On Jan. 11, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) held a series of events as part of their current Françoise Sullivan retrospective, including a panel and a separate exhibition. Aptly titled the Dance and Visual Arts Study Day, the MAC invited a host of educators, artists, and theorists to share their ideas on the role of dance within the realm of the visual arts. Montreal-born artist Françoise Sullivan, whose own work has famously combined film and dance, was in the audience, giving the presenters the opportunity to reflect on the icon’s influence on their own works. Among Sullivan’s better-known pieces is the watershed work Danse dans la neige, a 1948 film that features the artist dancing in different seasonal landscapes.
During the first presentation, the panelists explored dance’s uncanny inclusion in the context of the exhibition. Given the multidisciplinary backgrounds of the collaborators, it came as no surprise that their approaches vastly differed from one another.
Flutura Preka and Besnik Haxhillari, the performance artists comprising The Two Gullivers group, discussed their neologism “performography”, which refers to the role that dance takes on in the context of the exhibit: The designer is tasked with creating a comprehensible whole from a string of separate and mutable pieces.
Meanwhile, Simon Grenier-Poirier, a conceptual researcher with a broad focus on relational art, and Dorian Nuskind-Oder, a choreographer and performer, shifted their focus to the audience’s dynamic role in the exhibition. During a traditional theatre experience the audience is stationary, whereas, much like a dancer, an exhibit viewer is able to move through the designated artistic space. Unlike a theatre, a museum does not limit the audience’s focus, instead allowing the surrounding art to contextualize the dance within the accompanying exhibit. These reflections were particularly striking for audience members, informing them of how they might alternatively experience the conference, which itself took place in a room that featured some of Sullivan’s work.
In a second talk, artist and educator Paul-André Fortier discussed his own views on the subject. Fortier expressed a conflicted attitude toward the fleeting temporality of dance. On the one hand, he lamented the fact that all of his performance existed only in the moment during which they unfolded on stage. On the other hand, he remarked that any wishes to index dance, such as a museum’s attempts through photography or video, would strip it of its spontaneity, framing recording as an affront to the body’s ability to create something irreproducible.
It seems impossible to reconcile the ephemera of dance with the static nature of traditional visual art. By the end of the panel, however, each contributor’s eclectic ideas harkened back to a common concern—dance as a dynamic artform. Whether through the perspective of time, place, or person each talk presented dance as a visual art that stresses the processes of motion and change.