Notes on Dance and Philosophy_ Funk Lessons


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Summary of Adrian Piper: Notes on Funk – 1985 By Nicoletta Cappello for “Dance and Philosophy” SHDK of Tue 5.9.22



Piper’s states that the long term intention of her performances is to re-structure people’s identification with xenophobic and racist postures, by making them accessible Funk music and dance as a medium of communication with black culture, from which that have been historically set apart. According to Piper, black cultural products that still have not been appropriated by white culture provoke xenophobic responses, based on fear and anxiety towards what is unknown and perceived as different, and so activates either a defense reaction or an appropriation desire that aims to exorcise their fear to difference. Piper tells that she had experienced these kind of xenophobic reactions to her performance works including popular black working class culture elements since the beginning of career. These reactions emerged clearly in her audience-oriented performances -It’s Just Art and Some Reflective Surfaces- through downgrading commentaries or aesthetic judgments. Piper explains that in relation to the xenophobic attitude of the audience, she needed to decide whether to dismiss black culture elements from her work, or to maintain them, and through them offering tools for communication of the audience with black culture. She also reports that she had to reflected about her role as an artist in the way she realized that she was not so integrated in the white cultural as she had thought to be, by completing a process of aesthetic acculturation and Art School training. She needed to reconsider her assumption that her audience (“mostly white”, she says) would have appreciated her work as of an “higher kind of art” in virtue of its adherence to the learned principles of originality and exploration, and of its use her personal-social experiences as creative material. Instead Piper understood that the limits of what was considered innovative and original by the audience and of which social experiences were worth to be included in art where very much demarked and defined by xenophobia and ignorance. In reaction to her analysis Piper accounts that she decided to be an artist that wasn’t aiming anymore at sharing her aesthetic acculturation and her education with her black community as that was the greatest political act, by considering that kind of acquired knowledge as the most valuable one. She started instead to consider her artwork as a means to convey black working-class cultural products as gifts of the highest value to her white audience. At the end of the text, Piper reports the performance hand-out summary of Funk Lessons about Funk music and dance and its content, including both movement instructions and physical cues, technical and compositional specificities as well as the aesthetic and ethical values laying beyond them, such as “participatory, not virtuosistic”, “self-transcendent”, “socially functional” “personalistic” etc… as an expression of specific political meanings, desire for transcendence and sexual themes.



Adrian Piper. extracts from 'Notes on Funk Il', Out of Older. Out ofSight. Volume l: Selected Writings in Meta-Art (1968-1992) (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press: 1996) 198-9:201-3: 213-14.

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