Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Small’
The photographs can be jarring. The video documentation can seem acutely intense, almost aggressive. But the live performance impact of Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant of The Delirium Constructions at Skylight One Hanson, featuring a cast of more than 100, was much more subtle.
I wasn’t certain that I was even going to write about the Tableau post-performance. I knew I didn’t want to write a review–and this recollection certainly does not fall under that category. I was expecting to experience some extreme visceral reaction, some epiphanic episode. In short–the former, no; the latter, yes. But this revelation is of the slow-burning variety, and I am still unpacking what I witnessed. It is accurate enough–albeit reductive and facile–to label the Tableau as performance art. Beyond that, in terms of labels, the performance adds up to more than just the sum of its individual artistic components.
Although the Tableau is based on Small’s photography series The Delirium Constructions, photography itself is not an active part of the live performance. Although this latest performance does contain choreography (by Vanessa Walters), the movement, restricted almost entirely to the upper half of the body, is not exactly dance. That being said, its inclusion was reminiscent of the inclusion of ballet in French grand opera. The music of Tableau Vivant, under the highly capable direction of Rima Fand, was an ever-present force, and yet, decidedly this was not a concert. Not the reason for attendance, the music was entirely encapsulated within the whole drama of what was transpiring on the stage. The performance also lacked many of the time-tested conventions of concertgoing–the persistence of picture-taking (no flash of course) being perhaps the most obvious departure from traditional concert etiquette. Neither was the performance a piece of theater. While acting did indeed take place, there was no explicit over-arching narrative, no dialogue, no named characters. Then, of course, there was the wedding ceremony officiated by the Small herself.
Essentially, one could say that it’s easier to identify Tableau by determining what it is not than by pinpointing what it is. I would maintain, however, that while labeling such an artistic endeavor is not of paramount performance, ascertaining the identity of Tableau Vivant of The Delirium Constructions means having to look somewhere unexpected. Not photography, not fully dance, not a concert of music, and not theater.
The common adage is that art imitates life. Here, in the world of Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant, life imitates art. The tableau has all the trappings of performance, culled from various mediums and artistic disciplines. Yet ultimately, Tableau Vivant is, somehow, not performance. The term performance implies that the “performer” puts something on–a character, an onstage persona, a musical manifestation of the composer, etc. Here, the performer actually takes something off–and no, I don’t mean his or her clothes (although there is plenty of that as well). The cloak of performance itself, of pretension, is discarded. The outer shell, which one erects in order to hide the true essence of him or herself in our daily moments, is shattered. In its place, the performers are simply themselves, responding to the seemingly artificial environment with genuine emotions and organic responses. Performance has given way to experience. The participants of Tableau Vivant aren’t creating a performance–they are living a moment.
We the audience members were witnessing their lives, much in the same way that we witnessed the young couple’s wedding. This was life, clothed in the trappings of art, yet somehow gloriously unadorned. And I envied it. It seemed to me that the real, ideal experience was not the viewing of this scene, but being an active participant in it. I was struck with the fullness of the participants’ activity, which reflected back to me my relative inactivity in that moment, playing the role of the empty voyeur. And somehow, I suddenly was the one in the harsh spotlight. I was the tragic actor, who had been called once again to this stage to perform my mundane role of onlooker, and I obliged.
To be a witness to this event firsthand only meant experiencing it secondhand. Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant of The Delirium Constructions is incapable of categorization unlike any work of art I’ve ever witnessed, and I wanted to be a part of this world that the artist had unveiled, this world of reality unfurled.
The Sklylight One Hanson performances of photographer Sarah Small’s 120-person Tableau Vivant of The Delirium Constructions are upon us.
If you haven’t done so yet, I highly recommend reading mezzo-soprano Abigail Wright’s blog Skydiving for Pearls, in which she details her experiences as singer and nude model in Tableau Vivant.
For those attending one of the performances (May 23, 7 p.m. and May 24, 8 p.m.), be on the lookout for your expectations prior to the Tableau, and how those expectations may have changed, been met, shattered, etc. It strikes me that this aspect of the audience experience will be crucial–I’ll definitely be aware of it personally. See you there.
I read on the subway. When people are reading books, I read people, and really think all the time about what is happening between the interactions.
This is Part 2 of an article about Brooklyn-based photographer and musician Sarah Small’s Tableaux Vivants (living picture), a series of performance art pieces featuring live models–both clothed and unclothed–music, and dramatic movements. Having successfully presented seven small-scale tableaux featuring anywhere from five to 36 models at various venues through New York City, Small will stage her largest performance to date–Tableau Vivant of The Delirium Constructions, with a cast of 120 under the direction of Adam J. Thompson, an expanded musical score featuring Brooklyn Rider, Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, and Rima Fand, choreography by Vanessa Walters, and two authentic wedding ceremonies officiated by the artist–at Brooklyn’s breathtaking Skylight One Hanson on May 23 and 24.
What compels Small herself to pursue such a daunting multidisciplinary artistic statement, particularly through the use of nudes?
Since the beginning of her career as a photographer at the age of 13, Small’s aesthetic, reminiscent of 16th century Mannerism, has explored the phenomena that occur when two or more seemingly irreconcilable themes, embodied by her models–aggression vs. placidness, youth vs. experience, sexuality vs. discretion.
Laura at Evelyn’s
“I’ve always, since Day One, been very interested in getting up close and as close as possible,” remembers the artist. “It’s always been about just like here: all my pictures in high school are almost all heads and/or bodies and as humanly close and intimate as possible.” This fascination solidified in the form of an ongoing series of still images entitled The Delirium Constructions, which became the foundation for Tableaux Vivants. Fundamentally, a Small Tableau strives to illuminate a human experience in which freedom of expression is of the utmost value. The artist explains:
In actuality, I’m not very interested in working with subjects that are contextualized into a certain subset of person or subculture or something like that. That’s one of the reasons I like working with nudes…I think where the relationship between the viewer and the imagery–be it the Tableau or the still work–comes from is this kind of off-balance feeling of like ‘What exactly is shocking me? Why is this shocking when it is simply just an angry woman or a nude?’–and I really think it has to do with the contrast or the state between the two or three elements, and less about the elements as individual placeholders.
The nudity is vital not so much because of the visual aesthetic, but rather because of what the state of being nude does to the model, and by extension, the person watching. For mezzo-soprano Abigail Wright, participation in Tableau resulted in an epiphany regarding the essence of performance. “The one thing I really love, and would absolutely recommend to any singer I know–even though I know that 95% of them would never take me up on the suggestion, just even the audition process– singing nude for somebody completely changes your concept of singing,” asserts Wright, “because the minute you take your clothes off, you’re like, ‘OK, what do I do with my arms? What do I do with my…wait what do I…wait…OK.’ “
In short, the relationship with the audience changes, and Wright’s priorities as performer snap into focus. “They see everything,” she says. “It makes no sense to do anything that’s not honest. And it’s like pushing a button that just resets your vulnerability and your honesty, and it’s fascinating.”
Small corroborates the importance of being nude, rather than appearing nude. “It’s less about nude and it’s more about naked–actually being in a state without clothing,” says Small. “That nude somehow equals sexy or sex, immediately, to a lot of people–I feel like that element has gotten in the way of achieving what I’m trying to achieve.”
Molly Watching Wes
The desired result is what the artist calls the “inflation of reality.” The artistic process, including the device of nudity, seems to be a means to a revelatory end, for both the performers and the audience members. “My job as director is really just to promote excitement, safety, and just open communication,” clarifies Small. “People grow out whatever sense of themselves, whatever pocket of expression that maybe they’ve been hiding or maybe is fully them that they want to experience or reflect outward publicly.”
All images courtesy of the artist.
For ticket information on the May 23 and 24 performances of Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant of The Delirium Constructions at Skylight One Hanson in Brooklyn, N.Y. visit http://www.livingpictureprojects.com/.
Mezzo-soprano Abigail Wright, a professional opera singer more than accustomed to being on stage, recalls a humorous yet deceptively prickly exchange with her mother regarding a recent career choice, which found her singing nude in front of hundreds of people: “You know, my mother is having a lovely time with the nudity. I love my mother’s first response: Well just be careful. ‘Be careful of what?’ It’s a slippery slope. ‘What?’ Well I don’t wanna hear about you doing porn! You know, as if the two were related.”
The gig, indeed far removed from the infamous skin trade, is Brooklyn-based photographer and musician Sarah Small’s Tableaux Vivants (living picture), a series of performance art pieces featuring live models — both clothed and unclothed — music and dramatic movements. Having successfully presented seven small-scale tableaux featuring anywhere from five to 36 models at various venues throughout New York City, Small will stage her largest performance to date — Tableau Vivant of The Delirium Constructions, with a cast of 120 under the direction of Adam J. Thompson, an expanded musical score featuring Brooklyn Rider, Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, and Rima Fand, choreography by Vanessa Walters, and two authentic wedding ceremonies officiated by the artist–at Brooklyn’s breathtaking Skylight One Hanson on May 23 and 24.
Perhaps the most immediate question bracing the uninitiated is Why? And why are the participants so heartily invested in the endeavor — so much so that many of the intrepid would shed their clothes to realize Small’s vision?
For Mary Tierney, a 64-year-old actor and experienced clothed Tableau performer, it was not just Sarah Small the artist, but Sarah Small the person, who proved so compelling. “I liked her very much, her youthful energy and this creative idea, and that reminded me of when I would have an idea when I was about her age, and take it to the limits,” says Tierney of their meeting. “And I always wanna respond to that, and I believe in her — and the force, just the sheer force of this idea and her energy and her belief in it.”
Abigail Wright’s experience with Small began with a conspicuous 5-hour tension headache following her Tableau debut. Since then her role has undergone a remarkable progression, culminating in the singer’s emergence as composer, having set to music a set of gibberish text by Small, which Wright then translated into a distinct language. The resulting aria, “Aula jezpol,” depicts a story of creation in which divine love (ifeliof) and its polar opposite, hatred, are united to form a new earth:
Aula Jezpol, om ponquey don mailya
Let’s go to Eternity, all things (molecules, energy) join together (literally “wear intercourse”)
Though this original aria will not yet be sung at the May performances, its message seems implicitly communicated through the collaboration between artist and performers. Wright’s artistic partnership with Small has been characterized by an increasingly frequent, almost systematic encounter with the unfamiliar:
[Sarah] accidentally or intentionally — I’m not really sure yet — likes to throw things in my direction to make me even more uncomfortable. It’s like the first time, so now I’m singing. And now I’m singing nude. And now I’m singing nude a cappella. And now I’m the model that signals all the other models to leave the stage, and I have to walk off, back to the audience, by myself. And you know, I’ve finally gotten comfortable with that, to the point where it’s fun. Like it’s a fun, scary challenge that I really enjoy. And now she’s like, “Hey, how ’bout you write your own aria? How ’bout you write a celebratory aria in minor?” You know, she doesn’t ever really stop challenging me, and I kind of adore that about her… She fosters growth in me from things that I never would have expected, like writing this aria.
For ticket information on the May 23 and 24 performances of Sarah Small’s Tableau Vivant of the Delirium Constructions at Skylight One Hanson in Brooklyn, N.Y. visit http://www.livingpictureprojects.com/.