I teach a class on Friday afternoons to MA Dance students. It is a module for which they have to use dance as an interpretive tool and a curatorial practice and for which they need to create a project as if they had been commissioned by a gallery. So they need to identify their chosen gallery, liaise with the curatorial staff, research the collection and devise a way of introducing dance in that setting, through themed performances or participatory workshops or any other idea they can come up with.
As part of the teaching I take them to do fieldtrips to well known collections. We look at them anew and find ways of responding to the collection through embodiment - or the possibility of embodiment.
Yesterday afternoon we were at the Tate Modern. With amazing views of London, Tate Modern has hosted site specific performances in the Turbine Hall and outside.
But I do not want my students to create anything as obvious as that, a performance in a great setting. I want them to engage with the collections, which are thematically arranged, rather than following a chronology. The curatorial arrangement is choreographic: the visitors have to walk around, following different trajectories inside the rooms, bend down , rise on tiptoes to view the art objects: all this involves body movement, a dance of sort.
Some time ago Thomas Struth did a photographic project involving visitors at the National Gallery and taking pictures of their interactions with the paintings. This was repeated in other museums in Europe. The project enabled Struth to explore poses, groupings and gestures in spectators' movements.
I asked my students to reflect on such issues. What about the light that comes through the large windows? What about the sounds that visitors make? As we were talking, I kept on thinking of photographic opportunities.
An art nude shoot may not be possible among the magnificent art works of the Tate - imagine reclining and rising up elliptically, in the manner of Boccioni's piece Unique Forms of Continuity in Space ,* next to the piece itself! But modelling is akin to dance. I do not mean modelling should be about the most contorted poses one can think of, in the manner of an acrobat. A gentle exploration of shape and making the stillness infused with dynamism are enough. And what better way to learn how to do it than wandering among the art works in a great gallery, such as the Tate Modern in London or MOMA in New York?
*and have you noticed how strangely reminiscent of the Nike of Samothrake this piece is?
(All photographs by Martin Billings and modelled by Alex B.)