In 1935, on the occasion of its completion, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the Hoover Dam by unveiling a sculpture titled “Winged Figures of the Republic.”
Sculpted from bronze are two winged figures sitting atop a black polished base surrounded by a floor inlaid with a celestial map. It commemorates the 96 men who died during the construction of the dam.
In 2008, artists Judd Morrissey and Mark Jeffery visited the Hoover Dam and were captivated by the New Deal-era piece. “Winged Figures of the Republic” inspired their creation of a digital, literary and visual performance artwork entitled “The Precession.”
Jeffery explained that the Earth is on a precession, where the axis shifts over a period of 26,000 years. This is mapped out in the sculpture at the Hoover Dam and is also represented in their piece.
“The Precession” will be presented at the ASU Art Museum Feb. 17-18 in a three-hour performance.
The exhibition includes choreographed readings of texts, a Busby Berkeley-inspired movement sequence mixing gestures of labor with formations based on stars and live screen-based responses to works by Sol LeWitt and Rebecca Horn.
“It was kind of a funny accident as to how we came to building this piece of work,” Jeffery said. “In 2008, (President) Obama was on his presidential campaign, and he was basically remixing this American Dream. At the same time there was the recession, putting people back to work, and we were looking at that same thing with the New Deal era in the sculpture at the dam.”
“The Precession” was most recently presented at Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago. Morrissey said one of the biggest challenges in creating the performance was rescaling the piece to fit the gallery at the ASU Art Museum.
“We are essentially remapping the piece — it changes based on the scale,” Morrissey said. “For this version we are doing a three-screen projection … and we have an artist coming in who does a floor-to-wall installation with tape that is a cross between a celestial map and wall drawings.”
The preparation also includes choreographing a dance with ASU dance students, setting up projection screens and working with a physicist and astrologer on their presentations for the piece, Morrissey said.
Jeffery said most who come to the exhibit are intrigued by the image-making complexity the piece displays. “The Precession” essentially layers many different aspects from dance to artwork to performances much like a poem does, he said.
“People seem to be very struck by the work — it’s quite slow, things take time to unfold and its not theatrical, but I think people are seeing a visual artwork that is sort of all these objects being layered … and people are very interested by that,” Jeffery said.
While Jeffery is in charge of the choreography and dramatic aspects of “The Precession,” Morrissey is involved with the computational and visual components working with the display systems and what goes on screen.
The artists do not have a particular message to impart to audiences. Each viewer may come away with their own meaning of the work, they said.
“We aren’t trying to convey any exact message, we are really interested in what message people bring and what they take away from it,” Morrissey said.
“We call it a performance poem in the sense that often when you read poetry you think of how maybe an image is with you immediately or maybe a week later how it impacts you,” Jeffery said.
As far as future plans for “The Precession,” Jeffery and Morrissey are hoping that the museum exposure leads to more performances at galleries around the country. They are also starting to work on a project that looks at forensics, anatomy and crime scenes.
“The Precession” will be on display from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the ASU Art Museum. Admission is free, and guests are welcome to visit the performance at any time during the three hours.
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