Dead Beat

New York

Left: Artist Ei Arakawa, Reena Spaulings's Emily Sundblad, and musician Kim Gordon. Right: Magik Markers' Elisa Ambrogio.

Information was deliberately scarce on Sunday, when Chinatown gallery Reena Spaulings hosted an event to mark the opening of a show called “Dead Already,” a spur-of-the-moment collaboration between Kim Gordon and Jutta Koether. Dance (“a return to”); Deadwood, the HBO series; and the last name Graham—as in Martha and Dan (the latter was present and showing work)—were involved, but who knew exactly how?

At 3 PM on the drizzly afternoon, the pallor on recently awakened faces—there were many—was uncomfortably similar to the gray light filtering through the gallery’s rear windows. Precarious wooden sawhorses were set up as the participants in the Cynthia James–led dance workshop, among them Gordon, Koether, Emily Sundblad, and artist Ei Arakawa, mingled unselfconsciously barefoot, wearing an incongruous mix of American Apparel catsuits and semidiaphanous, tattered pastel dancing robes.

The ensuing workshop—dedicated to the work of Isadora Duncan, considered by many the mother of modern dance—elicited from the audience hearty laughter, quizzical looks, and the occasional frantic dodge as twenty-odd uncoordinated novices tripped through the air. Words fail. Degas by way of an NFL yoga class? Toward the end, it could have been a postmodern graduation ceremony: Each dancer presented him or herself through an arch of iridescent scarf (held up by two colleagues) to a tune suspiciously like Pomp and Circumstance.

Left: Dancer Cynthia James and artist Jutta Koether. Right: Artist Dan Graham.

The dancing, which prompted fond (and not-so-fond) reminiscences of ballet classes, gymnastics, and ice skating, continued while a DVD player and projector were balanced on a stool. Then Dan Graham played excerpts of a 1972 Lisson Gallery performance, titled Past Future Split Attention, in which two friends create a kind of feedback loop from spoken predictions and narrated histories. “It’s pretty hard to understand unless you’re British,” admitted Graham, noting the accents. The rhythm of the two speakers’ ums, ahs, and breathing mirrored the ebb and flow of the crowd; fuelled by endless free beer and tested by the heat, restlessness eventually set in. Graham played a second video, the better-known Performer/Audience/Mirror, 1975. Perhaps realizing that a 2007 audience was unlikely to be as reverently mindful as the enraptured crowd in the video, the artist kept his subsequent remarks brief.

As any stalwart ’60s survivor (or child of one) knows, it’s not a happening without music. So to the bemused horror of a mostly art-world crowd (artists Cory Arcangel, Ann Craven, Joan Jonas; critic Bettina Funcke; omnipresent MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach) and to the joy of an excited minority of rock stars (Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, Alan Licht), the powerhouse noise-rock outfit Magik Markers reclaimed the dancers’ sawhorse barres, penned themselves in, and went to work.

With faint light still trickling in, Markers drummer Pete Nolan snacked on an apple. His bandmate, Elisa Ambrogio—perhaps in homage to Mascis, nodding his head not ten feet away—collapsed on top of her guitar, pumping feedback and chaotic jazz out of a formidable, looming amplifier. Next to me, Graham shook his hips just a little as Ambrogio ventured out into the crowd to finish the set, and the afternoon, in a squirming pile of her friends.