Here is my latest column for Ideas Tap. I cannot urge you enough to visit their website.
As anyone who’s ever tried to cop off in the toilets of the Louvre can tell you, sex and art can be a heady, if uncomfortable, combination.
While theatre, sculpture, painting and music all give it a bash, the art form that most often straddles the old art/sex divide is dance; particularly when that dance is choreographed by ballet punk legend Michael Clark.
I spent this bank holiday weekend watching the finale of Clark’s seven week residency at Tate Modern, in which a group of seventy-eight untrained, non-professional dancers performed in a half hour piece specifically choreographed for the event.
Now, I hate to poke my nose under other people’s duvets here, but I’m guessing that Michael Clark wasn’t exactly a stranger to the horizontal tango during the late 70s. The black and white tiled stage of the turbine hall, the bright golden lights, the booming soundtrack of Bowie and Kraftwerk, the crowded balconies and the hordes of beautiful men and women filling the dance floor all had more than a hint of Studio 54 decadence about them. Black lycra, teased hair, spread legs, accidental touching and synth electro; this wasn’t art, it was indie dance floor foreplay.
So, can dance ever really work in the cerebral cultured setting of an art gallery, or will our carnal physical impulses always trip us up?
The same question had struck me earlier in the year as I accidentally stumbled across Wayne Hemmingway & Son’s ‘Sculpture Remixed’ silent disco on the second floor of Tate Liverpool. Now, there are a few, tiny differences between Tate Liverpool and the ‘every room’s a different nightmare’ themed club Oceana; one is haunted by the cloying smell of WKD Blue, farts and semen, while the other smells of European arts funding. One sells hairspray and condoms from a toilet vending machine, the other sells fair-trade coffee. One is the place where I was offered £10 (in change) to show a stag do what I was wearing under my coat, the other is the place where I spent 50p on a postcard. I’ll leave it up to you to work out which is which. Anyway, thanks to Hemmingway, one thing both venues have in common is that they’ve been fitted out with a Saturday Night Fever-style light-up dance floor in an attempt to get visitors moving.
The idea was that you would put on a pair of headphones, choose from the three channels of specifically mixed DJ compilations and shake your money maker on the flashing coloured squares, while contemplating the sculptures of the human form around you. In reality I stood alone, stone cold sober, at 3pm, trying to sum up the cojones to dance in front of a strange woman wearing ill-fitting nylon trousers and a walkie talkie. Somehow, the combination of gallery etiquette, quiet concentration and priceless works of art turned my feet to useless lumps of lard.
Of course, trying to define dance as either sex or art is about as useful as trying to define whether a cup of tea is hot or wet. Whether you spend your August bank holiday dancing in an art gallery, or dancing in the street at the Notting Hill Carnival, I suppose the only real question I’m askin’ is if you’re dancin’?
First published by Ideas Tap, September 2010