Artist Melissa Stern says that the chance to work with dancer Louisa Pancoast on their Strange Girls Dance project at Garvey / Simon was a wonderful bit of serendipity. They met at exactly the right time. Pancoast is the Assistant Director of Garvey Simon Gallery, but her real passion is dance. “She is a gifted dancer and choreographer,” says Stern.
Melissa Stern, Clay, wood, resin, paint. 34 x 12 x 7 inches. 2018
It is evident in their project that they both share love of how bodies move through space. Stern is interested in collaboration across media. For example, her show The Talking Cure, which has been touring the US since 2012, is a project where she collaborated with both writers and actors. She says that its success has whetted her desire to pursue collaborative projects as an ongoing part of her artwork.
Stern has a long background in dance, both as a non-professional dancer and as a passionate viewer of dance. Over the many years that she has been making figurative sculpture, she has unconsciously incorporated physical attitudes of dance into her figures – “a hip that juts out, the slight turn of a shoulder, the contraposteo twist of a figure,” she specifies. Stern sees her figures as if they depict a frozen moment in time or taken from the frame of a movie. ”Louisa saw this immediately,” says Stern.
Throughout their collaboration Pancoast intuitively began to imagine the various possibilities of translating the visual “attitudes” into movement. Their collaboration was fluid and open ended. “We were very much co-conspirators–whether we met in Melissa’s studio, over coffee, or over the phone, there was always a sense that our mediums were in conversation with one other, rather than one being a slave to the other,” says Pancoast. While Stern offered insight into the work, she did not pin Pancoast to specific meaning. The dancer started to hone in on the groupings present in the installation, as she puts it, “how they relate to one another, the way they posture, the vibrant kinetic energy of their bend, sway, and shift.”
These visual postures and the way they relate to each other were interpreted by Pancoast into a cohesive movement with thematic content. “She was able to distill the emotional content of the artworks into a vocabulary of movement and dance through and around the installation in the gallery,” Stern elaborates. Pancoast sees the spirit of their collaboration in line with the spirit of the show itself, as she describes, “jovial and all too ready to poke you in the eye, while fiercely retaining the integrity of the work.” Indeed, Pancoast affectively responded to both the physical attitudes of the artist’s artwork as well as the emotional vibes of the show overall.
Stern says that in deference to the title of the show they both early on decided to limit their musical choices to works by women, and found great commonality in the music they love. Together, they came up with the episodic structure, “a nod to the cartoonish fantasy of her girls, and the narrative elements in her work,” says Pancoast. Stern suggested a loose narrative, based on the idea of a 7- day comic strip: day one, she would dance into the gallery and by day seven, she would exit. “The magic that has happened within those seven days has far exceeded anything that I could have dreamt of,” says Stern. And Pancoast sums up: “Melissa not only allowed me to completely become my inner strange girl but welcomed me into the ranks of her strange tribe.”