Imitation of Lives
The flaws in Philip Johnson’s iconic Glass House, his personal residence built in 1949 in New Canaan, Connecticut, are beyond physical. Once you look past the water-stained ceiling, modernism’s oppressive legacy is pristinely contained in the building’s architectural vernacular. The translucence of its floor-to-ceiling glass walls offer a privileged relinquishment of privacy by blurring interior and exterior space in a forty-nine-acre landscape couched in “Connecticut’s Gold Coast.”
It is from this very notion of domestic transparency that the visual artist Jimmy Robert staged Imitation of Lives, a fifty-minute performance exploring the incommensurability of the Black body in a “modernist masterpiece.” Curated by Charles Aubin (Performa) and Cole Akers (The Glass House), and part of Performa 17’s special Circulations program which sought to reveal how performance can be a radical tool to rethink architecture’s uses and aesthetics, the event highlighted how space is constructed by performative relations. With the help of dancers NIC Kaye and Quenton Stuckey, Robert destabilized the spatial regularity of The Glass House with enlivening aural and physical presence. Citing Johnson’s short-lived amorous relationship with Jimmie Daniels (1933 – 1935), the cabaret singer from Harlem, the event presented compelling movement scenes depicting and confronting the incredulous white gaze.