Design Talk/ Choreography of Collaboration

Daniel Arsham and Judith Seng are two artists who live between worlds. Though their practices differ in key respects, Arsham and Seng have overarching theoretical preoccupations with materials, production, and the social mores that define and constrain their presentation on and off a stage. On Thursday, June 12, they had a conversation at Design Miami/ Basel 2013 moderated by design journalist Tamar Shafrir.  

Arsham, Miami-raised but now living and working in Brooklyn, was the first to present an overview of his practice. ”The work in my own visual art is very involved in the manipulation of architectural surfaces… I’m thinking of different processes where I can integrate movement languages.” This thinking shines through in his personal work and in his firm Snarkitecture. Arsham is known for sculptures that appear to be undergoing various stages of destruction and reconstruction, and Snarkitecture for its collaborative, large-scaled interventions created by artists, designers and architects.

Drift, the entrance tent at Design Miami/ 2012, was explicative of this material-mindedness with its bobbing, topographical landscape. Arsham went on to describe the collaborative work he did with Merce Cunningham – the epitome of avant-garde dance productions who throughout his career worked with various designers, architects, and others to create choreographed works of astounding poetry. Cunningham brought Arsham in and asked him to design the set for performances, and told him that he would need to design without knowing the dance. “I can’t believe he let me do some of the things I did.” 

n a work with Jonah Bokaer, a member of Cunningham’s dance company, Arsham’s design involved the gradual raining down of over 10,000 ping pong balls during a group dance, which he showed a video of during the talk as the audience watched contemplatively. “A lot of the work involves how materials can provoke movement. It’s very game-based and about play.” 

Judith Seng is a Berlin-based artist who comes from a product and process-design background, different in many ways from Arsham’s visual arts training. Her recent work has been heavily focused on time-based performance, as seen in the Design Performance  she’s been presenting throughout the week here at the fair, titled ACTING THINGS IV - Material Flow.

The combination of dance and production negotiates the process of manufacturing, the purposes of choreographed movement, and the end-product itself. ”We’re processing the material in a way that softens it so that dancers can interact with it, and then the dancers interact with it through dance  - which then produces the object itself.”

This performance is the fourth in a series that deals with issues of the stage and how both things and environments are created, and in turn how an audience and performers are constituted. While in Bavaria, she observed a 1st of May celebration and found herself asking “What if we look at production processes as social rituals, rather than through an economic model as we normally perceive them? And how would they look or be if they came from a different process?”

In her first ACTING THINGS experiment, she held a dinner where instead of paying an entrance fee, the attendees were asked for 45 minutes of labor to build the tables they would eat off. Through these sorts of projects, Seng breaks down the walls between audience and performer, and radically questions the lines drawn between stage and the viewer. ”With this experiment, I was interested in how we control the material, and how it controls us.”

The rest of the talk focused on this aspect of design and performance. Arsham commented on how his visual work – sculptures that literally seem to be undergoing processes of de- and reconstruction – attracts people to touch them, unlike with paintings. ”People touch my work, and I think it’s because the work is architectural, and you’re allowed to touch buildings and walls.” This sort of collaboration, not only the ones between the creators of art and design, is where both Arsham and Seng converge.

Rob Goyanes

Design Miami/ Design Log