Rafa Esparza on Nick Duran’s every time you are near, performed at Pieter on April 14, 2014
It’s been a while, but I can still remember reaching into my pocket for my phone to search through my playlists and find that one streaming sound of sweet melancholia. You know the one. That one playlist that makes you cry so hard it causes you to double-tripple-sniff through the sobs, running mucous and seemingly never-ending trail of tears. The heartbreaking music that allows you to go through a necessary deluge of pain, sorrow and loss, spilling it onto your lap so that you can see it, touch it, make sense of it.
Nick Duran’s every time you are near, performed in part alongside Brian Getnick at Pieter Performance Space in Los Angeles, summoned a ritual that sometimes involved a highly self-aware and performed catharsis, yet at other times aroused an intuitive and joyous surrender to the environment that music assembles—in this case, Dionne Warwick’s album Make It Easy on Yourself (both A and B sides on vinyl).
I arrived with a shortness of breath at just minutes before 8:30pm, not wanting to miss a minute of Nick’s piece. Something about this performance felt special and important. Nick had recently experienced the loss of his father and then grandfather soon after, and to my knowledge this was his first performance since their passing. I felt a bit nervous and excited in anticipation of the evening with Nick. We have a history of working with each other—in each other’s work, in other artist’s work—and have developed a close friendship and what I consider an intimate working relationship as well.
I was relieved to find people socializing and scattered about in the space when I came to Pieter. In the center of the room was an ensemble of objects descriptive of a living room and placed accordingly. To some it probably appeared as merely a living room “set” where a dance number would soon begin. To me it read and felt like material. The combination of objects used were all very specific and thoughtfully placed. Their placement charged them with an importance that went beyond props, yet they had an approachable and subtle energy reminiscent of skilled feng shui organizing the space before us. A Persian rug lay on the ground, centered by a triangulation of succulents: one on the floor while two others staggered above on two different speakers.
Everything was hushed within Pieter’s signature four black stationary pillars, a sometimes tricky layout for performance. However, Nick’s objects felt resolved, embedded, specific to the space. A wood-beaded curtain hung in the southeast corner, barely clearing the cover of a record player that sat carefully a couple feet away atop a golden embroidered throw pillow nestled over a closed brown leather suitcase. With the exception of green desert plants, the monochrome ambience of brown, sienna, peach and tan lit by only a few hanging soft light globes settled the room with an inviting and comfortable openness.
The piece opened up with both Nick and Brian on the rug sitting on their feet directly across from one another looking into each other’s eyes. They circled around one another silently, feeling the rug on all fours, eventually feeling each other using their entire bodies. They were both clothed in similar dark-colored knitted sweaters and denim and khaki shorts. Their lengthy sinewy bodies dressed in similar outfits had a twinning affect. Two Nicks, two Brians, or one of the same. Their movements were sensuous, playful and tender. From tumbling to soft caresses of each other’s skin and hair; they seemed guided by curiosity but mostly touch. A brush of their connecting cheeks would turn into a whirling dive of one of their heads into the others’ armpit, light pecks on foreheads, noses rubbing, moving into full-on kissing. They took their time with each other until eventually Brian spread his body out on the floor, face up, with his eyes closed. Nick began to softly approach his body using his hands.
* * *
Last year in October, Nick invited me to partake in an exercise he conducted with a group of us at Human Resources for a program he was part of titled BASE, Session I. A short description of the program read: “Session I is a choreography of spaces. All architecture is impermanent. All human spaces are constructed. Some walls are meant to conceal. Structured space dictates human flow; it is a choreographic force.”
Nick directed us to feel through a resting body, letting our hands’ touching be guided by our focused response, attuned to the body and its various pulses, breaths, temperature shifts, twitching muscles, groans, etc. The experience was supra-sensorial. The treatment of a body as an architecture enabled us to navigate it through touch but also through a projected imagination of our insides. We took turns touching and being touched. The exercise required an openness coupled with trust, and acute awareness. The image of Nick and Brian flashed me back to that cold cemented floor padded with blankets Nick had brought for us to lay on. The sensation of having multiple pairs of hands scanning different parts of my body felt eerily familiar, vivid and close.
* * *
Before I knew it, Brian was up off the ground adjusting a yellow light directed at the “live-in room.” Nick rose up off the floor, slipped a record sleeve from beside a speaker, removed the record and placed it on the player. He disappeared for a moment and reappeared in a long navy blue dress. Brian found his seat and joined the audience in a front row. “Make It Easy on Yourself” was playing. Nick moved about in the perimeter of the space, twirling and spinning and looking out in the distance past the audience. His gaze was directed pointedly towards the outside of building as if he himself was temporarily transported outside of the space.
This kind of gaze or “looking out” was present throughout the whole piece—heavier in some instances, but in other moments more reserved and aware of the contained interior we all shared. The song ended and Nick’s movement diminished to a brief halt until the next song began. My attention vacillated between his movement and Warwick’s voice. The music he chose to work with is loaded with affect which made me hyper-aware of how the music was structuring the movement and vice versa. It seemed to be an underlying force that contained the work but was interrupted unexpectedly time and time again with a sweep of softly extended trots, spins and long gentle gallops. I was fully enthralled by his movement and when Warwick sang “Walk On By,” I went there with her.
Nick’s performance took a couple of heart-wrenching turns. Early on during “The Look of Love,” he entered his installation through the beaded curtain and sank his body to the ground landing on his knees. He rested his hands softly on his lap and stared directly towards the front of him, again off into a somewhere unknown. His eyes glistened with tears filling up until finally running continuously down his cheeks for the duration of the song. When the song ended, Nick rose and went into a dance fully embodied of a different emotion: not joy, but not sadness either.
Towards the end of Side A, Nick lifted his dress and pulled it over his head revealing the remainder of his exposed naked body. Blinded, he slowly spun backwards and tumbled behind a curtain. Brian got up to flip the record over to Side B and Nick soon reappeared in a soft brown dress cut identical to the one he wore prior. The music began and Nick sank into his dance. Walk on by.
There was a moment between the songs and his movement where Nick was lounging on the rug for a few brief seconds and he made a gesture that I’ve seen him enact before, not during dance but in playful conversation, where he knocks his head back swaying his thick brown locks behind his shoulder as if they had the length of a scarf knocking wind to his immediate surrounding. His living room made complete sense in those few seconds. He was at home, and the command of his body and space reflected this.
His shifts between songs were sometimes abrupt and contradicted each other. He went through a roller coaster of movements and emotions, segmented by the tracks on the record and tethered to an interiority that he on one occasion literally yanked out of his body. “Anyone Who Had a Heart” was playing and he repeated a sequence where he moved through the entire space, leaping into a column and letting his body slide off of it. He continued this to a point of exhaustion.
After a final slide, he plopped to the ground and dragged his body towards the rug, hawking, coughing and hawking again, a deep breath followed by saliva, mucous and more breath. His face and arms flexed to an extreme that flushed his skin tone a few shades more burnt sienna. As the song came close to its end, Nick took his time to recuperate. The brief silence in the room was consuming, slowing time down to an almost freeze.
Warwick’s Make it Easy on Yourself is about 24 minutes long, give or take. Nick succeeded in suspending the duration of her record, allowing us to enter his living room for a time that extended past the measurements marked by seconds or minutes. The psychotic forces he shuffled between were held in a balance that was both dramatic yet justified. It was a keen reflection of a nuanced body-interior turned inside out. His presence although always physically within a contained proximity would sometimes lead us to a far-out place. I looked around the room from time to time and noticed the varying expressions on faces—some crying, some frowning, some smiling, some nodding in agreement, everyone very present and anticipating his every return, embracing those escapes to an unknown and welcoming him every time he was near.