What do Walker Open Field, the avant-garde art movement Fluxus and socially-engaged art practice have in common? That is what the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department explored through this summer’s program, FluxField. This project took advantage of the concurrent timing of Open Field and the opening of Walker exhibitions Art Expanded: 1958-1978 and Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, both containing a strong Fluxus presence.
We invited a range of artists to create projects or events for Open Field inspired by or in some cases in reaction to the works, philosophy, and cosmology of Fluxus. FluxField artists included Beatrix Jar (Bianca Pettis and Jacob Aaron Roske), BodyCartography Project (Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad), Andy Ducett, Mike Haeg, Rachel Jendrzejewski, Chris Kallmyer, Maria Mortati, and Margaret Pezalla-Granlund. Key Fluxus figures Alison Knowles and Benjamin Patterson were invited to perform their work during the summer and fall.
Choreographer and curator Laurie Van Wieren also jumped into the flux fray with her Open Field piece, 4×4 = 100 Choreographers Dancing Outside, a celebration of the Twin Cities’ thriving dance scene. She describes the process of putting together the piece below.
When Laura Holway, coordinator of Walker Open Field, asked me if I had anything that I might want to share this summer, I realized I knew something that most people aren’t aware of: there are more than 350 dance-making entities in the Twin Cities. I suspected that, if I designed a structure that lasted just 30-minutes and was very clear about the parameters, I just might be able to gather together 100 choreographers at Walker Open Field on a Saturday afternoon. This was a chance to demonstrate the diversity and quantity of choreographers in the Twin Cities, as well as to explore my own dual role as choreographer and curator.
My connection with the Walker Art Center started early on in my life in the Twin Cities. I was a guard at the Walker, and as a dancer and visual artist, I was influenced by many of the choreographers and performance artists that came through, including the Fluxus artists. My first work of choreography was presented at a Walker Choreographers Evening in 1981– a dance made up of looped gestures, performed by my fellow guards (artists themselves) within a grid pattern.
I have been working as a choreographer and performance artist in the Twin Cities since then. Ten years ago we didn’t have many places to show works in progress or talk about dance work, so I started 9×22 Dance/Lab at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater. Every month, I invite three dance-makers to show and discuss their work. With that experience, I stepped into the role of curator at the Southern Theater, and then the Ritz Theater. My hope was to help grow the presence of dance in those venues. Unfortunately both of these mid-sized theaters have folded as presenting institutions, and are now struggling to find their footing.
For artists and choreographers, it is a new, not-so-brave world. The low economy pushed performing art onto the back burner in the minds of the audience community. Yet, the artists are still out there creating work in ever more expansive ways, as well as blurring the lines between presenting, producing, curating and making art directly. To survive and thrive, dance artists are compelled to create new models all the time. I am hoping that we can find new ways to sustain ourselves. Until then, we work with what is in front of us.
Motivation and Logistics
The impulse to create 4×4=100 Choreographers Dancing Outside came from a handful of different ideas and influences: an interest in experimenting with Curation-as-Choreography and the artist as curator; my visual arts background; the Fluxus score; my interest in compositions of live action. I am especially proud of being a part of an extremely engaged and active dance community. I wanted to showcase this profusion of talent. For me, curation is about making space and time for artists to do their own specialized work. I created parameters within the piece that allowed all participants to simultaneously perform their own dance and be seen within a large community group.
This summer’s Open Field had ties to the Fluxus art movement, which felt like a happy coincidence. My interest in Fluxus started in art school, where I was drawn to the work of John Cage and Yoko Ono. In 1993, I was invited to work with Fluxus artist and archivist Larry Miller on the Walker exhibit In the Spirit of Fluxus. We performed the scores of Alison Knowles, George Maciunas, Dick Higgins, Lamonte Young, Emmett Williams, Yoko Ono and more. I loved that the actions of the Fluxus scores were simple and restrained, but also exciting and fun; every Fluxus artist seemed to have their own style of putting a score together. Fluxus influenced 4×4=100 Dancing Outside in a number of ways, from the organization of the grid pattern, to the simple score (or set of instructions) described below.
The piece was an open call, with a notice put in the dancemn newsletter and on Facebook. The first week of the notices, 25 people signed up. By the middle of June there were 80, and one week before the show, 100—plus a waiting list. Some people had to drop out at the last minute, and all waitlisted folks got in. In the end we had exactly 100 choreographers.
Each choreographer was instructed to perform in an assigned 4’x4’ space, within a larger 40’x40’ square for one of three intervals: 10, 20 or 30 minutes. There were no restrictions or stipulations on what they performed (it could be an improvisation or finished work or anything else), other than that they stay exactly within their 4’x4’ space. There were no group rehearsals, although the performers were invited to practice on the field if they chose.
The night before the performance, Laura Holway and I created the grid with a baseball field chalking machine, aided by the very helpful math and spatial skills of Jael O’Hare. Fortunately, it didn’t rain…yet.
The next day all 100 choreographers showed up, raring to go. We talked through the score, made sure that everyone knew the location of their assigned square, and set props. It was a quite pleasant day; the weather folks predicted showers later in the afternoon, but we remained undaunted. The group prepared to parade towards the grid, dancers costumed in bright, beautiful and sometimes extravagant attire. It was a cacophony of riotous color. And then, 8 minutes before show time a very dark and ominous cloud parked itself immediately on top of us. With this not-so-subtle prompt, I started us off early. As the large mass of choreographers and dancers moved up the hill, the dark cloud began to leak. Out went the 30-minute performers. The rain quickened, and I sent out the 20-minute performers early. Suddenly the steady sprinkle became a downpour and the audience, surrounding all sides of the 40’x40’ grid, grabbed their umbrellas and let out a collective shout… and NOT ONE PERSON LEFT!
It poured buckets! The wonderfully diverse (and drenched) mix of dancers stayed and continued to perform with even more focus: modern, post-modern, ballet, Cuban folk, belly dancing, character dancing, jazz, Flamenco, percussion, Butoh-like, comic…and more. From the audience, the group felt like an orchestra: you could pick out one dancer, or take in the whole group. Everyone became more themselves in the rain. With a frenzied concentration, it was wild, wonderful, glorious and transformative. The wind whipped up; the skies became even more ominous. The Walker Security bellowed over their loudspeakers, “You must clear the field now!!!” When I heard something about a tornado, I cut the piece short…not wanting to wipe out a large part of the dance community in one fell swoop. The performers bowed. After a speedy group photo, we all ran for the Walker lobby.
At the beginning of the project, Laura Holway asked me what audience members could expect the piece to look and sound like. I responded: A mass of chaos and beauty, framed. It will sound like Conlon Nancarrow, John Cage, Britney Spears, birds calling and children yelling. It might remind people of a flash mob, but an anti flash mob- no one will be dancing the same way- they will be doing their own singular work at the same time as everyone else, in the same very 40×40 foot grid.
This was all very accurate, but with torrential rain and more joy!
To all the participants: Thank you so much for coming out and taking a chance on being involved in the piece. You were fantastic! It was a joy to watch you collectively and individually. It was obvious that we have a hunger to convene; let’s find more ways to do it.
To the Walker: Open Field is an outstanding project, and it was great to be involved. I cannot say enough about how encouraging and helpful you were! Thank you especially to Sarah Schultz, the Education and Community Programs staff, Walker interns, and Laura Holway.
4×4 = 100 Choreographers Dancing Outside included the choreography of
Berit Ahlgren, Arlys Alford, Gabriel Anderson, Nika Antuanette, Jennifer Arave, Courtney Baga, Emma Barber, Maggie Bergeron, Bonnie Berquam, Olive Bieringa, Blake Bolan, Young-Tse Bolon, Robert Borman, Emma Buechs, Tim Cameron, Charles Campbell, Tom Carlson, Mike Cohn, Miriam Colvin, Beverly Cottman, Kenna Cottman, Angharad Davies, Ryan Dean, Baraka de Soleil, Mary Easter, Torre Edahl, Rachael Freeburg, Penney Freeh, Dylan Fresco, Emily Gastineau, Lazer Goese, Izzi Gorowsky, Susanne Grochett, Robert Haarman, Marilyn Habermas-Scher, Annika Hansen, Erika Hansen, Lara Hanson, Deborah Heltzer, Galen Higgins, Chris Holman, Judith Howard, Alison Hoyer, Colette Ilarde, Jennifer Ilse, Kalila Indiver, Margaret E. Johnson, Justin Jones, Tom Kanthak, Ellen Keane, Robert Keo, Missa Kes, Tara King, Heather Klopchin, Amy Lamphere, Nick LeMere, Jim Lieberthal, Erin Liebhard, Jennifer Mack, Theresa Madaus, Megan Mayer, Dustin Maxwell, Kaleena Miller, Julia Moser-Hardy, Kara Motta, Motion Arts, Billy Mullaney, Blake Nellis, Leah Nelson, Jael O’Hare, Akiko Ostlund, Jane Peck, Sharon Picasso, Pam Plagge, Otto Ramstad, Matthew Regan, Sally Rousse, Stacy Sabin, Sherry Saterstrom, Chris Schlichting, April Sellers, Anat Shiner, Sean Smuda, Darius Strong, Paul Stucker, Deborah Jinza Thayer, Jennifer Theodore, Monica Thomas, Morgan Thorson, Svitlana Shtilman, Michael Sommers, Edna Stevens, Kristin Van Loon, Pramila Vasudevan, Vanessa Voskuil, Jeff Wells, Arwen Wilder, Josie Winship, Christopher Yaeger, and Nan Zosel.
Benjamin Patterson, a key figure in the Fluxus network of artists, visits the Walker on October 9 as part of the exhibitRadical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art. Art Expanded, 1958-1978, which explore the expanded arts of the 1960’s and 70’s, is on view through March of 2015, and includes the work of Alison Knowles and George Macunias, among other notable Fluxus figures.