Memorial for Elaine Summers (1925-2015) at Niblock’s, NYC

by danielgoode

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tonight at 9
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Phill Niblock’s email to me. The memorial was just like any other Experimental Intermedia event. The sound was too loud for my left ear. My right ear was less complaining. The audience members, some young, some not so, seemed dazed in the pleasant trance of the avant-garde. Friends gathered beforehand in Phill’s kitchen, sipping wine, eating seitan, talking occasionally. I spoke separately to one or two people about how important Elaine was to me. They seemed glad to hear it.

Elaine’s dance loft at 537 Broadway, 5th floor was where I did my first solo concert. Was it 1973? ’75? I’ll have to check. The faded flyer pops up every so often among other papers. I think the concert started at 8:30—before the standardized 8 PM had taken effect. Elaine was like an open door, encouraging me to come in, to make a piece, have an audience. Nothing like that had come my way in the New York of my birth. (Had that happened to me earlier, I might not have exiled myself from New York for ten years after graduate school.) I took her movement class, Kinetic Awareness: the body is important, pay attention! I did.

So it’s all the more amazing to me that after all the years until now, the night of her memorial, I had never seen a film of hers, though I knew she was a filmmaker as well as dancer and choreographer. She didn’t push them. She didn’t push herself. So un-New York. It takes people not born in NY to make the city humane.

Five of her films were shown, the longest was seventeen minutes. Jerky hand-held camera in most, muted colors. A video by someone else in which she appears is mainly about Malcolm Goldstein—the shamanic violin improviser whose bright red hair, long red side-burns, pearly white skull punctuated his manic closed-eyed playing. Action-painting, but on a violin, and on the roof of her loft building. TV ariels and pipes, nearby buildings panned—hard not to say ugly. But they are, and no music can change that.

“Judson Fragments” was an interesting cross-cutting of dance moments, dancers in street clothes walking towards and away from each other (I think I recognized Simone Forti), other odd collaged images, somehow reminding me of Alain Resnais’s  “Last Year at Marienbad.” Not surprising. Both are in the same time capsule.

What do I come away with from the films? The grittiness, materiality of New York, not gussied up. An object is an object, neither beautiful nor ugly. Perfect fantasies of special effects are not yet in fashion. One can relax in this. Take a deep breath. Thank you, Elaine!

Thumbnail Review No. 44

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