UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 10 Summer 19 Library
College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Relive the Experimental Arts Festival

Last November 9th, a room that signifies some of the University’s most treasured history played host to a Festival that celebrated the spirit of boundless artistic creativity, which serves as one of the University’s most treasured pillars. The Experimental Arts Festival, held in the Rotunda Dome Room, brought together artists and scholars from across grounds for a day-long series of presentations and performances that spanned departments including Music, Drama, Studio Art, English, and Art History. The seeming dissonance between deep history and bold innovation was highly intentional, giving the proceedings a dynamic and an identity they might not otherwise have had. In opening remarks, Assistant Art History Professor Christa Noel Robbins noted that in addition to the Rotunda Room’s unique acoustic qualities, which lent the performances an auditory resonance, the history of the space offered the Festival a political resonance as well. The result was a physical and communal intimacy that allowed for an increased engagement, amplifying the work’s scale and sense of immediacy. Music professor and noted percussionist I-Jen Fang, recreating the 1975 composition Child of Tree by the famed avant-garde artist John Cage, played an eight-minute piece using only dried plants and leaves, cactus thorns, seeds, gourds, and pine cones. The composition, which was electronically amplified, enfolded the audience in an intense natural soundscape. Fang also joined Associate Music Professor Ted Coffey for his original composition Petals No. 9, a music and dance performance that filled the domed room with an array of electronic drones, hums, and shrieks, which were accompanied by the improvised and sometimes confrontational movements of New York dancer Jennifer Nugent. The Drama Department’s Katelyn Hale Wood gave a timely presentation and performance entitled Stand-Up Comedy and Performance Protest. Based on her current book project, Modalities or Freedom: Feminist Comedy in 20th and 21st Century USA, and her undergraduate course Comedy as Protest, her talk was a fascinating look at how the comedy of African American women reflects and ignites modes of social protest in the United States. The Drama Department’s Dave Dalton offered a lecture on the framing and spatial composition in dramatic staging and Debra Nystrom, Gregory Orr, and Nathaniel Perry were joined by MFA alumni and senior graduate students for a poetry reading entitled The Dream of a Common Language. The day was capped off by a sound bath, overseen by Associate Professor of Art, Lydia Moyer, which offered a tribute to the protestors who stood at the Jefferson statue on August 11, 2017. Playing several large crystal bowls while audience members reclined on yoga mats, the darkened Rotunda was filled with the meditative sounds of the singing bowls, which Moyer stated were meant to energize as much as heal.

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