Improvisation is art without a net. It can be a lot more dangerous — artistically speaking — than performing from a script or a score.
On Monday night at the American Swedish Institute, Kim Gordon and Dimitri Chamblas were all impulse, trust and reverb. Featuring a mash of dance and music, their sold-out performance was presented by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series, a project renowned for its edgy presentations.
Best known for co-founding the art-rock band Sonic Youth, Gordon is a true interdisciplinary artist. She’s not only a musician and singer, but an author and visual artist. Her work with choreographer, dancer and curator Chamblas demonstrates Gordon’s strong reliance on instinct.
Gordon and Chamblas performed their piece amid the ornate decor of the Minneapolis museum’s Turnblad Mansion. With Gordon’s guitar, microphones, amps and various effects pedals set up in front of the giant mahogany fireplace. The piece could be viewed from around the Great Hall, up the grand staircase and from the floors above, as audience members peered down from the balconies. About 100 lucky ticket holders saw Monday’s show, with a second performance presented on Tuesday.
It was a short show, lasting just over 30 minutes. But it exhibited two artists investing complete trust in each other. Gordon and Chamblas invited the audience’s trust, too. In some cases, viewers became part of the piece, as the movement spilled past the initial staging area and performers brushed against people watching.
Early in the piece, Chamblas acted as obstacle and instigator to Gordon. While Gordon made vocalizations into a microphone and adjusted the effects of the looping, ethereal sound, Chamblas would interrupt her physically — putting his hand on her forehead, for example, or wrapping his arms around her neck. Gordon jammed on her guitar as she leaned her body into Chamblas, offering him her weight. She held her guitar behind his back as he lifted her up, continuing to play even as he drew her away from the instrument.
Later in the piece, their physical contact grew in intensity. As the fragments of Gordon’s music broke apart, becoming more chaotic, Gordon engaged more fully in the physical back and forth with Chamblas. A viewer could see the power shifting between the two, their interactions creeping to the edge of violence without quite getting there. Meanwhile, there was a certain sensuality at play as the artists rolled on top of each other, took turns sharing weight and entwined their bodies.
Because the piece was presented without design elements, nor with any theme or message, it asked the viewer to engage without looking for meaning. This was a piece more about savoring the experiment.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis critic and arts journalist.