Wandering Bird, Sandra Leonard, 2017; choreography by Sandra Kaufmann; props by John Colson; videography by Lynn True; backdrop and costume by Sandra Leonard, performed at Beverly Art Center, Chicago IL. Click on image to view video.

WANDERING BIRD: Sandra Leonard

“Critical art is an art that aims to produce a new perception of the world, and therefore to create a commitment to its transformation. This schema, very simple in appearance, is actually the conjunction of three processes: first, the production of a sensory form of ‘strangeness’; second, the development of an awareness of the reason for that strangeness and third, a mobilization of individuals as a result of that awareness.”
― Jacques Rancière, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, 2010

Born in Germany and studying sculpture at Northern Illinois University, Sandra Leonard is quite aware of such historically critical art as it has mobilized her own; Wandering Bird revisits revolutionary thought that took place exactly 100 years ago. Aligned with Dada (anti-art) and Surrealism, from 1919 until 1932, Bauhaus was an epicenter for reinventing perception. From it, Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadische Ballet made its debut in Stuttgart in 1922. Derivative of the multi-disciplinary root popularized in a Bauhaus living art practice, Leonard creates Wandering Bird expressly for the purpose of celebrating Schlemmer and the long since defunct German school, yet still much relevant school of thought, made evident in her larger body of work. “I first create the costumes or wearable sculpture pushing the abstraction of the figure. When collaborating with performers to interpret the costumes, a reciprocal dynamic is set up as the costumes impede motion therefore, dictating and or influencing movement. The resulting performances bring the sculpture to life transforming the wearer into kinetic sculpture.” Leonard’s work was included in PVAC’s “Wearable Expressions: 7th International Juried Exhibition” in 2017

Triadische Ballet, Oskar Schlemmer, 1922. Click image to view video.

Of course nowadays “strangeness” for observing stage performance abounds – from Vegas’ infamous Cirque du Soleil circuit, to the couch-surfing comforts afforded by Ru Paul’s Drag Race, most spectacle within this centennial celebration of performance art has become passive entertainment (modern day press conferences excluded). This is due in part to additional more recent breakthrough collaborations as Merce Cunningham with Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage in which mundane movement and sound collides with a misappropriation of fine art by merely giving art function (becoming set design) by putting otherwise distant disciplines on stage together. From 1933-1957, each of these artists became actively involved in forming a contemporary to Bauhaus located in North Carolina called Black Mountain College, implementing non-hierarchical engagements between artists and students for means of promoting perspective. (Notably, Josef Albers was an artist associated with Bauhaus AND Black Mountain.)

“To explain something to someone is first of all to show him he cannot understand it by himself.”
― Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation

Click image to view video of MoMA installation, 2017 of Minutiae, 1954, choreography by Merce Cunningham; set by Robert Rauschenberg; Music for Piano 1-20, John Cage, 1954

Incorporating choreography by Sandra Kaufmann, Wandering Bird, as stated, integrates costume away from everyday fashion or reference to Robert Longo’s wall art, yet still is able to make subtle reference to the intimate psychology that Pina Bausch has instituted into contemporary dance movement. Simultaneously resonating a variety of eclectic cultures, music from the Pina[1] film soundtrack is echoed.

The montage of Wandering Bird is a fresh reminder, to again quote contemporary art’s philosopher, Rancière: “in order to bring theatre back to its true essence, [the spectator] must be confronted with the spectacle of something strange, which stands as an enigma and demands that he investigate the reason for its strangeness. He must be pressed to abandon the role of passive viewer and to take on that of the scientist who observes phenomena and seeks their cause.” ― from The Emancipated Spectator, 2011

For more on Sandra Leonard’s work, please visit www.sandraleonard.com

Aaron Sheppard, Curator


[1] Pina, directed by Wim Wenders, 2011