At the Screendance conference at ADF two weeks ago, I presented a paper that put forth an argument for the value of “artist-driven” curating in developing and galvanizing an art form. I wanted to propose a way of raising awareness about screendance among dance communities that would help dancers feel like they can enter this art form that is new to them with a set of useable skills and knowledge already in place. In forming a strategy, I drew upon Paulo Friere’s concept of praxis from his pivotal book on liberation education, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. For Freire, the way to raise consciousness among any group of people is by posing problems. This process of asking questions and raising problems, activates both students and teachers in a dialogue that brings about reflection and leads to future action. Freire calls this pattern of action-reflection-action praxis, and it is through praxis that people engage in cognitive discovery of their lives that is transformative and empowering. From third world peasants to American dance artists, this process enables people to transform their daily realities and create lives full of meaning.
In my Kinetic Cinema screening series I posed a question to my guest curators from the NYC dance community, “What films and videos have influenced and inspired your work in dance?” Each curator came up with a completely different way of answering that question, and the works they chose revealed their own unique thinking patterns and artistic processes. Some curators, such as Malinda Allen, chose to curate autobiographical evenings, chronicling their artistic development through pivotal works that have inspired them. Other curators, like Levi Gonzalez, chose to show work that was new to them, and investigate the commonalities and differences between screendance and dance performance. Still others such as Jonah Bokaer and Kriota Willberg, have studied the history of film and video art extensively, and for their programs they decided to delve into very specific areas of research such as feminist video art and the female body, or “bad dance” films.
Judson Dance Theater, photo Elaine Summers
Kinetic Cinema is an example of what I have dubbed “artist-driven” curating, in which artists get together and share works that have meaning to them, often in informal intimate settings. The value of this type of curating is that it sparks artistic dialogue and exchange between the “makers” in a field, which can then lead to new art movements with distinct identities and progressive agendas. There have been numerous artist-driven curating collectives in the past that have had a huge impact upon the development of dance and film. A classic example of artist-driven curating is the Judson Dance Theater that formed in the early sixties as a collective of experimental dance artists interested in pushing the boundaries of post-modern dance. They were given the meeting room of the historical Judson Church to conduct their investigations and present public performances. The work that resulted from these programs went on to fuel the modern dance community for decades to come, with generations of dancers and choreographers spring-boarding off of the ideas and breakthroughs of the original collective.
On the film side, Jean Luc Godard would never have developed his unique and influential style without his competitive and close relationship with fellow French New Wave director, François Truffaut. Although they were very different in many ways, their artistic visions were honed and shaped by the intense dialogue and exchange of ideas they had with each other over many years. The French New Wave was born out of the critical discourse started by writers and cinephiles in the film journal, Cahiers du Cinéma. These writers were seeking a new type of cinema that didn’t exist in France at the time, one that married their love of low-brow Hollywood genre flicks, with more experimental, intentional, and referential nuances found in high art, all brought together by their strong vision of the director as auteur. When these writers began acting upon their critiques, and creating work of their own, the French New Wave was born, and gave rise to a new era of filmmaking that completely changed the art form in much the same way the Judson Dance Theater group did for dance.
There have never been more ways for individuals to share and distribute their media content than there are today. With the rise of the internet, and the social media of Web 2.0, today’s artist-driven initiatives are less inhibited by distance or financial limitations. Some recent examples of artist-driven projects for screendance on the internet are the social network dance-tech.net founded by NY-based dance media artist, Marlon Barrios-Solano, blogs such as this one, and email lists such as the media-arts-and-dance listserv moderated by Simon Fildes. These online forums are bringing together an international community of dance filmmakers who can interact and share work and ideas with each other easily and instantaneously. The result will be a more unified and cosmopolitan screendance community, where new entrants can feel part of an existing movement.
New art movements and genres don’t get made overnight, but in the case of screendance, it is crucial to raise awareness and interest in the dance community. Through curating initiatives that pose questions and engage artists and audiences in dialogue, we can facilitate praxis. This process involves leading artists to examine, critique and analyze dance in media, and also to make work of their own, thereby transforming and shaping the genre and, by extension, the world. Artist-driven curating is one proven way to galvanize an arts community and further the identity of an art movement. These artist-driven initiatives, while often underground and informal, serve as springs that feed into larger institutions, such as dance film festivals, museums/galleries, performance venues, and universities. It is in these small, seemingly insignificant ways, that we can move screendance into cultural prominence, and make dance relevant in today’s mediatized world.