Fotografkinja Sarah Small za ovu je nekoliko puta izvedenu živu sliku (tableau vivant) okupila 120 modela i glazbenika želeći istim prostorom (okvirom) povezati disparatne likove i teme: građansko i orgijastično, intimno i javno, disciplinu/ukočenost i histeričnu raspuštenost, glumljenu fasadu i grotesknu pozadinu, potisnute i pretjerane emocije (emocijske iluzije)...
Oživljena artificijelnost i deseksualizirana seksualnost, delirij čovječanstva.
I u svojim fotografijama Small supostavlja, trpa u isti kadar (nespojive?) suprotnosti - stara i mlada tijela, ružno i lijepo, životinje i ljude, nevinu djecu i pomaknuto-jezovite situacije, zdrave i bolesne, smijeh i tugu, izvanzemaljce i bolničku čekaonicu...
The Delirium Constructions
The Delirium Constructions is an ongoing body of work exploring disassociated themes and characters brought together into the same space. I bring models into improbable, close interactions to examine the social and graphic contrasts of youth and experience, hysteria and discipline, tragedy and hilarity, and sexuality and desexualization.
These scenarios are staged, but the emotions that result are born through improvisation, spontaneously captured and authentically experienced. Like an optical illusion, where the viewer shifts between opposing visual perceptions, these images reference emotional illusion, a rocking back and forth between projection and introspection, between darkness and hilarity.
Naked ambition: Sarah Small’s ‘Delirium Construction’ brims with life
New York — High on the wall, a gold-tiled mosaic sparkles in the glow of chandeliers suspended from a soaring ceiling. But it can’t compete with the living mosaic below. Posed on tiered scaffolding, elbow to elbow, are 120 people of all colors, shapes and ages, most of them naked.
It is a fleshly fantasy framed in marble columns, an encyclopedia of humanity — or at least a cross section of northwest Brooklyn.
Small’s work is both a throwback to that and an experiment in pushing the modern limits of privacy. On this chilly, overcast Sunday a few weeks ago, with gray light filtering through the stained-glass windows of the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank, Small is rehearsing her art models in what will be a meld of music, movement . . . and two weddings.
In response to her request, a bald, burly, naked man hops down a few steps to the scaffold’s central level, then squats and scoots to the edge with his legs wide apart, hands on knees.
Small considers him solemnly. “Yeah, I like that,” she says. Long-limbed and slender, with a pale oval face and a mane of brown hair, she could pass for a dancer in her black tank top, leggings and boots. A tattoo encircles her right biceps; her fingers glint with silver rings.
She tinkers with a few more of the poses, composing mini-dramas among the models that convey conflict, or isolation, or comfort. Most of the models are in various states of recline. A few crouch, grimacing, with hands clenched like paws. Two young blondes nestle together, one topless, the other not. At the center of the display is a pair of spectacular nudes: a heavily obese woman sprawling next to a thin man curled head to knees. All we see of him is his folded posterior, mooning us, and vertebrae popping up like a string of beads along his back.
Small, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, has been gaining recognition for her camerawork — her photos have appeared in Vogue, Life and Rolling Stone, and in galleries throughout the country as well as in Europe and Asia. In 2009 she started composing living installations to promote the ongoing photographic series she calls “Delirium Constructions,” tightly focused portraits that capture high emotion the moment it bursts out of her subjects.
Everything about this current project is huge: the cathedral-like art deco space; the number of models involved, all volunteers; the sponsors, including Michael Huffington, Arianna’s ex. Even the title is a mouthful: “Tableau Vivant of the Delirium Constructions: A Live Exploration of Implausible Interaction.”
Small also heads a Balkan a cappella vocal quartet, called Black Sea Hotel, and it will perform on the scaffold with the models, along with a string quartet. She has brought in a music director, a stage director and a choreographer. A film crew is following her around for a planned documentary of her work.
But what is most interesting is that for all its grandeur, this project is not an ego trip. Most performance art relies heavily on its creator’s personal magnetism — think of that veteran of the field Marina Abramovic, famed for her marathon appearances that encourage close contact with audiences, or recent works such as “Naked” by the Japanese American duo Eiko and Koma, in which they put themselves on display for weeks on end.
Yet Small barely figures in her tableau. She will appear among the models at certain points during the hour-long performance, conducting their movements as if they were a giant vertical orchestra. But the audience will barely see her; she will disappear among her masses, and that’s the point. Small’s tableau turns art-world egomania and our present-day fixation with ourselves on its head. She has created a major opus that is surprisingly self-effacing.
“This piece is built by the people who are in it,” Small says. “I never come with pre-set ideas.”
What interests her is “the human quest for intimacy.”
“It’s exciting to be able to promote intimacy,” Small continues. “That’s probably why I make art, to open up a fleeting moment in time to be able to share something intimate. On the one hand it’s like manufactured intimacy, and using that kind of language it sounds like it’s fake, but it’s so not.”
This is why she doesn’t consider her tableau a form of site-specific theater.
“I’m not making theater. I reject the idea of theater,” she says. “I feel like in theater there’s not much room for on-the-fly personal expression.”
She got the idea of including nuptials in her tableau when she was told that at her first choice of a venue, the Brooklyn Museum, a curatorial committee would take years to review her request. But if she were doing a wedding, the space could be immediately available . . .
“And I was like, genius!”
“As this piece is so much about the human experience,” Small says, “and marriage is about that, too, it seemed like a really good fit.”
She shelled out $59.99 to get her online certification as an “esoteric spiritual minister,” along with a New York license, so she can legally officiate at the weddings of a pair of models on each of the two nights of the event. They’ll take their vows on the scaffold after Small clambers up to join them.
She didn’t get the Brooklyn Museum, but it’s hard to imagine a more impressive framework than this bank building, with all its hard, gleaming symbols of wealth and commerce. Against its marble walls, Small’s models look at once proud, vulnerable — and a little hippie-hooey. Think of the sprawling humanity in “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” by Hieronymous Bosch, or Gustav Klimt’s entwined lovers, one body indiscernible from another. Small’s painting incarnate feels a little San Francisco, with more than a whiff of the ’60s — but for the prevalence of 21st-century tattoos and nipple rings.
“Nudes, please put your robe on if you’re cold,” Small announces to the group. “And then resume your poses. With expression, full on: Give us everything.”
The vintage check-writing tables in the center of the bank’s grand hall have marble pedestals and are topped with thick green glass. A couple of pantsless participants in the tableau are in seated poses on the table nearest the risers.
“Who in their early 30s puts on something on this scale?” says Abigail Wright, a mezzo-soprano and 2007 University of Maryland graduate who has sung in several of Small’s installations. (She’s the naked one in this piece.)
“I mean, who does this? Getting 120 people to bend over backward for you, clothed or unclothed — that takes commitment. This is hard, this is vulnerable, this is scary.
“The stakes keep getting higher,” Wright says. “And Sarah just gets better every minute.”
But then, ambition is hardly new to Small.
“Ever since I’ve known her,” says Small’s father, Haskell Small, “from the moment she popped out of the womb, she has been the person to say, ‘Do this’ or ‘Do that.’ ”
Small grew up in Wesley Heights, near American University. Her parents are both musicians. Her mother plays the lute; her father is a pianist and composer. His painting-inspired composition “The Rothko Room: Journeys in Silence” premiered this February at the Phillips Collection.
At 13, Small discovered photography at summer camp. She had a crush on a boy, and in the darkroom she stumbled upon not only a calling but also her first kiss. Back home, she got hold of a basic Pentax camera and turned the lens on her younger sister, Rachel. At the Field School, she talked her way into taking sports photography instead of gym.
“I’m somebody who loves to closely study human interaction and different kinds of emotional expression,” Small says. “I read people all the time.”
After moving to Brooklyn in 2001, she developed an eye for visual contrasts, subway microcosms, the way rich and poor might share a bench but never interact.
Small says she has been more influenced by music than by other visual artists; she took up Balkan folk singing because of the thick sonic layers and dissonant chords, “and the moving in and out between resolve and tension, exactly what I’m trying to do in visual work.”
But she is a fan of performance artist Abramovic; Small waited in line for 50 hours to participate in “The Artist Is Present” at the Abramovic retrospective last year at the Museum of Modern Art. In that performance, Abramovic sat silently at a table for three months while museum visitors took turns sitting opposite her. What moved Small most was “this idea of reveal,” how looking at another person forced her to reflect on herself.
“I know what it takes to put on a show,” Follini says. “But to do that with 30, 40 models — and now 120, all doing something that conveys emotion — is amazing.”
Inside, it feels churchlike. Quiet and candlelit, with the electric lights tinted purple. The risers have been swathed in white fabric, and the tiers look like a giant wedding cake. The models are curled up like napping children.
Singer Shara Worden, the one in the 18th-century dress, begins an aria. The models stir, arrange themselves into their poses. The Balkan singers start up, their costumes and lipstick a bright focal point. As for the models, you’re struck by how soft they look against the white drapery, how the skin tones resemble pebbles in a stream, earthy shades of buff, cocoa, ebony and oak.
Small emerges from behind one of the check-writing tables in a colorless chiffon dress with a wide sash. She climbs up the structure, reaching her arms out, and as she does so, the models begin to breathe audibly and undulate. Small makes her way to the bridal couple — Alexandrea Thomsen and Siddhartha Dillon. The bride is in a long white dress, the groom in a tux jacket and cargo shorts. Small huddles with them; you see their lips moving, they kiss, and all the models salute them with raised arms. You feel like applauding, but the performance goes on.
Improbably, the tableau works on a couple of levels. There is a strong visual dynamic — your eye wanders from one drama to the next, and the subtle textures of fabric and flesh, the skin taut or loose, are like daubs and ripples of paint. But what is most moving is the absence of judgment. Everybody — every body — is given equal attention. As Small in her little-girl dress moves among the models, she looks like a child in a dream-fantasy, arranging the adults as she pleases, creating her own new world.
Indeed, there is an energizing newness to this “Delirium Construction,” a humble and humbling view of humanity that feels authentic. Even poetic.
Somewhat miraculously, given the number of people involved and all the crescendoing music and chanting, what you take away from the tableau is a kind of peace.
Afterward, there’s an open bar and more Balkan music.
What’s next for Small? She wants to create a children’s tableau. (“Obviously,” she says with a grimace, “not with nudity, ’cause we live in America.”) There’s the documentary, due out in a year or so.
Right now, though, there’s that post-creative buzz. “I feel like I’m floating,” Small says. “I feel like I’m the one who got married! I feel high.”
Around her, the audience and her models have melted together, drinking, dancing, dressed or not. Some are in nothing but socks; Wright, the soprano, is wearing only sandals and chatting amiably with her fans. Thomsen sweeps by in her floor-length taffeta. You watch this crazy, wonderful living picture and think:
It’s delirium, all right — unconstructed.
"This was Sarah Small's first Tableau Vivant. This performance is one chapter of an ongoing project exploring disassociations brought together into the same space. Social boundaries - between the private and the public, between the animal and the human, between the erotic and the desexualized - are suspended to capture subjects' contextual experience. The Delirium Constructions is an umbrella housing a number of smaller narratives now growing beyond the horizons of still photography.
In the past, The Delirium Constructions have found photographic form in both gallery and commercial work. The prints displayed demonstrate both trajectories. Earlier winter 2009 , 35 people with distinctive visual personalities were brought together for a shoot. On March 14th 2009, this same cast was assembled once again as a living, breathing image. The arrangement of the models was inspired by the working-photographs generated during and surrounding our first gathering. The purpose of this tableau vivant is not merely to reconstruct the prior scene, but rather to allow viewers to join in, and to explore the mutual engagement between models and audience. The complete range of response, be it unease, arousal, nonchalance, confusion and/or humor is integral to the work."
Delirium Constructions na Vimeu
"...The singers' voices resounded thrillingly... midst of the sea of humanity all around... the ordinary – the imperfect, real human bodies in their astounding variety of shapes, colors and forms – seems like a miracle, and "Delirium" like a gift." –Roslyn Sulcas, The New York Times
"There is an energizing newness to this "Delirium Construction," a humble and humbling view of humanity that feels authentic. Even poetic... what you take away from the tableau is a kind of peace..." –Sarah Kaufman, The Washington Post
"A master of fusing unexpected combinations of subjects and emotions into her art, [Small] breathes thought and vitality into an incredibly unusual exploration of life." –Abigail Wright, Skydiving For Pearls
“…[Small’s] true talent is for exploring the grotesque lurking just below that idealized façade.”
–Catherine Talese, American Photo Magazine
“The music, composed by Small with Rima Fand, balances the grandeur of the visuals with an understated minimalism that helps the piece build to a surprisingly moving climax and thunderous applause from an appreciative audience…” –Chris Kompanek, The Huffington Post
“Her work is able to stimulate the imagination in the manner of poetry… she enhances the sense that one has entered an alternative universe.” –Cara Phillips, Curator, 1000 Words Blog
“The audience became part of the work as they analyzed the dynamics between the models – interpreting and absorbing the interactions that were standing still in front of them. Small twisted the anticipatory perception of the viewer as she slowly directed each model with a certain vibrant emotion.” – Nicole Delawder, Hudson Valley Weekend
“Everything is... just as in France in the days of Madame de Genlis, who is said to have invented Tableaux Vivants for the educational instruction of her protégés entrusted to the Duke of Orleans. The mood in the room is relaxed: the presence of nude models during the party portion of the evening put the guests in carefree looseness...” –Laura Gehrlach, Welt Kompakt
Fotografije Sarah Small: