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William Forsythe’s Choreographic Objects at the ICA

December 3, 2018 | By Catherine Titcomb

Those in the dance world may recognize the name William Forsythe as one of the premier contemporary choreographers of the time. Forsythe’s choreography and other stage effects in both regional ballets, like the Boston Ballet Company, where he now currently works, and his own company, the Forsythe Company, have revolutionized dance. The interactive art installations he has been creating since the 1990s are a continuation of his redefinition of dance. His interactive works bring choreography fundamentals to the public and to installation art. “Choreographic Objects” at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) features his selected works from 2001 to the present. 

Photos by Catherine Titcomb

Those in the dance world may recognize the name William Forsythe as one of the premier contemporary choreographers of the time. Forsythe’s choreography and other stage effects in both regional ballets, like the Boston Ballet Company, where he now currently works, and his own company, the Forsythe Company, have revolutionized dance. The interactive art installations he has been creating since the 1990s are a continuation of his redefinition of dance. His interactive works bring choreography fundamentals to the public and to installation art. “Choreographic Objects” at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) features his selected works from 2001 to the present. 

The most outwardly choreographic piece, “The Differential Room,” presents the viewer with a series of complicated movement commands. Many are so absurd or contradictory—including one that instructs guests to “hop until complete exhaustion but not expressing that exhaustion or drawing any attention to yourself”—that not many people actually attempt them. Both “The Fact of Matter,” a series of rings hanging from the ceiling, and “Nowhere and Everywhere,” electronically programmed pendulums swinging close to the floor, ask the viewer to cross through them. Other pieces, such as “Towards the Diagnostic Gaze,” which instructs the viewer to hold a feather duster completely still, and “Aufwand,” which asks the viewer to attempt to open an extremely difficult door, are harder to relate to choreography without reading the descriptions. “Towards the Diagnostic Gaze” raises awareness of the unseen and constant activities of the body, as the viewer finds it impossible for the feather duster to be completely still, while  “Aufwand” makes a point about perseverance in choreography and other aspects of life.

Photos by Catherine Titcomb

As a whole, the exhibit is frankly fun. It forces the viewer to use their body in ways not usually, or ever, required by art, making the idea of art created by a choreographer seem much more natural. The installations are less about meaning and more about engaging. There is no meaning behind the pieces beyond the visitors' interactions with them, making the exhibit’s focus on choreography and people, challenging  the idea that installation art must be provocative and inaccessible to the public. 

“Choreographic Objects” will be displayed at the ICA until Feb. 21.