unstable was a goal, and the definition itself became fluid when artists challenged the conventions of different media and wanted to break up definitions. At the same time, on another stage, a completely new written language grew forth, the calligraphy of our time, appearing directly on façades. Graffiti practitioners in New York in the 1960s called themselves writers and their tags were writing. Youth who had tagged their names across suburbia gradually left stationary walls behind, their names travelling from the Bronx to Manhattan on the sides of subway cars, making the city theirs in a way, and becoming visible. The modern graffiti scene gained fresh attention in the 1970s and 1980s, when the artist’s canvas also became a possible backdrop. Writers became referred to as graffiti artists, and galleries became a place for graffiti, which caused some frictions. A bit later, in the middle of the 1990s, Carolina Falkholt was part of the New York graffiti scene. It was a few years after 6,000 subway cars had been taken out of commission, painted white, and replaced after having been covered in writing. The graffiti on New York’s subway cars seldom contained political messages, but the act itself is a statement challenging common ideas of who has a place in the city.
Falkholt left the illegal graffiti scene many years ago, but she continues to write and ask questions about what words can be displayed. With the line as a starting point, she connects text and bodies in images that cause seething reactions. She works in dialogue with artists like Carolee Schneeman, who made the body a subject and a place for art. Vagina, crotch, cunt—Falkholt primarily turns to these derogatory words; she writes down words that violate, paints over them and lets them form the base layer for another picture. She raises strong feelings among those who want the words to remain insults, who want words for sex and bodies to be scrawled in a public toilet; they vandalize and direct their vandalism towards Falkholt herself. In new places, she has remained in a context that is rebellion and creates rebellion.
Recoating was the first step in the creation of Train of Thoughts, a train car that Falkholt gained access to. She painted it white and has since worked with a black line and circles that together create a pattern; the entire object is her artwork. For Falkholt, drawing patterns forms a complement to her words; it is a sort of camouflage and has ranged from looking like a mountain or feathers to circles that are repeated and that, like a mandala, can symbolize the entire universe. Both the train car and the graffiti are associated with the city, but now the artwork is parked just outside the park at Wanås. Surrounded by greenery, it alters the forest and tells of transplantation and travel. Art critic Arthur Danto wrote in 1985 how he imagined the Metropolitan Museum in New York devoting a wing for the preservation of subway paintings. Such an addition never came to be, but perhaps a sculpture park is a better place for it anyway?
Motion for the End of the World
Mammalian Diving Reflex describes itself as an artistic research atelier, calling their work “social acupuncture,” and their activities “ideal entertainment for the end of the world.” For the third version of the exhibition Movement in Art at Louisiana Museum in Denmark Jean Tinguely created Étude pour une fin du monde No. 1, a self-destructive machine. A feeling of intense urgency exists in these wordings. Tinguely sought after the ephemeral when he incorporated smoke, fire, and light in his sculptures and wrote: “The work was forced to just vanish into thin air, to make people dream and talk, and that would be it; the next day nothing would remain, everything would end up back in the garbage bins.”
At Wanås, Mammalian Diving Reflex is conducting These Are the People in Your Neighbourhood, which they describe as “a performance about a very possible world. It is a small slice of utopia.” The title is taken from the American children’s programme Sesame Street. A feature of the programme is introducing different careers—the doctor who works all day long, and the grocer who sells the food you eat—before they join in song with the programme leader and ask “Who are the People in Your Neighbourhood,” whom you meet every day, when you walk down the street? In Mammalian Diving Reflex’s project, young people work with artists; at Wanås the starting point is the dream of a society where more people know each other and their surroundings. Following three weeks of work, 10-year-olds from Knislinge operate a weekend of guided tours, letting their audience meet the people who work and conduct business in Knislinge. The focus lies on what the young people want to know and talk about, what piques their curiosity in this encounter with their community. Knislinge is home to 3,500 residents and is Wanås’ nearest neighbour. Despite a relatively small population, there are public services as well as a large assortment of shops—salons, florists, a café, bike shop, grocery store, pizzerias, a podiatrist, dentists, kiosks, convenience stores, general clinic, and pharmacy.
In several of Mammalian Diving Reflex’s projects, children and youth take an active role in society, and groups and individuals that do not normally interact are brought together. In other projects, Mammalian Diving Reflex has brought strangers together who then danced cheek-to-cheek, and they taught children to cut hair without aesthetic preferences in Hair Cut by Children, a performance of faith in those to whom we will one day leave society to, and who through their voices will shape it. Mammalian Diving Reflex works for social change, it is a collective movement that has moved art projects outside the museum, and leaves no trace after the exhibition is over.
Calder moved dancers from the stage, and his mobiles are abstract forms, without stories; but before the mobiles, between the years 1926 and 1931, he created the circus that many associate him with, a miniature circus that fit into a suitcase, complete with tightrope walkers, jugglers, and clowns made from steel wire, pipe cleaners, and bottle caps. When a large exhibition of Calder’s works was to be displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2008, the art historians and conservators worked with his estate, and his circus. Some objects were bewildering—white figures marked The Four Seasons and Dawn and Dusk. Upon closer examination, it turned out that the motif was a popular circus feature that was often advertised on posters. White-clad people performed tableaux vivantes, posing like paintings—this is, incidentally, a tradition we recognize in street artists who pose absolutely still as if they are sculptures. With Calder, the living models are transformed into sculptures, sometimes connected to mechanics that created motion. Like a complicated riddle, Calder’s figures referred back to a human edition that in turn referred back to paintings. In art history of the 1900s, we find walking sculptures, one-minute sculptures, artworks in which the living body is the sculpture. Choreographer Maria Hassabi, who is coming to Wanås in August, has dancers move so slowly that it is difficult to make out when a movement begins and another one ends—they continue seamlessly. The dancers who work with her call the performances sculptures, while she says it is dance without dancing. Painting is one starting point for Hassabi’s slow investigation, but because she choreographs bodies, we come closer to sculpture.
Let us borrow SculptureMotion’s focus on movement and expand the exhibition, our outlook and conceptions for a moment: ”What if we saw Wanås as a collection of choreographic objects instead of a collection of static sculptures?”*
*The question is inspired by a project in 2015 at Tate Modern, London, starting from the question posed by Boris Charmatz, choreographer, dancer and curator; What if Tate Modern was Musée de la Dance?