Erin Dunn: Oceanic Dancer: Curated by Rujeko Hockley

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JUNE 4 – JULY 9, 2016



JUNE 4 – JULY 9, 2016





Thomas G. Devine

Lynn Crawford

Theodore S. Berger Thomas K.Y. Hsu Vivian Kuan

Corina Larkin

Brian D. Starer

Gregory Amenoff, Emeritus


Corina Larkin Executive Director Beatrice Wolert-Weese Deputy Director Shona Masarin-Hurst Programs Manager Chase Martin Development Coordinator


Polly Apfelbaum Katie Cercone Ian Cooper

Michelle Grabner Eleanor Heartney

Trenton Doyle Hancock Pablo Helguera Paddy Johnson Deborah Kass

Sharon Lockhart

Rossana Martinez Juan Sรกnchez

Irving Sandler Lilly Wei

Andrea Zittel

CUE Art Foundation is a dynamic visual arts center dedicated to creating essential career and educational opportunities for emerging artists of

all ages. Through exhibitions, arts education, and public programs, CUE

provides artists and audiences with sustaining and meaningful experiences and resources.

CUE’s exhibition program aims to present new and exceptionally strong work by under-recognized and emerging artists based in the United States, and is committed to exhibiting work of all media, genres, and styles from artists of all ages.

This exhibition is a winning selection from the 2015-16 Open Call for Solo

Exhibitions. The proposal was unanimously selected by a jury comprised of

panelists Cecilia Alemani, Donald R. Mullen, Jr. Director & Chief Curator of High Line Art; Renaud Proch, Executive Director of Independent Curators

International (ICI); and Rujeko Hockley, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum. In line with CUE’s commitment to providing

substantive professional development opportunities, panelists also serve as mentors to the exhibiting artists, providing support throughout the process of developing the exhibition.


ERIN DUNN Few symbols are as loaded as the ocean and even fewer are as vast as dance. Oceanic Dancer celebrates movement as a pathway towards ecstasy, like the exhilaration of leaping into a wave or diving into a dance. A rapturous and psychedelic odyssey with nods to folk traditions from around the world, this non-narrative animation takes on mystical limitlessness. Lions dance, women spin, and beasts breathe rhythmically in this animated fantasy. My animations are triggered by whirling dances and hallucinatory music, immersing the viewer in an alternative landscape for imagination. My paintings render a similar grotesque fairytale aesthetic, a portal to the cult of the ballet. Spirits await. Unapologetically female in imagery and process, my work dances with amateur spirit. Labor, patience, manual dexterity, and other associations with ‘feminine virtue’ combine bold expression and impulsive ambition. All aspects of my film and installation work are handcrafted—a metered timeline of hot-glue, sculpting, mold making, painting, photography, and general studio chaos. The music for Oceanic Dancer, “Tango with Love,” was written, performed and recorded by Grady Owens, with vocals by myself.


ARTIST BIO Erin Dunn is a filmmaker born and raised on the Jersey Shore, currently based in Brooklyn, New York. Her process incorporates painting, mixed-media collage, sound, and performance, coalescing in experimental stop-motion animations and highly detailed installations.

Special thanks to Mary Ellen Dunn, Thomas Dunn, Grady Owens, Rujeko Hockley, Shona Masarin-Hurst, Beatrice Wolert Weese, Rachel Heidenry, Paul DeMuro, Carl Berg, and Kary Krinsman.

Dunn holds a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA from Rutgers University, where she received a Teaching Assistant and Graduate Assistant fellowship. She has been awarded residencies at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and Residency Unlimited, both in New York; and Stitching Kaus Australis in the Netherlands. Dunn had exhibited at venues including MoMA PS1, the New Museum, and The Kitchen in New York; MOCA in Los Angeles; and W139 in the Netherlands. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Bullett Media, DIS Magazine, Animal New York, LA Weekly, V Magazine, and Fader, among others.



Erin Dunn’s work is playfully transfixing, and quietly seductive. Like ballet, an art form she trained in in her youth, the work passes off extreme labor—that of the artist herself as well as the animated figures who populate her videos—as light and near effortless, though not entirely. In ballet, you don’t show the work— you are the work, and that work is perfection. Here, in her latest fantastical animation and accompanying installation, Oceanic Dancer, premiering at CUE Art Foundation, Dunn is not after perfection, but instead wonder, release, and affect, though, as always, with a side of the grotesque or surreal. The glue shows, the places where a miniature silicon-covered joint was bent or massaged are evident, the artifice of fake trees and glittery dollar-store glamour isn’t hidden away or masquerading as ‘real.’ In Want You Back (2009), a music video made for Nite Jewel, two undulating wraiths—Lilliputians, ghosts, wisps on the breeze—perform an exuberant stopmotion pas de deux against a series of beachfront backdrops. Like their motions, slightly jerky even as


they slide in and out of synchrony and perfect unison, the video is meticulous, dynamic, and lyrical, but again the tiniest bit grotesque. Body parts—posteriors, specifically—disengage to perform their own minirecital, before re-engaging to contribute their necessary muscle to a perfectly aligned arabesque. In both works, as well as the rest of her oeuvre, Dunn’s detailed fantasy-worlds are immersive, thoroughly rendered, and all-consuming. They speak to the strength and idiosyncrasy of her vision and creative impulse, whether in dance, video, painting, or installation.

CURATOR BIO Rujeko Hockley is Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum. She joined the Museum in 2012 and has since worked on exhibitions including LaToya Ruby Frazier: A Haunted Capital (2013), The Bruce High Quality Foundation: Ode to Joy, 2001-2013 (2013), Unfolding Tales: Selections from the Collection (2013, 2014) (Co-curator), Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond (2014) (Co-curator), Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic (2015), I See Myself in You: Selections from the Collection (2015) (Co-curator), and Kara Walker: African Boy Attendant Curio (Bananas) (2015) (Curator). She serves on the Board of Art Matters, as well as the Advisory Board of Recess. She received her BA from Columbia University in Art History and is a PhD Candidate in Art History, Theory, and Criticism in the Visual Arts Department at the University of California, San Diego.


Snike, 2016 20” x 20” Watercolor on canvas



Smif, 2016 20” x 20” Watercolor on canvas


Jumpin Bayou, 2016 20” x 20” Watercolor on canvas


Snider, 2016 20” x 20” Watercolor on canvas


Connected, 2016 20” x 20” Watercolor on canvas


Skylee, 2016 20” x 20” Watercolor on canvas




OPPOSITE Spectra, 2016 ABOVE Future Sprite, 2016 20” x 20” Watercolor on canvas



Oceanic Dancer, 2016 Still, HD Video


Oceanic Dancer, 2016 Stills, HD Video



Oceanic Dancer, 2016 Stills, HD Video




Oceanic Dancer, 2016 Still, HD Video


Frog Monkey, 2014 Still, HD Video


Rapture’s Adagio, 2012 Still, HD Video



Erin Dunn grew up at the Jersey Shore and spent her childhood exploring the Pine Barrens—the vast patch of forest known for misshapen trees and mythic tales. This odd, unexplored expanse of land in the middle of a region known for its turnpikes and boardwalks, deeply influences Dunn’s airbrushed paintings and stop-motion animations, in which the natural mixes with the grotesque to create mythic illusions. The Pine Barrens are subtly included in Dunn’s latest stop-motion animation, Oceanic Dancer, with a background of artificial pine trees. The set includes strings of colorful lights, faux flowers, and mounds of sand, representing the contradictory visual worlds of her girlhood. The puppets that she animates in this setting capture the fantasy of performance—the ideal of the dancer who can let go of her inhibitions and allow her body to lead. Inspired by the idea of Freud’s 28

“oceanic feeling”—the concept in which an infant experiences a oneness with the world before it learns that other people inhabit it—Dunn seeks to express that feeling through motion. A captivating and upbeat tempo anchors the work, which is enhanced by dramatic lightning. It begins with a strange pink bird “dancing” on the whimsical stage—its feathers blowing with each twirl. Dunn makes all her characters by hand, her puppets resembling plastic dolls or, in the bird’s case, a feathered muppet. Oceanic Dancer features female dancers outfitted in eclectic embroidered tops or beaded headpieces, each performing alone on the colorful stage moving between pliés and pirouettes. One dancer, her skin a vibrant red, even dances with paper umbrellas in hand, amplifying the theatrics of the performance. Close-ups of their faces reveal Dunn’s attention to detail—the puppet’s

eyes opening and closing during particularly expressive moments. Through a wave or a song, Oceanic Dancer visualizes the freedom of letting go as also a kind of purity. While Oceanic Dancer was not yet finished when this essay was written, there is little doubt that the momentum created between dance, lightning, and sound will continue to amplify until completed. Judging from previous works, particularly her 2012 stop-motion animation, Rapture’s Adagio, she will build up the complexity of these elements to create unpredictable and elaborate expressions full of mesmerizing movement. Classically trained in ballet, Dunn’s stop-motion animations are imbued with her sensibility as a dancer. She understands the subtleties of movement—the gesture of the hands or the point of a toe—adding a sophisticated elegance to the aesthetic of her work. She subverts this elegance, however, with grotesque imagery out of old-time fairytales. Also referencing surrealist film and painting, she embraces odd, distorted shapes and densely filled spaces, layering elements on top of one another to create elaborate sets and eccentric characters. Dunn’s works also have a deliberate “girlishness” to them—the artist unafraid of the stereotypical pinks and purples, or even glitter and sequins, often associated with female adolescence. Dunn’s work is thus a complex aesthetic of contradictions. It is at once elegant and kitschy, natural and artificial. Her works are full of illusion and fantasy, but yet feel relatable and familiar. While Dunn’s work is certainly in dialogue with a number of contemporary artists who embrace stop-motion animation and the fantasy of its methodology, such as Allison Schulnik and

Nathalie Djurberg, her practice more importantly harks back to earlier animators. Stop-motion animation from Eastern Europe, such as Czech artist Jiří Trnka and his studio, had a clear influence on Dunn’s artistic development. Beginning his career as a set designer, Trnka, like Dunn, came to animation through the stage, merging the tradition of Czech puppet theater with film and maintaining a commitment to the handmade. As an illustrator for the Brothers Grimm, Trnka also took inspiration from myths and children’s tales in which stories about love and friendship were full of strange and frightening details. For Dunn, this reference to childhood stories is important. Citing her interest in myths and fairytales from around the world, she intentionally celebrates the fantasies of youth while also reminding us that these stories are very often dark, their meanings imbedded in the complexities of life. Indeed, as much as Oceanic Dancer speaks to the freedom of letting go, it is also full of nostalgia, particularly the nostalgia for the carefree ethos of adolescence. The work also speaks to desire and the act of looking at the female body. In this way, the sexualized environment of growing up as a young dancer, where the body is constantly on display, makes its way into the work, with Dunn inviting viewers to ask: Are they dancing for themselves, as if alone in their bedroom, and, if not, who are they dancing for? Painting and drawing are also central to Dunn’s practice. In her latest series of watercolors, she airbrushes canvases to create brightly colored portraits of female characters or made-up creatures, some anthropomorphic, others recognizably animals. Though she often exhibits these works separately, the relationship 29

between her painted characters and sculptural puppets is evident, their odd-shaped bodies and exaggerated, black-lined eyes evoking the same mythical presence. The semi-translucent airbrush aesthetic—referencing the caricaturists and material kitsch of the Jersey Shore’s boardwalk— also heightens the sense of fantasy in her work. Furthermore, Dunn frequently incorporates painted elements in her animations. Rapture’s Adagio, inspired by Piero Camporesi’s essay “The Prodigious Manna,” begins with stunning hypnotic abstractions overlaid with filmed sequences of beaches and forest. The abstractions evoke the hallucinatory visions of the main character, Santa Chiara de Montefalco, a medieval nun whose heart, the story goes, was pierced by the cross, giving her lifelong hallucinations and pain. These abstractions first appear as circular dots of varying colors floating in the center of the work, animated to resemble fireworks or kaleidoscope patterns that appear and disappear as the film progresses. Like her puppets, Dunn’s painted abstractions move and change with the rhythm of the work, at first mimicking the slow, methodical tempo of a haunting male voice, later simulating the tonal pulse of a heartbeat, offering a new, animated take on optical illusion. The eleven-minute stop-motion animation leads us through moments in Sister Chiara’s life as a nun, the abstract animations becoming the background to a more formal set for Dunn’s puppets’ performance. From engaging in ritual acts to dissecting a human heart, movement—including an impressive synchronized duet—remains at the core of the animation. From animated illusion to concrete reality, the work culminates with Sister Chiara, the hallucinations and chest pains gone, dancing naked on an 30

actual beach, her long dark hair cascading down her back—representing, once again, the freedom of letting go. Both Rapture’s Adagio and Oceanic Dancer underscore the deep sense of spirituality that runs through Dunn’s animations. Whether pulling from the performativity of Catholic rituals or reminding us that dance can be a spiritual exercise, Dunn is interested in showing how the body is central to systems of belief. Following in Trnka’s tradition, Dunn imbues her training as an animator with her sensibility as a craftswoman. Producing nearly all of the components that make up her animations, from painted backdrops and costumes, to lightning and sound, Dunn enjoys the process of making— the hot glue gun just as important as the camera. She is committed to knitting and sewing as much as she is to painting and animation and actively engages with new techniques and processes. For instance, for Oceanic Dancer she used YouTube tutorials to teach herself how to make anatomically correct dolls from silicone molds. Embracing the laboriousness of art, Dunn’s process emphasizes the time and energy involved in the production of stop-motion animations. In this way, Dunn continuously blurs reality and illusion. She explains, “I am tricking the audience to enter a world, when really it is just sand on my table.” Indeed, throughout her work, she invites us to consider the contemporary place of fantasy, asking what is reality and what is illusion? As we know with stop-motion animation, what appears to be a dancer seamlessly moving through space is merely a puppet posed in each graceful arc or twirl, the real movement coming from the artist herself, invisible to the viewer’s eyes, slowly orchestrating the entire fantasy behind the scenes.

This essay was written as part of the Young Art Critic Mentoring Program, a partnership between AICA-USA (US section of International Association of Art Critics) and CUE, which appoints established art critics to serve as mentors for emerging writers. In 2014, CUE joined forces with Art21, combining the Young Art Critic Mentoring Program with the Art21 Magazine Writer-in-Residence initiative. Each writer composes a long-form critical essay on one of CUE’s exhibiting artists for publication in CUE’s exhibition catalogue, which is also published by Art21 in its online magazine. Please visit for more information on AICA-USA, or to learn how to participate in this program. Any quotes are from interviews with the author unless otherwise specified. No part of this essay may be reproduced without prior consent from the author. Lilly Wei is AICA’s Coordinator for the program this season. For additional arts-related writing, please visit Writer Rachel Heidenry is an art writer and curator based in Philadelphia and New York. She focuses on contemporary art from the United States and Latin America, with particular interest in photography, video, and public art. Heidenry was a 2011-2012 Fulbright Scholar in El Salvador, where she studied post-war mural painting. From 2012-2014, she was the Senior Curatorial and Research Fellow at Slought in Philadelphia. Her writing has appeared in publications including The Architect’s Newspaper, Artblog, Public Art Dialogue, Artsy, and the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. She holds a BA in art history and human rights from Bard College and is currently completing her MA in modern and contemporary art history at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Mentor Amei Wallach is an art critic, commentator, and filmmaker. Her feature-length documentaries include Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, The Mistress and The Tangerine (2008), codirected with the late Marion Cajori, and Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Enter Here (2013). Her next film will be 1964: Rauschenberg Wins! She has written or contributed to more than a dozen books. Her articles have appeared in such publications as The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, Smithsonian, Vanity Fair, Art in America, and ArtNews. She was on-air arts commentator for the PBS MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour and chief art critic for New York Newsday. She was president of AICA-USA between 2000 and 2005, and is founding program director of The Art Writing Workshop, a partnership between AICA-USA and the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program.


CUE Art Foundation’s operations and programs are made possible

with the generous support of foundations, corporations, government agencies, individuals, and its members.

MAJOR PROGRAMMATIC SUPPORT PROVIDED BY Agnes Gund Anholt Services (USA) Inc. CAF American Donor Fund Compass Group Management LLC Compass Diversified Holdings Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation The Joan Mitchell Foundation Lenore Malen and Mark Nelkin The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, Inc. William Talbot Hillman Foundation New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts


All artwork Š Erin Dunn.

Catalogue design by Shona Masarin-Hurst.



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