The anarchist Emma Goldman (1869–1940) is famously misquoted as having said, in response to striking male workers who reproached her for dancing too enthusiastically during a recruitment event, “if I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” While this jab at the chauvinist grimness of leftist politics is pithy, what Goldman actually said is slightly more nuanced: “I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice should demand the denial of life and joy… if [the Cause] meant that, I did not want it.”
Indeed, Goldman’s insistence that revolutionary ideals must also embrace new forms of enjoyment seems to inform the query at the heart of Portrait of a Movement, the Swiss artist duo Renate Lorenz & Pauline Boudry’s exhibition currently on view at Tensta Konsthall in Stockholm: “Could dance work as inspiration for an entire movement, an insurrection for a more equal and playful way of living together?”
Curated by Övül Durmuşoǧlu, this spare presentation brings together two film installations in a tightly choreographed 45-minute sequence capped triumphantly by a light show. Met with suspended pairs of sneakers, block heels, and two-toed cowboy boots (each boot has one toe pointing forward and another pointing backward) visitors enter the dark, club-like exhibition through a kind of ‘backstage’ before stepping onto a black vinyl dance floor made of the same tiles used for the show’s 2022 iteration at CA2M in Madrid. Once inside, we are invited to stand, sit, or even join the films’ queer and gender non-conforming performers as they move through genre-fluid repertoires blending, among others, krumping, ballet, and butoh, inside similar black box settings.
The first film in the sequence, (No) Time (2020), frames black-clad dancers in a static shot as they strut onstage through a pair of sliding doors accompanied by club tracks. At times, they appear to battle, but sometimes move in sync; now and then their faces are veiled by sparkling chains echoing the motorised window blinds rising and falling in front of the screen. The implication here, in addition to the appropriation of non-linear time suggested by the dancers’ mashup of historical styles, is that we too are – or, at least, could be – part of the film’s collective.
We are implicated differently in the somewhat more theatrical film Moving Backwards (2019), first presented in the Swiss Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennial. Here, the camera slowly tracks left and right as the dancers enter and exit the frame. While their movements are skilful, they nevertheless feel tentative and awkward on occasion. As we gradually come to understand – partly through audio cues – the performers have been filmed dancing backwards and their routines are being presented in reverse (at least, in parts; it is difficult to tell). The reverse-playback device is fully revealed in the film’s euphoric final scene featuring the full ensemble getting down in uncannily flowing sequinned garments and misappropriated wigs – a nod to drag, but also, perhaps, to philosopher Michel de Certeau’s figure of the resistant worker, la perruque.
While Moving Backwards is clearly an attempt to reclaim the past from the wave of reactionary politics that has swept the globe in recent years, it also prompts reflection on the forms of enjoyment embodied in the dancers’ temporal contradiction. As portrayed here, dance depicts a movement whose transformative potential is in movement itself, the queer enjoyment of a means without end. For those invested in the difficult and often thankless work of organising, such permanent-revolutionary notions of struggle rooted in desire may seem naïve, irresponsible, or worse: utopian. But for those who refuse not only the transgressions of the far-right, but also the recriminations of the far-left, Portrait of a Movement may offer a timely – and joyful – rejoinder.