Melissa Harris

  • Truths Told Slant: Sally Mann

    It’s early morning in what is sure to be another sultry Virginia day. Sally Mann’s living room is carpeted with photographs, in an array of pairings and sequences that will eventually constitute her forthcoming book, Immediate Family, and I must step carefully so as not to disturb last night’s editing. Looking, once again, this morning, I am still astonished—even after a year of working with Mann—by the stunning vitality and the darker moodiness of these pictures, their compelling storytelling and their far more elusive interior quality. They are, as Mann writes in her introduction, loosely

  • Elizabeth Streb Ringside

    One might think it impossible for a choreographer to inspire physical empathy in the audience, yet, for the first time in my life, I experienced what I can only term sympathy pains while watching Elizabeth Streb Ringside. Dancers hurl themselves against walls and onto the ground fearlessly, percussively, and with what appears to be all their might, while the wincing audience collectively contracts. I’m reminded of Thoreau on Ktaadn, shouting “Contact!,” overwhelmed by the elemental, sheer muscle of nature.

    Streb’s work differs significantly from the contact improvisation of Steve Paxton et al,

  • Merce Cunningham

    Attempting to interpret the meaning of a dance by Merce Cunningham is probably a futile proposition to begin with. One of the few localizable aspects of Cunningham’s choreography over the past forty or so years has been its defiance of one fixed reading, and it is this nonimposing quality that makes Cunningham’s choreography so liberating. He is curious about process—as opposed to concentrating exclusively on an end result, and this focus has always saved the work from didacticism and predictability.

    Through the years, Cunningham’s idea of process has depended on the use of chance operations,

  • “Fluxus Closing In”

    Ben Vautier once wrote that “Fluxus is a pain in art’s ass,” and though, indeed, it once was, this show did little to perpetuate this reputation. Although comprehensive—the exhibition included over 200 works dating from the late ’50s to the present—it lacked the wonderful irreverence, immediacy, and edgy incorrigibility that originally characterized Fluxus. Unlike gallery-oriented happenings, which depended on a spatial sensibility, Fluxus seems to have embodied a musically oriented temporal sensibility as well, which fueled the element of chance in the work, and ultimately affected the choice

  • Karen Finley

    Mixing futurist aggression, Brechtian political performance strategies, Artaud’s sensualism, and Allen Ginsberg’s hypnotic zeitgeist-attuned chanting, Karen Finley’s work has always elicited impassioned response. Her recent performance, We Keep Our Victims Ready, and her first site-specific installation at Franklin Furnace, entitled A Woman’s Life Isn’t Worth Much proved no exception. If Walter Benjamin were tracking the condition of art today, he might well retitle his famous essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Tyrannical Misrepresentation,” thus describing the fate of Finley’s art at the

  • Peter Hujar

    In this recent retrospective of Peter Hujar’s photographs, curator Thomas Sokolowski included not only the well-known self-portraits and portraits—those of Ethyl Eichelberger, Susan Sontag, and David Wojnarowicz, for example—but also images of animals, which resonate with the same particularity and clarity as those of people. Sokolowski suggested the affinities between the two with intelligent sequencing, as in the pairing at the gallery entrance of a 1981 image of a Great Dane with a 1975 self-portrait. The dynamic operating in both photographs is the same; it is always dignified, never contrived,

  • Jeannie Hutchins, Gods Drop Out Of Nowhere

    It is the unpredictable in life that interests Jeannie Hutchins––what just happens, as opposed to what one plans. In her recent solo work Gods Drop Out of Nowhere, 1989, Hutchins smartly dances and talks her way through what she views as a current ludicrous yearning for exoticism. She seems to consider this desire to be borne and realized so self-absorbedly as to preclude all chance of discovery or understanding. Hutchins closes her performance confessing, “This is how I wanted you. . . . The way a hunter wants a young seal, who dives when it feels it is being followed.” The experience becomes

  • Frank Dell's The Temptation of Saint Antony

    Ladies and gentleman, Lenny Bruce! Or at least his alter ego, Frank Dell, via director Elizabeth LeCompte and the Wooster Group. Add to this a hotel room in Washington, D.C., a sunset in the desert, takes on Gustave Flaubert, Ingmar Bergman, and “trance writer” Geraldine Cummins, and a dash of Peter Sellars—and what you wind up with is part three of the group’s trilogy, “The Road to Immortality,” which cleverly, perversely overwhelms the viewer with its magnificent multidimensional mixed-media multiplicity.

    Any attempt to define the performance in terms of simple structure and meaning would be


    FRIEND AL: . . . He says All you need is experience . . . . I will win some games if they give me any support and I will get back in the big league and show them birds something. You know me, Al.
    Your pal, JACK.

    —Ring Lardner, You Know Me Al, 1914

    Dear Murray, . . . we’re looking forward to our show, and at the same time aware that it’s going to be a very “in progress” event . . . . One of the interesting problems that we’ve been dealing with here is a wide variety of weights sizes skill levels speeds histories and so forth . . . . A good half of the people that I’m working with here have had

  • Dancing in the Streets

    A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, I was walking by a building-in-progress on West 68th Street when I saw a gentleman “stepping out” from the facing building, sporting a tuxedo and carrying a podium. Well, this is Juilliard country, not to mention Lincoln Center, so why not? To my delight, however, he set down the podium on the sidewalk: first came a slow warm-up, his arms extending in sync with the stretching crane; then, with the conducting of a frenzied prelude, the suite commenced—the scaffolding came to life as workers and equipment performed their respective parts for this maestro of construction.

  • Dance and Photography

    Dance and Photography, by William A. Ewing, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1987, 240 pp., 233 black-and-white photographs.

    “WHAT MAKES A GREAT dance photograph?” begins William Ewing in the foreword to his book, an elegant collection of 233 black and white images, dating from ca. 1849 to 1987, that he presumably imagines as some kind of answer to his question. The resulting compilation has enough visual punch to transcend relegation to the coffee table, and to animate not only the most ardent dance-photography aficionado but the less enthusiastic reader and viewer as well. A parade of well-known