L.A. Dance Project checked in with Paul Schimmel, the former Chief Curator of MOCA and Partner and Vice President of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, a multi-disciplinary art center to open in Downtown Los Angeles in 2015, to discuss the state of art in Los Angeles. In the exclusive interview Schimmel elaborates about the collaboration between L.A. Dance Project and artist Sterling Ruby, the future of art in Downtown L.A., and his vision for the future of arts in L.A.
First presented at The Theatre at Ace Hotel earlier this year, the collaboration between Ruby and L.A. Dance Project will be a highlight of the program presented for the company’s New York City debut next week at Brooklyn Academy of Music.
L.A. Dance Project has collaborated with Los Angeles-based artist Sterling Ruby for the company’s show at The Theatre at Ace Hotel. From your perspective, would you elaborate on Ruby’s work and significance?
P.S. Sterling’s broadly varied practices can be characterized by his taking an almost strident approach to non-hierarchical materials. Painting and sculpture are considered as significant as ceramics, collage and found materials.
Throughout his career, he has been interested in exploring the entire range of that which comes out of popular culture, subcultures and high art simultaneously. He has often privileged those materials which are, in a sense, abject–whether through the use of graffiti and street techniques for painting, or the use of distressed or soiled cloths or ceramics that are made through the process of destruction.
Creation and destruction are inextricably tied, and while he pushes the boundaries between various media and art forms, his work is deeply grounded in formalism and the history of abstract art. He has brought to the 21st century a practice with an idealism and sensibility similar to that of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; like then, his studio is less a factory and more a collection of workshops.
Ace’s opening of The Theatre at Ace Hotel, formerly the United Artists Theatre, is especially poignant, given their commitment to preserving the space’s history, and to cultivating arts and culture. Do you think there is a case to be made for thinking of venue owners as curators?
P.S. There is no doubt that not since the 1920s and the first build-out of the Downtown area has there ever been more interest and excitement than currently exists; what first began with MOCA and the Geffen Contemporary in the 1980s has now spread throughout the area. In preserving both historical buildings and commercial warehouse spaces, Downtown is finally coming to appreciate the extraordinary resources it has in revitalizing what has been left unused or marginalized.
There appears to be a movement away from new development and toward redevelopment, which is happening in the Arts District. I believe venue owners hire curators, artists and creative individuals to activate community spaces. I certainly felt, attending the opening at the Ace Hotel and other new venues in the neighborhood, that the audience of Los Angeles that has always been looking for a cultural town center, or meeting place, is increasingly finding it in the Downtown area.
What is your vision for the arts in Los Angeles over the next ten to twenty years?
P.S. I think one big change that is taking place is that we are now not only a city that is able to develop artists through its great university and art school programs, but is also able to sustain and support those artists’ careers.
In the last 20 or so years, the artists who have emerged through that institutional system have been staying in Los Angeles. That was the first enormous change that took place in the late 80s and early 90s–that artists no longer had to go to New York or Berlin to have a career. Now, what we’re seeing and what may be of greater importance is that we are attracting artists who have studied elsewhere and are coming to Los Angeles already having established both their work and themselves to some degree.
Artists move here from all over the world because of LA’s openness to and support of new art and artists. Artists from Asia, Europe, Latin America, New York, Chicago and many other places are here because it is city that still feels much more driven by artists than by commercial or institutional entities.
INTO THE WOODS
SIX MEDITATIONS ON THE INTERDISCIPLINARY
by John Corbett
What a funny word it is: “interdisciplinary.”
How can it hold any meaning anymore, this train-wreck of a term? What pretense of significance can interdisciplinarity bear in a fusion-mad era like ours, when telephones are televisions and stereos rolled into one, all the world’s musical genres seemingly must converge, and (as of a dozen years ago) the word “multitask” has an official place in the dictionary? In other words, isn’t everything interdisciplinary today?
Certainly, from within the world of art schools, the push has been towards the merger of disciplines. Painters should be performance artists. Video artists should learn to sew. Sculptors should dance. Animators should write short fiction. And everyone needs to know how to use Photoshop, QuickTime, and Pro Tools. Or at least Garage Band. For better or worse, the world of the isolated artist in her or his studio, adept at one task, focused and forever lost in the pursuit of that single medium, is increasingly rare.
But is it the end of the discipline? If everyone is a specialist at blending, in the end what do they blend? Perhaps something else is happening. Maybe there are now several different kinds of interdisciplinary. Could it be that the older synthesizing model – the late 19th century gesamtkunstwerk of Richard Wagner or even the 1960s “intermedia” notion of Dick Higgins – which urged for a total unification of the arts, is being superceded by another way of mixing practices. Rather than all arts becoming one, this model might be seen as one in which the different media are brought into proximity. They respect one another’s autonomy. Rather than co-mingling, they co-exist.
We don’t know how to solve the problems of being together. And if we do solve them, I believe that each person should leave space around himself and the other person. An emptiness between two. So that if you do go with another person into the woods, and succeed in being in the woods, it will only be because you think of yourself as independent of the going into the woods of the second person.
– John Cage
The John Cage/Merce Cunningham formulation of the interdisciplinary as the promimate, as co-existence, was uniquely extreme. Work is to be developed in isolation, brought together without pre-determined synchronization or advance notice of the meaning of the mash-up. The dancers dance; the musicians play. What happens between is for the audience to observe and experience. Cage and Cunningham’s friendships and collaborations with visual artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, and in turn the loose mentorship they all had with Marcel Duchamp, expressed ties in spirit rather than in material and method. One has the feeling that these artists were able, for a moment, to solve the problems of being together by leaving space around themselves. And around their work. A vision of interdisciplinarity that is radically open because it requires no resolution, no conforming of one modality of art to another. Independent simultaneous events occur without having to be reconciled. Asked whether he thought of his writing as music, Cage said that it all depended on whether you attended to it as writing or as music. Both mindsets were possible, but as activities, the disciplines stayed independent. Writing was writing, music music.
In the mid-1940s, an extraordinary artist named Thelma Johnson Streat started dancing in front of her paintings. The first African-American woman to show at (and be collected by) MoMA, Streat was on the Works Progress Administration and worked on Diego Rivera’s murals. Inspired by a multicultural melange of traditional dance from Haiti to British Columbia, she gave recitals at her openings, interpreting her own visual art through movement. It’s a surprising image: a young black woman, having already had her life threatened for making anti-KKK paintings, performing modern dance as a sort of ritual invocation around her watercolors and canvases. (Katherine Dunham is said to have collected her work.)
The most wonderfully strange idea here is just that Streat danced to paintings. Not music, paintings. And why not? Paintings give off vibrations. They hum at their own frequency, and if you pick up on their buzz they can motivate you. Streat clearly felt this. She understood the sympathetic resonance between painting and dance. Perhaps she translated one into the other and back again.
Which is why the best way to read me is to accompany the reading with certain appropriate bodily movements. Against non-spoken writing. Against non-written speech. For the gesture-support.
– Philippe Sollers
Sollers’ notion of the gesture-support has always seemed to be about more than writing. The idea of someone moving while reading, of being inspired to sway by words on a page – such a lovely concept. But it applies as well to eating (when biting into something delicious, think of the possible gesticulations) or to listening to music or to looking at a great painting, which, a-la-Streat, sets one rocking on one’s heels, a sort of corporeal hilarity taking over and forcing one to nod, to dance, pulling the viewer toward and away from itself in waves. Standing in front of de Kooning’s “Excavation,” I am always, quite literally, moved.
Benjamin Millepied’s “Moving Parts” engenders gesture-support. Here are Christopher Wool’s large paintings, mounted on wheels, swiveling and rolling, dancers interacting and literally dancing with the canvases, the encounter mediated by Nico Muhly’s springy score. Wool’s stylized, lettristic images, which involve a dense thicket of layers arrayed in a shallow space, can be shifted at an almost imperceptible rate or quickly and dramatically reoriented. The can be angled, changing perspective, allowing the dancers to cast shadows around them. In this direct interface between dance and visual art, Millepied suggests a third possibility for the interdisciplinary, one in which it is neither totally syncretic nor totally autonomist. The work is in proximity, but there is also an affinity expressed; it’s more than simply a neutral presentation of simultaneity. The result is a gesture-support: delight of motion set off by a work in a different medium.
For me, moving to music is a source of joy.
– Benjamin Millepied
Dance has explored the far reaches of interdisciplinarity since its birth. The special relationship it has with music, almost as a given, has allowed for the exploration of myriad configurations – music can prompt, can counter, can move off on its own. Consider Cunningham’s 1964 collaboration with composer LaMonte Young, “Winterbranch,” in which the latter contributes a very oblique atmosphere of stark, loud noises.
This is hardly the chronometric, time-keeping relationship of some scores to their dance –the joyful experience that Millepied mentions – but it functions perfectly as a backdrop for Cunningham’s dancers and the equally uncompromising stage design and lighting by Rauschenberg. One could argue that dance, like opera, is inherently interdisciplinary. It is, nevertheless, equally a discipline of its own.
Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.
– Martin Mull
The classic line, attributed to many speakers, its structure dating back to the early 1900s: Writing about music is like [blanking] about [blank]. Early versions included “singing about economics.” The variant that captured the world’s imagination, though, was Mull’s forumula. It pondered: what kind of translation could that be? Words can’t express what’s meaningful in music, any more than moving can tell you much about a building.
Weird thing is: there’s nothing remotely strange anymore about the idea of dancing about architecture.
"INVISIBLE CITIES", 2014 Pictured; Charlie Hodges
Imagine arriving at a train station and discovering a man singing beautifully to himself. But what if he were singing to 200 people all over the station who were listening to him, seven other singers, and a live orchestra via wireless headphones?
Invisible Cities, set in LA’s historic Union Station, allowed the audience to roam freely through an operating train station, pursuing individual characters or creating their own story. The audience experienced the live performance via Sennheiser wireless headphones surrounded by the uninterrupted life of the station.
Based on Italo Calvino’s beloved novel, Invisible Cities is hauntingly adapted by composer Christopher Cerrone as a seventy-minute meditation on urban life, memory, and human connection. Cerrone’s fragile, quiet score attempts to capture “decaying sounds” through the use of found objects such as instruments and pre-recorded voices interweaving with live voices. For the world premiere, director Yuval Sharon immersed audiences in an unpredictable platform of everyday life, creating an “invisible” production that made each audience member the protagonist of the experience. With performers appearing and disappearing into the everyday fabric of the building, Sharon and choreographer Danielle Agami draw the audience into an uncannily intimate proximity to LA Dance Project and the singing ensemble.
The production was selected to represent the USA in the 2015 Prague Quadrennial, a winner of the 2014 Music Theatre Now Competition, and Cerrone’s score was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Music. An hour-long documentary on the making of the opera for KCET-TV in Los Angeles received a 2014 Emmy Award.
NEW YORK TIMES
The partnership will offer the nine-member company a continuing residency and performance space in the foundation’s Parc des Ateliers, a former rail yard of about 25 acres that contains several 19th-century industrial buildings, currently being restored by Selldorf Architects. The architect Frank Gehry is building a central cultural resource building for the campus, to be completed in 2018.
The ambitious project is headed by Maja Hoffmann, an heir to the Hoffmann-La Roche pharmaceutical empire, who founded the Luma Foundation in 2004. In an interview with Ms. Hoffmann and Mr. Millepied in May at the London headquarters of the foundation, Ms. Hoffmann emphasized that her goal was not to create a museum, but a place of creation and collaborative exchange.
She said that renovation on the building that will eventually house the dancers would begin in October, and include the creation of studio space, therapy rooms and accommodation. The L.A Dance Project will begin its residency in July, however, in a newly opened building, La Mécanique Générale, a structure that will also house a photographic exhibition during the summer. The company will give performances of work by Merce Cunningham, Justin Peck and Mr. Millepied from July 7 to 13, and Sept. 23 to 25.
The residency in Arles provides a continuing link to France for the French-born Mr. Millepied, who was a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet before founding the L.A. Dance Project in 2012 and going on to become director of the Paris Opera Ballet. His surprise resignation in February shocked the dance world, and he has so far said little about his future plans.
“Residencies are rare, and it’s lucky to have a place far from a big city, where you can gather with your dancers,” Mr. Millepied said. “We have a home in L.A. and are obviously interested in the American repertory, but now we have a second home in Europe that will also welcome visual artists, philosophers, architects, photographers. The environment will do the work too; I don’t know exactly what will come out of it, but it will be such a rich cultural context for us all.”
VAN CLEEF & ARPELS IS PROUD TO SUPPORT L.A. DANCE PROJECT
VAN CLEEF & ARPELS HAS A LONG-STANDING RELATIONSHIP WITH THE WORLD OF DANCE, MUSIC AND ART. IN 1967, GEORGE BALANCHINE, FOUNDER OF THE NEW YORK CITY BALLET, WHERE BENJAMIN MILLEPIED WAS A LONG TIME PRINCIPAL DANCER, MET CLAUDE ARPELS. THIS MEETING TURNED INTO A LIFE-LONG FRIENDSHIP WHICH CLIMAXED WITH THE CREATION OF THE BALLET “JEWELS” INSPIRED BY THE RUBIES, EMERALDS AND DIAMONDS OF VAN CLEEF & ARPELS’ JEWELRY. SINCE THAT TIME, THE MAISON HAS CONTINUED TO SUPPORT THE ART OF DANCE THROUGH SPECIAL PERFORMANCES AND EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMMING.
L.A TIMES, 2016