ROBERT MORRIS'S DANCE PIECE SITE,
choreographed and first performed in 1964, begins with Morris downstage, arms crossed, standing before a box that hides a stereo playing audio recordings from a construction site. Upstage stands an eight-by-four-foot plywood sheet, propped upright by an unseen object. Slowly, Morris walks toward it and hoists it away, only to reveal yet another sheet behind it. He sets the first sheet against the stage’s back wall, then returns to remove the second, this time revealing the artist Carolee Schneemann lying on a block in the pose of Manet’s Olympia
(1863). Framing the tableau, another plywood sheet rests behind her. Everything is white: Morris wears white construction clothes, workman’s gloves, and a papier-mâché mask; Schneemann’s skin is powdered; the plywood is painted.
Most evidently, Site
is about labor. Both dancers play workers: Schneemann presents herself in the manner of Manet’s nineteenth-century prostitute, and Morris skillfully manipulates construction materials. However, something additional happens in the dance’s transfer to film. In VanDerBeek’s high-contrast recording, the appearance of the plywood sheets strongly oscillates between three-dimensional object and two-dimensional image. Oftentimes, the undifferentiated white planes of the plywood appear completely coincident with the blank surface of the film reel. Schneeman’s still pose is subject to the same uncertainty: She reads as either a physical body or the flat image of a famous painting. These moments of illegibility call attention to the dance’s status as a real-time performance recorded for projection onto a flat screen.
In his response to Site,
Zach Rockhill employs the dance’s key elements—a white coating, sounds of machinery, an array of screens—and condenses them into the work environment of the studio.
Previous pages: Robert Morris and Carolee Schneemann rehearsing Site, 1965. Photos by Hans Namuth.