Maria Hassabi – PLASTIC

I watched this piece at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) almost a year ago, which makes it rather bizarre that I am publishing a post about it now. There seems to be a constant fear in dance that we need to capture as much as we can before it fleets away: we need photos, we need videos, we need to take notes, and then we need to write about it the next day, if not immediately that evening, as if the dance will disappear into the black hole of our memory if we don’t hold onto these ephemeral moments with all of our available apparatuses.

But performance doesn’t disappear. Certainly, it slips out of our hands, escaping our never-ending impulse to commodify everything we can get hold of. Yet, it is still there, lingering like a rumor in the air waiting to be told, to be circulated and to re-materialize in its after-lives. PLASTIC is certainly with me today, one year after, infiltrating my works and penetrating my writing – it is a huge reason why I named this blog Cultplastic in the first place. Certainly, the piece is gone, it is not coming back to MoMA in any time soon, but if my images of it are more visceral than ever, if my feelings towards it are still bubbling underneath my skin every time I replay the piece in my head, does it make PLASTIC any less real?

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A “live installation”, PLASTIC involved several dancers gradually falling on two of MoMA most visible staircases and slowly moving on the ground/ the couches of the large Marron Atrium. Accompanied by an ambient music composition by Morten Norbye Halvorsan, the performers shifted from one pose to another at an almost visually imperceptible pace with intervals of stillness, recalling images of “repose, collapse and transition”[1]

“What the hell are we watching?? Art!?!?”, a lot of my fellow museum-goers exclaim while being confronted with this piece the moment they enter the space – they are literally being forced to step over the dancers’ bodies before proceeding further. Clearly confused, some of the visitors pretended that there was nothing in their way and casually walked by while others seemed to just close their eyes and rush through the stairs, only to look back after they made it to the other side of the bodies. Forcing the spectators to re-think the way they interact with the Museum’s architecture and its living environment, this uncanny interaction made them hyper-aware of the surroundings and of their own presence within the here and now. It is an intervention into the daily, that which is often forgotten.

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Moreover, PLASTIC interfered with the Museum’s daily ecosystem not only by altering its architecture but also by explicitly challenging the conventional performer-spectator relationship – it is extremely unusual that the performers laid in almost stillness while the museum-goers could freely roam around. Thus, this reversal of role upset the expectation of a performance, rendering the performers the quality of images, sculptures or art objects. Nevertheless, it is inaccurate to use the word “objects” to describe these hardly-moving bodies as objects are often tied to “instrumentality, utility, usage and means”[2]. Yet, in PLASTIC, the performers were simply let be in the Museum, neither being manipulated nor used as “generators of scenic effects”. They simply appeared along-side with the Museum’s architecture and the artworks within, moving simply as things.

They were clearly not looking to interact with the visitors in a cause-and-effect relationship. Rather, by being things that exist alongside with the Museum, the performers were able to truly be part of the milieu and to interfere from within, gradually unravelling an alternative ecology that functioned as a proposition for different ways of moving through the space. However, this ecology never stayed fixed but constantly and organically reformed as new visitors came and went, revealing the malleability and the plasticity of this complex web of relationship.

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The piece is quite a visual experience in itself, as I would argue that it achieves a sense of specularity with the manipulation of space, time, and the bodies within that space-time co-ordinate. But for me, it certainly transcend the visual realm, soaking through my state of mind, letting the plasticity of my being also unfold over a prolonged period of time. The performers fell down the stairs eight hours every day for six weeks straight – I thought that was an amazing feat until I realize that it has been a year and still PLASTIC has been haunting me every step I take. What is time anyway but plastic?

Images sourced through Maria Hassabi’s website.

[1] Thomas J. Lax, “Maria Hassabi Glances”, accessed Jan 29th 2017, http://www.moma.org/d/pdfs/W1siZiIsIjIwMTYvMDIvMTgvMjExdWY0dXFoeV9NYXJpYUhhc3NhYmlfQnJvY2h1cmVfRklOQUxNRUNILnBkZiJdXQ/MariaHassabi_Brochure_FINALMECH.pdf?sha=2f225856bebb317a

[2] André Lepecki, “Moving as Thing: Choreographic Critiques of the Object,” October – (May 1, 2012): 75–90.

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