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Grand Union
18 Laurel Way
Norfolk, CT
2015_16

Dance, design and family dynamics share the space in this amateur double portrait of postmodernism and privilege.

 

Grand Union, 2017, 59 min.

Director: Helen Miller

Camera: Alex Auriema, Deniz Torum and Helen Miller

Sound: Jerry McDonald

Sound Mix: Ernst Karel

Postproduction: HAOS Film

 

Postproduction with HAOS Film (color correction) in progress, funded by The Spriggs Foundation, A Donor-Advised Fund, and Fidelity Charitable.

 

In addition to receiving a postproduction grant from the Spriggs Foundation, Grand Union was selected for the New England Graduate Media Symposium: Assembling Bodies and co-presented at Studio@550 (Curator: Callie Chapman) and Industry Labs (Curator: Christine An) in Cambridge in 2016 as a Work-in-Progress.

 

Grand Union, work-in-progress, 2016

Rooted in the minimalist aesthetic of the 60s but seeking a greater level of intimacy and athleticism, seven New York artists (performers in the broadest sense) came together to form what might best be described as a family. Over a matter of years, the Grand Union, as the group came to be called, provided the sustained contact necessary for its members to practice and experiment, try and fail. Many of its members had children and one finds evidence of this influence in Grand Union’s willingness to play and pretend.

Most Grand Union performances took place in gymnasiums, churches or galleries that could afford a theater-in-the-round, makeshift atmosphere. Viewers often entered to find the lights up, and members already moving around–stretching or arranging props to be used later in the show. The performers would sometimes coalesce briefly in duets or trios before returning to their individual pursuits, or else a small group might persist, proposing various structures for their heretofore unrelated activities.

This general preparation gradually evolved into the performance itself, although no specific beginning was ever announced. Suddenly, out of a collage of movement, common household objects, and excerpts from music popular at the time, an archetypal vignette or choreographic phrase would emerge. Dynamics like this can be seen on video in performance libraries and special reading rooms. These tapes offer a rare look back — sometimes fascinating, sometimes tedious — at a ridiculously romanticized time when the doors of possibility had been blown open.

Enamored with this footage but otherwise ignorant of the lives of performers, I asked my own family back to the gracious, accommodating house where we spent summers growing up. Over the course of a long weekend in August, nestled behind the remnants of a tall white picket fence, bas-­reliefs of urns ornamenting the conventional clapboard structure in which we slept, ate and got married, we agreed, if not to be curious then to see nonetheless what might happen on account of timing, quiet time and a level of attention I don’t recall being there when we were young.

                                                                               

 

Exaggerating your pattern and adopting the opposite, 2016 (unedited)

Description of installation:

Grand Union (2016) is a two-channel video involving family and postmodern dance. In the first video, projected on one side of a wall, I lead my family through a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lesson in front of the house where we spent summers growing up. The lesson is called “Exaggerating your pattern and adopting the opposite”. Side-by-side, about a window’s width apart, we take our places in a lineup that resembles a sex ed chart, except that we’re ordered according to age rather than sex or height—father, mother, sister, sister, brother, brother—holding the place of our brother Nicholas, who was Down syndrome and passed away nine years ago.

In the second video, projected on the other side of the wall, my family and I carry out routine household tasks such as making coffee, reading the newspaper and washing our hair in the sink. Sometimes we follow each other, sometimes do things together and occasionally function as one big nuclear family. Increasingly, we practice 60s and 70s postmodern dance. The arc of the edited footage follows from everyday actions to dance inspired by the everyday.

As we rise-and-shine and dance, the diurnal structure of the piece highlights some of the modeling, copying and other feats of representation involved in both art and growing up. The detailed ruts of our behavior thread the surface of the high definition documentation, and although much of our interaction as adults is centered around talking, the videos heighten the unspoken call-and-response and illuminate our continuous dance around each other. As poet and former dancer Julie Carr writes regarding her infant daughter, “To interpret the singing, she looks at me./ To say I see you, I open my eyes wider.”[1]

At some point in the early 70s, postmodern dancer Trisha Brown recounts her intention to dance “so that the audience does not know whether [she has] stopped dancing.” Playing on this idea, my family and I move in such a way that the audience does not know when we have started dancing. Questions of intention and motivation trouble the naturalism and highlight the performative aspects of our everyday activity. What are we doing, ever? Layers of ambiguity and the sometimes arbitrary feel of the postmodern score both alienate and bond family members, creating space for audience members to enter the discussion, disagreement, dance, play and performance.

[1] Carr, Julie. Mead: An Epithalamion. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004. p. 11.

 


Invitation to the Grand Union, 2015