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University Project: Notes on DTW’s Lobby Talks, Part Two
Relevance of the University – Lobby TALKS at DTW organized by Chase Granoff, 4/14/09
Notes by Levi Gonzalez (with assistance from Alejandra Martorell)
As the discussion continued, an articulation of the difference between being a working artist based in New York City and an artist who teaches at other places in the country for a significant amount of time as part of their artistic career began to emerge, particularly in light of Bebe’s post at OSU and Jen Monson’s post at UI.
“One of the largest things,” Bebe confessed, “and I hadn’t anticipate it, was making work and not having to make a living off it. It was profound, getting rid of that anxiety. What are the artistic choices I can make outside of that? In my case, being exposed to all these resources. I went into dance technology because I could, because I was there—spending a good 5 – 7 years exploring something I didn’t know.”
Jen, reflecting on the challenges and benefits that arise from working outside of your peer group, added: “Physical environments are really potent. I’m used to loft spaces that have multiple uses you can smell and touch. Grey Marley studios make me really sad. But everything there is flat in a way that the world falls away from me and that never happens in New York. It’s a way to face the interiority of myself. Very challenging.” It also gives a “much broader experience of this country. It’s so moving to meet an 18-year old from Chicago. Their realities are so different from mine.”
From here the topic of “justifying” dance to Deans and Presidents was addressed by many of the panelists and attendees, reflecting for the most part that it remains an inevitable task for these artists and educators. Many echoed the need to continually lobby for dance, by bringing to the attention of administrators any news, statistic, publication and press that grants dance importance and status. It was often cited that dance classes will frequently be worth less credits than other classes simply because aadministrators “don’t know what they do in there.”
Cherylyn Lavagnino pointed out that the way this is done can also prove counterproductive or simply unsuccessful, and argued against the combative or “victimized” model. In her case, “I feel like our Dean is one of those people,” speaking of Mary Schmit Camp, Dean of Tisch School of the Arts and an art historian. “She created a whole arts professor role to be equal to tenure—full arts professors who didn’t necessarily have MFAs. There is a respect for the artist. Within this huge institution there is this shift going on.”
Bebe felt the shift was not quite happening yet “in a deep level.” She talked about a successful project at OSU involving Will Forsyth and “inviting people from different fields to look at this piece–how else do people look at dance, organization and action? That is very sexy and successful in that way.”
This led Chase to wonder: “How much in the University becomes driven by the students… The dance studio for contemporary dance artists is not just that room with the mirror and ballet barre.” He talked about a friend who wanted to combine interests in Performance Studies at NYU with their studio practice, and how difficult it was to navigate the institutional structures of the school to make that happen. He felt there are “exciting convergences that could potentially occur. It sounds like it is starting to happen in these pockets… How much is it rogue professors making it happen?”
Donna Faye felt that this shift always comes “from the work out… instead of from the outside in.” Bebe added, “Its also tapping into those scrappy research fellows with weird ideas. Doesn’t come from the administration down.”
Jana Feinman at Hunter College echoed this challenge of having to constantly argue for support but also felt the “paradigm of fighting and fighting doesn’t work anymore – you’re seen as troublemaker. After all these years, working without any support, the students are the ones who prove themselves in the world – then they come back and get the attention of the dean and the president. That’s what happens over the course of years.”
This led into a discussion of the current burgeoning interest in interdisciplinarity within dance as a form, and how the ideas and concerns behind dancing can attach themselves to other ideas, including language and research. The quetstion then emerged – does attaching our interests to more intellectual pursuits water down the “practice” and “experientiality” of dancing?
Bebe felt that we “owe it to ourselves to go in as dancers and not dance. Just develop ideas of what we do. Not, ‘let me show you what I can make’, but that we also write, we talk. It’s not about ‘I’m smart too’ but following our curiosity outside of the studio. How do you build your own institution of connection?”
Phyllis Lamhut, a longtime dancer and also faculty at NYU, cautioned against “getting decapitated” and stressed that we shouldn’t over-intellectualize the form out of a “fear of physicality and stereotypes” about dance as well as the larger institutional ghettoization of the form.
To which Dean Moss responded by advocating “expanding the visceral. What is visceral beyond the body? What does my audience feels is visceral? How is my body reflected in migration? In traffic flow? I can bring up visceral sensation based on those things. Dance can go there taking all the information you have on experience and placing it on something conceptual. The act of separation is less useful at this point in our exploration of the practice.”
Jen added, “I feel there is a real blurring. The level at which people are articulating their art and choreographic practice in this dialogue could not happen if it was not completely felt and embodied.”
Vincent suggested that this blurring and shifting could in some ways be responsible for why we find it difficult to gain the attention of the “powers that be” – that they have a hard time defining us.
To which Dean stated, “The answer is we are ahead of them. They haven’t caught up to us. The world is moving towards this interdisciplinary, amorphous model.”
Bebe discussed the artist Eiko working with graduate architecture students. She was the only one evaluating the work who got down on her knees and really experienced the work physically. “The body, the curiousity of it. How does this feel? That’s what we do.”
The question of interdisciplinarity and the fluidity of different ideas about technique and mastery contributed to a spirited debate about how we learn practices in our contemporary age. Is it practical to always be exploring the edges of our boundaries and definitions? Is it relevant? Is it useful?
Ben, an undergraduate at the New School, voiced his concern or questions as to where exactly these more open-ended pedagogies were taking him. “I dance with non-dancers, engage in awesome esoteric processes. What is that trying to give me after school?”
To which Vernon added, echoing the sentiments of many in the room, “How can you explore outside the box if you’ve never been in the box?”
Some unattributed comments that followed:
“It’s part of being in this world. Technology, access to information, experience. Why wouldn’t you be interdisciplinary? Institutions follow at a slower pace, part of the role of the artist is to push, and get the attention of the institutions which don’t have the luxury of moving so quickly.”
“I take issue with the idea that if you are interdisciplinary you don’t have technical excellence.”
“You make a choice. You don’t have to go into chemical analysis of your sweat to figutre out where that’s going. If it’s not of interest, it’s not of interest.”
“I teach at the graphic design department at Parsons. Something problematic for this university is that faculty create a group of students that are goal oriented and not process oriented. Which button on this Macintosh makes me famous? They don’t want to be involved in the process. I want to come to it every day as a practice, somehow through that practice my rent is paid, I can go to yoga, I can afford DTW. Your goal is to enjoy the process.”
These questions and concerns – sometimes opposing, sometimes not – seem to be at the heart of determining and helping to shape the future directions and partnerships between working artists and Universities as well as our fundamental methodologies of learning and teaching. Please feel free to respond to any of the comments or questions that come up here. If you were there, feel free to correct, attribute, or add on to anything that was said.
Some potential readings were also floated at the end of the conversation:
Daniel Pink, “A Whole New Mind” Malcolm Miles “New Practices, New Pedagogies: A Reader (Innovations in Art and Design)” Also a roundtable from a recent issue of Bookforum – The New Geography