A performance in three parts


by Jennifer Burris


At first, the question was material. Working with homemade pendulums constructed from plastic squeeze bottles, lead fishing weights, hardware-store cording, and black duct tape, artist Field Kallop set the laws of simple harmonic motion into action. It was winter 2012, and snow covered the late January ground of the Berkshires. Invited to participate in a site-specific exhibition of installation and performance art at Race Brook Lodge in Sheffield, Massachusetts, she tied a series of ropes directly to existing beams that spanned the ceiling of a disused space with wooden floorboards. Using these lines to suspend the bottles, which were then filled with sand, Field released them into spiral motion; spontaneous actions transfigured into temporary sculptures that the evening destroyed as it wore on.


The following fall, I invited Field to revisit this work in the context of a group exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Philadelphia. Expanding on the notion of site-specificity, our early conversations not only addressed the physical dimensions of the gallery in which her work would take place, but also geographic, cultural, and historic context. A Foucault pendulum—devised by physicist Léon Foucault to demonstrate the Earth's rotation and permanently installed in Philadelphia's Franklin Institute—reinforced the work's relationship to planetary movement, bridging the mutual evocation of childhood science experiments and cosmological truths at play throughout Field's practice. Subsequent discussions led to music. Her choice of a fragment from Book X of Plato's Republic for the performance's title—and upon each stood a siren, borne around in its revolution—conjures the ways in which musicality is used to describe planetary rotation; "And the spindle turned on the knees of Necessity, and up above on each of the rims of the circles a Siren stood, borne around in its revolution and uttering one sound, one note, and from all the eight their was a concord of a single harmony." Cymatics, or the study of visible sound and vibration, returned such ideational forms to concrete gestures. She shared videos of sand sprinkled on a metal plate, dancing into wave patterns through musical frequency.


What remained a question, as before, was material. Beginning with practical necessity—the requirement that it flow smoothly, not clog in the pendulum's funnel, create fluid shapes—Field considered crushed quartz crystal, ground glass, and silica powder before coming across an industrially-produced material called "German Glass Glitter." Sold as a versatile decorating product for children's crafts and wedding fantasies, the product's name points to the material genealogy of glitter itself. First manufactured from glass at the turn of the 20th century, glitter started to be made from plastic during World War II when Germany's industrial factories were consumed with weapon manufacturing. This "German Glass Glitter," sometimes called "Diamond Dust," also occupies an iconic place in contemporary art. During the later part of his career, Andy Warhol used the material in his silkscreen-on-linen works of Technicolor shoes and people like Joseph Beuys or Karen Kain. In 1965, Warhol had his first solo museum show at ICA: a pivotal moment that often overshadows the institution's complex and multifaceted history. Incorporating diamond dust into her performance, Field referenced this legacy while also allowing it to dissolve as glittering refuse on the ground.