Saturday, February 23, 2008

Being Cadmium Red

Last Monday, I danced in front of a Pollock, moved around a stark room as if I was melting and attempted to embody the matte maroon of a Rothko by rolling around on the floor of a gallery. That was quite a start to the week! Why was I not unceremoniously thrown out of the museum for aberrant behavior?

Long gone are the days when I could get away with that kind of conduct in public with a gap toothed smile and a twirl of the pigtails. I am not even part of the ilk that is expected to disregard such petty considerations as socially acceptable conduct for the sake of art: the performance artist. My frenzy of non-verbal expression was legitimized by the context of the Physical Thinking course led by visual artist Liz Ellis and Suzy Willson, Artistic Director of the Clod Ensemble. They take it upon themselves to teach something simple, so simple in fact that we rarely ever think about it: movement. Liz and Suzy are offering a platform to question the fact that the way we move in galleries has very little to do with the way we are moved by the art we encounter. Actually, they skip the questions, the qualifications and the descriptions in favor of physical expression so the participants move, run, jump, crawl, twirl and leap their interpretation of art.

Chances are, you haven't had such an experience of the museum in a few decades yourself because this is just not usually behavior expected from your average museum audience. What's more, if we were all to launch in spontaneous arabesques in the middle of a crowded gallery, chances are some people might be left with the scarring experience of a crushed foot rather than the elating feeling of expression freed from analytical constraints. But, other than that, who's to say the physical response would be less valid than silent contemplation or a comparative analysis between the work and the information related in the exhibition catalog?

Although I spend most of my time doing the latter, I sometimes find that whatever I might read or say about a work doesn't come close to expressing all that I feel about it. So next time you see someone looking weighted down in front of a Judd or shimmying in front of a Vasarely, just know that it might be me, at a loss for words.

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