Art is born in ‘Nameless forest’ at Yerba Buena Center 

click to enlarge Interactive art: Dean Moss’ “Nameless forest” involves participation by audience members. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Interactive art: Dean Moss’ “Nameless forest” involves participation by audience members.

Describing choreographer Dean Moss’ multidisciplinary performance “Nameless forest” is like trying to explain what makes the “Mona Lisa” great.

Once you get beyond the knowns — Moss’ work, taking place Thursday through Saturday at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, is based in part on his reaction to the sculptures of South Korean artist Sungmyung Chun, while the “Mona Lisa” is a portrait of a woman whose expression and inner feelings are enigmatic at best — you’re left with very little to put your finger on.

“The piece is about community,” Moss says via Skype. “It’s about how artists integrate with community and communities integrate with artists.”

Moss found himself fascinated by Chun’s sculptures when he first saw them in Seoul. The figures, 40 inches high, are grouped in ways that tell of the discovery of personhood.

Every figure has the same face of the artist and wears a striped T-shirt, but some feature two torsos emerging for a single pair of legs, with one holding the other hostage in some way.

Ultimately, they explore different versions of the self.

“Why do people love and respond to them so positively?” Moss asked himself. “What does a work like this, whose narrative is so personal, give to people that elicits such an enthusiastic response?”

Out of Chun’s sculptures, which will be arranged on the floor of Yerba Buena’s Forum, has arisen “Nameless forest.” The work includes six performers and 15 audience members who create a ritual of joining together onstage.

In addition to their spontaneous interaction, the work includes diary fragments and war imagery by photojournalist Mike Kamber, neon sculpture by visual artist Gandalf Gaván and an original score by environmental and found-sound composer Stephen Vitiello.

“I wanted the audience to be at the center of the work, and to join us artists within our community,” Moss says. “We’ve worked very hard to understand what our audience will do; we want to capitalize on their choices, and give them shape within the work.”

If that sounds vague, compare it with this press release-speak: “Moss’ most ambitious work to date … explores subjectivity and the nature of perception by translating Chun’s figurative installations into live action and questioning the act of translation itself. With its integration of the ‘other’ through disciplinary and cultural translation, aesthetic references and shared authorship, ‘Nameless forest’ reflects a significant trend, not only in the changing world of contemporary dance, but in the evolution of American identity.”

If that doesn’t shake your booty, nothing will. Seats are limited, especially for Saturday’s “Smart Night Out,” which includes dinner and a post-show discussion.


Dean Moss’ ‘Nameless forest’

Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, 701 Mission St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Tickets: $5 (Thursday only) to $40
Contact: (415) 978-2787;
Note: “Smart Night Out” begins at 6 p.m. Saturday.

About The Author

Jason Victor Serinus

Jason Victor Serinus

Jason Victor Serinus is a music and high performance audio critic, whistler, and lecturer on opera and vocal recordings. He is editor of Psychoimmunity and the Healing Process: A Holistic Approach to Immunity & AIDS. In addition to writing for the San Francisco Examiner, he has written about music for Opera News,... more
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