Today is the first day of band and dancer rehearsals for my upcoming tour. It is also the first day Everything That Happens Will Happen Today — my new album with Brian Eno — is available as a download.
Playing The Building closes after next weekend. Last Friday morning, Mayor Bloomberg came by with his entourage to play the organ — nice of him to take the time to stop by. About 60, 000 people have visited the installation so far. If we had charged an entry fee, the revenue generated would be on the same scale as, say, selling out Madison Square Gardens at least twice. Both Creative Time and I however, were against this idea. But more on arts funding later…
Bloomberg voiced the question, “How do people find out about the installation?” Someone mentioned the articles in the NY Times and The Village Voice, but the mayor remarked that their readership is shrinking and one or two articles alone can’t bring in sustained attendance. Someone else suggested the Internet and other less institutionalized information sources. The attendance has been very international, with visitors from Spain, Germany and England, and surely not all of them read the Times. It’s actually a bit difficult to explain — it’s not like there was a marketing plan or anything. Yet, PTB is an idea that’s easy to communicate and pass on, whether by word of mouth or via the Web.
Last night, while I made dinner for the band, the singers, and the dancers at my house, Regina Spektor and her crew overdubbed the building on a song for her new album. Todomundian Danielle S., also present at the recording session, informed me that despite my wish for the instrument to have a democratizing effect — i.e., that no player would be better than any other — Spektor was a pretty amazing player of the building. Better than most in fact. Her Russian parents videotaped the session, their daughter yelping and moaning as she overdubbed a lovely vocal track, taking advantage of the building’s acoustics.
Support for the Arts
Rehearsals for my upcoming show began tenuously. Some songs sounded, well, less than transcendent. But to wish for transcendence on the first day is, admittedly, a little unreasonable. A few songs did have their crystalline moments though, their live potential heard dimly through our sloppy efforts — at least mine seemed sloppy.
Around 5PM, choreographer Noémie Lafrance stopped by to say hello before retreating to the 2nd floor where the dance rehearsals are taking place. We’ve been given use of the studio formerly belonging to The Trisha Brown Dance Company — equipped with Marley-covered wooden floors — for which we are very grateful since our initial dance rehearsal space had hard concrete floors. When we hosted the auditions a few weeks back, all three choreographers commented on the dangerous concrete flooring, which would inevitably cause wear and tear on the dancers knees and ankles, and potentially more serious injury. I thought we’d have to find rehearsal space in another building.
By total stroke of good fortune however, we gained access to the Brown studios. We had all noticed them upon entering the building (a former parking structure), and since I know Trisha through the late Bob Rauschenberg, I went downstairs to see if any of her studios were available for rent. A card taped to entranceway said “We’ve Moved” and left a name (the former manager of Meredith Monk’s company) and phone number. I called, and sure enough, they’d vacated and moved to Tribeca. I didn’t ask for details, but was told the Pace Wildenstein gallery now owned the space.
Pace is my “parent” gallery, and, hoping they hadn’t yet renovated, I inquired about renting the space. Luckily, construction wasn’t due to start for another few weeks. The dance studios were still intact — pristine in fact — with just enough time for us to squeeze in some rehearsals. So, though a series of acquaintances and creative connections, we can do our dance and music rehearsals in the same building.
During rehearsal breaks, I stopped by the second floor a couple of times to witness the dance creation process. I watched as Noémie asked the three dancers to improvise. Sometimes her instructions yielded almost completely choreographed pieces, other times the result was more chaotic. The former Brown studios are rather large, with the main room about 45’ x 30’, and mirrors lining one entire wall. There were at least three other rooms of similar size, and one was even larger. The Brown company must have used one and rented out the others and probably rand some classes out of there too — classes to both build a legacy and to generate some income.
Noémie was incensed that one of the US’s premier choreographers had been driven out of a studio she’d created only a few years ago in this funky, industrial part of town. To her it seemed indicative of the US attitude towards the arts, and towards dance in particular. Trisha Brown is an institution in contemporary dance: she has had worldwide influence and though we don’t know the exact circumstances (was the rent raised? an expected grant didn’t come through? or did company bookings not materialize?) it still seems a shame that a cultural icon doesn’t have sufficient funds or support to have her own studio. Noémie is from Canada, where government support for native talent is more forthcoming; that Trisha had to depart suddenly from those lovely studios must seem almost cruel and inexplicable.
Pace-Wildenstein is one of a handful of very successful global contemporary art galleries, a business that, so far, continues to boom despite the mortgage and credit disasters on Wall Street. Pace has generously offered us use of the space gratis. And, I feel good knowing that at least we are using it to create contemporary dance, even if it’s only for a few more weeks.
In terms of funding, dance is notoriously low on the arts totem pole, at least in this country. Whereas the visual arts world can provide a product to be bought, sold, and even re-sold, dance lacks collectibility, and thus relies on the support of patrons and grants. Traditionally, there has been a lot of crossover between dance and the visual arts. For instance, Brown worked with Rauschenberg and many other visual artists. Yet, dance has never been funded at the level of contemporary art museums. Is this a shame or just something we should accept?
As someone who has, for the most part, relied on ticket or album sales instead of grants or stipends, a situation such as this raises a lot of questions. Does the avant-garde actually deserve to be supported by the state? Is someone of Trisha’s stature even avant-garde any more? Isn’t she more of an institution? Doesn’t spreading her work also spread the culture as a whole and therefore necessitate support? Do the state, wealthy donors, and subscribers inevitably need to assume the Medici role of dispassionate funder of innovation and fringe creativity? Would innovation happen without support? And, should work that achieves popularity become unsuitable for funding? Aren’t the fringes of jazz, rock, RnB and electronica — experimentalists who often use popular forms — also worthy of financial support? If György Ligeti got a Berlin grant, why not the Butthole Surfers or Pole, the minimalist electronica musicians? (As Todomundian Sarah R. points out, in Canada, these types of artists are eligible.)
In any case, for the time being we’re creating populist contemporary dance, accompanied by a form of popular music, and thanks in part to the largesse of a visual arts gallery. It may not be justice as far as Trisha Brown is concerned, but her spirit of innovation, humor and wacky creativity lives on.
Georgia on my mind
The current conflict in Georgia may be about pride, psychology and influence, but it’s also about oil.
Russia has huge oil and natural gas reserves, and in recent years, it has become evident that these resources will launch Russia as a world power. Europe, to country’s west, has no oil of its own, and neither does China to the east. Exporting this black gold requires passage through pipelines in contentious territory. Georgia is one such territory, advantageous for its strategic port, which Russia lacks. It’s therefore inconceivable that Russia would ever allow its oil lifeline to be seized or controlled by a nation unwilling to perform its bidding. In the Russian point of view, a NATO country controlling its artery would be mad.
So of course when, at the urging of the Bush administration, the nutso Georgian president decides to posture for NATO membership and US supplied weapons and uses a breakaway region as a pretext for action, well, the Russians reacted as one might expect them to. Imagine if China decided to seize control of the region where the Alaska pipeline (or better yet, Saudi oil) reaches a port. The result? Instant conflict.
There’s no arguing or reasoning with people’s whose lifelines are threatened. To escape oil is freedom.