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  • Iced Bodies: Ice Music for Chicago at The Arts Club of Chicago by Spencer Topel
  • Ross Feller
Iced Bodies: Ice Music for Chicago at The Arts Club of Chicago
A performance of Iced Bodies: Ice Music for Chicago by Spencer Topel, 12 August 2017, performed by Seth Parker Woods. A video excerpt of this performance is available at:

In celebration of the 45th anniversary of the premiere performance of Jim McWilliams’ piece Ice Music, cellist Seth Parker Woods and composer Spencer Topel created a new work, Iced Bodies: Ice Music for Chicago, that was performed over a four-hour stretch on 12 August 2017. The performance took place in an anterior, ground-level room at The Arts Club of Chicago. Audience members passed into and out of the space. Some stayed for just a few minutes, while others remained for the entire duration of the piece.

In McWilliams’ Ice Music, cellist, performance artist, and impresario Charlotte Moorman “played” a block of cello-shaped ice while naked, with a plexiglass bow, saw, and file, until the ice completely melted. People that know about this piece usually remember Moorman’s name rather than that of the composer because her theatrical presence was so strong and memorable.

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Photo by Paul Crisanti

In addition to John Cage’s works and those by experimental and Fluxus composers, Moorman performed many works by Nam June Paik, including his TV Cello and TV Bra. Many of these works were nonstandard pieces for cello; one even required her to be suspended by helium balloons over the Sydney Opera House. Moorman was also jailed and convicted of indecent exposure in New York City for her topless performance of Opera Sextronic, which was interrupted so that she could be arrested. Besides traumatizing her, this occurrence severely hampered her career, as she was, thereafter, explicitly and implicitly blacklisted from performing any piece, whether topless or not. It is also worth mentioning that she performed this piece previously throughout Europe without incident. Based on her extensive experience you might think that she would have been in good standing with the Fluxus movement. But Fluxus impresario George Maciunas blacklisted Moorman, as well as other women performers. At best, this may have been because her work didn’t fit his narrow definition of what the term Fluxus meant to him. At worst, it may have been representative of typical, white male-dominated politics.

Moorman was no stranger to Chicago, so Woods’ and Topel’s decision to present their work at The Arts Club of Chicago made sense. Moorman had been featured in an October 1969 performance at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, in which mixed-media works by Paik, Cage, and Yoko Ono were performed. More recently, in 2016, the Block Museum of Art in Evanston, Illinois presented a five-month exhibition on Moorman’s work. Although she lived most of her adult life in New York City, her connection to Chicago and its environs was apparently significant, demonstrated by the fact that the Charlotte Moorman Archives are located at the Charles Deering McCormick Library on the campus of Northwestern University.

Upon entering the performance space at The Arts Club of Chicago, one immediately noticed Woods clad in a sleek, black Cressi designer wetsuit, metallic wrist cuffs, and large black gloves. He held an obsidian cello made of ice, perched atop a platform that placed him about three feet above the ground. During the performance he sat, stood, crouched, and kneeled as he engaged with the block of ice. The platform itself had an irregular, triangular-shaped slit cut into it, which functioned as a kind of drainage system that emptied into a triangular-shaped basin just in front of the platform.

The ice cello had three buried, piezoelectric pickups located top left, bottom right, and on a fiberglass panel in the center of the sculpture. These pickups amplified the sounds [End Page 80] produced as Woods tapped and slapped the ice, activated it with two glass rods used as bows, and chipped away at it using a variety of carving tools, including ice picks and screwdrivers. As the ice...


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