Material Flow/ Studio Judith Seng at Design Miami/ Basel 2013

Entering the ground floor of Design Miami/ Basel 2013, one sees a long, low-lying stage topped with an assembly line of equipment, dancers, and organically-shaped blue and green objects sitting on shelves. A plaintive, sparse melody rings out like clockwork as the audience watches in quiet reflection.

For this year’s Basel fair, Studio Judith Seng was invited to produce the fourth in a performance series that Seng has yielded to wide acclaim. Titled ACTING THINGS IV – Material Flow, the work brings together the worlds of material production and modern dance, and combines the spectacle of a runway with the 8-hour, tedious realities of industrial manufacturing and the visceral, aesthetic labor of sculptors.

For every day of the fair – and all day – Seng’s plainly blue-garbed dancers have mixed wax powder with water, creating a blue or green mass and then worked it with their hands and assorted tools on the surface of a work table. The workers have produced these molds in an almost robotic fashion, only to then sculpt them through a series of soft, poetic dances as a randomly generated tone chimed throughout the hall. The result is a durational piece, which Seng says “is a challenge for all the dancers in keeping full concentration.” 

Rhythmically interlocking arms and legs, sometimes alone and other times as a duet, the dancer-producers create organic effigies – which have left colored traces throughout the stage – and are then displayed as curated objects. The following day, these objects are placed under humming melting machines (structures designed by Seng which look like the skeleton of a teepee) and are melted down with pumping hot air. The process is then hypnotically repeated. 

A compelling component of Design Miami/ Basel’s cultural programming, these Design Commissions engage an exceptional studio in the creation of a large scale and experimental work. This year’s undertaking by Seng and her dancers is a free flowing assembly line that blurs the zones of performance and production, and exposes mass manufacturing as a sort of dance; a social ritual constrained by traditional techniques and management. Thought-provoking for both its figurative and literal constituents, ACTING THINGS IV – Material Flow is a mesmerizing work of choreographed fabrication. 

Rob Goyanes

Design Miami/ Design Log