Skip to content


Score for an unfinished dance

Video: March 12, 2020: Irene Hsiao, movement study with Liang Shaoji, Chains: The Unbearable Lightness of Being in The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China at Wrightwood 659.


From: Irene Hsiao
Subject: Allure of Matter: Score for an Unfinished Dance
Date: March 21, 2020 at 9:55:30 AM CDT
To: Orianna Cacchione, Erik Peterson, Hannah Radeke, Chris Lempa
Cc: Michael Christiano, Simone Levine

Dear Orianna, Erik, Hannah, Chris, Michael, Simone:

I present these notes as an imagined exhibition, like the final projects of Orianna’s students. As my initial proposal had been to work with Song Dong’s Traceless Stele, I suppose it is sadly fitting that this project evaporated before fully manifesting.

This piece is a tour of Wrightwood 659 and The Allure of Matter with 3 dancers and 5 students/Visitor Service Associates, designed for an intimate experience of the works and the spaces that invites participation and active sensing.

Thank you all—hoping you stay healthy and well,


Wrightwood 659 Movement Tour of The Allure of Matter

1. Gathering at Merely a Mistake, a towering sculpture of intricate symmetry and complex construction formed from scrap wood from doors and windows of demolished buildings. They retain their original paint, as well as the marks, scratches, and missing pieces that have resulted from the habits and accidents of use.

Series of encounters that start with pairs and grow to trios, quartets, quintets, etc until all involved. Exploration of parts coming together and intersecting through/via negative space, weight sharing, symmetry and asymmetry. Attention should be paid to the points of contact and their approach and exit. Move between purely abstract engagements, sense of “revolving door,” to more human forms of encounter, the awkwardness of fitting individual parts together, the kinds of relationships that arise when friends and strangers meet.

2. Stairs: granite, with concrete wall, double metal rail, glass on one side, concrete on the other. Wide enough for 3 to walk abreast, 2 comfortably

Slow processional in 2s, person A goes 1 step, person B 2 (to pass), person A 3, person B 4, etc. patterns build. Audience may join or follow, participate or be swept in among the gaps.

3. Liu Jianhua, Black Flame, hundreds of porcelain flames, black, more matte than glossy, low to the ground, arranged with a margin that appears to have body-sized cavities.

As performers arrive one by one, they each go to one of the hollows among the flames and take 5-10 minutes to slowly melt into the landscape of flames, fitting bodies to the spaces created by the margin of flames. Last to reach a resting point starts the soundscape: snaps, cracks, hisses, claps—what does a fire sound like? Together the group builds the sound of flame catching kindling to roaring fire to ash. Moment of stillness is observed before they rise slowly and neatly (reclined to ball on the floor, sitting on feet, to stand in unison). They enter gallery.

4. Liang Shaoji, Chains: The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a contradiction of solidity and ephemerality, uniformity and chance, fragility, strength, time and space. The piece is as much its shadows as the object itself. We should never forget that these cocoons contain corpses.

Duet: Silkworm and Shadow, two dancers with a marked separation of age (white hair, black hair), play of lead and follow, seen and unseen, approach and retreat, reveal and conceal, sometimes mirroring, sometimes diverging. Ends with spinning, the last action of the silkworm before it dies.

5. Interlude of action, solo by third dancer (small and feisty) leads us past Jin Shan’s Mistaken, producing a shift in energy, explosive and defiant (yet spatially contained), drawing shadow dancer from Chains to tensely circle Sui Jianguo’s Kill (others close in and form a circle around that partially obscures view, play with levels)—hands meet—before spiraling away to

6. Hu Xiaoyuan’s Ant Bone: angular spirals, assiduous attention to natural patterns, marked in a way that hovers between seen and unseen. Construction includes joints without nails, also raw silk nailed in place. At Wrightwood 659, these pieces attain dimension through dramatic lighting, extending the spirals into space.

Duet (shadow + mistaken/kill dancers) exploring spirals and minute motions, the imaginary spaces created by the shadows, the height of the ceiling.

7. In the meantime, rest line up along the wall in a single file behind Zhang Yu’s Fingerprints.

Initiation of attention begins with hand gestures that are visible through the gaps between the 3 scrolls. Exploration of use of hands to call, indicate, and express, before they vanish. All stand in a line, backs to the wall, breathing in unison, producing a subtle motion to the paper.

8. Procession #2 passes by Wang Jin’s Dream of China/Chinese Dreamslow spins with drops to the floor with an emphasis on the weight of these sculptures.

2nd stair ascent (performers each accompany a viewer)

9. Zhan Wang’s Ornamental Rock

Three people with flashlights, light glitters on the surface of the rock, mimics water, shines through the perforations and reflects off the surface of the rock to illuminate body parts, faces. Could end with passing flashlights for viewers to explore themselves, but overall this section is… light

10. Yin Xiuzhen’s Transformation, at Wrightwood 659, laid with space to walk between the roof tiles, which are mounted on cement squares. Exploration of walking patterns in the grid, kept relatively tight to the front to start, then moving up through the space to invite movement through the piece. Intermittently, individuals or groups descend around a tile. Performers will have preselected the photograph they wish to acknowledge, as well as the mode in which they do so (a gesture, a spoken phrase, short poem or song, a fact about the history or material in the photograph, etc—statements are relatively brief, only seconds, though with exceptions). We travel through the space together, looking.

11. Zhu Jinshi, Wave of Materialsa record of the work of many hands and many motions, frozen in the wrinkles of the paper. Also a sheltering piece with human-sized compartments despite its monumental scale. Here, performers enter, slowly walk into place, and mark at least a minute of absolute stillness, seated, standing, or reclining. It ends when all present decide it is over.