I came to Hijack’s work in the midst of a particular viewing streak, carrying a set of open questions:
Post-Absolute Bliss, an evening of choreography from Portland, Oakland, and Minneapolis I curated and produced with Billy Mullaney, and concomitant discussions with the visiting artists:
- Are Minnesota viewers looking to see a well-crafted execution of something they know, or are they looking for the future?
- What does it mean that art can actually be one’s job here?
- Does being more professionalized make the work tamer?
- Where are the punk kids? [Maryanna Lachman asks.]
Post-Right Here Showcase, a festival of work by mid-career artists produced by Paul Herwig:
- Is the truism true that there is less support for mid-career artists in Minnesota?
- If the number of working artists at each age bracket gradually shrinks because it’s not sustainable, what kind of work stops being made?
- If there are more mid-career artists in Minnesota than other cities, how does that affect the scene and the work as a whole?
Post-Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson’s Night Stand at the Walker Art Center:
- Are we looking for Paxton in 1972, or Paxton at 77?
- What is the outcome of decades of ongoing practice?
- What do you do with old artists?
Hijack’s Tchotchke at the Temporary Autonomous Museum of Contemporary Art, 3400 Cedar Avenue, November 22, 2014:
I walk into a glowing white space, with a key-like, rotating gold and aqua sculpture in the window. Slick. There are detailed paintings of veiled figures, spurting breasts, and abstract shapes.
People with winter gear and grown-out roots are starting to gather. I feel a touch of Scene. This space has positioned itself on the outside: temporary, autonomous.
In the next room there’s a stage loaded with objects: a machine gun painted white, a soft animalistic figure raised on a set of springs, a lone blonde wing dangling over a chair, next to a set of windows hanging in thin air.
Three figures take the stage, draped in lace with terrible jeggings. They are deadpan with an autotune soundtrack. Together they perform a slow push of weight, then begin to slowly rotate and shift amongst the loaded objects. Minutes pass at this pace; I ease into the space and the timing and the visuals.
Two neon-painted small barricades are carried into the space and placed in a series of configurations. I happen to be standing between them at first and shuffle out behind two other caught bodies.
Two men in headdresses carry in a piano, and Naomi reenters in a cowboy suit to pound on the keys. The choreography becomes straight music visualization, a gesture for each note. It’s literal, but I almost miss that reading because the context is not literal at all.
Arwen and Naomi have a cockfight, crouched on their knees with elbows flared. The crowd smiles from the corners of their mouths and there is no true aggression.
Kristin and Arwen reenter in a red polka dot two-piece dress, with one piece per dancer. They take the edge of the stage and perform emphatic, repetitive rond de jambes.
The piece ends with one of the largest sculptures in the show: a cubic structure of wooden slats, containing large curved objects in bright colors. The performers begin to dismantle the structure, displacing the wooden slats at angles throughout the space.
- Relationship to art objects/dance in the gallery
In terms of performance quality, the theatricality of the piece is sublimated into the objects. They’re out of date, that thrift-store aesthetic in reds and pinks and neon yellows. They could be in poor taste if taken alone, but taken together they are intentional. I wish it didn’t appeal to me so much. On the other hand, the movement is not garish. Rather than channeling overemphasis through the body, the execution of the choreography can remain matter-of-fact, committed, even ardent, but not absurd. In response to to the field-wide question of how dance can exist in visual art spaces, Hijack’s has an answer I like : take it up, take it in, turn the sculpture into your stage, do your work and in so doing exert a change on the space.
- Use of space/shows with no chairs
I have experienced shows with no forced seating where it felt like the artist just didn’t consider what the audience might do—but in this piece, it felt like our configuration was part of the design. When the performers came through the crowd, the viewers weren’t disregarded, but rather the parting of the crowd became a part of the choreography. KVL made eye contact with the people around her before she did a punchy battement into the crowd. Along with the art objects, the viewers were a part of the container for the piece, both spatially and experientially.
- Ongoing practice/novelty
Here the questions about Paxton, mid-career, generation, and practice are relevant beyond Hijack’s engagement with his actual work. By my count, Hijack has been working this material for at least four years. I’ve seen them perform bits of it at Bryant-Lake Bowl, in the basement of Los Amigos at Jaime Carrera’s Outlet Festival, and at the Walker, among other venues. Many elements of Tchotchke are familiar from these previous iterations: KVL’s spread-leg staccato gestures, the music visualization, the spiraling movements, the barres with rond de jambes, much of the sound score. Yet there is still freshness to the material, and I’ve seen many sections of the piece acquire new life as they are recontextualized in different spaces and compositions. I wonder how Hijack stays interested, if they are more patient than I am.
A few days later, my open questions are a bit different; I’m thinking more about the art market than about differences between generations. They become part of the same conversation, though, when you focus on an artist’s process. I feel there are twin pressures applied to dance artists: on one hand, to constantly show something new, and on the other hand, to prove the development of your work and process. I get the sense that Hijack stays in the middle and takes exactly what they want. I respect how fluidly they move between underground contexts and big institutions, because it seems like they’re always working on exactly what they want to do.
This streak of viewing experiences doesn’t really scratch my itch. Retro desire though it may be, what I hunger for is a historical moment of rupture, the way I imagine Paxton-in-’72. I see Hijack chewing slowly, steadily, and I wonder if that way of working has to do with generational forces, or if they just like to stay obsessed. Mid-analysis, I suddenly remember something KVL said to me when I interviewed her for a project I did a few years ago: she told me that she’s always looking at the thing that came just before the contemporary.
After viewing Tchotchke, these questions remain open:
- What is the contemporary, and how does it relate to the category of mid-career?
- What’s the significance of the retro aesthetic, and where and why is it deployed?
- What’s the allure of temporary spaces, and what kind of work do they enable or disable?
- Is it possible that Paxton-in-’72 was understood as historical rupture right when it happened, or is that only possible in retrospect?
- If Minneapolis were to witness a historical rupture, would we recognize it?
by Emily Gastineau
Hijack with Naomi Joy
Temporary Autonomous Museum of Contemporary Art
November 22, 2014