William Forsythe’s Choreographic Objects at the ICA

William Forsythe’s Choreographic Objects at the ICA

Written by Catherine Titcomb

Those in the dance world may recognize the name William Forsythe as one of the premier contemporary choreographers of the time. Forsythe’s choreography and other stage effects in both regional ballets, like the Boston Ballet Company, where he now currently works, and his own company, the Forsythe Company, have revolutionized dance. The interactive art installations he has been creating since the 1990s are a continuation of his redefinition of dance. His interactive works bring choreography fundamentals to the public and to installation art. “Choreographic Objects” at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) features his selected works from 2001 to the present.

As with most temporary exhibitions at the ICA, “Choreographic Objects” spans multiple connected rooms. Each room holds about one piece, which are all drastically different and fill the whole space, giving a feeling similar to being in a funhouse. The viewer cannot see the next room, so each entry is a surprise. The works are displayed in different ways, but hanging pieces from the ceiling seems to be a common technique of Forsythe’s.

Photo by Catherine Titcomb

Despite the visual differences in each piece, their functionality unites them to each other and to Forsythe. Each one demands something of the viewer; “Nowhere and Everywhere” fills an entire room with swinging pendulums, leaving the viewer no choice but to traverse through if they want to continue making their way through the exhibition. “The Differential Room” features literal commands for the viewer on chalkboards. As physically engaging with art installations is against what most museum visitors have been taught, viewers often read these descriptions over and over again to make sure they are actually meant to climb through the rings of “The Fact of Matter” or crawl underneath “A Volume, within which it is Not Possible for Certain Classes of Action to Arise.” Most viewers go through the exhibit more than once, as they grow more confident of themselves and of Forsythe’s intention that they engage with his pieces.

The most outwardly choreographic piece, “The Differential Room,” presents the viewer with a series of complicated movement commands. Many are so absurd or contradictory—including one that instructs guests to “hop until complete exhaustion but not expressing that exhaustion or drawing any attention to yourself”—that not many people actually attempt them. Both “The Fact of Matter,” a series of rings hanging from the ceiling, and “Nowhere and Everywhere,” electronically programmed pendulums swinging close to the floor, ask the viewer to cross through them. Other pieces, such as “Towards the Diagnostic Gaze,” which instructs the viewer to hold a feather duster completely still, and “Aufwand,” which asks the viewer to attempt to open an extremely difficult door, are harder to relate to choreography without reading the descriptions. “Towards the Diagnostic Gaze” raises awareness of the unseen and constant activities of the body, as the viewer finds it impossible for the feather duster to be completely still, while  “Aufwand” makes a point about perseverance in choreography and other aspects of life.

As a whole, the exhibit is frankly fun. It forces the viewer to use their body in ways not usually, or ever, required by art, making the idea of art created by a choreographer seem much more natural. The installations are less about meaning and more about engaging. There is no meaning behind the pieces beyond the visitors’ interactions with them, making the exhibit’s focus on choreography and people, challenging  the idea that installation art must be provocative and inaccessible to the public.

“Choreographic Objects” will be displayed at the ICA until Feb. 21.


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