William Forsythe’s alternative to walking

 

‘Please traverse the space using only the rings’, William Forsythe requests as we encounter his installation of suspended gymnastic rings, The Fact of Matter 2009. To do so, we must lift ourselves into the air by stepping onto one ring, then another. Although the lower rings are hanging at a suitable height for our feet, to hold ourselves up, and move forward, we must rely heavily upon our arms and core strength. To pursue this alternative to walking, many of us will need to find new ways to move the weight of our bodies. Children might be able to do this easily; however, for adults it is a greater challenge. Forsythe says the work is ‘designed to give you an unadorned sense of three things: your weight, co-ordination and strength’.1

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The Fact of Matter has two primary modes of engagement: to do, or imagine and plan how to approach the challenge. ‘You’re going to have to develop a strategy, it’s going to take a lot of concentration’, says Forsythe.2 ‘Choreography is a way to get things in motion, and artists are always trying to get people to move their minds in different directions.’3

This installation reminds us that once programmed into our bodies, our patterns of movement are very often taken for granted. The ‘matter’ of our body has evolved over millennia to navigate very particular conditions: moving from water to land; learning to breathe; and eventually to walk, run and dance — all the while taking advantage of new opportunities and managing risks encountered.

Forsythe is a choreographer, dancer and artist with a practice spanning more than 50 years, and he describes dance as ‘a conversation with gravity’.4 In addition to staging performances by highly trained dancers, Forsythe translates his enquires into how we move and relate to each other in new forms of dance and movement he refers to as ‘choreographic objects’. In such works, the audience might be ‘choreographed’ by an object or installation, or offered a challenge through which we become more aware of our own and others’ movements — discovering the choreographer within — and new ways to coordinate our energy and capacity. He invites us to play, to move with care and to find new ways to work with each other.

While The Fact of Matter was not made with an intended reference to climate change, it offers a vivid illustration of the effort that will be required to lift ourselves ‘up’ to avoid the rising waters, and the artist was open to this context. Sea-level rise has now accelerated to five millimetres a year.5 Rises of 40–80 centimetres are forecast by the year 2100, depending upon how we act, with a multi-metre rise predicted by 2300 if we continue on our current path.6 Our capacity for ‘transformational adaption’, our swiftness, dexterity and ingenuity in moving together, will be a key in determining the severity of the outcome.7 The Fact of Matter offers a way to think through these challenges that is physical, not abstract. Forsythe sets up a form of social choreography, speaking of movement and dance as ‘a way of thinking. The body is a thinking tool’.

Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow is Curatorial Manager, International Art, QAGOMA

Endnotes
1 William Forsythe, interview with ICA Boston, ‘William Forsythe’s “The Fact of Matter”‘, ICA Boston, 15 November 2018, <www.icaboston.org/video/william-forsythes-fact-matter>,
viewed August 2019.
2 Forsythe interview with ICA Boston.
3 William Forsythe in dialogue with Louise Neri, ‘Unhoused and unsustainable: Choreography in and beyond dance’, in William Forsythe: Choreographic Objects [exhibition catalogue], Prestel, Munich, 2018, p.42.
4 Helen Luckett, ‘William Forsythe’, in Move: Choreographing You, ed. Stephanie Rosenthal, Hayward Publishing, London, 2010, p.104.
5 ‘Over the five-year period 2014–2019, the rate of global mean sea-level rise has amounted to 5 mm/year. This is substantially faster than the average rate since 1993 of 3.2 mm/year’ (The Global Climate in 2015–2019, World Meteorological Organization, 2019, p.6, <https://
library.wmo.int/doc_num.php? explnum_id=9936>, viewed
October 2019).
6 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, forthcoming 2019, p.25. Refer to p.8 of this draft report for a graph on the primary drivers of expected sea-level rise under RCP2.6 (swift comprehensive action) and RCP 8.8 (business as usual) conditions, <https://report.ipcc.ch/srocc/pdf/SROCC_FinalDraft_FullReport.pdf>, viewed October 2019.
7 IPCC Special Report, p.71.
8 Eva Respini, ‘The body is a thinking tool’ in William Forsythe: Choreographic Objects, p.10.

Join us at GOMA until 26 April 2020

From major immersive experiences to smaller-scale treasures by Australian and international artists, the ‘Water‘ exhibition highlights this precious resource. Walk across a vast, rocky riverbed created by Olafur Eliasson; see animals from around the world gather together to drink from Cai Guo-Qiang’s brilliant blue waterhole; gaze at Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s snowman frozen in Brisbane’s summer heat; traverse a cloud of suspended gymnastic rings in a participatory artwork by William Forsythe, and reflect on the long history of our reliance on water through Megan Cope’s re-created midden. Tickets to ‘Water’ now on sale 

Below the Tide Line

Kids and families can explore ocean conservation issues — particularly the impact that ghost nets have on the marine environment — via a spectacular artwork display, a drawing activity and an interactive screen-based animation. Find out more

The Noise of Waters

See films that explore our complex and contradictory relationship with water — the essence of life and an indefatigable, destructive force. Find out more

Buy the publication

An accompanying publication is available from the QAGOMA Store and online.

William Forsythe, United States, b.1949 / The Fact of Matter 2009 / Polycarbonate rings, polyester belts, and steel rigging / Courtesy: The artist, Gagosian Gallery, New York, Forsythe Productions, Berlin / The development and international exhibition of Choreographic Objects by William Forsythe is made possible with the generous support of Susanne Klatten / © and image courtesy: William Forsythe / Photograph: Chloë Callistemon © QAGOMA

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Feature image: William Forsythe The Fact of Matter 2009 installed at the Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane 2019 during ‘Water’

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Jonathan Jones ‘untitled (giran)’ is a murmuration of winged sculptures

 

‘Murun’ — a Wiradjuri word meaning breath or life — and the English word ‘murmur’ — a low recurring sound, or soft voices — are two words born far from each other, one long of this land, one newly spoken here. They converge in this project by artist Jonathan Jones, the most recent in a series of collaborations with esteemed Elder and Wiradjuri language expert Dr Uncle Stan Grant Snr AM.

This major installation, untitled (giran) 2018, is a murmuration of winged sculptures evoking birds in collective flight. The sounds of wind, bird calls and breathing susurrate through the space as Wiradjuri speakers whisper softly. Giran (wind) is a term also describing fear or apprehension. ‘Understanding wind is an important part of understanding country,’ says Jones. ‘Winds bring change, knowledge and new ideas to those prepared to listen.’1 In his work, language is woven together with the breath over the land, the breath in and out of the body, wings in flight, and the wind through the river oaks, reeds and cumbungi (bulrush).

Watch | Jonathan Jones discusses ‘untitled (giran)’ 2018

The artwork includes roughly 2,000 separate sculptures of six types of tool, each made from a different material: bagay — an emu eggshell spoon; galigal — a stone knife; bingal — an animal bone awl; bindu-gaany — a freshwater mussel scraper; dhala-ny — a hardwood spear point; and waybarra — a rush ‘start’ (the beginning of a woven item, such as a basket). Such tools allowed our ancestors to eat, sustain, hunt, hold, prepare and protect — to live lightly and flexibly. Each tool embodies the knowledge passed down through generations and represents the potential for change. ‘Each idea, each tool, is limitless in its potential,’ Jones says.

‘untitled (giran)’ 2018 details

Details of (untitled) giran (detail) 2018 / Photographs: N Harth © QAGOMA

Jones has made many of the base ‘tools’ himself, as well as working with family members, Wiradjuri community and long-time artistic collaborators — including Ngarrindjeri artist Aunty Yvonne Koolmatrie — from across the country’s south east. The process of making brings people together, and enhances connections to the land, culture and language. It also strengthens ties to generations who have passed on, a counter to the darker gaps of history and the loss of knowledge that has occurred throughout Indigenous Australia. As Jones notes, ‘Knowledge isn’t a single line’.

Bound to each tool with handmade string is a small bundle of feathers, gathered from birds from the broader community. People from all over Australia sent Jones packages of feathers, many with handwritten notes.2 ‘Slow down, look around, listen to the birds,’ Jones asks of his feather-collecting collaborators, offering a quote from the late Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Michael Riley: ‘I see the feather, myself, as sort of a messenger, sending messages onto people and community and places’.3

untitled (giran) shares traditional knowledge and seeks to foster change and the exchange of ideas and skills. Uncle Stan Grant Snr speaks of this work as ‘continuing the development of Wiradjuri gulbanha (philosophy), working with language and country via the artworks for the ongoing enrichment of the community’. While Wiradjuri is a language at risk, it is also in a state of renewal, and one of many hundreds of distinct Indigenous Australian languages acutely affected by colonisation.

Tactile, kinetic learning is key to this project. Language is absorbed in many layers, learnt through walking the landscape, gathering materials and working with our hands. Learning a language is much more than a process of direct word-for-word translation — we must stretch our minds to other cultures and understandings of the world, knowledge deeply encoded over generations. In the face of globalising economies of scale, Jones and Grant advocate for this country as a place of many languages, philosophies, technologies, stories, songs and treasures — a commonwealth measured not only in gold. Passed from one generation to the next, language is a vital inheritance. As is our capacity to listen to the wind.

Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow is Curatorial Manager, International Art, QAGOMA

Endnotes
1 Conversation with the artist, 28 May 2018, and quoted throughout.
2 Many sent feathers in response to a call out from Kaldor Public Art Projects, which hosted Jones’s previous major work, barrangal dyara (skin and bones) 2016.
3 Quote from the artist’s website, Michael Riley, <www.michaelriley.com.au/cloud-2000>, viewed July 2018.

Jonathan Jones ‘untitled (giran)’ 2018

Jonathan Jones, Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi peoples, Australia b.1978, with Dr Uncle Stan Grant Snr AM, Wiradjuri people, Australia b.1940 / (untitled) giran (detail) 2018 / Bindu-gaany (freshwater mussel shell), gabudha (rush), gawurra (feathers), marrung dinawan (emu egg), walung (stone), wambuwung dhabal (kangaroo bone), wayu (string), wiiny (wood) on wire pins, 48-channel soundscape, eucalyptus oil / 1,742 pieces (comprising 291 Bindu-gaany; 290 Galigal; 292 Bagaay; 291 Dhalany; 280 Bingal; 298 Waybarra) / Purchased 2018 with funds from Tim Fairfax AC through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Jonathan Jones / This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body; the NSW Government through Create NSW; and the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund. This project has also been supported by Carriageworks through the Solid Ground program.

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land upon which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution Indigenous people make to the art and culture of this country. It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name or reproduce photographs of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.

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Develop a richer perspective on our place in the world

 
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Zilvinas Kempinas, Lithuania b.1969 / Columns 2006 / Magnetic tape, painted wood panels and nails / Purchased 2012 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

‘A World View: The Tim Fairfax Gift’ honours the remarkable and far‑reaching generosity of Tim Fairfax, AC, who has supported the Gallery in acquiring more than 70 ambitious contemporary international artworks. From vast installations to intimate sculptures, these works have enriched the experience of many Gallery visitors and enabled a deeper understanding of human experience and artistic expression.

A World View: The Tim Fairfax Gift | GOMA | Free
Rotation 1: 11 June – 30 October 2016
Rotation 2:  3 December 2016 – 17 April 2017

Our view of the world is forever in flux. It shifts, unfolds and is perpetually reshaped. Our perspective might be radically reformed as we ponder the movement of celestial bodies in the night sky, or change unexpectedly when we see our own reflection suddenly transformed in a broken mirror. As we observe, think and seek to understand, our view of the world deepens. Every time we reconstruct our own internal model of the world we synthesise personal experience and a vast network of abstractions. The mind is highly sensitive to pattern and anomaly — from the earliest moments of cognition we stretch our thoughts to encompass space, time and the lives of others. Art accelerates this process, acting as a mirror to the world, helping us to channel, refract, activate and recalibrate our understanding of the familiar, to see the world anew, to keep our imagination alert and agile, to embrace change.

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Timo Nasseri, Germany b.1972 / Epistrophy VI 2012 / Polished stainless steel / Purchased 2012 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Timo Nasseri’s Epistrophy VI 2012 is emblematic of this power to shift the way we see and understand the world. Its polished, reflective surfaces gather every detail of the surrounding space, including our own presence, into a sublime geometry. We see ourselves in this work but in an unfamiliar way: Nasseri fragments and reconstructs our perspective, offering us an experience of beauty deeply connected to the larger cosmos.

The exhibition offers many artworks which bring abstract models of the world together with our own personal experience of moving through space. Perception and the position of our body make all the difference. To sense our body in motion is one of the great pleasures of being alive, and is an experience so familiar that we sometimes overlook its wonders. Lithuanian artist Zilvinas Kempinas’s installation of video tape columns makes something monumental and abstract from an everyday material. As we walk through this forest of perfect cylinders, the columns shape-shift, moving from solid to light. Uche Okpa Iroha’s photographs dramatically catch the movement of his Nigerian compatriots across the narrow band of light shining through an urban underpass, while Shigeyuki Kihara adopts the movements of a transcendent being in her video work Siva in Motion. These familiar, everyday bodies are lifted from daily reality into a more sublime and timeless realm.

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Uche Okpa-Iroha, Nigeria b.1972 / Mother (from ‘Under bridge life’ series) 2008 / Pigmented inkjet prints on Epson semi-gloss paper / Purchased 2013 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist
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Uche Okpa-Iroha, Nigeria b.1972 / Finish line (from ‘Under bridge life’ series) 2008 / Pigmented inkjet prints on Epson semi-gloss paper / Purchased 2013 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist
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Uche Okpa-Iroha, Nigeria b.1972 / Beam pole (from ‘Under bridge life’ series) 2008 / Pigmented inkjet prints on Epson semi-gloss paper / Purchased 2013 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist
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Shigeyuki Kihara, Samoa/New Zealand b.1975 / Siva in Motion (detail) 2012 / Single-channel HD video: 8:14 minutes, looped, colour, silent / Purchased 2015 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Anthony McCall’s solid light sculptures rewrite the way we read the mass and boundaries of our body. We become closely aware of how our body occupies space in Crossing 2016, a vast new work created for QAGOMA, which will premier in the second stage of this exhibition. For this work, the New York-based artist combines light and the sound of a breaking wave to draw us into a space where a sequence of abstract forms and volumes is played out on a grand scale. They evoke the memory of specific experiences — shafts of light falling through cloud onto a windswept beach, or the curved triangle of a wind-filled sail. The volume of our own body changes as we move through the work: our arm might be solid for a moment in the light — we can literally step into the light — and then fall away into blackness as we move, or as the light itself shifts.

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Installation view of Tomás Saraceno’s Biosphere 2009, Biosphere cluster 05 2009, and Biosphere 2009 / Purchased 2014 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / © The artist

In a similar way, Tomás Saraceno’s 2009 Biosphere works function as a conceptual bridge between our own bodies and the wider world: the large, transparent spheres, held in a web of black cord, are suggestive of particles of oxygen — powering our bodies as they move through the blood — as much as sealed, protective environments, the perfect retreat. Saraceno presents us with ideal structures derived from nature and mathematical models. They could be spider webs, or supernovas, cellular structures or utopian models for a future city, and we can decide on the interpretation most meaningful to us.

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Gordon Matta-Clark, United States 1943-1978 / Office Baroque (detail) 1977 / 16mm film: 44 minutes, black and white and colour, mono, USA, Flemish and English / Purchased 2012 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist
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Yto Barrada, France/Morocco b.1971 / Frontière Sebta (from ‘Le Détroit (The Strait)’ series) 1999 / C print on paper mounted on aluminium / Purchased 2013 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Artists open up unexpected possibilities for movement, as well as reminding us when they are closed off. Gordon Matta-Clark’s seminal 1977 film Office Baroque documents the artist cutting through a building in Antwerp, carving an open space from an apparently solid structure. Here it is possible to walk through walls. Yto Barrada’s photographs depict the site of a tunnel that was to be constructed linking Morocco and Europe, a defunct project that now seems from entirely another geopolitical realm. In this pair of images, we see a group of young men scrambling up the hill, another man has paused to light a cigarette. Barrada records motion and the moments in between, movement at a point where larger transitions are blocked.

Julian Opie’s LED work People Walking. Coloured 2008 offers a mesmerising portrait of strangers forever in motion. Abstract and ideal, we see men and women move across a glowing field of red, these ‘smoothed out’ people with their round white heads are so generically formed that they suggest an unsettling kind of sameness, an ironing out of difference, body type or character. Beat Streuli’s gleaming, expansive photograph Bruxelles 05/06 2006 transforms a different group of everyday characters. Three men walking down the street are lifted out of time and made special, monumental. Not looking directly at us, they each seem to walk in a world of their own. What does it mean to see people such as ourselves drawn from the streets and reflected in this way? Do we look for an idealised vision of who we might be, or the more complex and surprising texture of our true selves? South African artist Candice Breitz advertised for Michael Jackson fans to perform his 1982 album Thriller, and she presents us with 16 synchronised performances. On their own, each performer is special and unique, together they reveal the larger patterns of a global culture which bind us, they touch us; make us smile and tempt us to join them and dance. They remind us of the wonderful idiosyncrasy of human expression.

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Beat Streuli, Switzerland b.1957 / Bruxelles 05/06 2006 / Chromogenic colour print on paper with Diasec (acrylic sheet) / Purchased 2008 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist
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Ah Xian, China/Australia b.1960 / Metaphysica: Rabbit 2007 / Bronze and brass / Purchased 2009 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery / © The artist

Francis Upritchard’s collected group of white‑clad figures are also caught in a complex push and pull dynamic. Both tender and grotesque, with their mottled fleshy skin and near-closed eyes, they appear to be sharing a ritual moment or strange dance all of their own. Are they dancing, tossing a ball, or warding off evil spirits? The eyes of the life-size bronze busts of Ah Xian’s ‘Metaphysica’ series are also closed; their focus appears to be directed inward. We see the ‘action’ of thinking, with the interior world of each subject suggested by the objects that crown each head. These works bring calm into balance with complexity. They seem to treasure the universe of possibility within each of us.

The human body and the human experience of the world are at the centre of these disparate works, drawn as they are from across the globe. Presented together in ‘A World View’, they allow us to develop a richer perspective on our place in the world, as well as to participate more fully in the process of shaping what it might become.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS WITH US. These works invite a multi-layered perspective of the world, drawing on your experience, which one of these works resonate with you?