the body will always bend before it breaks, the tower will always break before it bends
5 April – 4 June 2017
Opening Reception: Wednesday April 5, 6 – 9 pm
the body will always bend before it breaks, the tower will always break before it bends is a performance of two photographic stills taken from two 1928 Ballet Russes productions—Ode and Apollon Musagète—staged back-to-back across two sites: the Art Gallery of York University and the Southern Alberta Art Gallery (23 June — 10 September 2017). Not a travelling exhibition in the conventional sense, the body will always… pivots across time and space and through its various material means, including the creation of new two- and three-dimensional work in fabric, marble, pencil, watercolour, and clay. Anchored by a co-commissioned video shot by Toronto filmmaker Chris Boni and produced during a residency with students from York University’s Department of Dance in summer of 2016, each exhibition uses the “performance still” (or production shot) as a dramaturgical framework for the development of its score and mise-en-scène—Ode at AGYU and Apollon Musagète at SAAG. These exhibitions are neither intended to bring to life the particular productions nor rehearse their subject matter or theme, however. Rather, Liddington animates the space in-between performance and image as a point of departure for his ongoing investigation into the relations between narrative (meaning) and abstraction (aesthetics). Like the revolutionary practice of the Ballet Russes, these exhibitions operate at the intersection of dance, theatre, and the visual arts. As Gesamtkunstwerk, each element—silk curtains blowing under fans, marble floor pieces shaped like load-bearing limbs, dance notation in the form of drawings and clay sculptures—is an artwork as much a stage cue, indexing and gesturing toward the creation of movement from stillness—the underlying libretto for Liddington’s operatic two-act exhibition.
The source material for Act One, AGYU’s exhibition, is the pyramidal shape composed of three dancers pictured in the production still for Ode. Yet, “origins” or “subjects” play a complex role in Liddington’s iterative practice. During the residency last summer, dancers performed the pose as it is pictured but not as a mirror of its ideal form. Instead, Liddington had the dancers investigate the movement possibilities proceeding from and exceeding the pose, slowly drawing away from its self-contained structure toward all that is possible in and from that position—a shift in perspective. Each work arising from this summer’s experiment is a further abstraction that builds on what couldn’t be seen in the still image itself but that is nevertheless a key component of the complex contours of the pictured pose: movement (muscles shaking under the weight of bodies above, limbs adjusting to find a balance for bodies below, etc.). With the triumphal triangle broken down into a series of isolated moments (the narrative), the tension between stillness and movement becomes the backdrop to a series of works that perform what can neither be fixed nor felt changing. Fluidity, height, sightlines, perspective, and scale are thus re-framed (and indeed become frames) as the central markers and makers of Ode’s formal meaning and, in turn, the exhibition’s libretto. Not portrayed as representations, these abstract frameworks perform through materials (silk, marble, clay) and media (video, painting, sculpture), what is at stake for Liddington in this pose. As the privileged position of the original triumphal posturing in Ode is no longer possible, nor desired for our contemporary composition, Liddington sets up a scenario that accommodates new kinds of arrangements, using the strategies of exhibition-making to stake a claim for meaning that is embodied and ambulatory, rather than static and fixed. Perception doesn’t give way to understanding, per se, but to more perceiving: connections that weave through the exhibition like the arms and legs of the dancers in the pyramidal pose captured in Ode’s production still. The apex has folds and structure is broken by a body that bends meaning.
the body will always bend before it breaks, the tower will always break before it bends is curated by AGYU Assistant Director/Curator Emelie Chhangur. AGYU would like to thank the Department of Dance and the Department of Film, School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, York University for their in-kind support of the commissioned video, The muscles of our body allow us to bend, it is the weight of these muscles.
Derek Liddington would like to thank the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for their support.