Review: Daniel Arsham - #recollections - with Jonah Bokaer

Performance: 14 October 2013
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Friday 18 October 2013

Jonah Bokaer Study for Occupant - at Daniel Arsham's #recollections.

The private view of New York based artist, Daniel Arsham’s new exhibition at a smart west-end gallery, had the welcome bonus of a live performance by international dancer and choreographer, Jonah Bokaer. At such busy gallery openings, in which the media, socialites, artists and collectors gather in hordes to sip champagne and network, it is often impossible to see what is on the walls. However, the commanding yet gentle physical presence of Bokaer, turned the chattering rabble into a disciplined, focused audience.

Arsham’s exhibition at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery displays a collection of eroded relics, a pile of locks, cameras, a radio, film projector, coins, a telephone made out a variety of unusual materials: shattered glass, volcanic ash, hydrostone and resin. Each object appears to be covered in dust, adding to the archaeological theme of the show. The items sit on shelves which jut out from the gallery walls; offerings from the past, which carry vivid memories or personal resonance. Standing at one end of the gallery, overlooking the artefacts is a life-size sculpture of a man shielding his face with an arm. Made of broken glass and resin, the model looks like he’s trying to protect himself from some violation whether it is natural, physical or emotional; a Pompeian figure or a victim of an attack.

It is this sculpture with which Bokaer interacts. Touching and facing the wall he performs a slow, deep, back bend, then freezes looking back at us as if he is growing from the building. From there, using the wall as a surface he moves minimally and gradually. Tracing shapes with his hand and arms, sketching patterns and shaping space around him, he excavates around him. Dressed in black set against the white gallery and sculpture, he is like a shadow, another vital piece in Arsham’s evocative collection.

When he reaches the statue he languorously dives into the gallery space in a long deep penche, holding this sculptural pose long enough for us to marvel at his control, to appreciate the architecture of his body. The relationship he forms with the objects around him is intelligent, sensitive and un- obtrusive. He interacts with the petrified figure, mirroring its defensive pose, extending its narrative, treating it with the respect and consideration that he would another body.

As a former dancer with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Bokaer has years of experience in working with dancers in interdisciplinary art contexts and has developed his own unique understanding for the interaction between choreography, architecture and sculpture. Arsham, who was a collaborator with Merce Cunningham and now works regularly with Bokaer is similarly much more interested in the physical interaction between dancers and his work rather than the Cunningham notion of a co-existance between art forms. Bokaer and Arsham’s collaborative partnership looks back at the fertile artistic landscape which Cunningham instigated but carries it forwards into a new, dynamic meeting of dance and art making.

Daniel Arsham’s #recollections is at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery until 18 December 2013
Jonah Bokaer performed at the private view only.

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

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