December 13, 2010

Collection Rotation: Margaret Tedesco

Our regular feature, Collection Rotation. Every month or so I invite a someone to organize a mini-“exhibition” from our collection works online. Please welcome artist and curator Margaret Tedesco.

Found photograph, ca. 1960s; courtesy Margaret Tedesco.


For Remy Charlip, his AIR MAIL DANCES, and for Jill Johnston (1929–2010)

I am a thief and I’m not ashamed. I steal from the best wherever it happens to me… I am a thief and I glory in it…
—Martha Graham, The Notebooks of Martha Graham, 1973

The text that follows traces my own history of dance, its relationship to the way I think about movement, and my art-making practice. The 26 images from SFMOMA’s collection integrated here are arranged as an invitation to you to imagine a choreography.

I have been dancing freely since I was a young kid, standing on the toes of my Italian uncle’s wingtip oxfords, holding tight as he whirled me around the room. In high school, my friends and I had soulful dance parties at my house after school with my mom at the helm shakin’ it. We practiced the new moves — and added some and made some up, but never attended the school dances or proms. Our favorite was to Texas Hop line-style to Baby, Baby, Don’t Cry by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

Left: Robert Rauschenberg, Cy + Roman Steps (II), 1952; Collection SFMOMA; © Estate of Robert Rauschenberg/Licensed by VAGA, New York. Right: Lewis Watts, Joe’s Installation, West Oakland, 1993; Collection SFMOMA; © Lewis Watts.

Left: John Gutmann, Two Girls, 1935; Collection of the Sack Photographic Trust; © 1998 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. Right: Dorothea Lange, Untitled (Adele Boke), 1951; Collection SFMOMA; © Oakland Museum of California, the City of Oakland, gift of Paul S. Taylor.

Left: Joan Jonas, Songdelay, 1973; Collection SFMOMA; © Joan Jonas, courtesy the artist and Yvon Lambert New York, Paris. Right: Emmet Gowin, Elijah and Donna Jo, Danville, Virginia, 1971; Collection SFMOMA; © Emmet and Edith Gowin.

The first dance form I studied, in college, was West African, specifically the dances of Senegal and Uganda, both utilizing concepts of polyrhythm and total body articulation. In the ’80s, in Southern California, I was interested in modern dance and choreography, and I took daily classes (including ballet) and workshops training with internationally renowned visiting choreographers. I had a sensibility for the American postmodern choreography of the ’60s and ’70s, studying with many of these visionaries: from early Judson Church members to Rachel Rosenthal’s DBD Experience to attending butoh artists Eiko and Koma’s Delicious Movement Workshops. I tracked all of these dance works in relation to the visual and literary arts, and film forms, and read the art writings of radical Jill Johnston (Marmalade Me and Lesbian Nation) in the Village Voice.

The postmodern dance of pioneers such as Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown returned to the everyday body as an alternative to the performing body, the body that displayed skill and virtuosity. These new choreographies made use of the pedestrian gesture, shaping a new vocabulary for movement. Rainer, along with other choreographers, also departed from the formal proscenium arch stage: dancers appeared on rooftops, subway platforms, riverbanks, and shorelines, and in city parks, museum sculpture gardens, plazas, lofts.

Trisha Brown_Roof Piece 1973

Trisha Brown Company, Roof Piece 1973, New York City

One provocative group of artists I encountered in New York in the ’70s who utilized this concept was Squat Theatre. In a storefront they installed the usual raked seating, but flipped the seats to face the windows, with audience members looking out towards the street. The actions were performed in front of the windows, while outside the activity of the street continued as usual. It left a viewer feeling unsure what was really happening, and the chaos it provoked was brilliant.

Left: Arthur Lavine, Girls on Sliding Board, Marty, South Dakota, October 1953, 1953; Collection SFMOMA; © Arthur Lavine. Right: Lee Friedlander, New York City, 1963; Collection the Sack Photographic Trust; © Lee Friedlander.

Left: Kenneth Josephson, Chicago, 1961; Collection SFMOMA; © Kenneth Josephson. Right: Thomas Ruff, Nacht III, 1993; Collection SFMOMA; © Thomas Ruff.

Left: Bruce Conner, BREAKAWAY, 1966; Collection SFMOMA; © The Conner Family Trust. Right: Masahisa Fukase, Seikan Ferry Boat, from the series The Solitude of Ravens, 1976; Collection SFMOMA; © Masahisa Fukase.

Left: Unknown, Untitled [Baseball Study], 1930s; Collection SFMOMA. Right: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1920; Collection SFMOMA, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, gift of Georgia O’Keeffe.

I scored my own dances using images from newspapers, magazines, postcards, film clips and stills, artist monographs (such as Robert Longo’s Men in Cities Series), original music, and writings by poets. I was also looking at How(ever), the literary journal for women’s poetry launched in San Francisco in 1983 by poet Kathleen Fraser. In the pages of How(ever) I was introduced to many women writers — Dodie Bellamy, Norma Cole, Susan Gevirtz, Barbara Guest, among others — and I used some of their writings to fuel my own work. I brought stacks of images and books into the studio and my dance partner Laurie and I would shuffle and sequence them, or deal them to one another, and then go off into a corner, where the choreographic challenge began. The key elements that interested us were the transitions and phrasing occurring in between the spaces static images occupy. Walk, run, sit, stand, roll, freeze, slide, twist, turn, and more — formal to pedestrian — endless combinations that might employ a dynamic composition in the transitions.

Left: Dora Maar, Untitled, ca. 1940; Collection SFMOMA; © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. Right: Maurice Tabard, Jeu (Game), 1928; Collection SFMOMA.

Left: Garry Winogrand, Untitled, from the portfolio Women Are Beautiful, ca. 1970; Collection SFMOMA; © Garry Winogrand Estate. Right: Janine Antoni, Coddle, 1998; Collection SFMOMA; © Janine Antoni.

Left: Henry Wessel, Pasadena, California, 1974; Collection SFMOMA; © Henry Wessel. Right: Annika von Hausswolff, Guided by Voices, 1998; Collection SFMOMA; © Annika von Hausswolff.

One choreographer who worked with chance is my friend Remy Charlip. He attended Black Mountain College and danced with Merce Cunningham and John Cage for 11 years. Remy created a unique series called the AIR MAIL DANCES: he sketched a series of figures in movement on postcards and mailed them to dancers around the globe. His compositions freed dancers to interpret his vision, allowing for endless combinations. My dance partner and I had the opportunity to construct one of them, titled A Lonesome and a Twosome. We set it to a score by Nina Rota.

Watching Joan Jonas’s Songdelay (1973) when it was installed at SFMOMA in 2008 I was flooded with muscle memories that provoked a visceral exchange with the work. I found myself squirming to partake in the solos, duets, and trios of the “everyday body.” Figures imitate shapes, traverse craggy land formations shaping secret symbols. A woman walking with two wooden sticks in her trousers crosses paths of reckless wheel tossing and rolling in a hoop. A mirror reflects the sun, blinding the viewer. Hypnotic humming, bits of speech, singing, yelling, repetitive clapping of wooden blocks combined in rhythm with a stepping sound. Then silence. Silence over the cityscapes, riverbanks, abstract topographies, and vacant lots like moon craters. A happening.

Left: John Gutmann, Tuck Dive, 1939; Collection SFMOMA; © 1998 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents. Right: Phillipe Halsman, Popcorn Nude, 1949; Collection SFMOMA; © Halsman Estate.

Left: Daido Moriyama, Stray Dog, Misawa, Aomori, 1971; Collection SFMOMA; © Daido Moriyama. Right: Dora Maar, Le Simulateur (The Simulator or The Pretender), 1936; Collection the Sack Photographic Trust; © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

Left: Berenice Abbott, Multiple Exposure of a Swinging Ball, ca. 1958; Collection SFMOMA. Right: Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan, Untitled, from the installation Evidence, 1977; Collection SFMOMA; © Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan

Finally, I include an audio mix by Mike Weis called “Women of the Avant Garde” for you to think on as possible scores for dance. Enjoy:

MARGARET TEDESCO’s work includes performance, installation, photography, sculpture, and video. Tedesco has presented and collaborated with visual and performance artists, writers, and filmmakers since the ’80s. Her work has been shown internationally. In 2007 Tedesco founded [ 2nd floor projects ], an artist-run project space.

Comments (19)

  • Margaret Tedesco says:

    Thank you ALL for the lovely kudos and response. A pleasure to read your thoughts and presence.

    And to Suzanne Stein for this invitation that I may partake in the thoughtful dialogues on this amazing blog—marking time, making history.


  • Victoria Almeida says:

    What an extraordinary visual journey! I realized how much I love movement and performance, and how out of touch I have been. Thanks, Margaret, for reminding me of the beauty and excitement of your art, and the art that means so much to youl.

  • Steve Benson says:

    This is a wonderfully illuminating piece, shedding light in multiple directions overlapping. Poets’ indebtedness to dancers and dances and dancing is underestimated. This piece suggests bracingly how much might be reflected on. A two day workshop Carla Harryman and I took with John Graham and (I think) Suzanne Hellmuth about 1978 was deeply beneficial in my compositional process, both in preparation for my first extended oral improvisational piece, called Blindspots, and for learning how to be a body in presentation when performing a “poetry reading” generally, but I think it also informed by sense of how writing could take place through the body (hand, voice, brain, and the rest). I regret not seeing more amazing dancing, but I am grateful that there are films of some work, such as pegged here.

  • susan miller says:

    Margaret, I love how your personal monograph can be constructed through the works of others. Thank you.

  • Susan Gevirtz says:

    Margaret -Thank you – I am honored that you include HOW (ever) and poets who have been important to the movement of your thinking (and I guess the thinking of your movement) in this beautiful and complexly told story of yours and ours. In the same way that your work always partakes of many different mediums and things and is and isn’t about you, this piece is so alive in it’s ways of telling. And I agree this must have been so much work to assemble! Thanks again much for taking us along

  • Yes to sharing so many ways of shakin’ it, witnessing it. So beautiful. What a synthesis of time, mind-language and body-language you make here Margaret. Brava, very touching. When dance is an initial language of an artist, proprioceptive stimuli informs pretty much all of the future making and thinking. Moving through dance as a primary focus is something we share. I agree that you should go wide with this in a curated performance, dance, film, exhibit and reading series from this wonderful culling.

  • Charlene Tan says:

    I want to see a book out of this!

  • Scott Hewicker says:

    beautiful post, margaret! love how the images flow together in their own evocative movement.

  • Annika von Hausswolff says:

    I am so proud to appear in this context, thankyou Margaret!

  • Kevin Killian says:

    This must have been so much work! I love the reading of your own artistic journey as simultaneously a reading of the collection’s highlights–and mystery works, the emphasis being the odd or unexpected epiphany, a twist of the body, a surprise party of the mind.

  • This is fantastic — I’m going to be spending some time exploring spaces opened up by Margaret here.

  • lovin’ the journey

    thanks margaret for inviting us all along the wonder and the wander

  • Margaret,
    Gorgeous images that become a romp through/in one’s own body…reminding us all
    that the visual is soooomatic!

  • Margaret that was totally awesome, lady you got the eyes of a magician.

  • What a fantastic peek behind the curtain of the process of making dance! I still get the chills when I hear “She came in through the bathroom window…”!

  • I this is a terrific sequence of photos & thought (photos that ‘think’, as well).

    Thank you, Margaret

  • A very inspiring essay and some great images. So good to be reminded about the intelligence and inherent in movement and the body.

  • As Margaret’s dance partner in the 80’s, I was constantly pushed and pulled by her ideas that were decades ahead of what existed in the moment. Our collaboration was exciting, creative, volatile and extremely satisfying. Margaret is fearless and strong and fiercely authentic. This is a fascinating journey through photos and word pictures. Thank you Margaret and yes…I can’t wait to see what’s next.

  • What is amazing with Margaret is her amplitude to transform, modulate, adapt, explore with art and life and never get her two feet stuck in one shoe; to see her still have the courage and strength to do so within a sphere for expression shrinking every day. Over the years I have witness her be a dancer, a poet, a film maker a singer, but most of all an incredible visual artist. Now a talented curator wait and see what will be next. no one knows…

See all responses (19)
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