The idea of tearing down a wall fascinated author and playwright Pearl Cleage, who has written a poem for the installation and will perform in the work. She is one of several high profile artists, including Atlanta Symphony Orchestra music director Robert Spano and photographer Lucinda Bunnen, who have collaborated with Stallings since she founded her groundbreaking, boundary-busting organization 10 years ago.
“Whatever energy is going to make this place knock out a wall for us to do a piece of creative work” is something Cleage said she wanted to be a part of.
Despite the difference between their art forms, Cleage and Stallings share common goals.
“The impetus to do the work that we’re both doing in different ways is very similar,” Cleage said. Both women are trying to get audiences to see beyond the artifice of performance “to really see each other as fragile, fabulous, flawed human beings.”
Inspired by the ideas of flight and freedom, Stallings envisions “Supple Means of Connection” — a blend of site-based choreography and temporary visual art installation — as a kind of “wild bird” that’s bringing the freedom and spontaneity of nature into the venerable institution. In addition to knocking a hole into the wall that divides Cousins Galleries, the window shades will be opened and the space will be filled with mounds of dirt, trees fashioned from fallen limbs and birds’ nests. The sound of birdsong will fill the gallery as two dozen female performers age 9 to 89 move about the space and open new pathways through the buildings, offering fresh interpretations of some of the museum’s collected works.
In addition to the live art installation, which will be open during museum hours, Glo will offer scheduled choreographed “migrations” that will lead visitors through spaces that connect the museum’s interior with the outdoors. Among them are a balcony that overlooks 16th Street, a secluded walkway that cuts between museum wings and a sunlight-filled stairwell tucked between the museum gift shop and a busy corridor.
The series begins Thursday, July 25, Glo’s 10th anniversary, with free performances of choreographed movements that migrate across the Woodruff Arts Center campus and continue on a rotating schedule leading up to the official opening Aug. 3.
The event marks Stallings’ appointment as the first choreographer to serve as an artist in residence at the High.
“What she does is inherently compelling,” said High Museum Director Rand Suffolk, of Stallings’ work. “She’s got a track record of doing wonderful things (and) we thought that this might be a really good time to try something different and do something for an extended duration.”
It’s not the first time Stallings has created works in and around the museum. Glo’s 2009 debut, “Rapt,” was the first of several works that have brought music and imagery from inside the Woodruff Arts Center out onto its piazza and lawn. But her new work will take place in one of the largest galleries for a five-week run. It is part of the High’s aim to seek new partners and collaborators, to “be experimental, and to look at creativity in different ways,” Suffolk said. “I think we’re going to be very open minded about what that looks like.”
It takes an open mind to bring in Stallings’ vision.
During a prolific 10 years, Stallings has developed an evolving movement language through which dancers lurch off the body’s vertical axis and move with a visceral intensity and otherworldly resonance. Her choreography can often fold viewers into its forms, offering alternative ways to experience people and places.
Social activism is implicit in Glo’s public, site-based work. Over the years, Glo’s work has gently pointed out places in need of attention, whether an abandoned public swimming pool, a boarded-up segregated school for blacks or a Georgia town where racial divides run deep.
Stallings has created large scale works in the past, but the 14,500 square-foot Cousins galleries posed unprecedented challenges and prompted Stallings to question some of the museum’s norms in her work.
“Supple Means of Connection” changes the flow of gallery visitors so they’ll enter in closer proximity to one another. Most walls will come down. A 35-foot gold neon sign reading, “Beautiful stranger, thank you for coming,” will greet visitors.
Corners have been rounded and grassy earthen mounds will beckon people to climb on them or sit and rest in contemplation. Visitors will have permission to touch, lean or “sculpt” against museum walls, Stallings said.
“The idea of touching in a museum is a controlled thing, and I’m going to un-control that,” said Stallings.
She hopes the “peek-through” opening cut into the permanent wall that divides the gallery will give visitors a sense that “there’s another possible world” and give them a sense of having more control over the environment. She hopes visitors are prompted “to question the level of freedom in the space — what we’re allowed to do, what we’re not.
“Nature itself is the portal,” Stallings said. “It’s a way for us to understand the human condition.”
Cleage’s poem, “This Space That We Have Made Together,” is an anthem for the work. Its imagery evokes ideas of flight, freedom and empowerment through the love and shared creativity of women.
“All the women, whether they be an artist or child or one of the local women, will know a little strand of that,” Stallings said. “Once, twice a day, you’ll hear a tandem humming between all of the performers. And that humming, hopefully, is an invocation to the birds, to the wildlife, that they have a place here. Among us here, you can be wild, you can be free.”
‘Supple Means of Connection.’ Live art exhibition by Lauri Stallings. Aug. 3-Sept. 8. Activations begin 12:30 p.m. July 25 and continue until Aug. 2. $14.50. High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-4444, www.high.org.
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