To Whom It May Concern: Claudia La Rocco’s intro to Platform 2015
February 10, 2015
To Whom It May Concern:
A few weeks ago, while trying to start this introduction, I wrote to Judy that “I have been stalling writing to you. First because yes, where to begin, but also because I think that on some level I don’t want to contextualize these works. I want them to spin around themselves and each other undisturbed.”
But. Maybe there are a few things to say.
1. This Platform developed out of two ongoing conversations between me and Judy: one about how poetry and dance intersect, and one about the lack of meaningful engagement between artists from ballet and contemporary dance. Judy came upon this little paragraph on the Poetry Project website, and became interested in the idea of Denby and the poet-critic as a possible framework:
“Toward the end of 1974, a group of dancers calling themselves The Natural History of the American Dancer—Carmen Beuchat, Barbara Dilley, Suzanne Harris, Cynthia Hedstrom, Rachel Lew and Judy Padow—approached Larry Fagin (then Assistant Director of the Project) about the possibility of performing in the Sanctuary. Fagin was enthusiastic: he had been a keen dance-watcher for years (shuttling between New York City’s three nodal points of Balanchine, Cunningham and the Judson Dance Theater) and was one of many to credit Edwin Denby with having taught him how to look and see, and for allowing him to make connections between ballet and downtown dance.” –Miles Champion
2. I am not so interested in the idea of critic as judge. Of course judgment is often inescapable, and happily so … but as an end point it makes for tedious criticism. However, the critic as connector (which is of course the same thing poets try to do, I think, in different ways)—that is exciting. Denby was that for so many people. And so when Judy approached me about being a curator, something I have no experience with (so little, in fact, that I had to ask her after our meeting if she was actually intending for me to do this. Ha!), I glommed onto the idea of a critic as partially-informed connector between worlds that are, as Barbara Dilley puts it, so demanding that those truly steeped in them (in a way critics aren’t) often have no time to glance over at abutting worlds.
And so I responded to Judy’s prompt by offering 12 artists from these nodal points (some of whom disagree with me about their relationships to these points), with the idea that they would work in six pairings, artificially created by me, a poor-man’s Denby: Emily Coates and Yve Laris Cohen, Adrian Danchig-Waring and Silas Riener, Sterling Hyltin and Jodi Melnick, Kaitlyn Gilliland and Will Rawls, Sara Mearns and Rashaun Mitchell, Jillian Peña and Troy Schumacher. And then Pam Tanowitz, a full day for Pam … because she is already working in all of these worlds. So we paired her with herself, both on and off the page.
A lot of what sparks my enthusiasm here is curiosity. What would happen if…? I don’t have a sense of what these pairings will come up with, whether or not it will “work” or even will be meant to work, whether it will lead to new things … so those possibilities, those known unknowns or whatever, are exciting in and of themselves.
Specific to all of the individuals in these pages is a bristly intelligence—for some this is structural, for some physical, for some linguistic, philosophical, and so on—but I see it in every one of them. And there isn’t anything I like more than intelligence. Even when intelligence fails, it’s interesting. (From the beginning, Judy and I talked about not wanting to create a situation in which artists had to make successful products. I’m not sure if we’ve done that, if we’ve created a good space for failure. I hope so.)
It’s very easy for me to mix and match in this way, to get dazzled by ideas and possibilities—it’s quite another thing for those tasked with responding to my prompts. To deal with the reality of creating something with somebody you’ve never met and maybe aren’t particularly compatible with for an audience who has very set ideas about who you are and what you do, for example, or to tackle a muddled and private and fraught topic for a catalogue—this can be a lot to take on. And so, not that this need concern you, dear reader, but maybe it’s interesting to know: I do feel very protective of these artists (who don’t need my protecting!) and grateful to them for accepting this invitation.
3. It also might interest some of you to know that this was the invitation I gave to these 12 artists for their catalogue pages: “The idea is that this space is for you to represent yourselves in any way that you would like—it could be a single line of writing (by yourself or someone else) and one image, for example, or something closer to an essay that relates to some of the themes of the Platform (two pages equals roughly 1200 words, should any of you go the essay route). It could be a drawing, a series of questions, a choreographic score. It can be playful, serious, provocative, nonsensical … really, it’s up to you. This is your space, whether you think of it as a page or a performance, or both.”
4. I do have considerable experience as an editor, and as a writer who works with editors … my strategy with this book (working with a truly fantastic editorial cohort) was to reach out to smart people and give them adequate containers to fill with their thoughts. I tried not to micromanage. I tried not to let my ideas for what the pieces should be trample the ideas of those doing the heavy lifting.
I like logic that doesn’t go in through the front door. Something Judy said once about content being delicate, that you have to give it awhile before you can frame it, otherwise the frame is too heavy, it makes the whole thing crash down. I think she was talking about curatorial frames, but the same could be said about criticism, or any sort of language that surrounds art—it’s often so heavy-handed, so sure of itself (in its syntax and politics, even while proclaiming itself to be unsure). Certainly I think the poet-critic tradition can be heavy-handed and smarmy and overwrought, but at its best it does allow for uncertainty, and for distinctions that aren’t about hierarchies (as I think John Yau said of Frank O’Hara’s criticism).
We want so badly all the time to be on the right side of things. I see this in many of my young students, how conservative they are, how everything pushes them to be conservative. It takes real courage to resist that push, a sort of banal daily courage—when I think of the writers who first gave me that courage, and who still do, ill-behaved critics like O’Hara and Jill Johnston were high on that list. And I came to Denby through O’Hara, actually, not dance initially—he also didn’t fit into a neat box. And a few years ago, as Judy and I were beginning this conversation, and as I was leaving a very secure position as a daily dance critic, he was another slippery figure who gave me courage, who maybe helped me to be a little less uptight.
5. In other words, maybe the most useful ones I can write here: this book isn’t meant to explain anything. Especially not itself. It was made with a great deal of care, and delight, and hope. I love the generosity and particularities of these assembled, jostling voices, and hope you will, too.
13:23, November 16, 2014