|WHEN HERMAN DANCED ALONE
About a video film, and some paintings
In memory of Tony Morgan
It was in the first half of the
1970s that I met Tony Morgan. I do not remember now whether he sent me
a postcard or phoned, but at any rate he needed someone who would write
about one of his films, and he told me that Werner Nekes had suggested
that he might contact me. So one day in the early 1970s I travelled
to Dusseldorf and he met me at the station. He lived at the Bismarck Strasse,
at the time, I think, but he had a studio on the other side of the river,
in Neuss. It was a factory building or industrial depot, formerly used
perhaps by a logistics company, and he had a small room, perhaps 50 or
60 square meters in it – that was almost empty. One or two chairs, a table,
I do not remember exactly what else. There was also another very small
room, adjacent to it, perhaps with a sink, a toilet, that was part of what
Tony told me either on way to the
studio or when we had arrived, that he wanted to shoot a video film, and
that he wanted me to look at it. As always in such cases, I had taken paper
and pen with me, so I would do the usual thing, I would write. I sat down
on the table, paper & pen in my hands, while Tony disappeared in the
small room for a brief moment.
When he came back, he had a shaving
cream can in his hand. He turned out the light, sprayed his face with shaving
cream from this 2.5 ounce can, put the can away, and then – having placed
the video camera in a stable position in the room and having pushed the
START button – he began to move, in a dance-like way, while singing
that – wasn't it “Sainsbury's tissues”? – “make me think of you...”
It was surreal, clownesque, infinitely sad, and as I watched, writing all
the while about what I saw happening in front of me, I was acutely awake
and at the same time intensely moved by it.
He did this entire performance
without, as far as I know, having rehearsed it. And while he performed,
there, in this darkened studio, in front of a single, very quiet onlooker
busy with spontaneously jotting down what came to mind, he did not stop
once. He recorded the performance that lasted perhaps half an hour, in
one take. And as far as I know, that was it – there was no second take,
When I sent him my text, he seems
to have liked it – for he asked me to come with him to Amsterdam where
he was going to do a performance, and also show that video at the De Appel
gallery, then managed by Wies Smals (who later, I was told, died in a plane
crash). While we were on the train to Amsterdam, Tony remarked that he
was going to say that the video had been done in New York, a year or so
ago. It was clear that he wasn't taking these games seriously; people involved
in curating and even more those involved in marketing art works by contemporary
artists for some strange reason seemed to attribute more importance to
art created in New York, as if this fact eo ipso guaranteed that it was
The people who came to the vernissage,
or let's say, to Tony's performance and the screening of the video film,
entitled “Herman Dances Alone,” were impressed, probably moved by it.
Marina Abramovic was either so
impressed by the video, and/or his performance, or so taken in by Tony
that she invited the two of us for tea, and some further exchange of ideas,
to her and Ulay's apartment in Noord Amsterdam. And I remember that on
the following day, all of us drove to the beach with Wies and a few others.
That Tony's video was remarkable,
and that the performance it had recorded was of a rare beauty, did not
escape the audience at the time.
Was it the intensity of the clownesque,
sad face, the contrast of blacks and whites that made the face so expressive?
(No one knew it was just shaving cream that created this fantastic, truly
I think that as so often, there
was an implicit désir at the root of the act of artistic
creation. And, as so often, an accidental trigger – rooted in autobiography,
in perhaps recent experience. Yes, her man was dancing alone. Was the entire
video film like a plea, was it “a song” – both ironic, sarcastically sad
like the “Sainsbury's tissue” song – and yet heartfelt, in a way, a plea
directed at somebody, a sign, somethings she might, telepathically, know
about, and that would move her to return?
None of this entered my mind at
the time. My small text was included in a mimeographed brochure, a kind
of exhibition catalogue, that the De Appel people produced at the occasion.
Later, when I was in Taiwan since
August, 1976, they still sent me their exhibition programs and I exchanged
a few letters with one of the De Appel folks, Martha Hawley, who is also
a poet, I think. I also asked them to sent me a copy of my text which I
had lost but for some strange reason, the copy they sent was incomplete.
C'est la vie.
Perhaps as an aside, I want to
mention now that a chance factor; the “shaving cream song” that was recorded
by Benny Bell in 1948 and that was re-released in 1970 and sold more than
a million copies, may have given Tony the idea about shaving cream. I didn't
know then. I just came across this information by chance.
When I was back in Europe in the
early 1980s, Tony got in touch with me again. This time, he wanted me to
look at and perhaps write about some of his recent paintings. So we met
again in Dusseldorf.
I did not manage to write a piece
of art criticism at the time, but was touched by the works he showed me.
A handful or maybe more than a handful of poems originated. I seem to have
lost them; whether copies remain among Tony's belongings, I do not know.
Today, I found again some German translations of these poems that I did
in May, 1989 for a planned book with poems “about” art works which was
never realized. I have translated them now back into English. They are
accompanied by scans of color xerox copies that Tony gave me when I told
him I wanted to publish the poems together with reproductions of these
works he had done. My friend Luc Piron scanned them recently. So now here
they are; I am giving them to “Art in Society” for publication, as a kind
of homage to Tony Morgan, and my way of remembering him.
March 2, 2014
P.S. By the way, we met again when
Tony Morgan participated in a series of exhibitions called “Unter einem
Himmel,” curated by Doris Schöttler-Boll. The title referred to a
saying then current in China, which stated that women are “one half of
the sky” (die Hälfte des Himmels): Doris apparently wanted to bring
together both halves of the sky, because women and men exist “under one
[and the same] sky.” In each expo of this series of exhibitions, she paired
a female artist and a male artist, each such “couple” being interested
in a similar formal approach and/or a comparable thematic aspect. Doris
was hoping in this way to let the artists themselves, and the public, discover
what might be distinctive traits inscribed into the work of the female,
and of the male artist: gender-specific ways of working or types of expressiveness,
one might say. Among those who took part, there were such artists as Nan
Hoover, Nobert Schwontkowskis, Harald Falkenhagen, Tim Ulrichs and – already
mentioned – Tony Morgan. This time, I did not write about Tony's work but
introduced instead that of Eu-nim Ro to the public at the Schloss Borbeck
gallery in Essen, the venue of “Unter einem Himmel.” (The show also
offered a welcone chance to get to know Nan Hoover and talk with her about
her work; something that we continued later on when I visited her in Dusseldorf.)
| Paintings by Tony Morgan (1938-2004 )