Kandis Williams envisions dancing bodies without borders


Dance is both the central theme and a lens for inspecting contemporary culture in “A Line,” the first solo exhibition in New York by multimedia artist Kandis Williams, and the inaugural presentation of 52 Walker, the new space that the David Zwirner Gallery has opened in Tribeca.

Large-scale grid paper collages blend archival photographs of dancers and choreographers – some recognizable to aficionados, like Alvin Ailey, George Balanchine, and Martha Graham – with photographs Williams took in his studio. There she worked with three black dancers versed in ballet and modern dance, exploring how they learned, but also resisted, the lingering racial and gender conventions of their training. Some collages are marked with annotations, with the artist thinking aloud about affect, performance and politics.

A video installation, shown on six old-fashioned squatting monitors, shows a dancer following lines across a studio floor, working through routines that Williams has choreographed, while archival videos flash across a digital screen. ‘background inside each screen. Tall plants arranged around the gallery seem to break the theme, but on close examination they are artificial, some leaves printed with eyes or colored in skin tones, drawing attention to the body.

Williams, 36, grew up in Baltimore and recently split her time between Berlin and Los Angeles, where she recently won the $ 100,000 Hammer Museum Mohn Prize. She is an artist who creates links; his first museum solo, recently at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, explored migration, tobacco plantations, prison farms, and tango. An inveterate researcher, she shares her intellectual sources and inspirations in photocopied readers and zines that she publishes through Cassandre Press, the imprint she co-founded. Later in the race, “A Line” will add a library area where visitors can browse or borrow relevant texts.

The exhibition highlights an experimental, even demanding, program that curator Ebony L. Haynes has set at 52 Walker, a place resembling a kunsthalle where the shows will take place for several months. We visited Williams and Haynes to talk about the history of dance, the prominence of black dancers in popular culture today, and Williams’ growing interest in choreography. The conversation has been condensed and edited.

MITTER SIDDHARTHA Kandis, what made you take a closer look at dance now?

KANDIS WILLIAMS The dance reflects social scripts and social impulses so much that we don’t feel like we have to name, but which are wrapped in characters and fictions, and passed on as mimetic educational tools, for the way we are supposed to interact. .

And we’re in a moment right now: last year we saw a proliferation of us, especially in black communities around the world, trying to disassociate and de-identify from caricature, violence. state-sanctioned, social scripts that have been destructive to our community. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re now seeing in our art and commercial markets a resurgence of interest in positioning black bodies and dancers. Black TikTokers, for example, are widely appropriate.

SIOBHAN BURKE We are also seeing more black ballet dancers in corporate advertising.

WILLIAMS The scramble for diversity and inclusion campaigns has placed successful black bodies in places that must simultaneously negotiate racist performative expectations and anti-racist sentiments. [The dance scholar] Brenda Dixon Gottschild Says The Black Body Keeps The popular culture measure.

MITTER Your new collages include photographs you made of three dancers you worked with: Catherine Kirk, Damond Garner and Natasha Diamond-Walker. What did this interaction consist of?

WILLIAMS I took them to the studio and we talked about the shapes and shapes of their bodies, the techniques they were familiar with. I think it’s a common conversation in dance that maybe black dancers and black body types have certain phenotypic traits that are best suited for certain roles or positions. We reflected on what their body must undergo or feel in certain attitudes or techniques.

MITTER So you think about how they were formed –

WILLIAMS And the accumulation of this training. When I lead, I sort of lead in this muscle and reflex conditioning index. But I also work with a person, a person who could hurt themselves in certain attitudes or techniques, or who could really appreciate the pain of certain positions.

BURKE In the video installation, Natasha Diamond-Walker moves on a stage marked with lines. How did you generate the movement?

WILLIAMS These are all very specific movements. Each, literally from point A to point B, is a set of three movements that hit the center, turn into another movement, and then end at the end of the line. I use a multitude of vernacular dance movements: for example, taking part of the [Native American] Buffalo Dance, in a special kind of jazz motif, in a tree pose.

She also showed me things. I love working with dancers who can show me what their bodies can do and where they feel comfortable.

BURKE You entered this show with the idea of ​​creating dance notation – a system of symbols to document movement – but ended up going in a different direction.

WILLIAMS The idea of ​​scoring is such a busy space. Because the notation so often denies the interiority of the dancer – it flattens the whole experience to the dynamics of the stage. So what I’m sort of doing here is overlapping both sides of that line: a notation that perhaps could envision the dualism of the experience of being a performative black body.

I have the impression that with this show, I crossed the stage. It will be nice to do more choreographic work and performance.

MITTER Your projects involve in-depth and time-consuming research. What are some of your sources for dance work?

WILLIAMS I’m kind of married to this practice at this point so it feels like good quality time. The Jerome Robbins Dance Division [of the New York Public Library] was really awesome. The Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Archives of American Art – I’m trying to get my sources out! Jacob’s pillow is really cool interactive dance site.

MITTER Ebony, how does “A Line” set the tone for the program you want to build?

EBONY L. HAYNES As a director and curator, that’s what you work for: working with artists you respect and learning something along the way. Nothing is tied up in a beautiful arch at the end; this is not what I am looking for. I’m trying to do something that hopefully gives more time to produce but also to be in space. I want to invite people to come in, to talk with me, to sit down with work. You see it once, but maybe you come back and see it again.

Kandis Williams: one line
October 28 to January 8 at 52 Walker, 212-727-2070; 52walker.com.

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