Statuesque ‘marble study for two’ Enlivens High Museum Grounds

Over the years, Atlanta’s High Museum of Art has produced a number of site-specific performances on its grounds, fostering fluid exchange between the museum’s indoor exhibitions and outdoor public activity. This seemed part of the intent behind last Friday evening’s marble study for two, choreographed and performed by Melissa Word and Claire Molla, and billed as “a sharing of ongoing physical research responding to the High Museum’s American neoclassical sculpture collection.” In keeping with principles of classical art, the half-hour duet seemed perhaps a personal appeal for clarity and harmony in today’s often chaotic and confusing world.

Photo Credit: Jamie Hopper Photography

Visually beautiful — their costumes, hair and makeup a clear reflection of the architecture’s pale, almost translucent lightness — Molla and Word appeared statuesque, in profile behind a white wall that curtained a concrete stairway. Facing the top of the stair from which they came, like a pair of cameos, they gradually progressed down the incline, making a play of moving up and down — sort of a two steps down-and-backward and one step up-and-forward (which was actually toward the direction the came from).

Molla and Word transitioned to the grassy slope on the east side of the museum, and facing one another, underwent a series of repeated gestures — hands pulsing in front of their chests, as in a heartbeat, then gradually progressing down toward the abdomen, suggesting stabbing motions, then reaching diagonally forward into one another’s negative space, with a purely functional and task-oriented sense of restraint that implied friendship alternating with muted aggression.

Photo credit: Anton Molla

These repeated gestures, right-left-right-left, and so forth, shifted into physical contact and more complex exchanges of weight and force, suggesting ambiguity, confusion in their relationship — fluctuating between trust and combativeness.

Photo credit: Jamie Hopper Photography

They turned together, arms spread wide off the shoulders, chests lifted, and uttered, “Please!” then took off running on parallel horizontal paths across the lawn toward the curb at 16th street. They ran back and forth a few times, repeating the same plea, then came together once again, faces and bodies relaxed, as if relating to one another in a more human, personal way.

The choreography was so stripped-down — resolutely Judson-esque, but somehow lacking the structural density or the tensile, formal rigor one would expect of works in that vein. Yet, as in MaryGrace Phillips’ W E A T H E R two weeks earlier at the Work Room, at any given moment, there was something to notice in the work’s telling, or at least interesting, details. I hope they’ll continue to explore this. 

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