Enter Dreamland at the Whitney

Dreamlands was overwhelming and enveloping, eclectic and haphazard. Everything overlapped and bled together – conflicting sounds and light grew muddy and undistinguishable, truly creating this immersive, overpowering, deeply engaging environment. It was a sprawling show, a rambling, serpentine labyrinth that meandered and spread about, into wide, bright white spaces, hazy dim corners, and dark cavities. Those black holes that forced you to cautiously, carefully, feel your way in I found most interesting. Especially Anthony McCall’s Line Describing a Cone and Dora Budor’s Adaptation of an Instrument. I was drawn to McCall’s piece immediately by the familiar, clammy smell of artificial mist. The mist, the blackness, the sharp light projecting and slicing, the vague, almost ominous forms of other viewers – it was like I was a child again, playing laser tag in the basement of my neighborhood bowling alley. People darted back and forth through the filmy beam of light, edging their fingers in, carving shadows with an arm, a head, making the light waver and dance. Maybe it was because the image was flat and dull and boring, but I wasn’t compelled to sit and watch the circle gradually appear on the wall – rather, I was engaged by the light itself. McCall challenged the traditional definitions and confinements of cinema – the viewer was no longer passive and quiet, but active and participating.

Budor’s piece was also impressive. I was initially intrigued by the heavy, slick, box in the middle of the room, it seemed so bizarre and out of place. The constructed environment felt slick and slippery and slimy. Green and alien. I walked through thick ribbons of plastic that felt wet and greasy. Inside felt moist, the air thick and damp, like you were within the insides of a living, sweating organism. This organism knew you were present – the veins of the walls light up when you walked about, making the space pulse and vibrate. The inclusion of the frogs – foggy forms that stuck to the glass like dead insects in panel lights, threatening to rain down – created a direct reference to the film Magnolia, as well as created a link between organic and technological elements.

Oskar Schlemmer is one of my favorite artists, so I loved how the exhibit began – with a large projection of Das Traidische Ballett. Last year I saw the ballet The Most Incredible Thing, the costumes designed by Marcel Dzama, who drew inspiration from Schlemmer. It’s interesting to compare the two ballets, for some of the costumes in both are strikingly identical, yet the underlying stories of the dances are entirely different.

By using costume Schlemmer transformed the body into a mechanized, abstract form, from organic and fluid to stiff, strict machine. Everything was reduced and flat and graphic and artificial. Blocks of color, geometric shapes, straight lines, sharp angles. The music perfectly timed, everything had to be exact. Yet, I still found emotion in the dance and the music and the costumes, even though they were so mechanical. Schlemmer sketches of the costumes for this ballet are wonderful. As well as the posters.

 

 

 

 

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