top of page

* Dance is hard to see

Marcial B. Siegal writes that dance, unlike other arts, is unable to leave a record of its existence in the form of an inscription in "At the vanishing point: a critic looks at dance." Dance is always at a point of vanishing existence (1). It vanishes as soon as it is created. Helen Thomas claims in her 2003 book The Body, Dance and Cultural Theory that unlike other forms of art, dance does not leave a physical trace in the form of a painting, a script, or a musical score. (2). Dance is "The most ephemeral of the art forms," according to Douglass Rosenberg, referring to its transience and elusiveness.Gabriele Brandstetter in her book (2001) and Sally Ann Ness (2008) both make the argument that the gestural movement is not entirely ephemeral and that it is inscribed into the dancer's body through corporeal experience. (4,5). There is a special focus on the inscription of movement and gesture in cases where dance occurred alongside and in conversation with visual arts. The fusion of dance and drawing as seen from various angles: Drawing takes centre stage at work and is a crucial tool for choreographers and dancers to record gestures and movements. The objective for visual artists is to create a language that can convey or inspire spatial development and movement. They are both looking for a predetermined area or surface to inscribe the lived-in body. When the body gesture has vanished, dancers, choreographers, and visual artists attempt to engage in drawing practice, which is the means and the aim of a succession movement. What existed in the void between dance and inscription, according to André Lepecki The tension between the body and the text, the movement and the language, suggests an infinite connection between dance and inscription.  “Dance cannot be imagined without writing. It does not exist outside writing’s space”. At the intersection of dance and drawing, the gestures are 'art in self-erasure.' The desire to record dance faces the difficulty of completely capturing the movement, whether through a pre-written script or recording a dance gesture.

I want to draw attention to the transience of moving body gestures and the pressing need for its recording as a central thought and a common concern in in this cross disciplinary practice I'm encountering in this text. As I think about these concepts and issues, I want to discover a possible connection\interconnection\interrelations between the intersection of dance and visual art within archival art practice methods that seems to somehow relate to or are an analogue to the transience and elusiveness nature of gestures. I will talk about how various artworks and artistic practices use the techniques of erasure, traces, blind spots, body knowledge, rituals, scribbles, movement, notations, and repetition.


note (2022)

Extended thought; in the context of the 'diasporic gesture'. Naishi Wang


The second part of the text will focus on how choreographic techniques for creating, producing, and repeating movement can serve as modes of inscription that make it possible to re-imagine materialities of gestures, to trace the ephemeral act of bodily movement. I'm linking these artists to their shared part in the establishment of the Judson Dance Theatre. However, it felt like a good indication, that there must be insights to explore within this cross-discipline practice in relation to the ephemerality of dance. Repetition, slow motion, and stillness were used by members of the Judson Dance Theatre as techniques that helped people understand dance, hold a mental picture of movement, and move between a physical epistemology and a visual ontology: between a performer's and a viewer's way of knowing movement. In Sites of Subjectivity, Virginia talks about Robert Morris's artistic knowledge of dance that directly informs his sculptural practice. His influence in dance contributed to his object's performative function. Morris created his earliest minimalist objects as props for his dance performances (8). Though originally trained as a sculptor, Joan Jonas began experimenting with video, performance and props after meeting influential choreographers Trisha Brown and Yvonne Rainer in the 1960s. From 1967-1969, she took workshops with Judson dancers Yvonnne Rainer, and Trisha Brown, Deborah Hay and Steve Paxton. Working with the key dancers of her generation had a deep impact on the form of Jonas’s performance pieces, whose incorporation of new dance-based movement was unique amongst the performances created by women during the late sixties and early seventies.

A gesture has for me the same weight as drawing: draw, erase, draw, erase - memory erased” (Jonas 1983) It is impossible to provide a concise summary of Joan Jonas' extensive and intricate drawing techniques. The pieces I've chosen to show shed light on the ongoing conflict between movement and inscription in her multimedia performances.

Regarding the unique characteristics of each medium and its context, Joan Jonas explicitly refers to her work as migrations between forms, or "translations." She converts context from one form to another, establishing fluid correspondence between various facets of her art and media. In the performance installations, sheJonas is able to make more subdued versions of her work that is thought to be ephemeral. The performance components, such as objects, drawings, films, and video documentation, are purposefully reconfigured by Jonas. Several times during her performances, Jonas creates mysterious symbols and patterns on a blackboard, which she refers to as "endless drawings" because she did so with a single continuous line. A broader context for this activity can be seen in another performance video, "Good Night, Good Morning," which shows the blackboard and its images alone in Jonas's living space. In "May Window," she included 16mm footage of her drawing and erasing the same images. She produced a drawing-based film called "Mirage" in 1976.  Rudolf Bernoulli's book "Spiritual Disciplines," which compiles essays, served as inspiration. Jonas made a number of ritualistic motions. Alternately, she creates and then destroys a collection of pictures, each of which has a slightly different interpretation, adding to the ambiguity of the whole. In one instance, she drew a circle that was labelled "sun," inscribed inside of it, erased it, and then drew another circular form that was labelled "moon."______Throughout the performance, this drawing exercise is repeated a few times. She erases the drawing once it is finished and starts over. These drawings are arranged in a series that resembles signs; each drawing is followed by another, much like a frame in a movie. In some of her new performances, she rearranged the video to be projected and to overlap with other drawings. She also frequently used the technique of drawing with chalk on a blackboard. She repeatedly draws a pagoda-like structure in "Reading Dante," for instance, alternating between drawing and erasing to continuously transform it into something else. How do you capture a movement's trail? This worry was voiced by Jonas in a number of ways, including in writing and interviews. In another segment of "Reading Dante," as well as in other drawing performances utilizing a projector and the scribbling drawing technique, Jonas draws around shadow projections while attempting to capture the figures, trace the movement, and capture the shape of a cone being held by a performer—"drawing the movement of forms."

In her 2010 video "Street Scene," Jonas examines the areas of performance and drawing while also making the tension that results from the mixing of media tangible. The way that Jonas draws and erases over the projected images makes clear the apparent incompatibility of drawing material and moving images in videos. Drawing and projecting images at the same time imparts a fleeting, felt gesture from the artist's body to the viewer's body without actually becoming an object of physical presence.

In her outdoor performance "Delay Delay" in 1972, Jonas choreographed a space in-between-a tension between movement and inscription. Standing on a rooftop, viewers watched as Jonas performed with a group of performers to create an endless, ephemeral drawing across a grid of vacant lots, using bamboo poles, lengths of pipe, metal hoops, and mirrors. Jonas explains that she wants to make movies as a way to combat the transience of performances, with a keen interest in film, and how to preserve her work by 'transferring it to another format'.

Trisha Brown first became aware of the complicated relationship between movement and its representations in the early 1960s, when she realized that the compositional vocabulary she had learned (Labanotaion) was insufficient in describing the kind of movement she was interested to explore. She performed a fusion of improvised dance and automatic drawing in her performance, "It's a Draw Live feed" (2003). Her body, charcoal, and pastel alternate between being purposeful and unintentional, marking and erasing, and nearly writing and almost drawing, but never quite. Her body creates charcoal and pastel lines on horizontal sheets of paper that are lying on the floor, using both her hands and feet to do so. When she swipes the powdered chalk line, the marks vaporize in the air, break under the movement of her body, and become a constellation of marks that create flow and movement. It is difficult to recognize that a body might have been there on the paper when looking at the drawing later, but the finished product avoids depicting complete bodies. Andre Lepecki asserts that "it is important to account for the specialty of Brown's movement to their eventual destiny as traces" in order to comprehend the performativity of the inscription in these pieces. (10). Brown wants to create an excessive amount of movement, gestures, and tiny steps rather than accurately record the dance.

In "Roof and Fire Pieces" (1973), Brown's debut choreography that explored the connection between dance and urban settings, is where the ephemeral traces can be seen. performed in Soho on rooftops, park benches, and exterior walls, transforming the area by leaving ephemeral inscription within the network of urban structure. Despite the disappearing signs, they left their mark on the city with a message that, though fleeting, was highly relevant to the social and structural environment of SoHo in the early 1970s. The transient nature of urban topography is highlighted by the ephemerality of the moving body. Drawing, writing, architecture, and dance all end in the intertwining of figuration and denigration, through which dance, as the most urgent form of inscription, is always already impacted.

Whether partially erased, rubbed away, crossed out, or re-inscribed, there are always some remnants in the aftermath, some faded stains on the surface from which word or image has been removed, a reminder, an elusive recording of an action. The mark has its own way of returning, ghostlike, forcing out its existence.

My thoughts are currently focused on erasure as a method of artistic practice that involves leaving out elements with the intention of adding movement. This would be an attempt to depict the motion of a body gesture that is already fleeting. The intentional erasure draws attention to the absence of the mark, much like a dance gesture that is lost in the air (or written in the air?).

The compositional use of variation and repetition are both components of dance choreography. This is one of the aspects of dance choreography. I have made the decision to investigate the utilization of repetition by establishing a connection between Joan Jonas, Trisha Brown, and Yvonne Reiner. Joan Jonas was trained in dance by Brown and Reiner, and she was influenced by the techniques that they used. I will discuss Jona's use of repetition in a number of different ways throughout her body of work, and I will draw a connection to the evolution of repetition practice as seen in the body of work done by Brown and Reiner. When I think about my own practice, I often ruminate on the factors that contribute to repetition and the purpose that it serves.

In her performances, Adrian Piper used verbal repetition. Susan Leeb described Tamar Getter's repetitive drawing lines as a means of producing movement and motion, and Dyson Torkwase is interested in the ritualistic act of repetition as a way to generate spatial condition. But what kind of force is captured and made apparent by repetition in dance performances? or felt physically? What sort of impact does repetition have? "Repetition in dance holds unheard-of, invented forces of repetition" ( Eirini Kartsaki).

At the Merce Cunningham studio, Yvonne Reiner and Trisha Brown studied dance in 1960. Both of them enrolled in a number of dance classes taught by musician Robert Dunn, who had been asked by John Cage to teach a choreography class. They played around with repetitive musical notations and structures. This historical turning point for Reiner and Brown is cited by Eirini Kartsaki as crucial for "the development of a repetition as a methodology" 

Later, Reiner and Brown both investigated repetition in various ways and employed repetition to inspire fresh ways of considering and creating. Reiner used music by Satie and Cage in her choreography for "Satie for Two" (1963), which featured repetitive movement patterns. Reiner repeated a brief movement sequence while facing in a different direction in the 1963 work "Bell" with the express purpose of making the dance "more visible." With Brown, the same visibility-related concern was expressed. In her 1970 movement piece "Accumulation," Brown began experimenting with basic accumulative strategies. She started with a single movement, repeated it several times, added another minute, and so on. Three elemental actions were used by Brown to create a three-minute solo dance she called Trillium (1962). Brown started to address the transience of dance and the issue of how to capture something that is always already lost in the moment of its production by equating the evanescence of a trillium flower with the ephemerality of movement. The trillium metaphorically alludes to the impossibility of picking a flower in the woods and bringing it home alive. She recommended a repetitive choreographic score that emphasizes repeatable movement. It was a grid with an organic, non-figurative repetition of squares and criss-crosses.

Trio A (1978) was a piece that concentrated on the motion of common gestures. Reiner requires constant, repetitive motion. In this piece, Reiner expresses concern over the transience of dance and contrasts it with sculpture. One can spend as much time as possible admiring a sculpture, in contrast to the experience of movement in dance, which is transient and challenging to observe.

Dance is hard to see

So she responded to this difficulty by giving the audience more opportunities to see dance through repetition. "Repetition can help to enforce the discreetness of a movement."

In Jonas's work, the repetitive drawing appears as a ritualized exercise in which the same object is repeated repeatedly until mastery is attained. By repeating gestures and movements, she incorporates repetition into her performances. It's intriguing to see how repetition was used in her early video creations and before she began to create her repetitive drawings. Jonas combined video and performance in space in Vertical Roll (1972). As a result of the video's interference with the monitor's receiving and transmitting frequencies, the bottom of the screen repeatedly displays the same image vertically. She traced the repetitive contours of video images that were briefly projected in a loop onto paper for Reading Dante. She used blue ink to create over 200 fish drawings for "They Come to Us Without a Word," revealing subtle changes to her choreography and the movement of her hand.

In her drawing Organic Honey, (1972), Jonas repeatedly depicts dogs. Her repetitions are an ongoing, obsessive ritual in which she draws traces of her own body from memory rather than imitation using touch. "Marking a restlessness, a search to conceptually find differences or even comfort and understanding in repetition," is how Joan described her repetitive drawing practice. Drawings of various animals, with a focus on birds, can be found among Jonas' notes pertaining to her performances. The motion studies that the birds are performing—flapping, gliding, and running—present a transcriptional challenge. Litanies, one of Robert Morris's earliest text drawing pieces, provides yet another illustration of repetition techniques (1961). Morris repeatedly copied the phrase "Litanies of the Chariot" from Duchamp's notes for "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors" over the course of two and a half hours. Morris kept track of the time needed to make the work and recorded it on the drawing. For his own artistic process and experimental performances, he created choreographic notation that functioned as a set of tasks used to generate body movement in space, and a way to solve specific problems involving space and time in relation to objects.

In "Upheaval in the despot's wake, Susanne Leeb explains the body's knowledge in relation to "unknowing." She goes into more detail about techniques like rehearsal and "Blindspot." and how artists become particularly interested in the embodiment of the retrospective drawing, as well as the function of body memory and body language. For example, De Kooning was interested in drawing blindly in order to be surprised by the outcome. How does the body react differently to various materials, conditions, spaces, and surfaces? using a method of remembering the preparatory drawings and then performing the drawing in a new space, surface, and scale, relying on body memory. Getter purposefully increases the difficulty of depicting the drawing by enlarging the depiction to a size at which the contour of the image can be seen.

In his essay "Memoirs of the Blind," Derrida examines the history of drawing as the art of tracing, considering both drawing with the eyes open and closed. In a process of action, he says, there is a space between seeing the subject and the drawing surface, and without this space, a drawing cannot be made. This is the moment of blindness. How temporality and memory may be affected by the absence of sight or the unseen.

Returning to Joan's work, in "Line In The Sand" (2002, Documenta 11), she uses a long chalk stick while wearing eye protection to sketch a blackboard with a memory of the Giza Pyramid. In Reading Dante (Yokohama, Japan, 2008), Jonas sits next to a table with a small video camera attached to it. The camera focuses on her gesture as she draws on the board with chalk while avoiding looking at the board itself and instead directing her gaze at the projection screen (16). Jonas is seated on a stool in Draw without Looking (Tate Live, 2013), holding a piece of paper with his back to the audience. She doesn't look at the paper as she draws a repetitive circular shape; instead, she is reacting to the monotonous music while tracing the circle in time with the beat. When made on a chalkboard, the earth, or a computer screen, the drawings are never fully finished, childlike, and fleeting.

Trisha Brown emphasizes redirection and disorientation when drawing and dancing by embracing the idea of "blindspot" as a technique for drawing without looking. She repeatedly tries to muddle or confuse her perception, either by closing her eyes during the repetitive action or by purposefully laying too close to the paper surface in order to miss out on seeing the entire image.

Brown created a choreographic drawing score for her 1980 performance "Accumulation" using only her memory and without looking at the pencil. She made a dance gesture with each of her hands, which was later performed in performance. The drawing illustrates a crucial exercise known as "blind contour drawing," (Susan Rosenberg) , where the pencil maintains contact with the paper in order to translate sight into touch and line without the artist being aware of her own drawing activity on the page.

There is no doubt that memory was a deciding factor in Blind Time(Robert Morris 1973). Morris covered his hands with graphite, mixed with oil or ink, and, with his eyes closed, alternately spread, smeared, pressed, and rubbed it into paper in a repetitive motion after completing a specific choreographic task within a predetermined time frame. The drawings' method, as well as the anticipated and actual time required, are described in the texts that are located close to them. The drawings are densely layered, with a field of quick vertical marks. "With the eyes closed, the ten fingers move outward from the centre, making counting strokes." "In an estimated two minutes, 2,000 strokes are made. Error in estimating the time: +45 seconds. Morris's concern about time and the creative process is represented by Blind Time and is also discussed and illustrated in Box with the Sound of its Own Making (1961) Similar discrepancies between estimated and actual times are highlighted in the "Blind Time" drawings, which represent "time estimation error."

Dance is like a sketch that only lasts as long as the movement does. So, the drawing can always be changed or revised. These techniques, which I will specifically focus on, show how dance performances' transience significantly affects artists' artistic practices, particularly in the field of drawing.

bottom of page