Creative Global Network for the Visual Arts

Performa 09: Tacita Dean's Craneway Event
Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church in the Bowery
5 – 7 November

by Joshua Mack

It seems appropriate the Tacita Dean’s participation in Performa 09 would be screened at the Church of St Marks in the Bowery. As RoseLee Goldberg noted in her remarks during Thursday’s (invitation-only) screening, this late-eighteenth-century church has been a platform for innovative performance and cultural engagement since the 1920s. Merce Cunningham – ostensibly the subject of Dean’s film Craneway Event – and his companion, John Cage, are part of the space’s history and legacy.

Craneway Event was filmed in November 2008, as Cunningham rehearsed his dancers in a former Ford Motor factory on the east shore of San Francisco bay. An Event, in Cunningham’s jargon, is a roughly 90-minute performance constructed from pieces of the company’s repertoire, and the ‘Craneway’ of the title refers to the former function of the cavernous space in which they rehearse. And on the face of it, that’s what Dean’s work delivers, 108 minutes of footage edited down from three days of dancers working out their moves against the backdrop, visible through floor-to-ceiling windows, of San Francisco Bay and the hills of Marin County.

Anyone familiar with Dean’s work can imagine the slow, at times painfully slow, pacing of the film – which had the curator sitting next to me fidgeting in frustration – and the lingering shots at raking angles of the sun slanting through the windows. But anyone familiar with Dean’s work can also imagine that the rehearsal, as an event, was the least of her concerns.

Which may be why the camera was trained on the geometric structure of those windows and recorded the network of light and shadow on the floor more than the dancers, who entered and left the field of vision like the temporary users of the space they were. Or why the film begins with a shot of a preening pelican – a sensitive touch, gently reminding us that Cunningham was deeply interested in animals and the way they move.

Like him, Dean is interested in time, in the structure of time, in the structure of movement and how movement structures time. Time, being infinite, is open ended, and in many ways Dean’s film has no beginning and end other than the artificial construct imposed by the period of the rehearsal she filmed. But her keen attention to the way light shifts over the length of a day, suggests that she’s after an understanding of a bigger armature. And I suspect for those who can drift into the pace of her film – and I had trouble, although not as much as Mr Gioni above mentioned – it must have a trancelike, quasi-religious quality, pushing toward thoughts of history, continuity, and the ineffable nature of eternity.

And those concerns are what make St Marks an apt venue. Not the religious connotations, although there is something to be said for a church devoted to the arts as representative of the ways in which art has become a religion for some. But rather, in the quiet sense of history the space imparts, for its role as a centre for people devoted to things of the spirit, and its reminder that we come and we go, and the pelican will still be out there flapping its wings.

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Mr. Mack,

This is a great review, especially your insight into both Dean's and Cunningham's relationship to time, structure and movement.

One correction however - Danspace Project is located in St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery -- but few people realize that St. Mark's is, in fact, not "deconsecrated" as you indicated a couple of times in your review. One of the amazing facts about Danspace Project and the other arts projects is that we curate experimental work in what is still a functioning Episcopal church (services every Wednesday and Sunday). In my introduction to the screening you attended I mentioned that Merce and John Cage had performed their "Dialogues" but one anecdote I did not mention was that Merce performed on the altar with Sara Rudner and Douglas Dunn in 1974 (the year of Danspace Project's founding) as part of the Easter Sunday service. Strange but true.

Judy Hussie-Taylor
Executive Director
Danspace Project
St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery
Thank you – since corrected.

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