I just viewed Diana Crum’s site-specific work, yellow, at the Main Library here in Salt Lake City. I was particularly excited about this performance due my recent interest in how environments affect our behavior, our interactions with spaces, and our interactions with others.
For those not familiar with the main library, the entrance is an expansive vestibule with small shops on one side and the library on the other. When you walk in and look up, you see up at least three stories and then out skylights into the sky.
The performers were eye-catching in their unseasonable bright yellow costumes—a great contrast to the huge windows and skylights in the main area of the library, which cast a grey shadow with the rainy, cool weather.
The performance began with the dancers being seemingly blown in—traversing the long space between the two sets of entrance doors at either end of the space. Eventually ending in a long line across the vast space of the vestibule, the dancers began a slow, leaning, and backward descent into the floor.
For me, this section was the most engaging. I was drawn in by the spotted contrast of the yellow costumes to the grayness seen through the windows, the grayness of the steel beams, and the stone floors. They dancers were like beams of light in an otherwise desolate landscape, the landscape of the library.
Part of the reason I was drawn to this section was that it allowed me to view how the people using the library (hereafter referred to as the “people of the library”) interacted with the dancers. Many of them wove a curvilinear path that avoided the dancers without ever acknowledging their presence. It was as if the dancers conflicted with the people of the library’s sense of who or what “belonged” in the vestibule, and they choose to pretend that the dancers didn’t exist. Instead of investigating what was happening, these “onlookers” chose to continue on their way—even though the very nature of their changed path was as a result of the encumbrance of the dancers in the space. Why?
When we enter a library, we expect certain things: books, quiet, and people looking at books or studying. We certainly don’t expect to see dancers in yellow slowly falling to the ground or being blown by an invisible wind.
This piece challenged the people of the library to question their assumptions of the use of the library space. What else don’t we do in this space? And why not? If nothing else, it made the people of the library go out of their way for a moment—change their pattern. It would be interesting to do a study on this kind of work and catalog how many different kinds of behaviors a piece like this might elicit—from ignoring, to a side-ways glance, to standing to watch. And—I wonder if there is any way to motivate more people toward the standing to watch end. Or would that even be preferable?
Rachael Shaw is a VCU alum & current MFA Candidate at the University of Utah