Maren Hassinger notes, “The following is a manifesto I wrote for Senga [Nengudi] and myself, probably on the occasion of our visit to Paris in 2006.” Hassinger and Nengudi traveled to Paris to present their collaborative video, Side by Side, which explores their work together since the 1970s. They presented the video at “Les soirées nomades: Nuits Noires” at the Fondation Cartier por l’art contemporain, Paris, France for which Hassinger also created Women’s Work.
Manifesto pg. 1
Since 1978 (during CETA, Title VI) we’ve been working alone and together as our paths crossed. Sometimes it was a sculptural collaboration, but more often, we performed in each others works. Events, process, ideas were shared in (list pieces).
What was the nature of the work done together? A sense of play and improvisation was always at the core of our process. Senga might say, “Oh, I saw this big hole where they demolished Broadway Wilshire. We should see that.” Then off we’d go to see the hole. We all agreed it was a big hole. Years later Houston made a cubic hole in the ground in Atlanta and filled its shored up sides with niches containing secrets. I made swirling round wire rope pieces, etc. Nothing explicit — but a shared moment individually interpreted. Often these shared moments seemed incredibly awkward to me. I didn’t always understand why I was looking at these exciting feats of (de)construction. Senga’s process seems to have a lot to do with this unknowingness, but a feel for the rightness of the effort. Maybe this stems from her dada/surrealist roots.
In cases like “Blanket of Branches,” (1986) I told Senga and Ulysses that I was doing this installation at the Contemporary Arts Forum in Santa Barbara and invited them to perform within (under) this canopy of branches at the opening. We all (Frank Parker was also in the cast) appeared in Senga’s piece, “Nature’s Way.” Ulysses piece was (discuss his piece).
In 1984 I told everyone I had written “Voices.” We had been working with Rudy Perez (in Ulysses’ studio) and we all gathered as personnel for “Voices.” Other performers included classmates from Lester Horton dance classes and a student from Cal Arts. (get names)
Conceptually all these pieces are marked with a distinctive physicality probably derived from our shared interest and pursuit of dance. Senga’s humor and quirky (psychologically and sexually charged) interpretations of reality surface in “Las Vegas Ikebana.” Maren’s desires for unity are apparent in “Voices.” A shared romanticism is apparent in Senga’s poster of myself and Frank Parker dancing and in Maren’s contributions to “Las Vegas Ikebana” and the installation of “Our Book.”
Post-modern commentaries on politics, the end of nature, etc., are apparent in our approaches in “Voices” and “Las Vegas Ikebana.” (others?). Maren’s minimalist inclinations have brought a sympathy with architecture, repetition. and site inspired forays. “Flying” is an example.
Now, as we celebrate 35 years in art, we haven’t heard of any other collaborations between African American women in the area of performance and installation. We know of some individuals (Adrian Piper, Lorraine O’Grady, et al), but never people working together. So, we are unprecedented. AND the collaboration is particularly important when you consider what exactly is commingled here. We are nearly textbook examples of the art historical crossover from modernism to post modernism practiced during the past 50 years. Senga’s roots are dada and surrealism, mine are minimalism. We both shared a background in dance training (specificallly with students and company members of Lester Horton in Los Angeles). We have both gravitated towards explorations involving sculptural objects, installations, performance. I became enamored of using film and video. Senga is obsessed with still images.
Because Senga’s work employs pseudonymous personalities who engage in diverse art
Manifesto pg. 2
activities (e.g., Harriet Chin is a draughtsperson), her involvement with this collaboration can be seen as an extension of that impulse. It is Senga, the dancer or talker/mail writer, who participates in these works.
Maren’s involvement probably stems from a desire to work communally towards goals with (possibly) wider connotation, application, and appreciation. By combining efforts the total might be greater than the sum of either part. Something actually NEW might happen, or at least, something inspiring…. These pieces together also are a concrete examples of the unity Maren has frequently cited as a goal of her recent solo work.
We’ve kept each other such good company all these years and we’ve had so much fun doing it, that it’s hard to separate the abiding friendship from the issues of theory and practice. Finally, it seems we’ve collaborated and those times together have kept us making art, maintained our curiosity(when much else failed), and stepped up the ante in art history. Our times together making work have healed many difficult moments wrought by (these only childs’) lives.
Senga — risky, spunky, sexy, outstandingly absurd — hanging stuff off the demolition site and Maren flopping around all this wire rope to make a row of steel trees mourning nature’s passing while proclaiming the authority of its replacements, combine to produce pieces of rare power and imagination.
(If this is text, show illustrations of each. If this were a slide show, show these now on split screen.)