“Ephemeral Evidence” Profiles: The A.O. Movement Collective

When I invited Sarah Rosner and A.O. Movement Collective (AOMC) to participate in Culturebot’s upcoming ‘Ephemeral Evidence’ exhibition at Exit Art, her excited response was “we’ve always considered ourselves Anti-Ephemeralists!” I knew Sarah was a radical thinker, but didn’t expect this manifesto to be at the top of her agenda. (Full disclosure: Sarah and I share a cubicle wall at New York Live Arts, where we dwell in the non-ephemeral realm of arts administration.)

I first encountered the Brooklyn-based AOMC this February as part of Sarah Dahnke’s Object as Performer at the Center for Performance Research (CPR). I went to this mixed program with an eye towards Culturebot’s exhibition at Exit Art and a curiosity about objects in live performance, and was struck by the AOMC’s “string duet,” an improvisation-driven movement installation by two women who sew the fronts of their shirts together, and then test the connection this creates between them. Intimate, absorbing, and—as the joined t-shirts stretched, twisted, and tore, influencing every gesture and action—evocative of the cause-effect of relationships, this duet radiated a voyeuristic aura, even as it moved from CPR’s gallery to the more expansive performance space.

Images from the duet lingered in my head, and I asked the AOMC to join ‘Ephemeral Evidence’ this April with a day-long installation centered around their current work-in-process, barrish, which includes the “string duet.” On Friday, April 20, the AOMC will be in residence in the front gallery at Exit Art with an open rehearsal (11am-noon), followed by a series of free workshops on the improvisational movement scores central to barrish’s logic and aesthetic (noon-6pm). Artists and non-artists from all backgrounds are invited to take part in the workshops, or simply watch and participate in discussions about these scores as they are translated by new bodies. The workshops will be taught by performers Lillie De, Leah Ives, and Emily Skillings, and choreographer/artistic director Sarah A.O. Rosner. [Sign up for the free workshops here>]

This installation at Exit Art is part of a much larger structure around barrish, the MENU Project, which has shaped the development of the work. As Sarah explains:

The AOMC has always been interested in economic experiments that go alongside the choreographic work. When we started making barrish, one of the biggest questions for me as an arts administrator was how do we—a small company—get major investors attached to this project? What if we gave those people a different experience of the work than you would normally get in the theater? Rather than making a piece that has its premiere, and now we can’t tour because it needs this number of people and this kind of space, we thought about making something transmutable that would be appropriate for any space or cast, a range of audiences, and a different range of interests.

What happened is the MENU Project. Sarah began barrish in September 2010, working collaboratively with four women to construct a far-reaching dialogue about female desire, power, and privilege in Western society via a performative framework that relies on a mix of pedestrian and abstract movement. For the MENU Project, each section of barrish—approximately 35 in all, ranging from 10 seconds to 30 minutes in length—has been separated out individually. These segments are listed and briefly described online, and available for a la carte curation to anyone with the interest in hosting an event, access to a site, and a modest amount of cash ($200).

AOMC opened barrish to curators right after the “pre-premiere” in May 2011 at the La MaMa Moves Festival. The first MENU curation was a small gathering at a private apartment in Boerum Hill in September 2011, hosted by two women who were on the AOMC’s mailing list, but didn’t know any of the artists personally. Other events have included the performance I saw at CPR, an on-campus workshop at Bard College, and a cocktail party in Washington, DC for a total of nine curations prior to what Sarah dubs the “final premiere” at HERE Arts Center in NYC, July 12-14.

How does all this relate to ideas about ephemerality and live performance? Sarah is adamant that “ephemeralism is the main, if not the only, reason dance as a live art form has been ghettoized, not just economically but in the canon of respected art.” Improvisation as a creative structure is the most ephemeral of the ephemeral, in that each rehearsal or performance is inherently singular; as Sarah sees it, “the MENU project takes something that would be just one event and multiplies and duplicates it on a much wider scope, even if the performances in and of themselves are ephemeral.”

The workshop-based installation at Exit Art is curation #7 of barrish, and we’re focused on whether the process of teaching these improvisational movement scores makes this performative work less ephemeral. The act of teaching, verbalizing, and absorbing the scores extends the intrinsic impermanence of barrish, and while the most tangible evidence of the day may be a pile of sweaty ripped t-shirts from explorations of the “string duet,” the collective residue of the score, ideas, skills, and physical memories will endure in multiple bodies. If we can disassociate “evidence” or “artifact” from direct correlation with a concrete object, is teaching a valid, viable strategy for making ephemeral art more lasting? Conversely, by transplanting this workshop from the dance studio to a visual art gallery, does the “evidence” from the day take on a different significance than it would in a more traditional performing arts setting?

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