Q&A: Adam H. Weinert installs a secret installation at MoMA

Adam H. Weinert talks about letting viewers generate content for his newest MoMA installation

You participated in the first section of Boris Charmatz’s “Musée de la dance: Three Collective Gestures.” What did you think of it?
I had complicated feelings about it. I believe it worked very well at Musée de la danse [in Rennes, France], which is essentially a dance venue with no art on the walls and a dance audience, whereas I think it was complicated in a museum space with masterworks on the walls and an audience that was given no context about what we were doing. I was asked a number of times who I was and what I was doing—I had to direct people to my personal website because that information was nowhere to be found. The crediting was difficult, and somebody got injured because we were dancing on concrete for 15 hours. I was hoping that with this AR that I could correct some of that—provide crediting and context and allow for discussion. And no one has to get hurt. [Laughs] One point is best illuminated using the example of Shelley Senter. The backstory here is that Yvonne Rainer was invited to perform Trio A as part of the exhibition, but she declined. Senter, a former dancer in Rainer’s company, elected to perform the work anyway citing her own authority over the material as an interpretive artist. It’s an interesting and perhaps valid proposal. Rainer attended the exhibit and sat feet away from Senter as she executed Trio A without her consent. It was a momentous occasion, to those in the know. One felt as if the walls of the museum should be quaking. Yet to the [casual] museumgoer, the spectacle of one woman executing movement, which may or may not be recognizable as dance, with another woman sitting on the floor, barely registers. It seems there was a failure to translate the most interesting aspects of the exhibition to its audience along with the already mentioned complications of framing, crediting and context. I hope that the AR platform I use can recoup some of these losses and facilitate discussion in order to make the most out of the content.

What was the reaction like to your performances?
Apart from the people who looked at me like, Who is this person and why aren’t the guards stopping him? I did have a number of people come up to me—one old lady said, “I took a class with Ted Shawn in 1950.” That was incredible. And at a certain point I started teaching parts of the class to whomever would join me and that was fun. As it turns out many people have their own relationship to Ted Shawn’s work or Jacob’s Pillow, or even just as a male dancer—the way that you feel liberated. That’s why I’m launching this installation: to allow for those stories to take place as well. I’m bringing that program to Jacob’s Pillow this summer and to the Downtown Dance Festival and the Hudson Opera House. I’m excited to compare that kind of performing to a more traditional kind.

What will be on the Jacob’s Pillow program?
I’m teaming up with Logan Kruger, so I’m going to do the Ted Shawn solos; she’s going to do some Doris Humphrey solos, and then we’re going to do a José Limón duet from A Choreographic Offering. It’s a mini–dance history—or one thread of it. I’m also interested in using the process of the remounting the works as a vehicle to create new work, so we’ll be playing around with that this summer. She was my rehearsal director for the Ted Shawn solos. I love dancing with her.

How did you get the idea for this?
I noticed in the initial live performances that everyone seemed to be watching me through their smartphones.

It’s so true! And disturbing.
Yeah. But I thought, Why not engage with that? I got a residency in Augmented Reality through Dance-Tech, a Berlin-based organization run by Marlon Barrios Solano. Also, Shawn was not interested in Laban notation. He filmed everything. So I was wanting to engage with technology just as Ted Shawn had done.

How so?
Labor Symphony (1934): He built a boat onstage, because people knew what that was like, and he wanted them to be able to relate to it. People don’t build boats anymore in the same way, but people are on their phones all the time so it seemed like a way to engage with a contemporary audience. I was surprised: In the first weekend, there were 5,000 users. I know that’s hardly viral, but for a modern-dance audience it’s a lot. Tech blogs picked up on it; a few AR blogs, and Gizmodo and Complex, so for the most part it’s not a dance audience, which I think is cool. It’s also been a selling point. When I told that to Jacob’s Pillow it made them more interested in doing something like this. Everyone wants to reach a new, younger audience.

Had you seen anything like this before? What was your point of departure?
Larry Rhodes, the dance director of Juilliard, defines dance as the movement of bodies through space, and at a certain point I realized in this proposal the bodies that move are that of the audience. I realized I needed to choreograph the participant and that became the most challenging part, but also the most fun. I had guinea pigs. I had a friend who’s a visual artist try it out, as well as a theater artist to get different perspectives and try to make it theatrical. You go over to the escalators, and it’s mobbed and people are getting in your way and people are waiting for you—I think that’s all fun. It was tricky—I didn’t want to obscure. The first draft used the actual paintings on the walls, but I didn’t want to obscure the artwork.

But you do! The trigger for the final dance is Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s painting Street, Dresden.
I do. Also, it was the Polke exhibit that was the tester, and it’s not like I have some issue with Polke. I wanted to start a conversation or propose this as a different way of presenting performance. It was uncanny how it worked out with how MoMA actually owned [Shawn’s] works and gave them away.

Is that true though? Didn’t Shawn give them to the library?
He gave them as a gift to MoMA, and then MoMA gave them to the public library. I know that he gave consent. I don’t blame them in a real way; I don’t think they were really equipped to handle those materials, but I wonder how coerced that consent was. If MoMA’s telling you they’re going to give away your work, you can’t make them keep it really. What I like about it is that it makes dance, which is a very ethereal art form, permanent in this way and it also points out how fleeting a museum, which we tend to think of as a permanent fixture, can be and how that changes over time. I was more interested in pointing that out.

Since the Polke show won’t be up forever, what will happen?
It comes down on August 3. I’m going to replace that with another permanent feature in the museum. There’s lettering in metal along the wall leading into the atrium, so I think I’ll do it there. Finding permanent features is difficult.

Could you explain your approach for the project?
I’m thinking of this as a three-part installation: The first part being the live performances, the second part being The Reaccession, and the third part being user-generated content where people will choose their own trigger and create their own content. Then I will install the content onto that trigger. They’ll take a photo of a painting and make a video response.

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