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JH

When dance becomes movement art.

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Yet one wonders if there was a satirical motivation behind this work, it seemed so classically ‘trippy-dippy-hippie’ with its trajectory of a rainbow coloured (seven costumed hues in sequence) road trip.

Christchurch

robbinschilds + A.L.Steiner: C.L.U.E
(colour location ultimate experience)
in collaboration with A.J Blandford

26 November - 20 December 2009

The activity of dance is one of those varieties of human endeavour that occasionally merges with ‘serious’ visual art practice, resulting in projects like those by Robert Rauschenberg or Robert Morris that involved collaborations with dancer friends (Merce Cunningham) or spouses (Yvonne Rainer). Dance has never attracted analytical texts from philosophers (Francis Sparshott is an unusual exception), although the highly esteemed German conceptual artist Tino Sehgal who arranges performances in museums and art fairs initially came from a dance background, and his work is known for its intellectual severity and theoretical rigour.

robbinschild (Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs) recently did a residency in The Arts Centre in Christchurch. They are dancers who call themselves ‘movement artists’ – a bit like musicians who in the seventies, to avoid associations with conventional or romantic musical properties such as lyricism or melody, began to call themselves ‘sonic’ or ‘aural’ artists.

Yet one wonders if there was a satirical motivation behind this work, it seemed so classically ‘trippy-dippy-hippie’ with its trajectory of a rainbow coloured (seven costumed hues in sequence) road trip. It moved west across the United States via a variety of unpeopled rural and urban locations to finish in California. It was intended to be, as the title says, an ‘Ultimate Experience.’ That wording was unfortunate.

At The Physics Room there was C.L.U.E Part 1 in the main space, a large single screened projection with musical soundtrack, and in the smaller end room, another more complicated version - in the form of a bank of a dozen monitors, accompanied by various beanbags for viewers to lounge in. Plus headphones to use.

Looking at the promotional material, this work was intended to be taken seriously – for all its dated (but now deliberately retro) energetic ‘expressiveness’ and clichéd references. The variation with a bank of monitors was the more successful of the two because you could compare vistas and actions. The twelve differently sized rectangles contained more varied landscapes and movement types than the single projection. Some temporarily had blank, intensely hued screens that seemed akin to some of the more colourful projects of the innovative video artist Diana Thater.

In both works the driving impetus came from the hypnotic sound of the hardworking Seattle band Kinski. They dominated and were tight, whereas robbinschild themselves were not – more abandoned in their use of movement. Not improvisatory: rather they were loose with their vaguely co-ordinated flailing limbs and twisting torsos.

Possibly there might have been a coded repertoire of gestures for each colour, mixed in with the dancers’ bodily responses to the physical properties of each space, but I couldn’t detect a system. Maybe several visits might have revealed one.

With its synthesis of music, body movement, clothing and site C.L.U.E. seemed oddly under-ambitious. It failed because the properties of the installation in the gallery were not sufficiently dynamic. The rooms (especially the large gallery) could have been more physically immersive, with colour and movement used in a more compelling fashion. More was promised than what was actually delivered.

John Hurrell

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