The Spring 2012 issue of October, MIT Press’s peer-reviewed art journal, published Julia Bryan-Wilson’s “Practicing Trio A” about her experience with Yvonne Rainer’s well-known 1966 dance piece Trio A. The essay title is a literal one: Bryan-Wilson enrolled in a class taught by Rainer at the University of California, Irvine, learning and publicly performing Trio A after a ten-week studio session. Here, both the process of labor and the product of that labor are unusual.
Bryan-Wilson is a historian, not a dancer, and as such admits this breach of historical distance is not her typical approach to academic writing. She is transparent about the experience: she wound up enrolled in Rainer’s class as a fluke. She admits Rainer’s presence flusters her, that she is the clumsiest student in class, that understanding the sheer physicality of each movement colors her interpretation irreparably. Her assessment comes from a vantage point few who encounter this work will or would ever know just by watching it, and while she does discuss the theoretical implications of Trio A, its strengths and limitations, her perceptions are swayed from pure academia by this highly atypical experience.
“This essay is an attempt to put into words what this method of experiential learning might mean for a scholar of contemporary art history,” she writes. “The lesson of Trio A might be not only mastering the sequence of gestures…but one of collective corporeal negotiation that could be extended to think about how, too, we might practice contemporary art history.”
Her bodily participation in the work lends itself to her expertise. It adds a component of tangibility to those performance works where the product is in the process itself, where the art operates in duration and requires physical presence to fulfill its actuality. While it may not demand the level of immersion practiced by Julia Bryan-Wilson, a style of art criticism which incorporates those elements of immediacy, participation, and presence found in performative media could offer a deeper and more comprehensive assessment of what the work means to and for the larger cultural context.
Similarly, Julia Bryan-Wilson does not attempt to critique—traditionally critique—so much as outline the historical significance of Trio A. But her close, personal involvement with the work and with Yvonne Rainer herself, while greatly augmenting her comprehension of Rainer’s intent, also establishes a bodily relationship with the work itself that is the work itself.
Continue reading » lost in space – an interview with anthony stepter
This is part of “Radical Storytelling,” originally submitted to the SAIC Collections on 14 Dec 2013.