Ringling Museum Installation Inspires Liminal Exploration

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Photo by Manuel Chantre.

When Haitian-born choreographer and dancer Rhodnie Desir embarked on her “Bow’t Trail” journey in 2015, she hoped to capture something elusive but of vital importance. The journey took her all over the Americas to explore the way Afro-descendent peoples salvaged their histories from the annihilating forces of the slave trade. Participating in long, grueling workshops with local dancers and musicians in Mexico, Canada, Martinique, Brazil, and the U.S., Desir hoped to adapt her Bow’t Trail choreography into different versions that could ensure the posterity of these histories and practices. “I really wanted to discover the ingenuity of my sisters and how they resisted the destruction of their culture,” says Desir.

Each visit would begin with two weeks of intensive workshops with elders within the community, including long conversations and choreography sessions that would begin at 6 in the morning and sometimes bleed into the next day. After working through the stories and dances, a documentary crew would arrive and shoot on location for another two weeks, capturing the movements and ideas explored as well as a performance of each city’s unique version of Desir’s “Bow’t Trail” choreography. “It seems exotic, but I would barely sleep or eat,” says Desir, “and at the end of all that research, drama, trauma and celebration, my body had over 130 stories preserved within it.”

Those stories are the center of “Conversations,” her first-ever visual art exhibition commissioned by and hosted at The Ringling Museum. In it, Desir attempts to transfer the sanctity of the Bow’t Trail project’s academic and spiritual vigor into an immersive installation designed to draw the viewer’s eye inward and, Desir hopes, get them to experience a sliver of her own deeply transformative experience.

The exhibition, located inside Monda Gallery, makes use of draped fabrics, projections, lighting design, and sound design to accentuate a visitor’s journey through the installation. A projection of handwritten text at the installation’s entrance primes the visitor for the desired emotional approach for the exhibition. The path through the installation continues through a hallway of sheer black fabric and winds around the gallery towards a meditative hut and a boat-making station, where visitors are encouraged to fold a paper boat and add it to a big net of other boats that spill over into a pile. Another area in the installation includes footage from her documentary projected on a series of sheer white drapes that visitors are encouraged to walk through.

By the end of the journey through the installation, the impression is that something of grave importance has transpired, an unspoken feeling that exists not beyond words, but beneath them in a more elemental space. The lighting, the polyrhythms, textures and projections of “Conversations” swirl and immerse the viewer in a feeling.

“I want it to feel like they’ve gone to a temple. Everything is so explicit now in the digital age, and I don’t want them to come out and say, ‘I need to post this on social media,’” says Desir, “I want them to sit with the conversation internally.”

“Conversations” runs through April 3rd.

 

Photo by Manuel Chantre.

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