Choreographed chaos, vertigo on display at Renaissance Society

By Ilana Tabby

Gracefully perched atop high-stress Cobb Hall, the Renaissance Society is now hosting an exhibit worthy of any humanities course’s astute analysis. An interdisciplinary collaboration by German sculptor Peter Welz and world-renowned American choreographer William Forsythe, whenever on on on nohow on is a commanding installation piece which addresses multiple facets of the audience’s perception.

The main exhibit consists of five large video screens, arranged in the shape of an “E,” on which footage of Forsythe dancing from five different angles is projected. The cameras recorded Forsythe from the front of the room, from overhead, from the side (rotated 90°), and then from each of his wrists, one on the underside and one on top. The lack of musical accompaniment in the dark and cavernous room creates an eerie and nervous walking space in which the dance is experienced.

Forsythe, one of the most internationally acclaimed contemporary choreographers since the 1980’s, is recognized for his stop-start style, mixing his primary training in classical ballet (from the School of American Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet School) with the cultural influences of hip-hop and modern rock, which can be seen in one of his most famous pieces, “In the Middle Somewhat Elevated,” which he choreographed for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1987. The clean fluidity of his choreography is paired with sparse costumes and sets in order to create clear geometric indicators of his movement for the audience.

In whenever on on on nohow on, Forsythe wears loose, neutral-colored clothing and bulky black shoes, which, paired with the video equipment on his wrists and belt, lend him a casual ruggedness and industrial flair. The piece is obviously choreographed with his new tools in mind. As the dance progresses, Forsythe’s character becomes increasingly aware of the cameras, and consequently more self-conscious of their power. At one point he approaches the lateral camera like the scared subject of a nature documentary. The wrist cams, though, are his own to use, as when he holds his hands one over the other and then slowly flips them. This maneuver causes the audience to feel vertigo as it watches the world turn over. Later on, Forsythe points with one wrist like a bow, the other like an arrow, and surveys the targets of the lens.

At a point of high tension, Forsythe rhythmically begins slapping his arms and legs and stomping his feet, perhaps in a desperate effort to remind himself of his human capabilities. Then, frustrated, he falls to his knees and pitifully drags his hand down his face and neck. Finally, in a sweeping and terrifying fall, Forsythe ends prostrated, his arms extended out to his sides, as if trying to get the dreaded cameras away from him, but to no avail.

Besides the video installation, the exhibit also includes airdrawings by Welz—still frames from his footage of Forsythe over which he traced the motion of the left and right hands, one with black marker and one with red. Of the four airdrawings, two are very logical and geometric. They correspond harmoniously with Forsythe’s choreography in their clean, linear visuals. The other two airdrawings are erratic. On first glance, they seem to be the spoils of a toddler running with open markers in a dark room, but Welz’s intention of tracing chaos soon surfaces.

Whenever on on on nohow on is the product of Welz’s and Forsythe’s fondness of Samuel Beckett, whose prose piece “Worstward Ho” was the inspiration for the themes of the installation artwork as well as the source of the title. Beckett’s name being synonymous with failure and negation, one can pinpoint multiple tributes in this piece—Welz’s failure to trace the lines of chaos, Forsythe’s desperation as his hand runs down his face and ultimate failure to conquer the cameras.

The interdisciplinary nature of whenever on on on nohow on makes it a fitting exhibit for this campus. A student who needs a break from Plato need simply climb the stairs to tackle a new work of art. The film lasts seventeen minutes, so viewing the exhibit can easily be just another activity in a typically busy U of C day. The Renaissance Society is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Best of all, admission is always free.