Adam Linder, Cult to the Built on What, 2013
For you I put this dress on / for you I put the stress on / act like you know me / act act like you know me…
Adam Linder raps in a husky voice under the rhythm of immersive electronic music. I am fascinated, mesmerized , entertained. For this somewhat cryptically titled rapography Cult to the Built on What, the Berlin-based Australian choreographer reskills as a rapper, becoming the star of the night; the audience follows his script of staged and pre-recorded rap, timidly responding ‘oo -ooh ooh’ to his ‘ee-eeh eeh’.
s’Cult to the Built’ on What is built from the combination of classical ballet moves and variations of popular dance, including twerking and voguing, which brings out the irrational engagement and identification with the contemporaneous. It responds to Mårten Spånberg’s call to shake up the dance (conservative and stiff as it seems to be) by introducing and employing pop techniques. Yet with ‘Cult to the Built on What’, pop seems to become an attribute rather than a structure allowing the performance to retain the heavily polished carcass of the conservative: ticketed and instructed viewership, classical dance movement as well as beginning-to-an-end and partitioned narrative. The structure of the piece is dedicated to three characters: body, lectern, and language.
Body in Linder’s performance submits to the knowledge of classical ballet, even if incorporating the gestures of popular dance. Formally trained at The Royal Ballet School in London, Linder experiments with meanings and connotations connected to house music, and borrows from New York ball culture of the 1980s. Re-skilling appears to become a method of bringing into dance the considerations of gender as well as elements of marginalized forms of dance. ‘Cult to the Built’ on What closely corresponds to the modes of expression currently prevalent in the mutant and cross-dressing hip-hop scene of New York, only to mention the names such as Le1f or Mykki Blanco. The latter sings in long hair wig and black leather-chain pants:
Get in line nigga <…> / Maybe she born with it, maybe it was Maybelline / All white Blanco give your heathen ass a christening / Niggas so greasy in the daylight, he glistening / “Oh this fag can rap” yeah they saying that they listening.
Associations like these make dance feel fresh and progressive; nevertheless, one wonders why dance needs to become take on a mask to feel this way. Adapting identities as well as the moves, Linder dresses in a uniform of today, wearing black Nike trainers with the surfaces in neon orange, black glossy sports t-shirt and black loose track pants (the outfit varied each scheduled performance, however, remained consistent in style).
This body follows the music, which breaks and repeats itself, employing cut-up techniques reminiscent of Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999), which Linder references in his rap lyrics. Film incorporating found video footage from British nightclubs resonates with ‘Cult to the Built on What’ not only in its topics of interest but also its editing and, thus, its style. The dance is spliced together, responding to Linder’s rap tracks, repeated and slowed down, filtering in and out to create a uniform spectacle of today.
The dance of the hypnotically rotating lectern crowns and finishes the performance. In utter darkness, amongst red, yellow, blue and purple spotlights, a tall, untreated wood structure mechanically moves in accordance with the rap music. This is one of the most fascinating moments of the event, when an object becomes an animated character, an active agent of the performance. The scenography is no doubt a contribution by the visual artist Shahryar Nashat who has collaborated with Linder on the finishing of the piece. Nashat’s addition to ‘Cult to the Built on What’, a tall semi-oval light wood lectern based on six feet, grounds the performance within the discourse of the visual arts through questions of display and staging. The lectern becomes a framing structure for Linder’s performance, accommodating the lingering gaze of the viewer.
As much as the lectern is now a performer, during the other stages of the night this same lectern functions as a prop, an object drawing attention to, and emphasizing, the space. Linder moves the lectern throughout the space, redefining its existence and performer’s relationship to it. The shift from object to the actor reminds us of the bottles that become alive in Tamara Henderson’s 16 mm film Sloshed Ballot and Anonymous Loan, recently shown at dOCUMENTA (13). Here the bottle behaves as the lectern, landing into the shot, seemingly with no help of the human hand or will.
Language / medium
‘Cult to the Built on What’ further echoes Shahryar Nashat’s work in its play on translations and correspondences: be it those of medium, language or material. It does not seem to demand its own defined present, is deferential, signaling content elsewhere, or generating it but not possessing it. Linder´s piece in many ways transposes the mascot of the work Not the Stuff of Stone that Nashat produces in 2011. Not the Stuff of Stone is a grey plaster, pigment and steel bench constructed to look as if it was sculpted from marble, which draws our attention to the nuanced relationship between idea and its modes of expression.
This particular interest in transferal, or re-skilling, reflects Linder´s engagement in current critical debate on the developments within artistic practice. The word re-skilling that Linder employs in the description of ‘Cult to the Built on What’ was recently brought into much wider use by Claire Bishop who discusses political and economical implications of the term in her article Unhappy days in the art world?: De-skilling Theater, Re-skilling Performance . Here Bishop explains re-skilling as the bringing to bear of one set of competencies on those of the newly elected discipline. Linder’s attempts to master the elected discipline of a rapper and this precise use of words suggest his awareness of the text and the creative response towards it.
To end with
It all felt like observing a masquerade of contemporaneity – fascinating, spectacular and maybe rather naïve, infused by colour and enveloping sound. As Steven ten Thije tells us in his article Reading (through) the mask: Philosophical Reflections on the Masquerade, masquerade is something to ‘enter’, whether acquiring such attributes as masks or not, in Nike shoes or not, in order to unify the rational and irrational in life, to defend ourselves ‘from the tragic aspect of the tension between magical instinct and discursive logic.’ ‘Cult to the Built on What’ also combines these dichotomies, fusing ballet with street culture, high art with vernacular vocabulary, thus, proposing suggestions on what dance and performance can be. Linder demonstrates that apart from aesthetic issues dance can be a platform for discussing the state of art and everyday life of today.
Adam Linder’s ‘Cult to the Built on What’ took place on September 1, 2013 at Uferstudios (Berlin) as part of Ausufern festival
Concept & Performance: Adam Linder. Stage: Shahryar Nashat, Adam Linder. Music, Composition: Brendan Dougherty. Light: Dennis Döscher. Production: Andrea Niederbuchner.