signs and symbols is pleased to present Crystal Cut Levitation, a performance and solo exhibition by New York-based artist Jen DeNike, a call and response to her earlier Scrying Ballet (2010) which premiered at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Act I: Crystal Cut Levitation is part of a new non-narrative ballet by the artist, which will hold its exclusive debut on the opening night of the exhibition. The exhibition features a performance installation with an expansive floor-to-ceiling grid of 40 monochromatic collages rendered in crystal and white linen, 3 hand woven hammocks and 3 ballerinas, in addition to DeNike herself. The installation elements will be invoked at the performance and remain for visitors’ tactile exploration through February 28.
DeNike’s previous ballet Scrying focused on the fetish-like endurance of the ballerina’s verticality en ‘pointe’ repeating in obsessive circles what seemed to be an infinite pirouette; Crystal Cut Levitation references a discursive history of the body as line, a horizontal dance which positions the ballerina floating in space: suspended, levitating, an illusion of ethereal weightlessness, the body becomes the horizon: the female form as the personification of the natural landscape — no longer bound to earth.
For Crystal Cut Levitation, the artist at once appropriates and deconstructs conventional balletic movement, contrasting harmonic grace with a dissonant, hypnotic repetition insistent of a cinematic subconscious. Inspired by the ‘oneiric air,’ or dream-like sequences of filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s levitating female figures in iconic works such as Mirror and Solaris, DeNike combines the echoes of her own transposed cinematic memories in her choreographed compositions and metaphoric referencing of Gilles Deleuze’s ‘crystal image.’ “What we see in the crystal is time itself,” writes Deleuze in his development of a theory of cinematic temporality’s ability to evoke a sensation in the viewer beyond the succession of action, or plot: an affective image. For Deleuze, past, present and – in this case — also mythological ‘time’ present themselves at once in the ‘inorganic’ crystalline, structurally complex ‘time-image.’ Likewise, drawing from George Balanchine’s style of a plotless ballet, DeNike extends the concept of a Deleuzian ‘crystal image’ in her use of thousands of white quartzes as a signifying material in the exhibition. Mined by the artist herself in Arkansas, the crystals, seen as the conduit and pendulum for the levitating dancers, position themselves as cyphers in DeNike’s ballet.
DeNike’s practice of collaging is distinctively in response of and correspondent to her performative work. The horizontal dance of the ballerinas is echoed in the linearity of the collages, the movement of levitating bodies in space captured in layers of cut up linens and crystals. The horizontality of the body becomes the organic line, the landscapes, the universal rhythm. Installed and created formally in a grid, one piece leads to the next; like a wave of rippling crystals, the horizon line is always shifting. DeNike’s minimalistic lines further recall Agnes Martin’s lines and grid, with their non-objectivity and complete abstraction conjuring a contemplative consciousness. Like Martin’s paintings, collaging for DeNike requires entering a certain state of what she calls a rapt meditative “hypnotic state.”
For the myth writers and storytellers of Victorian Europe, levitation was seen as grotesque femininity. DeNike’s structurally choreographed movement translates the concept of levitation into the form of a deconstructed classical ballet. Through her positioning of the female body, Crystal Cut Levitation reclaims the narrative of the female levitator into a sublime horizontal ballet – levitation becomes the ‘celestial body’ of the ballerina, the body as landscape, the landscape as body.
Jen Denike (1971) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her video, performance, collage and installation work has been exhibited internationally at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin; The Brooklyn Museum; Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm; Julia Stoschek Collection; MoMA PS1; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; Deichtorhallen, Hamburg; Participant Inc; 54th Venice Biennale; Garage Projects, Moscow; Franklin Street Works; Zendai Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai; MOCA Toronto; MACRO ROMA; and CCS Bard Hessel Museum. Select commissioned projects include Capri by Night, Schauspiel Köln Opera House, Bombay Beach Biennale, LAND Los Angeles Nomadic Division, Creative Time, Performa Biennial, Faena Art and FairPlay. Her work is in the permanent public collections of The Museum of Modern Art, Julia Stoschek Collection, IL Giardino dei Lauri Collection and The Bunker West Palm Beach, among other private collections. DeNike’s work will be included in an upcoming major exhibition curated by Joachim Pissarro (October 2019) at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. DeNike presented the world premiere of her first performance ballet, Scrying, at Poprally MoMA on January 12, 2010, at the time the very first ballet ever to be performed at the museum. Scrying had its European debut at the Julia Stoschek Collection, Düsseldorf on April 24, 2010. Crystal Cut Levitation is Act I in a new three-act ballet by the artist; Act II will take place later in the year at Central Fine in Miami, and Act III at Anat Ebgi in Los Angeles. The three-act ballet as a whole will premiere in 2020 and will be accompanied by a publication dedicated to both of DeNike’s ballet projects.