Trisha Brown, Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1970)

man walking down the side of a building

“The work saw a solitary dancer, secured by harnesses, around the hips and waist, attached to a single cable, walk down the side of the building at a ninety degree angle to the wall. Compelled by gravity, but restrained by the harnesses, hoists and straps used to secure him, the performer exerted considerable effort as he performed the normally mundane task of walking. … Man Walking Down the Side of a Building was one of Brown’s series of ‘Equipment Pieces’, which had initially used mountaineering equipment to construct hoists, pulleys and restraints to enable movement in unusual spaces, or in ways, which put the performers’ bodies at odds with gravity. In keeping with the relative simplicity of the equipment used, Brown also had the performer of this piece wear casual clothing and to perform to the ambient sounds surrounding the building.”

“Her intention was not to create a sense of theatricality but to draw attention to the simple and natural act of walking through a situation in an unnatural scenario. A key element of the work was its instructional nature; while all choreography is arguably instructional at one level, the simplicity of Brown’s instructions – to walk down the side of a building – placed the emphasis on the act of movement, rather than on its motivation or any kind of narrative. No particular instructions were given for how the performer should move, leaving them open to focus entirely on their own physical reaction to the duress of walking in this unusual position. This was characteristic of Brown’s work within the Judson Dance Theatre, which she helped form in the 1960s, and beyond, where she focused on everyday movements and their relation to dance through emphasis on individual gestures. Brown’s creation of choreography which focused on simple, singular movements also facilitated its capacity for re-enactment by making clear the integral elements of the work – a single performer walking down the exterior side of a building – but leaving enough fluidity for the transferal of those actions into different times and spaces.”

“By taking the universally recognisable act of walking and creating a scenario in which that act must be performed differently – in this case, at a ninety degree angle to the normal walking position – Brown remained focused not on the specificities of the space in which the performer acted but the precision of the actions which they undertook. Brown framed an everyday action as choreography and, in then re-contextualising it, drawing attention to the specificity of the movement under stress, she re-framed that action as performance, challenging the audience to consider the expansion of the site of dance into the world around them.”

Acatia Finbow, June 2016