Catherine Damman

  • interviews July 14, 2020

    Saidiya Hartman

    Five centuries of white supremacist terror: not just a past to which we are ineluctably fastened, but a present which produces us, albeit in differing orders of magnitude and vulnerability. The United States has long maintained the fiction that this country had molted its foundational violence, and yet, just as your skin sheds daily only to live dispersed atop your furniture and knick-knacks, so too does the grime of history make up the loam in which a person is destined to flourish, struggle, or wither. The work of Saidiya Hartman has charted a path in and through the social arrangements produced


    JUXTAPOSITIONS, groupings, sight lines: Foundational to the curatorial enterprise, these considerations also subtend Wu Tsang’s two-channel video We hold where study, 2017. A honeyed baritone voice-over from poet and theorist Fred Moten introduces scenes of his sons, Julian and Lorenzo, carefree and joyous in a verdant landscape. Thereafter the work unfolds in a series of sensuous duets––between boychild and Josh Johnson, and Ligia Lewis and Jonathan Gonzalez—that speak to and suffuse one another. Projected side by side so that their frames overlap, the videos present choreographed experiments

  • performance September 18, 2019

    Dancing in the Dark

    “GOD TOOK NO PLEASURE IN HER.” A nod or some form of unbidden recognition ran through me. She was made to die, or allowed to die; in either case, she refused her fate, punching through wet earth from grave toward unaccommodating sky. Obstinate, the hand could be mastered only by the one who had borne it; the mother was swift and unhesitating with the rod—and so the buried girl stopped moving for good. 

    This story, The Willful Child, by the Brothers Grimm, haunts Ligia Lewis’s Water Will (in Melody), 2018. Water Will is the third in a trilogy of stage works, each of which wrestles with one color


    THE SNEAKERS, six pairs in all, are pink. Every actress who appears in Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Marys Seacole (2019) wears them—with jeans, with scrubs, beneath petticoats. The anesthetized set, by Mariana Sanchez, is spare: A hospital bed, a reception desk, and a waiting area adorned with potted plants are surrounded on three sides by tiles that match, almost exactly, the color of the actresses’ shoes. Flattering, photogenic, and distinctively of this moment, the rosy shade nonetheless seems almost threatening, mutant, evoking the soigné efforts of corporate branding run amok.

    Mournful bagpipes


    OPERA, CHARLES ROSEN ONCE WROTE, is governed by “the expectation of essential lunacy.” Its unrepentant feeling, its curling decor, its warbling inheritances, all these gilded artifacts of empire seem so far from the word’s Latin root, opus, which translates to “work,” that favorite American religion.

    The late operas of Michigan-born composer Robert Ashley (1930–2014) are staged with a dignified efficiency that seems at once to point backward to this etymology and to push the genre forward into the twentieth century. To begin a new presentation of Ashley’s 1985 Improvement (Don Leaves Linda) this

  • performance January 08, 2019

    Those Women Who Destroy the Infinite

    TWO PUDDLES, HYPNOTIC AND IRIDESCENT; ALL SURFACE, NO DEPTH. I watch a scrum of dancers make them, hunched and sobbing, emptying themselves. A knee drags through the wet. Afterward, as coats are slung across shoulders, the tears slowly return to air.

    Elements of the theater’s infrastructure, seemingly evaporated too, had been strategically removed: light rigs withdrawn, pipes displaced, the risers diarticulated and strewn about in clumps. The effect is the renovation of mood. Starkly cavernous, the changed architecture left both audience and performer to rattle around inside of it.

    Moriah Evans’s


    Organized by Adrienne Edwards with Greta Hartenstein

    I can see him smiling, swirling, velveteen. In Wu Tsang’s 2015 video Girl Talk, Fred Moten is verdant, shot through with sunshine. At the Whitney this spring, as the collective Moved by the Motion, Moten and Tsang—along with boychild, Patrick Belaga, Josh Johnson, and Asma Maroof—will present “Sudden Rise,” a series of performances encompassing fragments of music, text, dance, and film. Is an ensemble always already a collage? Language and references drawn from Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, Jimi Hendrix, and Hannah


    ON NOVEMBER 21, 1986, Them, a performance by Chris Cochrane, Dennis Cooper, and Ishmael Houston-Jones, had an infamous premiere at Performance Space 122; it nearly got the place shut down. Eight years ago, PS 122 revived the work, and this summer it returned to Ninth Street and First Avenue as part of the East Village Series inaugurating the newly renovated, and renamed, Performance Space New York. The work’s legend—in certain corners, though, I would argue, not enough—precedes it.

    So I knew Them would break my heart, but I wasn’t ready for it, not really. Premonition makes for a shitty

  • music October 10, 2018

    Half-Life of the Blues

    WHEN A FRIEND FIRST INTRODUCED ME to the music of Loren Connors, I refused to listen to it on the grounds that it was too beautiful. In his signature electric improvisations, Connors makes use of layered swells and serrated feedback; just as arresting is his permissive handling of negative space and scattered fuzz. Connors’s playing often luxuriates in extended caesura, punctuated by thin squeals and deliberately skeletal leads. Unanchored notes seem set aloft, only to drift and kink mid-air or be cut short by little catches of breath. Always plangent and often surreal, the more recent sounds

  • Presence at the Creation

    THE GRAMMAR OF IT ALL is nearly impossible to parse, slippery in the mind and unwieldy in the mouth. Questions—though not always the right ones—abound. The first: What was Judson Dance Theater? Those inclined to diffidence might say it was some dancing that took place in a church, Judson Memorial, located in the Village. For others, what went on in that inner sanctum was no less than the most significant convulsion in the history of twentieth-century dance: not just movement, then, but revolution. July 6, 1962 was the first Judson performance, straightforwardly advertised as “A Concert


    “ARROGANT ASSHOLE,” spits a man, not realizing that the words and their inflection do more to indict speaker than subject. Their target is, ostensibly, Yve Laris Cohen, the artist. We are sitting in the middle of Laris Cohen’s performance P.S. 122 (2018) on opening night, and I wish everyone would shut up.

    Laris Cohen spends most of P.S. 122 stationed far upstage. The work’s title conjures the previous name of the hosting venue, which has recently been rebranded, to an admixture of chagrin and nostalgia, as Performance Space New York. He abandons this post only occasionally—in this instance,


    “A MAN DRIVES A PICKUP into a Chelsea gallery” could be the start of a bad joke; instead, it’s the beginning of a Richard Maxwell play. The truck is a white Chevy with a licked finish, the gallery is Greene Naftali, and the massive windows, edged in weathering steel, are vertical blades, rudders pivoted by two guys I worry about in the cold, their irradiated safety hoodies thick but perhaps not enough.

    Addressed to Dante’s Divine Comedy and borrowing the title from his third canticle, Paradiso foregrounds existential questions: What is our purpose? Where will we find salvation? But Maxwell’s

  • performance December 20, 2016

    Hotel California

    YOU ARE MEETING A STRANGER AT THE HOTEL BAR. This is not your regular watering hole: velvet curtains, coffered ceilings, outstretched columns that hold up nothing. Everything is in the style of a ruin that doesn’t know it’s a ruin yet. You finger the thin straw plunged in a gin and tonic, unsure. Are you waiting to be found, or are you supposed to be looking?

    On the eighth floor, the room is dark. Shuffling in, you glimpse the outline of a recumbent figure. When the lights come up, a man is lying naked on one of two beds, phone in hand. You wait for him to speak first.

    His nakedness is not surprising

  • picks October 10, 2016

    “Dissent: What They Fear Is the Light”

    In 1987, a body’s arrival at LACE was caught by electronic infrared, heat-seeking intrusion detectors. Rather than a protective mechanism installed to ensure the safety of the gallery’s contents, this device was an artwork by Julia Scher. Upon approach, one tripped flashing lights and ringing alarms. Scher’s work was part of the pivotal exhibition “Surveillance,” the historical precedent for a new group show organized by Shoghig Halajian and Thomas Lawson. If the earlier moment was preoccupied with technologies of observation and their infrastructure—it was subtitled “An Exhibition of Video,

  • picks April 07, 2016

    Samara Golden

    Approach and peer down into an abyss. Wreathed in matte white—a tech-world fetish color—the parapet begs to be bent over. Do so and dive into an aerial view of eighteen chambers, neatly parceled into three rows of six. Each chamber contains a rectangular couch oriented toward a large window—or is it a screen?

    This compressed, airless cosmos is Samara Golden’s A Trap in Soft Division, 2016. For her largest installation to date, the artist showcases the antiseptic, adolescent bravado of minimalist lifestyle porn. The first row of rooms is punctuated by blouses shrugged off, laptops abandoned, and

  • performance February 09, 2016

    Syms’s City

    QUEEN LATIFAH looks at the camera, smiling with lips lined, hair pressed, blazer on. A headshot from her days starring as Khadijah James in the 1990s FOX sitcom Living Single, the image’s caption betrays an earlier, discarded title for the show: “My Girls.”

    To whom, in fact, do these girls belong? The artist Martine Syms calls photos like this—purchased on eBay and at flea markets—a type of “prosthetic memory,” a means of claiming a past that is not, conventionally speaking, your own. Speaking to an audience at The Broad in Los Angeles, Syms tells us that the term (from cultural historian Alison

  • performance July 01, 2015

    Flight of the Mosquito

    MAKE WAY FOR AKI SASAMOTO. Like her monologues, the artist’s body ricochets through the three-story townhouse that is Luxembourg & Dayan. She squeezes through narrow spaces, hangs from sculptures, and gallops across the building’s length. Occasionally Sasamoto pauses to accommodate shuffling gallery patrons; in other moments, she barrels through them.

    Narrative is here also a thing to be gnarled and made nimble: Are you following along? Perched on the stairs, she begins with a lively discussion about mosquitos. Her affable, self-deprecating charisma—the bedside manner of a stand-up comedian—turns

  • performance June 25, 2015

    Sleeper Hit

    THE FLOOR, like the walls, is bright white. Rectangular floodlights line its perimeter on three sides, angled upward in the manner of expectant faces. This eagerness is mirrored by the audience; tickets sold out quickly and seats filled up fast.

    None of this surprises me. Neither am I surprised that we are given a reading assignment of sorts (typeface Cambria, the default for Microsoft Office), handed out alongside the “official” programs. I read dutifully.

    We are here to see Yvonne Rainer, after all. She holds court in a chair on stage right: wiry glasses, hair in a modest French twist, striped

  • performance May 20, 2015

    Murder on the Dance Floor

    I’VE SEEN (or rather, tried to see) performances by Yve Laris Cohen at The Kitchen three times now. The first time, I didn’t see anything at all. Unaware that viewers of Seth, 2013, had already been chosen, I was turned away at the door. For Thomas, 2013, four of us restlessly shifted on the floor of a disheveled third-story administrative office. In the dark, we listened to the even tick of a metronome and the rain hitting something metallic on the roof, illuminated only by an orange bulb flickering in the artist’s lap. That time, the audience was self-selected; volunteering meant missing all

  • picks May 15, 2015

    Julia Heyward

    “Who needs bondage? Isolation will do.” Julia Heyward (also known as Duka Delight) is a master at talking dirty. Her words are seductive, to be sure, but more so unctuous and often defiled. In performances and videos made between 1971 and 1984—the purview of her first monographic survey, curated by Jamie Stevens—she lends an incantatory cadence to skeins of metonymy, rhyme, and alliteration. Buoyed by her southern drawl, language revels in its own slipperiness, a fish the artist is quick to gut.

    Heyward’s penchant for volte-face is also visual. After all, she pioneered the genre we now call music