When Boulder choreographer and performance artist Laura Ann Samuelson begins to dance, she’s not so much in charge of her motions as she is moved by them. One step leads to another, and still another move beckons; it’s as if she is mesmerized, then prodded, by an unspoken language of passing through space. She questions. She looks at what’s in front of her and maneuvers to follow a path around its message. She improvises. And for her current artist residency at the Denver Art Museum, she’s encouraging museum-goers to engage with the art around them in a similar way.
In turn, the museum has allowed Samuelson free rein in letting the project unfold, at least outside the necessary constraints regarding proximity to the artworks. She doesn’t have to stick to a static game plan, and she doesn’t.
“The larger experience I’m curating is about being transparent, about process, and bringing people in to see that unfold: First, they can observe me in rehearsal, then we have rehearsals with interaction, where I’m letting people direct me,” Samuelson explains. “From there, we might go into the galleries and interact with artwork, and what if, instead of gazing at the art, you can imagine that the art is gazing at you. It relates to how you feel things, how they land physically inside you.”
Samuelson’s residence alights throughout the Hamilton Building’s galleries, beginning in a designated hub space where she rehearses, live-types about her next moves from a projected computer screen, gathers written responses from viewers, and posts public notes on her process. But it’s pointedly an ever-changing experiment in discovery, for both Samuelson and her audience, regardless of where people find her, as she tries things out and interacts with museum-goers.
“I am working with transforming one action over time, and then also imagining how the artworks might extend beyond the frame, creating an environment for me to move within,” she says. “In the hub space, there is a big map of my research connected by string, and I'm using that to track my evolving process. When I'm working in the galleries, I do short little improvisations, and then I check in with the visitors about what they saw, and then I improvise again, influenced by their feedback.
“The main thing is to create a situation where I can give people more freedom to try things,” Samuelson adds. “I’d like to allow people to follow their own curiosity, to listen to their inner authority. No deep talent is needed, if they take time to try. Failure is part of the process.” And she’s no stranger to the transformative power of failure: In 2014, she mounted a Failure Festival in Boulder, with three days of performances exploring the freedom achieved by accepting imperfection.
Join Samuelson at the Denver Art Museum and learn to experience art in a completely new way on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, beginning at 11:30 a.m. on weekdays and at 1 p.m. on Saturdays, through August 20. Samuelson will also elaborate on her findings more formally at 4:30 p.m. every Friday, as well as at the DAM’s Untitled evening on Friday, July 28, and during Free First Saturday on August 5. Finally, to wrap up the project, she’ll give two full performances at 2 p.m. on August 12 and 13. All events are included with museum admission. Learn more at the DAM website.