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David Page, Maida Withers. Maida, David.

“DAVID PAGE HATES ART.” The graffiti that adorns the lockers of the basement of the Corcoran is not, as it appears on first look, an admonishment. The artist hates the canon. The heraldry. The romantic notion of the lone wolf artist–at its best, someone like Mingering Mike, at its worst self-serving. Though the MFA graduate assistant-laden factories/studios of Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons present the opposite extreme to the soloist hand-of-god rococo painter, Page would argue for the middle. So the artist and Corcoran faculty member welcomes collaboration, by rote. Why? (a brief listicle)

1. His sculptures need people. They can be vessels, helmets, suits or restraints, all of which need to be filled.
2. People provide entropy, chance and push-back. With strangers, with students, peers, colleagues and–unwittingly, once or maybe twice–the police.
3. He escapes the institution with new places and settings for his work, including works with no home but an ambulatory nomad-state. His still sculptures become kinetic.
4. Have you seen his motorcycle? His custom modifications/works are welded on to it, he parks it on the south side of the Corcoran in good weather, and it’s caused more than one passer-by to look for a placard explaining its medium and title. Arguably a Honda collab.

Before what would come to be an orchestrated movement of two stalwart art and university institutions, a dance of its own, Corcoran’s Page and GWU’s Dance Professor Maida Withers began a collaboration that could be seen as a microcosm of those larger bodies. Maida (who, despite this introduction, needs none) can be described as an icon without the danger of approaching hyperbole: her practice at the university is in its fifty-first year and her own Maida Wither’s Dance Construction Company has reached forty. Though rooted in modern dance, Withers is a polymath in her practice, incorporating dance, neuroscience, 3D projected computer art, and live interactive music. Her dance work took her to West Berlin and Essen where, during her residency at Mary Wigman School, the Berlin wall moved from barbed-wire-topped fence to concrete barrier. In 1970, with the venerable Yvonne Rainier, Maida introduced some of the first Vietnam War critique to her campus with her and her students bodies in a fifteen week workshop.

Numeric Variations from Maida Withers on Vimeo.

Their collaboration is part of a massive fortieth celebration, renaissance in the width of its reach of mediums. MindFluctuations is a choreographic direction and concerted-exercise to Brazilian artist Tania Fraga’s 3D VR and projected artworks. In real-time, those projections will be manipulated by the emotions and expressed states of the dancers wearing an Emotiv neuro headset. The Electroencephalography (EEG) device measures voltage from the brain to use as a controller, here altering the entire composition uniquely at each rehearsal and performance.

Unveiled spoke with David Page to plot out his role in the disciplinary soup: manufacturing a helmet for dancer Anthony Gongora in MindFluctuations to shield his head from the neural headset, acting as interlocutor.

Unveiled: How did you meet Withers?

David Page: I met Maida through student Lorenzo Cardim, who worked with her on his performance for NEXT, last year. He started the Wear, Strut Occupy, 2013 spring class. It was the type of thing where the class gels, and it comes together, or it doesn’t.  They excite one another or they don’t. Last year was particularly active.

The name caught, as a course, in 2011, team taught with Nick Cave, part of the Corcoran Gallery’s 30 Americans show. The name stuck after Occupy. The name is almost more fraught in its current context, with the so-called occupation of George Washington.

 

Unveiled: How did you get involved in the MindFluctuations project?

 

David Page: Lorenzo sicked Maida on to me. I thought this would be a good idea, as much as I resisted the GWU thing, once it became a done deal, what’s the point of not collaborating? The possibilities–what could happen–let’s not wait for a policy, let’s just find peers and work with them.

 

We started talking, and I met with principal dancer Anthony Gongora. There’s something fractured about his movements; it’s OK to mention, we spoke about it.  I was thinking about the possibilities of a percussive suit, and they were thinking of dance, freedom of motion. He’s thinking that what I do is I make these movements, roll around on the ground. The last thing he needs is for this thing to hurt him.

 

So instead of a suit, we started to look at helmets.

 

 

Unveiled: Helmets?

 

David Page: It’s the one thing you can wear and still move your body a whole lot. This was to be a brain-wave blocking helmet to counter the dancers wearing the neural headset. I went to the studio and watched him dance. He was making these primal sounds out loud. No matter how graceful a dancer is, they still make grunts and noises–somewhat animal and mechanical.

 

So I made sketches of the grunts.

 

I played around with different alloys. I had the remnants of an older project that was expanded with panels on the side. Took it back to them, and they said, it was really uncomfortable. Anthony has the biggest head around!

 

Unveiled: How did that resolve, between your idea and the logic of the piece. What was the compromise?

 

David Page: I was interested in the interior resonance of the helmet. I had ideas for it inside my own practice. That was the first helmet, it functioned. Now it’s more like a motorcycle helmet, and resonantly the acoustics are completely dead.

 

So I took apart a regular hard hat, and looked at the suspension system of it, and that allowed for more resonance. His head still pushed against the leather. It wasn’t working properly still. The third one was padded out with hard leather.

 

now I used a caliper to measure his head. Then we got the fit right.

 

After getting the size, we go in to rehearsal. The thing for me is that we go in to collect sounds and parts of the performance. Now I have the production down of the helmet down, with any number of templates for future use.

 

Unveiled: The role of the collaborator, as it is for Withers, is important to you. I think of your work with alumna Jessika Dené Tarr as one example.

 

David Page: The level of collab changes, sometimes the pieces are insprired by someone’s work, or we have anonymous, one-day volunteers. A quick tryout or a longer working relationship.

 

Jessika and I really did work together for a long time. The thoughts about the piece start to become collaborative. It’s frightening as well, there are times when safety is at stake with a third person, things could go wrong–there’s a responsibility. But they haven’t gone wrong yet.
photo

 

Unveiled: What projects are coming up for you?

 

I’m working on a exhibition called “Security Theater.” At the Creative Alliance, we’re talking with the gallery about a large solo show where all the pieces work together as a large machine. Looking at using mechanisms and sandbags. Using bellows, gallery-goers can aid the flow of air supplies to the persons inside my suits. Cooling them down so they can breathe, for example. It impicates the viewer, even if they’re supporting the person inside, helping them, they are still responsible by being present. They become something more than a participant.

 

The world premiere of Maida Withers’s MindFluctuations is at the Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st Street NW, Washington, DC, on March 19, 2015. Tickets are from $25-$38 and available at Lisner’s site.

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