It was a hot, sunny, lazy Sunday afternoon in Chicago. Nestled between a jerk chicken restaurant and a 7/11 is the entrance to the Flat Studio space. Guests are directed to enter through the alley where two bright orange balloons announce the exhibition’s entrance. While the motions of arriving and leaving aren't always important, these motions seemed intertwined with the afternoon’s performance. “What Is Movement?” – directed by Ayako Kato of Ayako Kato/Art Union Humanscape – asks the audience member to be an engaged observer and the engine of their own curiosity.
Before entering the exhibition, artists Jessica Cornish and Jasmine Mendoza are in the window, one to the right and the other to the left. Jessica Cornish sits in a sea green chair, eyes closed and slouched down with her arms on each armrest, legs slightly extended and feet rolled onto the outer arches. If not for the neighboring building’s shade, she’d appear to be soaking in the sunlight through the window. Jasmine Mendoza appears to be pacing back and forth with movements that come in and away from herself as she twists and turns, always maintaining a sideways positioning to the window.
Inside the gallery space, you see a room with high ceilings, white painted walls, exposed brick walls and many windows filling the space with natural light. The gallery space, though renovated, tells a story of the building's history. Walking further into the space, there is a formal dance space in the center.
Art Union Humanscape Prefers Term “Artists” to “Dancers”
As you walk deeper into the space, other artists are on exhibit within the architecture of the building. Their motions almost seem ghostly as they each move in their timing and repetitive cycling. For this review, the term "artist" is used in lieu of "performer," as this was the word choice of Ayako Kato. It should be noted that, while this was a performance, the true experience was a dance exhibition.
Guests are given a catalog of the exhibit that highlights the location of each artist and the name of their work. Each artist has a code and color that are detailed on a floor plan of the space. This includes the first floor, basement, and outdoor spaces. Under the name of the work is an italicized description. Guests are invited to walk around the space and discover the different artists posted around the exhibit.
On the first floor, we hear sounds from overhead by Mandred Werder. As Kato later explained, Werder composed a 4,000 page score that cycles between six seconds of sound and six seconds of silence.
This is only the pre-show. Time passes while we wait for the formality of a “performance” to commence. Questions and curiosities begin to formulate as we are allowed to make our own choices on how to engage with the work. Absorbing all of these elements, Kato brings the audience to a place of observation and awareness without an official performance.
Guided Tour Marks the Official Beginning
What is Movement officially begins with a guided tour led by Ayako Kato and Megan Schneeberger. We are divided into groups and led throughout the space to hear further background information about each artist and their work. The works demonstrate various metaphorical meanings of motion as it pertains to time, internal dialogue, wonder, past memories, retention, and repetition.
There are works about childhood memories, tying one’s shoes, peeling an orange, personal tics, invitations, and caves, to name a few. Each work elucidates the artist's personal thoughts and the influence of their mind on their movement.
Once the tour concludes, we are invited to continue to explore the exhibit as we wait for the second portion of the performance. Suddenly, Kato begins to recite words and falls in motion. The other artists echo in response, triggering a cacophony of motion. Their movements become grander, gestural, more full. We hear words such as compose, big, wind, human, freedom, love. One by one, the artists move toward the stairs and walk down to the basement.
Downstairs, Another World
We are instructed to follow the artists downstairs to observe the 2nd portion of the exhibit.
The artists are arranged throughout the basement. It is darker and cooler downstairs, with yellow spotlighting and a lower ceiling. Artist Wilson Tanner Smith plays the cello, making music that is reminiscent, yet not totally similar, than that of Werder played on the first floor. Eventually, the artists fall into their own niches within the space and continue their own explorations of the concept of motion.
Despite the formality of this performance, we are still allowed the opportunity to walk around, between, within and around the artists to experience the work from different perspectives. There is no formal ending to the performance, as the artists in motion never stop.
The idea of perpetual motion was discussed by Kato at the beginning of our tour. Kato explained that, even with six seconds of motion and six seconds of stillness, there is a resonation of motion and also motion that we cannot see.
Like Motion, Performance is Constant
Throughout this exhibition, we are consistently given choice. There is no formal beginning or end. Like motion, the performance is constant. We are only constrained by elements beyond our control, such as blood flow or heartbeat. How we engage, observe and create—these are all our own choices.
As Kato explains in her foreword, “By focusing on the elemental essence of our being, we can discover the intricate possibilities beyond our physical space that our movement creates…impacting ourselves and beyond.” Not only can we choose how we observe the artists – we are implored to observe how we contributed to the performance ourselves.
We become aware of our motion. The way we experience the art may elicit a response from the artist, which in trun triggers a response from another audience member. With our sense of observation so heightened, we focus on how other audience members interact with the artists.
We are a cacophony of calls and responses, of motion and stillness happening and dissolving. While our experiences may be individual, the motion and stillness of energy is not. What is Movement is for the audience member who enjoys performance art that requires audience participation and engagement. It’s also for the audience member who appreciates a non-traditional viewing of a performance.
To learn more about Ayako Kato/Art Union Humanscape, visit www.artunionhumanscape.net.
Photos: Austin D. Oie
Editor’s Note: This is part of Picture this Post's series - CHOREOGRAPHERS' EYES - DANCERS EXPLAIN DANCE. Find more here.
About The Author
Sara Maslanka was named Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble’s Artistic Director in August 2015 after originally joining CDE as a Teaching Artist and Ensemble Member in 2014. She is a performer and choreographer that loves to blend dance, theatricality and comedy to her works. Sara values a collaborative process that incorporates research, discussion and play. When not performing or creating work, Sara is a teaching artist based in schools across Chicagoland and a budding dance science researcher. Sara received a Bachelor of Arts in Dance and Pedagogy from Columbia College Chicago and a Masters of Science in Dance Science from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, UK. Consumed, premiered March 2017, marked Sara’s debut work as Artistic Director.