The Seattle Asian Art Museum is open again and events continue to be virtual for the time being—so tune in to get creative and find inspiration through artworks and performances from across Asian cultures before your next visit to the museum! Learn about the different ways that Asian art can connect to dance and music with a performance by Hengda Dance Academy. Consider how body movement informs Asian art as we practice a variety of mudras based on sculptures at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Then create your own work of art inspired by movement, rhythm, and more with painter and printmaker Janet Fagan.
Family festivals at the Seattle Asian Art Museum connect families with performances, art activities, and other programming related to SAM’s Asian art collection.
“Moving images When you stare at something for a while it starts to move. When you focus/think on it long enough it will move you.”
– Michele Dooley
Action painting is akin to an artist dancing around their canvas. In this video Michele Dooley, Nia-Amina Minor, and Amanda Morgan, three Seattle-based contemporary dance artists, reinterpret Franz Kline’s movements in Cross Section.
Cross Section came into SAM’s collection earlier this year as part of a gift made to the Seattle Art Museum from the Wright Collection in honor of the museum’s 75th Anniversary. Though it’s been on view before, it’s inclusion in City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art That Shaped a New Seattle marks it’s debut as part of our Modern and Contemporary Collection. This exhibition presents 64 works, all from the Wright Collection, created between 1943–2003 that define bold and experimental art movements across the United States and Europe. City of Tomorrow features but a fraction of the many works that Jinny and her husband Bagley gifted to SAM over the years. Kline’s Cross Section is a striking example of the Abstract Expressionist art movement.
“There is movement present in a painter’s trace. In the remnants of each brush stroke one can sense action, physicality and gravity. What does it feel like to be a paint brush to watch and listen to it’s swipe and feel each stroke embodied. What does it feel like to move with and through a painting? In the wash of this physicality there are the inevitable left overs and spillages. That space of imperfection and slippage draws me in.”
– Nia-Amina Minor
Like many abstract expressionist artists, Kline trained as a figurative artist but chose to work abstractly, believing that the basic elements of art—line, color, shape—could evoke a transcendent experience for a viewer. In Cross Section, thick strokes of black and white paint are layered, emphasizing movement in the composition. This work is often referred to as an example of action painting because it can be seen as a record of its making.
Though City of Tomorrow is closing on January 18, the impressive artworks in this exhibition will be on view again as part of SAM’s collection galleries—all thanks to the visionary voyage of Jinny Wright. Through her arts initiatives, donations, and fundraising, Jinny’s legacy lives not only in the art collections and institutions she helped build, but also in her staunch belief that contemporary artists define their time.
“When approaching making movement in response to this work, I immediately was drawn to how abstract it was. Only having black and white strokes leave so much room for interpretation and storytelling. I imagined I was a part of the black strokes, weaving in and out of the white portions. There’s a moment where I slowly slip my shoes off; this was improv, but I envisioned that I was leaving the black strokes to enter white strokes, intertwining them both, one not existing without the other.”
In Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Trapsprung, a dancer reaches to the tip of their outstretched leg while balancing perfectly on the toes of their other leg. In Interview Magazine, the artist describes being drawn to “the very kind of visceral physical power and grace of dancers, and their occasional closeness to losing control.”
A split second before or after the moment in this painting, and the dancer’s balance will shift into another movement. Here, though, the dancer’s strength and poise are captured in an instant, while Yiadom-Boakye’s brushwork evokes the energy of the movement. Painted from memory and imagination, Yiadom-Boakye features portraits of Black people exclusively, creating images that explore “the wider possibility of anything and everything.” In the current socio-political climate, David Rue, Public Engagement Associate at SAM, initiated a project that celebrates and elevates incredible Black artists living and working in the city of Seattle through connecting them with this work by a prominent Black artist in SAM’s collection. Local artists Amanda Morgan, Michele Dooley, and Nia-Amina Minor, responded to Trapsprung in brief, personal dance works, and offered reflections on the artwork and their lived experiences.
It’s easy to assume that each and every work made by Black artists living right now will only be about police brutality, slavery, or protest. Plot twist! While these are important conversations to be had, it’s also critical to remember that we’re a very dynamic group of people capable of exploring a multitude of artistic experiences.
What I believe is on the other side of this socio-political monstrosity is the beauty, power, and grace that exists within Black artists. These are qualities that I see within Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s work as well as within the dancers commissioned to respond to Trapsprung. Now is the time to celebrate and elevate their artistic excellence.
On my first visit to the Seattle Art Museum I immediately took notice of Trapsprung. A Black ballerina dancing in a piece of art is not a common subject that you find in much of the art that is created, so I instantly saw myself in the work, being a Black ballerina myself. The aspect about the piece that I probably enjoy the most though is the perspective and action taking place within it. We are placed behind her and given her perspective as she moves; she moves with intent and direction as opposed to being static and placed in the space only to be seen. I think this demonstrates what women, and particularly Black women are capable of. We are not there to just be viewed or seen, we are a statement in just our being and use this as our power to go forth in all we do rather than let this inhibit us. I like to think the woman in that portrait would take on the world as such.
Amanda Morgan is originally from Tacoma, WA and is currently a corps member at Pacific Northwest Ballet. She joined the company in 2016 as an apprentice and was promoted to corps in 2017. In addition to dancing, Morgan is a choreographer and founder of her own project titled “The Seattle Project”, which aims to collaborate with multiple artists in Seattle and create new work that is accessible to the community. She has choreographed for PNB’s Next Step at McCaw Hall (2018, 2019), Seattle International Dance Festival (2019), and curated her own show at Northwest Film Forum this past February of 2020. She is currently continuing to still create and connect with artists during this time, and has a dance film coming out in collaboration with Nia-Amina Minor for Seattle Dance Collective this July.
Power and dynamic combined with softness and beauty.
Remembering all it is and what it feels like to be a Black woman.
Always acknowledging how much strength and resilience it requires to become the Black dancer in this artwork and the Black artist that painted it.
Michele Dooley is a native of Philadelphia and began her dance training at The Institute of the Arts under the direction of Cheryl Gaines Jenkins. She graduated from the High School for Creative and Performing Arts under the direction of LaDeva Davis and earned a BFA in dance at The University of the Arts, under the direction of Donna Faye Burchfield. While earning her degree, she spent three seasons with Eleone Dance Theatre. Michele trained at Bates Summer Intensive, BalletX summer program, and DCNS Summer Dance Intensive, worked with choreographers such as Gary Jeter, Tommie Waheed-Evans, Dara Meredith, Milton Myers, Nora Gibson, and Ronen Koresh, among others.
I see her and she’s flying.
Purposefully turned away from a world that is often drawn to her image partly because she makes it look so easy. But I see the effort, the commitment, and I can stand to learn something from the subtlety. I remember reading that a bird’s wings have evolved to provide lift and reduce drag. They use their strongest muscles to lift while their wing anatomy minimizes turbulence, friction, and all that would drag them down to the ground.
I see her and she’s flying.
Nia-Amina Minor is a movement based artist and dance educator from South Central Los Angeles. She holds a MFA from the University of California, Irvine and a BA from Stanford University. Nia-Amina is a co-founder of Los Angeles based collective, No)one Art House, as well as a Company Dancer and Community Engagement Artist Liaison with Spectrum Dance Theater.
Does this painting make you want to dance?! Artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye paints her artworks, like this one, in a single day based on her memory or imagination. Its sense of movement may make you want to join in and move! Try to pose or stand like this figure. Make sure you have enough space. Is it hard to pose like this? How long can you hold this pose for? Below is a perspective on this artwork from choreographer Donal Byrd. Give it a listen as you think about the painting and also about dance as an art form. Then do some dancing yourself and see if you can sculpt a pose! Find a one-page lesson plan based on this artwork designed for grades K–2 and translated into English, Spanish, and Chinese in SAM’s Education Resource Center catalogue. There’s more where that came from—check out more Look and Make Lessons on our website!
Movement Activity: Freeze Dance
Pick one of your favorite songs and have a family member or friend begin playing it. Dance around to the music! Move all parts of your body from your fingers to your toes.
Have your family member or friend press pause randomly to surprise you!
When the music stops, freeze! You’ve just struck a pose! Hold it until the music starts playing again.
Press play on the music and pause again when you’re ready to strike another pose. This time try something different.
Art Actvity: Create a sculpture of a person out of aluminum foil!
Cut slits in the foil: One on the bottom for the legs and two at the top for the head and arms.
Squeeze the middle of the foil to make the waist.
Squeeze each leg and arm to make more of a cylinder shape.
Crunch in the foil on top to make a head.
When you’re done, shape it into the pose of your favorite dance move! Remember how it feels to move like this every time you look at it!
Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A is a masterpiece in movement. The work, choreographed over a period of six months in 1966, is part of a larger work titled The Mind is a Muscle. Currently on view in the contemporary galleries is a solo performance of the same piece, filmed in 1978 on 16-millimeter film in Merce Cunningham’s studio.
Today Rainer is celebrated for her many contributions to modern dance and film. Continually exploring the relationship between dancer and audience, she pushes against the conventions of classical and modern dance. The video of Trio A captures, in a way photographs cannot, the subtlety of her actions. Bending, tapping, gliding, twisting, pacing, turning (all without looking at the camera!) the precision of Rainer’s seemingly simple gestures is mesmerizing.
The simplicity, or ordinariness, of her movements is one of the many reasons Trio A is considered canonical. Indeed, her sequence of small gestures read as ordinary; however, when art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson—who has studied, screened, and analyzed the performance countless times—found herself learning the choreography directly from Rainer in 2008, she found a new appreciation for the exacting nature of the work:
I could not always reconcile what I knew to be the required gesture…with the limitations of my body as I wobbled, tripped, and fell. My knees didn’t bend the way they were supposed to; my sense of my center of gravity and balance was totally off; and as Rainer once said to me, her brow furrowed with concern, “Do you even know how to run?” For it turns out that most of our received ideas about this dance are slightly misleading; it is not full of “everyday” actions (for instance, it includes a free handstand in the middle of the room, and balance en demi pointe while wearing tennis shoes).
Rather, it is exhausting, it is strenuous, it is very physically challenging, and Rainer has incredibly precise ideas about the ways the body needs to configure itself, where exactly the gaze should land, how even the fingers should be positioned. One does not sloppily move through a series of somewhat improvised or random motions; every tiny movement is prefigured, and it takes a great deal of concentration and work. Far from a free-form, unstructured terrain of unconstrained movement, Rainer’s instructions were a reminder that dance, though it can be deeply pleasurable, is equally a discipline, concerned with techniques of training and regimes to shape the body.
After rereading Bryan-Wilson’s “Practicing Trio A,” I had the privilege of going down to Big Picture: Art after 1945on the third floor and watching the work again. My experience was dramatically different this time around; with extra attention paid to the smallest of Rainer’s gestures (which the film’s “Details” section facilitates), it became clear how much intentionality is imbedded in every action. There is magic in the way Rainer effortlessly configures herself in space, but it is far from effortless—each moment is measured and calculated. Rainer just makes it look easy.
If you’re visiting the Olympic Sculpture Park in the next three months you might encounter the new artist in resident of SAM’s pilot residency program as part of Winter Weekends. Paige Barnes is a movement artist whose dancing is sinewy and soft. Even the angles she creates from ankle to elbow appear like feather tips, tilting and adjusting to the surrounding atmosphere. While at the Olympic Sculpture Park her movements are directed by visitors’ pulses.
Having recently completed a degree at Bastyr University to become a licensed acupuncturist practitioner, Barnes uses a medical vocabulary to describe the quality of the pulses informing her movement, but is not approaching the pulse diagnostically. In fact, once she takes a pulse there is no exchange until after she takes the visitor’s pulse again, after the multimedia performance, and notes any differences in heart rate and quality in reaction to the experience.
“fast flick & that knee flick It’s not the birds but the burrows that wild flying beetle who is all marmalade.” –Vanessa DeWolf, Video: Vida Rose
Far from medical in her vocabulary, is the text of Vanessa DeWolf, a writer working with Barnes who crafts a personalized poem for the visitor in response to Barnes’ dance. Visitors are given this poem, as well as a walking score based on different parts of the body that offers a suggested guide through the park. As Barnes dances, animator Stefan Gruber begins drawing. His digital marks are highly repetitive, leaving ghostly traces behind on the projected image of his work in progress. During a break in Barnes’ movement, bassist Evan Flory-Barnes begins a solo that continues once the dancing begins again. Making her way back across the room, Barnes comes to rest in front the visitor, whose pulse has beat all this creative energy into action. DeWolf reads aloud the piece she’s been writing this entire time and Gruber plays the animated version of the drawing he’s been making. Played linearly, the marks make a line drawing that moves and morphs, the previously disjointed marks now a visual echo of Barnes’ movement.
“And with her long unbroken beach and owls softly cooing this might be the softest hunt ever” –Vanessa DeWolf, Video: Sage Mailman
Hesitant and fluid, occasionally staccato, intermittently delicate, Barnes creates improvised repetitions that flow like the blood, sometimes thick and viscous, sometimes thin and light. This chain reaction of artistic media is using landscape is a metaphor for the body: the liver is a meridian, the kidneys are a water element controlling fear and willpower.
Glimpse the process of this residency taking place Saturdays–Mondays in the PACCAR Pavilion. Weekends, Barnes and DeWolf will take pulse readings from 2–3 people and Mondays, the entire artist crew will take 2 pulse readings. Attend the Winter Weekend Art Encounters to see the ongoing outcomes of these pulse readings. The Friday, January 27 Art Encounter, Bridging Pulse, will be informed by the prior public pulse readings and feature the core group of artists. February’s Friday 24 Art Encounter will not include animation but will feature 10 dancers interacting with each other and responding to multiple pulse reading stations. For the third and final Art Encounter on March 31 will present Vanessa DeWolf’s writing as a lead character in a more intimate and contained performance.
“I’m available as a marble ten the pages open to where I will find it again” –Vanessa DeWolf, Video: Bruce Clayton Tom
At each Art Encounter you’ll notice a pulsing light directed outwards from the PACCAR Pavilion. This is the work of Amiya Brown, yet another collaborator in Page Barnes’ menagerie. Let this light, programmed to pulse at the pace of various Northwest lighthouses guide you safely towards these subtle and beautiful encounters.
In 2013 SAM acquired a video work by contemporary artist Jacolby Satterwhite that would later feature in the SAM-organized exhibition Disguise: Masks and Global African Art (an iteration of which has just opened at the Brooklyn Museum to widerecognition). Though Disguise was still in the planning stages, Satterwhite’s video, called Country Ball 1989-2012, had so much eclectic visual interest, and it was displayed with such a distinctly digital vision, that it was chosen early on as a representative piece for the Seattle show.
Country Ball 1989-2012 is a maelstrom of dancing figures and neon elements, a wild ride for its nearly thirteen minutes of running time. Here’s the artist himself talking through his thoughts and creative process:
Using the whole computer-generated landscape and the various vignettes that appear throughout the video, the artist brings together different modes of communication to create a new way of expressing that is distinctly his. Dance comes to the fore as a versatile language with meaning in a range of contexts. As the artist narrates, the genus of the work lies in a Mother’s Day cookout in the park (by the way, thank you to all the moms!), enlivened by choreographed dance. The artist himself performs dance in eccentric dress to add his own movement and personality to the work. Even the viewer’s perspective seems to dance as it meanders through this dynamic virtual landscape.
Re-presenting a home video and introducing the artist’s original dance performance, and itself being a museum-owned artwork, Country Ball1989-2012 illustrates what a wide spectrum of contexts and environments feature dance as an act of importance and value.
There is a display in SAM Downtown’s Wright & Runstad Gallery for African Art holding two pairs of sculptures that provide a transcendent view of “togetherness” and what it means for the spiritual to be connected with the earth. The first is a pair of “Male and Female figures” made by the Baule of central Cote d’Ivoire. The painted wood sculptures represent spirit spouses that inhabit another world parallel to this one, and are prescribed by diviners to promote a healthy living situation between spouses. Imbued with power by the diviner each sculpture is given individual attention by its client in order for the power to be activated. Beside this pair resides a set of Congolese harps carved with faces at the end of their long curving necks to keep their players company and watch their every move. Atop flexed, carved legs their bellies would be filled with sound as the harp couple was played by two musicians travelling as a pair. During their travels the performers recited history as their livelihood and sang legendary epics.
Taken together these objects bring to mind the exhibit Theaster Gates: The Listening Room where objects form a collective history and repurposed materials find new meaning as art. The collection of records taken from Chicago’s now defunct Dr. Wax record store reminds me of the spirit spouses who are deserving of more attention. Giving attention to the records in SAM’s twice monthly DJ sets in the Listening Room (come listen next week May 3 & 6!) has allowed people in our community to come together at SAM through music. Although the spirit spouses must be decommissioned of their power by the diviner before they enter the museum the enduring coolness in their expressions continues to give meaning to their remedial function. Similarly the decommissioned fire hoses lining the walls of the Listening Room evoke memories of the civil rights movement in the 1960s where protestors were sprayed with these high pressure hoses during race riots. Our collective memory is jarred by Theaster Gates who saw value in an art object where others saw scrap material.
Considering this communal environment brings up another project Theaster Gates is involved with – the upcoming performance of “red, black & GREEN: a blues” coming to the Intiman Theater for Seattle Center’s Next 50 festival 30 May – 2 June. The performance is collaborative and interactive, written for the stage by performer, activist, and educator Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Bamuthi is working with a host of talented artists including set design by Gates. Click here to learn more about Marc Bamuthi Joseph and the Living Word Project and watch videos on the performance “red, black & GREEN: a blues.”
The central question addressed by Bamuthi is, “what sustains life in your city?” This is something he asked many people through the Life is Living festivals he has curated since 2008 in various U.S. cities and forms the inspiration that went into writing “red, black & GREEN: a blues.” By incorporating “the voices of people often left out of discussions about living green,” this conversation on the environment succeeds where others have fallen short, and actively seeks a reimagining of where we place value in our community.[i] This forms a collective experience that, through the stories Bamuthi has engaged and the recycled materials of Theaster’s set inspired by row houses, express our social ecology with power, grace, and rhythm. The success of this performance comes from the belief that “ultimately we are interdependent and stronger through collaboration,” which, like the Congolese harps and Ivorian spirit spouses, helps us maintain good relations and feel connected with the earth.
-Ryan R. Peterson, Curatorial + Community Engagement Intern
[i] Source: Mapp international productions website. Artist proframs, artists and projets, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, red, black & GREEN: a blues. Last accessed 24, April, 2012. http://mappinternational.org/programs/view/214
Top photo: “Male and Female Figures,” wood, paint, Ivorian, Baule & “Pair of Harps,” wood, skin, fabric, Congolese, Ngbaka. Photograph by the Author. Taken 4/24/12. JPEG file.
Saturday, February 11 Celebrate the opening of Gauguin and Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise at SAM with Tahitian dancing and drumming brought to you by Te Fare O Tamatoa and their peformance group Te’a rama! Be prepared to experience a Marquesan haka (a Polynesian traditional welcome) followed by additional performances.
Contours will be onsite providing temporary Polynesian-inspired tatoos to kids, teens and adults.
Polynesian temporary tattoos, 11 am–3 pm
Te Fare O Tamatoa Presents: Tahitian Drumming and Dancing by the Te’a rama performance group
–Haka (welcome and call to performance) in Brotman Forum at 11:30 am & 3 pm
-Performance in Plestcheeff Auditorium at noon & 3:30 pm
Te’a rama in action!
Sunday, February 12 The excitement surrounding the arrival of Gauguin and Polynesia to SAM, the only U.S. stop, continues with a special Tahitian concert performance by Halau Hula O Napualani & Kohala. Get a Polynesian-inspired temporary tattoo from Contours, who will be onsite from 11 am–3 pm.
Polynesian temporary tattoos, 11 am–3 pm
Halau Hula O Napualani and Koahala (Polynesian dance performance), in Brotman Forum at 11:30 am & 1:30 pm
And be sure to check out the traditional Polynesian welcome flower arrangement in Sarkowsky Hall.