Los Angeles Times

Moving as an artistic mode

Simone Forti’s show at MOCA draws spiritual connection­s from her dance, bridging mediums.


Simone Forti is a dancer. In the early 1960s, she began to make waves in the dance field by incorporat­ing movements that weren’t part of a traditiona­l dance vocabulary. Walking, crouching, climbing, reaching, crawling — call them vernacular bodily actions.

It would take a dance critic or historian to know fully how that developmen­t was received, but I would guess that Forti’s easy embrace in the ’60s art world suggests that there were bumps in traveling the establishe­d dance road. She had first been a painter in San Francisco, then began to explore dance. Avantgarde art everywhere was expanding to include Happenings and performanc­es, as well as objects. Many friends were artists (she was then married to sculptor Robert Morris), while the art world was becoming a welcoming place for a lot of cross-disciplina­ry activities. Think of Forti as an artist whose medium became movement.

The concise exhibition of her work currently at the Museum of Contempora­ry Art does a good job of clarifying what that means. (The curators are MOCA’s Rebecca Lowery and Alex Sloane, as well as Forti’s assistant, Jason Underhill.) To perhaps oversimpli­fy, it means underscori­ng the context in which art exists.

As a dancer knows, one defining context is simply

gravity. The show’s first room includes platforms for her 1960-61 “Dance Constructi­ons.” One is a row of ropes suspended from near the gallery ceiling; another is a wooden slant-board with knotted ropes attached. Dancers suspend themselves to hang in space or, on the slant board, use the ropes to steady themselves while shifting their weight off the usual horizontal plane. Italicizin­g gravity in performanc­e, a viewer begins to feel it anew.

On the day I visited, no dances were performed. (The MOCA website has a schedule of performanc­es, which are held on Thursdays and weekends.) Still, the context of other works fills in gaps.

One of the most compelling is installed nearby. “Three Grizzlies” is a short video of a 1974 film shot by Forti’s friend Elaine Hartnett at New York City’s Central Park Zoo. The caged animals, removed from the complex environmen­t of their natural habitat, periodical­ly pace, rock, even pirouette — formalized movements that emerge as necessary antidotes to boredom and confinemen­t.

In other words, they dance. Watching a 300- or 400-pound bear execute a light-footed cousin to a tour jeté snaps your head around. Forti’s vernacular movements are reframed.

An unexpected­ly mesmerizin­g work is “Zuma News, LA,” a 12-minute and 36-second video projection of a 2013 seaside performanc­e in Malibu. It’s based in personal history, but it speaks to our present too.

Forti was born in Florence, Italy, in 1935. The Italian Jewish community was among the oldest in Europe. Mussolini’s Fascist regime passed its first antisemiti­c legislatio­n in 1938 — grim, life or death news that, upon reading the reports, motivated her father to act. The family left the country, eventually landing in Los Angeles.

In the video, Forti clutches a big, unwieldy bundle of newspapers as she wades from the lapping waves onto the beach, as if an immigrant arriving at a new shore gripping meager but essential belongings. The movement also echoes with the story of ancient life crawling onto land from the sea, ready to adapt. The wind and the weight pull at the clump of newspapers, which Forti struggles to hold close, and she labors in the shifting sand as the tide washes in.

The soggier she and the newspapers become, the more difficult it is to hold it all together. But she doesn’t stop. She keeps drawing near all that communicat­ed informatio­n about the world. The video begins by seeming absurd, but it ends up being moving — an image of everyday survival.

Another context her work exposes is a relationsh­ip to other art and artists. Forti’s career has been marked by collaborat­ion. The list of multidisci­plinary artists with whom she has worked, directly or indirectly, is long — Anna Halprin, Robert Dunn, Robert Whitman (her second husband), Peter Van Riper (her third), Charlemagn­e Palestine, Yvonne Rainer and many more. Holographe­r Lloyd Cross was a catalyst for her hologram sculptures.

Bits of holographi­c cinema, projected on small, curved sheets of glass set atop pedestals, show figures in motion. In one, the artist gets down on hands and knees, almost as if cleaning the floor to prepare the space. Step too close and the ghostly mirage vanishes. Step back and it reappears. A viewer becomes conscious of locating his own body in space, which is fundamenta­l for a dancer.

The action on the small screen comes into view by walking in a slightly curved path that follows the curve of the glass. Even the audience, suddenly aware of enacting an unexpected pas de deux with an apparition, collaborat­es in creating consciousn­ess of vernacular bodily actions. The spiritual connection­s Forti coaxes forth are perhaps her art’s ultimate achievemen­t.

 ?? MOCA via the Box ?? “ZUMA News, LA,” is a 12-minute and 36-second video projection of a 2013 seaside performanc­e in Malibu.
MOCA via the Box “ZUMA News, LA,” is a 12-minute and 36-second video projection of a 2013 seaside performanc­e in Malibu.
 ?? MOCA ?? WITH Lloyd Cross in the late 1970s, Forti made several brief holographi­c movement projection­s.
MOCA WITH Lloyd Cross in the late 1970s, Forti made several brief holographi­c movement projection­s.

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