By Bridget Bailey
Mild Climate Gallery, Nashville, Tennessee
August 4 to September 30, 2018
Dance shows in art galleries are revered by many as unique in their ability to enliven space, to create a special temporality, and bring new life to otherwise mostly bodiless relics of making.
One time I said to my cousin, a dancer, that I really think dance is the most accessible art form, or at least that is what I was feeling in that moment.
And she, a seasoned dancer—and sculptor—said that not many people think that.
I said, it is because, I think, it makes me want to dance.
McKay House and Utam Moses, both dancers and practicing artists, created a body of work that was both personal and accessible, tangible and mysterious, sacred-seeming and welcoming. What Was When consisted of footage of them dancing, together, in various places and spaces. They were installed in the gallery in a way that promoted intimacy of viewing, a soft and warm connection with the viewer, as they could watch the pieces unfold and circle back, (loop). Additionally, there was a sound piece with headphones sprung out of a sort of picnic basket, adding mystery and whimsy.
Also captivating were window, corner, and wall pieces of small sculpture, primarily made from Moses’ own hair. A conch shell was also present, in the corner of the gallery, brimming with small balls of hair. There, already, we have all the senses, and so much intimacy, and vignettes that are beautiful in their own right. They embody female friendship and sacredness simultaneously—coworking, cohabitating, sharing body weight in push and pull, improvised collaboration—as well as individual existence in body and in soul and in mind, their material and ethereal inhabitance of the space, of the gallery, and of places and spaces beyond.
Their shared text—a show statement—went as follows:
“Maybe again, like this,”
“There’s something you missed,”
“Remaining, like this,”
‘Collected here are movements and sounds of a slight uncanny nature working to reinvestigate and enliven empty and strange playgrounds, places out of time. Collected here are subtle and gross relics.’
-Moses and House, 2018
Are these instructions for the viewer? Dialogue between the two dancers? Both! There is language to imply process, a right way, but their dances, themselves, are imbued with seemingly improvised reactions to one another’s movements. In the videos, in one, they are dancing in a gym, their feet stepping atop one another’s, winding and cradling, but also paying attention to the lines on the gym floor.
In another, they both lie on the ground of a cave-like rocky outcropped space, looking out at a world of trees. They look at one another, they rock side to side. The light touches their bodies, and the coolness of the ground around them and beneath them is palpable, relatable. They dance slow and not fast but there is energy brimming in their movements, together and apart. These vignettes together are largely of girlhood, of friendship, of collective and collected experience. Of doing nothingness and holding whole hosts of universes inside you.
Thus, they have already given us so much, of process and recorded experience and making. All the more giving—a multitude of gifts for the viewers, however, were their live performances, which happened during the art crawl night of September 10th.
Their costumes were whimsical and sentient, their hair braided into sturdy ropes. These ropes, it turns out, were used in the second pop-up dance performance of the night, in which the pair wore Hawaiian-patterned shirts and danced against a solid color wall outside the packing plant building that houses the gallery on a grass floor. They danced back to back and side to side and pushed and pulled, literally, upon one another by holding tight to each other’s braids. It looked both painful and playful, but most of all, inventive and intimate and immediate, in an intense, collaborative way. The braids made the means by which to show torque, push-pull, and, most of all, physical connection. Evocative of umbilical cords or Rapunzel, or even Sikh men who do not cut their hair for religious reasons, or any other culture or belief system in which long hair is sacred. Evocative too, of rope, of binding, of human connection, of the part of us that still grows the most hair, our heads—our mammalian and animalistic origin on view atop our “reasoning” minds. Yet, they are tamed, organized, in the braid, in the plaiting, in the taming of tresses.
That long aside is to say, the braid-dance was playful and powerful, full of awesome moments of balance, strength, and trust, as well as humor, as the dancers themselves laughed aloud at points, as they tumbled in a subtly controlled fashion and tried out the confines of the torque, of the human rectilinear shape of their arms and braids, ever in motion, in space. Against the wall, the dance was evocative of a frieze or a painting.
Their final dance was a lovely, theatrical exit, a denouement, a catharsis, a vignette, among the others. They donned long dresses and, hand-in-hand, ran, down the street adjacent to the gallery and the grass, between the parked cars, dead-center on the pavement of the road, in that universal exhilaration that comes with being on foot, especially barefoot, in the middle of the road. The ball of their collective exhilaration and energy bounced along, as they ran hand in hand away and out of sight. They laughed and shouted in joy, as did the audience—bearing witness to a beautifully arced narrative and gift.
Bridget Bailey is an artist and educator in Nashville, Tennessee.