Clifford Owens needed help. Since May he has been in residence at MoMA PS1 where has been preparing for his fall exhibition Anthology. Owens has been interpreting and carrying out performance scores written by African-American artists. While most scores are written instructions for actions, Saya Woolfalk’s contribution is a graphical score that resembles a drawing complete with costumed characters and stick figures interacting with one another. Owens had difficulty finding a compelling way to interpret Woofalk’s composition as live action. In order to generate ideas for the score, Owens reached out to the MoMA Teen Program In the Making, specifically the group of young adults enrolled in the Beyond Pink and Blue class taught by Mark Epstein.
Over one week, the class met with Owens in his MoMA PS1 studio and at The Museum of Modern Art to develop a series of movements and actions. They studied the work of Ana Mendieta, Yoko Ono, Trisha Brown, and Yvonne Rainer for inspiration and historical references. Ideas for the performance flowed both ways, from artist to student and vice versa. Owens showed them how to get comfortable in the space, to move with confidence, and to command the audience. The students came up with elements and props that became integral—white body paint for one set of gestures, and clusters of dowel rods that would be snapped and broken like tree branches. Their work together culminated in a live performance in MoMA PS1’s large third floor gallery. The students achieved what the Anthology project at-large investigates, namely mining the gap between instruction and action, making palpable what originates on paper or email through novel interpretation.