Sunrise Sunset and queer forgetting







Interview with Przemek Kamiński
Edited by Nicole Bradbury


#archival #materials #fred #herko #book #dance #biography #virtuosity #judson #andywarhol #entering #canon
Sasha & Nitsan
Can you tell us more about your archive of inquiry, its content and its context that you will work with?

Przemek
So far, I have directly explored archives in three different works of mine. But even if the archive itself is not the main focus of the work, I always research, revisit and reference what has been already done in relation to a particular topic I am exploring. So both the content and the context changes accordingly. In preparation for this interview, I found one of my old notebooks. There is a quote by Christina Thurner that I scribbled down, and that could best describe my approach to the archive: The archive does not lie in wait like a huge motionless past, only to be reactivated by external analysis. In truth, the archive is instead equal to the movement that opens it up. So he or she, who enters the archive to work there, actually updates the archive, animates it and makes it what it should be. The things literally want to be brought out, revealed and turned into the statements of him or her, who enters the archive because of them (Christina Thurner, Leaving and Pursuing Traces. Archive and Archiving in a Dance Context, 2014).

The archive does not lie in wait like a huge motionless past, only to be reactivated by external analysis. In truth, the archive is instead equal to the movement that opens it up. So he or she, who enters the archive to work there, actually updates the archive, animates it and makes it what it should be. The things literally want to be brought out, revealed and turned into the statements of him or her, who enters the archive because of them – Christina Thurner


Sasha
Okay, so would you like to speak with us about these three archives that you worked with? Could you just briefly name them?

Przemek
It's interesting to reflect upon this right now because I realise that all three works are connected with New York’s avant-garde artists in the 60s. Though, they approach the archive from different perspectives. The first work, made in 2014, is called Some Other Things. It is based on the performance Five Dance Constructions and Some Other Things by Simone Forti that she created in 1961. In this piece, I was interested in the concept of a “dance construction” and based on Forti’s original idea, I developed my own “dance constructions”. Same as Forti, I focused on the materiality of action, rather than potential narrative associations. Together with simple objects, I occupied gallery space and engaged in similar kinds of movements, like waving, sliding, rolling, squeezing, crushing, dropping, hanging.
New Unfinished Solo for Sneakers, a Past Tense and a Group of People is the second work, created in 2015, in collaboration with the dramaturg Mateusz Szymanówka. We worked with various available archival materials and documents, gathered around the work of the artist, who formed Judson Dance Theatre in the 60s. Our way to put in action and use the access to these archival materials and documents was a base to develop a movement practice, in which the body accumulates quotations, appropriates choreographic strategies, embodies practices, enacts and redoes. In the piece, I was performing what I remember in a real-time, thus transforming the memory into remembering, turning the passive storage of the mind into an active act of recombination and constellation that manifests itself through movement.
The last piece, and the most recent one, from 2020, is called Sunrise Sunset. And this piece is based on the scattered archival materials revolving around the life and work of the American dancer and choreographer Fred Herko. Founding member of the Judson Dance Theatre on one hand, and a star of several Andy Warhol’s early films on the other.

Sasha
Could you track how you came across Fred Herko in your research? What was attractive? Was there any personal aspect for you?

Przemek
I came across Fred Herko when I was doing research for my previous piece, the one from 2015. I read about him in Sally Banes and Ramsay Burt books. I realised that the name Fred Herko was being mentioned, but it was always being mentioned on the margin. He is not the subject of long essays and analytical texts, nor does he appear in the canon of postmodern choreographers, such as Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, or Steve Paxton. It provoked a question of how the history is written, who is put on the monument, and why... whose work is being archived and to what extent?
I realised that Herko’s story is often told from the moment of his death, there is not much information about his artistic work. In 1964, following a rapid decline in physical and mental health, he jumped out of a window in the West Village, New York, while dancing to Mozart’s Requiem. No-one can be certain if it was a staged suicide performance or the final act of someone who believed he could fly.
Herko was also one of the most technically accomplished dancers in Judson, he studied ballet at the American Ballet Theater School (now known as the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School). and was taking additional classes with Merce Cunningham and James Waring. His dance works have been described as campy, romantic, queer, lazy, incandescent and excessive. It made me think that Herko’s aesthetics were in opposition to, or different from the typical postmodern dance standard based on quotidian movements and minimalism. Hence, I started to reflect upon No Manifesto by Yvonne Rainer. Perhaps it was commentary towards other Judson artists, those on the margins - like Herko. Maybe particularly Herko?

… reflect upon No Manifesto by Yvonne Rainer. Perhaps it was commentary towards other Judson artists, those on the margins - like Herko. Maybe particularly Herko?


From 2015, when I discovered Herko for the first time, it took a couple of years until I invested in dealing with his scattered and incomplete archive. The first entrance into these materials happened in 2019, in the frame of the festival The Present Is Not Enough - Performing Queer Histories and Futures at HAU Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin. As a part of the project Manifestos for Queer Futures, I created a Herko-based manifesto, that one year later was developed further into a full evening piece.
Nitsan
What were the channels? What kind of materials did you encounter in the archive? What was there? And what did you have to do, how did you work with that?

Przemek
In the process, I revisited dance history books, I found some articles from The Village Voice and The Floating Bear describing early dance concerts at Judson, during which Herko presented his works. I reached some accounts by his peers like Andy Warhol, Jill Johnston, Elaine Summers or Diane di Prima. I found some photographs and one short video - Andy Warhol’s 1963 recording of Herko and Jill Johnston dancing on a New York rooftop. There wasn’t much. A lot of materials, like Rollerskate/Dance Movie by Warhol (depicting Herko rollerskating around New York on one roller-skate), has an unavailable status.
I decided to treat this incompleteness as a quality and as a potential. I approached the creation process as an exercise in imagination and speculation.
I used all these archival materials as starting points that can be brought to life and later - extended and reimagined. For me, it was a movement of recalling a figure of the queer past. A figure that becomes a vehicle in imagining a different world, a potential guide for alternative ways of moving within it.


I decided to treat this incompleteness as a quality and as a potential.

Sasha
And how do you feel, does this work with Herko’s archive enrich your current practice?

Przemek 
I recall the quote by José Muñoz from his book Cruising Utopia: The Then and Now of Queer Futurity, who wrote that we are not yet queer, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. He continues, describing Herko as a choreographic figure, that invites utopian performativity into the world. Through Herko, I learned that the ideal world cannot be reached through the here and now; it must be conjured by crazy, risky, wild leaps into the void. Sometimes literally.

Nitsan
You said that Herko was not appreciated or was not recognised for his making at the time. How do you resist the dominant style of making? How does one oppose it, or challenge it?

Przemek
For me, embodiment is one of the most radical strategies nowadays. In Sunrise Sunset, I was interested in a certain attempt at virtuosic embodiment, in a manner of Herko.

Sasha
It is interesting how Yvonne's manifesto that questions virtuosity is still influencing us. She already wrote Yes Manifesto, but it's not as influential as this "No" one. And 60 years have passed since she's done it and we still feel ashamed. How it stops us to think about what kind of virtuosity we could think about in general...

Nitsan
Yeah. It's nice to try and give words for the kind of virtuosity that he was interested in. I think the word virtuosity is important. We don't have the words for this kind of embodied research that is in-depth, and that is specific. But also because it's so embodied and specific, then it resists words of times, I would want to argue.

Przemek
This is also why I invited Martin Hansen to perform in this work and I feel very grateful he accepted my invitation. Martin was eager to enter a process based on in-depth movement research, with his experience and skill, and profoundly contributed to the work.

NItsan
How would Fred Herko comment on your work if he was alive? What would he think about your interpretation or remake?

Przemek
When I was working on Sunrise Sunset, I got in touch with two people that knew him in person - Gerard Forde and Diane di Prima. Gerard Forde is a curator and writer, who has been researching the biography of Fred Herko for many years.
Diane di Prima was a poet, Herko’s friend, and an author of a poetry book Freddie Poems, dedicated to Herko. Both of them were really enthusiastic about my project. They were very much looking forward to seeing the video documentation of the piece. Unfortunately, Diane passed away on October 25, 2020, just a couple of weeks after my premiere. I also received a message from Sara Larsen - a very close friend of Diane, her former assistant - who now lives in Berlin and came to see the show. She wrote to me that Diane loved the idea of my performance. Being able to get in touch with people that knew Herko in person, and their keen interest in my work was extremely important and touching. It made me think that Herko would be enthusiastic, too.

Sasha
Where does this knowledge reside? If we speak in general when we're working with archives and heritage?

Przemek
In Legacies of Twentieth-Century Dance, Lynn Garafola says that writing about the past, one has many more gaps to fill, places to imagine, people to resurrect, and frames of reference to inhabit. For me, the knowledge resides precisely in these gaps.
* photos by Dorothea Tuch
some photos of Fred Herko can be found here, here and here...

© 2021 All rights reserved to Sasha Portyannikova, Nitsan Margaliot and the interviewees.