Some notes on how not to be a wallflower

An invitation to dance
is an invitation to move through space and time
to share an actual experience
your action
their action
the actions of others,
inside and, or
the dance

For the proposition "Would you like to dance", the space of Lavitrine was turned out from itself, the space of viewing re-focused and touch forefronted as an integral part of the experience.

Instead of a filled vitrine, the vitrine was filled in -- on entering the front door, you could literally fall into the white wall, stretched parallel to the space's front glass, the elasticized fabric supporting you, letting you comfortably survey the world without.

Past the wall, to the right, a narrow corridor offered an inviting light at the end. But with two doors, one open, one closed, you may have been tempted to try either way. One's a closet.

So you go on, into an open space, not quite part of the building, not really associated with anything (except it does qualify as outdoors for the smokers). And to the left, a raised platform, created from pallets, not facing the courtyard, but offering a stage to see into the next concrete garden. A view to something and nothing.

And through, into the salle de practice, a room holding the works of Kristina Depaulis and Fabien Lerat, a space where people were invited to touch, the objects and through them, each other.

Around the corner of this room, through a door normally shut tight during public times, we were invited to look through the delicated looped fabric, framing the rubbish bins in the courtyard. The blue rubbish bins through the white undulations of fabric.

I heard the author William Gibson say in an interview that everything, most everything, that is written now has a kind of hypertext cloud around it. Around this text you are reading, if you could see this cloud, you would see "dance manuals", and a mine of marvellous old texts at Washington's Library of Congress¹, and you would see "relational objects", and perhaps be surprised, as I was, that this is a term used in database development. You may be surprised how much databases affect your life, or how small a elements you must break your information into, but then how many questions you can ask of it, how many configurations it can be made to give.

First, dance manuals. When dancing was the main form of European social interaction, dance manuals held a special place. They were the means for disseminating new ways of interacting, of new styles of touch and measurement. They were used by professionals to teach new students, and by students themselves. In this salle de practice, Kristina Depaulis invited Fabien Lerat to his work with her own in a space where they could be used and thought about. They were instructions on how to touch, on how to behave, on how to communicate.²

Historically, visual and performative art has reflected human relations. Since a certain melding of these during the earlier part of the last century, those who were once positioned well outside the creation have become integral to it. Movements from Dada to Fluxus did not provide fodder for vision; they demanded attention, participation, position.

While “looking” at art has been critiqued, discussed and enshrined, it has proved more difficult to codefy partaking in a relational work. These works, whether they take the form of an installation, or are performance-based, are by their very nature "open", and it is this that is perhaps part of the problem.

It is paradoxical that an idea, such as relational objects are supposed to open a space
but when we are faced with them
even if we know
the drill
we find little space to move
we do not know how, where to go.

In her discussion of Lygia Clark's work in Liberation, Elisabeth Lebovici noted Clark broke two major taboos with her hands-on "relational objects":
"First, (she broke the taboo) that forbids us from touching artworks in a museum. The the one that prohibits any proximity between visitors and prevents us from touching other spectators, even while in the presence of artworks that act as intermediaries."³

Despite exceptions (often performative), to visit a fair, a biennial, any show or museum is to skip this part of the history of art. "Please don't touch" is still a phrase with a museological, and by association, an artistic, halo around it.

Perhaps the reason we do not see this taboo touched so much is because despite what might be said, some regulation of what is done with the pieces is required. Some artists, like Erwin Wurm in his One Minute Sculptures, circumvent this by giving very specific situations to recreate.

In Lavitrine, though, there was no blueprint to follow. You could easily walk past the elastic wall and not fall into it. You may not see the pallets to your left, passing through to the salle de practice. And when there, how do touch the pieces hanging on the pillar or lying on the floor.
Maybe simpler just to look through the cupboard.

But it is all this that made up the proposition. That leads into the next step of the cloud, databases. I thought when I googled "relational object" I'd find pages about art you could touch. Instead I found pages, and pages of database theory, with quotes such as: "groups engaged in a common are more than just a sum of relationships: they need an object".

In a relational database, elements are broken into their smallest possible parts and they are able to be manipulated by creating different relations. They are the basis of our financial transactions, the way data is stored on shopping websites, are in many ways the underpinning of our data transfers:

by applying relational operations to other relations. These relations are sometimes called "derived relations". In implementations these are called "views" or "queries". Derived relations are convenient in that though they may grab information from several relations, they act as a single relation. Also, derived relations can be used as an abstraction layer.4

If I didn't tell you this was about databases, couldn't you think it was about art? There are many ways to dance, but relations need an object. To touch, to think about, to make a link between us.

In the catalogue for Franz Erhard Walther's 1979 show in Sao Paulo, Carl Vogel describes the pieces, the questions as "What is formulated inside and what is manifested outwardly as action."

Previously artists imaged the placement of bodies; now they physically place us, and to work with our actual bodies, in our own dimension. In three dimensions, at the very least.

In her discussion of relational aesthetics, Claire Bishop quotes Umberto Eco:

The poetics of the "work in movement" (and partly that of the "open" work) sets in motion a new cycle of relations between the artist and his audience, a new mechanics of aesthetic perception, a different status for the artistic product in contemporary society. It opens a new page in sociology and in pedagogy, as well as a new chapter in the history of art. It poses new practical problems by organizing new communicative situations. In short, it installs a new relationship between the contemplation and the utilizationof a work of art.5

For Bishop, relational art means open-endedness, and she sees Eco as regarding open art in terms of the audience being part of the creation, rather than open to interactivity. The interacting is not what makes the work, but for me it is the positioning that makes the space for thought.

The works shown and created for "Would you like to dance" are mutable. They exist in a form different for each of us, for each moment, whether we are lying on the wall, whether we picked up Escalier, or tried the A16. Or if we only read the Mode d'emploi, or saw this catalogue. They are mutable, transforming themselves and ourselves.

Bronwyn Mahoney
October 2008