Dialogue with Simone Forti
Simone Forti, L’Attico Gallery, Rome 1968
Emanuele Piccardo: Simone Forti, you are a dancer, performer and you were born in Florence, where in the `60 there was the Radical Architecture movement. How important Anna Halprin was for your research?
SF: She was very important. She was my teacher for 4 years, I have studied intensively with her for 4 years and she was at that moment beginning to focus on improvisation, and that is when I met her. So, improvisation has been very important for me, or you could say ”composition in the moment”. I have also worked in other ways, not only with improvisation, but that has been my main way, and I am still working with improvisation. For periods of time I made pieces that I called “dance constructions”, and they consisted of scores, or situations that determined what movement would happen. For instance, some wooden boards leaned against the wall, or secured against the wall, at a 45 degrees angle with rope that the performer would use to be able to move around on that 45 degrees plane. But even that was improvised, because they did not know every move that they would make: they knew, that they were to keep moving up and down and over on that 45 degrees incline. So, that was different from the work with Anna, but it is work with improvisation.
EP: Did you participate to the workshop of Lawrence and Anna in San Francisco in 1968?
SF: No, by then I was not studying with Anna or going to her workshops anymore.
EP: Michael Kirby in his book “Happening” wrote about the influence of Dada and Futurism on the happenings and performances. What do you think about this relationship?
SF: Yes, in the happenings there were many images but there was not a definite narrative. So it was more like collages of images. Now, of course the different artists Robert Whitman, Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Red Grooms, Allan Kaprow, they were very different each one from the other and they called their work “theater”. I can see that maybe it was not so much Dada, maybe it was more Fluxus that took or continued from Dada. Because, Dada was involved in a dialogue with more conservative assumptions. Taking these conservative assumptions and turning them around making them stand on their head, but the happenings were not concerned with reacting against any conservative assumptions. They were doing their work not as a reaction against anything, but it is true that they were in that family of not needing to work with logical combinations or leading to some logic in the narrative.
EP: In 1959 Allan Kaprow did “18 happenings in six parts”, the first happening, and in 1967 Kaprow was outside of the environment of the gallery, in the landscape. My research is focused on the relationship between the concept of environment in the Italian and American artists in the `60. In Italy the artists made their work in public spaces, like a piazza, the American artists instead explored the landscape without any political implication. Why?
SF: I do not know why! There was a movement, like with Smithson to Land Art. I think that at the same moment many artists moved from where they lived to communes in the rural places, like in Vermont, for instance. There are still some groups of people who move to the country where there is corn and cows. So, there was a movement to the land in that moment. I do not know why. It is different than working in a piazza, but I am thinking of the dancer Deborah Hay, who did work, made a lot of dances in public spaces. But this was not something that was happening very much in America.
EP: I think that the Heritage of ancient Europe for the Europeans is the most important thing for the Europeans and the Italian artists too. You met Fabio Sargentini in the `60 and you organized for him a meeting with the American artists. Please, can you tell me this part of your life?
SF: Yes I was in Italy and lived in Rome for two years. I had heard that Fabio was doing some performances in his gallery, for instance “Musica Elettronica Viva”, or “MEV”, and I supposed that he would like to do a performance and I described to him those pieces that I was telling you about a few minutes ago, “Flat Boards”, the piece where two, three or maybe four performers were using the ropes to move around on a inclined surface. He liked the descriptions and offered that I could do an evening in the gallery. After the evening he was very happy with it and I told him that if he liked my work, he would also like the work of, for instance, Deborah Hay, Yvonne Reiner, Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton, David Bradshaw, and so on. I helped him to contact them and he organized the first of a series of Festivals and brought these artists and then eventually he also brought musicians, composers such as Charlemagne Palestine, La Monte Young, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and so on. I think that from seeing my work in the first performance in his gallery he got the sense of what was happening in NY. Perhaps, he felt there was a relationship with the “Arte Povera” and he had already been showing those artists like Mario Merz and the others. So, he brought the Americans to Rome.
EP: If you would describe the works in the category “happening”, what are the words that you would use? What is the definition of happening?
SF: I would say that it has two completely different definitions. The first is that it applies to the work that group of artists were doing mainly in the ’60 and ’70. The group of Allan Kaprow, Robert Whitman, Red Grooms, Jim Dine and they were thinking of the works like theatre pieces. Each one very orchestrated, very decided of what would happen at the beginning, of what would happen next, and the audience would be there to see it. Then, a later Allan Kaprow would change what was exploring, but even with his first piece “18 happenings in six parts”, I think the audience was there to see and could work in it, but the plan was very defined. Later, the word “happening” had taken to be a popular term to mean that a lot of people get together and there would be lights, and music, and freedom to do a lot impulsive things.
Interview by phone
Simone Forti (born 1935), a postmodern American choreographer and musician, was born in Italy (Florence) but moved to the United States at a young age. Throughout her career she became known for a style of dancing and choreography that was largely based on basic everyday movements, such as games and children’s playground activities,and improvisation. She danced with many well known choreographers representing various styles of dance. Some of these include Anna Halprin, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Trisha Brown and Robert Whitman.