As her long-time collaborator Yvonne Rainer put it, there are moments when the urgency of artist and dancer Simone Forti’s work verges on desperation. But perhaps that urgency is needed in order to probe, as Forti has, the limits of improvisation. It was certainly in evidence in the long-overdue retrospective “Simone Forti. Thinking with the Body: A Retrospective in Motion,” which drew from Forti’s work in multiple mediums, including performance, drawing, and video, from the 1960s to the present.
Forti’s revolutionary “Dance Constructions” from 1960–61 formed the cornerstone of the exhibition. These performance pieces, which show the influence of her teacher Anna Halprin, revolutionized both the art and dance worlds by reducing the action to tasks. Huddle (1961) is performed by a group of dancers who calmly clamber over one another. Rollers (1960) features plywood boxes on wheels, that dancers pull and spin. As with many of the pieces in “Dance Constructions,” Rollers, despite its seeming open-endedness, is actually constrained by pre-determined rules and setups.
Among the works on paper was Grizzly Turning Corner (1974), which pictures a bear with his cage and turning ramp. Forti has long been interested in the “dances” of animals, which she sees as evidence of our commonality with other species.
The show culminated with Forti’s most recent work, the series News Animations (1985–present), which comprises stills and videos of Forti improvising around a stack of newspapers. With its baseline of contemporary political topics, the work is an attempt to embody the world through live gesture and speech. As she has for over 50 years, Forti offers a framework that encompasses not only the making of art, but the making of life, as well.
A version of this story originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 92.