Choreographer Faye Driscoll is all about being here now. Except when it comes to her first-ever art installation at the Walker Art Center.
"I was really excited about something where I didn't need to be here, where the body is the person coming in," Driscoll said, standing in the gallery during an interview last week.
Last weekend, the Bessie Award-winning choreographer wrapped up the third and final of her Walker-commissioned performances, "Thank You for Coming: Space." For the duration of that 75- to 80-minute show, she intensely expressed bodily and auditory reactions to grief and loss (throwing a block of clay onto the corner of the stage, biting into a hanging lemon), while also gently involving the audience (asking them to hold ropes for her or to cradle her head).
It's impossible to re-create that live experience in a static art gallery, so she combined certain auditory elements from "Space" with sensorial ones.
Her installation "Come on In" lives on the Walker's Gallery 7. Seven pairs of headphones are arranged on six cushy, bed-like platforms. Viewers must take off their shoes first. Then they're invited to lie down and listen to five- to eight-minute audio tracks of what she calls "guided choreography" that takes visitors through a variety of art historical moments and archetypes; movements (you may have to stand up or lift a leg), and sensory experiences (visualizing parts of your body).
" 'Thank you for coming,' 'come on in' — they are empty phrases but they are also full of meaning at the same time," said curator Pavel Pyś. "That's something she's interested in toying with."
The head-trippy tracks conjure states of longing and grief. Sometimes visitors hear memories or moments from her own life. Other times, Driscoll narrates herself looking at the viewer. This tension between feeling more aware of one's body yet also realizing what it means to be alone is reminiscent of the grieving process.
That is something Driscoll herself is working through. In the past year, she lost her mother and father. ("Space" was inspired by her mother's death.)
"There is something like a calling for presence," she said. "I've been questioning what it means to live when these two pillars of my life are no longer. ... Like, what is a life and how do you keep going?"
In one audio track, visitors are told they're falling through the ceiling of a gallery, then landing on the next floor. Then they are told to look over their shoulder, coming face to face with Driscoll, or the idea of her as a mysterious narrator. Disjointed and distant, yet imbued with meaningful phrases, the whole experience is like an unsettling afternoon psychic meditation session.
Glad you came
"Faye is interested in exploring the way we carry and present ourselves, the way we perform and construct our identity, and how our identity is manifest through the way we talk," Pyś said while looking out at the six platforms/beds.
As he talked, he fiddled with his hands. "I am very conscious now, the way I am moving my hands, all of those things she addresses," he explained. Moments later, he regained his composure and stood upright, like an authoritative curator.
Some of the elements from "Space" pop up in the gallery installation. Driscoll took audio from the show and slowed it down, twisting it into a warped sonic drone that hums throughout the gallery.
"My works are concerned with the audience and charging the space between performer and audience," she said.
But for this installation, that dynamic with viewers has changed.
Driscoll said she wondered: "Who are these people? I won't see most of them. How do I think about this without knowing them and how to choreograph them?"
Two weeks ago, on the show's quiet opening evening, she watched intently as the first two visitors entered the gallery, lay down together on the two-person bed, and grabbed the headphones. They poked their heads over the side, searching for something else.
"They're looking for the button," Driscoll said.
Moments later they found a little plastic button on the side of the platform. As the audio track began, they lay down and began to relax. They stopped moving their hands, and closed their eyes. A few minutes later, they opened their eyes, hopped off the platform and stood up, gazing out into the distance. Now they were the performers, and Driscoll was the audience.