“What if H.D/Hilda Doolittle Was Secretly Into Dada???!!!”
What does this piece mean, and how on earth (or not!) did I Create it? Read this to solve the mystery!
A 6 part Live, Multi-Medium Performance for Nuit Blanche– Poetry by H.D (reconstructed into Dada with a few added words by Ariel) Created, Directed, Produced, Choreography, Dance, Silent Film Acting, Music Composition and Visual Art by Ariel Len of Zoey’s Projects, with Technical Editing for entire piece, and Co-Techie for live performances by J.P. Hunter
Sponsored by Dance Ontario, Curator Thom Sokoloski
What Does this piece mean, and how on earth (or not!) did I create it? Read this to solve the mystery!
Part One: “Moonrise”
Sections from H.D’s poem “Moonrise” are joined with parts of her piece “A Dead Priestess Speaks.” Both are then reconstructed as one Dada poem, and used as a soundtrack for “HD” performing a scene from her feature length silent film “Borderline.” This first part has a double symbolism because it is also a verbal tribute to HD from myself as well, in this opening statement for this whole piece – “She is great” and “this our tribute to her.” “Her” is also the name of one of HD’s novels.
In addition, I have joined myself to HD as being the next layer of the Palimpsest (another word she used in her work) of Womyn Creators who share their Voices and their Art with the public, and who also make crucially needed changes by this act of speaking out. I have done this through raising up the bird, in this case a female owl to show wisdom and experience, during this scene.
In the film "Borderline", the bird, which looked like a seagull, simply sat on the table while HD’s character Astrid (please note HD chose to act under the pseudonym Hilda Doorn) played cards. I also used her poetry phrase “the reach of purple wing” to join us together, because the symbol for my arts business Zoey’s Projects is a flying purple dog, since I believe that anything is possible, and H.D. also lived her life like anything was possible!
I use a strobe light in all my silent film scenes (and for part of the war scene) for this piece, to make the audience feel like they are actually seeing HD in her film, up on the screen right in front of them.
"Borderline" is an extremely tragic, intense film done at the time of silent filmmaking, which in my opinion makes this work all the more powerful!!! HD and her cohorts were into using film to explore psychological concepts which were becoming hot at this time, as well as using film as an experimental art, the latter of which I am also into in my own film works. Although this is not discussed much in the limited materials which I have been able to find describing this film, to me its main message is about racism and its destructive powers.
SPOILER ALERT!!! We see a Caucasian man who kills his lover, and who gets away with murder, literally. We also see an African American man who punches someone who is clearly harassing and calling his lover (also of the same race) by Racist names, (there are subtitles sometimes). He is immediately run out of town as a result.
The message is clear by this juxtaposition of opposites. This film was chosen by myself, not only because it was HD’s only feature length film work as both an Actor and Editor, but it also mirrors my beliefs about all forms of discrimination which I, through Zoey’s Projects am working hard to change.
Part Two “The Mechanical Man Learns How to Dance”
In one film about Dada, I saw a still photo of a particular art work which is either called “The Mechanical Man” or which I have since named “The Mechanical Man” in my own mind. It is in black ink or black paint on white paper. It flashed by in one of the countless films I was only able to borrow from the library for a short time. It was unaccredited which was common for much of the content in the films made at this time. This has been driving me nuts since I always like to credit people for their works, especially for the ones which inspire me so much that I create a piece which springs from using their work as a starting point.
By studying the styles and themes of many Dada Artists, I have narrowed down the potential Creator to one of two key Artists – Marcel Duchamp or Francis Picabia. The problem is that I can’t narrow it down any further since they were very close friends, had twin Artistic beliefs and approaches, and both were heavily into creating Mechanized art works in all mediums.
This worked jumped out at me and, as soon as I saw it I thought, I wonder how this man would dance??? I knew I had to create a dance piece to find out!
To make my Dada sound tracks I spontaneously sat down with my film camera and 5 instruments ( a wooden box with stick, an old doorbell rigged electronically, a metal shaker, tiny finger symbols, an electronic keyboard with about 4 more instruments built in, and my own voice doing both singing and vocals.) I gave myself only one rule. I could only vocalize the word “Dada” and no other words. I spent one hour and 10 minutes doing whatever I imagined Dada music would sound like. Then I listened to real recordings of Dada sound poets and Musicians to see how I did, since I didn’t want any pre-existing influences to take away from my own sense of freedom, voice and creativity. I also used this same method of creating the visual art piece first, and then looking at Dada Visual art afterwards. I just knew that it would be compatible since all I had to do was imagine what HD/I would create if we were to make our own Dada music and visual art. When I created the painting, I also chose my body parts, the colours, and the location of the placement of these body parts on the piece spontaneously, as I went along.
I spent three or four multi-hour sessions cutting together the soundtrack with JP, to suit each of the three Dada themes which I had by now chosen for my dance pieces. Then I spontaneously started to choreograph this work to the music. I am still tinkering with parts of it since I only began creating this work from scratch 7 weeks ago including research, (other than some of my HD knowledge which came from studying her life and work before) As a result, I will be doing some live parts spontaneously, while other moves are completely in place, and it will be a slightly different work for each of my 5 live performances.
Part Three: Eros
In this silent scene From "Borderline", HD begs her lover not to leave her. She is in anguish!!! My H.D. says, “What are you doing? Where are you going? Why do you have a suitcase? You can’t leave me!!!!! You can’t leave me!!!! NOOOOOO!!!
I thought how Dada it would be, to mix this scene with excerpts of her poem “Eros” about the intense and often cruel love god, but reconstructed as Dada poetry! Another subtext of this whole piece is to mix together the unexpected in new and seemingly at first illogical ways, since Dada was about challenging tradition and structure, through the use of seemingly random nonsense.
My piece is about keeping the audience on their toes while they work to unravel the mysteries of what they see! Or, you can just read this, after you think about the piece for a while first!
Part Four: The Mechanical Man Breaks Apart and Flies Away!!!
Here he is again!!! He has gripped my interest to the point that I had to create two parts of my dance piece about this mystery art work/man!
I see him again in my research, and once again without the Artist’s name accrediting this work. Now he is a moving image which I find even more fascinating!!! He is in the famous silent Dada film “Ballet Mechanique” by Fernand Leger and Dudley Murphy from 1924. At first, he is near the very beginning of this film tipping his hat to us the audience. Then, I see him moving about near the end of the film, and suddenly breaking apart and flying away, off screen. I decide that he has done this through dance and I create my own version of this choreographic experience.
Part Five: Storm
Spoiler alert encore! Once again I decide “how Dada it would be” to pair up excerpts from H.D.’s poem about a Storm, with a knife scene from "Borderline" also performed live as H.D. herself no less, just as it was in the film.
I decided that while I have only heard happy sound poems from the Dada period, this scene merits a tragic sound poem, so I reconstructed HD’s poem "Storm" as a tragic Dada sound poem. This was fantastic fun to record!!! I also realized from this experience that it is absolutely fantastic to act tragic scenes silently, and that once again, I should have been alive and at my peak in the 1920’s!!! I still would have been myself, creating in all of the same mediums, but I also would have been creating in this silent film medium as well, on a regular basis! In reality, this is only my second silent film piece, and the other one-an actual film, was about joy.
Part Six: The War Destroys Dada
This is the final part of this piece, a silent dance/performance art scene done with my Dada style painted canvas (which I will be silent auctioning off all night at Nuit Blanche, half of the money to go to the SPCA. The winner will get the canvas, and a signed description of this visual art piece.) This dance piece tells the story of the destruction of lives, art and Dada because the war scattered the Dada Artists around the world, broke apart their connection, and for most of them ended their work in the area of Dada. It also destroyed countless Dada and other art works. I find this destruction of people’s art to be just as upsetting as the destruction of peoples’ lives, because to me to destroy one’s art is to destroy one’s life! I convey this feeling through this part of my piece.
My Dada Painting
I created this painting as both an extension of my body work on canvas which I started a few years ago, and as a Dada work. To me a Dada Artist would make this kind of a painting, (and I think also HD would at some point experiment with replacing a paint brush with her own body parts) and choose symbolic colours to represent both these parts, and the messages behind them, and that is what I did.
I am having a contest all night for people to guess exactly which parts of my body I used to paint this piece with, including my signature on the back of it. Whoever gets the most correct answers, and guesses them first, will win a special prize. They will also win a signed description about this piece.
After Nuit Blanche, I will post the answers on my website.
Thanks for supporting my work!!!
Ariel Len of Zoey’s Projects