Eclipse: Jonah Bokaer X Anthony Mccall
Nancy Dalva (Rail): How wonderful to be here with you in this marvelous new building, Jonah, to discuss your plans for the inaugural performances. How did ECLIPSE come about?
Jonah Bokaer: I’ve been aware of Anthony McCall’s work since 2002, and I saw an exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, which was called Beyond Cinema: The Art of Projection, in 2006-2007. They have a deep commitment to media art and to moving images. And Anthony McCall’s work, it seemed to me operated choreographically, because it’s projection, but it’s also a form of drawing, and it moves in time, and it has a very strong sculptural component. And it hit me in my gut and I thought, “Wow, this is certainly graphic art, but it’s moving in time.”
Rail: It’s light. So it’s time-based and it vanishes.
Bokaer: Exactly. Exactly. So, I found the sparring in his work between drawing, sculpture, cinema, movement, and light very interesting and I hadn’t heard or read any scholarship of his work in regards to movement. And so when the occasion for the Fisher Building came about, I, nearly without hesitation, decided to approach Anthony to collaborate on a work; he and I have been in conversation for about a year and a half. But ECLIPSE, which is the title of the piece, has been sort of in the oven for about three years. We’ve had a very in-depth dialogue for—really since April of 2011.
Rail: Was that conversation or writing or——
Bokaer: It’s correspondence between his studio and my studio. He is often present in my rehearsals. I traveled to see exhibitions of his. We visited pieces of architecture in different cities where a future work might be possible.
Rail: It seems very magical to me that you two should meet though, of course, the fact that you are so observant of—why were you there in Berlin?
Bokaer: I was in Berlin because I was engaging in sort of a deep inquiry with regards to how moving bodies and moving images can—how they relate, how they interrelate. I think there were over 30 works of media art on view in this museum. And his work—as well as that of Doug Aitken and several others, Stan Douglas—really stood out. But his was by far the most breathtaking. I’ve seen several of his works since then—on Governors Island with Creative Time and at Sean Kelley Gallery in Chelsea—and have followed very closely his work and lineage. And then upon meeting him and discussing further, he was curious to know more about my work, so he’s attended some concerts. He thinks about time and he divides time in a way that I can really relate to.
Rail: There are four dancers in the piece?
Bokaer: And I appear in the piece too.
Rail: Are you doing a solo or joining them?
Bokaer: I am—I see myself as adjacent to this piece. I begin it and I end it. But the middle mass of the piece is really a quartet for them. It’s sort of a fugue.
Rail: And the McCall?
Bokaer: He’s created a plane of 36 points of light, which form an equal area to the playing space. He has elevated, tilted, and torqued the plane of light, and it’s represented visually by 36 large light bulbs, which are site-specifically installed in this space. It forms a parallax. It—
Rail: What is that?
Bokaer: A parallax is a—well, we can correspond about it.
Rail: It’s a geometric [gestures]?
Bokaer: It is. It is. So imagine that this is the playing space, like that.
Rail: Got it.
Bokaer: So a parallelogram in many planes.
Rail: You’re working in the fourth dimension.
Bokaer: It is, actually. I would say Anthony has proposed a harmonic proposal for the space, which is—it is light, it is a score, it is a sculpture, and the lights travel. The light bulbs, when they hit the four dancers, form a kind of rapture that’s very surprising. It is very—it is minimal—not in terms of minimalism—it’s just very economical. But dramatic, and yet without the apparatus of drama. It’s just people and light—that’s our aesthetic here. And Aaron Copp has also managed this system of the 36 points of light, including the dimmer packs that power it and the software that scores it and all that.
Rail: So, sound. Tell me about David Grubbs. Have you worked with him before?
Bokaer: I first became aware of David Grubbs’s work in 2005-2006 because he was awarded a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. So that’s how I was introduced to his music: It’s quite fortuitous. Quite fortuitous. In so many ways. And David’s discourse is post-Cage, and he’s masterful. David has been entrusted with realizing the sound for Anthony McCall’s installations in recent years. So a filmmaker—or an artist like Anthony, who works in expanded cinema—has very strong ideas about sound. In fact, I think Anthony and I both view this work, ECLIPSE, as a piece of cinema. You have moving images, you have light, you have close-ups, you have long shots, you have sound, you have editing, you have blackouts, you have jump cuts. So there’s this grammar of cinema happening in the piece, and the sound that supports ECLIPSE is the sound of a single 16-milimeter projector, focused as a projection.
Rail: And yet, Jonah, you have people seated all the way around, so you’re not really controlling their point of view.
Bokaer: It’s a quadrilateral viewing space. It’s four fronts.
Rail: It’s not 360 degrees.
Bokaer: It’s four fronts.
Rail: Very different.
Bokaer: It’s very different, and it’s also about how to take apart the fluid cube.
Rail: I didn’t really think of structuralism so much in terms of your work, but then it came up in my research of Anthony’s work—he’s considered a structuralist. Are you? You can reject the word. I’m just throwing it out.
Bokaer: I tend to use the structural supports of other media to write dance. That’s how I use structure. And structuralism is a movement in filmmaking, so we would have to talk with Anthony about that. I think he calls himself an artist, and an installation artist. But it is true that we are using the structural support of an installation for a dance.
Rail: What about formalism?
Bokaer: Formalism is the new f-word. I’m happy to say I’m not afraid of it, and there’s room for poetry too. I do have a language. I do have a language. And I think that you can’t have formalism without language. Otherwise you’d have collapse. Eighty percent of the work is scripted, written. In a screenplay, in French the word is “scenario.” And so we have 80 percent of a script. And then there are certain passages which are structured but which change every night.
Rail: You could come every night and you’d see something different?
Bokaer: ECLIPSE is site-specific. ECLIPSE is site-specific for this—not only for this space but also for this occasion. We don’t know if it will be performed again. This has been a three-year endeavor, and Anthony McCall has made just an enormous contribution of time and artistic vigor. But it’s almost like a mandala. We have methodically designed this work, and the structure is very coherent.
Rail: So, like a real eclipse. If you don’t get out there and look up—
Bokaer: Once in a lifetime. That’s it.