Assistant Spectrum Editor
In the minds of many, the idea of artwork rarely expands beyond a painting on a wall, but sculptor Matt King and choreographer Scott Putman defy this stereotype with their ongoing collaboration, an untitled hybrid of sculptural and performance art.
For King, an assistant professor of art foundation and the department of sculpture and extended media at VCU, the desire to combine sculpture and performance originated from his interest in documenting viewer interactions with his work.
With little to no experience with performance work, King sought out Putman, an associate professor in VCU’s dance and choreography department. Besides Putman’s position at VCU, King was interested in Putman’s experience in performance work dealing with environment and architectural interaction, like constructing sets.
“Performance work in general… is usually collaborative… But for me, I’m so not that guy. I’m not a collaborative artist in general,” King said of his decision and desire to collaborate with Putman. “I was at this point where I could either make a bad performance or reach out to someone who thought about bodies all the time.”
King and Putman began collaborating in March 2011. The pair submitted an application for the Dean’s Exploratory Research Grant, which they received and funded the development of the pair’s idea. Later, King and Putman applied for and received the Dean’s Faculty Research Grant, which covered other aspects of the project, like documentation.
The construction of the piece began August 2012 and started with movable, old hospital doors from a Virginia door company. King and Putman used the doors as a starting point for the rest of the piece.
The piece includes a large, overall structure which contains motion-activated sliding doors, mirrors and transparent images, shelves that move across the piece on a track and a spectrum of products including shaving cream, deodorant and Arizona tea cans.
The piece involves two satellite pieces — a stocked clothing rack and a mannequin bottom with hanging popcorn bags. The piece is meant to be observed from all angles as it addresses ideas of perspective, among other things.
Before construction began, King and Putman aimed to achieve a balance between the object and the performance. The pair was also concerned with consumerism and commercial spaces from the beginning of the collaboration, with attention to consumer interactions.
King conducted extensive amounts of research on the design of spaces and the psychology of user interactions, which
helped create the design of the structure and the choreography that developed as a response.
“It had a lot to do with… the mining of retail space… (and) that these retail spaces are public places and they’re very familiar,” said King. “I’m interested in reclaiming those spaces (and) finding these moments of self-consciousness within those spaces that contradict what they’re designed for, so it’s kind of poetic moment that can be happened upon.”
At the end of October, the sculpture was moved to its current location, a large room in a building on East 2nd Street. Up until then, the project was in King’s personal studio.
Once in the new space, Putman began planning choreography. While King has dealt with guiding viewers through and around his work, Putman was not accustomed to the comparatively tame choreography developed in response to King’s structure.
“My stage work is incredibly full of movement, very kinetic,” Putman said of his process. “This is not at all. This is much more contained, so I was searching to find a movement language that was not overpowering… I had to listen to the sculpture and the bodies in the sculpture to find the right balance.”
The piece is still changing as King and Putman observe the structure and performance in real time and through video and photo documentation, as well as through the viewer feedback they receive. Because of its hybrid nature, the pair have a number of ideas about where the piece “belongs,” deciding between a gallery and a stage. Whether or not the piece will travel has yet to be determined.
“I feel like we’re still figuring it out. I would love to have another few months of seeing this, working with the dances, being in the space and just editing it,” King said.