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Helen Hansen French interprets ‘Look Touch Move’ with dance

Bill DeYoung



Helen Hanson French at "The Tree," one of the interactive areas in the "Look Touch Move" exhibit. Photos: Creative Pinellas.

Dancer Helen Hansen French worked with her longtime friend, artist Sharon McCaman, to develop a palette of movement to complement the Look Touch Move exhibit at the Creative Pinellas Gallery. It debuted in February.

McCann’s installation consists of six distinct pieces, all of which celebrate the senses – some are tactile, some are visual. Visitors are encouraged to act, react and interact with each in turn.

French’s own interpretations will take the form of Reprise, a dance performance happening Thursday, from 6 to 8 p.m., in the Walsingham Road gallery.

French, left, with artist Sharon McCaman at the Feb. 1 reception for “Look Touch Move.”

She’ll be joined by several other dancers (including McCaman) for sections of the performance in five of the six installations in Look Touch Move (the one simply called Move consists of video screens depicting dancers in motion – French herself is one of them – so that one isn’t part of Reprise).

“Each of the pieces require interactivity or physical engagement,” French explains. “I treated each of them as little worlds, or site-specific spots, in the gallery. They’re all very different, so I treat them a little bit differently when I’m looking at movement and how I want to deal with them, and interact with them.

“Certainly taking into account Sharon’s intentions of how she wants them touched or moved – what she intended for the viewer to do.”

The fabric installation Swash, French says, begins with a sign on the wall: “It says ‘Swash – Touch With a Gentle Hand.’ It tells people what to do.

“And the hesitation to touch it I thought was so interesting; the number of people I watched come in and hesitate – should I touch it? What is this about?”

The word, swash, “provokes a movement in my body,” she exclaims. “Like my arm wants to swipe or swash or slide or slip down the material. I wanted to play with that idea.”

She thought about that hesitancy she’d observed. “What do they think will happen? Are we all so socialized and trained not to touch things?”

It occurred to French that there might be an inherent fear that the fabric would somehow unravel under their touch. So in her Reprise interpretation, she will partially unravel it (with the artist’s blessing, of course). “What are we hesitant to engage with when we enter spaces that we think are something?” French wonders. “Like, we don’t touch things in a gallery – but, can we?”

Then there’s The Tree, for which French created a piece she describes as a “rather intense.”

McCaman encouraged visitors to anonymously answer simple questions – What moves you? What are you looking for? – and plant the written responses in small vessels that are then buried in the sand by the “tree.” Every so often, they are recovered, and read by the artist.

“I thought I would engage with what people wrote,” says French, “but I’ve decided not to read them. Because I felt like they were people’s private thoughts, in a way, and I wanted to honor the vulnerability that they might have shared.

“For me, the piece at The Tree was inspired by a lot of things. But there’s a sense of grappling with an inner struggle. I read this quote by Mary Oliver, and the gist of it is: The world could be ugly, and it would still function. But it’s so beautiful, it makes us ache to be worthy of being in that beauty.

“And I kind of agree with her on that. So it’s the most intense piece of all the five works.”

Although visitors will be provided with a French-created “road map” to the five 10-minutes acts, “you can engage with them as you wish,” French explains. “It flows through the gallery in a pattern, so you should be able to follow what’s happening.”

Admission is free, but an RSVP is required. Click here.






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