Saturday, February 20, 2010

Appropriation/ Interpretation

An artist talk I attended last week critiqued the practice of mimicking, re-interpretation and re-presentation, especially in contemporary art discourses. The artist discussed novelty and creation in absolute terms, conceptually and literally as he narrated his experience of producing a new material in collaboration with a metallurgist.

These notions of creativity and creation versus appropriation struck me as I walked through Aly’s show, The Girl Splendid in Walking. Does the fact that the artwork is based on a literary text, Gradiva by Wilhelm Jensen, make it of any less value or authenticity? What additional value does it offer? Gradiva has been previously positioned as an icon of sexual desire and human delusion by Freud in Delusion and Dream in W. Jensen's Gradiva and then by artists such as Salvador Dali and Andre Masson.

Representing the novel using choreographed performance and video, Aly focuses on delusional and obsessive sides of human psychology and their manifestation through physical movement. She translated highlights of the plot into symbolic action, reactivating the novel for the audience. The re-presentation of classics can actually layer the work and it is interesting to explore which ideas and readings of the text are introduced and developed in The Girl Splendid in Walking.

Challenged by Jensen’s description of Gradiva’s walk in the novel, which is physically impossible to perform in reality, Aly introduced her imagined version of the captivating walk. The walk is actually the underlying theme connecting different scenes of the video. All the characters in her work are striving to recreate this impossible movement with their feet and even hands, aided by hypnosis and meditation.
The real sculptor and muse to the Roman frieze, the original which rests at the Vatican Museum, remain unknown to this day. However, Jensen’s story and plot has become fact because it has been re-created over and over so many times. Aly for instance offers a solution to the anonymous authorship using the twins; and confirms the muse for Gradiva as a fictitious character that can only be envisioned in a dream.

So what is the actual source of inspiration to Aly in The Girl Splendid in Walking; is it Gradiva, Freud’s interpretation of it, the actual Roman relief or a mixture of all of them? How does each layer affect our own experience with the work? Do we add our own layer as well?


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