From and dance. It is a language of interpersonal

From 1982 – 84 Adrian Piper (Born 1948) an American conceptual artist and
philosopher whose works address ostracism, otherness, racial passing and racism
staged large and small collaborative performances entitled Funk Lessons. These Funk
Lessons consisted of a sequence of participatory social events that aimed
to teach white people about black funk music and how to dance to it. ‘Funk’,
which has morphed into From 1982 – 84 Adrian Piper (Born 1948) an American
conceptual artist and philosopher whose works address ostracism, otherness,
racial passing and racism staged large and small collaborative performances
entitled Funk Lessons. These Funk Lessons consisted of a sequence of
participatory social events that aimed to teach white people about black funk
music and how to dance to it. ‘Funk’, which has morphed ‘Rhythm and Blues’ or
‘Soul’ as it would be more known as today, has been a distinctive cultural
idiom in African-American culture since the 1970’s. The origins of Funk come
from African tribal music and dance. It is a language of interpersonal
communication and collective self expression.

In
Whitechapel’s Participation edited by
Claire Bishop, Piper writes “My immediate aim in staging the large scale
performance (preferably with sixty or more people) was enable everyone present
to GET DOWN AND PARTY TOGETHER” (Bishope, 2006)
During the time the Piper made these performances, this form of self expression
and social union through dance was pretty much inaccessible to white culture.
This can be understood if we look at the different social norms regarding dance
in both black and white culture during the 80’s. Achievement, social grace,
competence and spectator orientated entertainment were the main features that
make up social dance in white culture. In African-American culture, there is
more emphasis on collective participation as a means of self transcendence and
social union.  (Bishop, 2006) The main emphasis is on everyone
participating and enjoying themselves, there is no emphasis placed on how a
person looks or how graceful or ‘cool’ their dance movement is to others. It is
more of a collective and enjoyable experience and this would be especially true
with the genre of Funk.

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The format of
these Funk Lessons would go along the lines of Piper beginning to slowly
introduce simple dance movements into the audience. In doing so, Piper would
engage in discussion of their cultural and historical backgrounds, their
meanings and also the role they play in black culture. These movements would
then be rehearsed, internalised and built upon with improvisation and thus
repeated. This process was allowing for a physical language to be communicated
in which everyone felt empowered to embody. In Piper’s large scale performances
which could include up to and over 60 people; these classes would continue over
the course of weeks and perhaps even months.

As the
performance deepened Piper would concentrate on the fundamental characteristics
that made up Funk music. This would also include focusing on and discussing
some of the major themes and using representative examples. Piper would discuss
funk to disco, rap, rock, punk and new age whilst using different samples to
represent each genre. It was during this part of the performance, asides from
brief pauses for questions, dialogue and Piper’s own commentary; people would
be organically listening through dancing. The group was engaged in a
beautiful and gratifying process of self transcendence and creative self
expression within a highly controlled cultural idiom, in a way that attempted
to overcome racial and cultural barriers.

During these Funk Lessons there would be varied and
sometimes intense responses from both the white and black participants. From
the middle-class, college educated whites it could involve anxiety, anger and
contempt. Unresolved racist feelings that had been denied, repressed and
unexamined would come to surface due to various triggers. (FINISH)

On the other
hand, the middle class, college educated blacks would also experience uneasy
emotions that would be triggered such as condescension and embarrassment.   (FINISH)

All of these
responses and others that came up during the lessons were sympathetically
challenged and articulated whilst listening to the music. This in turn,
culminated into what was an intellectually stimulating, therapeutic and
cathartic experience. This experience also led participants to engage in a deeper
understanding of the political and cultural understanding of their own
identity.  (Bishop, 2006)

 

The Classic Tradition

In terms of
looking towards dance and movement as the cornerstone of change through an art
practice that will help towards social change, this thesis will start with an
exploration of the Classic Period itself. The Classical period lasted from
approximately 1775 to 1825. The name classical is applied to the period because
in art and literature, there was keen interest in and admiration for the
classical artistic and literary heritage of Greece and Rome. In terms of the
origins of the Classic Tradition, it can be traced back the use of the term
Classici. The term Classici was used to describe citizens of higher class
during the times of Ancient Rome. Aulus Gellius, whom was a Latin author and
grammarian, used the contrasts of “classicus” and “proletarius” in his writings
Night Attic. It was from Gellius’s use of the terms in his writings that
classicus began to carry a meaning of high class and high quality. This essence
and meaning of quality in the word ‘classic’ is still very much alive today.
When something is described as ‘classic’: it carries the meaning that it’s a
model that deserves to be followed. Within the history of the arts, classicism
is the approach that is based on the reproduction and expression of antiquity
and on the accepted belief system and values that were attributed to the
ancients. The principles of Classicism are based mainly on a concern with the
ideal, with the typical, with morality in its widest sense and with aesthetic
styles of Ancient Graeco-Roman classical art and literature. (Greenhalgh, 1978)
In modern times, Classicism also includes the acceptance of these principles
into music. Important periods in which Classicism was the dominant movement in
Western thought and the creative arts were during the late 17th, 18th and early
19th century. (Microsoft Corporation., 2000)

Formality was
the custom during the Classical era and this was mirrored in the music that was
characterised by careful attention to form, elegance and restraint. In order to
understand the transformation these classical values that begin to take place
with the dawning of the 20th century: most notably marked with Igor
Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring debut in 1913: the work of Richard Wagner and
Fredrich Nietzsche will need to be explored. Being of the most influential 19th
century opera composers and men of theatre, Wagner wrote a significant amount
of philosophical essays covering a wide range of topics ranging from music to
drama theory, social to political issues.

“(Wagner) was
one of the first musicians to ponder on the nature of media and on its
manifestations as forms of communication between artist and public.” (Lajosi,
2010)

One of Wagner’s
best known theories is that of Gesamtkunstwerk, which is usually translated
into ‘Total work of art’ or ‘synthesises of the arts’ which focuses on his idea
about theatre as an ideal medium. Due to the fact that in one way, Wagner’s
concept of Gesamtkunstwerk can be regarded as theory on mass media – or rather
public media – it cannot be separated from his social and political ideas. The
word Gestamtkunstwerk first appeared in Wagner’s essay ‘Art and Revolution’ in
1849. This was where he described the concept of the ideal relationship between
music, dance and text in drama, which he regarded the highest art form and the
art work of the future. According to Wagner, ancient Greek tragedy was the
forerunner of his idealised art work of the future. (Lajosi, 2010) Gestamtkunstwerk
has frequently been interpreted as the characterisation of the Wagnerian
musical drama. This characterisation being that different types of media such
as music, text and stage scenery interact and join forces.

Wagner believed
that there was a direct reflection between the state of art and the state of
society. (Lajosi, 2010) Wagner trusted in the influential and formative impact
with which art had on society. It is this belief with which Wagner felt that
the creation and portrayal of ideals of the universal mankind should be one of
the most highest purposes of Art. The different medias that make up Art, such
as sound, writings, painting, architecture, dance and video represent the
different senses of visual, auditory and the kinaesthetic, only truly realise
their potential when they are in perfect harmony with one another. (Gablick, 1991)

 

In the last thirty years there has been an explosion in the interest and
expression of the body in its practices and rituals in areas of performance art
and dance. However, Classical Ballet has held its dominant position through all
forms of dance. Anyone wishing to be a dancer has to accomplish the technical
ability that is defined by the codes and standards of ballet. Ballet aesthetics
still are in accordance with ascetic and logical ideals. As Nietzsche insisted
in several of his writings during 1886-1888, he believed that Christian values
“have taught men to misunderstand the body”. It is through this
misunderstanding, that humans have come to see and experience the body as a
‘thing’, rather than a ‘process’ of its own becoming. (LaMothe)

This process of ‘becoming’ refers to In
Being and Time, a book which explains a theory by philosopher Martin
Heidegger. In this book Heidegger puts out three basic hypothesis’ to explore
‘being’. Firstly, Heidegger refers to ‘being’ by citing inquiry from Plato and
Aristotle as a most universal concept that has never really been fully grasped
or understood throughout the centuries. Secondly, he writes that by ‘beings’ be
nature it actually cannot be defined. However, does not disprove its meaning.
Thirdly, ‘being’ itself is self-evident: we are a human being. This ‘being’ may also be understood as a heightened state of
consciousness which involves a synthesis of learning and imagination and
conditions of artful living. At the basic, universal, every day, mundane level
our energy fields commune and work together to give you a full body sense of
living; such as your posture and orientation with which you navigate continuum.
Heightened awareness of this level of ‘being’ therefore, opens one up to more
possibility where you experience a continually expanding world view and
perceptions and abilities. As the whole adage goes, “perception is
everything”. 

In promoting our comprehension of this mindfulness, Psychologist Abraham
Maslow mapped B-cognizance—being-related cognition—in detail, giving attributes
and qualities to a scope of practices including critical thinking, imagination,
creativity and pinnacle experiences, while he relates D-insight to shortfall
needs. A portion of the attributes of B-comprehension are total attention,
richer perceptions and an altered state of time and space and positive
experience B-comprehension is a measure of self-realization and the well-spring
of creativity.