MIDDLETOWN — It’s not often students have the chance to be part of the art showcased in Wesleyan University’s Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, but a current exhibit gives some of them a central role.
“(Fernandes) really liked the idea of working with younger dancers and giving them an opportunity to learn through the process of the choreography and the exhibition,” said Benjamin Chaffee, the school’s associate director of visual arts. The exhibit is co-curated by Chaffee and Rosemary Lennox, who previously served in the role.
Brendan Fernandes’ “Inaction” exhibit opened at the beginning of the month and runs through December 8. As a Canadian artist trained in dance, Fernandes’ projects often address issues of race, gay culture, migration, and other collective movements. He has been recognized globally and was recently part of the 2019 Whitney Biennial. The title comes from acting on the idea of resistance.
His installation at Wesleyan is a sculptural and performance-based experience, including a single-channel video projection titled “Free Fall: For Camera.” It was designed in collaboration with the architecture and design firm Norman Kelley.
Chaffee said the artist decided to work with dance students and a local New York dancer to create the choreography special for their gallery.
“(Fernandes)’s decision to work with Wesleyan student dancers was one of the things we could really offer here at the university,” Chaffee said. “That we have a dance program and so many amazing student dancers was an opportunity for him to work closely with a very local community.”
About a dozen university dance students are part of the installation performance and interact with the various structures.
Senior Kiara Benn, a psychology and dance double major, is part of the group of dancers. Benn worked with Fernandes in Chicago the summer before, as part of the university’s DanceLink fellowship program.
“He’s just a really nice and personable and funny and a very intelligent person,” Benn said.
Benn appreciated the trust Fernandes gave to the dancers. It was the first time she had performed in a gallery.
“It’s just a very different type of show,” she said. “It’s interesting to see how people engage.”
Chaffee hopes the exhibit will challenge visitors to think about the potential for dance, and for movement, in a space.
“The audience is also performing their role in the exhibit space … That can be a little uncomfortable,” Chaffee said.
The “Free Fall: On Camera” video plays in a loop. It is born of the artist’s series of live, dance-based performances responding to the June 2016 Orlando shooting at the Pulse Nightclub.
The exhibit, with the video, but without performers, can be seen Tuesday and Wednesday from noon to 5 p.m., Thursday from noon to 7 p.m., and Friday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Dance performances are scheduled for Saturdayat 10 p.m., Monday at 12:15 p.m., Nov. 2 at 2 p.m., Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. and Dec. 5 at 5 p.m.
The gallery is located at 238 Washington Terrace, Middletown.