Leap Then Look Active Archive Digital Residency
LIGHT, SOUND AND MOVEMENT
The Light Sound Movement Workshop was a student-led initiative at Black Mountain College co-ordinated by artist and dancer Elizabeth ‘Betty’ and her husband, artist Warren ‘Pete’ Jennerjahn. It was never a formal course, but can be seen as both the continuation of the early Bauhaus inspired productions of Xanti Schawinsky and a pre-cursor to Theatre Piece #1 staged by John Cage and others a year after the Jennerjahn’s left the college.
Little is known about the workshops themselves (there is no remaining documentation) except that there was a desire to explore ideas, using movement, light, and sound. Slide projectors with make-shift coloured slides were used, often to highlight or pick out parts of the body or stage, pieces of set were used and music was played. Given Betty’s training with the Albers, Martha Graham Dance Company, and Merce Cunningham and Pete’s experience taking and later running Josef Albers Matière Studies class as well as the college print shop, there was evidently a wide range of skills and experience they could draw on. Add to this the involvement of poets MC Richards and Charles Olson (both involved in Theatre Piece #1) and we can see this as a microcosm of the college’s distinct contribution to 20th Century art, performance, and education.
“We should study and learn in all fields of art… we should discover [..] that music has to do with proportion and the values of line and volume; and that literature can be static and dynamic, and can have staccatos and crescendos, and poems can have color; that the play on the stage has not only a dramatic climax, but also an optical and acoustical one; that there are musical qualities in all art – that every art work is built (ie. composed), has order, consciously or unconsciously.”
How can the approaches of the LSMW (now over 70 years ago) be taken up and explored using contemporary technology? How can we work together to realise unexpected combinations of light, sound, and movement, and keep alive the sense of experimentation embodied by Black Mountain College?
Unlike the many productions and events of the Summer Institutes, often populated by now famous names, we have chosen to end on the LSMW because it was a term-time activity and therefore a part of the college’s regular programme. It was part of the informal environment where students and staff worked together to realise and explore their ideas in a supportive, communal space (the college dining room). The workshop was integrated into college life and embodies its spirit of improvisation, experimentation and the combining and crossing of disciplines often kept separate in other institutions.
As the finale to our Active Archive residency, we reimagined the Light Sound Movement Workshop, bringing together a group of people on Zoom from East and West USA, Canada, England, Scotland, and Saudi Arabia. We explored materials, sound, and performance in ways that would have felt familiar to the students and staff of Black Mountain College in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, but still felt fresh and relevant today.
The workshop began with participants finding different materials from around the home. Bringing these objects up close to our laptop cameras so they filled the screens, we explored different materials, textures, and colours, creating a collaborative Matière study. Then, participants went off in small groups to explore the possibilities of a series of simple prompts using light, sound, and movement. They played together for some time, using what was to hand, setting up spaces in the corners of rooms or under tables and testing the performative qualities of materials, before coming back together for this partly prepared, partly improvised group performance.
A reimagining of MC Richard’s diagram of the First Happening, for our 21st Century Light, Sound, Movement Workshop.
Image credits: BMCM+AC permanent collection, Western Regional Archives, Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer, The Irving Penn Foundation, Collection of Michael Reid.