Yvonne Rainer on YouTube (June 28, 2009)
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
This blog post marks my interest in the possible relations between the art world and YouTube. I focus on a new work by foundational postmodernist and feminist dancer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer to consider the role of avant-garde form in or about amateur-made work.
Characteristics of the postmodern in dance: "Reintroduction of the traditional, self-Referencing, mocking, ironic, parody, mixture of 'high art' and 'low art,' anti-structural (breaking the norms and rigid rules), fractured, disjointed, collage, subversive social commentary and meaning, visual metaphor is important, elements of deconstruction."[cit]

Shawn Sobers explains that in his Beyond Project: "I regularly write about my research interests of community media, education and society on this blog."[cit]

Debates about whether radical content demands radical form have been central to modernist and postmodernist avant-garde and political art movements. Some argue that mainstream audiences can be best reached through forms with which they are already familiar. Others believe that ideas that go against a society's hegemonic beliefs (its common sense views) can not be contained in forms that are themselves hegemonic, already familiar and comfortable.
Saw Yvonne Rainer perform at Redcat. Her second dance was Spiraling Down: "this new work draws inspiration from a variety of sources: newspaper photos, soccer moves, old movies, classic modern dance, ballet, Steve Martin, 19th-century actress Sarah Bernhardt, even Rainer's own disinterred dances from the 1960s. These materials and others, including spoken texts, come together to create an eerie resonance that is both melancholic and unpredictable." (I actually liked the first one, ROS Indexical better but it didn't mention YouTube.)

In one of Spiraling Down's many unrelated spoken texts, the dialogue went something like this (I didn't keep notes, so this is a rough stab at it): One dancer queries, "Blackberry?" The other three shout: "No!" Another asks, "Filofax?" They respond, "Bring them back!" Finally, "YouTube?" The answer: "WOW!" All the while, the four dancers (including Rainer) circle away and toward each other, tripping over their own pattering feet, arms moving in detached gestures ripped from other events. We momentarily tap into their professed enthusiasm about this particular new technology, connect it as we can (or cannot) to a ceaseless flow of sound and movement, and this one fleeting idea, disconnected from or connectible to the hundreds of others expressed literally with words and figuratively with unrelated gestures, passes across the piece to be quickly lost unless you grab it. It is a shred of an idea embedded in a sea of abstraction edging toward meaning. Take from it what you will. And I took it because, as you know, I keep this YouTube blog.

YouTube? WOW.

Now, compare that to the pages and pages I'v written about YouTube (blogging, teaching, writing). There's much for me to learn from Rainer's pomo minimalism. Of course, she is a brilliant and renowned artist at the top of her game, and I am her middling former student (back in 1987) intentionally waxing on, week after week, in my more direct, colloquial, bloggish prose. Her spare abstract approach compared to my verbosity demonstrates questions often raised here about talent, training, accessibility, popularity, radicality, and artisanship, all at the heart of the matter of YouTube: WOW.

This links nicely to a related conversation I've been enjoying with British community media activist and scholar Shawn Sobers (who I met last summer in Ghana at an activist media conference) about the relations between avant-garde form and people's experience. Yes, form and content. He writes on his blog, The Beyond Project, "I like the approach of radical content being packaged in radical (avant-garde) form, though I guess there would be a balance needed as avant-garde form could also alienate the very audience the radical content was aimed at to empower."

Rainer's dances (and films) are unapologetically made for an art-world or NicheTube audience who are ready to be spoken to in a new(ish) language they just might want to learn to know and love. I like to watch postmodern dance but am drawn myself (as an artist) to speak in documentary because of its more immediate (and direct) relations to sense making in relation to sensibility.