Rob List is the sort of artist whose work transfixes, drawing you minute by minute through strange yet familiar terrain; the impulse is always to hold your breath.
So it was on Friday afternoon at Parker’s Box in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Mr. List, an American-born performance artist and choreographer who has lived in Europe for the last 25 years, was wrapping up a monthlong series of site-specific installations and events. Stripped of their objects, the gallery’s two front rooms were a playground for Mr. List’s imagination and intellect; all viewers had to do was enter.
Those who arrived early enough were treated to “On the Balcony,” a dance just a few minutes in duration, performed for one person at a time. Unhooking a chain and inviting each gallery visitor into a narrow rectangular space, Mr. List directed that person to stand close to the back wall, staring at a sun floating just above a horizon line (both drawn in pencil on the white wall).
“I’m going to do a piece for your peripheral vision,” he explained, and then his presence became a ghostly stream of barely there shapes, more shadow than act. The sun drawing seemed to pulse and the light shimmer as Mr. List curled his body behind and about his still watcher (or perhaps “sensor” is the better word). Twice a short blast of air caressed my back, as Mr. List fanned the space. Playful, sensual and kinesthetic, “On the Balcony” was magical and over too soon.
Mr. List, who often works in galleries, is heavily influenced by visual art, creating movement in conversation with the Hellenistic period one time, and 20th-century abstraction the next. There is always a focus on drawing himself and his audience into the present and holding them there; you are not meant to interpret, only to exist fully with Mr. List in his world of indeterminacy.
The 20-minute solo “Natura Morta” was performed in the storefront room with the door propped open, so that various street sounds filtered in. Mr. List sang the Edgar Allen Poe poem A Dream Within a Dream, then eased into delicate, almost-recognizable movements. His palette was pedestrian, his control and calibration virtuosic. It’s important, as a watcher, to overcome that first impulse to hold your breath. As Mr. List keeps moving, so should you.
Claudia La Rocco, dance critic New York Times, June 27 2010
In September a select few had a rare treat as the American expatriate Rob List performed one of his "Follies" at the Sideshow Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in conjunction with the American Abstract Artists exhibition "Material Matter." With his tall, thin frame clad in a black suit, Mr. List sang a song, then had a haunting choreographic conversation with time, narrative and the gallery's smooth white walls. It passed too quickly. Like all these dances, it's a conversation that needs to resume, and soon.
- Claudia La Rocco, dance critic New York Times, December 23, 2007
As the performance progresses, the body of the figure takes on its own personality, through a sober restriction in the number of movements. Each is concentrated and held for some time, so that changes are distinct and the audience's experience of space and time is intensified. Yet the fluctuations between movement and stillness are never mechanical. Sudden accents and idiosyncratic gestures keep the performance from being either ritualistic or formalistic in tone. Man in a corner. What is there to add? Yet when a simple image calls to mind such a high level of sublety and sophistication it is generally the product of a precise attention to form and detail.
This is a performance which calls up emotionally colored memories one cannot quite place. The act of performance itself might have begun like this - with just the body in space. Since then there has been so much added that it is extraordinary when a performer begins there again.'
- de groene amsterdammer
- de neskrant
- de groene amsterdammer
The performer moves with the utmost concentration, accurately, investigating. His body is the centre of attention in a plain setting - a basic theatrical situation, the place of performing briefly lightened. His body composes the vehicle of movement, change and temptation. At the same time, it is almost objective, anonymously silent, with his back turned to the audience. It is expressive, not through enlargement, but through focusing on natural esthetics. Every action is the reason for another intrinsic action with a gradual development. Every movement stands on its own, and in its coherence it bears the frame, the window, where subject and object merge. Movement and change become visible, space and time in relation to the body understandable.
The image language is not compelling, and yet it totally claims the attention of the recipient. The audience is addressed directly on its own perception. A perception, free from enforced power structures, free from a conditioned frame of reference. It can't fall back on a standard modus of reception, nor can it hide behind rational interpretations. It will not loose itself in another truth, nor dwell in a representated histoire, because a representation, a staged reference to another continuum, a "different", a "somewhere", is out of the question. Through dramaturgy of the eye and alerting to movement and time, List appeals to the active, immediate perception. The perception of movement and change articulates the experience of the physical presence. A perception which transcends the visual. An experience that lingers between the concrete present and the unknown suspected.
List plays at daggers drawn with the interface between visual arts and stage art. Titles and themes refer to concepts from art history: natura morte, trompe l'oeil, 90° vanitas. His use of means is accurate and natural, based on space, time and the human body. The use of theatrical codes is clear: Performer, setting, and on the other side the audience. The performances develop along established lines with a measured intensity curve. The concept can be repeated and functions as a structure, which serves to initiate a search together with the audience, for the "right" form. Where mime and dance communicate through a discourse, which is taken from the traditional language of these disciplines, List develops his vocabulary over and over again, together with the audience.
List lends us the helping hand, an open, yet clearly defined gesture. Without bravura, with spunk, subtle and convincing. He defines the present, movement and modus, in which future and past are both enclosed. He does this, not as an act of resistance, but in reaction to a world where media are so important, the omnipresent electronic "real time". He does this, in reaction to the increasing way in which one moves away from the physical body, by moving through digital, virtual spaces, and living in substitute realities, condemned to a strictly defined frame. List's reorientation to basic concepts, (body) language and sign systems, to the relation between time, space and existence, activates the experience of the physical here and now.
His work shows personal engagement, an eye for his own capabilities and restrictions, for common triviality, and for the metaphysical being. List is not looking for a static end product at all. In the process, he stimulates a pure perception. Perceive! It is now! Movement, change, pure existence. On the one hand it is what it is, on the other hand it's being there and not being there.
- J. Reijnders former editor at Metropolis M
Facts about the performance: First, it is not a "performance", meaning that it does "perform" anything at all. The first scene/picture is a group-reading of books, touched with a certain air of minimalism that declares clearly from the very beginning that there's one thing you could grasp for sure from this "scene" - the fact that you don't grasp a thing. Hence, you quit all attempts to interpret the minimalist ideology; you forget the post-structuralistic interpretation of the biographical discourse and Freudian symbols and open your eyes to see. A moment of importance, because that's exactly what List wants: no intro-actions, but apprehending and arranging the present. The next frames/mise-en-scenes are seven miniature duets of pleasure, each performed with the inexplicable physical presence of the body - minus the surplus value of the ego. Another important moment that List longs for is to establish an anonymous environment and interaction between spectator and artist; a group identity, non-identifiable with the division of the affecting and the affected. Let's say that the desired "pleasant moment of concentration" happens really and truly; and just because you can't and no longer want to explain it, you leave the premises of artistic ideology.
No spectators, no actors, a bit of phenomenology of perceptions, perfidious criticism of meaning. And it starts from the very title that wants to designate itself by itself: THE421 is the registration number of the facultative university course for theater students in NBU - a title that signifies only that it doesn't signify a thing to anyone.'
- Kultura magazine Sofia