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Slow Dancing at Bridges Explores Human Movement in Slow Motion

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Nathan Yale

The Pomona College Museum of Art will project David Michalek’s award-winning video "Slow Dancing" on the façade of Big Bridges Auditorium at Pomona College every evening from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. from Sept. 27 through Oct. 5. 

Michalek is a New York-based artist whose work ranges from photography, drawing, video/sound installations, and live performances to site-specific works of public art like "Slow Dancing." Throughout the 1990s, he was a commercial fashion photographer for publications like The New Yorker and Vogue until he began working on his own photography in collaboration with performing artists. 

His projects focus on the concept of the contemporary human body as a projection screen for society, religion, politics, and sexuality. Through his use of performance techniques, storytelling, movement, and gesture, he reveals an individual’s unique identity and personality by slowing down his or her body motions to push the audience to expand their awareness.

"Slow Dancing" is Michalek’s succession of 43 larger-than-life (around 30 feet tall), hyper-slow-motion video portraits of dancers and choreographers from all around the world exhibited on three separate screens. Using a high-speed, high-definition camera recording at 1,000 frames per second (versus standard film which captures 30 frames per second) and a uniquely constructed set, Michalek captured each subject’s movement for approximately five seconds, which totaled up to roughly 10 minutes of extreme slow motion. The trio of portraits is randomly selected for each cycle as a means for its audience to instantaneously compare the models from the various styles and cultures on display. 

The projected portraiture has transfixed viewers ever since it premiered at the Lincoln Center in New York City in 2007 and has since been shown both internationally in Venice, Monaco, Taiwan, Paris, London, Ireland, Moscow, the Netherlands, Scotland, and Berlin, as well as at U.S. colleges such as Yale University and Harvard University. 

Kathleen S. Howe, director of the Pomona College Museum of Art and Professor of Art at Pomona, recalled her experience at the Lincoln Center premiere of "Slow Dancing" and the crowd's reactions to Michalek’s work.

"People had congregated on this concrete plaza just watching this thing, completely mesmerized,” Howe said. “When I walked by later that night, some of the same people from hours earlier were still there. People had come with lawn chairs and even picnics. It was really interesting to see how people used this dark city space [and treated it like] a park experience [to take in] these big projected images.”

Howe anticipated that 5C students and faculty and Claremont community members will be intrigued by "Slow Dancing."

“Definitely being an academic museum, you can assume that we can show some art pieces that people will come to with an open mind. Whether they find it interesting or not, they will give it a chance and explore what’s happening. We always assume that the academic audience is willing to meet the artist halfway,” she said. “I expect people to [come across] it at night and enjoy it [even though it was unplanned]. It’s that surprise feeling [it invokes] that is more fun than anything else.”

Pomona Associate Professor of Dance Laurie Cameron also remembered her first viewing of "Slow Dancing" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in 2008. Cameron said that the audience for the work is constantly changing. 

“It was spectacular—just unbelievable,” Cameron said. “The audience size changes all the time while you’re watching it. People pass by it and continue on—maybe come back later. Other people will sit for an hour and watch it. It’s really about your own relationship with what’s going on in front of you. It really doesn’t matter where it is, just whether you are able as an audience person to engage with it so slowly.”

Cameron said she is excited to see how the Claremont community will react to "Slow Dancing."

“I hope that they will have a moment in their incredibly busy lives to be completely absorbed by one thing of beauty,” she said. “Instead of thinking how much time can I give myself to watch this, but rather, how much time can I allow myself to experience this whether I enjoy it or not. It’s hard not be seduced by it just because of the size of it, [especially] for people interested in the human body [and to see these dancers’ movement] that in real life might just take a few seconds, but to see [them slowed down and actually notice] what every muscle in the body is doing to accomplish that short [motion].”

Cameron and Howe both sit on the planning committee for The Moving Mind: A Dialogue Between the Arts and Sciences, a public symposium presented by the Pomona Departments of Dance and Neuroscience that will be held from Oct. 3 to Oct. 5. With various lectures, workshops, and exhibits, the forum will bring together scientists and artists to discuss how those with an interest in the cognitive or neurosciences can examine ideas through the process of embodied exploration. Michalek’s "Figure Studies," an exhibit currently on display at the Pomona College Museum of Art that applies the technology of high-speed, high-definition video to the recording of human movement, and "Slow Dancing" are both featured in The Moving Mind.

“What is happening when you’re experiencing "Slow Dancing" [is not like] sitting in front of a TV and taking something in, processing it, and immediately spitting it out,” Cameron said. “When you look at "Slow Dancing," it requires the mind to process in a way that the body has a reaction. For us, it’s about the moving mind and neuroscience is definitely about the moving mind.”

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