Welcome, Dean Moss!

Dean Moss is a choreographer, video artist, curator, and lecturer in interdisciplinary dance and media composition. He directs a project based company called Gametophyte Inc. A longtime New Yorker, he has had a wide range of dance training, including a short period working directly with Martha Graham, touring with the Louis Falco Dance Company, and performing in the Paris company of Broadway’s revival West Side Story, all in the early 1980’s. Notably he also danced ten years (1983-93) with the post-modern choreographer David Gordon in his Pick-up Performance Company. These experiences are manifest indirectly through his own work: in its focus on perception and the fluidity of self, and in its use of transcultural, multimedia performance collaborations that often incorporate audience participation. 
Moss’ performance works have been commissioned by the New York Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, P.S.1, The Seoul International Dance Festival, The Yerba Buena Art Center and The Kitchen among others. They have been acknowledged by a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in Choreography; the Doris Duke Impact Award in Theatre; a Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Artists Grant; plus fellowships in both Choreography and Multidisciplinary Works from the New York Foundation for the Arts. A New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award was received for his work Spooky action at a distance
Moss was the Curator of Dance and Performance at The Kitchen from 1999-2004 and a Curatorial Advisor until 2009. He has lectured internationally including at Tokyo University of the Arts, Kookmin University in Seoul, and Harvard University in the department of Visual and Environmental Studies, for which he received a Certificate of Distinction in Teaching from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Recently Moss was Resident Faculty at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture; Dance Faculty at Princeton University; and co-taught the video and performance composition course Bodies, Spaces, Intimacy and Power in the Age of Covid Isolation in the Painting Dept. at Rhode Island School of Design. During the 2021/22 academic year he will join the department of Kinetic Imaging at Virginia Commonwealth University. Dean Moss is honored to serve on the Foundation for Contemporary Arts’ Board of Directors.

The Department of Kinetic Imaging welcomes visiting professor Dean Moss. We’re incredibly excited to have such a critically acclaimed artist joining us for the 2021-2022 school year! We asked Moss a few questions about his practice and what he hopes to do during his time with VCUarts.

KI: How would you describe your teaching style/teaching philosophy?

Moss: In working with students my aim is to create a learning environment that articulates the collaborative, multilayered and cross disciplinary nature of art making. An environment that also encourages the student’s social and cultural awareness, their engagement with each other, and with me, to heighten their abilities in critical inquiry, aesthetic understanding, and compositional skill.

K: How does your background influence the work that you create?

M: My background is a little eccentric. So perhaps this example will do:
My early multidisciplinary work reflected a contrary, rather than affirmative, relationship to identity. Early video and performance projects were impressionistic and self-referential in content, multidisciplinary and representational in expression. The work was not originally based in an art historical context, rather it grew from compulsive responses much like “outsider art”. Though I attempted to engage in contemporary aesthetic discourse, the early work was
tentative, questioning deeply neither the established structures of, nor the inherent relationships in established theatrical space or visual installation. Like many outliers before, I did tend to do everything: choreograph and perform, construct sets, design costumes, mix the audio and produce all video elements. Doing so over time I learned to render ideas and balance media in ways that create, shape and sustain viewer tension. The resulting productions gained a critical reputation for an “obsessive concern with visual detail”, and “harrowing” violence.
This process was epitomized by a 2001 solo inspired by Bill Viola’s video installation, “Slowly Turning Narrative”. In it I questioned my brother who was working in the illicit drug trade about our childhood rivalry and set the interview to images and a score composed from two films, one cowboy and one samurai, with the same plot. As in Viola’s installation, the work incorporated a large panel that was white on one side, and mirror on the other. As I manipulated the panel in the dance, the video imagery was projected onto movement, and reflected out to the audience, whose own gaze was simultaneously captured and incorporated into the work. The “board dance” from “american deluxe” was my first work to point clearly toward non-representational strategies for performance production. It was effective because its meaning hinged on the simultaneous integration of the physical and ephemeral: the performer, the viewer, the narrative, sound, light and space, resulting in an immersive carefully plotted visceral experience.
I would use the same media/performance strategy with many future works, in particular, the 2014 performance “johnbrown”: a multidisciplinary work that will be presented on campus by VCU students in spring 2022.

K: What can you bring to the department that is uniquely yours?

M: What does anybody bring that’s “uniquely” theirs? Perhaps they bring a personal history? Their society determined ambitions, and their all too individually specific failures? I suppose I’m the same. What I bring is that experience: the forty year struggle as an experimental artist in New York City; thirty years as an independent art maker (some of it acclaimed); twenty years mentoring/lecturing/teaching performance and media composition, internationally and across disciplines; ten year experience as artist curator at The Kitchen. It all adds up to a compassion for and recognition of the emerging artist’s complicated paths to a success they cannot yet imagine, and a desire to assist them in that ambiguous goal by helping them more rigorously understand the fluidity of themselves and the world in which they exist.

K: Who do you partner with to achieve your goals?

M: When the goal is a performance project, I collaborate broadly as it is a collaborative form. Often the collaboration itself is the goal. In those cases I’m most interested in how someone from another discipline solves a problem that I’m familiar with so to disrupt and expand my own established creative paths. For example, I collaborated with a visual artist, Laylah Ali, on a performance work titled “figures on a field”. The work was based on a series of her paintings, but instead of inviting her to create the usual visual environment, I asked her to assist in the movement direction of the performers. This destabilized both our practices, made us both humble and vulnerable, and resulted in exposing intimately the complex processes by which we framed and made our aesthetic choices. Processes that completely changed the outcome of the work, and that would have otherwise remained opaque and inaccessible.
Similarly the repeated use of audience participation as a collaborative force in the works, is a strategy for accessing a deep vulnerability that virtuosity in performance arts cannot attain. It brings a sense of immediate risk to the viewer. A sense that heightens their visceral involvement. In the afore mentioned “johnbrown”, teen aged productions assistants serve as the lens through which the work must be perceived. Performative violence is given edge and impact as it’s seen in relationship to the innocent young bodies that prepare the space, frame the action, and clean-up the mess.
When the goal is a media project, I’m more likely at the beginning to hold my cards closer and honor early intuition. Still I soon consult with the collaborating production team, and thereafter with a group of trusted viewers to assist in honing a vision that has, more often than not, changed radically from the original intent.

K: What influences your choices of medium, both in your practice in general and on a piece
to piece basis?

M: I suppose that question comes down to presence and its articulation. If the complexities of presence and absence, personhood and subjectivity, and importantly live audience response and its impact on the presentation, play a substantial role in my understanding of the concept, then the work tends toward containing performative elements, and conforming to performance paradigms. Should the concept require an examination of scale and intimacy, a challenge to the body’s integrity, a strong sense of story telling, or visual multiplicity, then my current tendency is to look to screen media.
Still it’s only recently that I discovered that this choice was mine to make. That I had acquired the resources as in tools, but also in cultural zeitgeist, social network, and personal mentality, to envision a substantive range of intertwined creative practices that takes effortless advantage of an often blindly unfolding life.

photo courtsey of Tim Trumble