DANS by Michael Biggs

Dans: o desenho da dança de Ricardo Woo

Sala de Olhar

Rua Dr. Virgílio de Carvalho Pinto 655

São Paulo

11 Agosto – 27 Setembro 2014

Critique by Michael Biggs


The trouble with making images of dancers is that they dance, they move, there is gesture and animation. How are we to respond to that in the cold stillness of the white exhibition space? And this is no small trouble: it has been the theme of Western Art since Degas. So what one is always seeking is some new approach to the problem of encoding all this movement. To some extent the problem is resolved by new media; but the challenge, the representational issue, the intellectual perspective that draws us up and focuses our attention, is how to address all of these issues that time-based media resolve, through the traditional medium of two-dimensional image making.


What Ricardo presents us with are three novel encodings. To my mind, they do not begin with the drawings of dancers that one encounters in the first room of the exhibition. To be sure, the paper is smooth and the graphite is greasy, and as a result the images slip and slide a little insecurely on the page. But to some extent these are images from a genre with which we are already familiar.


The first novel encoding comes with *the series of paintings called DANS, not so much the images themselves as the way in which they are presented. The gallery imposes itself through its low ceilings and forces these large images to hover just short of the floor. But in so doing they encounter us at a height that is unexpected, they present their centres to our centres. This encourages a corporeal reading of the images because they present themselves to our viscera. One normally encounters images placed higher on the wall so that their centres are at eye level, their centres meet our intellectual centres and not our visceral centres. The code for hanging Western artwork is to place the work at level of the mind, and not at the level of the gut.


The second coding innovation comes with the work that is hidden in the second room in a folder of images on the floor. Ricardo unpacked this(called *CORPOGRAFIA-Charcoal on Paper) for me and told me the narrative of their production: how dancers sprawled on the refuse from the other drawings and produced marks through the interaction of their bodies on these litter trays that had simply kept the floor clean whilst the other drawings were being made. From the start we therefore have a different relationship between both the figure and the art materials. This is image making with refuse and as a result shows itself as a residue of the movement of the dancers themselves. We have all seen body art before but if only Ricardo can resolve how to re-encounter and display these images then I think there is a novel content here. The content is less about image and more about the engagement of the putative subject, which is the dancer, with the detritus of the studio. It is a kind of environmental or ecological image making.


The third and most exciting experience is had from the enormous drawing on a roll of paper *during practices of Contact Improvisation. I do not know how many visitors to the gallery will be able to experience this work, but Ricardo showed it to me on a fine Saturday morning by taking me outside and unrolling it in the road outside the gallery. This was not on the pavement but literally in the road, and although he had warned me that it was 20m long, I had not expected to see quite such a large image. Being outside, in the road, and having this white expanse unfurled in the sunlight was already an experience "out of the gallery, out of the box, out of the ordinary". But then to realise that when one stands at one end as I had to do while Ricardo unrolled the other end of the drawing, that one cannot see an image 20m away. This image was too large to see. Even when I had the opportunity to walk along the image and see it, frame by frame as it were, as a piece of narrative art that unrolls over time, still it could not all be encompassed in one go. The image changes in its style and representation along its length and so one does not get a uniform experience even when one has tracked its full length. As he discussed with me, it would be possible to unroll a bit at a time like traditional Chinese paintings, but this would be to make it precious. This work too was large and too haptic, and was made on paper glued together that was now torn as a result of the difficulty with its handling. This was a monster. But it's very monstrosity reinforced the knowledge that all of these dance representations occur over time. Time and movement are the challenge - not depicting them or representing them through blurred lines and other pseudo-photographic devices, but the challenge of re-coding movement into something else that can speak through the medium of the static gallery experience. Ricardo Woo offers us three different ways of approaching this problem, each of which are stimulating physical and intellectual experiences.


Michael Biggs is Professor of Aesthetics and former Associate Dean Research at the University of Hertfordshire, UK and Board Member of the Swedish National Research School in Architecture. He has published widely on research theory in the creative and performing arts and has extensive experience as a doctoral supervisor and examiner in the UK, Sweden and Brazil.