This summer, Barbican Art Gallery presents the first ever performance exhibition of the New York-based choreographer and dancer Trajal Harrell. Following a two year residency at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014 – 2016), this ambitious project stages over 14 of Harrell’s performances including one of the earliest works he created in 1999, right through to now in a changing, daily programme of live performances. The Art Gallery will be transformed into a space where performances, featuring a selection of different dancers, some including Harrell himself, are scheduled to activate at certain points with film projections elsewhere. Visitors can explore the immersive space, choosing their own route between performances and stage installations.
The selection of works for the exhibition reflect Harrell’s experiments with dance and exploration of diverse dance forms from Japanese butoh dancing to hoochie koochie, postmodern and modern dance, Classical Greek dancing, erotic dancing, voguing and entertainment, alongside his signature use of fashion runway movement, to create performances that are an exquisite blend of fact and fiction. Rather than historical re-enactments, Harrell rethinks how we process and interpret our pasts by creating dialogues between ideas and movements from across the globe spanning many cultures and centuries. He imagines how historical scenarios could have happened differently and in doing so is able to explore ideas around emotion, the body, gender, femininity and culture.
Harrell’s best known for the series, Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (2009 – 2013) which created a lively dialogue between postmodern dance and New York’s voguing scene by posing the question: what would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing ballroom scene in Harlem had come to downtown to Greenwich Village to perform alongside the early postmoderns at Judson Church? Included in the exhibition is Harrell’s earliest work, It is Thus from a Strange New Perspective That We Look Back on the Modernist Origins and Watching It Splintering into Endless Replication (1999) which was his first exploration of the fashion runway and voguing, and set the foundation for future performances such as Twenty Looks ...
Trajal Harrell said; “One of the really exciting aspects of a performance exhibition of this scope is that the work born in the past comes alive in the future. Performance is, in fact, only of the now. So in this incredible context of Barbican Art Gallery, this is, truly, something only of this moment. “
Jane Alisonsaid; “Following Trajal Harrell’s standout residency at the Barbican as part of Doug Aitkens’ Station to Station: A 30 Day Happening (2015), we are delighted to ask him back for his first ever performance exhibition. Harrell is an unmissable and rare talent who straddles the worlds of both art and dance. Trajal Harrell: Hoochie Koochie builds on a number of performative exhibitions at the Barbican including Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark: Pioneers of the Downtown Scene New York 1970s (2011), The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns (2013) and Siobhan Davies Dance: material / re-arranged / to / be (2017).”
At the heart of the exhibition is Harrell’s most recent piece entitled, Caen Amour (2016) which draws inspiration from ‘hoochie koochie’ shows. These exotic and seductive belly dance-like spectacles originated in the late 19th century and evolved to become part of travelling fairs across America. Harrell’s father would visit the shows in rural Georgia, U.S. throughout the 70s and 80s and the artist draws on this later form of the dance. Crossing cultural, geographic and chronological boundaries, Harrell creates a fictional encounter between the pioneer of early modern dance, Loie Fuller, founder of butoh,Tatsumi Hijikata and the Comme des Garçons founder, Rei Kawakubo. The performance takes place in an installation which initially has a clearly delineated front and backstage area. Gradually the boundaries between public and private, dancer and viewer become blurred as visitors are encouraged to walk around the installation. During the hour-long performance, colourful clothing is held up to dancers’ sometimes naked bodies and their shapes manipulated as they transform into Harrell’s contemporary reimagining of the hoochie koochie show. Music plays an important role in Harrell’s work, evident during this performance, and he is inspired by a range of musical genres from classical to pop and contemporary.
The body is a recurring theme in Harrell’s work. Bathing Suit, an extract from The Quartet of the End of Time (2008), explores the idea of nudity and the nude in performance and was Harrell’s first experiment with hoochie koochie dancing. These exotic dances were seen as the precursors to vaudeville and striptease.
In this survey of work, Harrell will present Untitled Still Life Collection (2011) which was commissioned by ICA Boston with visual artist, Sarah Sze. Sze strips her material practice to a thin line of blue string and with this, Harrell generates movement. Sculptural and choreographic elements interact and transform one another, generating a performance of playful tension.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, The Return of La Argentina (2015), originally commissioned by MoMA and a solo performance by Harrell, presents butoh dancing through the theoretical lens of voguin