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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Surfaces and Strategies – PhotoMonth 2017 – We Also Dance

We arrived at the Museum of Photography in Krakow in good time for the curator guided tour of the exhibition.  I was first to arrive and had chance to exchange pleasantries with Gordon MacDonald, taking the opportunity to capture a portrait (figure 1) of him in front of the information board.

When the tour started, MacDonald explained that he can’t dance!  He described himself as a watcher rather than a dancer.  He said that he has a real interest in watching and thinking abstractly about dance.  He then went onto explain that despite the title, the exhibition was not really about dance, but about personal self-expression.


Figure 1: Sutherst. 2017

Some of the work on display described dance as a route to resistance or a route to social change, a way to climb out of your social status and position into another.  Dance can be seen as an aspirational step ladder.

The exhibition includes Northern Soul Dancing and ballet dancing in the north east of England, amongst others. Some of the photographers presented challenging and thought provoking, complex images.

Figure 2: Sutherst. 2017

MacDonald talked about how he met the photographer Morten Nilsson by chance.  Whilst in Houston, Nilsson slipped his portfolio under a toilet door to MacDonald.  It was an unplanned serendipitous meeting that Nilsson capitalised on. As MacDonald said, artwork quality and chance are the routes to success. 

The stare in Nilsson’s images is intense.  It comes through the camera lens and out the other side to the viewer.  You are drawn in.  The male figures have both a fierce and effeminate quality to them.

Figure 3: Sutherst. 2017

One of the video displays by Vojtěch Veškrna, shows a ‘dance’ that is actually showing how a pilot practises a stunt display.  They practice the manoeuvres on the ground as shown in the videos below.

Video 1: Veškrna. My Air Force. 2015

Figure 4 shows stills of video clips that were running showing women dancing superimposed onto other images. Zarina Muhammad’s work ‘Cargo Collective’ was extremely odd to me and I really did not understand the message or inspiration behind the work.

Figure 4: Sutherst.2017

Video 2: Muhammad. Untitled 13. 2016

Video 3: Muhammad. 👸🏾🍍. 2015

In figure 5, Denis Darzacq depicts a ‘Falling Man’.  This was taken in a poor part of France and used street dancers to stage images.  The narrative is about the feeling in that part of Paris.  these dancers feel like they are falling and crashing to the ground.  They feel let down by society.  The images in Daracq’s work are staged and not manipulated in Photoshop, which makes them really powerful social messages.


Figure 5: Sutherst. 2017

Figure 6 shows another video display.  This time, Gillian Wearing’s ‘Dancing in Peckham’ was quite uncomfortable for me to view.  It made me, as the viewer, experience discomfort watching her dance in public.  It was obvious to me that Wearing is intensely self-conscious and shy in the video, yet she keeps dancing. The work is powerful in the emotions it made me experience. (Video 4 below shows the exhibit)


Figure 6: Sutherst. 2017

Video 4: Wearing. Dancing in Peckham. 2014

Figure 7 shows yet more uncomfortable viewing.  Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon’s ‘Dance Party in Iraq’ appeared quite sinister in nature.  The video installations show videos that the artists have collected and found from many sources of American marines dancing on the battlefield, in Iraq or Afghanistan. These are not the images we are normally presented with from war zones. We see joy and other emotions that we don’t associate with war.

To me, I saw the colonial impact of an American empire that was almost taunting the nations they are in with ‘we have your land, now you can have our culture’.  There was no music to accompany the video clips.  This removed any kind of logic from the dancing and made me concentrate on the act of the dance.  I think this lack of music really emphasised to me the sinister undertones in the installation.

Figure 7: Sutherst. 2017

There was other work on display in the exhibition, which visually challenged and stimulated everyone who attended the tour.

Today, we are obsessed with controlling all aspects of our lives.  we have become much more remote from each other than in previous times.  Dance allows us to be free with our own bodies and to move freely and without restraint with the bodies of others.  We let others into our personal space, something we as a society have been pulling away from in recent times.  The experience is universal.  No language is needed.


Video 1: MAF. 2017. Vimeo [online]. Available at: [accessed 28 May 2017].

Video 2: Untitled 13. 2017. YouTube [online]. Available at: [accessed 28 May 2017].

Video 3: 👸🏾🍍. 2017. Vimeo [online]. Available at: [accessed 28 May 2017].

Video 4: GILLIAN WEARING – Dancing in Peckham. 2017. YouTube [online]. Available at: [accessed 28 May 2017].

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