In 2007, British artist Tacita Dean invited Cunningham to choreograph John Cage’s composition 4’33’’. That piece—a 4-minute, 33-second silence “performed” in three movements—was highly influential in twentieth-century music and very emotional for the choreographer: Cage, who died in 1992, was his long-time collaborator and life partner. Cunningham, who was 88 at the time and in a wheelchair, accepted the challenge. On the afternoon of April 28, 2007, in the New York studios of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Dean filmed a total of six takes. Seated on a chair, before a wall of rehearsal-room mirrors, Cunningham performed silence by remaining immobile, adjusting his pose slightly between each of the movements in response to a signal from Trevor Carlson, the company’s director.
The show consists of an installation of six projections on screens arranged around the exhibition space, entitled Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33’’ with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007. Each projection corresponds to one of the six performances presented by Cunningham and filmed by Dean. With 4’33’’, Cage set out to compose a piece made of unbroken silence. In Stillness, Cunningham transposes this silence into immobility and Dean uses a still camera, shooting each performance from a different angle. The screens’ dimensions are calibrated so that the choreographer, whether seen in close-up or long shot, is life-size. Here, music, dance and film simultaneously share a common space-time with the visitor.