‘Dance/Draw’ Bravely Blurs Art Divide

At first glance, black ink scribbles, a crocheted wire sculpture, and a woman dancing do not seem to have much in common. However, the exhibition “Dance/Draw,” on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) from October 7 to January 16, seeks to find these connections and illuminate the common ground between visual art and dance.

The ICA’s chief curator, Helen Molesworth, attributes inspiration for the exhibit to Trisha Brown’s innovative art. Brown, best known as a choreographer, also makes drawings using charcoal held with her toes while essentially dancing on paper. Molesworth finds Brown’s work fascinating in two ways. “[It is both] an afterlife of dance and ... a record of how the dancer moves,” she says. In “Dance/Draw” she uses a variety of pieces that are hard to place in any one genre to explore the link between performance and visual art. “Dance and art are connected by a mutual interest in the line,” says Molesworth. Starting with the line, she explores the link between dance, drawing, and other forms of genre-bending art that employ elements of both forms.

The show is divided into four sections, which Molesworth compares to a collection of interrelated short stories. “I was surprised at how cohesive it feels as a viewer walking through. A lot of times with these survey shows you get too many different practices thrown at you, but I think this was really well done,” says Sara J. Stern ’12, a Visual and Environmental Studies concentrator who attended the opening of the show. The first room, titled “More Than Just The Hand,” explores nontraditional forms of drawing. It includes works like Janine Antoni’s “Butterfly Kisses,” made from the artist batting her mascara coated eyelashes on paper; part of Daniel Ranalli’s “Snail Drawings Series”—not drawings but photos of snails first arranged intentionally in the sand and then dispersed of their own accord; and Brown’s and composer John Cage’s visual works. ”Drawing can be a window into what the artist is doing with their time,” says Molesworth, who selected art that reveals the action that created it.

The second section, entitled “The Line in Space,” incorporates more sculptural pieces like Ruth Asawa’s crocheted hanging wire sculptures and Howardena Pindell’s canvas grid sagging under the force of gravity and spreading from the wall onto the floor. Here the line breaks out of the two-dimensional as it ventures towards movement. The movement begins in the next section, “Dancing,” which presents many video portrayals of dance and movement, photographs of dancing or choreographed moments, and “Floor of the Forest,” Trisha Brown’s dance-sculpture. Also featured in the section are Lucinda Childs and Yvonne Rainer, who along with Trisha Brown were members of the Judson Dance Theater. This group from the ’60s experimented with ideas of dance composition and improvisation and were crucial to the creation of postmodern dance. The exhibit concludes with “Drawing,” a display of visual art pieces that are in some way inspired by dance or incorporate ideas of movement. It includes contemporary figure drawings by a group called the Friends of the Fine Arts and a photo series called “Ballad to Ballet” by Robin Rhode of a hand interacting with a compass.

However, “Dance/Draw” is more than just a gallery show; it includes a series of performances in the ICA’s theater, as well as in the gallery itself in Trisha Brown’s “Floor of the Forest.” Her sculpture is to be ‘animated’ three days a week, three times day, by dancers from Brown’s company who climb on the sculpture and interact with it. The performance element adds energy to the show. “That’s something that can get lost in a gallery, you can miss out on the energy that a live performance can initiate,” says Stern.

As an exhibit, “Dance/Draw” tells the story of the transition of the line—from the page in visual art to the human body in dance—but it also tells the story of the way this interaction between visual and performing arts has been understood over time and around the world. “It’s really great to be a part of a show that is attempting to historicize in such a broad and important way,” says Jesse A. Green ’02, whose video work “Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik” is presented in the third section of the show. His hopes for his piece and the show are echoed in his views about art itself. “[Art should] get people to look more closely and think about subject matter that is not in front of them every day, to open up new ideas about how the visual works.” In showcasing art that eliminates the line between performance and visual art forms, “Dance/Draw” seeks to do just that.