CUNNINGHAM, DUCHAMP, AND NAM JUNE PAIK'S TWO MERCES
By Mark Franko
“Therefore, everything seen – every object, that is, plus the process of looking at it – is a Duchamp.”
Since the creation of Merce Cunningham's 1968 homage to Marcel Duchamp, Walkaround Time, dance critics and performance historians have begun to acknowledge certain affinities between the visual artist and the choreographer. Cunningham's long-time collaborator and musical director John Cage knew Duchamp personally since the early 1940s and was profoundly influenced by him.[ii] Yet, it was not until the mid-1960s that Cage and Cunningham “became close friends of Duchamp and his wife Teeny.”[iii] The idea for Walkaround Time was proposed by Jasper Johns during an after-dinner conversation in Duchamp's presence between Johns and Cunningham. The ballet featured a decor representing fragments of Duchamp's The Large Glass (1915-1923), as realized by Johns, which would come together at the end of the performance to form a replica of the work Duchamp described as a “Delay in Glass”[iv] (fig. 1). At the premiere in Buffalo, New York (March 10, 1968), Duchamp came up on stage to take a bow, and a photograph of this moment is featured in Nam June Paik's video Merce by Merce by Paik. Paik's video – the subject of this essay – explores the connection between Cunningham and Duchamp while also injecting another collaborator and another collaborative work – that of Paik himself – into the relationship.[v] The video engages playfully with what used to be called mixed media, pop discourse on art and performance, and mediatized publicity.
|Figure 1. Merce Cunningham and Company in Walkaround Time (1968). Courtesy of the Cunningham Dance Foundation, New York City.
Calvin Tomkins's The Bride and the Bachelors (1968), the second edition of which added a chapter on Cunningham to preexisting chapters on Duchamp, Tinguely, Cage, and Rauschenberg, argued for a “natural affinity” between Duchamp and the collaborators Cage, Cunningham, and Rauschenberg.[vi] Although Tomkins appeals to the blurring of high art and popular culture to assert that these artists “becloud the fantasy … of art history,” his study served to popularize the American presence of Duchamp in the 1960s.[vii] Tomkins presents Duchamp, much as does Paik, as having outlived himself to return as a spectator and interpreter of his own work, and a reflection of the work of others.
Cunningham emerged in print by 1968 with his own experimental book, Changes: Notes on Choreography, and an issue of Dance Perspectives devoted to his work.[viii] Merce by Merce by Paik was produced ten years later, concurrent with the publication of Irving Sandler's The New York School, a chapter of which is devoted to “The Duchamp-Cage Aesthetic,” including a relevant discussion of Cunningham's choreography.[ix] Thus each historical moment in which Cunningham moves out of dance and into other media – print and video – is marked by the presence of Duchamp as model. I shall argue that this transfer between media is essential to Cunningham's Duchamp effect and has much to do with the interpretation of Duchamp's term “delay.”
There has, nonetheless, been a general reticence in the dance scholarly community to interpret the Cunningham/Duchamp connection on more than an anecdotal level. Cunningham, after all, never distanced himself from choreography, and the choreographer's modernism is more aestheticist than conceptual (so the argument goes), because it is always in the service of dance. Do such assumptions serve to forestall (or delay) a different critical insight hinted at by Paik? Before turning to the video, let us initially explore the connection between Cunningham and Duchamp at the level of what Tyrus Miller calls the readymade's “object paradigm.”[x]
Duchamp's readymade understood as the selection of an object from everyday life and its positioning as an artwork through signing it and displaying it in a museum provides the basic terrain upon which to initiate a discussion of Duchamp's influence. From this perspective, the readymade subverts both taste, the artist's “touch,” and artistic intent. It thus introduces a questioning about the institutional status of art at its locations of display. Cunningham's compositional methods related to the use of chance procedure have similarly affected how we perceive and, therefore, what we expect of choreography. His innovations disrupted optical conventions on a number of levels – not only in the use of space, but also by way of a performance style in which dancers would make no voluntary effort to project themselves theatrically toward the audience.[xi] Cunningham would frequently de-center the stage space – a phenomenon noticed to disturb the audience's ability to focus on movement. “For a lot of people, especially people accustomed to classical ballet,” remarked Cunningham, “it's very difficult to watch. They're disturbed because they realize it’s clear but they can't see it, can't deal with it at first sight.”[xii] Above all, there is a theoretical optic built into this difficulty of seeing: the charge to see only what is there, because it is implied that no artistic intention precedes the work. In 1955, Cunningham identified the new ideas in painting, music, and dancing as “primarily concerned with something being exactly what it is in its time and place, and not in its having actual or symbolic reference to other things.”[xiii] This charge to see just what is there in itself constitutes a critical intervention into dance history. What is there may indeed just be what is there, but the charge to see that way is also what is there. In other words, a discursive intervention already constitutes the choreography.
These innovations (so the argument goes) do not disrupt the consumption of dance per se. Cunningham dancer Carolyn Brown said in 1975: “Merce is no longer 'avant-garde' (he never claimed to be); he’s established, if not establishment … Because finally it is not ideas but dancing that Merce makes, and the meaning is in the activity, which is at once physical, emotional, spiritual.”[xiv] As if to reinforce this point, Noel Carroll and Sally Banes state in their subtly reasoned article “Cunningham and Duchamp,” “One does not leave a Cunningham concert with the sense that one has garnered a new theoretical insight or question about the nature of dance; one leaves feeling that one has just seen what is incontrovertibly dance.”[xv] Scholars who do explore Duchamp's influence on Walkaround Time invoke the readymade as a phenomenon devoid of radical implications.[xvi] What is resisted here is not so much avantgarde membership per se as the enlistment into discourse such membership presupposes. The avant garde forces us into a realization, noted Paul Mann, “that art is not simply supported by discourse but is itself a fully discursive phenomenon.”[xvii] There is, I suspect, an institutional investment in keeping North American dance, even in its most “avant-garde” manifestations, non-discursive, and therefore, un-Duchampian. Duchamp's famous rejection of purely retinal art thus is not meant as analogous to Cunningham's involvements with the kinetic and the spatial, even if the latter disrupted visuality and destabilized notions of organic compositional unity. How then do we account for such a gap between the radical questioning of what constitutes dance as movement and the conviction that Cunningham's work presents “what is incontrovertibly dance”?
Perhaps one key to the relationship lie's neither with the disruption of perceptual habits in relation to space nor with performative detachment per se. Let us consider, rather, Cunningham's challenge to danced movement conventions as of the late fifties by the use of pedestrian movement. “I started with the idea,” he stated in 1977, “that first of all any kind of movement could be dancing.”[xviii] Pedestrian movement undercuts traditional notions of dancerly and choreographic authorship even as it introduces a startling individuality and texture into dancers' performances. Like the readymade, pedestrian movement appears gratuitously. “The choice of readymades,” said Duchamp, “is always based on visual indifference, and at the same time, on the total absence of good or bad taste.”[xix] Pedestrian movement has conceptual links to the readymade – it is not mass produced but produced, if I may say, by the masses – and has radical implications for dance making. Pedestrian movement acknowledges that dancing comes from the streets, from the way ordinary people move there. The choreographic making of steps and movements is replaced using movement and gesture the dancer might perform outside the activity of dancing, outside the theater or studio. In this sense, found movement reveals the person in the dancer rather than the dancer in the person. What pedestrian movement tells us is that bodies in ordinary motion are dance readymades.
Rather than develop this point by evoking innumerable details from Cunningham's work, I propose instead to consider the dance video Merce by Merce by Paik shot by Nam June Paik in 1978. For one thing, Paik's video explicitly juxtaposes Cunningham and Duchamp. Merce by Merce by Paik challenges the viewer to reflect on – or theorize – the meaning of dance through the encounter between dance and video. The interpretation must, in fact, rely on theoretical considerations generated by puns – an eminently Duchampian procedure. Duchamp's challenge to representational conventions is frequently associated with discursive cues mediated by titles, texts, and visual/verbal punning.[xx] Cunningham here intervenes in the discourse on Cunningham, which, by the mid-seventies, was possibly in the process of an about-face maneuver in response to announcements in the early seventies of the death of the avant-garde.
That Merce by Merce traffics in Cunningham's public image is obvious from the public relations tone of its voice-over: Merce Cunningham's long career has been marked by daring experiment and consummate execution. At Lincoln Center in 1965, he was the first to combine dance with video, foreshadowing a new art form that has become known as video dance.
The title Merce by Merce by Paik disallows that co-locating Cunningham and Duchamp might be the videographer's gesture. A voice over informs us at the outset that the video was supervised in every detail by the choreographer. Merce is by Merce, and then by Paik. Self-conscious gestures of artistic identity are nonetheless characteristic of Paik's work. This is more than assisted self-portraiture. It is also very much a Paik video. The title of Part Two, “Merce and Marcel,” is derived from the letters M and M fancifully proposed as coordinates with which to “measure aesthetic motion.” Hence, the notion of the aesthetic in relation to motion is opened to question by the juxtaposition of Cunningham and Duchamp. To take an approach to the aesthetic as something measurable implies a mathematization of aesthetic reception, or at any rate, the abandonment of conventional “yardsticks” of aesthetic consumption. What is combined is not only dance and video, but Cunningham and Duchamp. This is also a recognizable Paikian procedure. His video Living with the Living Theatre (1989) portrayed Julian Heck and Judith Malina in relation to their four children. Allan and Allen's Complaint was a biographical diptych (if Allan Ginsberg and Allen Kaprow in relation to their respective fathers.
This name play of the two Ms initially suggests a division of Merce himself: the Duchampian Merce from the non-Duchampian Merce. These constitute the two Merces with potentially separate audiences. “Purists among Cunningham admirers,” announces the voice- over, “may prefer to turn the sound down and enjoy fifteen minutes of uninterrupted Merce in silence.” This choice would presumably filter out the Duchampian Merce, the dance in isolation from the words able to obscure the punning objectionable to the purists. But for those who use all their senses, Merce by Merce is also potentially Merce by Marcel, or Marcel by Merce. “By” no longer signifies a relation of author to work, but a set of coordinates embodied in two personalities. In Paik, identity is seen in terms of relationship, and creativity can frequently be viewed as a product of interactive collaboration.[xxi]
The idea of two Merces is interwoven with spatial disorientation and pedestrian resources. The very first shot is of a dark street across which we see a girl walking. The street is the source of pedestrian movement. Superimposed against the street image we see next Cunningham's body in pedestrian clothing walking in a slightly more stylized fashion than the girl. Shortly thereafter, we see Cunningham clad in bright yellow leotard and tights shot against the neutral (blue) studio background, which allows for the overlay of different backgrounds filmed separately. The effect is to remove the dancing figure from its usual formal theatrical ground or theatrical volume. Instead, it can appear to inhabit a strongly referential ground or a completely undefined and disorienting space divided by lines and colors. An extended sequence, however, is devoted to seeing Cunningham in profile (clad in bright yellow leotard and tights) superimposed on a highway along which cars speed by (fig. 2). He also moves in and out of this space to partner his schematic double as well as to share the blue studio space with four other images of himself.
|Figure 2. Cunningham in a vehicular landscape (1978). Merce by Merce by Paik, Nam June Raik, in collaboration with Charles Atlas, Merce Cunningham, and Shigeko Kubota. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix, New York.
So the video begins with a fairly extended meditation on pedestrian movement, invoking issues of location, travel, and destination. There is clearly a reference here to a functional aesthetic in the relation of dance to the everyday dimensions of time and space, and this functionalism is underlined by the presence of vehicles.[xxii] (Is the body a conveyance? What does the body convey?) A certain relationship to the urban street is posited and called into question in this sequence, and subsequently mirrored when Cunningham walks in profile, sharing a highway landscape with cars. This road sequence provides a second irony on pedestrian movement, because the dancer appears here as a rather impractical vehicle. In Part Two, the movement of yellow taxi cabs along Park Avenue is proposed as a dance. “Can a fleet of taxis on Park Avenue,” asks the voice-over, “be as beautiful as a dance of Merce Cunningham's?” The taxi fleet is a trope for the multiplication of Cunningham in “The Blue Studio” sequence, which is also accompanied by fragments of a conversation between Cunningham and Jasper Johns. This phone communication raises the question in its turn of where the parties are in space, especially as they themselves seem unsure of their plans and whereabouts. The issue may be raised as to Cunningham's status as urban pedestrian when we intercept the phrase, “What is the difference between you and me?” followed by the barely audible but repeated interjections “gay guys” and “white guys.”[xxiii]
During much of “The Blue Studio,” Cunningham's body is doubled, thereby suggesting two Merces, or the doubling of Merce by someone else. Toward the end of this section, one also sees five Merces at once, all performing different movements. This multiplicity is only clarified, however, in Part Two when Marcel appears to stand in for one of the Merces. A number of other themes are developed in Part Two, which substitute issues of time for issues of movement and space. Duchamp's name occurs at the culmination of a series of questions posed about the identity of dance. Various clips in which the dancing body is outlined and also blurred suggest that dance is not just modern dance choreography, but also striptease, a baby crawling, a couple dancing the Charleston, an unidentified South American festival dance, a Bruce Lee fight scene, and fish swimming across the scene. We cut to Park Avenue, and the words flashed on the screen, “Is this a dance? Yes, why not? It's taxi dance.” So, Paik takes pedestrian movement into a broader realm, ending in an ironic way with the urban vehicle par excellence, the taxi cab – a marked alternative to pedestrian movement.
With the introduction of Duchamp, Merce by Merce changes registers. The adaptations of pedestrian movement and spatial disjunctions give way to a consideration of time in relation to dance and video. The voice over continues:
Television obscures art in life and life in art, a theme favored by the late Marcel Duchamp, who believed a toilet bowl could be a work of art. Can we reverse time and bring back Marcel?
We see a brief clip of a live nude on a staircase from Shigeko Kubota's video installation Duchampiana: Nude Descending a Staircase (1976), and we are told that Kubota's video attempts to reincarnate Duchamp.[xxiv] The reincarnation can be understood as putting the static image back into motion – an image, moreover, that has been problematized in art history for its attempt to visualize motion. “In the original oil painting,” writes Kubota, “Duchamp showed an abstract nude in 'motion.' But he was restricted to a quasi-futuristic representation of time … that is, multilineal motion depiction.”[xxv] While video adds a fourth dimension of time to painting, it adds to dance a different temporal dimension – that of the past, or replay.
Movement and its exact repetition through replay – incarnation and reincarnation – become the theoretical parameters of Part Two. The words “Video is vacation of art,” from Kubota's installation, are flashed on the screen. This recalls excerpts from a Cunningham interview in Part One. When someone asks, “Can you kill time?” Cunningham replies that it is the reverse. To say that time kills is another way of saying that the art of modern dance takes place in a privileged present that does not abide repetition. “I compare ideas on dance, and dance itself, to water,” remarked Cunningham in the late seventies. “Everyone knows what water is or what dance is, but this very fluidity makes them intangible.”[xxvi]
The belief in the uniqueness and unrepeatability of dance expressed by Cunningham is supported by its identification with life through the body. This intangibility denies the relevance of theory to the full experience of the present uniquely relayed by dancing. This, I assume, is what lies behind the “incontrovertibly dance” of so many aesthetic evaluations. What makes dance dance is what makes it unlike anything else that is before and beyond narration. Similarly, what Paik's video kills is history, because the two Ms flow around one another like water. Here, video and dance are on the same track.
A vacation, however, is a non-serious enterprise in which one may “kill time” by treating it with a lack of serious purpose, just as video is a way to paradoxically annul time by replaying former actions and dances. Thus both killing and annulling are seen as productive activities. A punning reversibility is suggested between death and return, as in the return of live recorded action. This kind of playful death includes the ability not just to replay, but also to reverse motion, a technique employed in Merce by Merce to render pedestrian movement less literal, more dancelike.
Within this context, Duchamp's body appears in Merce by Merce through a filmed 1964 interview with Russell Connor.[xxvii] Video allows for the temporal temporal coexistence of Cunningham and Duchamp, whose interviews are intercut to appear simultaneous and parallel. In this way Duchamp returns, as emphasized by the subtitle: “time reversible and irreversible.” This insistence on “bringing back Marcel” sensitizes us to the phenomenon of replay as memento mori.[xxviii] Part Two consists of an embedded series of puns and reflections on death, time, art, dance, and television. Despite the choppiness of the interview, one statement by Duchamp emerges: “Repetition is a form of accepting, of considering death, or very similar to the idea of death.”
Fragments from a film of Cunningham's dance Septet are superimposed on a kitschy landscape of sea and sky. This may be a parody of the idea of the announced beauty of a Cunningham dance, a beauty that may not exceed that of a fleet of taxis. Whatever the case may be, these shots combine an awareness that movement is hard to see (the bodily outlines of the dancers are doubled but also excessively blurred) with the sense that discourse or theory has little or no claim over dance. It also seems to indulge the kinetic and/or retinal fix of dance as an exclusively aesthetic experience.[xxix]
If television, as in the voice-over paraphrasing of Duchamp, is “the death of life in art,” this may be because it fixes life in an image. If, on the other hand, television is also “the death of art in life,” it may be because it has the capacity to replay dance, thus removing its uniqueness. If death is a kind of vacation, that is, a disappearance or vacating of the premises, then dance is surely implicated in death as that which appears only to disappear and that which only appears to disappear. How can we abandon the cliche that dance, like life, is evanescent (water)? These kitschy scenes seem to both reinforce and parody the notion that dance is life. Is Paik using dance as a metaphor for life in its relation to electronic technology? Or is Cunningham using video to expand the frontiers of dance? The actual reversibility of these two options signals the presence of punning, which undercuts aesthetic immediacy, the pure immanence of aesthetic perception. If I may venture my own epigrammatic encapsulation: video is the delay of dance.
How do we situate Cunningham in all this? Toward the end of the video, Cunningham arrives at Leo Castelli's art gallery in a yellow taxi cab in order to view a photo of Duchamp taking a bow in Walkaround Time. As he admires the photo, Calvin Tomkins magically appears and disappears in the room with Castelli and Cunningham. The motif of a Cunningham-Duchamp linkage could not be more flagrant. Cunningham is then staged in an interview that mimics point for point Duchamp's interview with Russell Connor. The two interviews are intercut, and a televised image of Duchamp is also visible between Cunningham and his interlocutor. In Cunningham's interview, we hear the oft-repeated anecdote of that evening, which stresses how “at home” Duchamp appeared on the stage. The bow was unforeseen, unrehearsed. Moreover, the bow was an act that was captured in a photograph but cannot be replayed. The photograph of the bow enshrined in the Castelli gallery is shown as an historical document. The bow was one of a kind – a unique and unrepeatable action. Like water, the bow retains a certain intangibility that distinguishes it from everything else in the video, including Duchamp's discourse. Perhaps the whole reason for Walkaround Time, Cunningham implies, was to induce Duchamp to act without a dialectics of reproduction: to be present rather than vacated, to be “at home.”
Duchamp's bow bespeaks dance's autonomy from theory, proposed in the name of a certain idea of life as bodies in aesthetic motion. That is, the coordinates with which to measure aesthetic motion are life and death, or production and reproduction. Yet, just as life contains death, so dance contains its own theory-death.[xxx] But perhaps more importantly, this position is projected with the significant delays involved in the interplay between movement, image, and punning. The that that Merce by Merce changes its thematic preoccupation from space to time when Duchamp enters the picture is another way of addressing the issue of delay. The affirmation of life depends on the mediations of death for its advocacy of the immediate. When the regime of the readymade movement leaves the realm of the pedestrian, and when the decentering of space is enhanced by a decentering of time, the fundamental claims of Cunningham's work must acknowledge the critical and conceptual intervention necessary to advance those claims. The time of the claim is the time of delay, even though in Merce
by Merce the claim is made posthumously by a Duchamp who is already dead. The whole necessity to reincarnate him or to reverse time is nonetheless a way to choreograph the delay in dance constituted by its own theory.
Cunningham and Paik negotiate a fundamental critical resistance to the acknowledgment of the role of theory-death in the lived body of dance. Their critical gesture in the video thus shadows the uneasiness of dance critics who prefer not to engage with the conceptual nature of Cunningham's art. But through ironies on that unease, the video is more trenchantly critical than the discourse of the critics. In Merce by Merce by Paik, Cunningham's choreography becomes a “fully discursive phenomenon,” but there is no semiological delay to its gesture.
[i] John Cage, “26 Statements re Duchamp,” Art and Literature 3 (Autumn-Winter 1964):9. This essay was republishcd in John Cage, A Year From Monday. New Lectures and Writings by John Cage [Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1967), pp. 70-72. I would like to thank Tyrus Miller for inspiring the idea for this essay in the context of a symposium conducted at the University of California, Santa Cruz in November 1999, “Remaking the Readymade: The Afterlife of an Artistic Idea.” I am grateful for the critical reaction of Naomi Sawelson-Gorse, Francesco Pellizzi, Kirsten Swenson, and Myriam Van Imschoot.
[ii] See “John Cage on Marcel Duchamp,” an interview conducted by Moira Roth and William Roth in Moira Roth and Jonathan D. Katz, difference/indifference, musings on postmodernism, marcel duchamp and john cage (Amsterdam: G&B Arts International, 1998, pp. 71-83.
[iii] David Vaughan, “‘Then I Thought About Marcel …’ Merce Cunningham's Walkaround Time (1982),” in Merce Cunningham: Dancing in Time and Space, ed. Richard Kostelanetz (New York: DaCapo, 1998), p. 67.
[iv] “. . . to make a 'delay' of it in the most general way possible, not so much in the different meanings in which 'delay' can he taken, but rather in their imprecise reunion ‘delay’ – a ‘delay in glass’ as you would say a 'poem in prose' or a silver spittoon.” Marcel Duchamp, From the Green Box (New Haven: The Readymade Press, 1957), n.p.
[v] It is, of course, difficult to distinguish between “works” and artistic identities in Paik's video, which consists in part of excerpts of Cunningham's performances and other related visual documents as well as other visual references and quotations. This system of hybridity and exchange proceeds as if by anecdotal reference, a recent example of which appeared in a New York Times Magazine photo essay about interracial artistic collaborations: Cunningham and Paik are photographed with Paik sitting in Cunningham's wheelchair and Cunningham standing at his side. See “Relations: Friends and Allies Across the Divide,' in The New York Times Magazine, July 16, 2000, p. 53.
[vi] Tomkins wrote: “none of them have been directly influenced by Duchamp (their discovery of him served rather to reinforce ideas arrived at independently).” Calvin Tomkins, The Bride and the Bachelors: Five Masters of the Avant-Carde (New York: Penguin Books, 1968), p. 2. The original 1965 edition lacked the essay on Cunningham.
[vii] Ibid. “Duchamp has achieved in his late seventies,” writes Tomkins, “the unique position of being a member of the posterity that is passing judgment on his own work” (ibid., p. 10).
[viii] See Merce Cunningham. Changes: Notes on Choreography (New York: Something Else Press, 1968) and Dance Perspectives 34 (Summer 1969).
[ix] See “The Duchamp-Cage Aesthetic,” in Irving Sandler, The New York School: The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifites (New York: Harper & Row, 1978), pp. 163-173.
[x] This phrase is from a chapter of Tyrus Miller, Findings: Readymade and Delay in Avant-Carde Aesthetics (forthcoming).
[xi] For further discussion of Cunningham's performance styles in relation to his compositional methods, see my “Expressivism and Chance Procedure: The Future of an Emotion,” in RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 21 (Spring 1992): pp. 142-160.
[xii] Merce Cunningham, cited in The Dancer and the Dance: Merce Cunningham in Conversation with Jacqueline Lesschaeve (New York: Marion Boyars, 1985), p. 22. The original French edition was published in 1980 and was based on conversations held in New York in 1977.
[xiii] In this article, Cunningham is rejecting the social content of modern dance of the thirties and the psychological content of modern dance of the forties. Merce Cunningham, “The Impermanent Art,” in Esthetics Contemporary, ed. Richard Kostelanetz (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1978), p. 310.
[xiv] Carolyn Brown quoted in Merce Cunningham, ed. James Klosty (New York: Limelight, 1975), p. 31.
[xv] Noel Carroll and Sally Banes, “Cunningham and Duchamp,” in Ballet Review 11, no. 2 (Summer 1983): p. 76.
[xvi] For an exception to this tendency, see Gabriele Brandstetter's discussion of Duchamp and Cunningham in “Defigurative Choreography: From Marcel Duchamp to William Forsythe,” in The Drama Review 42, no. 4 (Winter 1998): pp. 39-42. Cunningham, however, is not the main subject of this essay.
[xvii] See Paul Mann, The Theory-Death of the Avant-Garde (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), p. 6.
[xviii] Cunningham and Lesschaeve (see note 12), p. 39. An early instance of pedestrian movement in Cunningham's choreography can be found in Antic Meet (1958).
[xix] Pierre Cabane, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (NewYork: DaCapo Press, 1971), p. 48.
[xx] See Dalia Judovitz, Unpacking Duchamp: Art in Transit (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998).
[xxi] An example of combining collaboration and chance procedure was recently seen in Robert Rauschenberg's exhibit at theWhitney Museum, Synapsis Shuffle (1999). A video accompanying the exhibit shows an industrial space in Long Island City where invited participants, including Merce Cunningham, assemble Rauschenberg's photographic panels for the exhibit according to a chance procedure.
[xxii] Thierry de Duve discusses the relationship of functionalist aesthetics to the appearance of the readymade: “This [functionalist] aesthetic tried to dissolve the autonomy and the specificity of art into a general practice of the environment that, paradoxically, it invested with all the values of purity and disinterestedness that had been attached to the name of art.” Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp's Passage from Painting to the Readymade, trans. Dana Polan and Thierry de Duve (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), p. 109.
[xxiii] In Paik's video Good Morning Mr. Orwell, shot on New Year's eve 1984 in simulcast between Paris and New York, multiple images of Cunningham dancing are explained as shuttling between the two cities at the speed of light. Here, identical moves of a single figure are out of sync with each other, and George Plimpton announces that “Cunningham is the first man in 1984 to truly dance with himself.”
[xxiv] The installation consists of “a freestanding plywood staircase with four steps originally with one nine-inch and three thirteen-inch monitors … cutouts in the steps expose the monitor screens. The image is of a nude woman going up and down stairs.” Shigeko Kubota Video Sculpture (New York: American Museum of the Moving Image, 1991), p. 28.
[xxvi] Cunningham cited in The Dancer and the Dance (see note 12), p. 27.
[xxvii] For the text of this interview conducted at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, see Serge Stauffer, ed., Marcel Duchamp: Interviews and Statements (Stuttgart: Cantz, 1992), pp. 168-174.
[xxviii] But it is also quite obviously an homage to Duchamp. If we assume that some concept of “dance as readymade” underwrites the video dance in all its permutations of replay, then the institutional unsettling of the traditional notion of the “dance work” is also something Cunningham engages with. Thus the expansion of the definition of dance beyond the pedestrian toward mechanical and, more recently, computerized forms of reproduction, as in one of Cunningham's latest works, Biped (1998).
[xxix] The music for Septet is by Erik Satie, a composer whose music was used by Ruth St. Denis as well as by Martha Graham, Cunningham, Yvonne Rainer, and others. David Vaughan has written “Pour Cage et Cunningham, Satie represente une sorte de saint patron, au même titre que Marcel Duchamp.” See Ornella Volta, Satie et la danse (Paris: Editions Plume, 1992), p. 125. Yet, by this very fact, Satie appears to be outside of time.
[xxx] Theory-death is the term Paul Mann coined to characterize the way in which the “anti” of the avant-garde becomes trapped within a discursive economy. See Mann (see note 17).
Credits: Mark Franko, “The Readymade as Movement: Cunningham, Duchamp, and Nam June Paik’s Two Merces,” Res 38, Autumn 2000, pp. 211-219. Copyright by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Reprinted by permission of the Peabody Museum Press, Harvard University. corpus wishes to thank for this permission.