(From Erin Brannigan):
Dancer, choreographer, performer, filmmaker and writer Yvonne Rainer, who began choreographing in 1961 and made her first film in 1967, is a key figure in the story of the New York avant-garde in terms of both her writing and practice. (2) Rainer provided a commentary on the influences that preceded her own aesthetic objectives and articulated her own project through practice and explicatory discourse, establishing her position as a key player within the New York avant-garde from the early 1960s through to the mid-1990s. During this period she produced twelve films, including silent short works for multimedia performances (which she calls “filmed choreographic exercises”) (3) as well as features. According to Rainer, her fascination with dance and film emerged simultaneously when she moved on from acting at 25 (p. 51). She is certainly a choreographer who had as many film reference points as choreographic, evidenced in the use of projection in her stage work and her erudite use of cinematic quotation in her film work. (4) What links Rainer's dance and film work is an intense critique of disciplinary conventions and a profound interrogation of the role of performance. Performance is central to all aspects of Rainer's work; she herself refers to performance as the subject matter in her films (p. 8) and Peggy Phelan describes her writings as “rhetorical performances”. (5)
(and from Jonathan Wallay):
Rainer's work of this period also problematized the conception of the relationship between viewer and artwork that was at the core of the minimalist aesthetic. Once again, this arose from the fact that the material of dance was the person. A minimalist painting or sculpture was thought to frankly address the viewer and the space of the gallery, to rely upon the viewer for its completion. To seek such a relationship between a live performer and an audience, however, was to risk opening up the dance to all of those things that Rainer had rallied against in her “NO manifesto,” since in dance, the performer/spectator relationship is a human one, in which emotion, empathy, and relations of power are present. Again, one of the basic tenets of minimalism posed a unique problem for live performance. In a way, Rainer can be said to have inverted a key principle of minimalist art by attempting to cut off any kind of human connection between her performers and the audience. For instance, Rainer often instructed her dancers to refuse eye contact with the audience, either by keeping their heads cocked away from the spectators or by looking over and beyond their heads. Ironically, then, Rainer's performances seem to have initially aspired to the condition Michael Fried called “absorption,” a condition characterized by the work's refusal to address the viewer, an almost metaphysical detachment of the work from the viewer's time and space. Fried criticized the minimalist sculptors for their refusal to do this – for the ways their work acknowledged the viewer and depended on him or her for their completion. (Fried, 125-27) Rainer, concerned about the “seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer,” and troubled by the ramifications of the display of the dancers' bodies for crowds of onlookers, resisted this dimension of minimalist art. In her analysis of her dance Trio A, she wrote;
…the “problem” of performance was dealt with by never permitting the performers to confront the audience. Either the gaze was averted or the head was engaged in movement. The desired effect was a worklike rather than exhibitionlike presentation. (Rainer, 1995b, 271)
“Tasklike” (or, in the above quote, “worklike”) activity was Rainer's version of minimalism's “literalness” (the condition of objecthood). The difference, however, was that while literalness in minimalist painting or sculpture was what allowed for a new, more direct relationship between art work and viewer, for Rainer it was a means to keep the work from addressing the viewer—to prevent the heightened sense of co-presence that Fried and others found in minimalist art. This was a key decision, and it reveals that Rainer was concerned about the political consequences of the spectatorial gaze in art well before that gaze became one of the central concerns of psychoanalytic feminist film theory.