August 22 - October 26, 2003
Dance Lines: Photographs by Stuart Allen consists of a series of large-scale, black and white photographs that were made on site in the Crocker's grand ballroom. The images explore the relationship between movement and space, building on the artist's previous investigations of time-based motion — Night Lines (1997-1998) and Studio Lines (2000-2001). This new series, Dance Lines, maps the movement of dancers with light. Using long exposures, Allen renders the dancers invisible, leaving behind only a visual record of their performance in dynamic trails of light. While this light is both changing and intangible during the performance, when captured on film, it attains a permanence that haunts the space it animates.
In creating the photographs, each dancer wore a bright light and battery pack the artist designed. Of necessity, the lights were intense to account for the small aperture Allen used. Exposures lasted an average of twenty to thirty seconds, although for some images the camera shutter was left open after the dancer's sequence to ensure that the image of the ballroom was adequately exposed.
Allen mapped various forms of dance by working with specialists in a variety of disciplines from ballet to swing. Remaining true to each dance, he used sequences based on the existing vocabulary of the dance being performed. The artist, in turn, acted as an editor as much as a photographer, determining the most effective movements for each image and photographing that portion of the dance which left the most interesting light trails. He also became the choreographer, communicating his ideas to the dancers and relying on their executions. The title of each piece identifies the dance, giving the viewer an opportunity to compare the varied styles of movement.
To a greater degree than in his previous work (examples of which are also on view in the Crocker's Library Gallery) Allen's Dance Lines series is less reliant on the artist's own physical presence. In Night Lines, Allen used existing lines within the landscape to inform his light trails, following the natural contours of creeks, roads, and lakes. As the manipulator of the light, the artist became a primary subject of the photographs — albeit an invisible one — and the images document his interaction with the topography.
In Studio Lines, light trails, without natural reference, become a stand-in for the artist. Based on the dimensions and movement of the artist's body, the photographs capture actions made by deep bends or sweeps of the arm. These result in light patterns that exist as geometry, with seemingly little reference to the human form that created them. In making these photographs, Allen's light "writing" recalls other art-historical processes of mark making, such as the action painting of the Abstract Expressionists, or the gestural strokes of a calligrapher.
While Allen could manipulate the Studio Lines and be fairly assured of the result, the dance sequences were less predictable and required extensive experimentation. Although at times the artist could predict the final product, more often than not the resulting light pattern was a surprise. In order to attain a preview of the final image, Allen would typically take dozens of test shots with Polaroid film before exposing a final negative.
Allen originally intended to execute this series in a darkened studio, with the resulting lines drawn against a black field. Once provided with an opportunity to work in the Crocker's Ballroom, a space with a long history of dance, Allen determined that the architecture could play an active role in the work. Allen's photographs attained new levels of meaning within the historical context. In this grand setting, the lines memorialize each dance, and evoke images of the many generations of men and women that have swept through the space over the past 130 years.