A forced, sudden awareness of proximity (let’s call it “pandemic proprioception”) has lodged itself into our brains of late. Bodies in public have always been vulnerable — of course, some more so than others — but even for those previously privileged to a life of free, nonchalant movement, kinesthetic awareness has intensified at the hand of these chaotic and contagious times. This attention to motion and embodiment, long latent and lately front-of-mind, is the subject of Sarah Friedland’s Assembled Choreographies, an online solo show at Hartnett Gallery at the University of Rochester, on view through April 26.

Friedland’s films conjure a sense of heightened, almost spiritual attunement to a body’s movements, expanding the boundaries of “choreography” to describe any number of daily motions. Dance, here, is not so much a discipline as a state of awareness, a frame of mind by which any motion can be invested with artistic potential. Assembled Choreographies is a suite of dance films, heightened representations of commonplace gestures that see every configuration of bodies with a choreographer’s exacting eye.

Sarah Friedland, Home Exercises (still) (2017), HD video, 22 minutes

Home Exercises (2017) attends to the physical experience of aging, following older adults as they move about their homes. A woman’s belabored descent down her staircase, captured by Friedland’s camera with an intimate precision rivaling Chantal Akerman or Ulrich Seidl, becomes a performance of contact improv, giving and receiving weight between body, cane, and banister. Drills (2020) stages eerie reenactments of the physical gestures that convey our collective anxiety: simulacra of corporate instructional videos, Boy Scout exercises, and active shooter situations. With both films, Friedland challenges us to think beyond the boundaries of our discrete bodies, vivifying the ways that control, paranoia, disability, and collective affect are routed through our immediate physical experience. 

CROWDS was originally presented in Bologne as a three-channel installation, the screens configured in a zig-zag so that no viewer could watch all three at once. Friedland plays at maintaining the spirit of the physical exhibition with an inventive online screening platform designed with new media artist Jonas Eltes, where the three videos overlap, inviting the viewer to shuffle between them like desktop windows.

The online viewing platform is appended by “A Score for Distant Viewing,” acknowledging the weird modes of embodiment that at-home viewership permits. The only direction: “position your body towards the light of the screen.” This simple stipulation, in concert with the online installation, ingeniously re-invests laptop and mobile viewing with a sense of purpose. In a moment when togetherness feels like a distant memory and bodily vulnerability permeates the everyday, Assembled Choreographies offers a gift of agency, a toolkit for probing the poetics and politics of our motions, from the mass-scale to the menial.

Sarah Friedland’s Assembled Choreographies continues online through April 26 at Hartnett Gallery at the University of Rochester. The exhibition was curated by Almudena Escobar López.

Adina Glickstein is a writer, researcher, and video artist based in New York.