Monday, April 9, 2012


The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the symposium MAKING TIME: Art Across Gallery, Screen, and Stage taking place from April 19-21, 2012. Participants have been invited to respond to the prompt “what does the phrase 'time-based art' mean to you?” in advance of the event. This posting is by Joe Goode, Professor of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies at UC Berkeley.

Dance has been traditionally perceived as a time based form. The conventional wisdom is that a dance should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Merce Cunningham disrupted this to some great degree by corrupting the linearity of sequence in his dances. Chance processes allowed shards of the dance to appear and disappear at different times. He also went a great distance to getting dance out of the proscenium box and into spaces that were more level with the viewer (museums, warehouses, studios). I think there is another generation of dancemakers on the scene now who are taking dance into a more site specific realm where the viewer can be volitional and move as he or she chooses through the space in search of a very individual perspective on the dance. In this type of work there can be a sense of discovery and participation which I find truly exciting. 

My own attraction to site work stems from my desire to offer small narrative fragments, snapshots if you will, that suggest a larger context, but never spell it out. Depending on the order in which these “close-ups” are viewed, the viewer may construct many different narratives. Again, this relinquishes a kind of control of authorship that I like. It demands that the viewer bring his/her own intuitive power into play. The story is not the important thing, the individual perception of the story is what matters. 

For example: In 2009, I did an installation at the Old Mint in San Francisco (Traveling Light).  The viewer roamed through vaults and chambers of the building discovering little narrative threads that were somehow related to the site. Some of the text was inspired by Edna Ferber’s wonderful book, So Big, about the sea change in America in the early twentieth century, where we went from an agrarian culture to an industrialized one. Many of the sites within the building were inhabited with snapshots of a newly minted capitalist mentality as it was just beginning to burgeon and spread. Because the building offered so many different types of spaces, from elegant balconied reception halls to dark steel clad vaults, there were many textures to draw from. It was a delicious smorgasborg for an artist looking to offer a fractured narrative. As it was the peak of the financial melt down in the US, I felt I had hit the jackpot when I procured this site. 

Two days before the opening of Traveling Light, Merce died. I was being interviewed about the show by a local television station and I had a sudden realization- what I was making, even with all its narrative trappings, was a salute to Merce, the great pioneer. Without his courageous disregard for the conventions of time and how dance “ought” to be viewed, I would never have arrived at this place. 

I am eager to see where dance making can go in the next few years. None of the cutting edge choreographers that I know are very much interested in making work for the stage. And everyone seems to be looking for that key to a more engaged participation of the viewer. Certainly, we will all be following in Merce’s footsteps to some degree- looking at “time” and what it means and how it can be reconfigured.