Modern Art, Dance and Cognitive Science Combine in Yale Exhibit

By Amarante, Joe | New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), October 19, 2014 | Go to article overview

Modern Art, Dance and Cognitive Science Combine in Yale Exhibit


Amarante, Joe, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)


NEW HAVEN » There's not a whole lot that average Americans really understand about contemporary art, I contend, but we continue to try.

Which brings us to the art installation fused with contemporary dance (also edgy at times) in the black-walled gallery space at the Yale School of Art, 32 Edgewood Ave., near the corner of Howe Street.

Breeze in before Dec. 4 for the free exhibit called "Perception Unfolds: Looking at Deborah Hay's Dance," and you can ponder an installation of four large translucent screens in a darkened space intermittently showing the projected images of solo dancers doing isolated movements (often stretches and near-poses) to a muffled music track. The effect is puzzling but not unsettling.

Hay, says a Yale release, has likened the experience of looking at contemporary dance to that of viewing contemporary art: Both can be challenging to new audiences and, since the 1960s, each has benefitted from collaboration and cross-fertilization. So Hay created a project that gives visitors a dynamic point of entry for both disciplines.

Sounds worthy of the old college try...

The exhibition made its debut at the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin in February. Its presence at Yale, says Yale Art School Dean Robert Storr, signals the school's "deepening engagement with movement and performance and its ongoing collaboration with Emily Coates, who directs Yale's dance studies program." Hay, meanwhile, is a former member of Merce Cunningham's company and a founder of the Judson Dance Theater.

In the small anteroom just inside the Edgewood Avenue door to the gallery, there are some written materials and a video that provide clues to the art installation's aims and its process. A poster of "The choreographer's questions" notes that, "Hay poses unanswerable 'What if?' questions framed to excite the imagination of the person who is dancing."

OK, we're following you.

It quotes Hay saying, "The question is meant to inspire and engage the dancer in noticing the sensuality of the feedback from the question as it unfolds in his/her cellular body."

And ... we're confused. Maybe the 'What if' prompts for the dancers will help explain it.

"In order to get out of the thinking mind," the poster reads, "what if your whole body at once is your teacher?"

"What if every cell in your body had the ability to see time passing? HERE and gone, HERE and gone, HERE and gone?"

(For some of us nondancers, that might be expressed in a sneeze. …

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