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Going to Lea Anderson’s retrospective performance at the V&A Hand in Glove, I never thought I would be writing about it on my architectural blog. How could dance be ever associated with architecture? Architecture is made of solid elements that define space and create empty vessels for bodies to conduct their lives in. It protect us from the clutter of the world and the elements of nature so that we can cross out things in the list of must-dos-to-survive. What is taken for granted though is that the empty space is usually available for the people to occupy with their volume. What happens when space has to be fought for, and it is not defined by solid elements like walls or roofs?

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This often happens in market places, concert halls, music clubs, stations. Lea Anderson’s performance was for me a study on how one achieves space-creation via movement.  The space that the body occupies can be claimed from nothing else. And as it moves each body moulds a trace of itself. What if this space does not exist because other bodies have taken it?

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Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2 by Marcel Duchamp

In Hand in Glove the dancers’ bodies had to claim their space from the audience, who was there to see them. A complex combination of admiration and antagonism.

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Being in the V&A room where the performance took place one had to negotiate their position and it was not exactly clear what was each person’s agenda either. Possibly the negotiation, or at times even confrontation of the performance, had a very deliberate raison d’etre. Most of the dance pieces presented in the retrospective, obviously speak about gender making a political statement of sorts.  However this was done by means of space negotiation something that resonated with me as an occupational hazard.

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It made me think of personal orientation and the primordial action of standing up. Somehow the symbolic action of placing oneself in space with intention is also a symbolic gesture of self-realisation. Being a tai chi practitioner for many years I have realised the importance of assuming one’s space with awareness of one’s state, position in space, relation to other elements and people around. Every movement in space ultimately is such a negotiation. When in public inside our cities we co-exist with others want it or not and have to find a way to do so. It is not relationships which I am interested in here as I contemplate this balancing act, it is the importance of space in negotiating relationships.

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In public spaces like the ones mentioned above, concert halls, stations and airports, market places, the “other” body is almost unimportant. It is someone who is potentially in your way of getting where you want to go. In this play though the “other” who is next to you and whom you are “fighting” with to claim your position is also the one who you have come to actually see perform.

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I have been to similar shows where performers were free-moving within the crowd and of course it is no great novelty. Actually in theatre performances where the actors are supposed to interact with the audience this freedom of movement, I must confess, made me more stressed than happy. Hand in Glove was flowing though. There was confrontation, but there was also respect. There were lack of boundaries but some boundaries also existed. There was no stress, no violence, no uncomfortable feelings. It seemed there existed a flexible barrier able to include but also separate. A beautiful concept to meditate and build upon in the use of any space really.

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The Postmodernism exhibition at the V&A museum covers a wide range of cultural milieux: art, architecture, product design, fashion, music, cinema. Every event with such vague focus risks falling into clichés and generalisations and this exhibition is no exception.

Anyone who studied architecture in the 90’s and early 00’s and attempted to establish a contemporary architectural idiom, was advised to look into postmodernism as a negative object-lesson. Possibly because emerging as an antipode to modernism’s austerity, postmodernism reached great heights in aesthetic flamboyancy. However architecture  -and all other arts- tend to see the preceding era’s style as dated in order to move forward. Only for the same style to come back with a vengeance when fashion demands it. And the 80’s in particular are very much in fashion nowadays. Colours, forms, music and clothing styles of the 80’s are back and that could be a very plausible -and profitable- reason for the V&A  to choose this subject now.

Gaetano Pesce-Church of Solitude/Alexander Brodsy and Ilya Utkin’s Museum of Disappearing Buildings

Nevertheless, the main exhibit here is not architecture and one has to go past too many bright coloured tea-sets and funny looking furniture to enjoy unique architectural drawings of that time like Gaetano Pesce’s Church of Solitude or Alexander Brodsy and Ilya Utkin’s Museum of Disappearing Buildings. Not to mention that Robert Venturi’s Learning from Las Vegas, theoretical milestone as it is for post-modernism, does not exactly get the place it deserves.

Bill Woodrow’s Twin tub with Guitar / Robert Venturi’s Learning from Las Vegas / Ron Arad’s Concrete stereo / Grace Jones in a maternity dress by Jean-Paul Goude and Antonio Lopez

This exhibition undoubtedly focuses on commodities more than anything else. It also makes clear that since postmodernism emerged as the new -ism,  commodities have become “interchangeable but also include a violent energy that is akin to punk music and fashion” *. This is why postmodern aesthetics are cool and that coolness seems important enough to outshine the fact that there is nothing separating  the ‘avant-garde’ from the ‘commercial’ any longer. In that and in many other unfortunate ways, we are all most definitely  postmodern.

* quoted from the exhibition’s tag for Bill Woodrow’s Twin tub with Guitar
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