26

– Spring 2011

Fixed Explosive: Catherine Sullivan's Choreography of Stasis

Catherine Wood

Catherine Sullivan, 2005, The Chittendens, film still from five-channel 16mm film to digital projection. Performer: Stephanie Hecht. Courtesy the artist

Catherine Sullivan, 2005, The Chittendens, film still from five-channel 16mm film to digital projection. Performer: Stephanie Hecht. Courtesy the artist

Whether the 'ordinary dance' of Yvonne Rainer, the ballet-derived language of Michael Clark or the mass, participatory actions of artists Francis Alÿs or Katerina Sedá, each time I have written about choreography, I have considered it in fairly specific terms: as a form with the capacity to conjure utopian visions of social life, and as one that might, in aesthetic ways, reinvent relations of communality. Drawing inspiration, in part, from Andrew Hewitt's observation of dance's combined status as depiction and performative generator of relationships in his book Social Choreography: Ideology as Dance and Performance in Everyday Movement (2005), I have thought about choreography's evolution from medieval folk to the Renaissance, and traced the origins of 'ordinary dance' in the 1960s back to ballet's role as an extension of courtly etiquette. All of these readings of dance treat it as a deliberate, learned manner of movement, whether practiced or directed, with a sociopolitical dimension.

The choreography at play in Catherine Sullivan's work is something else. Appearing to privilege internal impulse over external form, Sullivan's work seems to be about exposure rather than aspiration. Crystallised in emblematic works such as D-Pattern (2005) or The Chittendens (2005), Sullivan's choreography offers, perhaps, a register of our world rather than a proposition for how we might live in it differently. Dance is inherently concerned with moving: whether as physical passage (to aesthetic ends) or as a conceptual implication of progression, with utopian ambition. Sullivan's choreographic movement is curiously static on both counts, however. Hers appears as a kind of involuntary dance form, one that its performers strive to repress.

A five-screen installation, The Chittendens, is set partly within a suite of offices that are in

Footnotes
  1. Catherine Sullivan, quoted in Annette Südbeck (ed.), Catherine Sullivan: The Chittendens (exh. cat.),
    Vienna and Berlin: Secession and Revolver, 2005, p.16.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Catherine Sullivan in conversation with the author, unpublished, 2010.

  4. See Jack Anderson, Ballet and Modern Dance: A Concise History, Princeton: Princeton University Press,
    1992, p.173.

  5. Rosalind E. Krauss, 'The Photographic Conditions of Surrealism', The Originality of the Avant-
    Garde and Other Modernist Myths, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 1985, p.xx.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Interviewing Sullivan's collaborator Sean Griffin, Pierre-Yves Fonfon asks, 'Are contemporary
    musicians like you allowed to be influenced by soap operas?' Griffin replies, 'I find histrionic
    suspended narratives lasting twenty-five to thirty years very interesting. […] All of this massive
    drama is played out with hyperbolic emotional themes, cloying melodies and manipulative mood
    setting. […] I am a huge fan of Dark Shadows series. Its sole purpose was that of sustaining colourful
    suspense and dramatic tension for one hour every weekday for over five years.' C. Sullivan et al.,
    Catherine Sullivan, op. cit., p.55.

  8. Norman M. Klein, 'Audience Culture and the Video Screen',Illuminating Video, New York: Aperture,
    1991, p.375.

  9. C. Sullivan et al., Catherine Sullivan, op. cit., p.18.

  10. Giorgio Agamben, 'Notes on Gesture', Means Without Ends: Notes on Politics (trans. Vincenzo Binetti
    and Cesare Casarino), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, p.104.

  11. Mike Kelley, 'The Uncanny', Foul Perfection, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2003, p.72.

  12. Catherine Sullivan in conversation with the author, unpublished, 2010.

  13. G. Agamben, 'Notes on Gesture', op. cit., p.107.

  14. Ibid., p.108.

  15. Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, Hampshire: Zero Books, 2009, p.7.

  16. Ibid., p.18.

  17. Ibid.