FIVE ELEMENTS OF CONTEMPORARY ART: PERFORMANCE: TRISHA BROWN
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Trisha Brown was born in 1936 and grew up in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. She received a BA in dance from Mills College in Oakland, California, and spent summers at Connecticut College, studying with such renowned choreographers as Merce Cunningham. Brown moved to New York in 1961, where she was surrounded by avant-garde artists and performers. She cofounded the experimental Judson Dance Theater Collective, and in 1970 she formed the Trisha Brown Dance Company so that she could work with her own dancers. Brown’s innovative choreography often challenges gravity and audience orientation: one piece, Man Walking Down the Side of a Building, is performed on the exterior face of city building; in another, the dancer’s back is to the audience.
The artist began using drawing in her work as a way to explore movement in a different form and to help instruct her dancers. When video became more accessible, however, her sketches no longer needed to serve as teaching diagrams for her company and she began to experiment with drawing on a more personal level. The lines and shapes in her finished works are often connected to the movements of her body and serve as records of her private dance improvisations.
Brown is the first woman choreographer to win the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. In 1994, President Bill Clinton invited her to serve on the National Council of the Arts.
ABOUT THE ART
It’s a Draw is a large-scale drawing created on the opening night of the exhibition Trisha Brown: So That the Audience Does Not Know Whether I Have Stopped Dancing at the Walker Art Center in 2008. The artist held black charcoal and blue pastel crayons between her fingers and toes while she improvised a dance on the paper, which was placed on the floor in the exhibition gallery. The resulting artwork features the whorls, streaks, rolls, stops, slides, smudges, handprints, and footprints created by her movements. An audience watched the event in an auditorium via live-video feed. Footage of the performance was later projected on the gallery floor and the finished drawing hung next to it on the wall. The work is a recording of Brown’s body movements but also stands alone as an abstract, mysterious artwork reflecting the artist’s performance with thick and thin lines that twist, bend, roll, and curve.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Read the quote by the curator on this poster. Do you think that this piece is “more art than dance” or “more dance than art”? Why?
2. How does Trisha Brown’s drawing act as “evidence” of her performance?
3. How can you tell which movements the artist made to create this drawing?
4. What would your own dance on paper look like?
Performance as an element in art refers to an artist’s actions during the creation of the work. Sometimes the performance is the work itself, or the final work of art serves as documentation or “evidence” of a one-time event or of the process of making the piece. A work of performative art might include the use of dance, ritual, expressive gesture, staged public or private events, spoken word, or music. It may or may not result in a painting, a photograph, a video, drawing, or archival materials. The activity itself can be more important than an object resulting from the action.
“I don’t just come in with my holsters loaded with charcoal. I get involved in the mystery of space. I have the same adrenaline and heartbeat going as I enter the paper as I do going onstage.” —Trisha Brown, 2008
“Are Trisha Brown’s drawings more art than dance, or more dance than art? Moreover, is it possible (or even helpful) to try to discern the
difference?” —Walker curator Peter Eleey, 2008