Bryony Roberts & Mabel O. Wilson, Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York

Storefront for Art and Architecture
  • Installation view, Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York. Photo: Spencer Kohn
  • Installation view, Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York. Photo: Miguel de Guzmán / Imagen Subliminal
  • Installation view, Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York. Photo: Miguel de Guzmán / Imagen Subliminal
  • Installation views, Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York. Photos: Spencer Kohn
  • Installation view, Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York. Photo: Spencer Kohn
  • Installation views, Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York. Photos: Spencer Kohn
  • Marching Cobras of New York, views of the performance. Photos: Didier Morelli

Bryony Roberts and Mabel O. Wilson, Marching On: The Politics of Performance
Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York, April 14 – June 9, 2018

The immersive installation titled Marching On: The Politics of Performance at the Storefront for Art and Architecture opened with a live performance by the Marching Cobras of New York, a Harlem-based after-school drumline and dance team. Architect Bryony Roberts’ most recent performative collaboration with a dance troupe confronts the logic of architectural and urban space against the choreographed gestures of the young and dynamic performers. The exhibition, co-curated with Mabel O. Wilson, looks at how collective movement in communities of colour acts as cultural expression and political resistance, through the lens of artistic and performance research. The installation, a combination of photographs and patterned wallpaper inlaid with text, addresses the social implications of military camouflage as design, the historical relevance of marching bands, as well as the critical relationship between race and urban public space.

Interweaving coded patterned print, performative invocations of past and present marches, and a carefully articulated lineage of marching as a politically potent expression of identity, Roberts and Wilson foreground the importance of unpacking historically significant archives through the critical frameworks of design, architecture, and the visual arts. The hanging fabric used to divide the space and the matching wallpaper, repeated in Marching Cobra’s costumes, echoes the Storefront’s own unusual architectural style. The porous space, with its multiple street level entry points, creates portals into the gallery accessible directly from the sidewalk, evoking the oscillation between visibility and invisibility so critical to Marching On.

The installation, which is divided into four sections—Marching for Freedom, Marching for Rights, Marching with Pride, and Marching on Performance—outlines the evolution of American marching bands while underscoring the potential for synchronization, rhythm, and iteration to radically empower marginalized groups seeking to invert dominant power structures. Beginning with nineteenth-century protest, then moving through the legacy of twentieth-century civil rights movements and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), and culminating with the recent collaboration with the Marching Cobras, Marching On aligns itself with a changing yet historically grounded form of community bonding, social upheaval, and political resistance.

Materially and visually compelling, conceptually rigorous, and socially conscious, the exhibition poses fundamental questions about the ways in which African Americans have historically been rendered both exceptional and erasable in urban areas. This tangible reality is not restricted to Jim Crow segregation of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was particularly resonant as the Marching Cobras performed their opening dance and drum routine in bright green and pink costumes that merged military camouflage with the paving patterns of Marcus Garvey Park, Harlem. As a crowd of predominantly white onlookers gathered outside Storefront on a SoHo sidewalk to spectate and revel in the energy of the event, the ambient city sound of police sirens folded into the performance, making the action more present and urgent. Presented just nine days after the police shooting of Saheed Vassell, an unarmed Black man living in Brooklyn, Marching On celebrated Black and Brown youth performing in the streets while simultaneously revealing their vulnerability in urban public spaces as “outstanding” policed bodies. As an incubator for new ideas the exhibition makes discernable the links between race and architecture, posing a refreshingly vital look at the invisible and visible constructs of everyday urban environments.

Didier Morelli is a PhD Candidate in Performance Studies at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois. His dissertation focuses on the relationship between the built environment and the kinesthetic nature of performing bodies. He has been published in Canadian Theatre Review, C Magazine, and Decoy Magazine. Forthcoming articles to appear in esse arts + opinions (2018) and TDR: The Drama Review (2018). As an interdisciplinary artist, Morelli combines practice and research in both his academic and performative explorations.

Published on April 30, 2018

Marching On: The Politics of Performance. Commissioned by Storefront for Art and Architecture. Curated by Bryony Roberts and Mabel O. Wilson. Marching Cobras of New York. Video by Ferran de Mendoza, 2018.

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