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

Of themselves dancing?
Yeah. There are going to be some rules. It has to be filmed in the museum. I’m also interested in what other voices aren’t being represented in the institution. Or how do you feel about dance in museums? I think because it has to be filmed in the museum it will limit how many people participate, but it’s my fantasy that the museum is just filled with people dancing around.

And people will be able to watch them the same way I watched you? So it could be that the whole museum is full of people holding iPhones and iPads—not looking at the art, but looking at phantom performances?
Right. [Laughs]

I respect this on a lot of levels, but I also think it’s the most hilarious thing in the world.
That’s great. I did a lot of work with the Yes Men this last year, and they’ve been a big influence on how I think about how to be subversive. You can use humor too. 

It’s a very elegant way of beating the system.
[Laughs] I think it’s only a matter of time before it’s happening in many ways. With Augmented-Reality technology—even what you can do now as opposed to what was possible when I installed this is crazy different. You can do face recognition, object recognition; this version had to be black and white.

But I like that. There’s so much color and action happening at the museum that I prefer the footage being in black and white, because it narrows the focus.
And it’s appropriate with the [archival] content. The museum’s floor plan and guide is a fixed object that you can take home with you. The solos are installed into those floor plans. You could hang it on your wall. The content can change. The user-generated content could find its way here, and then you have an art object, which changes over time. I want to pursue the idea that dance can become an art object. And I wanted to do something in the garden because that is open to the public, and you don’t have to pay admission for that. There are some pieces, which you have to be in the museum to see and other pieces that you can see on your computer at home. The archival footage of Ted Shawn you can only see inside the museum.

Why did you choose the painting Street, Dresden for the final trigger?
I wanted it to be in that room. It was about the placement of the painting, because I walk down the same stairs at the end [of the video]. That room was powerful for me. Valda [Setterfield] was performing in there and talking about how a painter who has exhibited in that room had painted a portrait of her some years ago. And then there was the Vito Acconci piece in there as well. It is a very charged space, so I knew I wanted to be in that room, and it does feel kind of private, but the painting was a little bit arbitrary. And so I walk down the stairs in silence. I knew I wanted to end that way.

Have you heard from the museum? 
I have friends there who have written me personal notes—congratulating me and saying they were impressed and this and that, but no one’s speaking on behalf of the museum. They were the first to know. I wrote to the museum before I told anyone else. And I actually had proposed it for the Boris Charmatz performance. They said it would have been strange if it were just me, so if I did it then everyone would have to do it.

What would you like to do with AR technology and dance in the future?
What I would like to do is remount the group dances at Jacob’s Pillow. I think it would be great to be able to see what that campus looked like in 1932, especially through Google Glass. For Jacob’s Pillow anyway, I worry about glare and tablets outside. And sometimes it’s a little tedious. [He imitates holding it above his head.] There was a trigger on the ceiling at one point, which was beautiful standing in the atrium, but I thought my arms were going to fall off! I’m doing a project with Barnard in the fall to help celebrate their 125th anniversary. They have all of these archival photographs of different dances happening around campus, and I’m working with students to either remount or reimagine these performances and perform them site-specifically and install them in AR. That’ll be happening October 26. One thing I’m excited about is that we’ve just figured out how to embed a Google map, so it can show you where the next trigger is and how to get there. And I might be doing something with Performa 15. I did a little AR for them in ’13, but now we have an opportunity to do something with more advanced planning.

In your thesis, you talk about how the installation is challenging “notions of the archive and re-performance as understood by recent scholarship in performance studies and art history.” Could you elaborate?
I was referring to the idea that the body is the archive. I wanted to point out the differences between the archival documentation of Ted Shawn performing these solos and the living-archive moment, but meanwhile neither is located in a body currently. It doesn’t have to take up space, and it can be fixed.

How do you feel about the word “re-performance”?
You know, I use it now. I don’t know how it differs from how I re-performed Romeo & Juliet six times. But I understand that in the visual-art community it means something specific and different than to someone with a performance background. In different contexts, it can be useful, but sometimes I do find it a little irritating. There’s a big body of movement research in dance about how to keep something fresh. It’s as if we’re amputating that body of research and putting this new term on it. But if it helps certain populations understand what we’re talking about, then great.

Without Consent runs Aug 5–Sept 2 at MoMA. The Reaccession of Ted Shawn is ongoing. Weinert will perform at the Downtown Dance Festival on Aug 17, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival on Aug 20 and at the Hudson Opera House on Aug  30.

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