Dance and photography converge to 'Dis/Re-member' war-torn Laos
Speaker 1: (00:00)
The aftermath of decades of war provides stark inspiration for a new exhibition at art produce in north park. The work viewable from the sidewalk features Doug MCM. Mini's photography of a dance piece by choreographer Camela, Soat KPBS arts editor and producer Julia Dixon Evans explains the store behind the images.
Speaker 2: (00:26)
It's dusk outside art produce gallery on university avenue in north park from the sidewalk against the rapidly dimming light of the sky. The galleries, Florida ceiling windows, practically glow inside larger than life photographs, adorn all the walls, even the floor in them, a single dancer, twists, reaches and crouches in movement. The photographer is Doug McIn. The dancer is Lauren Christie at the heart of it is San Diego choreographer, common, a Somon and her recent work purposely accidental son was born in Laos, a country that holds the chilling statistic of being the most bombed nation per capita in the world. During the pandemic, she wanted to make a work to tell that story.
Speaker 3: (01:18)
Former president Trump was our president at the of time. And one of the first things that he did when he came into term was to remove the initiatives that president Obama had instilled with the country of Laos. And one of them, they, he gave them, I think, was like $90 million to help remove the bombs and beautiful initiative to bring more education into the country. And especially for women and former president Trump got away. So that was heavy on me. And it had also been heavy because I wasn't able to see my parents. I was worried about them
Speaker 2: (01:55)
In the 1960s and 1970s during a CIA mission in Laos. Amids the Vietnam war. Some 2 million of explosives were dropped on the small nation. Just 1% of these bombs were detonated and 80 million bombs remain UN detonated, effectively. Landmines scattered across the land. Son said that the bombs are undeniable and a part of everyday life and Laos, both in their omnipresence, in the landscape, also in their continuing tragedies in the gallery. In addition to the oversized pictures on the walls, eight of the images are printed on durable adhesive, backed final and installed on the floor photographer. Doug McIn said their positioning in a grid is important. That
Speaker 4: (02:42)
Grid on the floor is a, you know, distant illusion to a grid you would make in a field. When you're trying to clear it from, from minds,
Speaker 2: (02:50)
The images also afford a perspective that audiences may otherwise never get during a performance, both profoundly up close and from above.
Speaker 4: (03:01)
And so by placing the photos on the floor, I wanted to give us just the faintest of faintest echos of that anxiety as well. And, uh, that you were suddenly very aware of where you're stepping
Speaker 2: (03:15)
When McIn first saw this performance, he found. So Aons choreography incredibly meaningful, but also more than any other dance he'd photographed as a professional photographer. This piece led itself particularly well to this medium.
Speaker 4: (03:30)
There was something about the very strong gestural material in the dance that, that slates so well into a still image. And that's really critical because, uh, some dance I like, for example, pirouettes, I've photographed a lot of pirouettes. I rarely find them very compelling as a still image. They're very compelling as movement. So you have to find those things that translate into a still photograph
Speaker 2: (03:55)
Macin first shot that performance last spring, then collaborated with dancer, Lauren Chrissy, and Somon on a separate shoot specifically for this project, with the gallery walls and floor in mind, a choreographer is no stranger to handing off a personal creative product to another artist. In fact, the relationship between choreographer and dancer is essentially a transaction already audiences add additional possibilities of interpretation. In this case, the photographer adds one more. Each image, the photographer chose to shoot each decision about which ones to print, even the order by which the pictures are arranged in the gallery. These are new layers of meaning add to the work. And Somon said, these exchanges are essential in art,
Speaker 3: (04:46)
In the creative process. We have to trust what and how things come out and we can have an approach, but that's part of what we do. And cuz art is alive
Speaker 2: (04:58)
While the photography is all view of will from the sidewalk, especially at night, you can also make an appointment to see the work indoors inside visitors can hear the Dance's soundtrack, an audio of a speech to the people of Laos by president Obama in 20 16, 6
Speaker 5: (05:16)
Decades ago, this country fell into civil war and as the fighting rage next door in via your neighbors and foreign powers, including the United States intervened here as a result of that conflict and it's aftermath, many people fled or were driven from their homes at the time. The us government did not acknowledge America's role. It was a secret war
Speaker 2: (05:41)
Indoors. You can step amidst the floor photography and get up close in a way, not otherwise possible with dance either from the layout of a performance hall or the current COVID surge and the resultant event cancellations. This choreography debuted with San Diego dance theater in a virtual protection in November, 2020. And it was also performed in person in an outdoor Liberty station showcase last spring, the virtual performance is no longer viewable online. So for now until future performances are scheduled, a collection of photo in a small art gallery is the only way to experience the work. The exhibition disremember will be on view at art produce through January 29th.
A new exhibition at Art Produce — viewable from the sidewalk — features Doug McMinimy's photography of choreographer Khamla Somphanh's powerful work.
At dusk, against the rapidly dimming light of the sky, Art Produce gallery's floor-to-ceiling windows practically glow from the sidewalk of University Avenue in North Park.
Inside, larger-than-life photographs adorn the walls nearest the windows. Shown is a single dancer, captured by photographer Doug McMinimy, performing a recent work of choreography by local Khamla Somphanh. Closest to the front windows, two near-mirror images of the dancer — Lauren Christie — are set directly across from each other, one with her eyes open, one closed.
Somphanh's choreography is about her home country of Laos, and the fact that Laos is the most bombed nation per capita in the world.
The statistics are astonishing: in the 1960s and 1970s, during a CIA mission in Laos amidst the Vietnam War, some two million tons of explosives were dropped on the small nation. Just one percent of these bombs were detonated, and 80 million remain undetonated, effectively landmines scattered across the small country.
Somphanh was commissioned to create a piece for San Diego Dance Theater — but given the pandemic it made the most sense to choreograph a work for a solo dancer. She also couldn't imagine working on a piece that was frivolous, and felt compelled to tell the story of Laos.
"Former President Trump was our president at the time, and one of the first things that he did when he came into term was to remove initiatives that President Obama had instilled with the country of Laos," Somphanh said. "That was heavy on me. And it had also been heavy because I wasn't able to see my parents [in Laos]. I was worried about them."
Somphanh said that the bombs are undeniable and a part of every day life in Laos — in their omnipresence in the landscape, but also in their continuing tragedies.
The choreographed work, "Purposely Accidental," debuted in a virtual production in November 2020, and was also performed in-person in an outdoor Liberty Station showcase last spring. The virtual performance is no longer viewable online, so for now — until future performances are scheduled — a collection of photographs in a small art gallery is the only way to experience the work.
Eight images — printed on durable, adhesive-backed vinyl by local printer John Mireles — are arranged on the floor in a taped-off grid.
"[It's] an allusion to a grid you would make in a field when you're trying to clear it from mines," photographer Doug McMinimy said.
The images also afford a perspective that audiences may otherwise never get during a performance — both profoundly up-close and from above.
"By placing the photos on the floor, I wanted to give us just the faintest echoes of that anxiety as well, that you're suddenly very aware of where you're stepping," McMinimy said.
As he was working with the images after the shoot, he realized there was another chilling meaning he didn't intend: "As I started to look at them and work with them, I realized this is a bomb's eye view of the individual," McMinimy said.
McMinimy found Somphanh's choreography profoundly meaningful, but also, more than any other performance he'd photographed as a professional photographer, this piece lent itself particularly well to static images.
"There was something about the very strong gestural material in the dance that translates so well into a still image," McMinimy said. "Some dance, like for example, pirouettes — I've photographed a lot of pirouettes — I rarely find them very compelling as still images. They're very compelling as movement. So you have to find those things that translate into a still photograph."
Initially, McMinimy said he'd wanted to capture Somphanh's work chronologically, from start to finish. But the more he worked with the images — and the more time that passed from the day he shot the performance — the story took a new shape.
"The images impose their own logic," McMinimy said.
The title of the exhibition refers to both the meaning of Somphanh's dance as well as the act of deconstructing and reconstructing a choreography using still images. The exhibition feels far from static, though. McMinimy's photography, Somphanh's creativity and dancer Christie's expressive gestures seem to hum with momentum.
McMinimy took a circuitous route to get to the opening of this particular exhibition. First a dancer, he eventually turned to photography after primarily leaving dance to work and raise a family. At the time, he was living in rural Maine, and built his passion for photography in nature, walking his dogs near Acadia National Park.
It wasn't until he moved to San Diego that he began branching out into documenting dance performance.
"The flora is totally different here. The light is totally different here. None of that really worked with me, and I thought, 'What am I going to do with my photography?' And I realized I didn't have any decent photographs of me when I was dancing, and maybe that's what I should be doing for other people. So that's when I decided to kind of make myself into a dance photographer," McMinimy said. "Dance photography is kind of a homecoming."
McMinimy shot the performance when San Diego Dance Theater produced the piece outdoors, then collaborated with dancer Lauren Christie and Somphanh on a separate shoot, specifically for this project.
A choreographer is no stranger to handing off a personal, creative product to another artist — the relationship between choreographer and dancer is essentially transactional. Audiences add additional layers of interpretation.
"I think in the creative process, we have to trust what and how things come out. We can have an approach, but that's part of what we do because art is alive," Somphanh said.
While the images can mostly be viewed from the sidewalk, making an appointment to see the work indoors means visitors can step amidst the floor photography, and hear the dance's soundtrack and audio of a speech to the people of Vientiane, Laos by President Obama in 2016.
For now, the gallery, McMinimy and Somphanh are still determining what programming or artists talks they can pull off — the exhibition opened without a reception due to concerns about the current omicron surge. The exhibition will be on view through Jan. 29.
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