Saturday, November 7, 2009

Gutierrez and Sullivan

I've been thinking about Miguel Gutierrez' Last Meadow since seeing it two months ago during the T:BA festival. I wrote a compressed, fractured and somewhat melodramatic description of it on the PICA blog (see below). It seemed useless to give a blow-by-blow account of a performance which was so centered in mood, repetition and groove.
In general, there seems to be something about the relationships between cinema and dance. There's an interesting tension between the repeatable and the ephemeral, the narrative and the abstract, the continuous and the montaged. These questions are certainly part of Bandage A Knife, and perhaps I was thinking through some of my own problems in response to Gutierrez' work. I loved the intensity of Last Meadow and its willingness to be dark.
I can feel myself getting darker. I continue to be drawn further toward genre film, but especially horror flicks. In some way, perhaps returning to my deep regard for transgressive images such as Passoloini's Salo, or my childhood experiences of seeing Dracula, King Kong and Phantom of the Opera for free in the University cinema. I always liked these archaic images which seemed so foreign and intriguing. I like the way form and content can seem to split apart and operate in parallel - the symmetry in each shot of Salo which intensifies and counteracts the brutality; the utterly artificial lighting and acting of Argento's Suspiria which is subsumed by mood.
Right now I'm feeling a real affinity for Catherine Sullivan's work, her manner of using source material, the way she has feet in cinema, theater and modern dance, the use of what she calls "vestigal narrative". I've been wondering how to bridge these realms, how to work in the cracks between, how to make something that belongs nowhere. This talk with her collaborators Dylan Skybrook and Sean Griffin is answering so many questions, and raising others that I hope to apply to new processes. I find she's taking the words out of my mouth.
I especially appreciated the discussion of accessibility and difficulty from around 1:10:00

I come very much from theater, and in theater you don’t have this highly directed gaze. Your eyes have the pleasure to wander and to enjoy things flickering peripherally. It’s about allowing yourself to give over to a landscape than it is looking at the installation and needing it to satisfy a kind of one-point perspective. It’s about how you look at images and what in the image is ambient or what is direct. So there’s a lot about the composition that tries to allow for, as I’ve said, the pleasure of the eyes to look the way they want to look. To me that says a lot about judgement. When you’re presented with a lot of information, the question you’re forced to ask yourself is “Well, what do I want to look at?” and that says something about your sensibility as a viewer.

At the same time, I wonder about the possibility of attention in a gallery setting. When I saw Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land at the Whitney biennial, I was unable to focus, a bit disoriented by the multiple screens, and feeling that I was unable to give the piece the time it required. Sitting down to take in a performance has a way of centering and allowing patience in a way that just doesn't happen for me in a gallery. Is there a special switch in the brain when an event has a set arc? We give in to the experience and can sensitize to its universe. (But maybe I just need(ed) to learn how to watch.)
Many of Sullivan's touchpoints are somehow dear to my heart - Poe, Muybridge, Tatsumi Hijikata - early interests that I've repressed because of the impression that narrative and melodrama should take a back seat to abstraction. Now it's all coming back. How does she have the courage to be this incredibly weird, this completely faithful to the process of collaboration, to the tenuous webs of meaning and to these beautiful images? I want to see more.

Here's my review from September:
Miguel Gutierrez & Powerful People Last Meadow

The script is a controlling device. The storyboard commands. The director is an egomaniac. The movie camera captures bodies within its lens, contains them -flattens them onto celluloid. Method acting infects actors like a germ, changing gestures, changing voices. Sometimes the role carries actors into a dark hole – they lose their edges, become the character, drive a car into a tree. There is a compulsion behind the machine of Hollywood, driving its makers into standard narratives, driving audiences into admiration and emulation. A nightmare of falseness. We forget that we are immersed in artificiality. Miguel Gutierrez wants to use the cinematic nightmare as an alarm clock.
Old age is frightened by youth. James Dean represented the uncontrolled force of the “juvenile delinquent” – the scary eroticism of Elvis’ hip shake, which reminded the 1950’s of an even more frightening “other” – the suppressed energy of the American experience. The monster which we ourselves have created, fed with blood, and tried to ignore.
Miguel Gutierrez & Powerful People throw off sparks. They are driven by a demoniacal repetition, swallowed by illusion. Free-floating scripts attach themselves, forcing the dancers to vomit lines over and over. Shouting directions, moving in perfect unison, these bodies are controlled. “Take 47! Again!”
Actors can forget where the machine ends, find themselves absorbed into the tabloids which have scripted romance, scandal, marriage and divorce. This is the “moral” of Lynch’s Inland Empire (with which I could compare Last Meadow). Dancers use their bodies as machines of expression. Who owns these bodies? Do we, as observers, bear responsibility for the actions and habits of dancers offstage, who must carefully prepare themselves for moments of white-hot activity? We shouldn’t forget that we are all human beings here.
Last Meadow carries each scene beyond the limits of “enough”. It displays a prickly exterior. It exists in the moment on stage, but also in the memory of a film (or films). This doubly and triply-layered moment creates complex refractions. Something is wrong here. I want to laugh but it hurts. “You’re tearing me apaart!” Actors live a multiplied existence. Where is their “authentic” identity? What parts of previous roles do they continue to play? What parts of previous films do we knowingly or unknowingly absorb and enact?
DVD extras now allow us to penetrate the machine, to examine the construction with all its visible scaffolding. And yet, the movies never lose their power to convince, to carry us out of our bodies and into other bodies. James Dean is resurrected each time we watch his image, a zombified body compelled to repeat itself. The steps, the swagger, the smirk. And somewhere offscreen, his car rams into that tree over and over and over.

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