Friday, October 8, 2010

VANESSA DAOU | Degrees of Freedom, Gravity & Spontaneous Sculptures @ SVA — LECTURE TEXT

Impromptu sculptures made by students of Suzanne Anker's Digital Sculpture class following my lecture/discussion "Degrees of Freedom", an analysis of the language of Dance as it relates to Sculpture:

"Degrees of Freedom"


    ▪    Degrees of Freedom (Lecture text)
    ▪    The Scientific Method
    ▪    Resistance, Freedom
    ▪    Martha Graham: movement, energy, motivation
    ▪    Motion, movement, momentum, motivation
    ▪    Bill T. Jones: "labor, work and action"

    ▪    Concerning the Spiritual in Art, by Wassily Kandinsky
    ▪    William Forsythe: structure & visualization
    ▪    Michelangelo’s "Unfinished" Slaves
    ▪    Yvonne Rainer: The Mind is a Muscle
    ▪    Wallace Stevens: Anecdote of the Jar
    ▪    Trisha Brown: moves, measures
    ▪    Kenneth Koch: One Train May Hide Another
    ▪    Emily Coates @ Yale: Dance and academia
    ▪    Antony Gormley: body as instrument
    ▪    Anne Carson: The Physicality of Poetry
    ▪    Robin Rhode: mind in motion
    ▪    Soft Sculpture [PDF]

    ▪    Gravity   
    ▪    'Joe Sent Me' & the Hidden Language of the Body
    ▪    Vanessa Daou's Essentials for the Artist

Resistance, FreedomWherever there's freedom, there's resistance.


–verb (used with object)
1. to withstand, strive against, or oppose: to resist infection; to resist temptation.

2. to withstand the action or effect of: to resist spoilage.

3. to refrain or abstain from, esp. with difficulty or reluctance: They couldn't resist the chocolates.
–verb (used without object)
4. to make a stand or make efforts in opposition; act in opposition; offer resistance.


1325–75;  ME resisten  (v.) < L resistere  to remain standing, equiv. to re- re-  + sistere  to cause to stand, akin to stāre  to stand


Resistance & Freedom are themes heavily explored in both Dance & Sculpture due to the inherent FLEXIBILITY & PLASTICITY of materials


I want to talk today about resistance.

The root word comes from the Latin, to remain standing.

To remain standing is a physical act, but beyond that, it's a symbolic one.

To take a stand - to make a stand - is to take a position for or against something: often, it's a moral act.

To remain standing is both the starting point and the end point for the Dancer.

Whereas gravity is the constant, to remain standing is the variable. 

Every Dancer - when engaged in the physical act of dancing - flirts at the precipice, at the edge of Physics and Mystery, of Imagination and Materiality

How many of you here have studied Dance?

Dance is the only art that uses the body as the primary vehicle of communication

It merges principles of Physics, Psychology & Philosophy

There are many reasons why it's the least studied of all the arts, and that's a topic for another conversation

And I hope that after today some of you will be intrigued by the possibilities of studying Dance as a way of broadening the language of your sculpture making

We all understand the concept of 'freedom' in making our art, and today I'm more interested in 'resistance'

For the dancer, the starting and end goal is to remain standing

It's a physical act, and beyond that, it can be a symbolic one

At its core it's a form of protest

It's sometimes a defiant act

Standing requires balance, and where there is balance, there is equilibrium

Whereas balance is an external attribute, which can be measured and discerned, as a scale does, equilibrium is internal, an inner state of being which is felt and cannot be measured

To master equilibrium is something the dancer does on and off stage

There's a constant awareness of the physical capacity of the body - an understanding of its thresholds

On stage, there's an awareness of space, of place, of purpose - an awareness of architecture as it relates to self

This deep rooted understanding gives the dancer a unique and heightened perspective

For the Dancer, the movement of the body is inextricably tied to that of the mind

The importance of language & visualization

To exist in the physical self is something the dancer does on and off stage

That constant awareness - and consideration of the physical capacity of the body - gives the dancer a unique and heightened perspective

A perpetual awareness of architecture as it relates to self

The Dancer aims to balance this keen awareness of self with a more generalized notion of body as object, as well as subject, where the physical and psychological self surrenders as much to chance as it does to the laws of motion and mechanics the body must obey

Motion, movement, momentum, motivation


As a dancer, you're interested not only in the mechanics of movement but also the motivation behind it

It becomes an internal understanding, one that's rooted in the principles of Physics as well as Psychology

In between the measurable starting and end points are those invisible elements that are set in motion by the mind of the dancer, invisible forces which are put into play

It is here, in the 'in between', that gravity is defied and equilibrium is challenged

Every Dancer - when engaged in the physical act of dancing - flirts at that precipice, at that edge of Physics, where things that can be measured - and Uncertainty, which of course, cannot be

I encourage each of you to study dancers, their movements and philosophies to gain a deeper appreciation of the Physical
principles as well as Psychological motivations that concern you in sculpture

I would encourage you further to study Dance as a practice, take classes, to learn the practice of sculpture from the inside - so that your sculptures become objects that you not only understand & create, but ones you inhabit

(Michelangelo’s "Unfinished" Slaves)

Language & Philosophy

I've chosen a few Choreographers to discuss today who have taken a sculptural approach, ones who investigate positions the body takes
as they relate more broadly to the realm of *idea*

Each has developed a unique Language & Philosophy which is motivated by the desire to shape their own physical language   

Some have embraced technology to further their visions

Degrees of Freedom

"In mechanics, degrees of freedom (DOF) are the set of independent displacements and/or rotations that specify completely the displaced or deformed position and orientation of the body or system." Wikipedia

Scientific method
"Refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge.[1] To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.[2] A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.[3]."

    1.    Problem/Question 
    2.    Observation/Research 
    3.    Formulate a Hypothesis 
    4.    Experiment 
    5.    Collect and Analyze Results 
    6.    Conclusion 
    7.    Communicate the Results


1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
4. Be in love with yr life
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time

15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
19. Accept loss forever
20. Believe in the holy contour of life
21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
29. You're a Genius all the time
30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

Martha Graham

From a simple & measurable motion, a dancer's movements become more complex, expanding, exploding as a result of the forces of momentum

The stage - or whatever the surrounding physical space - plays an integral role in defining, the psychological component

Consider the importance of psychological realms where motivation comes into play
Where is the dancer standing? Which direction is the dancer facing?

Unlike the physical 'stage', this psychological space is the un-measurable, the X factor

Unlike any other art, the Dancer's body is the subject as well as object

  • Motion becomes movement
  • Movement builds momentum
  • Momentum signifies motivation

In "Lamentation" Graham takes a sculptural approach with her subject, the body is intentionally constrained by the garment - the movement is necessarily limited as well in its 'degree' of freedom

In this compressed space, the emotion is amplified both by its contraction and exaggeration

Although the body is constrained by the garment, the tension of the limbs pressing out of the fabric - the resistance - the momentum - causes a kind of explosive energy

Movement moves through a dancer, body & mind

The Dancer's body is the vessel, it is the carrier of message and meaning

The Dancer has a heightened awareness and appreciation of the principles of Gravity, Equilibrium, Physics, and that unmeasurable psychological space, Motivation

These are all principles rooted in the nature of physical materiality that concern the sculptor in equal measures

Be as interested in your limitations as you are in all the possibilities of your art

Wallace Stevens

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.
The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.
It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Trisha Brown: Moves, measures

The importance of drawing as a way of thinking

The physical reality of the thinking process

ARTseenSOHO: Free Measures: drawings

"Trisha Brown has played a vital role in contemporary American choreography for over thirty-five years. Begun as private notations, many of her drawings contribute to her choreographic process.

As she puts it, drawing "sits in the air between me and my dancers..."

In turn, she has come to see choreography as a kind of drawing.

"Whether they are in air or on paper, it's a whole other vista of possibility, another way of thinking about the body moving in space that frees me up to do things I would never think of doing in dance."

- paraphrased from an essay by Hendel Teicher, who organized the exhibition.

One Train May Hide Another
Kenneth Koch

(sign at a railroad crossing in Kenya)

In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line--
Then it is safe to go on reading.
In a family one sister may conceal another,
So, when you are courting, it's best to have them all in view
Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.

Emily Coates @ Yale: Dance and academia

With a history as all-male institutions that value intellect, the Ivies have been naturally inhospitable to dance, whose peculiar bodily nature sets it apart from other art forms. As Roach notes, "Where you have a text as in drama or music, where you have a printed artifact, it’s easier to see how it can fit in with subjects such as French literature and history." — Emily Coates

Antony Gormley: body as instrument

"I've always been interested in dance because it is one of the bravest and most direct art forms there is," Gormley says. "Dancers' bodies have become the instrument through which they communicate their vulnerability, allowing the body to become a direct evocation of thought and feeling, without anything coming in between. It's an extraordinary thing." — Anthony Gormley

Robin Rhode: mind in motion

FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Reims : Robin Rhode mai 2006  5:20

It's about telling a story

Soft Sculpture

Plastic Arts

By Lucinda Ward [PDF]

"Sculpture is three-dimensional artwork created by shaping or combining hard materials, typically stone such as marble, metal, glass, or wood, or plastic materials such as clay, textiles, polymers and softer metals. he term has been extended to works including sound, text and light.

Found objects may be presented as sculptures. Materials may be worked by removal such as carving; or they may be assembled such as by welding , hardened such as by firing, or molded or cast. Surface decoration such as paint may be applied.[15] Sculpture has been described as one of the plastic arts because it can involve the use of materials that can be moulded or modulated.

Plastic arts is a term, now largely redundant within english usage, specifically encompassing art forms which involve physical manipulation of a plastic medium by moulding or modeling such as sculpture or ceramics. The term has also been ambiguously applied to all the visual (non-literary, non-musical) arts[16][17].

Materials that can be carved or shaped, such as stone or wood, concrete or steel, have also been included in the narrower definition, since, with appropriate tools, such materials are also capable of modulation.[citation needed] This use of the term "plastic" in the arts should not be confused with Piet Mondrian's use, nor with the movement he termed, in French and English, "Neoplasticism."

Thus even the narrower definition could include Architecture, Ceramics, Collage, Conceptual art, Drawing, Glass art, Land art, Metalworking, Mosaic, Painting, Paper art, the use of plastics within the arts or as an artform itself, Printmaking, Sculpture, Textile art, Welding, Woodworking, Film, Film Photography, New media art."

Vanessa Daou's Essentials for the Artist:

    1.    Hone your work ethic, revel in your discipline
    2.    Always feel the pulse of society
    3.    Never lose your sense of wonder and awe of Nature
    4.    Read everything from all fields, from science journals  to scrap booking
    5.    Learn the roots of words, subscribe to the  Oxford English Dictionary
    6.    Read dictionaries in other languages, write in languages you don't know
    7.    Draw anything in order to understand it better
    8.    Mark up your books, take notes, record your first impressions in the margins
    9.    Keep a notebook of thoughts, observations, sketches,  meanderings
    10.    Read what it is that instigates & intimidates you
    11.    Learn from other artists who don't share your vision, voice, or aesthetic
    12.    Always try to reach those who cannot see or hear
    13.    Aim to move those whose hearts have been hardened
    14.    Stop yourself when you are jaded or too confident
    15.    Be as prepared for failure and for greatness
    16.    Learn to lower your expectations
    17.    Chose solitude over solidarity
    18.    Leave some things unfinished
    19.    Love the art you are in 
    20.    Find your voice and dare to use it
    21.    Offer up your own resistance
    22.    Limit your possibilities
    23.    Explore your limitations
    24.    Remain standing

Dance and Sculpture have a lot in common.

Sculptor Antony Gormley says: 

"I've always been interested in dance because it is one of the bravest and most direct art forms there is," Gormley says.

"Dancers' bodies have become the instrument through which they communicate their vulnerability, allowing the body to become a direct evocation of thought and feeling, without anything coming in between. It's an extraordinary thing." 

Anne Carson: The Physicality of Poetry

Anne Carson: A Lecture on Pronaouns in the Form of 15 Sonnets

William Forsythe (video)

With William Forsythe, we see an attempt to codify the language of dance, to deconstruct it, visualize it, physically trace the arcs of movements and gestures

This Geometry becomes invisible once the dancer is set in motion, but the physical laws of gravity are constantly exerting their force on, rooting the dancer on the ground

The aim is to master the laws of gravity while simultaneously trying to defy it
Following every movement, there is always a sense of inevitability, of returning - of having to return

The interim state - of non-equilibrium - is as important to the Dancer, it's a hyper energized - and exciting mode of instability and uncertainty

For the Modern Dancer, it this uncertain state that is the most intoxicating

Yvonne Rainer (video)

Beyond the desire for understanding, there's also the desire for absence of information

Whereas the face is traditionally thought of as the expressive instrument of the body, what happens when this instrument denies us access?

Concealment, mystery, refusal - the Dancers body holds within it the substance as well as the absence of

Bill T Jones (video)

Movement is inextricably - and inexorably - tied to the idea of Desire

The Desire is to understand the physical and psychological principle of all states of movement, where the core, the center of the body remains in an active state of vigilance and awareness

The Desire - for the Modern Dancer - is, also, to embrace uncertainty while the end goal is rooted in silence, stillness, a kind of composure

Language can serve to facilitate as well as thwart understanding

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