Ringling Museum installation inspires liminal exploration

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Photo by Manuel Chantre.

When Haitian-born choreographer and dancer Rhodnie Desir embarked on her “Bow’t Trail” journey in 2015, she hoped to capture something elusive but vitally important. The trip took her all over the Americas to explore how people of African descent rescued their history from the annihilating forces of the slave trade. Participating in long and grueling workshops with local dancers and musicians in Mexico, Canada, Martinique, Brazil and the United States, Desir hoped to adapt his Bow’t Trail choreography into different versions that could ensure the posterity of these stories and practice. “I really wanted to experience the ingenuity of my sisters and how they resisted the destruction of their culture,” says Desir.

Each visit began with two weeks of intensive workshops with community elders, including long conversations and choreography sessions that began at 6 a.m. and sometimes extended into the next day. After working on the stories and dances, a documentary crew would arrive and film on location for another two weeks, capturing the movements and ideas explored as well as a performance of each city’s unique version of the “Bow’t Trail” by Desire. “It sounds exotic, but I barely slept or ate,” Desir says, “and at the end of all that searching, drama, trauma, and celebration, my body had over 130 stories preserved within it.”

These stories are at the center of “Conversations”, his first-ever visual art exhibition commissioned and hosted at the Ringling Museum. In it, Desir attempts to transfer the sacredness of the academic and spiritual vigor of the Bow’t Trail project into an immersive installation designed to draw the viewer’s gaze inward and, Desir hopes, enliven some of his own deeply transformative experience.

The exhibition, located inside the Monda Gallery, uses draped fabrics, projections, lighting design and sound design to accentuate the visitor’s journey through the installation. A projection of handwritten text at the entrance to the installation prepares the visitor for the emotional approach desired for the exhibition. The path through the installation continues down a corridor of sheer black fabric and winds around the gallery to a meditation hut and boat-making station, where visitors are encouraged to fold a paper boat and add it to a great trickle of other boats spreading out. in heap. Another area of ​​the installation features images from his documentary projected onto a series of sheer white curtains that visitors are encouraged to pass through.

At the end of the journey through the installation, the impression is that something of grave importance has happened, an unspoken feeling that does not exist beyond the words, but below them in a larger space. elementary. The lights, polyrhythms, textures and projections of “Conversations” swirl and plunge the spectator into an emotion.

“I want them to feel like they’ve been to a temple. It’s all so self-explanatory now in the digital age, and I don’t want them to come out and say, ‘I have to post this on social media,’” Desir says. “I want them to witness the conversation internally.

“Conversations” runs until April 3.

Photo by Manuel Chantré.

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