Bruce Hainley on the Early Performance Work of Sturtevant

By Hainley, Bruce | Artforum International, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Bruce Hainley on the Early Performance Work of Sturtevant


Hainley, Bruce, Artforum International


CUE RAINER.

  Elaine--Have gone to Calif. Don't despair. Keep working. You know
 the dance. In 2 days I shall send you complete details of the
 continuity plus program info. Sometimes one has to run away from
 everything. Yvonne.

Cue thinking about Sturtevanr dancing.

What does it mean to "know the dance"? What dance? What is a fact? Mow does something come to be a fact? Sometimes facts run away from everything

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"COMPLETE DETAILS of the continuity plus program info."

Complete details fascinate. Of course they do.

But at the get-go it seemed that complete details about Sturtevant dancing had run or danced away: Other than within the distracting static of rumor, there appeared to be only a single reference m the printed record to Sturtevant's dancing--a lone chaine of substantiation, accomplished in no small part by the editorial machinations of Genesis P-Orridge. (Yes, Genesis P-Orridge.)

In the first edition of the encyclopedic reference work Contemporary Artists, published in 1977 and edited by P-Orridgc and Colin Naylor, Jane Bell noted: "For Sturtevant has from the beginning of her career [sic] as an artist made work by other artists--paintings, sculptures, films, dances and performances that have been exhibited before \sic\, by such people as Claes Oldenburg, Man Ray, Duchamp, Eadward [sic] Muyhridge, Yvonne Rainer, Roy Lichtenstein and others."

Sturrevanfs Rainer rested in the historical record, but without complete details or program info--no title, no date, no specifics of any sort--and without continuity: There is no Sturtevant entry in any subsequent edition of the book.

As far as can be determined, the artist has never publicly revealed any specifics whatsoever about the dance Rainer knew she knew, but the postmark of the postcard Rainer mailed to "Elaine" provides a date ("May 4,1967") around which to begin to choreograph a search for more information about a Sturtevant dance that, Rainer's note makes clear, was being rehearsed for a performance soon to happen--and in front of an audience. Thus the jitters-calming "Don't despair. Keep working" from a highly trained professional dancer to someone who wasn't.

Rainer never recalled what Sturtevant performed in 1967, but about the communique itself, she remarked:

  Very odd, that postcard. The date tells me exactly when and
  why I went off to CA but the rest of it is a mystery. I dimly
  remember that Elaine had asked to learn something of mine, hut
  what it was and if she ever did it ... ???? Have you asked her?
  I hope she's alive and well.
  "You know the dance." What dance?
  I didn't know her well. She was an anomaly to me: fashionable
  upper East Sider, part of Rauschenberg's entourage (as / mm for
  awhile), a ?td her art that consisted of reconstructing other
  people's work. Ahead of her time, obviously, now with all these
  "re-makes " around. I once went to a dinner party in her toumhouse.
  I remember what I wore and I remember she often wore a slim white
  quilted rancoat, Courreges-like /sic/. I also visited her Oldenburg
  "store" on the lower east side. Didn't take her too seriously at
  the time.
  Sorry I can "t he of more help.

There is nothing about Rainer's statement that doesn't prepossess. Not the least of the provocations is the rendezvous of ellipses and question marks, which might as well be stand-ins for things otherwise occluded but accumulating, almost somnambulistic cally, in the very odd penumbra cast by Rainer's "help": punctuated placeholders for points questionably suspended, not only about the events of Sturtevant and Rainer, circa 1967, dancing a dance (what dance?) to completely different ends, but also about how certain information remains private even in the bright light thrown by Rainer on "exactly" when and why she went off to California. …

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