In The Hammer Museum's 'Made in L.A.' Biennial, Dance Moves Back Into The Picture

The Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A.” biennial opens Sunday, and among the 32 artists in the show are two experimental dancer-choreographers known for their work in alternative spaces.

Flora Wiegmann and taisha paggett fit right into the mix, curators said, considering that the body and body movement turned out to be important topics in this year’s “Made in L.A.”

“Having dancers in the space and having movement shown is very much in dialogue with other artists in the show,” said Hammer senior curator Anne Ellegood, who selected Wiegmann and paggett with assistant curator Erin Christovale.

But dance does have special requirements, including the need for a changing room and a place to warm up. And because the dancers don’t perform every day, the Hammer has given paggett and Wiegmann gallery space to create related visual installations for museum-goers who might otherwise miss their contributions to the show.

For decades, experimental dancers have had a special niche in art galleries, but the practice is on an upswing at museums.

The Whitney in Manhattan and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis are just two of the important visual arts spaces where dance has a regular profile. At the 2016 “Made in L.A.,” choreographer Adam Linder won the equivalent of the “best in show” prize, the $100,000 Mohn Award.

Paggett and Wiegmann expressed optimism at the greater inclusion of dance in the art world. But they also sounded a cautionary note.

“I’m glad to see more people doing projects in galleries,” said Wiegmann, who last year was artist in residence at the El Segundo Museum. “There are people that have such deep practices, that I’m hoping dance gets given the space [it deserves] and is not just presented as a special event.”

Said paggett, who was in the 2014 Whitney Biennial: “I think it’s not a good thing if it’s just an art trend and in five years everybody is not going to think about dance, but is thinking about sound art.”

Paggett’s work, titled “Counts Orchestrate, a Meadow (or Weekly Practice With Breath),” references a multitude of topics, including jazz improvisation, the deaths of African Americans and the creative dance process. She wanted her installation to be what she called a space of comfort, so the gallery will have carpeting and soft theatrical lighting to create a sort of interior meadow, and there will be audio tracks of breathing, made by other dancers.

Paggett’s three performances (two solos and one duet with Meena Murugesan) will take place in the galleries. But she might also exit the museum and perhaps walk around the block. If people follow her, well, that’s OK, she said.

“I’m hoping that my body becomes just another operating engine moving alongside the show, but that will be a choice the people make,” said paggett, who in addition to her active performance schedule is an assistant professor at UC Riverside.

Wiegmann’s installation consists of a six-channel video that displays different sections of her 30-minute dance, “Reduction Burn.” Five women (including Wiegmann) will perform in the Hammer’s Nimoy Studio, with the audience seated along two sides. Wiegmann’s dance took shape as a response to personal and political crises. She chose the natural cycle of a forest fire as an allegory for the “flare-ups” she was experiencing, with new life and hope bursting forth from devastation.

“I don’t care if people get exactly what I’m thinking,” said Wiegmann, who is a co-owner of the Mandrake Bar, an artist hangout in Culver City. “I try not to be didactic. It’s not ‘My dance is about A.’ It’s usually about a bunch of different things.”

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