Slow Dancing by David Machalek

In 2007, David Machalek created a series of slow motion portraits of dancers.

Slow Dancing, is a series of videos in which the dancers get 4-5 seconds to move. The high speed camera captures this and the resulting 10 minutes of film is an unearthly, lovely and clear view into the dancers movement. You see not only an aesthetic aspect but also clearly defines initiations, clarity of movement, and focus that are inherent in the dances.

Slow Dancing by David Michalek: Herman Cornejo from Moving Portrait on Vimeo.

While you can not watch all the videos online, the site has interesting insights from the performers also. For all of us who spend a lot of time understanding and dealing with our perceived shortcomings as dancers, movers and artists, I find it interesting to see how people who are far better known and celebrated feel about their bodies also.

Elizabeth Streb
“It was so painful to watch myself slowed down. Dancers are like magicians who are able to have a sleight of hand, they direct where you look. I think it’s possible to almost impose the surprise [so] that the audience goes ‘how did you do that?’ ‘Cause they can’t see mechanically how you did it. It’s more that you are tricking the people watching with a timing system where they don’t notice or something happens so fast. So when all of those moments slow down, it shows everything I try to hide.”

Wendy Whelan
“What I did for the camera was a simple class combination. I found that the less I did the better for me. It was sissons [a type of jump] mostly. I felt, when I looked at myself, youthful and hopeful and reaching for higher, but definitely imperfect—which I didn’t mind. I knew I had to let that go. I felt like each person gave a little poem in their film. Everyone had a story and a mood. They were all so different and I fell in love with each of them so differently. Falling in love with somebody’s essence.”

Bill T. Jones
“I was trying to do something with undulations and directional changes that would give some insight into the way I move—the upper body doing one thing, the legs doing another. But four seconds is not very much time to do anything. That was a revelation. We are so naked when we move. It was kind of a gruesome thing to subject a performer’s ego to, but ultimately I think that’s what’s very beautiful about it. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. If one element fell through, everything was erased. It was a bit of a Zen test.”

David Michalek’s portraits of dancers make a lot of sense considering the form of the subjects art. These slow versions of the artist’s movement are perhaps as close to an accurate portrait of the person as a Chuck Close self portrait. The slowness allows us to concentrate on a movement snapshot of the person. I am expressing myself badly, but if you watch them you will get the idea.

Slow Dancing is a series of 43 larger-than-life, hyper-slow-motion video portraits of dancers and choreographers from around the world, displayed on multiple screens. Each subject’s movement (approximately 5 seconds long) was shot on a specially constructed set using a high-speed, high-definition camera recording at 1,000 frames per second (standard film captures 30 frames per second). The result is approximately 10 minutes of extreme slow motion.

This project came to fruition in 2007, but had been been gestating for much longer. It’s not always easy to point to the specific factors that bring a new work, or the impulse to create one, into being. The overlapping issues, concerns and passions that merge with opportunity are not always obvious.

One impulse was clear. I love dance. I love watching it. I love what dancers do, who they are, and what they stand for. Dance is an underappreciated art form—the NEA tells us that only eight percent of the U.S. population will ever see a live dance performance. This led me to the idea of making a visual statement centered on celebrating dance—but not limited to any one kind of dance—to try to capture the “essence” of dance in a different medium.

A second impulse was my natural urge to make portraits. The best portraits teach me how to look longer and harder and deeper at my fellow human beings. As a portrait artist, this is what I strive to do. I could make a portrait of anyone, anywhere and be happy doing so, but there is a certain pleasure in having dancers as one’s subject.

So, if you have a moment or two, check out David Michalek’s Slow Dance portraits online. The 2 minute segments will leave you wanting so much more!

Merce Cunningham Exhibit at the Walker Arts

Merce Cunningham: Common Time

I recently got the chance to see the Cunningham Exhibit at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis. It was amazing.

Walker Arts Center Cunningham Exhibit

I must admit to a an on-again / off-again relationship with Cunningham. I studied Cunningham technique for years, even though my body is not made for it at all, and I have seen as much of his work as I could for many years.

I found I really enjoyed watching the rehearsals (especially on stage) more than the shows. In part, because of the raised level of randomness around the dancers – from technical crew wandering through the stage, lights and curtains flying and being focused – and partly because Merce would be onstage in a chair watching the dance. I found this fascinating, and wonderful. Onstage in performance, it all looked so polished and beautiful that it lost a bit of the humanness. While that may have been one point of the way he worked, I still related more to the chaotic humanness of rehearsals.

The Walker Arts managed to put together an exhibit that encapsulates everything that is wonderful about his work. Plus, you get to wander through exhibits creating that humanness that makes me so happy.

From costumes, video of work throughout his career, set pieces, collaborators… they cover it all. Remember Rauschenberg’s silver Mylar pillows? You get to play with them. And it is fun.

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The videos and installations are inspiring and bring back all the visceral and intellectual reasons you had for being inspired by Cunningham’s work.

Known for embracing risk and chance, Cunningham believed in the radical notion that movement, sound, and visual art could exist independently of each other, coming together only during the “common time” of a performance. The exhibition presents Cunningham’s work and that of his network of collaborators through rare and never-before-seen moving image presentations and installations of décor and costumes from the MCDC Collection as well as pieces by his lifelong collaborator, composer John Cage, and Trisha Brown, Tacita Dean, Jasper Johns, Morris Graves, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Isamu Noguchi, Nam June Paik, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, David Tudor, Stan VanDerBeek, Andy Warhol, and many others.

Well said, Walker Arts Center.

Cunningham influenced several generations of dance artists around the world. Almost any contemporary work today owes some debt to his explorations. By allowing us the overwhelming experience of diving into the universe of Cunningham, the Walker Arts offers us, as artists, the opportunities to reaffirm our roots and the urge to push farther.

If you are anywhere near Minneapolis, MN, head to the Walker Arts by July 30th to immerse yourself in Merce.

New Excerpts Video

If you ever get super busy and start forgetting where you put things, you know how I feel when I just found this excerpt video I had a made a few years ago.

I made this video to try to cover more accurately the range of work I have been making – from stage work to what I call body installations. This also includes video from a shoot in the wrecked power stations in the Owens River Gorge in California.

Ken James dance excerpts from ken james on Vimeo.

Body Installations are an idea I had while on a residency at the Djerassi Artists Residency Program. I have always been interested in work, as in labor, and the dancer as a laborer. I could go on and on about this, and maybe I will at a future time, but I started doing a series of physical tasks (pulling trees, holding salt bricks out for deer, hanging off of buildings with bird whistles… you get the idea.

Enjoy the video!

Artists and Climate Change

Artists and Climate Change is setting about embedding climate change into our culture. Currently, it is part of politics, which means, of course, it is suspected of having an agenda. To get people to think about the very real future of the country, we need to make it part of the narrative.

In 2005, in an article called “What the Warming World Needs Now Is Art, Sweet Art,” Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, wrote that although we knew about climate change, we didn’t really know about it; it wasn’t part of the culture yet. “Where are the books? The plays? The goddamn operas?” he asked. An intellectual understanding of the scientific facts was not enough – if we wanted to move forward and effect meaningful change, we needed to engage the other side of our brains. We needed to approach the problem with our imagination. And the people best suited to help us do that, he believed, were the artists.

Recently, their site published an article that I thought was worth re-posting here:

Artists Doing Nature Research

This week, the Jan Van Eyck Academy, a post-academic institute for art, design and reflection in the quaint town of Maastricht (Netherlands), opened a Lab for artists to do Nature Research. In addition to offering a range of (amazing) facilities that can support woodwork, (RISO) printmaking, photography, video, and metalwork, the institute now acknowledges that nature is not only a great inspiration for artists, but the lack of it is a growing concern for many. The Van Eyck is positioning itself on the frontline of international pioneering art institutions that are enabling artists to explore in depth, through their work, their relationship to nature. The playground for this new Lab is a studio, garden, and greenhouse. Named after Jac. P. Thijsse, a famous Maastricht ecologist, the Lab gives artists an opportunity to do active research (get their hands dirty) and to consider the subject of nature in relation to ecological and landscape development issues. It’s supposedly a place to build bridges – between humankind and nature, but also between art and other disciplines, including agriculture, biology, botany, and (landscape) architecture.

The Jac. P. Thijsse Lab launched during the Van Eycks annual Open Studios with two works, including one by artist Marcus Coates who will be a Van Eyck advisor this year. Outside in the gardens, people could hear birds enthusiastically singing, ready for spring. Inside the Lab studio, however, it was revealed that the cheerful chirping outside was human voices replicating bird songs. Coates’s Dawn Chorus (2007) features individuals sitting in their own habitats – a car, an office, a bedroom, a school staff room – singing bird songs. For this project, Coates recorded birdsong of individual birds and then digitally slowed down the songs by up to 20 times. Singers from amateur choirs were asked to mimic this slowed down sound, which is similar in tone to the human voice. The recording was then sped up to the original speed of the birdsong, creating a magical transformation of the human voice into that of a bird. The work shows us a new way to look at nature and highlights our interconnectedness. Solely by changing the speed of the sound, we end up speaking  the same language.

https://videopress.com/embed/gvYNDmV3?hd=0&autoPlay=0&permalink=0&loop=0In the greenhouse, a mysterious installation by artists Fabio Roncato (Van Eyck participant of 2016/2017) and Ryts Monet was found. It consisted of original bricks from the greenhouse, infused with a bright blue Yves Klein-esque pigment that reminds us of chapel ceilings in small Italian towns. A galvanised meteorite seemed to have crashed on the floor among the blue bricks – an invitation from the artists to reflect on the topic of the unknown landscape and the outer space. Their work shows that a greenhouse in the context of the Van Eyck is not just a place to grow plants; it is really a laboratory for ideas, questions, experiments, and reflections on the landscape in the widest sense of the word.

The van Eyck is not the only art institution that has picked up on artists’ growing interest in growing. Other great European places that accommodate artists unafraid to get their hands dirty include Prinzessinengarten (Berlin, Germany), ZKU (Berlin, Germany), Pollinaria (Abruzzo region, Italy), Grizedale Arts (Lake District, UK) and AtelierNL (Noordoostpolder, Netherlands) amongst others. In the last few years, even upmarket commercial gallery Hauser and Wirth re-purposed an old farm and garden in rural Somerset (UK) into an artist residence, complete with restaurant and exhibition space.

Read more on artists in nature, and artists addressing climate change here!

 

Nurture the Dancers

Connecting with donors and giving value for support

I have spent a lifetime creating dance works, performing, educating, raising money, doing tedious office work – basically working to be an artist. Over the years I have seen some interesting ways to connect audience to the performers, embed them into the work, give the audience some tangible connection to the art they are seeing.

I have seen choreographers develop incredible powers empathy to listen to and solicit  with donors, interactive performances, and special performance/talks to give the donors a special treat.

Donor are key to the lifeblood of a dance company, especially as our work does not generate  so called ‘passive income’ from book sales, prints, or music rights (not that most artists can live on these, but it can sometimes help).

So when I find a new and quite lovely way of inviting donors in, I want to share it.

Batsheva is an amazing company in Israel now as well known for “gaga” (a movement and body awareness method) as their work (both of which are wonderful). Their website has the ubiquitous “Support Us” tab, but under that is one thought that intrigues:

Nurture the Dancers.

Yes. Yes. Yes. As a donor, what if you could connect your donation to a specific, like a month of physical therapy for a dancer? First off, do most people know how much work it takes to be a dancer? This brings awareness as well as empathy.

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This idea of tagging a donation as supporting a specific thing is not new, but neither is it used enough. Bring your donors to a human place. Make them part of the nuts and bolts. If someone donates a large sum of money, let them know what that pays for so when they see your next masterpiece, they know – Ah, I paid for this lighting, these costumes, that chair, three dancers to get their physical therapy- now the piece is personal to them.

Value comes in different forms in art: the work creates a context for thought, a physical connection, visual stimulation, emotional connections, and a human touch. Many people who do not create artworks want to be a part of that process, that incredible journey that you, as an artist, find stimulating, frustrating, work and scary. To other people it is amazing.

Bring your donors to a more human, personal space by offering opportunities for them to see the messier, but interesting part of creating dance.