HD BODY JOEL MU
Adam Linder was born in Sydney in 1983 and trained as a dancer at the Royal Ballet School in London. Linder has choreographed stage works, including Auto Ficto Reflexo (2015), Parade (2013), Cult to the Built on What (2013), and Choreographic Services 1, 2, 3 and 4: Some Cleaning (2013), Some Proximity (2014), Some Riding (2015) and Some Strands of Support (2016). These works are presented in dance contexts—such as American Realness, New York (2014); the Hebbel am Ufer theater in Berlin (2013–present); and the Kampnagel theater, Hamburg (2013)—and in spaces typically devoted to visual art, such as the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2015); CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, San Francisco (2015); Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland (2015); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2015) and Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland (2014). Linder has worked with choreographers, dance companies, and visual artists, including Michael Clark, Shahryar Nashat, the Royal Ballet, and Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods.
It’s the beginning of 2016 and the date on my voice recorder is September 31, 2015. For the last three months I’ve been transcribing my recorded interview with Adam Linder, a meeting that followed an introduction at Isabel Lewis’ Strange Action, a one-night performance that Linder was hosting as part of an ongoing programme of choreography-inspired performances at the Berlin’s Yvonne Lambert Gallery.
Listening to the mp3 recording, I remember it was around lunchtime and Linder is sitting opposite me at Ribo Cafe in Berlin. Our interview is a few days after Auto Ficto Reflexo, the premiere of his recent stage-work at Berlin’s HAU theatre. “Auto meaning self-producing” and “Ficto in the sense of the dancing body” and “Reflexo being a will to reflect language”, he explains. Looking at my notes, I ask Linder about the impressive list of artist invitations he has received in 2015 and 2016, “the ICA in London, the Hammer Museum, and the Biennale of Sydney”, he mentions, I find out later that Linder will also present work at Tanzplatform in Frankfurt and a two-person performance (with artist Shahryar Nashat) at the Schinkel Pavilion in Berlin.
Linder speaks at a semi-fast pace and his accent is a mix of his native Australian with German and American sounding inflections, a result of living in Berlin before relocating to Los Angeles. As Linder answers my questions about art and his background in contemporary dance, I sometimes find it difficult to keep up, as he jumps between topics and interests, that includes dance in theatres and galleries, and the many variations of dance styles uploaded on sites like YouTube. And when not talking about the “first-person experience” of dance, Linder talks about how dance is received, “the viewer”, he explains, “receives sensory information”, as if the “body is read like a text”, he says.
Talking about genealogies, it becomes clear how Linder has received and absorbed content. “I think you always need to position yourself and relate to what has comes before”, Linder says of the competing “disciplines” and “histories” of theatre and art. “Ballet Russe in the 20s” or “Judson Group in the 60s”, he points out, “these were the kinds of things that I was thinking about when I was making the more conscious change to separate these formats [art and theatre] in my work”. It’s an important point, but one that has only recently become pronounced in Linder’s art practice: the stage at one end and the gallery the other.
Linder’s deep awareness of theatre can be traced backed to his formal training at the Royal Ballet School and then freelance work with choreographers like Meg Stuart, whom Linder acknowledges for teaching him specific techniques, like how to “embody a persona” or “speaking a text on stage”. Then in 2011, Linder decided he was ready to “stop being an interpreter of people’s work”, and working with music collaborator Adam Gunther aka Dzang, he presented a new stage-work, entitled Cult to the Build on What. It was with theatre-based projects like these that Linder realised that he could employ “the properties that theatre does best”, working intently with “timing, light and amplified sound and how these parts relates to the arc of an experience”, he says.
However, Linder’s affection for the stage is not without its critique, especially when talking about theatre’s inherent limitations. “One thing is the way in which audiences are conditioned to recieve content and how that differs from the exhibition environment,” he says. This is a crucial point and one that relates to theatre’s narrative structure, a system of rules and devices that seem unable to break. “In a theatre there is a social contract. You come into a darken space as a collective group, where you buy a ticket, and your intention is that you are going to watch the entirety of the work, and there is a travel from A to Z that has to be accounted for,” he says, stressing that even in the most abstract work, “that work will still be temporally or energetically narrative.”
In contrast, Linder’s views of the gallery are in keeping with his contemporaries, artists like Isabel Lewis, who like Linder is known for taking elements from dance choreography and applying them to situations of contemporary art. “In the exhibition format”, Linder explains, “the condition of viewing has been much more liberal, as a viewer you choose how long and from what angle you wish to engage with what you are viewing”, he explains, emphasising further that unlike its theatre-based counterpart, “the angle in which you look at something is not directed for you, you choose when you walk into an exhibition room, you decide: Am I going to that room on the right? Am I going to walk forward? And if I walk into the room on the right, I know my experience is going to be different to walking into a room on the left”.
With these elements of theatre and art considered, Linder concludes, that his work is “pretty much divided”. A pragmatic decision in which “theatre works are pretty much shown only in theatres” and his self-termed “choreographic services are hired for other contexts”—referring to invited settings that include gallery exhibitions, demonstrations in art fairs, and hires to private and institutional collectors. At this point, I make a note about Linder’s surface embrace of the (art) market and the neo-liberalism it implies. Later, I realise that Linder’s perspective is actually focused on a far more interesting problematic, in that, our bodies (including that of a dancer) can never be purchased, but rather exist in a set of entangled relations in which bodily gestures, actions and interactions are available for negotiation, trade and exchange.
First presented in 2013, the “services” are essentially conceived as a series of gallery-inspired performances based on rehearsed choreography that can be hired per hour (with breaks between each hire). So far, the respective services include: Choreographic Service No. 1: Some Cleaning (2013), Choreographic Service No. 2: Some Proximity (2014) and Choreographic Service No. 3: Some Riding (2015). Sure enough, the titles are read with a liking for seriality (a homage to art minimalism perhaps), while also retaining a performative flare, gesturing, as it were, to some-one, some-body or some-thing. “The services have a paired down nature”, Linder explains, as they hinge upon a “very singular choreographic action”, and talking about practicalities, “one of the main tenets of the service is everything happens in real time”, he says.
In Some Cleaning, Linder continues, “a dancer is hired to choreographically clean a given area, and that performer uses a kind of tool-box of relatively mimetic gestures, to either organise, dust, calibrate and reshuffle the given space”. One interpretation of the work is the artist wanted to re-contextualise the traditional site of theatre, as seen, for example, in the demonstration of Some Cleaning in the courtyard attached to Silberkuppe, Linder’s dealer gallery in Berlin. Recast as a kind of anti-thesis to theatre’s interior configurations, Some Cleaning recalls other unadorned actions that are performed by dancer-like figures who seemingly lift the theatre stage and drop it in an alternative context: the mime. What is interesting about this pre-modern entertainer in relation to the contemporary dancer seen in Linder’s artworks is that the mine (just like Linder’s dancer) services him or herself by servicing a passing public—a familiar image that is linked to the street-mine, in particular, who busks for loose change and applause in streets and town squares where trade and commerce are transacted every working day.
In another work, Some Proximity, “an art writer is moving through the environment and is making critical reflections on the artistic and social context, and pinning short one-page critical reflections or statements on the wall”, Linder says, and further details that “two dancers are engaging in a cat-and-mouse kind of game”. At this point, Linder instinctively straightens his torso, moving his chest and limbs in a smooth continuous motion. “There is this gliding form”, he gestures, referring to the gliding arm-movement seen in Some Proximity, “the movement is all about glide footwork, and there are six ways in which we vocalise and move, six different degrees of intensity, that bring the text closer to the body, so in away what Some Proximity services is a kind of collapsing of a critical distance”, he says.
In Some Riding, the viewer is presented with perhaps Linder’s most theoretically ambitious service. Masked, as it were, by the virtuosity of two dancing bodies, Linder’s most recent work attempts to “collapse this idea of context”, he says. “If we consider that any given artwork or art practice needs context—like interviews, critical essays, theoretical underpinning and catalogue essays—I wanted to collapse that, I wanted the work to produce its own context and to service its own context”, he explains. To achieve his goals the artist outsourced two essays by two different writers: one dealing with “economies of performance” (as formulated in Special economic zone by Sarah Lehrer Graiwer) and the other text deals with “how we might think about choreographic embodiment today” (as considered in There is no such thing as the body by Catherine Damman). “They have written these essays, which are like catalogue essays, which me and a performer, Frances Chiaverini, have learnt off by heart and we recite them whilst simultaneously punctuating the body with this kind of popping quality, so it’s like the text rides the body and the body rides the text”, Linder explains. The two commissioned essays are an important reference, in effect “they are the two touchstones of all my services”, he notes, artistic principles that are as yet only accessible via their live performance.
With these service elements in mind, there is no doubt an unavoidable difficulty is attached to how the choreographic services are received. It is the challenge of understanding the theoretical questions via the virtuosity of Linder’s dancing body and the ensemble that surrounds him with equal amount of visual allure. Consider, for instance, the following comment by the artist: “the services also speak to a whole other economic necessity and sustainability for placing performing bodies in a sphere that has speculated and cultivated and intends to preserve objects”. Linder’s point is a critical one and recalls art practice from the early 1990s, which hosted theoretical, artistic and curatorial dealings with the question of services as central. One example is the work and writings of Andrea Fraser and Helmut Draxler, and the 1994 exhibition Services: Conditions and Relations of Project Orientated Artistic Practice. Reflecting on the goals of the project, Fraser wrote:
‘Providing a service’, in this sense, is neither an intention (such as benefiting society) attributed to particular artists nor a content (such as museum education or security) characterizing a group of works. Rather, we proposed “service provision” to describe the economic condition of project work as well as the nature of the social relations under which it is carried out. On the most basic level we could even claim that the prevalence of practices such as the payment of fees to artists by cultural institutions indicates that the emergence of art as “service provision” is simply an historical fact (a fee is by definition payment for services).
Like Fraser, Linder too is focused on the economic difficulty of an immaterial artwork and the added problematic of how an economy trading in a dancing body is increasingly defined as a service-oriented market. This proposed link of Fraser’s analysis of project-based work and Linder’s critique of choreographic-based work as belonging to the same category of ‘service art’ is based on how the body (or groupings of bodies) are negotiated and put to work for the sake and service of art. And while Fraser’s version of service art is focused on the institutional framework that commissions artwork to essentially service the overriding aims and ambitions of the museum, Linder in contrast, is more concerned with how the dancing body is conceived and perceived, a critique that examines the service of a given dancer from the perspectives of paid work (as mimed by the body in Some Cleaning), artistic critique (as projected onto the body in Some Proximity) and finally the production of discourse and theory (as speculated around the body in Some Riding).
At this point in the conversation, we order lunch and more coffee, and Linder returns to talking about his latest theatre work, Auto Ficto Reflexo, and his interest in the role of language. “So starting from Some Proximity to Auto Ficto Reflexo to Some Riding: they are about mining this language of cultural production and its different modalities, and pouring it back into the work”, he says, stressing an interest to generate work “that somehow understands the materiality of the body and how the energy and dynamism of the body can somehow come into game play with language,” he explains. “If Some Proximity really deals with critical positions or critical faculties of the writer, and Some Riding deals with a theoretical underpinning or essayistic context that is given to a work, then Auto Ficto Reflexo is accumulating the different modalities: artist interviews, criticism, disciplinary instructions, cultural policy rhetoric, and so on”, he explains.
Game play, language, simulation, and the future are some of the questions put forward in Auto Ficto Reflexo. When watching the 50-minute black-box performance, I remember the effect of Linder’s dramaturgical touch, an ease with mixing sound, light and choreography. Struggling to remember the game-like “levels” that Linder constantly refers to in our interview and the audio announcements I remember during Auto Ficto Reflexo’s narrative arch, I ask Linder to recall them for me: “Once upon a pre-talk”, “Escape the clutches of utterance”, “Crushing on a reference”, “Give it a name and its sold”, “Choose them carefully”, and “Let them fly they are only syllables”, he recounts, further explaining that the levels reference his ongoing interest in speech and communication, “I think the way language is being utilised in certain digital culture is the biggest evolution of language that we’ve seen in recent years, like language is changing rapidly through digital media, through forms like text message”, he explains enthusiastically, then pausing for a moment to note that he wanted within the theatre context “to produce an allusion to this myth”.
Aware of rhetoric that surrounds theatre and its so-called obsolescence, Linder begins to talk about theatre’s potential 2.o moment, “I knew from the beginning that I wanted this work to be future—whatever that means—to deal with this phenomena of language and cultural production, and then to think about how that could be reintegrated or generated within an environment that is hypothetically future”, he says, then repeating an earlier point about using theatre to somehow allude to our current “digital advent”. To visually achieve this effect of digital game-play, for instance, Linder worked with designer, Iva Wili, to produce costumes based on fabrics with a distinctively techno feel and look, explaining that co-dancer Justin F. Kennedy “is in neoprin and I’m in plastic and netting”, Linder points out, “it’s techno-sporty”, he says laughing.
Getting deeper into the conversation, I raise the subject of simulation in relations to Linder’s interest in the game format (as previously seen in Some Proximity), plus other digital formats, both new and old, that produce simulated experiences. “Compared to a screen or Photoshop, the theatre is a super old-school device, so I wanted to take this thing that exists,” he explains, “I mean we’re not going to wipe out these theatres”, at this point we both start laughing in agreement, “but to take that [the theatre] and to produce something that is really HD, and that was really exciting for me”. As he sees it, “I think we generally see theatre as an old-school format, you’re not going to see theatre as contemporaneous to Second Life or other formats for social experience, so I wanted to see if I could make something that was old-school look HD”. Speaking in more detail, Linder continues:
The body is really presence and really material and I think that’s where this back-and-forth between Justin and I comes in; and then the levels, it’s like there’s game play, there’s game play between the materiality and viscerally of the body and language; and there’s game play with the theatre, as if the theatre is saying: “can I in all my antiquated nature produce something that is HD and produce this simulation”. I guess in the last scene [Level 6], we encounter what has happened before, the body visually and expressively, riding up against this language and its like a final roulette, the body is doing this roulette, we call it cultural soup, any gesture, any co-defied technique, any action is thrown in this roulette. This weird cultural-soup club-dance and there is a kind of washing machine, a kind of destabilising, and there is also this statement: “what is guaranteed in this visual”, and this statement gets churned up and re-churned like the fragmenting of digital reproduction, and reorganised with endless reiterations through a kind of word game…
So where might we situate the dancing body in the world of art today, be it defined by the theatre stage or supported by the gallery floor, or increasingly networked and socialised by internet likes, tags and dialogue boxes? “For me dance is not necessarily contained in the ‘world of images’, but rather contained in a ‘ visual exchange’ . We learn social dances and we learn dances based on technique, and we express dance through how we absorb and then re-perform them, of course, there is the first-person experience of what it feels like, but to communicate with dance—with one another—is more about exchange and this goes hand-in-hand with digital reproductive possibilities, because you see and integrate the visual device of the dancing body constantly changing,” Linder replies. It’s an interesting statement and one that recalls the idea of the phantom limb that is extended by our near perpetual use of handheld devices, which reinforces for me the proposition that the body is gradually merging the bio-organic with techno-net.
Speaking more casually, I ask Linder to speak a little more about dance styles. “I have no prejudices towards dance forms, I think I’m interested in all dance forms, like I don’t see one as more valuable as the other, and I think they can serve different things in my work, whether I use them for their percussive quality (like the Patty-cake) or for their traditional value (like ballet)”, he replies. “I’m generally interested in how these forms transfer in bodies and how they operate in culture-at-large,” he continues. I finish our interview with another question about sharing and the possibility to self-learn on the Internet. In particular, I ask if he uses YouTube or other video sites for research? “Dances have arisen over time have always been in relation to the technical conditions of the times”, he replies, “like when popping began and its relation to pausing, the still-image, and the advent of video editing”. Gesturing with his arms to illustrate his point, “the glide form, which comes from two street-dance styles that are post break-dance: Flex and Turfing.” Making the link back to technology, he finishes our interview with this final reflection: “gliding is so inline with how communication is swirling right now, like the crazy arm-movements you see in Tecktonik.” Laughing at his impromptu dance demonstration, I ask Linder if he would send me a YouTube link as an example, he promises to find a video and a few days later emails a link to a video uploaded by dance teacher DJ Paco, entitled DA BEST GLIDE IS LIGHT WORK, which I later view at home as a kind of open-source gesture with the dancing body its principal source code.