Dance and the Museum: Gustavo Ciriaco Responds



1) What are the most potent questions or ideas prompted by the recent coming together of dance and the visual arts?


I like the terms you choose for this meeting of two different art fields: coming together. This already reveals a movement towards a shared place and at the same time the condition of doing it together. Although the actual increase might be more of opportunities and interest in including dance in the programming of art museums and galleries, it does reveal a complex and interesting situation of meeting between two fields, between two entirely distinct ways of being together and sharing time and space, a situation which actually involves a strange interaction of two distinct publics — the spectator from the theater and the viewer at the art museum.


Seeing this coming together through the lens of dance being shown in the “white cube,” I’d say that the most potent questions that arise involve shared perception and aesthetic appreciation, role play and the conflict between economies. The conditions of visibility at stake in the white cube not only tend to enhance the objecthood of the art on display, but the room itself belongs to a whole history of art which guides and frames our perceptions and habits, as well as the use of our time as visitors.


Dance is, of course, historically related to its own specific kind of architecture and aesthetic appreciation, which is much older and differently layered than the white cube: the theater. It is also closely related to the negotiation of the temporality of the present. The theater locates its spectators at a place from which they see what develops before them. Two contrasting territories emerge: audience and stage. One is totally dependent on the other. Dance as a time based art tends to happen over a specific amount of time. It is an art based on seeing something happen and accompanying its progress in real time. The moment you move dance outside the theater, conditions that were in place to guarantee this special way of witnessing and receiving cease to exist. But the condition of viewing also depends on the context and frame of the presentation. If it’s under a dance festival’s frame, the artists and the public who accompany them might maintain the sort of aesthetic involvement and reception promoted by dance as an art form. The roles are there and habits modulate the mode being in situ and relating to what happens. These habits may continue to exert a power over an audience even outside a dance-framed context. Yet the museum is, itself, a forceful territory with its own rules and habits. But that moves us to the next question.



The bright side of the dark by Yoi Kawakubo in Gustavo Ciríaco’s A Room of Wonder | Tokyo. © Tokyo Wonder Site. Photo: Masahiro Nagata.


2) What are the responsibilities and/or challenges that accompany this interaction? For artists? Curators? Critics or scholars? Institutions?


Last November (2013) I saw a retrospective of Xavier Le Roy’s work at Museum de Arte do Rio – MAR, in Rio de Janeiro, a collaboration between the museum and the dance festival Panorama. The retrospective was composed of combined excerpts of Xavier’s dance pieces with extracts of the biographies of the dancers who performed them. When a visitor enters the exhibition room, an intricate system is set in motion, in which, as far as I understood, one dancer tells the public his/her own biographical history intertwined with extracts of Xavier’s choreographic work, using chronology as the common path for both retrospective views. While this is going on, the other dancers perform short fragments of Xavier’s and their personal retrospectives as a loop. Whenever a new visitor enters the room, a change of places and roles happen, except for the performer who is doing his/her own retrospective. This left me as a visitor torn between following what seemed to be the main retrospective and the other performers’ peripheral actions. If I were to relate to what was going on as a visual art viewer, I would probably leave the dancer who was telling me his history, and move on to the other dancers. But as a theater spectator, I was inclined to follow this dancer until he concluded his part. As there was none of the usual museum wall labels or spatial indications situating the art work, I was left to experience the 4 things that were happening in the room as either 4 different pieces, or as 2 different groups (the 3 dancers that were doing the short fragments as one, and the dancer with the longer set of actions and texts as the other). Everything there seemed to awaken in me an urge to see. What I saw, I included in my experience. It was difficult for me to distinguish them as different time and space units, once they were in the same room, affecting me together directly and indirectly.


Later, in Paris, I had the chance to see the retrospective again in rehearsal. This time, the exhibition was not yet open to the general public. It was interesting to see the work with a different group of artists. It became clearer to me how the negotiation of the time of the spectator seemed to be dependent on each performer’s ability to maneuver the audience’s attention and make decisions on the fly. This was also true of the extent to which the exposition developed new tactics with which to dialogue with the public, with the exhibition space, and the contingencies of the moment. It is in this arena that I see the difference of dance in relation to the visual arts and its possible contribution to the future of the museum. From this interchange between the dance artist and an institution such as the museum emerges the question of who is responsible for constructing the bridge. Will it be the artist? Or will the museum, as an institution, have to meet the artist in negotiating the specifics of dance as a medium? Should there be specific conditions or architecture in the gallery room or other elements that could host dance or make possible the experience of the work as a dance event might demand, like placing benches in video screening rooms in museums?


Exibição, by Marcela Levi in Gustavo Ciríaco's Sala de Maravilhas (Room of Wonder) | Rio. Photo: Paula Kossatz

Exibicão, by Marcela Levi in Gustavo Ciríaco’s Sala de Maravilhas (Room of Wonder) | Rio. Photo: Paula Kossatz


In the case of the direct placement of a dance piece in the museum, shouldn’t the conditions of experience and appreciation that existed in its production and previous showing be reproduced or at least taken into consideration? Would this necessitate having a theater space in which to show it properly? Or is the translation into the white cube and the assertion of the museum as official keeper of the times what is of interest here?


Coming from a dance background, I share with my colleagues the difficulties and pleasures that come from my dance education, the fine and gradual work towards perception and execution of aesthetics in my body. This corporeal expertise, this savoir-faire, is an essential element in presenting or reenacting dance pieces and performances be it in a museum or in a theater. It is a training in the management of the present. It is a practice in relation that exists only when it exists. Its ephemerality is not the goal of its materiality. To the contrary, it supports the experience and is a spectral accompaniment that enriches the art. I would say that it is a fundamental qualitative element. The more frequent presence of dance and performance in the space of the museum has not been accompanied, though, by an understanding or care for what is involved in being a dancer, nor for the terms of hiring and paying them, although they are the main actors of the rendering live these art forms.


I would dare say that dance and performance offer art institutions and museums an opportunity to review the paradigms that guide their practice, their mission and roles in collecting, presenting and promoting art. It’s an injection of the intangible into the static frame of the visual arts. Rather than showing something, dance and performance inaugurate islands of experiences.


3) As artists, audiences, and institutions with varied artistic backgrounds come together, on what grounds is it or is it not important to consider disciplinary/ generic boundaries?


When I think of varied artistic backgrounds coming together, I think that this movement involves different levels of knowledge and acquaintance with unfamiliar artistic traditions. In the middle of this colliding, pre-conceptions, expertise and experiences in the fields involved affect the participation of the artist, the audiences and the institutions in different ways. This must be taken into consideration when thinking about this coming together, along with the context and the interaction of the temporary communities that make up the moment an artwork is activated. The museum, even more than the gallery space, is involved in detaching a work from its surroundings. In addition, it is often aligned with projects of collecting objects and casting them in a historical lens, somewhat less restrictively in the case of temporary exhibitions. This renders the museum a very specific context. It demands that the work on display obeys a certain inertia, a certain isolation from its whereabouts. In this sense, a dialogue is necessary between the programmatic orientation of the art space and the presentational form of the artwork. In the recent case of Marina Abromovic’s retrospective at the MoMA, a series of her performances were shown. I wonder if putting the performances alongside various forms of documentation of her work—photographs, video, objects—allowed them to happen the way they should. Strolling around a museum, seeing piece after piece, immerses me in a kind of listing of elements, object-like in terms of its general reception. This sort of display puts me in a visiting mood, quite distinct from what those performances had implied when enacted as the instigators of a particular time and space. I wonder if a dramaturgy of the space is needed, or if there should be a specific curatorship for the performing arts in the space of the museum, a curatorship centered in the experience of an art form that involves direct contact and presence between artists and public in the context of an object-based exhibition space.



Do mesmo modo que quando paro para sentir o coração bater by António Pedro Lopes (left)Eu me visto de alegria by Dyonne Boy (right) in Gustavo Ciríaco Sala de Maravilhas (Room of Wonder) | Rio


In a recent project of mine, A room of wonder | Rio & Tokyo, I invited a group of artists to choose experiences of wonder from their lives and careers and to think how to translate, or copy, or render alive again, this experience for the visitor of a museum or gallery space. Using any media that translation demanded, the artists produced a group of pieces, which acted as sensory platforms for experience. A museum of ephemeral situations, a museum of experiences. A somewhat immaterial collection. During the project, I was confronted with how the context, its conventions and expected behaviors, as well as the actual spatial architecture, played a substantial role in the perception and presence of the visitors. They became a sort of an extended part of the composition. But I wonder if this was a case of stretching genre boundaries, or was it rather the subtle and invisible work of fine adaptation to the context, in a way that the visitor retains space for his/her own way of digesting the experience?


4) What might the meeting of dance and visual art at this time herald or reflect? Or, why is this happening now? What possibilities might it open for the future?


It depends on what side of the balance this meeting might tip us towards— the object or the experience? It makes me think of the possibility of relating to time in a way not simply focused on keeping alive its traces or extracting them—with surgical precision—until they no longer belong to any live context. It’s a matter of non-matter, or rather a matter of subtle matter. We are all full of past and present moments, intensities, sensations. But rather than re-staging, recovering them, or cutting them from what make them what they are, I feel more tempted to bring them to life as part of an ongoing present and an ongoing life of the hard and soft materiality of things. As in the sensorial cinemas of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, museums in the future might become sort of sensorial wunderkammers, the heralds of new modes of recollecting and reflecting the world we live in, more and more virtual in its actuality, more and more actual in its virtuality.


Are you satisfied?, by Takumi Kitada in Gustavo Ciracio's Room of Wonder | Tokyo. © Tokyo Wonder Site. Photo: Masahiro Nagata

Are you satisfied?, by Takumi Kitada in Gustavo Ciracio’s Room of Wonder | Tokyo. © Tokyo Wonder Site. Photo: Masahiro Nagata


Gustavo Ciríaco is a Brazilian performing artist and art maker. In his work he dialogues with the historical, material and affective context one is immersed in any given situation. As art form, his work goes from multimedia stage conceptual work to convivial and open-air pieces. -He’s been to Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East in projects, workshops and artistic collaborations. He’s been acting in museum and multimedia projects as “A room of wonder“, in urban space projects as “Here whilst we walk“ & “Neighbors“ in collab. with Andrea Sonnberger; in conversational pieces “Drifting“ in collab. with António Pedro Lopes; and in dance projects “Still – sob o estado das coisas“ (APCA prize as Best dance conception and nominee of Bravo Prize as Best Dance Show). He’s been in residency at Tokyo Wonder Site (Tokyo, Japan), Les Récollets (Paris, France), ZDB and Alkantara (Lisbon, Portugal), Bamboo Curtain Studio (Taipei, Taiwan), Al Mamal Foundation (Jerusalem, Israel), among others. In 2011, he was the artistic director of Manifesta! (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and guest curator for ENTRE Lugares (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, London, England). In 2012, he started the projects “Where the horizon moves“ at Guimarães, European Cultural Capital and London Cultural Olympiad “Rio Occupation“, in the Uk; and A room of wonder (Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro) with Japanese and Brazilian artists.

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