Saturday, June 28, 2008

REVIEW- Triptych

This excellent and unique presentation of three mediums colliding in different contexts has got me thinking. Thinking perhaps unintended things, but that's what great art does, it puts the audience in a weird headspace and compells them to come to totally unexpected conclusions. But, i'm getting ahead of myself, cuz this is a review of something complex and praiseworthy, and my provoked thoughts are less important than the work itself, and with how big and complex the work, this is already going to be too long of a review.

Especially since i've gotta mention another tangent first: I stopped at Inova downstairs for a minute before Triptych started. They are displaying 5 works that were supposed to be public art back in the 80s, but apparently never made it through the beaurocracy, inspiring a playful protest by the sculptor. I love the fact that Inova is contributing some history to the present debate on the woeful state of Milwaukee's public art administration. Thank you!

Okay, on to Triptych:

Three artists' work are combined in three different ways in three different rooms refered to as "panels" in this elaborate peice. For the first panel you are ushered to the 6th floor of Kennilworth to view the three disciplines mostly isolated from each other. First you view dense complex pencil drawings by Leslie Vansen hanging in the hallways. Reading the program you discover that Vansen is a teacher at UWM and that these drawings are composed of layered manual partial reproductions of some of her students' sketchbooks. Even without this great concept, the work is engaging and interesting. Pages covered with so many patterns they become chaos, the drawings look like they should be precise things, as solid as a scientific proof or a blueprint, but the removal of certain elements and layering of so many contradictory lines make it all ephemeral, flickering with movement, impossible to look at, like a sprite in your periphery vision that flits away when you look directly at it.

The second room on the 6th floor was an experimental percussion work by Christopher Burns, played by Christopher Froh. This intriguing exploration of texture and complex rythem was incredibly precise, well performed, and dynamic. But I felt held at a distance from it. I'm used to seeing this kind of thing performed by Ettrick or Jon Mueller, in raw live performances using all the same techniques, but without the written score or the constrained perfectionism. I'm used to dancing epileptically to this kind of shit, and politely sitting in a chair with the knowledge that the end comes at the bottom right corner of the sheet of paper spread in front of the drummer takes a whole lot away from the experience for me.

The third room on the 6th floor featured Predella, a HUGE modern dance peice by Luc Vanier. Modern dance is one of the most foreign art mediums for me. I do not understand what is going on. All i can say about the half dozen modern dance peices i've seen is that i've just been impressed as hell by the dancers' ability and obvious commitment, but i haven't been able to understand or engage much with the work. I have some personal baggage in this area, ballet classes i was coerced into taking into my already awkward middle school years and a love of disorganized dionysian dancing in a crowd (even if i'm the only one) have kinda soured me on choreographed dance. This is the most unjustifiable of my many biases, and i'm glad Triptych got me more exposure by combining it with other mediums that interest me more. Especially since i felt this was the best modern dance i have seen. This conclusion might be ignorant and irritating to real dance afficianados, cuz it mostly results from the fact that with too many dancers at too close proximity i couldn't watch them all and this somehow made it more compelling.

The next panel combines these three mediums into one colloboarative interacting peice. Predella was danced to Christopher Burn's music recorded, filtered, remixed and then piped in through speakers. This apparent convention of modern dance done to recorded music is one of the things that irks me about it. This second panel defies the convention, and we get to watch smaller groups of dancers, doing more intimate work, accompanied by live vibraphone and cymbals. Projected animations inspired by Leslie Vansen and controlled by video recognition software accompany and interact with the dancers. These animations don't quite work for me, i'm not sure why, they'd make a really nice screen saver, and they don't detract from the dancers, but they are too digital, too computer generated and crisp for my aesthetic taste. Again, the dancing and the music are impressive and enjoyable.

But, its the final panel that's really got me excited about this work. The first panel introduced the three seperate artists, the second panel combined them and this third panel introduces the spectator directly into the work. You leave the room where the dancing happened and enter a maze of white sheets with more of Leslie Vansen's imagry projected on it. Scattered through this maze, side-lit by the projections, and rendered to silouette by the sheets, the dancers lie on the ground in various attitudes. A music composition made with computer scrambled vocals generated by the artists talking about the work itself fills the space and after a few minutes the audience is scattered through the maze along with the dancers. Then the recorded music stops, Froh starts playing a different version of the peice from panel one and the dancers start moving.

It's this completely unique and immersive experience that got me thinking. Throughout the final section i was aching with a temptation to somehow "touch the art" i wanted to speak to, sit by, or dance with the dancers, i wanted to move the white sheets and manipulate the images on them, i wanted to play, and i suspect that the authors of the work wanted us to play. Triptych's playbill is full of artist statements, descriptions of the works, and invitations to discuss and understand what's going on. It risks being pedantic (this is a school). Luc Vanier rode the evelvator between the floors halfway through the show with some of us, and talked genially about how two dancers had slipped and collided in last night's performance. At one point in this final section the dancers move through the maze, forcing the audience to get out of their way, and one even gently pushed me down a dead end. The art touched me.

But i still couldn't touch the art until the music stopped the curtain came up and the lights shifted to indicate that the peice was over. The art world programming is too strong, the setting somehow still to sterile, the performances too perfect and clean. I greatly commend the authors of triptych for this valient effort to break the rules of the art world from the belly of the beast, and i hope that some other audience members were more able to do their part.

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