Effective Dance_Photo by Neil Wissink
Effective Dance: healing procedure for a German Expressionist object (2014)
In this solo performance, Matthias Sperling attempts to intervene in the history of a German Expressionist art object by dancing at it. While seemingly absurd, the attempt is also a genuine one: Sperling engages with the object as having experienced a traumatic past, with particular reference to the Nazi's labelling of German Expressionist works as degenerate in 1937. His striving to effect a positive historical change through his movement becomes a way of questioning the apparent contrast between the ephemerality of action and the fixity of objects, and asking how our action in relation to artworks contributes to creating their identities.
The work was commissioned by and first performed at New Walk Museum & Art Gallery (Leicester), which holds the largest collection of German Expressionist art in the UK. Sperling defines the location of the performance through its relationship to art history: the healing procedure can be directed towards any German Expressionist art object created before 1937, meaning that the object endured the time of the Degenerate Art exhibition, staged by the Nazis to shame and discredit Expressionist art. The procedure is performed in the setting where the object is normally exhibited, around which the audience is invited to gather.
Sperling gently covers the object with a cloth and intently directs his movements towards it, attempting to enact a kind of hypnotherapy or psychic surgery on it. For Sperling, what fuels this activity and allows it to become potent for the object, is the audience members' contribution of attention to it. His movements, drawn from a wide range of sources, are all selected for their 'effectiveness' as choreographic material, encompassing references to German Expressionist dance, Flamenco, Vogueing, and shamanic practices. Using a head-mounted microphone, he accompanies his movement with non-verbal sounds that echo through the room. Delicately balancing seriousness and absurdity throughout, the procedure is completed by Sperling removing the cloth and revealing the object for the audience to see again.
Created and performed by Matthias Sperling
Duration: c. 20 minutes
Curator: Hugo Worthy
A New Walk Museum & Art Gallery commission, undertaken with support from Siobhan Davies Dance and Dance4
Performances: 2 & 3 October, 2014, New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester, UK
Read interviews with Matthias Sperling and Hugo Worthy about Effective Dance: healing procedure for a German Expressionist object in the publication WHO CARES? Dance in the Gallery & Museum, created by Sara Wookey in collaboration with Siobhan Davies Dance