By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
S.W.: Maybe the problem you’re having calling La Ribot’s work danceis that dance just doesn’t have the street cred of performance art — or the same renegade-styling, edge-seeking audiences. If you’re trying to get the cool kids on the block to come to an event, you have to call it performance. And the cachet of performing in a gallery, the instant status it grants, can’t be denied. Maria Ribot’s work certainly wasn’t getting much respect among the dance community in her native Madrid, at least not until last year when she received one of the Spanish government’s most prestigious arts awards, the Premio Nacional de Danza.
But there’s a fair amount of shared history and crossover between dance, performance art and visual art that tends to get overlooked by each camp. Self-reflexive commentary, irony, object manipulation and task execution were fundamental in lots of postmodern dance experiments by choreographers and artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Morris, Steve Paxton and Trisha Brown.
I love that, as beautiful as she is, La Ribot allows herself to appear ridiculous or even grotesque — as she does in “No. 14,” which is a hoot. Her deadpan face and perfunctory manner of performing add to the absurdity, and in some ways inure us to her constant nudity.
In other works, though, she’s putting a much more passive body on display. The naked female body becomes an object to be manipulated, not a body that is manipulating objects to make a statement, like in the previous series. This is really clear in the way she trusses herself up with cord and attaches a giant label reading “Outsize baggage” in the solo of the same name. It’s a sardonic pun on the pop-psychology adage, but more than luggage, she reminds me of a prized salami — an aesthetic object ready to be consumed. But does such willful self-transformation automatically classify her work as performance art?
R.A.: Nudity has mostly become a cliché of performance art. I recently taught a two-week performance workshop at CalArts and found it remarkable that almost all of the students thought public nudity was tired. This from a school famous for on-campus nudity! While nakedness is the point of some of her pieces, Maria often goes beyond just being nude; it’s a state of transition to the next incarnation.
By the way, she sells her Piezas Distinguidas like visual-art objects. For a mere 200 pounds, the proprietor’s name is acknowledged whenever and wherever a solo is performed. Among the patrons listed on the Highways lineup, I noticed that Franko B. and choreographers Jerome Bel and Mathilde Monniere “own” pieces.
S.W.: Now, that’s brilliant. Dance and performance sometimes stay low on the arts totem pole because they’re ephemeral, but this could open a whole new field in art collecting: Maybe one day all dancers will figure out how to “sell” their works. But then would we have to call it all “visual art”?
By the way, I think “Narcisa a’ Vendre” is still for sale.
Más Distinguidas and Still Distinguished at Highways, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica; Thurs.-Sat. 8:30 p.m., Sat. only 10:30 p.m.; $18. 310-315-1459.