August 4, 2014

Threads and the Measure of a Life





I have heard it said that except for the time we are bathing we are surrounded by cloth from the day we are born until the day we die. Fabric is ever present and yet it mostly goes unnoticed.
Phyllis Ma performing for Leimay Studios
Everyday phrases like, hey, toss me the dish towel or wheres my other sock?, don't really remind us about the importance that fabric plays in our lives.

We are more apt to think of what it does or how it performs than its prevalence and perhaps we take it a bit for granted.
Do I look good in these jeans?
Are you going to be warm enough in that coat?
Mom? Where's the beach blanket?


Chris Lunney in Qualia Gardens for Leimay Studios
We think of fashion and  how it makes us look, or how fabric protects us from the elements or how comfortable it makes our bed.
For most of us, that's about as far as it goes, but for most of my life I have had an appreciation, an attraction and interest in fabric. As a child I  enjoyed  my dolls' clothes so much that I  gave the dolls away and kept the clothes. I still remember that gown of Barbie's with a double layered skirt, one  of blue and the other green, that made an iridescent moire effect. Divine.

As I learned recently,  the Greeks and many other early cultures were also very attentive to the importance of fiber. They believed that our very lives hung by a thread.
The Fates were believed to be three goddesses, Moirai,  who controlled each persons destiny. One spins the thread of life, one measures it out and the last one cuts it to length with her scissors.


Chris Lunney in Qualia Gardens installation and performance art.
On Friday August first I attended a contemporary dance performance in a garden in Brooklyn. My son was participating. The theme was about this idea of spinning, measuring and cutting the thread of destiny.
It was a lovely summer night. The gardens were  bordered on two sides by  aged  brick walls  and the two remaining sides were fenced in black metal bars which bordered the streets. The  entire space, excluding walk ways   was transected by white string under tension from the top of the walls and terminating into the plants like darting sleet.  I loved this idea of thread in space, the reminder of connections real but not usually seen. The dancers, were dressed all in white or ivory  linen, cotton, and lace and their skin was a powdery white caked with a clay slurry. They  were positioned among the plants and trees, against the brick walls, one hung in a string hammock like a cocoon suspended from a tree branch and three women were invisibly harnessed and hanging high on the walls like ghostly angels; the Moirai.


Phyllis Ma  performing in Qualia Gardens
The music was ethereal, brooding, droning, cyclical, pulsating. If time  has a soundtrack, this was it.  It would fade from notice as my concentration on movement took over and then it reminded me that it was there as the  bright sound of jingling keys appeared,  refreshing and sweet like a breeze. . A few times the music intensified and pulsated with more demanding force and it created anxiety and tension in the dancers and viewers alike. Their bodies twisted, ached, tremored. Their  contorted fingers  strained against a horrible force,  and their feet, twisting, drilled into the mulch.
Jose Rivera Jr. conveys incredible emotion even wrapped in thread

One of the most curious aspects of the performance for me was what to do with myself since all the conventions of the performer/audience had been removed. There was no stage. However,  the dancers were separated from viewers, by being positioned  among the plants where only a gardener would normally tread. There was no dedicated audience space. I was free to move about and look at different dancers as I wished. I could take pictures and video. Even though the solemnity of the performance indicated to me  that I not interfere, I wondered,  could I interact with them if I wanted to?
Of course, I wouldn't have but I wondered non the less. The dancers showed extreme focus and were able to tell their story despite our movement, curious stares and our  cameras.

 I especially enjoyed the dancers control and contorted movements I noticed how their feet interacted with the dirt. One dancers feet seemed as though they wanted to reverse a plant's growth process and drill themselves back into the earth. I liked this interaction and  I wondered why there was no interaction with the wall, the trees and each other. Each being was very solitary. I also noticed that each dancer echoed the pincer grasp hand movement as if  pulling a thread to length, but there weren't any spinning or cutting allusions that I could catch. The actual taut strings added unexpected interest in the way they framed the dancers in space.

This performance tied together several of my favorite things and I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to experience it. It was as beautiful and delicate as it was frightening and painful.   I was not the only one moved to tears.
Congratulations to all the participants and creators.

What- Qualia Gardens: installation and performance
Where- Performance space- Gil Hodges Community Garden 534 Carroll St. at Denton, Gowanus section of Brooklyn, across the street from Textile Arts Center, Textile Arts Center
The Garden is a New York Restoration Project
Who- Dancers from  Leimay Dance Studio
When- Next performance, Saturday, August 9, 2014, 4:00-5:00 PM


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