ARTIST STATEMENT 2016


My practice investigates the experience of assimilation. Meditating the fluidity of self, and perceptions of other, I explore pathways for the release of tension caused by the histories and abuses of power. How do families, institutions and systems of representation reflect the processes of individual subjectivity? What conjuring shapes me into you, and them? The work represents a psychic journey where doubt and compassion are navigated, and experience transformed.


Manifest in a number of media, but primarily as performance projects, the work is spatially dense with a tendency to layer presence, sound and projected video imagery in visually immersive environments whose defining architecture is motion. Productions have often employed cross-disciplinary/cross-cultural collaboration to destabilize and enrich the creative process, and audience participation to heighten the viewer’s direct visceral involvement. Though the work is informed by social and political issues, I use a language of gesture and structures of ritual to express them.




ARTIST STATEMENT 2013


introduction

Over a decade ago I described my practice saying: “...Concepts interest me. Imagery interests me. Activities of falling involve me. I like doing. I like to all, all at once...”. The statement goes on to speak about confusion, pain and bliss, the coming together of screened images and physical movements, classical concepts and performed dialogues. Ending with a definition of dance as “spooky action at a distance”: quoting Einstein’s laconic description of quantum mechanics. Most of the elements of that statement still apply, yet I have found that its intentional provocation and the seduction of it’s lyricism, may also obscure the reader’s sense of practical process and undermine the work’s perception. The following is an attempt to briefly illuminate my practice and the basic considerations that led to its development.

Spooky action at a distance


background

A child of the 1960’s and scion of a political family deeply involved in the civil rights movement, my early multidisciplinary work reflected a contrary, rather than affirmative, relationship to identity. The video and performance projects were impressionistic and self- referential in content, multidisciplinary and representational in expression. The work was not originally based in an art historical context, rather it grew from a compulsive response much like “outsider art”. Though I attempted to engage in contemporary aesthetic discourse, the work was tentative, questioning deeply neither the established structures of, nor the inherent relationships in theatrical space and production. Like many outliers before me I did tend to do everything: choreograph and perform, constructing sets, designing costumes, mixing the audio and producing all video elements myself. Doing so over time I learned to render ideas and balance media in ways that create, shape and sustain tension. The resulting productions gained a reputation for an “obsessive concern with visual detail”, and “harrowing” violence.

This process was epitomized by a 2001 solo exploring duality inspired by Bill Viola’s video installation, “Slowly Turning Narrative”. In it I questioned my brother who was working in the illicit drug trade about our rivalry and set the interview to images and a score composed from two films, one cowboy and one samurai, with the same plot. As in Viola’s installation, the work revolved around a large panel white on one side, mirror on the other. As I manipulated the panel in the dance, the video imagery was screened and reflected out to the audience, whose own gaze was simultaneously captured and incorporated into the work. The “board dance” from “american deluxe” was the first work to point clearly toward non-representational strategies for performance production. It was effective because it was not “about” something, it’s meaning hinged on the simultaneous integration of the viewer, the performer, the narrative, and the space, into carefully plotted immersive experience.

american deluxe video excerpt


the collaborations

From 1999-2004 I was the Curator of Dance and Performance at The Kitchen: one of the first American institutions to embrace the emergent fields of video and performance art resulting in an environment uniquely conducive to experimentation and cross-disciplinary exploration. During that time and immediately thereafter, I traveled extensively in Asia, teaching, performing, curating, building enduring professional, and social relationships with colleagues in, and the cultures of, Japan, Korea and Indonesia. Questioning the dependence on an inward gaze, and emboldened by my position at The Kitchen, I began to think of strategies to enrich the sense of discourse in my practice. Like the otherness of traveling, curating and facilitating artists, I wanted the process of making work to expand, and forge a change in my actual social and aesthetic life. I concluded this could only happen by turning away from my own isolating, “do-it- yourself” methodology, and exposing the work and myself to someone else’s process. Of the several resulting projects, three collaborations incorporating shared conceptual authorship, and transcultural multidisciplinary integration continue to resonate, not only in the small part of contemporary dance that reflects my practice, but in the evolution of American identity in the new millennia.


figures on a field (2005)

The first of these was with the visual artist Laylah Ali, whose “Greenheads” series of gauche paintings I had long admired. The evening length work featured a black cast embodying scenes based on the paintings and a docent lead audience tour of the work during its performance. The twenty minute tour was conceived so the work could explore not only dramatic acts and images, but the ways by which we, the viewer, take responsibility for and are implicated by the culture we consume. It allowed the dance to shift subtly unsettlingly between personal, political and aesthetic experiences. Apollinaire Scherr, writing for New York Newsday elaborates, “Starting when Marcel Duchamp brought a urinal to an exhibition, artists have made the point that the way an object is framed changes its meaning. "Figures on a field" makes the more frightening point that this framing exerts a force on the picture itself, not just on its meaning.”

Life’s Mystery: Whose framing whom?, New York Newsday

Outstanding in Their Field, New York Sun

Laylah Ali: Choreographer Dean Moss, Art 21


Kisaeng becomes you (2008)

The second work was based on my chance encounter with 500 year old “love” poetry written by kisaeng (artist/courtesans of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty). It lead to a recognition of the enduring relevance of traditional expressions of emotion and how, given the appropriate translation, cultural otherness, and distance, both geographic and chronologic, disappear. The work was a collaboration with modern and Korean traditional dance choreographer, Yoon Jin Kim, and it rehearsed and premiered in Seoul. Understanding the subject matter of the artist/courtesan and the casting of women skilled in Korean traditional dance risked both exotic and erotic exploitation, the work was conceived to eschew men, romantic historical depiction, and replaced the dancers, in the performance of the poems, with audience members - casting the viewer as kisaeng. The acute vulnerability of the audience participants, contacted in the lobby just before seating, engendered a direct immersive experience for the viewing audience and allowed the work to translate and articulate a sense of fragility unattainable in conventional viewer/performer relationships. Vietnamese artist and scholar Maura Nguyen Donohue comments in WNYC Culture, Performance Club Blog: “kisaeng - made me weep. The entry point for the audience into the work through the vessels of the audience participant members was so wrought with “real” energy and vulnerability - both for the work (will this work?) and for the participants (will they survive this? are they okay?) - that I was buzzing in my chair. They made the experience of the “Other” so alive for me. This could be the experience of the courtesan, the contemporary artist, the traveller, the immigrant. “I’m new here” - “What are the rules” The care and detail taken with those moments was so effective ... that [it] allowed the audience member to experience a work from the inside...”.

Memoirs of a Kisaeng: Choreographing Performance Historiography, Theatre Survey

Kisaeng Becomes You: Taking Risks with Audience Participation, Museum 2.0

Of Kisaeng, Gentrification and Arts Marketing, WNYC: Performance Club

Practice the Art of Displacement, Village Voice

Currents of Desire, With an Assist from The Audience, New York Times


Nameless forest (2011)

The third work looked to expand the practice, articulating, among other things, perceptions of subjectivity and artists immersive relationship to their communities. Primarily a collaboration with Korean sculptor and installation artist, Sungmyung Chun, the work includes imagery and diary entries from photo journalist, Mike Kamber, plus a neon sculpture by visual artist Gandalf Gavan. In Nameless forest the primary metaphor presented to the audience is that of a rite of passage, where the viewer is both the initiate and the community into which they are to be initiated. The performer’s activities then function to frame the audience’s experience of this transition by presenting the ceremonial (yet risky) journey through which the viewer must travel. The viewer’s perception of their transition is aided by the separation of the audience into two groups. The onstage group is composed of a limited number of viewers invited by the dancers to “join” the performance. The offstage group resembles a traditional audience in that they “witness” the proceedings, until the end when they are addressed directly by the onstage audience. This encounter between the two audiences acts like a mirror. It allows both viewers to reflect on themselves and articulate the difficult ways by which we form personhood, while simultaneously recognizing the compassion that individual vulnerability reveals about society. Montana Murdoch, an audience participant, blogged: “The dynamic their approach elicited, what it allowed the actor/dancers and the theater to set up–that effective use of collaboration with audience, who could not possibly know what was happening, and yet were an integral part of the story–was truly remarkable. It created a kind of synergy, of sympathy, engagement, and interaction that truly couldn’t have been achieved any other way. It required the interaction of knowing and unknowing “performers.” And it was wonderful to feel how that reflected life. And to see what theater can do.”


Touching Worlds: Performing the Cross Cultural in and through Nameless forest, Theater Magazine

Moving Between, Among, in the Midst, Theater Magazine

Sacred Space - Dean Moss’ “Nameless forest”, Montana Murdoch Blog

On the Phenomena of Art and Identity, The Off Center

Nameless forest, A Beast in a Jungle Blog

Be With Me: The Revelatory Work of Dean Moss, Studio Magazine



ARTIST STATEMENT 1999

I like science: biology, philosophy, quantum mechanics, stuff like that. I‘m not so good socially. I like sex, but people are an acquired taste. I’m aging and think of mortality, of loss. Concepts interest me. Imagery interests me. Activities of falling involve me. I like doing. I like to do all, all at once. It’s unconscious and confusing. I make mistakes. I panic. There’s a fair amount of pain, physical and otherwise, and bliss...


Like blackfaced Astaire tapping a tattoo to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson while Noam Chomsky questions Cartesian concepts of body and Ginger asks, “How do you like my dress?”. She doesn’t mean what she says, she means something else: something about bodies and falling and loss and sex and science. She means something about simultaneity and something vaguely sinister, like what Einstein used to call “spooky action at a distance” and I call dancing.