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New installation and performance series by artist Brendan Fernandes opens at The Graham Foundation
View of "Brendan Fernandes: The Master and Form." 2018, Graham Foundation, Chicago. Design: Norman Kelley; dancers: Satoru Iwasaki, Yuha Kamoto, Andrea de León Rivera, Antonio Mannino, Leah Upchurch; photo: RCH.

CHICAGO, IL.- The Graham Foundation is presenting The Master and Form, a new installation and performance series by artist Brendan Fernandes that explores themes of mastery and discipline within the culture of ballet through the use of designed objects that enable dancers to perfect and extend iconic positions. The culmination of Fernandes’ fall 2017 performance artist residency at the Graham Foundation, the project engages the Foundation’s historic Madlener House and features collaborations with designers Norman Kelley and dancers from the Joffrey Academy of Dance.

In contrast to the grace and apparent ease of ballet as seen on stage, this project seeks to investigate the nature of the discipline’s idealized poses, acknowledging and challenging the depth of training necessary to achieve these forms. Working in collaboration with Norman Kelley, Fernandes developed a series of sculptural devices designed according to the ideal proportions of dancers’ bodies and serving as a site for intense, endurance-based practice. In rehearsals and performances throughout the run of the exhibition, Fernandes directs dancers as they perform with and within these structures, allowing the dancers to push closer to ideal forms on the edge of their physical abilities. Responding to the intense culture of perfectionism within ballet, Fernandes assumes the role of ballet master, using this authority to examine the complex power dynamics between designer and producer. Close enough to see dancers strain and sweat, this intimate and candid exhibition offers a safe space to consider the paradoxical appeal of the physical and psychological stresses embedded in the pursuit of perfect form.

Occupying the first and second floor galleries, the installation is activated by Fernandes’ choreography as he moves dancers through variations on daily barre work that alternates between the fixed training objects and room-scale environmental interventions. While the sculptural objects act as supports for the dancers’ bodies as they strive for ever longer extension and lengthy holds within each pose, the open scaffolding system consisting of rigid forms and suspended ropes simultaneously provides a space for counter stretches, self-care, and physical and psychological release. Delineated by the lines and proportions of the dancers, the installation repeats and draws out the house’s existing architectural elements that relate closely to the body—such as thresholds and windows—creating an acute awareness of the body moving through space for both dancers and spectators alike. The choreography, in which Fernandes is both present, but physically absent, seeks to queer the space of ballet, openly exploring dancers’ complicity in a demanding practice and the perverse pleasure of sacrifice in the name of form.

The Graham Foundation performance residency program invites practitioners working in a wide range of disciplines to expand architectural discourse and work directly with the physical spaces of the Foundation’s historic Madlener House. Now on its second year, Fernandes’ project follows Chicago-based ATOM-r’s development and presentation of Kjell Theøry during the fall of 2016.

Brendan Fernandes is a Chicago-based Canadian artist of Kenyan and Indian descent. He completed the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art (2007) and earned his MFA from the University of Western Ontario (2005) and his BFA from York University in Canada (2002). Fernandes has exhibited widely domestically and abroad, including exhibitions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Art and Design, New York; Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; The National Gallery of Canada, Ontario; The Brooklyn Museum, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Mass MoCA, North Adams, MA: The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA; Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin; Bergen Kunsthall, Norway; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; The Sculpture Center, New York; The Quebec City Biennial; and the Third Guangzhou Triennial in China. Additionally, Fernandes has been awarded many highly regarded residencies around the world. Recent exhibitions include Lost Bodies, which originated at Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, Ontario (2016) and traveled to the Textile Museum of Canada, Toronto (2017); and Free Fall, which originated at Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago (2017), and resulted in an expanded version of the performance, Free Fall 49, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles in summer 2017. His recent monograph Still Move, was published by Black Dog Press, London, fall 2016. Upcoming solo projects include The High Line, New York (summer 2018), and DePaul University Art Museum (fall 2018). He is currently artistin-residence and faculty at Northwestern University in the Department of Art Theory and Practice, and is represented by Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

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