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Hall of Mirrors: Susan Sentler at the Hayward Gallery

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School of Dance & Theatre lecturer Susan Sentler is an outspoken proponent about the power of the performative body within gallery spaces. As a multi-disciplinary arts practitioner, much of her practice is centred on investigating the somatic relationship to image, from spearheading the inaugural The Embodied Practitioner symposium at LASALLE to working internationally in gallery and museum contexts choreographing "responses" or "activations" for specific visual artworks as well as generating personal durational installations. In developing her personal creative work, Susan created in 2017 for LASALLE’s Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore signs of a nest, a durational installation work orchestrating moving and still image, objects, sound, as well as absence and presence of the live performing body (see documentary film here).

This year, Susan was invited to collaborate with the artist Josiah McElheny for the Hayward Gallery’s 50th anniversary exhibition Shape Shifters. Susan began this work in January of 2018 and then spent 10 days in London in September working on site with curators and dancers at the refurbished Hayward Gallery, which enabled her to set the work in motion during the installation and first days of the exhibition. Her trip to London was supported by LASALLE as part of its drive to support faculty in their professional practice and research as well as provide them with stimulating exchange opportunities.

Space Shifters has opened to much acclaim in London, with The Guardian giving it 5 stars, raving that it is “one in an unusually magnificent autumn show season for art,” and The Spectator praising it as “intriguing, elusive, contains at least one masterpiece and is full of menace.” Susan and McElheny’s collaboration is featured alongside works by more than 20 international artists including Anish Kapoor, Richard Wilson and Yayoi Kusama. In Susan’s choreography of McElheny’s work, dancers activate the artist’s wood and mirror sculptures (referred to as 'costumes'), moving through the gallery space following performative pathways. As each of these performers travel with gravitas along the marked pathway, two other performers dance in a polar/axial dialogue to the wearer as well as with the space.

Susan Sentler at the Hayward GalleryPerformers move in polar navigation to the wearer. Image credit: Mark Blower

While McElheny’s sculptures are structurally similar to sandwich boards, they abstract and obscure the wearer’s body. Visitors find themselves fleetingly reflected in the mirrors in place of the body of the performer as the performers weave through the gallery. The ‘costumes’ and bodies of the supporting dancers enhance and expand the viewers relationship with the other sculptures in the exhibition as well as the outstanding spatial landscape of the Hayward.

Susan Sentler at the Hayward GalleryImage credit: Mark Blower

While this collaboration is the the third iteration of Susan’s collaboration with Josiah – the first being his work Interactions of the Abstract Body at the White Cube Mason’s Yard in 2012/13 and the second within the exhibition Adventures of the Black Square at Whitechapel Gallery in 2015 – Susan considers this iteration the most outstanding.

“[Space Shifters] is absolutely stunning, revealing a fluid and sensuous side of minimalism,” Susan shared, “Senior curator Cliff Lauson of the Hayward Gallery and I noted that situating the work within this exhibition is not only challenging but also revelatory, enabling performance to punctuate the landscape of the exhibition and the refurbished Hayward architecture.”

Susan SentlerImage credit: Susan Sentler

Serving as both producer and choreographer, Susan covered an extensive range of roles for the work: sourcing for appropriate professional contemporary dancers, devising a rotor and support mechanisms that could help to make the 19kg – 30kg sculptures wearable by performers for an 8-12 hour daily durational performance across the span of four months, curating the spatial landscape of where the sculptures sit within the gallery spaces, designing the performative pathways so as to echo the architecture of the space, as well as choreographing the dancers’ specificity of movement when wearing the 'costumes' and dancing in association to them.

Christopher-MatthewsSusan, reflected in a costume. Image credit: Christopher Matthews

During her time in London, Susan was also invited to replace Anish Kapoor on an artists' panel with two other featured artists from the exhibition, Alicja Kwade and Fred Eversley, at the Southbank Centre. The conversation that arose traversed and wove together diverse ideas around energy, transformation, activation, space, and the sensorial. 

artist panel, shape shifters Artists’ panel with Alicja Kwade, Fred Eversley and Susan Sentler. Image courtesy of the Hayward Gallery.

Although she is back in Singapore, Susan is still currently working on the project via Skype with the curators and a selected dancer to manage the daily shaping needed within the performative across the four month duration of the exhibition. 

Catch Shape Shifters at the Hayward Gallery, London from now till 6 Jan 2019.

Interested to see more of Susan’s body of work? Notable cross-disciplinary projects she has choreographed in collaboration with LASALLE’s Diploma in Dance students in Singapore include Roof Response at the National Gallery Singapore in 2017, a structured improvised dance response to Danh Vo’s roof garden commission, as well as a dance response to the works of Zao Wou-Ki at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute in collaboration with Adrian Huang, a lecturer from LASALLE’s School of Fashion, and musician/composer, Ronen Kozokaro.

Cover image: Susan, reflected in a costume. Image credit: Christopher Matthews