Part of: Transmissions
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Video: Enrico David & Merce Cunningham Dance Company

by Enrico David and Merce Cunningham Dance Company on 19 June 2005

SHOWstudio was keen to inveigle a camera into the intimate, concealed atmosphere of theatre backstage preparations to witness the gauche mechanics of a monumental sculpture by Enrico David being brought very subtly to motion. The movements of the giant figurative sculpture, elegantly titled 'Mantwat' were conjured to dramatise its encounter with Modernist dance legend Merce Cunningham's 'collage choreography', later that afternoon. The invitation to exhibit this sculpture in such a performative exchange came under the mantle of a short, curated series of dances in front of that and five other contemporary art works, cumulatively entitled Event. Merce Cunningham has applied this title and term since the early 1960s to describe working choreographically within 'unusual performance situations'. Cunningham is of course renowned for his lifetime of inimitable artistic collaborations: Martha Graham, John Cage, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Willem de Kooning, number a few of the American artistic avant-garde that form a key part of his reputation as a Modernist legend. To receive an invitation to join such a distinguished collaborative roster during Cunningham's 86th year must resonate.

Cunningham claims not to work directly in response to any stage decor, but rather to create a dynamic whereby dance and sculpture, each conceived of and created separately, are allowed to serendipitously connect. Partly given this independent scenario of performer and prop, partly my own fascination with imagining the brilliant peculiarity of Enrico's practice brought to clumsy life, but also because of the fact of a fiercely unionised situation that is necessary for the dancers to protect their creative livelihood, Transmissions focuses very much on 'Mantwat', and its encounter with the cavernous Barbican theatre space. This moment itself has a proximity to performance. Enrico has been making work that forms an astute, complex and compellingly individual aesthetic constructed from contemporary and historical sources outside of purely fine art sources, and the puppet phase of 'Mantwat' seems confidently to continue that. Commissioned originally as the distinctive sculptural presence for the vast art wall at Sadler's Wells in London in 2004, the plywood sculpture has embraced and teased its politely cultural environments, poking three-dimensional genitalia and tongue at its onlookers. It achieved four distinct positions for the dancers and audience of Event.

SHOWstudio was keen to inveigle a camera into the intimate, concealed atmosphere of theatre backstage preparations to witness the gauche mechanics of a monumental sculpture by Enrico David being brought very subtly to motion. The movements of the giant figurative sculpture, elegantly titled 'Mantwat' were conjured to dramatise its encounter with Modernist dance legend Merce Cunningham's 'collage choreography', later that afternoon. The invitation to exhibit this sculpture in such a performative exchange came under the mantle of a short, curated series of dances in front of that and five other contemporary art works, cumulatively entitled Event. Merce Cunningham has applied this title and term since the early 1960s to describe working choreographically within 'unusual performance situations'. Cunningham is of course renowned for his lifetime of inimitable artistic collaborations: Martha Graham, John Cage, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Willem de Kooning, number a few of the American artistic avant-garde that form a key part of his reputation as a Modernist legend. To receive an invitation to join such a distinguished collaborative roster during Cunningham's 86th year must resonate.

David Enrico on 'Untitled' Lamp, 2003

'The fifth planet was very strange. It was the smallest of them all. There was just enough room on it for a street lamp and a lamplighter. The little prince was not able to reach any explanation of the use of the lamplighter, somewhere in the heavens, on a planet which had no people, and not one house.'

The lone figure bathed in light that leans against -if scale is our judge- the 'lamppost' of Enrico David's 'Untitled' (Lamp) is not positioned to suggest a figure engaged in the provision of useful service such as the meek but celebrated lamplighter of Saint Exupery's The Little Prince. Rather he is emblematic of the detached and elegant ruminator, an alienated, melancholic figure, engaged in his own thoughts. This is the self-absorbed individual; isolated from the spectacle he is dressed to join. A fantasy of 'nostalgia for elegance' creates a suggestion of romance, and this sculpture pays homage to the high Romantic decorative arts movement of Art Deco. It is said that Romanticism is triggered by the progression from innocence to experience, and the drama of this piece is in the suggestion of experience pondered.

The elaborate figure centre stage has an exaggerated bouffant hair shape, with elegant delicate stripes forming visage and sleeves, elements that fuse fluidly. A leg is balanced nonchalantly against the post. The head is bowed in quiet contemplation, lament, or earnest posturing. 'Will nature make a man of me yet?', he might ask. Light emanates softly from the globe, whilst the figure indefatigably gazes within his mini-tableaux, a small stage upon which this soliloquy scene is played out. It shares the 'chiaroscuro psychology' and stylistic effects of Graham Greene's 1949 novel and film The Third Man in which the central character, a morally rotten racketeer, becomes a haunting presence as a literal shadow looming large against a corrupted post-war damaged Vienna. Existing equanimity is overturned in this once profligate place, so now 'old men sell balloons' in the exaggerated pools of light.

David's piece is unabashedly handcrafted; it does not hide from the decorative, and the eloquent. Its feel negates much of the conspicuous fashion for an art based on astringent novelty and blunt juxtaposition, an art that relied upon both the spectre and spectacle of a different kind of theatricality. It shares instead a sensibility with the work of an artist such as Marc Camille Chaimowicz; whose environments and installations include Chaimowicz designed furniture, carpets, ceramics and sculptural structures - designed to inspire seduction and reverie. Such fictional interiors could equally be a proposal for a habitation or a literal suggestion of a mindscape. This kind of work is Proustian in its sensuality, its details taken from the artists' everyday campaign for the recognition of the personal in the public domain. Chaimowicz and David both enjoy the dialectic between the fine arts and design, playing with them adeptly and without fear of the charming or the sentimental, but relishing in the formal. The domestic scale of Enrico David's lamp determines it as a condensed vision of sexual, historical and art references, that you can also read by. 

Sculpture:
Performance:
Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Film Edit:
Salwa Azar
Thanks:
Mads Perch-Nielson, Ariella Yedgar, Mark Sladen and Angela Dias at the Barbican

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