'Architecture turns into a choreography,' states Kyveli Anastasiadi on her recent Occupying Momentum exhibition from the Venice Biennale. Using three cameras to understand the site, Anastasiadi creates a series of experiential observations translated into locomotion. Though on a broader scale, architecture does not necessarily need to be translated into choreography as architecture and choreography are inherently linked.
A long lineage can be traced from Occupying Momentum and other similar contemporary pieces, even if the performance artist aspect is relatively recent. (Some of the matriarchs of this field are still performing, such as Marina Abramovic’s 512 Hours at the Serpentine Gallery.) These artists construct social and political spaces using the human body to articulate parameters, but not without an architectural origin story.
Many of the great architects of modernism worked with an almost identical set of principles as choreography: Frank Lloyd Wright, Adolf Loos, or Richard Neutra (and this list could grow virtually ad infinitum), crafted stage sets carefully and eloquently directed the repetitive movements of daily life. Similarly one cannot look at the work of Martha Graham, Isadora Duncan, or Alvin Ailey without appreciating the way modern dance demarcates and morphs the space flowing around and occupied by the body. Modern Dance and Architecture, tied together by the notion of perpetual movement.
Architecture and dance are separate disciplines really only as variation on a medium. They are inverses of the same obsession: space either from the point-of-view of the object or that of the subject. The performative nature of architecture is activated when human form inhabits it, using the body as a tool for measurement.
While Kyveli Anastasiadi is exploring this relationship, she is not the only one. ORLAN, a theatrical French artist has used her body as canvas throughout her oeuvre. In recent years, she has made productions of determining public space with her height as the unit of measure. Dance Works, a recent show in Spitalfields’ Raven Row, exhibited performances choreographed by Yvonne Rainer in which an ‘ordinary’ movement and ‘natural’ performance inspired a new kind of connection to the audience and the space.
Rainer danced with Trisha Brown at the Judson Dance Studio in New York City during the 1960s and 70s when post-modern dance was born. Brown (who collaborated with Rauschenberg among other emerging artists in New York) was named by Rainer to have developed a true style, which Rainer herself never had. And to Brown’s credit, the Judson collaborative has been largely referenced as of late.
For example, Anahita Razmi, a dancer and choreographer working predominantly in Germany, restaged Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece on the rooftops of Tehran. Razmi was intent on creating a political space in the aftermath of the 2009 elections riots in Iran. Though she insists that her work is always original, she never claims to work from a blank canvas. Razmi appropriates previous performances often with a distinct flair for the architectural. Her proposals have also been known to call on Jean-Claude and Christo’s who inspired her proposal for wrapping the Azadi Tower as well as 27 seconds of footage of a White Wall which was re-filmed by Iranian revolutionary guards in 2007 after she was caught filming there.
This motley crew of body architects have a remarkable ability to adapt to and reflect on the climate in a constantly changing society: reaching further with Anastasiadi and Razmi’s recent work. Their choreography, though is about interpreting the architecture as much as the architecture interprets their place within it. Yet it may be the dancer’s advantage that their medium has the power to change instantaneously, with a gesture, where construction’s gestures are often literally set in stone.
The ongoing bond between body and building is integral, despite their thin separation as art forms, one perhaps architects should remember. People understand places as they relate to their bodies. However there are post-modern cities built entirely out of proportion with urban planners attempting to accommodate for bursting populations by removing the individual from the equation. The only inherent unit of measure that exists in the mind is the perception of how a body fits into space. So these dancers, choreographers, and performance artists have it right; they are communicating with their audience at a 1:1 scale encouraging us to engage the performance. If dance and architecture are intrinsically linked then perhaps architects start to think more like dancers, rather than the other way around.
Video by Kyveli Anastasiadi
Text by Lindsey Stamps