Yvonne Rainer on YouTube
June 28, 2009
Saw Yvonne Rainer perform at Redcat. Her second dance was Spiraling Down: “this new work draws inspiration from a variety of sources–newspaper photos, soccer moves, old movies, classic modern dance, ballet, Steve Martin, 19th-century actress Sarah Bernhardt, even Rainer’s own disinterred dances from the 1960s. These materials and others, including spoken texts, come together to create an eerie resonance that is both melancholic and unpredictable.” (I actually liked the first one, ROS Indexical better, but it didn’t mention YouTube…)
In one of the piece’s many unrelated spoken texts, the dialogue went something like this (I didn’t keep notes, so this is a rough stab at it). One dancer queries, “Blackberry?” The other three shout: “No!” Another asks, “Filofax?” They respond, “bring them back!” Finally, “YouTube?” The answer: “WOW!” All the while, the four dancers (including Rainer) circle away and towards each other, tripping over their own pattering feet, arms moving in detached gestures ripped from other events. We momentarily tap into their said enthusiasm about this particular new technology, connect it as we can (or can not) to a ceaseless flow of sound and movement, and this one fleeting idea, disconnected from or connectible to the 100s of others expressed—literally with words, and figuratively with unrelated gestures—passes across the piece to be quickly lost unless you grab it. It is a shred of an idea embedded in a sea of abstraction edging towards meaning. Take from it what you will. And I took it, because, as you know, I keep this blog.
Now, compare that to the pages and pages I spend on this particular phenomenon. There’s much to learn from Rainer’s pomo minimalism. Of course, she is a brilliant renowned artist at the top of her game, and I am her middling student (she was my teacher in 1987) intentionally waxing on and on week after week on these very pages in my more direct, colloquial bloggish prose. Her spare abstract approach compared to my verbosity demonstrates questions often raised here: about talent, training, accessibility, radicality, and artisanship, all at the heart of the matter of YouTube: WOW.
More so, seeing how Rainer infuses sounds, music, and words on top of her hyper-abstracted movements (or images) reminds me of my recent attention to questions of meaning(lessness) and the indexical, and the related role of mise-en-scene. (This was also the subject of the avant-doc conference I recently attended: the lovely relations between abstraction and mimetic signification). I suppose meaning and meaninglessness have their place(s) and their audience(s). This then links nicely to a related conversation I’ve been enjoying with British community media activist and scholar Shawn Sobers (who I met last summer in Ghana at an activist media conference) about the relations between avant-garde form and people’s experience. Yes, form and content. He writes: “I like the approach of radical content being packaged in radical (avant-garde) form, though I guess there would be a balance needed as avant-garde form could also alienate the very audience the radical content was aimed at to empower.”
Rainer’s dances (and films) are unapologetically made for an art-world audience who are well spoken to in a new(ish) language they just might want to learn to know and love. I like to watch postmodern dance, but am drawn to speak myself (as an artist) in documentary because of its more immediate (and simplistic) relations to sense-making in relation to sensibility.