Maya Deren, Ritual in Transfigured Time / Film still
Ritual in Transfigured Time
Mar 22 – May 26, 2024
Aalst, Belgium

The new NW is inaugurated with the opening exhibition Ritual in Transfigured Time, named after the 1946 short film of the same name by Maya Deren (Kiev, 1917–New York, 1961). Deren, whose life was driven by a desire for freedom, was a guiding light for us in devising the exhibition and film programme, as well as the principles of our revitalised organisation: dialogue, collaboration, experiment and the breaking down of boundaries.

Many of life’s changes are accompanied by rituals. Rituals delineate liminal phases, the moments between two positions or roles. At the momentary threshold between the old and new NW, we celebrate this radical metamorphosis. Here, in this place, we invite artists to scrutinise, face up to and recreate realities, whether through enchantment or resistance. For Deren, transformation meant treading both paths: dance as poetic self-expression and as a form of liberation.

The exhibition opens with Deren’s 16mm film Ritual in Transfigured Time. The film is a ‘documentary of the inner self’, as the artist herself described it. In Deren’s view, ritual dance brought about a ‘depersonalisation’, where the dancer, supported by the community, could be liberated from social and cultural limitations. In this work, the dancing body assumes the space to experience suppressed freedoms once more without limit, to escape from the oppression of the everyday.

Gaëlle Choisne presents a tear-shaped stage and a film made together with dancer Kettly Noël and guitarist Daniele Morelli following the principles of improvisation and transfiguration. Carlotta Bailly-Borg presents an installation with sandblasted glass doors referring to the notion of the momentary threshold, as well as a series of paintings of timeless, forward-flowing figures. Onyeka Igwe interweaves colonial archive footage with her own visual language in an attempt to reclaim Black dance from the colonial project. Ula Sickle explores the concept of a ‘cinematic camera’ in recordings of dance rehearsals for her performance Holding Present, which was a collaboration with Ictus, the Brussels-based ensemble for contemporary music. Bárbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca show how Frevo, a traditional Brazilian dance, places the self-representation and autonomy of the dancer first. Darius Dolatyari-Dolatdoust treats the costume like a score that grants the performer a new sensory perception of their body. (LA)HORDE offers a contemporary take on dance as ritual within the context of music festivals, collective effervescence and mass consumption.

None of the artworks in this opening exhibition use spoken language; instead, it is only the body that speaks. Under circumstances where speaking becomes pressured or even impossible, artists have been known to find other ways to open doors and let in the unknown.

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