In their work artist Jani Ruscica, dancer Suzanna Pezo and curator Sam Watson mix tap dance and poetry translated to morse code. Ruscica tells us how the project got its inspiration.
Your work brings together many fields of art: poetry, that has been transformed into morse code, and tap dance. In addition, the poem chosen for the work deals with equality among other things. How did you get the idea for this project?
Originally Felt the Moonlight on my Feet was realised at MHKA museum in Antwerp in 2017. In my works I explore the transitions and dead zones between different mediums, what happens when expression transforms into another form. Tap dance is both dance and music or rhythm at the same time, and I’ve always found that interesting. The transformation of linguistic expression into movement and sound feels like a natural continuation for that earlier project. That’s why we chose poetry to be expressed through tap dance. It is more abstract and ambiguous than other forms of literature.
Tap dance shoes are an essential part of the work. In this project, traditional metal taps are replaced with taps made of felt. This mutes the sound, which reflects the idea of the work and the poem. There’s traditional tap dancing, but also something confusing that changes the nature of the sound. If you don’t see the performance, you could imagine the sound is created by tapping a table.
International collaboration is challenging right now because of the pandemic. How was the work process under these circumstances?
The process has been smooth, because we have a history of working together. My private exhibition was supposed to open in April, and we had planned a collaboration with Suzanna. Because the work takes place online, working remotely was a natural choice. I have also made the decision to travel less, so this fits my work ethos well.
The project is a new version of your previous work. What kind of new elements did you incorporate in this version?
It’s a new work, based on a new poem. The process is arduous and long, and it requires the dancer to practice a lot. Even though the poem is short, it lasts ten minutes when transformed into dance. The dancer has a huge number of steps and moves to remember. The platform on which the work takes place is completely new. The previous versions happened live in a physical space. They happened organically, without a specific time slot. This version will be streamed in real-time on all platforms, and the performances will also be available to watch later on our website.
Has the project taught you something new?
I’ve never used social media to distribute my work. For me it’s important to experience the work in a physical space. Because of the online environment, you need to consider how to shape the work’s message so that it will be understood, and how to get the attention of the audience. This project has also sparked a thought process about the wider meaning of screen-based communication and cultural experiences.
Your work’s theme comes from the poem Song of Myself by Walt Whitman. Why did you choose this poem in particular?
It resonates with this moment in a very subtle and indirect way. It also deals with the meaning of the relationship an individual has with a community, and the questions this situation raises in a beautiful way. Because you can’t experience the performance live in a physical space, it felt important that the poem also reflects the distance between humans.
The poem was censored in its time. Does this have a meaning in your work?
When I was looking for the right poem for the work, I started to think about the history of morse code and communications. The target of censorship in literature and poetry hasn’t usually been socially or politically radical thoughts, but instead, often love. It has been about wrong choices of words, expressed by a wrong person, or expressions of love that haven’t been allowed at the time. Freedom of expression feels timely now, because we have lost freedom of choice.
The international arts and culture sector has relied on the mobility of people and artworks as well as different mass events. How do you see the pandemic changing this?
I hope the pandemic won’t reduce the role of the exhibition as a place to experience art. In my opinion, art as a cultural experience needs a physical environment based on touch and senses. When it comes to commercial dimensions of art, a massive machinery of moving from one place to another isn’t necessarily essential for the art market, for example. I’m happy that people have found online viewing rooms for dealing art. Cultural exchange is a good thing, and I hope we find new ways to maintain it without physical mobility, also for the sake of the environment.
The performances will be streamed every Tuesday at 20 (CET) throughout June on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Performances also available for later on the website. More info http://feltthemoonlight.xyz
Text: Annika Pellonpää
Photo: Jani Ruscica