M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online #2
Mimi Gross and
Douglas Dunn

Mimi Gross

The questions are:
"What is the nature of your collaboration? How is it different than your individual practice? What, if any are the effects of the collaborative effort on your individual art practice?"
a cell, its own microcosm
An invisible idea is
a scratch, a drawing,
space between thoughts:

this being that then
could carry new, for which
we can collaborate:
for a still other

the thought sparks/ the spark thinks/ the fire spreads/ the energy increases

Aerobia, 2001, performance, PS 122, NYC.

We are descendents of Edwin Denby & Rudy Burckhardt, and that is how I know Douglas Dunn.
Our aesthetics have been carved down from them; basic assumptions and trust have never conflicted.
Edwin Denby's fresh clarity, his understanding of the dance, his ability to recognize original & authentic thinking, and his ability to see more than anybody else have been his gifts to us.
We have learned to see more.
We have learned to maintain intellectual challenges, finding new and different forms of movement and visual surroundings.

A long background with collaboration has left me with a strong commitment to all of the advantages of "electricity" and "alchemy" mutually shared; each side brings what they know and can do without knowing the outcome, and the result is something no one could have imagined.

The nature of our collaboration is Douglas Dunn is a choreographer/dancer, and has had his own dance company since 1970. I am a painter, and from a painter's point of view, I have made costumes and sets for the dance. As a painter, I've been interested in spaces between spaces, and in the variety of possibilities between 2nd & 3rd dimensions. I'm interested in making unexpected atmospheres. In 1978 I did the first costumes and shortly after the first set with Douglas, and at varied intervals of time, we have worked
together on 16 dances, either costumes or sets, or both.

I was married and worked with Red Grooms for over 15 years. We made films, and large sculpture installations together. Ideas at that time were from conversations, research, drawings. We were a unit of mutual ideas, one epic project followed another. There was a different sense of sharing at that time, literally sharing the idea to make it bigger and better by having multiple energies.
I feel this is what happens with collaborations.

Cocca Mocca, 1998, (top): performance, Danspace, St. Mark's Church, NYC; (bottom): same, view from balcony.

We made performances, it was at a group of performances at Red's studio where I first met Charlie Atlas (he did a late night performance). Charlie introduced me to Douglas, who has just started his own dance company.

I would go over to Douglas' studio and see what he had been working on, new movements, a new group of dancers, always a new entertainment, never repeating itself. Sometimes, the movement would be too fast for me to make drawings, or after several rehearsals, the movements became familiar, I was able to make drawings..

Ideas start, develop with
a suggestion,
a few minutes of dance already choreographed,
an image mentioned, or seen,
a magazine image,
an anecdote,
some natural, historical, art historical, travel, references are exchanged,
and mutually thought over,
tried out.
From my point of view, Douglas seems to always have a surreal, vertical narrative within the complex structure of his dance. From this open and abstract field, the textual layers offer an infinite number of ideas.

Spell for the Opening of the Mouth of N, 1997, (from top left) a: rehearsal drawing; costume design; b: performance the Kitchen, NYC; c: Douglas Dunn in performance; d: drawing after photo; e: sculpture, copper tubing & silk organza after drawing.

We would talk about different textures, atmospheres. Douglas would mention what music or which musicians he would also be working with. Usually the physical prerequisites are determining factors for the set: the planned space, what the dancers need, how much of the set could be physically on the dance floor, the distances between set and dancers, between dancers and between the set and the audience. Carol Mullins, lighting designer extraordinaire, has not only lit my installations in the past, also has lit all of Douglas' recent work. She is included in the discussions or looking at models and asking questions, making suggestions. The tension brought into a space with a set animates it, gives it a world of its own. Without the performance, the set loses its exciting energy. This is different from studio work which is not waiting for a group of performers to energize the visualization.

When the dancers are wearing the costumes and are in the mood and atmosphere of the dance, the stage becomes an enormous painting, multi-dimensional. I'm interested in the front, the back, the sides, and between the dancers.

Dance costumes must fit perfectly, delineating and flattering the different proportions of the dancers' body. Individual characters and bodies become more familiar. The costumes must be harmonious with one another, they must be strong for wear and tear, they must be easy to clean. These limitations develop a unique discipline..

Rubbledance, Long Island City, 1991, Film by Rudy Burckhardt.

I have learned to dye fabrics, I have also learned to not dye fabrics, but to shop and find fabrics ready for fabrication.

Collaboration takes me out of working alone in the studio.

While working on my own at the studio, looking and finding outside images as ideas for the dance, I may not have had any interest in the findings or make the same drawings, if it were not for the collaborative project. Having time lapse between collaborations, has left room for both of our changes and bringing them into the new work, finding familiar and new territories.

Working with Douglas has helped my ideas connect with new facets of my work. I have studied Alexander Technique and anatomy for many years, these studies integrate with my dance consciousness and how I perceive movement in space, negative space. Practice increases speed and accuracy of observation. When a set is considered, or when I'm watching a rehearsal, I look for the distances between shapes, the peripheries of shapes, cubic inches of air.

Working with air as material for a 3-D painting.

The spatial observations developed from working with dancers, applies to how I see distances, scale and placement, for example in the street or while painting landscapes. I've learned a lot from excellent lighting design: how light, translucent light, shadow, colored lights, darkness, carries the load of marrying the dance with the set.

The lighting is pure alchemy
The dying of fabric is pure alchemy
The chemistry of collaboration is pure alchemy

A cross metaphor, a moment imagined

The dance is an open, abstract field, threaded with subtle layers of texture.

He moves and one sees the after image: intense, irreducible, humorous, I look for the shapes, the arms, legs, torsos, winding, twisting, the intimate and public aspects of Douglas' dance is familiar and relative to my studio work, and what I think about.

The dancers, colored, camouflaged, dance in another world!

Sky Eye, 1989 & 1990, (from top left down) a: fabricating set; b: set outdoors at Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon; c: performances at Pompidou Centre,Paris; & Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, right side: performances.

I try to do a completely different set and completely different costumes for each dance; my own studio work refreshes itself by arriving at a deeper level of abstraction as a result of wanting to do something different each time, and having the opportunity to experiment, either with a new concept Douglas is using in his dance, or new material for my work. Making dance sets (I do my own fabrication with a collaborator or helper/s), has allowed me to work in a larger scale, making models and developing the scale from models. Working with collaborative dance projects has broadened my ideas, and potential for new work. I've enjoyed the moral support, continuously evolving with mutual trust and understanding. For me, Douglas' work is a continuum: the iconography weaves in and out: We see Pontormo, or Domenico Tiepolo, or an Indian Shiva, as familiar as it seems, the choreography is full of new, ingenuous surprises of skill and grace.

The more varied the uncommonly intelligent movement seems, the more challenged I feel to meet it with the same courageous experiment.

Satisfaction is complete when seeing the performance, and the subtle changes from one performance to another.

Parade, 1989-1990, (clockwise from top left), a: fax from original drawing, inverted copy with watercolor, World Trade Center, NYC; b: performance, Kyoto; c:dancers in costumes; d:sculpture of dancers ,White St. & Church St.



Musing on Assembling Artistic Entertainments with Others—Especially with Mimi Gross

Working with artists of other media, however, has consistently led to enhancement and deepening of each artist's contribution, and enrichment, in specific and unforeseen ways, in process and in result. Trust, confidence in what the collaborator will generate, is essential for this broadening of possibility, since, even with agreed upon common ground, no two curious imaginations are likely to follow the same path. Often, it's when the workers walk farthest apart that the earth breaks open most deeply to reveal something neither could have seen alone.

Ballet Mechanique, 1989, performance, Kyoto; musicians and video collaborators included in photo.

Underlining of agreed upon ideas is not our MO. Rather, it's a jostling of sometimes seemingly disparate elements into relation with one another: the set, costumes and moves begin and continue to converse. They agree, disagree, negotiate. The personalities of the dancers inhabiting the artifice talk too, because the goal is, within the form demanded by the determined structure, to embrace and awaken, not to subdue them.

Beyond hints of common ground for a particular piece (a sensed connection to a particular art historical moment, to a time of day, to a weather pattern, for example), there exist more general, unspoken layers of agreement about risk and coherence: that curiosity, not fear, should lead; that dedicated investigation will take us where we haven't been before, both in the details, the individual choices of color, rhythm and shape, and also in the arrived at arc of the full show. We trust that our merged intuitions, thoroughly worked through and brought to light, will forge a unique artifact that will eventually come to be felt, by us and by others, as a unity.

Skid, 1980 & 1992, performances, Pompidou Centre, Paris; Dance Theater Workshop, NYC.

One's daily battle between, on the one hand, accepting what comes up (just because it comes up as one manipulates the materials of one's chosen medium), versus dismissing what comes up (because intellect can't always resist lording it over intuition), is, in the moment of collaboration, juxtaposed to the other artist's comparable battle. How much to cross over into the other's territory, to participate in her battle as well, to mix up those armies? It's a delicate aspect of the exchange that has so far (22 years with Mimi) been nothing but invigorating.


Mimi Gross is a painter, sculptor, set and costume designer. Recent exhibitions include “Charm of the Many,” Salander O'Reilly Galleries, NYC, Sept. 2002; "Aerobia," costumes and sets for Douglas Dunn & Dancers at PS 122, Nov. 2001 CDR: "On Site Drawings, 9/ll - and a few weeks after" drawings with poetry by Charles Bernstein (future publication by Granary Books, NYC). Indoor and outdoor public spaces and gallery installations, including: Portrait of ‘Success Garden’ in Harlem, the Urban Center, NYC; Port Authority Bus Terminal, NYC; Sketch for Ecstasy, Provincetown Art Association & Museum, Provincetown, Mass.; Songs of the Senses, Inax Gallery, Ginza,Tokyo, Japan. Represented by Salander O'Reilly Galleries, NYC, www.salander.com. Lives and works in NYC.
Douglas Dunn began presenting work in New York City in 1971. In 1976 he formed Douglas Dunn & Dancers and began touring the US and Europe. He has collaborated on film and video-dances with Charles Atlas and Rudy Burckhardt. He works with artists, (Mimi Gross, David Ireland, Uli Gassman, Jeffry Schiff), composers (Joshua Fried, Bill Cole, Eliane Radique, Alvin Lucier, Robert Ashley, Steve Lacy, Linda Fisher, John Driscoll, Ron Kuivila), poets (Anne Waldman, Reed Bye),and lighting designer Carol Mullins, to present a multifaceted dance image. Muscle Schoals, a collaboration with composer Steve Lacy, film-maker/videographer and designer Charles Atlas, and lighting designer Carol Mullins will be presented in New York City and Paris in 2003.
Table Of Contents:


Susan Bee and Mira Schor

02. Kenny Goldsmith and David Wondrich
On Collaboration
03. Jane Hammond and Raphael Rubinstein
On Collaboration
04. Mimi Gross and Douglas Dunn
On Collaboration
05. Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese
The Joy of Collaborating
06. Charles Bernstein and Susan Bee
An Interview with James Shivers
07. Faith Wilding and subRosa
Collectivity and Collaboration: subRosa
08. Matthew Lusk and Rachel Owens
After School Special
09. Michael Mazur

Brett Littman