Noisiel, France

“Une Exposition chorégraphiée”

Centre d’Art Contemporain De La Ferme Du Buisson

The contemporary art world has shown increasing interest in dance and theater in recent years, from exhibitions like Bernard Blistène’s “A Theater without Theater” in Barcelona and Eva Schmidt’s “Ver bailar” (Seeing Dance) in Seville to reconsiderations of the choreography of Michael Clark or Yvonne Rainer, not to mention the cross-continental enthusiasm for Jérôme Bel and Tino Sehgal. For Bel and Sehgal, this interest has progressed to the shrewd incorporation of dance and the- ater in order to stage a theoretical soft-shoe around issues of spectacle, the commodity, the institution, and aesthetic experience. Those who have read a little bit about their work will quickly catch on to the stakes involved in Mathieu Copeland’s “Une Exposition chorégraphiée” at La Ferme du Buisson.

Set in seven otherwise empty rooms, “Une Exposition chorégraphiée” featured seven works by eight artists, conceived metaphorically as movements in a six-hour “score” performed by three members of the Paris-based troupe Le Clubdes5. The performance began and ended daily with Roman Ondák’s Insiders, 2008, a jejune striptease in which the dancers disrobe, put their clothes on inside out, and then reverse the process. Restaged for La Ferme, Michael Parsons’s Walking Piece, 1969, the only work not commissioned for the exhibition, occurred once every midday, when for forty-five minutes dancers executed commands on slips of paper that dictated the distance, direction, and duration of their movement, like a fusion of Stanley Brouwn’s walks and Merce Cunningham’s chance-based compositions. The rest of the exhibition’s pieces happened before and after Parsons’s work, in arrangements determined more or less spontaneously by the dancers. Choreographer Jennifer Lacey set the transitions between the other artists’ contributions by working with the challenges of a continuous performance. Offstage activities (eating, smoking, bathroom breaks), complemented by humming, improvised chorale, and so on, became disarmingly outré antics whose initial charm gave way to voyeuristic discomfort. Once that happened, Lacey’s Transmaniastan, 2007, appeared less transition than leitmotif, signaling the ambivalence of observation that this exhibition—bookended by Ondák’s ritual unveiling of what lies “underneath”—sought to reveal.

In spite of these demonstrations and metaphors of disclosure, Copeland constructed a remarkably evasive exhibition that transpired not only over the hours the space was open each day, but over the entire period of the exhibition, continually rearranging and (de)forming itself. A game of telephone was afoot—not just for visitors but for the dancers themselves, who often worked from instructions warped by habit and forgetfulness. Inhabiting a historical continuum of transitory exhibitions, from Robert Morris’s 1969 “Continuous Project Altered Daily” to Elena
 Filipovic’s “Let Everything
 Be Temporary, or When Is 
The Exhibition” in 2007,
 Copeland’s show positioned itself as a capstone, exploiting choreography to do all 
the elusive footwork, while
 displacing the conceptual
 emphasis to absent or invis
ible movement. A truism 
about dance—that it is
 ephemeral and experiential—provides the basis for
dematerialized curating that 
presents choreography as a highly attenuated version of its twentieth-century advances. The exhibition was nevertheless at its best when embodying its own frustrations. In Philipp Egli’s contribution, Advent Calendar, 2007, dancers receive individual instructions, which they perform simultaneously before attempting to enact each other’s choreography. Their struggle to make sense of what they’ve only glimpsed is full of pathos and humbling insight into incomplete experience, and the struggle to move forward despite it.

Joanna Fiduccia