_ 1979-1987 Dances and Actions | Ulrike Grossarth

1979-1987 Dances and Actions

I began creating dances and actions in 1975. Instead of going into the individual works here in detail, I shall in the following describe those aspects they have in common.[1]

In my early works, such as Hochzeit (Wedding) and Totentanz (Danse Macabre), I still used thematic models and picture motifs, such as medieval danse macabre illustrations that show how the Great Reaper treats people from all walks of life equally. Life was the first action to address and examine conditions of spatio-temporal processes by creating staggered arrangements of the individual aspects investigated. Here, four actors devoted themselves to splitting up and simultaneously embodying phenomena such as time, space and weight—aspects which normally remain invisible because they count as mere prerequisites for the themes propped onto them.
Only one actress in Life allowed herself to be interrupted in her purposeless being-there during the action. The only dramaturgical intervention was to hold and fix an embodied posture and facial expressions for a couple of minutes.

In the subsequent actions, Das Unheimliche des Normalen (The Uncanniness of Normality), Carré and Ex Voto, I used objects as mediating media and means of intensification to determine and reinforce each of the embodied aspects. In Gotische Tänze (Gothic Dances), this task was assigned to the dress I was wearing. The high dynamics of this piece gradually created a unity between me as the wearer and the dress itself as “moving” material. The Gothic Dances were the result of an examination of how materials were used in building cathedrals in the Middle Ages. Stone, in those times, was no longer used to support organic loads; it was thinned out so as to symbolise metaphysical ideas traditionally associated with the reduction of material, of physicality. I was interested in translating this principle to my own materiality and the relationship to the spatio-temporal field. I wanted to avoid the spatial geometry and the viewer’s organising gaze by moving into ambiguous directions and creating a multi-dimensional study, the overall effect of which was an unstoppable dynamic and intensity in duration. 

I developed the last three actions , Material für’s Diktat I, II, III (Material for Dictation I, II, III), over a period of 18 months. In Material für’s Diktat I, the body itself and its preconditions were put up for consideration. In an otherwise empty room, a microphone and loudspeakers were mounted on a wall. There I read texts in which situations and states of movement were described. Each textual fragment was followed by the physical correspondence of what I had just read. This was a further attempt to synchronise the level of linguistic abstraction with a factuality in space and time. Material für’s Diktat II, subtitled Der geliehene Körper (The Borrowed Body), had an old fire brigade tower as point of reference—a clearly defined structure with six large openings, which for weeks I cleaned inside and outside. My curiosity in the building had been sparked by the fact that its height and emptiness resulted from the intention to use it for hanging long water hoses for drying. The action commenced with the civil twilight (a meteorological term), which begins at sunset. On the area in front of the tower, I used a mixing console for light and sound elements, which over one hour supported the change from a clearly perceptible building into a mere shell for the incoming light.

Material für’s Diktat III completed this series I saw myself as the scene of the formal action and, following the permanent movement, no longer maintained a planning, controlling distance. The type of movements taking place resulted from my interaction with the space surrounding me as an active, consciously perceived sphere. At that particular moment, I was able to embody all aspects normally separated from one another in our culture.

See: Rainer Borgemeister: „Die Aktionen von Ulrike Grossarth (1978-1987)“, in: Reste vom Mehrwert, Köln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 1997