The subtle interplay between the I and the me.
September 14, 2020 – August 16, 2021
Within the next month, the yearlong presentation of The subtle interplay between the I and the me at the Kolumba in Cologne, Germany, draws to a close. For this unusual pairing of art and dance, Kolumba, the museum of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cologne, teamed up with tanz.Köln, the stages of Cologne, inviting choreographers and dancers to take over the museum galleries. The result has been a delicate pas de deux between the two institutions, the exhibition and live performance formats, making for a lively work-in-progress and choreographed sequence in eight chapters.
Kolumba houses an epoch-spanning art collection of the archdiocese on the premises of the derelict and war-destroyed St. Kolumba church. It has since been reimagined by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and converted into an extravagant exhibition venue at the heart of the city. In keeping with its spatial design, Kolumba eschews the traditional exhibition format in favor of yearlong, experimental collection displays without labels, focusing on only the aura and the interactions of different eras and materials.
Indeed, rich in religious aura, elusive, enigmatic, and experimental best describe the presentation’s character—and yet, nothing has been left to chance! Instead, the museum galleries became the proscenium; the works, the props; and the sequence of chapters mirrored that of acts and scenes. Only the choreographers and dancers stayed the same.
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker opened the presentation with her intervention on the first floor. The Belgian choreographer and dancer selected works from the Kolumba collection, addressing the civil rights movement in America with the Beatles’ song “Blackbird,” exorcism through Otto Dix’s print Skull (1924), and homosexuality with Hildegard Domizlaff’s ink drawing Oats (1965). She installed The art of flying (2015), Jan van Ijken’s impressive clip of swarming starlings, in the first gallery (#5). Triple Face (vultus trifons) (17th century) in the following room suggests dynamic movement through the three faces within one frontally oriented body. Initially, it symbolized the Holy Trinity and was used for private devotion. Apart from this Baroque sculpture, De Keersmaeker banned all other religious icons and artifacts from her display. She closed with a selection of her own geometric drawings, or choreography notes, reflecting the transience of the discipline and the lack of a universally recognized dance notation system.
Meanwhile, her company Rosas took over the second floor and staged Dark Red, one of their works for museum galleries, on seven consecutive days in September 2020. Dark Red centered on the number 12, as in the 12 volumes of Salvatore Sciarrino’s L’Opera per flauto or El Greco’s paintings of the 12 Apostles. It featured 13 male performers with Rafael Galdino as the main lead, challenging the traditional white male image. While the dancers were free to roam the gallery space, as usual, the pandemic was the elephant in the room. Perhaps this created a slight uneasiness when dancers came too close to the visitors, breathed heavily, or sweated during their performances.
Richard Tuttle’s Ten Kinds of Memory and Memory Itself (1973/2020) formed the adagio of the pas de deux. The work consists of 10 drawings laid out on the floor using pieces of string and was first shown at the Daniel Weinberg Gallery in San Francisco. Tuttle’s interest has since shifted to muscle memory and the reenactment of the work; he has passed on the choreography to seven dance students at Cologne’s Hochschule für Musik und Tanz. They have created their own iterations of the work and now perform and update these every Saturday at 3 p.m. in gallery #19 on the top floor. The pieces of string remain visible throughout the week and fuse traces of physical gestures with the quest for an adequate dance notation system.
The subtle interplay between the I and the me unfolds with a selection of collection presentations in artist rooms, dedicated to Heinz Breloh, Esther Kläs, Duane Michals, and Hannah Villiger, and acting as the variations of the pas de deux. These artists—three sculptors and a photographer (Michals)—approach their respective practices like dancers and involve their bodies either as a tool, a site for exploration, or both. Sculptors Heinz Breloh and Esther Kläs fashioned their respective tactile sculptures by hand; human traces and physical marks on the sculpted surfaces bring their works to life. Hannah Villiger, on the other hand, used photography in a sculptural manner. She suffered from tuberculosis and documented her (sick) body from unusual angles, letting the camera take the lead. The exhibition title “the subtle interplay between the I and the me” borrows a line from Villiger’s diary from 1989. Duane Michals’s photographed sequences with his scribbled observations underneath resemble dance storyboards or scores and presented performative antidotes to the reductive photojournalism of his day.
Together with the inclusive art organization Kunsthaus KAT18, Eva Kot’átkova produced the site-specific installation Office for eyes, nose, tongue, mouth, heart, hand and mask (that covers it all), a temporary working space addressing disability, in gallery #11. During the museum’s opening hours, seven artists with disabilities (who have all consented) inhabit the platform as if it were their personal, private workspace and shine a light on rituals in live performances. Kot’átková also realized the workwear or costumes for this performative display and filmed seven portraits of the artists, which are on display in the adjacent museum library next to a selection of books for the presentation.
The pas de deux initiated its coda with Body Tale, a weekend of performances devised by Richard Siegal’s Ballet of Difference in June. Five dancers explored the ideas of the body in motion and what it potentially reveals in the process. Situated in different galleries throughout the museum, the dancers performed and interacted with the respective displays. Black Pearl De Almeida created an energetic yet safe space for non-binary people, incorporating spoken words, singing, and musical-style group formations in her work. Soon after, Long Zou took over the same gallery and performed a sensitive and touching adaptation of Michel Fokine’s The Dying Swan en pointe to the demure melodies. Other performances included a play with chance by Margarida Isabel De Abreu Neto in the Tuttle room, Mason Manning’s cobweb-like rope mazes in the museum library, and Evan Supple’s video installation in the courtyard.
Thanks to the pandemic, The subtle interplay between the I and the me might have been at once Kolumba’s most adventurous and risk-averse presentation to date. Though one must note, Kolumba built on the success of its recent partner exhibitions and tanz.Köln’s role in helping to devise this unique and ambitious yearlong project was pivotal. Despite numerous lockdown and guideline changes, they welcomed an impressive lineup of internationally recognized companies and budding student dancers into the museum galleries, resulting in a unique palimpsest of art, choreography, and dance. The exhibition appealed particularly for its wholesome and organic vision of what dance might mean in the fine arts.