stephanie rosenthal

A coffee Stephanie Rosenthal, curator of MOVE: Choreographing You, Hayward Gallery

Originaly published by Dance UK, the then advocacy body for dance, in 2010

29 October 2010.

If the ‘man in the street’ had the sensory perception of a dancer how much time would be saved on the tube? On route from our office near Sadler’s Wells to the Hayward Gallery, I noticed that the majority of people use only their eyes to navigate the world, and seldom hear you are near them, let alone sense on which side you are closest. Weight held off centre, and with little awareness of their limbs or wheelie suitcase, stopping suddenly is disasterous. 

I experience the world through all my senses and, seeing the level of sensory perception used by the majority, it is not surprising that I have struggled to articulate my perspective for most of my artistic career. MOVE: Choreographing You has said it perfectly and validated not only a crucial line of enquiry in the arts, but also a whole section of the populous that see through their bodies, not just their eyes.

From childhood the pedestrian movement that we do everyday is largely dictated by the structures we move through, offices, the tube network, even our own houses. It is clear from the raucous excitement of the visitors at MOVE,  that escaping these restrictions is an invigorating experience. William Forsythe’s The Fact of The Matter, provides a series of hanging rings to climb across the space with. Robert Morris’s Bodyspacemotionthings, offers a large platform resting on a rounded base, for the exhibition visitor discover their centre of gravity on. In part it is like an adventure playground. Stephanie however, wonders if her audience may be having too much fun? What she intends from this exhibition is that the public have an opportunity to experience their bodies, and that with the reflection that the art gallery context encourages, that this new perspective will catalyse a shift in thinking about how we perceive the world around us. There is a quiet side to this show, beyond the joy of movement, to do with reflecting on one’s own behaviour. A shift made possible by the art gallery context.

Through showing the influence dance has had on visual arts Stephanie is making a case for the dancer and their unique perspective. I wanted to know why she felt that this was the moment for this show? Her answer clearly shows her understanding of how humans learn. Dance is blossoming right now, perhaps a reaction to our increasingly isolated and sedentary existence. Perhaps equally the influence of multi culturalsim, heralding a shift of focus onto things that all human have in common. In any case people love dance and as most performers will know: move someone and you can open their minds to new things.

Since 1960 there has been a rising interest in Choreography and how we function in society in the ‘Visual Arts’.  As soon as the post modern movement freed dance from music, artists began to look at it as a concept. They saw that  our journey to work is choreographed by the person who planned the street lay out, our working day by the person who designed the building, the colleague who laid out the office and the person who designed the furniture. Our flow of movement into spaces in the world and on the internet is choreographed by many unseen gatekeepers. Even our social interactions are planned by the ‘choreography’ that the other person sets up, we will stand a certain distance away any further or closer would be uncomfortable. This is something we can all as human beings relate to, it is familiar ground.

 It could be said that ‘visual’ art has had a history of being perhaps arrogant towards dance. It could also be said that dance has been insecure about its equal status. This is not surprising, dance being to do with body. Up until recently the body, was seen as separated from the mind was the place of base desires and animalistic impulses. Recent scientific and neurological breakthroughs tell us that our senses are in fact indivisible and that our bodies may have the capacity to develop new ones.

Unsurprisingly, Stephanie tells me that many of the influential figures in this field of sensory imaginative perception were women. The body after all has always been our domain. Sculptor Robert Morris was hugely inspired by his wife Simone Forti, who was a dancer, and it makes sense that this previously ‘unseen’ field of work should come to light now, in the age of equality. By showing the work of this group of artists Stephanie wants to show the physical side of ‘visual’ art, to show another way of ‘looking’ at it and for this to create a shift in understand of how we go to the gallery and what we do there.

Stephanie builds her shows in a very kinaesthetic and choreographed way, It is not how does it look but how does it feel. I was interested to know how she came to be so in touch with her senses, and to see things from this perspective, in her words using her ‘sensory imaginative perception’. How did she become one of us? 

Whilst she was putting together a retrospective of Alan Kaprow’s work, she studied the score of stick like figures for 18 Happenings In 6 Parts 1959/2010, currently being reconstructed by Rosemary Butcher for MOVE. She connected this, with the work coming out of The Judson Church and Yvonne Rainer’s practice in the 1960’s and saw that they were all happening in parallel. Experience was being explored by artists and furthermore, 10 years later a shift had occurred and artists were thinking about how we are choreographed and manipulated by our society. With the advent of CCTV and rising threats to our freedom, these ideas are clearly relevant to modern times.

I asked Stephanie why she made the decision to present the exhibition as she has: part current show and part historical exhibit? She tells me that this approach is important because the perspective is rare and ‘new’ in the popular discussion around contemporary art. As I discovered on the tube a lot of people have their sensory perception turned off most of the time or don’t know the have it at all. There was a need to create a space for discovery as part of this exhibition, a ‘way in’ to something often unseen. This is typical of her shows ‘Walking in My Mind’ was similar in the way that it let you into the artists imagination. She is seeking to educate her public not through gallery texts but through direct experience, a very kinaesthetic approach in it self. She dislikes writing too much gallery text on the walls as it is quite prescribed and doesn’t encourage people to have their own thought the archive is part of a package which is designed to help people find their sensory perception on all levels. So if you are a dancer or choreographer who knows someone who just doesn’t get ‘you’ or what you do, bring them here. 

The complete set of writing that Dance UK publised is below: 

/A visit to Siobhan Davies Dance Company

// A conversation with Siobhan Davies about dance thinking.

// Falling in love with another art form Yvonne Rainer and my divorce from painting.

// Catching movement, painter Peter Lanyon. 

// Who wears the crown? Artist Lawrence Kavanagh and four choreographers take on jealousy and authorship.