Breaking Routine & Choreographing

Alex Hernandez

The remnants of over a decade of gritty classical Ballet training shines through Mai-Lee Picard’s physical frame and stance. With one dancer flanking either side, Picard, College Scholar and Philosophy Senior, flows through a series of dance steps engineered by her own creative devices. Mai-Lee admits that the art of independent choreography can be a frustrating one to pursue: “When learning a piece, just tell me what to do and I’ll figure it out. Then when choreographing, there’s a lot of pressure to make sure everything works”.  

Throughout the challenges Mai-Lee has faced at Cornell, dance choreography has been a brand-new one for her, an undertaking fueled by the influence and inspiration of her fellow dancers in the Pandora Dance Troupe. As a result, she has developed a succinct approach for bringing visually coherent dance ensembles to life.

Initially, Mai-Lee chooses a song to work with solely based on the melody. She “imagine[s] the movement,” and for her, “it’s less about the steps, but more about the idea, and then the steps follow naturally”. Once settled in this regard, Mai-Lee dives into the song lyric and lexicon in search of further ideas to inform the unexplored choreographic avenues open for her to chart down.

Equipped with melody and lyric, Mai-Lee begins to chisel out the physical dance and mobilize her visions: “Usually, the chorus of the song really speaks to me, so I’ll tend to start there.” After “working the beginning, middle, and end” Mai-Lee tightens up her final product by fine tuning the sequence of steps. In this way, Picard strategically composes the movement of her dancers on stage as if they were paintbrush bristles being pushed against canvas.

Mai-Lee’s signature choreographic style has evolved alongside her calculated approach to dance. Revealing her motif, Mai-Lee explains, “All of the songs I pick are along a similar range. Slow, sometimes a bit sad.” For Mai-Lee, it is important that songs permit different types of movement,  “flowing movement” and  “big movement” to be exact. Observers of Mai-Lee’s dance can quickly identify the stylistic motions that are unique to her, because they come into focus as expressive and emotionally gripping.

With a knack for translating melody into differential movement, Mai-Lee has developed a natural intuition for analyzing and interpreting the patterns that coalesce before her both musically and in everyday life.

Set Free

Alex Hernandez

For Evan Kharrazi, dance is all about the audience. Seeking to genuinely connect with the people for whom he performs, Kharrazi, Hotel Administration senior, “looks to impact the people around” him through dance.

Kharrazi’s physical movement is constructed alongside his tactical approach for “adapting” to the space, sound, and groups of people that interact with his dance. While performing, Kharrazi expressively “steps in with [him]self” in order to deliver a rhythmic sway which moves his spectators in a manner that can “take them away from their current pain.” Evan’s desire to induce a poignant yet positive stirring within audience members originates from his own experience with painful “closed off space[s].” When his mother was diagnosed with cancer, dance evolved into an emotional therapy for Kharrazi because he realized that dance as an art form had the ability to diffuse new emotions within a perso: positive emotions that could carry an individual through dark times even if just for a moment. Evidence of this awakening radiates throughout Evan’s artistry and stylistic choice of movement, which can be collectively described as “segmented,” “fluid,” and emotionally captivating in nature.

Above all, Kharrazi desires to bring beauty, an ornate and multiverse construct, to life when he performs. While his physique articulates visual beauty in movement, his choreography symbolizes an ephemeral “soul” dancing. Externally stripped down and armed with nothing but his soul, Evan Kharrazi dances to bridge the gap between worthy emotions and the observer’s self.

The Painter

Victoria Lopez

The connection between body and mind lends itself to the realization of freedom. Free from the constraints and rules of the world, a balanced sense of self allows for a natural flow of creativity. A tranquil presence, videographer Mariko embodies a true yogi. Conjuring the spiritual element of impermanence, apparent in the image of a mandala being blown away, Mariko plays with the idea of an art piece not being an object; images in the video are momentary flashes, quickly replaced by other images. Objectification, a notion inherent in Western ideology, guides a certain way of thought. Inspired by the Greek myth of Pygmalion (a sculptor who becomes obsessed with the image of his sculpted perfect woman), Mariko thinks about the role of an artist in terms of control, translated into her thinking about “sexuality as a mode of creation or procreation” in the “sensibilities of tantric Buddhism and Hinduism.” She questions the idea of art being the “property of the artist,” parallel to the idea of a woman being the property, or creation of man.

Based on such a line of thought, Mariko is working on her latest project, using green screen technology to sculpt her own image, combining the artist and product as one. Mariko goes on to describe the fluidity in her process. Giving up control, she allows her work to develop naturally. Focusing more on the individual experiences of the “moving paintings,” she lets her videos be dictated by technology. In her color palette, an element she gives herself no credit for, Mariko runs her photos through certain algorithms allowing the colors to edit themselves and run their course without doing much intervening, giving each “piece a little more of its own integrity”, reflecting a sort of cosmological approach. True to form she leaves us with, “Remember that the only thing that you possibly have control over is yourself, no matter what crazy shit happens to you, you get to control how you react to that, what you do with it.”

Process Art

Avidan Grossman

Earlier this past March, Kendrick Lamar, the multi-platinum rapper and recording artist, released untitled unmastered., a collection of eight tracks chiefly compiled from the unfinished demos of To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar’s latest Grammy-winning album. On “untitled 07 | 2014 – 2016”, the longest song on the album at just over eight minutes, Lamar meditates on the vices and virtues of success, singing softly about fame and fortune and rapping for a little under half the song. In the final few minutes, Lamar is heard instructing a guitarist in the background to adjust the tempo of the music, and calls out to his band to help him with the vocals. It’s casual studio chatter, but for Lamar, whose albums are often as polished as they are passionate, it’s a conscious thematic choice to let the listener in on the complex intricacies of the creative process. On an album that often feels intentionally fragmented and unfinished, that casual studio chatter, the sounds of songs being made, impresses upon the listener a sense of careful intimacy and actively involves the audience in the construction of the album.

Photograph courtesy of guggenheim.org

Photograph courtesy of guggenheim.org

In an essay entitled “Anti-Form” published in April of 1968, Robert Morris, the American artist and author, presents a pioneering manifesto for what would eventually become known as the process art movement. Writing for Artforum in anticipation of the opening of an exhibit on the same subject later that year, Morris describes in detail the differences between what he refers to as “object-type art”, and art in which the process of “making itself” is just as important, if not more so, than what is actually being made. “In object-type art, process is not visible,” Morris maintains. “Materials often are. When they are, their reasonableness is usually apparent. Rigid industrial materials go together at right angles with great ease…Materials themselves have been limited to those which efficiently make the general object form.” Though Morris traces the conceptual roots of process art all the way back to 16th century Italy, with the “saving of sketches and unfinished work in the High Renaissance,” he begrudgingly acknowledges that many of the movement’s influences are more contemporary in nature, citing extensively the work of abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock, who Morris credits with the ability “to recover process and hold on to it as part of the end form of the work.”

In early 1994, The Guggenheim Museum organized “Robert Morris: The Mind/Body Problem,” a comprehensive retrospective of over 150 pieces of the artist’s work, spanning across his three decades’ worth of output from the mid 1900s. In an accompanying monograph published by Morris in conjunction with the exhibit, Peter Lawson-Johnston, the grandson of Solomon R. Guggenheim and at the time the President of the museum, described the Guggenheim as “devoted to non-objective painting” since its founding in 1937. The museum, which houses a sizeable collection of pieces by Morris and many of the other artists associated with the process art movement, including Lynda Benglis, Bruce Nauman, Keith Sonnier, and Richard Serra, defines process art in a small blurb on its website as emphasizing “concepts of change and transience” that, as Morris mentions, have precedent in the “Abstract Expressionists’ use of unconventional methods such as dripping and staining.” The museum cites the “Anti-Form” essay as a “basis for making art works in terms of process and time rather than as static and enduring icons, which [Morris] associated with ‘object-type’ art.”

Image courtesy of vogue.com

Image courtesy of vogue.com

In a review of the retrospective published in The New York Times later that year, Roberta Smith, the American art critic, describes Morris’s art as “overly didactic and cerebral and weirdly unconnected… an artist more involved with problem solving than art making who often reduces the viewer to the role of guinea pig.” However, Smith concedes:

In the end, the most engaging works at the two Guggenheim sites are the most ad hoc and least cerebral, primarily the Process works involving loose, unstructured expanses of felt and thread. Also in this category is a series of unusual drawings from the early 70's in which the artist, dipping his hands in powdered graphite, attempted to make certain shapes or patterns while blindfolded. In one way, these works are deliberately artless exercises and reflect the cynicism that plagues so much of Mr. Morris’s work. But the inadvertent expressiveness of their raw and fumbling marks still counts, communicating a degree of spontaneity, vulnerability and inevitability that is too frequently lacking elsewhere.

Smith’s scathing criticisms speak to the relative sense of skepticism shared by many of the early critics of the process art movement. Today, most pieces produced during the peak of the process art movement don’t sell for nearly as much as, say, their abstract expressionist counterparts, likely because the artists associated with the movement never quite achieved the same level of widespread recognition as their contemporaries. Rothko and Rauschenberg are household names. Sonnier and Serra are not.

Many of the pieces attributed to the process art movement are understood to be, in their fluidity and flexibility, a powerful pushback to the careful composure of the predominantly minimalist paintings produced during the early 1960s. So much so, in fact, that the philosophy of the process art movement would indelibly influence the work of a cohort of important creatives within the fashion industry, and catalyze a crucial shift in how the process of design is perceived today. In its annual style issue from the week of July 4th, 2005, The New Yorker published a lengthy profile on the Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo titled “The Misfit”. In the opening line, Kawakubo, who is described as an “avant-gardist of few words”, is credited with changing the entire look of women’s fashion by offering a clear alternative to the clean lines and crisp tailoring distinctive to the designs of many of her contemporaries, including Donna Karan and Calvin Klein. Judith Thurman, a staff writer for the magazine since 2000, describes Kawakubo’s polarizing entrance onto the fashion scene in 1981, and the manner in which the revolutionary spirit of her first European collection, shown in Paris, has continued to define her work today. The collection was “modelled by a cadre of disheveled vestals in livid war paint who stomped down the catwalk to the beating of a drum, wearing the bleak and ragged uniforms of a new order”, and has since proved its place among the pantheon of pivotal moments in fashion, immediately catapulting Kawakubo and her brand, Comme des Garçons, to the top of the fashion industry food chain. After the collection, which Thurman calls a “piece of shock theatre”, Kawakubo went on to establish herself as one of the most influential, and oft imitated, designers of the 20th century, in part because what she was doing, and how she did it, was just so different. Kawakubo’s clothes have “the rigor, if not the logic, of modernist architecture, but loose flaps, queer trains, and other sometimes perplexing extrusions encouraged a client of the house to improvise her own style of wearing them”, Thurman comments, and through this irreverence she has “changed the way one thinks about what dress is”. Since the “Destroy” collection first debuted in the early 1980’s, Kawakubo has become famous for constantly and consistently pushing the boundaries of women’s clothing. In her seminal spring 1997 collection “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body”, Kawakubo featured jackets with three armholes, jackets with detachable misshapen lumps all over the torso, and jackets with no armholes at all, forcing the consumers of her particular form of fashion to reconsider their preconceived notions about the design process and aiding them in appreciating not just what is being made, but, as Morris might put it, the “making itself”.

Months before the official release of untitled unmastered. Kendrick Lamar appeared as a musical guest on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where he debuted “Untitled 2”, a sequel of sorts to a song he first performed over two years ago, with a powerful and poignant performance backed only by a live band and an appreciative audience. The paired-down performance was the perfect platform for Lamar’s particular form of lyrical legerdemain; the song was both slow and spastic, filled with twists and turns and clever changes of cadence that left the habitually hyperactive Fallon in a sort of shocked speechlessness. Almost two months after the debut of “Untitled 2” on The Tonight Show, bits and pieces of Lamar’s performance would appear on untitled unmastered., slowed-down and sexed-up so significantly the songs hardly seemed the same. In a tweet from March 4th announcing the release of the album, Lamar referred to untitled unmastered. as “unfinished” and in it’s “raw form”, allowing for what Roberta Smith, the art critic, might describe as a certain “inadvertent expressiveness” that communicates a “degree of spontaneity, vulnerability and inevitability that is too frequently lacking elsewhere.” For Lamar, the final product doesn’t seem so much the primary focus as the process itself; the casual studio chatter and the various different versions of the songs included on the album all indications of an artist constantly rethinking, readjusting, and reworking, all the while letting the listener in on every part of the process.

A little over a month after it was first tweeted, the message announcing the release of untitled unmastered. has been liked over 75,000 times. The response from Lamar’s Twitter fan base, a sizeable, albeit biased, following, has been overwhelmingly positive. Most users have taken to expressing their appreciation for the album with two simple words well under the 140-character limit imposed by the social networking service: thank you.

The Poet

Hansika Iyer

Poet William Carlos Williams once said, “Forget all rules, forget all restrictions, as to taste, as to what ought to be said, write for the pleasure of it -- whether slowly or fast -- every form of resistance to a complete release should be abandoned.”

For writer Andrés Vaamonde, writing started out as an interest and quickly took over his life. After reading poems by Langston Hughes, Vaamonde realized poets can “say a third thing by only using the first and second ways of saying it.” Through omission, Hughes is communicating the omitted message itself. Vaamonde instantly began reading, memorizing, writing, and submitting poetry before deciding to major in English.

Writing is now a permanent fixture in Vaamonde’s life, a part of him that is rewarding but also frustrating. Though prose is Vaamonde’s forte, poetry has been taking up his time recently. Poetry is autobiographical, personal, and can be terrifying to publish. In his poem Submitting, Vaamonde emphasizes the drama associated with submitting artwork to journals only to be rejected:

Submitting is largely about making things too big and too small and once I’ve done that, sending them all to the wrong places anyway. It was out of a moment of whimsy as well because it was kind of liberating to say regardless of this thing, I still wrote the poem. And guess what? I’m still publishing right now. The irony is not lost on me for sure.

The poem may be filled with hyperboles but many of the emotions depicted are real. At a younger age, Vaamonde was more affected by acceptances and rejections. Every acceptance was destiny pushing him in the right direction while every rejection was a sign that he should quit.

His own ability to persist upholds his motivation to write: “if I didn’t write the poem, that would be the affirmation of the death of poetry.” Vaamonde sees the final product as proof of his artistic stamina. Poetry is all about turning emotion into artwork, which is exactly what Vaamonde does and continues to do.

It is with hesitation that Vaamonde invites the critical eye of the public. “It’s an invitation to analyze my work [and therefore] analyze me and, from that, judge me” he said, “and that’s all very scary.”  While daunting, Vaamonde embraces William Carlos Williams’s philosophy and is abandoning all forms of resistance.

Jeff Koons: A Retrospective: An Exhibition for Everyone

Ruojia Sun

It doesn't matter if you're a die-hard Koons fan or if you've never heard of him before posters of the Koons exhibition popped up all over the city (admittedly, I am part of the latter group). It doesn't matter if you live and breathe art or if you don’t know the difference between oil and acrylic paint. It doesn't matter if you’re 7 or 70.... Jeff Koons: A Retrospective at the Whitney Museum is the exhibition for you.

Rather than exclusively commenting on pieces that caught my attention when I attended the exhibition yesterday, I also wanted to tell the story of this exhibition through the people I saw at the Whitney during my visit. An exhibition is just a bunch of things sharing a space if it doesn’t attract an audience. Jeff Koons: A Retrospective was successful in that it brought different people together, and ignited reactions from these people. No one left that building without new ideas to contemplate.

Displaying inflatable toys in his collection Inflatables and Pre-New, Koons uses the room as his canvas. The scattering of light by the mirrors around this piece frames it in a way that makes the toys seem even more shiny and new. I am particularly drawn to the dynamic juxtaposition between the voluminous, 3-dimensional inflatables and their flat, 2-dimensional reflections.

In his series Equilibrium, Koons shows basketballs seemingly suspended in space, a state maintained since this piece’s creation almost 30 years ago—making it a true representation of equilibrium. Due to the interaction between the light and transparent tank, one piece can become several different pieces depending on the angle that it is viewed. For example, from the angle that the above photo was taken, a disjointed illusion is formed.

When I was scrutinizing this statue from Koons' Banality series, my professor, Amanda Hallay, waved to me excitedly. “I’m drawn to this one too!”

The image of two children sharing an intimate moment tugs at heartstrings because adolescent love is perhaps romance in its most innocent state. I can barely remember what love felt like before it became intertwined with lust, intent, and societal expectations, but Koons attempts to jog memories.

The series Made in Heaven makes a bold statement about human desire. The subjects in these works are Koons himself and his former wife and porn star, Ilona Staller. The top photo shows a much more commercial portrayal of sex. Between the vibrant color scheme, the decorative butterflies and Koons’s a laid-back pose while Staller pursues him—everything looks as if for sale. On the other hand, the bottom piece exemplifies a rawer affection. The depiction of genitalia and the unretouched pimples on Staller’s rear set this painting aside from advertisements.

At the Made in Heaven collection, I overheard two women declare that they didn't like Koons’s work at all. Evidently, his audacity does not resonate with everybody, but hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is. I surmise that Koons’s ultimate motive is not to satisfy, but rather, to leave an impression, which he accomplished by appalling this duo.

Note: this section of the museum is clearly identified as not advised for children in order to maintain the kid-friendly integrity of the exhibition.

The balloon dog, from the Celebration series, is not only one of Koons’s more famous works, but it also seems to be the kids’ favorite. I took this picture from this angle to avoid getting two boys, standing several feet from the front legs, into the frame. When I was 7, my parents took me to the Louvre, but I couldn't care less about seeing the Mona Lisa. On the other hand, these boys, about 6 years old, were totally engrossed in drawing the dog on a children’s activity booklet provided by the Whitney.

As a child, play-doh was one of my favorite artistic mediums and form of entertainment. Even though these colors are vibrant, helping this statue fit right in with the rest of the Celebration series, this play-doh mound’s crackling exterior is distinctly imperfect compared to the stainless steel statues surrounding it. Koons also manages to convey a sense of frustration, since many of us are familiar with the experience of mushing together different colors of clay, and never being able to separate the rainbow blob into its components again.

When I was photographing this statue, I heard a woman say to her kids, "No, you may not climb it, but that would be pretty cool!" Once again, the kids love it.

According to the official website of the Whitney Museum, "Jeff Koons is widely regarded as one of the most important, influential, popular, and controversial artists of the postwar era". While someone who has studied art extensively may be able to write a whole thesis addressing this statement, my interpretation of Koons’s genius after viewing Jeff Koons: A Retrospective is simple—Koons understands people. We (or at least many of us) like shopping; we like sex; we like looking back at simpler times. So that's how he gets our attention—he gives us consumer products; he gives us pornography; he makes us nostalgic.