‘We’re asking the art!’ The one-to-one tarot show inspired by Bauhaus – The Guardian

Posted: October 12, 2019 at 10:44 am


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In the basement of Nottingham Contemporary art gallery, Jennifer Lacey fans out a set of large homemade tarot cards. I pick a pink one, turn it over, and find an image of a baby chick beneath a pair of boob-like fried eggs. The artist Sarah Lucas immediately springs to mind but Laceys picture is actually a homage to Leigh Bowery, the outre superstar who was his own art object. Several portraits of Bowery hang a couple of floors above us, along with a video of him strolling through Manhattans Meatpacking District in a peanut bodysuit and one-shoulder floral dress. They are part of the exhibition Still Undead: Britain Beyond the Bauhaus, which explores the far-reaching influence of the Weimar art school. Lacey has drawn upon several of the artworks for her one-to-one performance, Extended Hermeneutics, which Im experiencing over a cup of tea in the cafe.

Lacey is an American choreographer who has been based in France since the start of the century. Presented by Nottinghams biennial dance festival, Nottdance, Extended Hermeneutics is, well, not dance. She may end each 30-minute session with a short solo but for the main part she will act as life coach, psychologist and fortune-teller. The tarot cards are part of a performance were doing together, she tells me. Were asking the art. The idea is to use artworks suggested by the cards to wrestle with a problem offered by the participant.

Ive been told that world peace and the economy are off limits and that I should choose a problem from my personal life. Having wandered around Still Undead and grown nostalgic in a room devoted to Leeds Polytechnic, I say I miss my family in Yorkshire and wish I could see more of them, but that home life with my kids in London is always hectic. Lacey seems pleased by the dilemma and we contemplate the fried eggs and happy chick on the tarot card, which is supposed to give us a feel of both the dynamics of the problem and the spirit of Bowerys work. I pretty much thought about Leigh Bowery and thought Id make him out of eggs, she explains cheerily.

I try to offer up a literal interpretation of the card as suggesting domestic routine and family life, with eggs the stuff of birth and breakfasts. But Lacey contemplates Bowerys back story and his move from one home to another: Australia to England. He had a British sensibility but was not from Britain. He came into a scene with a certain kind of unbuckled energy. She talks freely about his work the humour and terror, the homemade and the ridiculous, his use of makeup and masks.

Its like a mini art lecture, a fresh perspective on a familiar artist. The next tarot card used to suggest a possible future for my problem has a candle design inspired by the self-portraits of Gertrud Arndt, a Bauhaus photographer. Lacey riffs on how Arndt wanted to become an architect but ended up weaving and then embraced photography. She talks about the movements sexism and about art born from domesticity. Its fascinating I knew nothing of Arndt but feels as though were having to work harder to uncover any relevance to my problem. Not that Lacey ever promised any straightforward answers or predictions. Im not, like, Madame Blavatsky! she says when I ask how sceptical participants have been. If there is a truth that comes out of this its because of a collaboration, its because the person who is being read gives that information. In an artist statement from 2000, she wrote: I try not to resolve issues but rather present them in their integral knottiness, to show the gloss of the tangle.

Lacey, a dancer since the age of three, is something of a conundrum herself: a dance artist who creates pieces that arent always easily categorisable as dance. After years of work, she reflected on the research that went into her choreography. I became curious about this stuff that would accumulate around making dances other branches of making or thinking that would not go into the main product. Making a dance is such an incredible amount of energy.

Extended Hermeneutics brings a fresh resonance to the Bauhaus show in Nottingham and has already been performed to complement different exhibitions in other European galleries, including in Dsseldorf and Warsaw. Lacey shows me some of her old tarot cards based on works by Dal, Max Ernst and Meret Oppenheim. When I return to the exhibition, I certainly feel a greater personal investment in Bowery and Arndts works.

The most important element of this one-to-one piece, she says, is that the participant wants to make their life legible. It contrasts with most dance, where the audience are deciphering the performers moves. Having her body read constantly when she was a dancer was a consternation for Lacey and she became focused on how to push away certain readings of your body, especially as a young woman on stage.

One of her past projects involved paying people who knew nothing about dance to be her dramaturg for a week. Id present them with what Id call my empty solo, and whatever they thought should be done with it, Id do. I ended up doing things I normally wouldnt do and felt very odd doing. By the end of the project, she laughs, she had no idea why one thing might be better than another. It was an amazing feeling but peculiar.

The thing she likes about Extended Hermeneutics, she says, is that its a very direct contact with the public that isnt about me being interpreted. As we leave the gallery, she acknowledges: This is a strange thing to do. But she adds: I still get excited about art, man! Im a super-fan!

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'We're asking the art!' The one-to-one tarot show inspired by Bauhaus - The Guardian

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October 12th, 2019 at 10:44 am

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