Curatorial Notes: To Dance Alone
Updated: Mar 9, 2020
Curatorial Notes by Kimberly Shen for Dancing Alone (Don't Leave Me) at Objectifs - Centre for Photography and Film, 8 January - 9 February 2020.
Amongst the many questions that have surfaced from my spirited discussions with Susie, we often find ourselves asking, in the age of female empowerment and the rise of the #MeToo movement, why are we still driven to think about ideas of woman? In our prelude to these extended conversations, why do we speak as if we are encountering these issues for the very first time? What has emerged from previous discourses – what has shifted, changed, improved and are we starting (again) from ground zero? In curating this show, it would seem natural to employ a feminist framework as context: to subvert the gaze and objectification of desire, as a revolt and rejection of the patriarchal narrative. But this too, renders a homogeneity to the existence of the everyday woman, assuming she is in a privileged position to be fighting the same battles.
In Dancing Alone (Don’t Leave Me), solitary women dance quietly in the darkened gallery space – simultaneously and separately, in a haunting repetition of gestures and movements. The work takes reference from the film, The King and I (1956) during the iconic dance sequence between British governess, Anna Leonowens and the King Mongkut of Siam. When the King observes Anna to have stopped dancing, she expresses matter-of-factly, “no woman would dance alone while a man is looking at her”, seemingly to suggest the image of a woman is inextricably tied to an other. In film critic Laura Mulvey’s seminal essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975), she expounds, “A woman performs within the narrative. The gaze of the spectator and that of the male characters in the film are neatly combined without breaking narrative verisimilitude.” Here in Susie’s work, however, these women dance wordlessly – alone, notwithstanding the viewer and escape the male (othered) gaze. In this ordinary act of pure indulgence, these dancers at once, invite meaning but also firmly invoke their sense of place. No longer obscure, she is dancing alone and with herself.
Drawing upon the liberatory potential of dance as a form of self-expression, these dancers are empowered but also subjugated. These women are not devoid of desire for she is acutely aware of her yearning to be seen, to be loved and have an existence acknowledged. I am drawn to Rebecca Solnit’s essay Grandmother Spider (2014) in which she recounts Ana Teresa Fernandez’s painting of a woman hanging laundry. In this unremarkable domestic act, the woman – whose identity is shrouded by a white bed sheet draped on the clothesline – “both exists and is obliterated”. Solnit proceeds to discuss female nonexistence and obliteration through patrilineal ancestry (exclusion of mothers, grandmothers), and the silence, erasure and disappearance of women through the roles they play.
Susie’s preoccupation with romantic tropes in media and popular culture comes to the fore; by employing filmic clichés, she urges a study into the representations of women that are embedded and perpetuated in modern society, to relook the tokenisms and narratives that we have consumed and become complicit to. In dancing alone, the woman mediates between the self and the other as a singular fluid gesture; she embraces her desires and flaws wholly and effortlessly.
Download exhibition handout here.