Posts tagged ‘dance’

Passion in motion: Elizabeth Johnson and Socially Engaged Practice at the ASU Art Museum

Above: Elizabeth Johnson, second from left, takes part in the “Mother-Daughter Distance Dance” at the ASU Art Museum on April 2, 2011, as part of Gregory Sale’s exhibition It’s not just black and white.

Art is active. And for those like Elizabeth Johnson, it can move them in more ways than one.

As the Coordinator for Socially Engaged Practice at the museum, Johnson uses dance in order to organize collaborations, promote dialogue, and investigate pressing issues of our time.

Part of how she does this by harnessing people’s natural movement and putting shapes around questions that people then answer physically.

It’s not as abstract as you might think.

“We move to communicate all the time,” Johnson says. “We improvise every moment we have a conversation. We have an idea, we have a vision and we act on that vision or we don’t act on that vision. I just offer ways for people to show that. It’s a very fluid process.”

Before accepting this position, Johnson had never worked for a museum before. Having received her BFA in Dance from Connecticut College, Johnson traveled around the world organizing community engagement events and projects, as she says, in everyone’s community except her own.

Johnson explains working at the ASU Art Museum has made her rethink what a museum is — especially this museum: “I’ve never been a person who felt like I could concentrate with something still on the wall, as beautiful as it might be. Now that I’m in a museum, I’ve realized that a museum is a place that can hold ideas and is a place for the public, not just the people who know about art.”

Johnson’s work uses unique activities to connect with the community and have people think about artmaking and relationships formed through art. She bases her work on the idea that intangible social interactions can constitute the core of an artwork.

“That’s why I’m here,” she says.

When it comes to Socially Engaged Practice, Johnson explains she’s not just a planner but also a practitioner of the process: “There’s a lot of preparation that goes into collaborative events. I tend to set up things, but I also get involved with them. I facilitate and coordinate but I also practice and do. I get myself involved in a lot of interesting things.”

Through dance, Johnson creates meaningful cross-disciplinary collaborations and builds sustainable partnerships.

“What art can do is hold complexity,” she says. “And I kind of believe that when you bring your body into this, it brings out this human experience that we all have and gives us the capacity to have compassion in a way that’s different than if we just read a newspaper.”

Johnson is currently pursuing an MFA in Dance from ASU with her thesis focusing on exploring women and crime, a subject she became interested in after collaborating with Gregory Sale for It’s not just black and white in 2011.

“It really had me think what it’s like for me to be in Arizona and for me to be in a community that was my own.”

Above: Elizabeth Johnson, left, and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief MaryEllen Sheppard talk with girls who participated in the “Mother-Daughter Distance Dance.”

Johnson considers curriculum integration the biggest and most important aspect of her job — how to create a program that trains the artists of the 21st century that gives them skills to not only hones their craft but apply it in multiple contexts.

Johnson currently instructs Socially Engaged Practice: Engagement and Community, but she is also in the process of designing a new program and curricula for a certificate in Socially Engaged Practice at the undergraduate and graduate level.

“I have a real passion for this kind of work and what happens when young people see how big art can be and how many possibilities there are,” Johnson says. “The actual engagement of young people is really interesting to me. And I thrive on it, which is why I’m in a university.”

Next semester she and the director of the ASU Art Museum Gordon Knox will teach the new class Socially Engaged Art, which will examine the role of the artist in society from an anthropological perspective. Knox and Johnson also plan to use the course to push students to think about how to use art to moderate conversations and assess the complexities of a given social situation.

Johnson explains she has learned more about socially engaged practice uses dance in a way to share, not perform.  “You combine your experience with somebody else’s and you see ‘Oh, it’s a more complicated picture,’” she says. “More interesting, more broad. [Working here] has definitely expanded what I know.”

Johnson’s intern Lindsay Henika, a senior studying Art Administration, has found her time at the museum to be an opportunity to learn about special event planning and media marketing. “It’s been so great to see how the museum works from the front row,” she says.

Johnson has her hand in many different projects, but her next upcoming event is At Home in the Desert: Youth Engagement and Place. The project partners the faculty and staff in ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts with community-based organizations, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan PhoenixThe Boys and Girls and Club of the East Valley, Girl ScoutsArizona Cactus-Pine Council, and South Mountain High School.

Johnson has been working with the Girl Scouts by studying the desert and making dances about what they find. The public event will take place on Dec. 1 at the Diane and Bruce Halle Skyspace Garden on the Tempe campus at 4:30 p.m.

To learn more about what the Socially Engaged Practice community is up to, check out its blog and Facebook.

Mary Richardson

November 27, 2012 at 7:17 pm 1 comment

Notes From Underground: Fall Season Opening

Guest blogger and ASU student Veronica Rascona writes about the ASU Art Museum’s Fall 2012 Season Opening Reception:

At 6:30 on the evening of September 28, the ASU Art Museum launched its 2012 season. People gathered in the darkness at the front of the building to talk, eat and watch a performance by the mixed parkour, martial arts, dance and acrobatics group Movement Connections. The group, dressed in white, took advantage of the museum’s unique structure as they silently crawled, leapt and ran all over the walls and stairs of the Art Museum’s entrance.

In a touching moment, a little girl got caught up in the mix and one of the performers invited her to perform a stunt with him—a simple handstand, nothing dangerous. After performing a few more acrobatics on their own, eventually the performers climbed up onto the cement pillars in the front of the Museum. They performed a few stunts and then began pointing toward the façade of the museum upon which a video was being projected. It appeared to have been filmed from the window of a car and depicted an expanse of desert landscape rushing by.

The video continued to play as Movement Connections wrapped up their performance. People then began to shuffle down the stairs, waiting for the next sequence in the evening’s activities. Some ventured into the Museum to look at the current exhibits on display, while others, like myself, sat just outside the doors, taking in the array of lights that filled the underground courtyard—part of the “55: Music and Dance in Concrete” performance that would start at 7:30 p.m.

I sat to one side of the courtyard and began to notice other elements—a video of an eye opening and closing and rolling around in its socket was projected onto the back of the pillars that outlined the courtyard. Above and below the eye was the phrase, “Don’t touch me!!” projected backwards. It was somewhat disturbing,and I did not know what to expect from the performance after seeing these images. Just before the performance began, the audience was instructed as to where to stand in order to best view the performance, but were also told that the performers would be moving throughout the space alternately providing various vantage points a better view.

The crowd gathered, and from my vantage point I witnessed three of the visiting dancers, each dressed in red, black and white, slowly fill the empty space between us and the Museum. I could not see what was happening on the other half of the courtyard as it was blocked by cement pillars and benches, but this was how the show was meant to be viewed: people seeing different parts of the show, each person having a unique viewing experience. The three girls on my side slowly moved into position.

The lights changed from bright white lines filling the space to a strange speckled effect, and music composed of electronic sounds, “from 55 improvised and 55 composed pieces” started to play. The dancers began to move. Their dancing was rapid; they moved convulsively, throwing themselves at the cement walls and against the floor as the lights continued to change and pulse. The effect was alarming and intriguing. As the dancers moved throughout the space, the crowd adjusted to watch each new scene; at one point the only male dancer shut himself behind a gate while a video of him stuck in what seemed like a jail cell played on the wall behind the bars. The video cut from scenes of him in the cell, to the real dancer performing similar movements in the real, jail-like space.

The music and lights continued to change as the dancers set and reset their stage, from one side of the courtyard to the other, to behind the bars, to on top of the cement benches, to at one point taking the elevator in the middle of the space up to the second floor where we lost sight of them for a moment. The performance, meant to engage the audience in sight, sound and movement, felt like a piece about escape; the dancers’ jerking movements gave the impression that they were almost trying to break out of their own skin.

What was most beautiful about the whole event, however, was not only the performances, but the interaction between the performers and their audience. I looked over the faces in the audience and everyone’s eyes were on the performers, completely captivated. The decision by both performance groups to use the space around their audience created an atmosphere in which we were all connected. Not only did everyone get to watch a fun and intricate performance, but they were encouraged to feel like they were a part of it all.

Thanks to Sean Deckert and Veronica Rascona for the use of their photographs.

55: Music and Dance in Concrete  premiered at Fort Worden as part of Centrum’s Reverberations series, in addition to premiering at the ASU Art Museum. The project received initial funding from the MAP Fund and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, as well as support from Arizona State University, and RBMA. The project is supported by the Japan Foundation through the PerformingArtsJAPAN program. The Centrum Artist Residency program is made possible by support from the Washington State Arts Commission and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. Additional support was provided by 4Culture Site Specific.

Miguel Palma’s Trajectory is supported in part by the FUNd at ASU Art Museum, the ASU Art Museum Advisory Board and Friends and Margarita and Willie Joffroy.

October 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm 1 comment

another upcoming event!

While the holidays are quickly upon us, we still have things going on at ASU Art Museum! The evening of December 2, our latest installment of Night Moves takes place. Night Moves is part of Night Series, in which the Museum partners with the Herberger College of the Arts departments of Theatre & Film, Music or Dance. Night Moves is the partnership with Dance, get it? :)

So, at 7pm on Tuesday, December 2, MFA student Yeongwen Lee will host a short workshop out on the plaza that discusses body movement and space. The Museum will be open for the evening allowing visitors to peruse the galleries and in two of the galleries, you’ll encounter the dancers performing their original piece.  Additionally, there will be another music and video performance by Jesse Meeker and his friends, Human Mirror Project. You’ll find the guys in the main stairwell on your way into the Museum.

Dance, music, video and art- a great way to spend the holiday season! It’s all free and open to the public. We hope to see you here!

 

-Diane

November 24, 2008 at 7:57 pm


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