Walker Art Center

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CommissionsDead

Ann Carlson

To mark the first anniversary of the opening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the Walker presented a series of free outdoor performances in the Garden. Featured was music by Rufus Harley (the world’s first jazz bagpipe player), IMP ORK (the Twin Cities’ 30-member improvisational orchestra), and dances by Elizabeth Streb/Ringside and the University of Minnesota Dance Department. Closing out the celebration was the world premiere of Dead, a large-scale, two-part work by choreographer/performance artist Ann Carlson. This was the final segment of her “Animals” series; she has used goats, dogs, cats, goldfish, and gorillas as part of her process, along with archetypal figures such as lawyers and professional athletes and everyday citizens.

A Walker-commissioned performance piece, Dead included 100 performers and a white horse named Lhadi, and was described by Carlson as a “living sculpture,” fusing movement, voice, sound, and color. The piece was developed in a series of visits by the artist, in conjunction with local community members that Carlson helped recruit. According to then Performing Arts Curator John Killacky, “She transcends the personal qualities of her performers, people, and animals. She takes lawyers but puts them in a context where they go beyond being lawyers. It can often be very beautiful and poignant, a transcendence of the boundaries of being a person” (Star Tribune). For Dead, Carlson asked local performers to act as themselves, whispering their own stories and observations as they gathered in the Garden. The critical mass of bodies acted as a visual metaphor for life; Carlson on the horse was a startling symbol of hope and transition into the afterlife as they wandered in and through the throng of bodies. The second half of the work, called Embedded, took place later that evening in the Walker Auditorium, and entailed more unusual material—two vocalists and a carefully constructed bed holding 700 pounds of dirt in which the artist was buried.

Ann Carlson, Dead, September 1989

Photo: Dan Dennehy