contribution to the 2010 Whitney Biennial Catalogue
Kelly Nipper, Weather Center, 2009
Kelly Nipper’s videos, installations, and live performances investigate the relationship between the moving human form and the shape of the space that surrounds deliberate, ritualized gestures. Having worked for ten years in special collections at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles processing post-WWII artist archives—including most notably that of Allan Kaprow, for whom Nipper worked as an archivist and studio manager from 1998 until the artist’s death—Nipper’s practice is informed by an unusual intimacy with and direct access to a host of score-based approaches to performance. Floyd on the Floor, a thirty-minute event first presented in 2007 as part of the performance biennial Performa 07, extends Kaprow’s notion of a “total environment” by putting it in motion. Executed by a troupe of eight masked performers, Nipper’s collaborative score manipulates a large piece of parachute fabric according to mapped interpretations of storm clouds and sudden shifts in barometric pressure, movements inspired by the artist’s Midwest upbringing. Distanced from the audience by balaclava-like hoods and the calling out of a numbered sequence that indicates the duration for each gesture, the score nevertheless envelops the audience as the undulant form of the parachute brushes up and momentarily surrounds viewers.
The first part of a tripartite work yet to be presented in its entirety, Floyd on the Floor is also the overall title of a larger project that includes the “performance study” videos Weather Center (2009), shown here, and Sapphire (2009). Based closely on German Expressionist choreographer Mary Wigman’s gothically tinged Witch Dance, first performed in 1914, Weather Center captures the highly stylized gestures and movements of a masked female performer who appears to be possessed by an animal-like spirit. Shoulders hunched and legs spread, the violent rocking motion of the woman is alternated with birdlike cocking of one’s head and repetitive tamping and clawing gestures. Shot in black-and-white against a neutral gray background, the performance is isolated and heightened in a manner reminiscent of early ethnographic film studies but also indebted to the “trance films” of Maya Deren. Accompanied by a metronomic voice-over, Nipper elaborates a marriage of systematized notation and poetic choreography.