All mediums end when the body becomes the chief expressive catalyst. Therefore this project considers the internal of Yvonne Rainer’s tuck / roll and Guston’s digging gaze, both circa 1966, as a shared moment of breakdown / vulnerability. It is a breakdown of a medium and a philosophy, a tradition and an avant-garde. Currently in its 4th iteration, along with 2 previous iterations recently featured in the exhibition “Retrogarde” at the Logan Art Center in Chicago curated by Yesomi Umolu, “Collapse” carefully renders each pausable moment (18 of them in total) in Rainer’s backwards roll during her performance of Trio A, through a series of painted layers on canvas. Each painting is stretched to the exact size of one of Philip Guston’s last abstract paintings, “Air II”. Each still image of Rainer, within Guston’s frame, is treated with multiple layers of both painting and sanding, expressive abstract mark-making tropes and thin, nuanced layers of representational conventions.
In 1965 Yvonne Rainer was composing “Trio A” in preparation for her infamous “The Mind Is A Muscle” performance in 1966. During “Trio A’s” performance, Rainer continuously looks outward, at the space surrounding herself and the audience. Her refusal to “perform”, to be looked at / seen as an object of entertainment, is executed through her willful outward gaze held throughout her performance, except for a 2 sec. moment when she rolls backwards at 2 minutes and 49 seconds into it. At that moment Rainer’s body becomes objectified. It blocks her outward gaze as her legs roll over her torso, rendering her eyes closed and her nose buried in her stomach with her hands hovering in mid air. Her posture is awkward and necessarily vulnerable while submitting herself to the backward tumble. Quickly, Rainer redisplays control of her gaze as she comes out of this roll. Similarly in 1965, Philip Guston completed what would be seen as one of his last “Abstract” paintings of his career, titled “Air II”, before Guston begins to look inward, questioning his intentions and dissecting his practice rigorously. He would strip his practice down to the bare essentials: line and form (also a way to judge a dancer’s grace). This deep psychological restructuring of the artists practice, from 1966-1969, represents a 3-year period of isolation and psychic collapse. Thus resulting in the second and more publicly criticized phase of his career, representation and its body turned inside out.
In the history of painting since the advent of abstraction, the body’s place in it and its discourse has been highly fraught. Painting has since been polarized with “Abstract painters” (vs.) “Figure painters”. This polarization emptied Abstraction of its urgency, politics, and ontology, thus steering it into an empty formalism by the 1960’s. It also pigeonholed ones inclination to paint the figure as antiquated, bourgeois, and exhausted, thus rejecting and alienating crucial aspects of painting’s lost potential. What are the limits to, and the surface of, a performance? How can an image / object embody the transitory, contingent, and vulnerable state of expression both then and now? Can there be a phenomenological image that abstraction can simultaneously embody and cover? And if so…to what end?