Barbican Exhibition Showcases Michael Clark’s Cheeky World of Dance
LONDON — Dancer, choreographer, ex-heroin addict, prodigal son, perfectionist, art-world darling, club-world star: Michael Clark was for a very long time the enfant horrible of British dance. Right now he’s 58 and the topic of a complete exhibition, “Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer,” on the Barbican Artwork Gallery that surveys his profession and in depth collaborations.
The visible splendor of the exhibition, which opens Wednesday, vibrantly shows the pop-culture thrills of Mr. Clark’s arrival on the scene in London within the early Nineteen Eighties. With eye-popping graphics (“Get pleasure from God’s Disco” reads an early flyer for his firm in Coca-Cola pink and white), movie installations and high-flyer art-world contributions, the exhibition evokes a second by which dance wove itself into the material of a newly charged youth tradition.
“The Younger British Artist crowd swung into city, and Michael was a part of it,” the gallerist Sadie Coles mentioned. “He was in Peter Greenaway’s ‘Prospero’s Books,’ dancing in a warehouse in King’s Cross, on the new St. John’s restaurant, which the artwork crowd frequented. The whole lot crossed over.”
The exhibition, mentioned Florence Ostende, the present’s curator, is formed as “a love letter” from Mr. Clark’s artist pals and collaborators, displaying his work by the a number of guises of movie, pictures, portray, graphic work, costumes and design. “So many exhibitions depend on archival materials, and typically it could bury the artist,” Ms. Ostende mentioned. “I needed a really reside constellation of voices.” That features Charles Atlas, Jarvis Cocker, Elizabeth Peyton, Sarah Lucas, Peter Doig and Wolfgang Tillmans, amongst others.
Mr. Clark’s work by no means fairly took off in the US. (In The New York Publish, Clive Barnes dismissed Mr. Clark’s firm’s Brooklyn Academy of Music debut in 1986, saying he was attempting “to shock the unshockable, shock the unsurprised and make whoopee on an nearly deflated cushion.”) However it’s laborious to overstate his influence on London dance within the early Nineteen Eighties, when contemporary out of the Royal Ballet Faculty and a stint with Ballet Rambert, he started to choreograph.
Teaming up with scenesters just like the efficiency artist Leigh Bowery (a frequent mannequin for Lucian Freud), the experimental design duo BodyMap and rock bands just like the Fall and Wire, Mr. Clark grew to become recognized for his provocative, surrealist exhibits. Vaudeville, camp and comedy had been all a part of the combination. He and his dancers wore costumes with reduce outs displaying their buttocks, used large dildos as props, danced in syringe-pierced bodysuits and mingled with non-dancers onstage.
However the dancing was creative and rigorous, with robust influences from Merce Cunningham and the Cecchetti ballet method that Clark was schooled in, in addition to from Karole Armitage, whose firm he labored with in New York in 1982. It displayed the clear strains, pace and precision of his ballet coaching together with shocking off-balance tilts, pelvic thrusts that propel the legs and sudden shifts of weight.
Critics largely hated the costumes and music across the motion, however younger audiences adored the spectacle. “He bought curious Londoners from each stroll of life,” mentioned Michael Morris, who offered “Mmm …,” Mr. Clark’s tackle “The Ceremony of Spring,” in a King’s Cross warehouse in 1992. “I can nonetheless bear in mind the packed viewers, the sense of occasion that Michael was at all times so sensible at creating.”
These had been Mr. Clark’s golden years. In 1989 he began a relationship with the choreographer Stephen Petronio. In his memoir, “Confessions of a Movement Addict,” Mr. Petronio writes that when the pair had been struggling to create a efficiency for the Anthony d’Offay gallery in London, he insisted “that we carry out the one actual factor that we have now a critical day by day apply in: intercourse.” (Mr. Petronio referred to as it “Heterospective.”)
By the early Nineties, Mr. Clark had flamed out, battling alcohol, heroin and, later, methadone addictions. He went to reside along with his mom in rural Aberdeen, Scotland, the place he was born and the place, at age 4, he began taking Highland dance courses along with his sisters. In 1998, he returned to London to create a piece, “present/SEE,” a course of documented by the filmmaker Sophie Fiennes in “The Late Michael Clark,” on present within the Barbican exhibition. (It begins with infinite answerphone messages from journalists and others, attempting to contact Mr. Clark.)
Since then, he has remained an essential, however intermittent presence within the British dance world, persevering with to collaborate with an eclectic mixture of artists, vogue designers and musicians, and turning into an affiliate artist on the Barbican in 2005.
“The mix of drug issues and private points meant he couldn’t maintain a profession and hasn’t had the influence his expertise deserved,” mentioned Debra Craine, the chief dance critic of The London Instances. “However when he got here again after his hiatus, you felt he was extra within the dance; in among the later work, all the pieces is sculpted, nothing is wasted. There are only a few individuals who could make dance that clear and profound.”
Mr. Clark declined to be interviewed for this text, however in an interview with Ms. Ostende within the glorious exhibition catalog, he affords a succinct tackle his artwork. “You might be conscious,” he says, “that, for me, my work is a matter of life and loss of life?”
Quite a lot of the contributors to the exhibition and shut associates talked about or emailed their reminiscences of working with Mr. Clark and supplied reflections on their collaborations and relationships with him. Listed below are edited excerpts from these interviews.
Peter Doig, artist I had recognized Michael from the mid-80s, by the design duo BodyMap. His works had been electrifying. There was an irreverence, but additionally a connection to laborious, laborious work. He would herald further gamers, like Leigh Bowery or his mum, however nothing was frivolously executed, all the pieces was rigorous.
Charles Atlas, filmmaker and video artist I met Michael at a gallery opening in London in 1981 after I was touring with Merce Cunningham. He was in a few movies of mine, after which in 1984 I did the lighting for him and Ellen van Schuylenburch in a duet referred to as “New Puritans,” which was on his firm’s first program. I’ve executed his lighting ever since. I like Michael’s work, and I like him.
Susan Stenger, musician The day Princess Diana died I used to be recording with my band in an previous synagogue in east London. Cerith Wyn Evans was within the band, and he introduced Michael alongside. He stretched out on a bench and the entire time we had been taking part in I believed he was asleep, however afterward he requested me if I’d be focused on working collectively, and it was clear he had been immersed in it and brought in all the main points. To discover a new one who I had barely met, and instantly felt such an affinity for, was a stupendous shock.
Charles Atlas Michael marched to his personal drummer from the beginning. He was unbiased and making work at 21. I may see the rigor and ballet kind in his work, however individuals basically couldn’t see it as a result of he was thumbing his nostril, sporting platform footwear and outrageous costumes. He bought a rock ‘n’ roll viewers; there have been at all times membership individuals at his exhibits, his pals, and he typically included them as a part of the items. However the work was at all times crafted in addition to entertaining.
Sophie Fiennes He was popping out of the Thatcher period and an anti-establishment wave was an enormous a part of that point, however Michael was simply within the current second; even Stravinsky was within the current for him. I used to be drawn to the cottage-industry really feel of Michael’s work. Nobody was enthusiastic about careers and types, they had been simply in Leigh’s council flat, rolling alongside, cooking one thing up.
Charles Atlas He was at all times straightforward. As a choreographer, he was very trusting. I used to be used to the sort of collaboration with Merce Cunningham the place you do your work independently. With Michael, we’d speak extra about what I used to be considering, however basically he left me to do the very best I may do.
Elizabeth Peyton, artist I believe the place different individuals make an enormous deal about sure issues sitting aspect by aspect, as an example punk and classical ballet, for Michael that is pure — all coming from the identical place — all can exist collectively.
There’s a horny freedom to that. Quite a lot of prospects.
Wolfgang Tillmans, photographer I don’t really feel at a loss in his performances, even when I don’t perceive what they imply. He confronts an absurd world with actions which can be equally inexplicable. The key is that they’re by no means random.
Given how enigmatic he’s, and the way in command of all the pieces he does, I used to be shocked how easygoing and open he was after I photographed him. He allowed me to place him in surprising locations and contexts, and he was very playful with it. In that approach it felt genuinely collaborative.
Elizabeth Peyton He can sit classical ballet contained in the shine of David Bowie’s “Low” interval pink hair — that’s thrilling!
Silke Otto-Knapp, artist He by no means fairly provides in to the music. It’s not like a rock live performance the place you might be absorbed by the sound. Right here you might be additionally conscious of the dance language, wanting to grasp it. Dance and music exist in parallel, and every have a robust impact, which is uncommon.
Susan Stenger After the primary rehearsal collectively, I simply knew it was going to work. We had been utterly on the identical wavelength about music; he loves Stravinsky and Satie, but additionally Bowie, Nina Simone, Iggy Pop. He didn’t make distinctions between excessive and low artwork. They had been all a part of his musical world.
The Clark impact
Sadie Coles I believe by way of radically rethinking what dance could possibly be, tips on how to current it and the place to current it, he had an enormous affect on individuals like Akram Khan and the Ballet Boyz. He was the precursor for lots of approaches to presenting dance that folks tried later.
Wolfgang Tillmans Michael is focused on so many different issues, and that creates criticisms of an absence of purity, of a watering-down or selecting a better choice. However I don’t assume it’s less complicated. He could not supply the pure motion, however he creates a contextual pressure that’s attention-grabbing for his viewers. It delights many and frustrates others, however that’s what makes the work so thrilling.
Peter Doig I’d argue that Michael is among the most essential British artists of our era. He launched an entire viewers who could not have been focused on modern dance to the shape.
Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer
Oct. 7 to Jan. 3 on the Barbican Artwork Gallery, London; barbican.org.uk.
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