Taisha Paggett, performing in “VOLUME presents Presence,” Torrance Art Museum ZOOM2 series, June 26, 2010
Taisha Paggett’s untitled durational movement performance this past Saturday at the Torrance Art Museum seemed to be a companion piece to Decomposition of a Color-Thought, a work she performed at LACE back in February. In both works, the artist prominently displayed a set of textual excerpts as if it were a musical score, and then attempted to perform it using a series of movements, periods of stillness, and carefully chosen costuming and make-up.
The texts supplied are difficult, composed as they are of cryptic, out-of-context quotes from theorists and obscure references to theological journals and 1970s black pride paintings. They require you to take a break from the pleasurable act of watching Paggett in order to try and grasp their meaning. For me, this has the effect of tying my brain into a knot and thus causing an irksome disconnect from Taggett’s movements, which speak so eloquently by themselves. Still, prolonged study of these texts, and follow-up Google research at home, does yield insights into Paggett’s motivations and what she is trying to accomplish. (Click the thumbnails below to read the texts from Torrance (L) and LACE (R).)
With her strong dance background, Paggett is obviously interested in the expressive power of the body, the properties of sensation and body memory, and the formal studies that can result from extended enactments of movement and stillness. On a purely visual level, her work is indeed amazing—beautiful, stimulating, and richly evocative. I could easily sit and watch her movements all day long. Beyond this pleasure principle, however, what is even more compelling about these works is how they weave meditations on race and racial struggle directly into their studies of color and form.
Paggett is dark-skinned, and for the LACE piece, she chose to exaggerate this fact by covering her body with black makeup and wearing all black clothes. The texts on display talked about the human eye’s inability to perceive the full range of colors; the shaping of human relationships by the history of labor struggle; and the purity of sense data independent of cerebral intervention. Paggett’s seated performance, which took place on a square of shag carpet and consisted of many circular and shuffling movements, appeared to be an attempt to embody and activate negative space. Her makeup and costuming portrayed an enforced invisibility, while her body struggled to charge that space with “real movement… a solid and undivided whole.” Coincidentally (or not, I don’t know), a separate text performance on the wall behind her consisted of the repeated phrase, “I am the witness.”
If the LACE performance dealt with pure black, the Torrance piece moved to grayscale. This time Paggett wore a gray jersey dress and covered most of her body with gray makeup. The gray stopped halfway up her face, as she covered the top half of her face in black makeup. Her hair was tied back in a knot, and the knot was colored a bright red, thus creating three distinct tiers of color on her body. The texts included Da Vinci discussing the nature of color relations and their mutual influence on one another; Paggett (I assume) connecting an iconic 1970s Ernie Barnes painting with a theological quote likening the sound and color of a distant body to “a sensation in the mind”; and the same Bergson quote about the purity of sense data, with an added directive to “explain… how perception… is limited.” With a performance that saw many dramatic and eruptive movements across a smooth floor, Paggett graduated from pure black to embrace and explore the relativity of color relations.
This performance took place as part of Presence, “an afternoon of immersive sound, video, and durational performance” curated by VOLUME. Presence was in turn part of ZOOM2, a fun event series at the Torrance Art Museum that spotlights experimental sound, performance, and light/video works.