Text on Archive for the performance/installation Der Moderne Tanz, 2016
This text was written for a performance/installation commissioned by the Art -Music-Dance Staging the Derrida de Moroda Archive exhibition, Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, 2016
When the gallery asked me
to do this thing,
I thought I'd take some objects
and put them on the floor
or a table or the wall,
so that something was seen
in the trip from one thing to the next
which arrived at something that felt like a question.
And I'd try to invite
lost things into the present.
And they'd look just right
in museum light.
So I chose a book called Der Moderne Tanz,
which was popular in 1921,
with 52 pages of photographs of dancers.
And I looked at the still images,
and I made a leap
to complete the choreographies that were missing.
And I was held by the sense
of a moment that had evaporated,
and it made me aware how my own moment will evaporate.
And I wondered about an archive of an art form so fragile,
and difficult to catch,
And I thought the way that dance disappears,
is its greatest strength
but also a sadness.
And I wrote a list of what I didn't like about all this,
and I rubbed it out
and was left with the following inadequate but accurate thought,
that I don't know how to deal with the respect
that comes from the fact that these people are attractive and dead.
And I thought how this naming of things as archive
solidifies them into something that seems important,
but a lot is lost.
And I couldn't find the life in these objects,
but I found something else
and it felt like nostalgia,
and I had to question that.
And the specificity of the actual time of these dancers,
hovers over them like a question,
because their moment was eaten by a war
and afterwards could no longer quite be trusted.
And I don't know how to address all that,
and I don't know where to start,
and I don't know what you want to see.
And galleries are into dance right now
which is partly why we're here.
Because they like the idea that dance is immaterial,
which makes them feel better about all the money in art,
and anyway we look good moving about.
And what we do gets called relational.
And we like to be invited,
and we don't mind low pay
because we need the work.
But sometimes we don't feel immaterial,
and sometimes we don't want to relate,
and sometimes it's just a stupid dance
and somebody sometime should archive that.
And I don't know what you want to see
but we like to be in a gallery
and we feel a little free,
and we share a certain sense of anticipation.
And I like the way these photographs are modernist,
without anything particularly modern about them.
And I like how the dancers are shameless,
and I want to be shameless,
And I like there's so many women artists.
And I like that they're confident as though what they're doing mattered.
And I like that it's epic.
And I decided to draw around each photograph
until all that was left were ghosts.
And against the first of the drawings,
I tried to describe what was happening in the picture,
and I wrote 'Pressed against the curtain she glances fearfully into the wings',
which was an inadequate but accurate image
of wondering what might happen next.
And I'm working on this as usual
between one place and another,
and between one deadline and another,
and I don't have time.
I sit in the library
with Der Moderne Tanz beside me,
and a picture hovers in my head
of a period I have nothing to do with
called German Expressionism.
Which holds the promise of a body that will express,
and a breaking of the bounds of the ordinary
so that the dancer takes flight.
And it speaks of sensuality,
and the self celebrated.
And the idea that dance might have meaning, rises like a ghost.
And I wonder whether the people in these photographs felt lost,
and how much they got paid,
and who looked after them,
and how they felt about success,
and if they had a pension,
and what their old age was like
and if anybody archived that?
Meanwhile I collected an archive of myself making this,
with a green pencil,
my wife Claire, who tries to breath life into the photographs
and sends me a video of herself dancing,
a copy of Der Moderne Tanz wrapped in a carrier bag,
my Google search history,
print outs of emails,
a signed contract,
a shoulder bag
and myself in unremarkable clothes.
And then I archived what might happen here today,
with you watching,
and the confusion on your faces,
and those of you who are sleeping,
and how hungry you are,
and how nervous we are,
and how self-conscious we all are,
and the price of your ticket,
and your struggle to translate what I'm saying,
and our generosity,
and your patience,
and this hard floor,
and these white walls,
and how we show criticality,
and share something of the sensory,
and brilliantly and inventively forget our own history,
despite these objects
which someone thought to put on a shelf
and call an archive.
Because an archive is a trick of history
that makes it look like we know what we're doing,
and most of the time we don't,
but sometimes it works
and sometimes it gets caught in a photograph.
And my wife Claire took these images
and tried to breathe life into them
and she sent me a video of herself dancing,
and I like how she seems modern,
and I like that it's unfamiliar
and I like that I can't quite work out what she's doing,
and I like how she stops suddenly,
and I like that she seems like a ghost,
and I like that she arrives at something which feels like a question.
With thanks to Claire Godsmark, Hugo Glendinning and Matteo Fargion, who collaborated on this performance/installation
© Jonathan Burrows 2016