Living Materials: Ethics and Principles for Embodied Stewardship

A Conversation Between Cori Olinghouse and Megan Metcalf

Thursday, June 10, 17:30 CEST

This conversation between artist and archivist Cori Olinghouse and art historian Megan Metcalf examines embodied conservation skills, which are essential for the preservation of performance and related mediums yet remain mostly invisible and under-theorized in visual art. The presentation begins from the premise that dance and other performance forms have inherent strategies for continuation that mitigate against their ephemerality. First the speakers lay out paradigms from dance and improvisation for originality, authorship, and continuity that are at odds with those of object conservation. This sets up an exploration of the care of live art at museums and beyond institutions through a “mutual interview” focused on each speaker’s experience with translating dance and performance works for the present and future. The conversation will be hosted by Hanna Hölling.

Olinghouse’s role ferrying embodied knowledge from artist to museum for Autumn Knight’s WALL (2016), acquired by the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2019, underscored the need for artist- and body- centered approaches to archiving and preservation. This need was also uncovered in the acquisition of Simone Forti’s Dance Constructions (1960-61) by the Museum of Modern Art (NY) in 2015, a process in which Metcalf participated. The curatorial framework and dramaturgy developed by Olinghouse in 2015 for Melinda Ring’s Impossible Dance #2 Still Life (1999) are instructive alongside older models for “preserving” dances such as Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A (1966), a critical piece of Metcalf’s research into continuation models for dance. And, the reconstruction and reinterpretation of Trisha Brown’s Pamplona Stones (1974) undertaken by Olinghouse in 2018 provides a foil for projects initiated under Merce Cunningham’s Legacy Plan, both of which offer creative approaches to the “afterlives” of performance. The Pamplona Stones project foregrounded collaboration and re-formulated its humor in order to enable the duet to endure in the present, while Metcalf’s research has shown that the Legacy Plan foreclosed such transformations of Cunningham’s work within the museum context, making clear certain expectations of the museum’s competencies.

From these vivid examples, Metcalf and Olinghouse offer guiding principles and ethics for embodied stewardship. These include ensuring a practitioner versed in bodily knowledge is part of the strategic process for conserving live works, while at the same time recognizing the embodied knowledge already held within institutional memory. These recommendations also include acknowledging the social “material” out of which performances are made, individuals who provide a foundational fabric for an artwork’s continuation. The conversation demonstrates how translating performance for the future can offer critical insight into an artwork; when undertaken with embodied conservation skills, it is not necessarily a project threatened by the rigidity of preservation or centrally concerned with loss. And finally, this discussion recognizes the generative performance stewardship taking place in community settings far away from institutional and academic structures. Together the speakers call for diverse, inclusive, and expansive approaches to preservation, which the longstanding field of performance can help inspire.

Cori Olinghouse is an artist, archivist, and curator working with performance and time-based media. Her work has been shown at Abrons Art Center, BRIC Arts Media, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Danspace Project, Knockdown Center, Lincoln Center, Microscope Gallery, New York Live Arts, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and Movement Research. In 2017 she founded The Portal, an expanded artist project that cultivates archiving as a poetic and performative practice. Recently, she collaborated with video artist Charles Atlas on a moving image installation of Trisha Brown’s archival materials for “Judson Dance Theater: The Work is Never Done,” at The Museum of Modern Art. Last year, she collaborated with Autumn Knight and The Studio Museum in Harlem on the acquisition and restaging of Autumn Knight’s WALL—the first performance work to enter their permanent collection. She formerly served as archive director for the Trisha Brown Dance Company (2009-2018), a company she danced for from 2002-2006. She holds an MA in Performance Curation from Wesleyan University and serves as visiting faculty at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College.

Megan Metcalf is an art and dance historian who brings a practitioner’s perspective to scholarly research, combining work in institutional and personal archives with a background in dance and choreography. She received her PhD in contemporary art history from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2018 and has held positions at institutions including ArtCenter College of Art and Design (Pasadena, CA), Otis College of Art and Design, the Getty Research Institute, and UCLA (all Los Angeles, CA). Her work has been published by the Bard Graduate Center (NY), Danspace Project (NY), and Open Space (SFMOMA) and supported by the New York Public Library and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, among others. She is currently at work on a book about the history of dance and performance in art museums and will be the Diana A. and Harry A. Stern fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2021-2022.

Simone Forti, preparing for “Simone Forti: Thinking With the Body” at the Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, July 2014. Photograph by Megan Metcalf. Melinda Ring, Impossible Dance #2 still life (1999/2015), improvisation by Kai Kleinbard.
Melinda Ring, Impossible Dance #2 still life (1999/2015), improvisation by Kai Kleinbard.