A choreographer whose work was sold off from the gallery makes a surreptitious return – via visitors’ smartphones.
Augmented reality has found some incredibly innovative uses for hidden art exhibits and ‘easter eggs’ both literal and figurative recently. Now, by challenging the norms of what belongs in a museum and what doesn’t – and even what our definition of a transgressively placed artwork is – performance-based artist Adam H. Weinert is truly pushing the limits of the medium as well. When users download the Dance-Tech Augmented Reality app for iOS or Android and walk past certain permanent markers in the museum, such as a staircase or a sign, will trigger the app to start playing modern choreographic performances as if the dancers are right in the museum.
Weinert’s work, however, isn’t just an act of self-promotion; he is an admirer of the choreographer Ted Shawn (1891-1972), “one of the first notable male pioneers of modern dance,” and is using this AR exhibit to settle some scores about the man’s legacy. By placing Shawn’s work in the museum through AR, he is rectifying a strange turn of events that occurred between the choreographer and MoMA in the 1940’s. According to Weinert, “Shawn made a gift of his works to MoMA in the 1940’s, but the museum later gave away these materials to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.” According to Weinert, if MoMA had considered Shawn to be an “Artist” they would not have been able to do so. MoMA’s does not sell or give away works by living artists and Shawn was living at the time of his deaccession, thus making MoMA’s interpretable as an act of dismissal.
Aside from the as-yet uncommon medium, Weinert, by choosing to recreate dance performances, also chose a medium that has had a historically rough relationship with conventional museums and galleries, as well as with death itself; many a choreographer’s work has essentially died with them except for preserved recordings, simply because, unlike music, dance has no universal notation (despite the efforts of trailblazers like Merce Cunningham). “I spent my research fellowship at Jacob’s Pillow dancing in the studios they built, reconstructing the movement from books, photographs, video and rumor. It felt at times as if I were dancing with ghosts. I wanted to recreate that experience for the viewer,” he says on his website.
Can augmented reality recreate such a feeling of the supernatural? With minimal equipment – just a smartphone – now you can find out. Don’t be startled by the dancers doing warmups in the sculpture garden: it’s just what history looks like when it comes alive.