I have had this picture…
… on my wall for about a year and a half.
The piece was choreographed in 1970 by Trisha Brown. It is such a great image. It such a human thing – to walk. For many it is the foundation of all movement. And then to see someone walk down the side of a buildling! Ha. So simple, so elegant, so familiar and so incredibly strange. For me this photograph has always been an appropriately shocking (but somehow obvious) event. It seems inevitable. But of course, if you can walk down the street, you can walk down a building. Surely, the mundanity of the movement itself allows for a brief lapse of gravity.
In addition, it’s New York. In the Seventies. It’s Trisha Fucking Brown, of course she could get a man to walk down the side of a building, it was a magical time, was it not?
Naturally, I don’t really truly believe all that. But this black and white picture, this romantic glean of a man going for a stroll down the building, really does evoke a miraculous feeling of casual gravity-defying action. I loved the photograph for making me believe this was so simple.
But then I watched this YouTube video:
Where the piece was done at the Walker Art Center. I watched the man performing the piece awkwardly and slowly, painstakingly making his way down the building. His body looked oddly crumpled and the recording had this garish edge to it. It was still beautiful but of course he was strapped and tied and held in place by all the equipment with two men at the top of the building monitoring his progress. And I’m embarrassed to say that although watching this video did not exactly disappoint, it certainly did surprise me… It was not a casual incandescent stroll, but a somewhat awkward physical feat.
And then I watched this video:
Where Elizabeth Streb discusses what is was like to do the piece herself. It’s fascinating what she says about the mechanics of the piece and how difficult it was for her despite that fact that she represents everything about dance that scares me (ie. extreme physical difficulty and scariness). She expresses perfectly what makes this piece so exquisite and so physically demanding. These videos completely changed the photograph for me. Adding and taking away from what I imagined this famous piece in dance history to be, still magical but also strained and upsetting, making it more beautiful? I’m not sure.
What am I trying to say here? Meh… something to do with the Romance of the Image, the slippery nature of dance history, the superfluous makings of the dance canon, the fact that I experience and am exposed to most dance via this little screen in front of me, the perturbing reminder that I still romanticize what happens in New York forty years ago instead of what happens in Cape Town today. Etc. Etc. Etc. It’s all interesting and uninteresting.