Blurring Boundaries In Art – Why La La Land Is Such Fertile Ground

Great news from Los Angeles!

William Forsythe (American b.1949, New York) will be joining the USC Kaufman School of Dance (open 2015) faculty at the University of Southern California. In this LA Times report, Jodie Gates, Vice Dean of the school says:

“He has crossed boundaries and discovered commonalities within dance, visual art, architecture and media, among many other disciplines. This type of scholarly practice and creative thinking through composition and collaboration is what our students will learn in the core curriculum at USC Kaufman.” (My emphases)

I recently wrote this post (2/16/2014), about Forsythe’s dance style and choreography philosophy, linking his creative process to echolocation in bats and blind people; imitation in dolphins and dancers; and quoting him: “…it is about the process of people imitating one another, of replication. That is what one does…” And not least, how his dance moves follow the neuro-muscular logic of initiation/response. * It is no wonder that his job at the dance school will include working with USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute.

Farther away, in good old St. Louis, Missouri, an exhibition at the Chess Hall of Fame is pairing up fellow Angelinos Glenn Kaino  and the late John Cage, born over half a century apart.

Here the uniting theme is chess. What these two artists did just blew my mind. Kaino uses burning candles as chess pieces—they are lit at the start of the game and if each piece is left standing too long, the wax melts and glues it to the board! Cage wires a chess board to play musical notes; and as pieces are moved, a new piece of music is composed. The artists gave their reasoning behind these performance works and what they expected to happen. For the casual viewer, both pieces are entertaining while vaguely unsettling. And my burning anxiety is: can the players concentrate while hearing the random sounds, or worrying about the candle wax melting?

I had compared in this post (halfway down) how chess can be related to Gutai, an abstract art movement from Japan in the 1960s. Gutai (tool-body, also means concrete, specific, detailed), is also the name of the third rank in the ancient Chinese chess game of Go. To achieve the rank, a player must be “waterproof in both offence and defense; without personal bias, employing the universal advantage”. The first rank is achieved by few, for it “enters divine territory”—and the player succeeds without self-awareness, reaching the state of the unconscious. With the anxiety that puts pressure on the players: the distraction of the burning-down candles and the senseless sounds from the movement of chess pieces, can the players ever achieve that “lack of self-awareness”? These artists’ chess games have created another level of contest.

In Forsythe’s dance, he tries to achieve a level of “disfocus” of entering the “trance state’’, when the dancer is not actively aware of, or controlling  their movements. So, if dance or muscle actions (e.g. Tai Chi or Yoga) could help us attain that trance state of unconscious, the art of Kaino and Cage is here trying to make it difficult.

What is it then about Los Angeles, and California, or even America in general that might have to do with this general unconscious state of apparent disorder, of “disfocus”? The equality of horizontality?

The French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) speaks of America’s uniqueness in his essay, A Thousand Plateaus (1980) as due to her rhizome-like culture—a sort of underground, meandering stem that could send up fresh shoots anywhere. Make out what you may in this commentary, with extensive quotes, by Craig Hickman. Following are a few of my favorite lines:

“There is a whole American ‘map’ in the West, where even the trees form rhizomes. America reversed the directions: it put its Orient in the West…”

“Against representational art, photography, and drawings the rhizome is a map that is produced moment by moment, detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, with multiple entry points…”

“In contrast to centered (even polycentric) systems… , the rhizome is an acentered, nonhierarchical nonsignifying system without a General [Master Signifier] and without an organizing memory…”

“Instead of the endless critique of cultural analysis… we have pop-analysis, a nomadism that does not rely on history or long-term memory, but the rhizomatic memory of the moment and event. Not science (science would go mad)…”

The USC Brain and Creativity Institute will have no shortage of research material here in Los Angeles.

*   Our skeletal muscles each has an origin and an insertion end. The biceps (two-headed) on our arm originates in the scapula and inserts near the top of the forearm. When it contracts, the insertion is pulled towards the origin, i.e. bending the elbow.


5/27/2014    William Forsythe to quit his ballet company in Germany, reported the New York Times.

5/27/2014    Yale University teaches dance students physics as way to study choreography. See report in physics magazine Symmetry.

6/24/2014    William Forsythe on why he quit the Forsythe Company and moving to Los Angeles. New York Times reports.

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