"Kelly Nipper: Composing Moments," MAP - Journeys in Contemporary Art #23, pp. 68-73.
The period known as the ‘little ice age’, roughly from the 15th to the 17th century, coincided with the most aggressive witch hunts in Western history—a synchronicity some scholars link to both the social stresses of poor harvests and the widely-accepted belief that sorceresses could control the weather. With the climate now careening calamitously in the other direction, a return to superstition seems not altogether unlikely—making ‘Weather Center’, the title of Los Angeles-based artist Kelly Nipper’s rendition of modern dance pioneer Mary Wigman’s 1914 ‘Witch Dance’, less arbitrary than it might first appear.
Crouched on the floor, the dancer’s movement lurches into angular postures, her bare feet thwacking and fingers conjuring as she executes Wigman’s dance. Like Wigman, Taisha Paggett wears a mask that accentuates the dance’s savage, cultic quality. But in contrast to the original, in which Wigman was accompanied by oriental percussion, Nipper’s only soundtrack is a woman’s voice calmly and repeatedly counting to ten. Meanwhile, her camera weaves unsteadily around Paggett’s movement as if wary of her, cutting abruptly between shots and yet, somehow, never becoming unsynchronised with the counts. It is as if in place of Wigman’s sorcery, Nipper has substituted an almost magical alignment of measure, movement, and camerawork.
Curiously, then, Nipper deflects the dance’s irrational, emotive energy—the same expressive core that often translates into theatricality when displaced into contemporary art—only to suggest a subtler, but no less irrational force. Her desire to distance herself from theatricality could be one explanation why Nipper, who frequently works with dancers and movement, resists the label ‘performance’ to describe her videos and the live events. Another explanation could be the artist’s background. Trained as a photographer, and longtime archivist of Allan Kaprow, as well as of the estates of David Tudor and Experiments in Art and Technology among others, Nipper has spoken about her work in terms of suspension and ‘stop-time’. Accordingly, movement in Nipper’s videos seems to have removed itself from the continuum. Often played on loop with only words or counts for its soundtrack, her choreography is as reproducible as a photograph and just as forlornly tethered to its brief duration, stretching the ‘stop-time’ of the photographic instant without losing the finitude that defines it. ...
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Kelly Nipper, Sapphire (detail), 2008
A Performa Commission with the Savannah College of Art and Design