- Radical Bodies: Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer in California and New York, 1955–1972 eds. by Ninotchka Bennahum, Wendy Perron, and Bruce Robertson, and: The Concrete Body: Yvonne Rainer, Carolee Schneemann, Vito Acconci by Elise Archias
In January of 2017, the University of California at Santa Barbara inaugurated an extensive exhibition titled Radical Bodies: Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer in California and New York, 1955–1972, tracing the shared lineages of these three formidable women artists throughout this nascent period on the cusp between modern and postmodern experimentation. Consisting of photographs, drawings, paintings, scores, films and video, correspondence, and scenic and sculptural objects, the collection of artifacts told the story of three interconnected, feminist, embodied researchers and performance makers who were highly influential on the artistic innovations—visual, literary, choreographic, performance—historically associated with 1960s New York City, and specifically Judson Dance Theatre. While both Yvonne Rainer and Simone Forti did have ties to the East Coast, Radical Bodies argues that their significant relationships to Marin County–based choreographer Anna Halprin shifts the "geographical and genealogical origin story" of postmodern dance by constellating artistic movements in the West—a move replete with its own contemporaneous politics and symbolic history (29). Making my way through the exhibition upon its relocation to the Vincent Astor Gallery at the New York City Library of the Performing Arts in the summer of 2017, I encountered artifacts both familiar and rarely seen from these artists' substantial archives. Installed in relation, they wove together uncanny conversations and stories, creating their own new environment for discovery…for the body, with the body, and of the body. The NYPL, "a library dedicated to the temporally tangled activity of preserving for now the live art of what-has-been," as Carrie Lambert-Beatty has written in relation to Rainer's 1968 piece, Performance Documentation, set in its galleries, provides a notable setting for the exhibition (2008:125). Underscoring each artist's distinct incorporation of writing, drawing, and recording in their creative process, it is also an institution committed to negotiating the paradoxes, contingencies, and potential absences in archiving performance. As Radical Bodies (both exhibition and text) evidences, each of these artists, in their varied modes of embodied research, forged her own astute, rigorous relationship to image, document, and mediation; each sought a means by which to detangle the materiality and ephemerality of the body and its timely import—social, political, aesthetic—through choreographic practice.
More than an exhibition catalogue, the text, populated by images of the exhibit's artifacts, offers an absorptive record that celebrates Halprin, Forti, and Rainer's historical oeuvres. While maintaining a critical, discursive perspective, especially in the three grounding essays by the book's editors, the text additionally weaves together artist writings, critical reflection, and personal anecdotes by Forti, John Rockwell, and Morton Subotnick. These supplementary pieces invite the voices of the artist, critic, and collaborator, respectively, giving the book a diverse stylistic ethos that performatively addresses the intangible aspects of its subjects: the body, performance, and time-based materials. Taking a cue from its title, the text lithely wrestles with locating this radical body in history and tracking its lineage into the present. Given dance's primary mode of transmission—through filiation—evidencing this lineage in the archival document reveals the trickiness of recording the corporeal and the subjective fluctuations of memory. Such fidelity to lineage might at times hinder the text, which could have done more [End Page 188] to redress history by situating the work in relation to feminist movements in visual art of the time.1
Each of the Radical Bodies editors offers a close perspective on one of the three artists. For Ninotchka Bennahum, Halprin's dance deck, a large, outdoor platform suspended amongst the redwoods of Northern California and...