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Perception Unfolds: Looking at Deborah Hay’s Dance

Perception Unfolds: Looking at Deborah Hay’s Dance, on view at the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin February 23 – May 18, 2014, presents an innovative union of art, dance and technology within a museum setting. Making its debut at the Blanton, the site- specific video installation combines the groundbreaking choreography of dance pioneer Deborah Hay with new software technologies created to study and inform movement and dance. The resulting artwork—four suspended translucent screens on which multiple versions of a single dance are projected—offers visitors an opportunity to observe how their individual perceptions of the dancers’ performances, the setting, and their own choices as viewers provide insight into the art of choreography.

Hay has likened the experience of looking at contemporary dance to that of regarding contemporary art, as both can be challenging to new audiences. With this in mind, Hay approached the Blanton about the possibility of creating a project that would provide museum visitors with a dynamic new point of entry for engaging with both disciplines. This resulting collaboration builds upon the Blanton’s history of experimenting in the galleries with multidisciplinary programming like its critically acclaimed SoundSpace series; here Hay brings together a cadre of cross- disciplinary talent, which includes dancers and a choreographer, software developers, a composer, an architect/videographer, a filmmaker, and multi-media experts, along with the museum’s own creative staff.

“We are very pleased to collaborate with Deborah Hay on such an important new project,” says Blanton Director Simone Wicha, “This interactive and engaging presentation responds to the most exciting new models in museum programming and furthers our goal of providing innovative and surprising experiences for our visitors. The project’s collaborative spirit also beautifully aligns with a concurrent exhibition of works by Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt, both contemporaries of Hay, and pioneering innovators in their own right.”

The genesis of Perception Unfolds was a three-year collaboration between Deborah Hay and Motion Bank, an experimental technology research project run by the German-based The Forsythe Company, which was founded by American choreographer William Forsythe. Hay worked with Motion Bank’s team of digital engineers, alongside filmmaker Anna Berger and dancers Ros Warby, Jeanine Durning, and Juliette Mapp, to enact multiple performances of one of Hay’s solos,No Time To Fly. Through the process, all participants gained new perspective on the work’s notation and presentation and on the nature of collaboration itself. Hay also discovered the inspiration for a new kind of work, one that could utilize multiple versions of a filmed dance to engage viewers more deeply with her choreography.

Further fueling Hay’s interest in new technologies, interactive software developer Eric Gould Bear (Austin) and artist/videographer Rachel Strickland (San Francisco) approached Hay with a new app they had developed that allows users to experiment with roving perspective, engaging spatial memory, and navigating and orienting oneself among multiple video streams. In the resulting creative collaboration at the Blanton, visitors choose how to frame the dance by actively varying their own perspectives on it. As they move in and around the installation, beckoned by its sights and sounds, they perceive overlapping images, gestures that seem to respond to one another, and the effective dematerialization of the boundaries between dancer and viewer.

Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, Blanton curator at large and curator of the exhibition, remarks, “Hay’s choreography is radical for the ways in which it makes visible the perceptual process, the infinite incremental realizations of movement and response the dancer makes while addressing the choreographer’s enigmatic directions. Never performed the same way twice, Hay’s works are unique and unexpected, at their very best a revelation of our most complex human intelligences. In this new project, designed specifically for an art museum, the audience is invited to gain a much more direct understanding of the dance as they choose how to approach it, both literally and figuratively; its immersive experience up-ends all traditional “viewing” methods. We are delighted to bring this examination of perception by one of its leading artistic practitioners into the art museum, and how appropriate it is that we can offer this important contemporary thinker a prominent site for an experimental new work of art.”

Deborah Hay, the Blanton, and the Perception Unfolds project is the subject of an upcoming episode of the Emmy Award-winning series, Arts in Context on PBS. Look for it in winter 2014.

This exhibition is organized by the Blanton Museum of Art.

Funding for the exhibition is provided by Jeanne and Michael Klein, Judy and Charles Tate, and the Berman Family Foundation, with additional gifts from Dan Bullock, Chris and Jim Cowden, Will Dibrell, Fluent~Collaborative, Dana Friis-Hansen and Mark Holzbach, Sue Graze, Richard Hartgrove and Gary Cooper, Margaret Keys, Emily Little, Fran Magee, and Sherry Smith.