“The function of art is to shake us out of our complacency and comfort,” says Yvonne Rainer, whose avant-garde performances and films have agitated audiences for 50 years. Since co-founding New York’s influential Judson Dance Theater, Rainer’s boundary-crossing art has been labeled in many ways: feminist, conceptual, post-modern, political. Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer (2015, Written and Directed by Jack Walsh, 82 min) examines the contradictions and creativity of this remarkable provocateur—still performing at age 80—and raises the question, what does it mean to be an avant-garde artist today?
Yvonne Rainer exploded onto the performance scene in the early 1960s, a protégé of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, boldly pursuing a minimalist aesthetic, using everyday, often random movements that confounded critics. At Judson, she collaborated with the rule-breaking artists of her generation: Robert Rauschenberg, Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton, Lucinda Childs, and Meredith Monk. With foundational works like “Trio A,” Rainer radically altered the vocabulary of modern dance forever.
In the 1970s, Rainer turned from performance to filmmaking, bringing both humorous storytelling and dense theory to seven independent features. As she investigated subjects like political power, terrorism, lesbian sexuality, and breast cancer, the labels again poured forth. Were her films “difficult” or “accessible?” Funny or frustrating? After 25 years of filmmaking and encouraged by dancers including Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rainer, in her 60s, returned to choreography once again to make courageous, unpredictable dances. Feelings Are Facts presents Rainer from her revolutionary roots to her tireless current explorations, breaking rules and challenging audiences no matter what decade she finds herself in.
Following the film, University of Michigan professors will discuss their reflections on the film. Participants include moderator Peter Sparling, Rudolf Arnheim Distinguished Professor of Dance and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Dance; with panelists Diane Kirkpatrick, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Art History Emerita; Jessica Fogel, Professor of Dance; and Holly Hughes, Professor of Art and Design and Theatre & Drama.