Xavier Le Roy: Retrospective
Over the past two months a group of performers were hired to reenact the choreographic dances produced by Xavier Le Roy. Le Roy, who asked the performers to recycle and transform his past solo works, realized the exhibition Retrospective.
Before entering the space the audience is confronted with didactic text that discusses the life of Le Roy, the names of the performers and the institutions involved in bringing this work to fruition. As you walk into the space, you see other audience members sitting down in a circle around one performer, others against the wall and performers dancing around the space. The room is evenly lit with nothing on the pure white walls. There are four doorways – two on either side of the room. At first, I was unsure as to what was happening. The performers moved around us and I felt like I was invading their space with my presence. About five minutes after entering one performer stopped in front of me and asked if I would like to know what had just been performed. My response was yes and as he pulled out a sheet of paper he took on the persona of Le Roy. He discussed the concepts and influences behind that specific piece. I ended up staying to watch a full cycle of the performance and than some. Every thirty minutes one performer (who was acting as Le Roy) would gather a group of people into a circle and tell stories about his life. As I spent more time in this active white cube, it became less alienating and I felt as though I was part of the experience.
The focal point of Retrospective is the performers. The white cube generated isolation where no outside influences were present, making it completely immersive for the audience. Though I tend to break conventional modes of looking at and engaging with art, in this instance I was following the conventions of the gallery space that have been preserved through the system of values that permeate the gallery experience. I felt as though I was being subjected to omnipresent forms of surveillance from the other audience members and the performers. The space was now a place to see and be seen. I became fully conscious of my physical self and started to think about how things become art in a space where powerful ideas about art focus on them. As I reached this level of consciousness I began to analyze how I was in fact becoming part of the art. How did this space at first fill me with fear and meekness and afterwards fill me with great confidence and the belief that I could influence the outcome of the piece of work? And as I look back I realize that this shift in experience occurred when one of the performers approached me, broke his fourth wall and addressed me directly. While I do not remember what he said about the piece it was as though Le Roy was saying, “I know, I know this is a very unconventional form of dance and almost elitist but look, this is what it means, in simple unpretentious language.”
This perfect moment of engagement transformed the totality of the experience and made me think about the influence and importance that site specificity played in the unfolding of this piece. I do not think that this piece could have existed outside of the white space of a gallery. It was required to contextualize the piece and act as a blank canvas that was in a constant state of transformation. Retrospective directed the space. The distance generated between the audience and the performers required boundaries so to allow for engagement. The even light did not detract from what was happening and eliminated other objects that could have been misunderstood to be part of the work. In Retrospective, the work is anti-visual and resists the commodification of art. While site-specificity at one point was considered institutional critique, today it is more of a critique of the cultural confinements of art. The notion of site-specificity influenced Le Roy to push to boundaries of the white cube. While he exploited the space for its neutrality, understated tendencies and invisible forces, he also extended the walls through the movement of his art pieces – the performers.
Le Roy expanded opportunities for interaction within the environment while transforming the traditional format of a retrospective. He used the concept of dance and applied it to context of the space. Though the curator possesses the creativity to push the gallery beyond its conventional limits, it was only through the artist that the temporarily of dance could be translated. Le Roy breaks down the barriers set up by the institution and in turn redefines the meaning and experience of the retrospective.