Critic's Choice

In His Performance-Art Debut at the Kitchen, Sam Falls Mixes Paintings With Painful Memories


In His Performance-Art Debut at the Kitchen, Sam Falls Mixes Paintings With Painful Memories
The dancers Hart of Gold (Jessie Gold, foreground, and Elizabeth Hart, background) performing "September Spring" by Sam Falls at The Kitchen in New York. Photo by Sam Falls.

Performance is a natural next step for Sam Falls, a contemporary artist whose loosely photographic works have long had a sense of duration built in. (His recent show at Ballroom Marfa included stretches of hand-dyed linen that had been left to fade in the sun; an earlier Public Art Fund project involved thermochromic benches that changed color when they were sat on.) Now, in his 17-minute piece September Spring, on through October 10 at the Kitchen, the dancers Jessie Gold and Elizabeth Hart (known as Hart of Gold) make colorful abstract paintings with their feet as they leap and glide around large squares of plush white carpeting.

September Spring was conceived as a memorial to Jamie Kanzler, a poet and musician who was close to Falls and who died suddenly in 2013 at age 24, and an EP Kanzler recorded under the name Oldd News provides the soundtrack. The piece, however, is as ecstatic as it is mournful: the dancers, illuminated periodically by strobe lights, sometimes drag their toes through the paint and sometimes gyrate like the “spinners” at Grateful Dead concerts. In an accompanying statement, Falls writes, “Instead of blocking out loss by losing myself, I embraced the myriad emotions and memories.”

As a contemporary artist who is branching out into dance, he's in some good company; Tree of Codes, a collaborative performance by Olafur Eliasson, the choreographer Wayne McGregor, and the producer/composer Jamie xx, had its U.S. premiere last week at the Park Avenue Armory. September Spring is a much more modest production, which works to its benefit; the brevity and the provisional scenery (a simple black scrim) help to modulate the ponderous light-and-dark, life-and-death themes.

Nonetheless, it results in some very seductive art objects. Finished paintings from the previous performances hang from the rafters, looking like a marriage of Warhol’s “Dance Diagrams,” Joan Mitchell’s wild late canvases, and Polly Apfelbaum’s arrangements of dyed velvet; one visitor wondered aloud how much they are selling for. That’s missing the point, of course, and one certainly can’t blame Falls for wanting to make a lasting tribute to his friend. But the disconnect between a fleeting performance and a substantial-looking body of paintings is one of September Spring’s many pronounced dualities.

Photographs of performance, below, by Sam Falls; photograph of paintings by Artspace. 


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