Mapping Movement
with Madeline Hollander

November 24, 2022

Over the summer of 2022 I sat down with Madeline Hollander for a lively hour of conversation squeezed into her busy schedule of work and tending to a new infant. Hollander’s choreography takes up patterns of movement and redistribution and sites of inspiration and inquiry. This interview covers earlier work such as Gesture Archive, her video Flatwing (a response to her research on the vestigial movement of crickets), New Max ( a choreographic work based on patterns of rising and falling temperature), and a series of dances in response to the global scarcity of sand.

Show Notes

Madeline Hollander


Where should we start?

Um, well, maybe we can start from the beginning from Gesture Archive, because that's something that is a little enigmatic because it's not really a piece. It's just an ongoing research database that I formed, I think it was 2013. And it was kind of a product of all this research I was doing in my undergraduate at Columbia, studying with Micheal Taussig, I was doing cultural anthropology and I was really focusing in on the evolution of our corporeal vocabularies, and how our, you know, everyday pedestrian gestures have evolved and acquired new vocabularies due to the influx of new technology, there's like, you know, the Blackberry, the iPhone, there's different interface design. And looking back towards the gestures that pointed towards more analog devices, and the hybrid ones that looked at how we were fusing the analog and the digital, and kind of started categorizing these movements into gestures that I thought were about to go extinct, ones that were endangered, and ones that were emerging based off of, you know, what was going on in the cultural sphere and technology and interface design and how we're communicating with each other, and how rapidly that was all changing.

So I decided to start inviting anyone and everyone to my studio to just record a conversation with them - I wasn't recording sound, just their body against a white backdrop, and would go through these very basic questions to really just generate a conversation that felt genuine, so that they would eventually kind of relinquish the feeling of being on camera and become themselves and really start telling the story and being in their own body. And sometimes it took 20 minutes sometimes took four hours is totally up to whoever was there and how they were feeling and how long this would take. And after each of these sessions, I would go back to the footage and just pull out each of the interesting gestures and movements and postures that I collected from this, you know, however long interview quote unquote, and kind of categorize them. So be like, here are ones that are signature moves, this is a movement that only this person does. So I'm going to label that his signature move or her signature move, and then things that I'm seeing are, you know, trending or everyone's doing at that moment or things that are only my grandmother was doing like gesturing for a rotary phone versus using the thumbs to say text me and I got this massive collection of these two second little clips of movement that I would then keep going back to every time I was making a new piece and pull up a ton of these gestures and postures and kind of Frankenstein them together to make sequences. So I was always pulling these together to create a new movement sequence. So this is also how I started thinking about choreography, like using choreography or the choreographic readymade. As opposed to me inventing a movement from the inside out I was always really skimming the landscape and this database gesture archive for relevant moves that would have to do conceptually with whatever it was I was researching or producing at the time.

This is reminding me of Yvonne Rainer’s engagement with mundane movement…was she an influence?

Yeah, that's a great question, because I really feel like that Judson movement and Yvonne and Simone and these incredible artists who are a huge influence on my work, were really... it was kind of a more of a rebellious act, it was creating something that was going against the idea that art is a static object. So it was, you know, this is what you show in a museum, I'm going to show these things that are taking pedestrian movement and treating it like an art object. And I feel like my work in my approach probably wouldn't exist without their work. But it's more about how to use choreography as a medium, to both create conceptual work, site specific work, works that can be treated like sculpture installation or no differently than any other work of art in an institution. And less to prove a point and create a novel spectacle, or concept and more to just continuously incorporate movement and choreography as a medium that's just as valid as any other physical medium that you would see in an art context, which is why all the pieces are usually durational and can last however long the gallery or the museum is open so it's like from 10 to 4 or you know, just so that it becomes this recurring presence in the space that you can turn your back on, you can walk away from you can watch for two seconds, you can watch for five hours and in the same way that you would do to a painting.

So it allows for different habits of attention.

Yeah yeah.

So this performance is really a performance of an archive of human movements…

Yeah, well, I guess that we're talking about gesture, archive and kind of combining these movements from the human body. But I would say most of the movement is coming from my research, which ends up looking closer at systems and architectures and machinery and factories and assembly lines and the cosmos and in movements that are on very microscopic scales, like looking at the movement of molecules undergoing fusion, or what happens when they heat up. Or looking at the patterns of a tropical storm. And both of those patterns I incorporated into a piece called New Max, which was a choreography that was using choreography to raise and lower the temperature in a gallery. So I was pulling inspiration from what happens to molecules when they're heating up and you know, what are all these microwave processes and fusion process processes? What do they look like physically, and then looking at things that happen on the bodily scale. So if you type in core warmup into YouTube, you get a million different types of burpees and these funny Pilates moves. So I incorporated the human scale and then I zoomed out and looked at tropical storm patterns and other types of heating, like more macro heating phenomenon and incorporated those movements into it. So it's really for me, going back to skimming the pedestrian landscape. For me pedestrians also, like construction sites, traffic, air traffic control towers, any type of movement that we take for granted, is just as inspiring for a choreographic movement as watching the human body. So I'll be looking at the people at the beach and how they get up and go in and out of the water, but also looking at the movement of the boats or the other elements, the lifeguards, and just animate and inanimate movement. So I guess, the movement scape, it's not a human scape.

It’s a much broader, more ecological view of movement.

Totally. And that's actually how I steered into the research around Flatwing and the crickets during the research process for New Max, where I was trying to cull as much movement from the microscopic scale, and I was researching anything that reacts to temperature. And there's ones that are more sensitive than others. And I created a notation or a diagram of each of these. So the movement of the molecule, the movement of the tropical storms, and the movement of these Pilates moves all end up being, you know, in my notebook, as these glyphs that I would then  transpose onto the human body. So part of the rehearsal process is how do we transform that movement dynamic, onto something that has arms, legs, and a head and torso, which is super fun. But so during that research process, I immediately thought of crickets, because I had grown up in Los Angeles, I realized this was something that not everyone, not all my dancers could relate to. But I always remember that I learned somehow that if you count the number of chirps in 13 seconds, and then add 40, you get the degrees in Fahrenheit. So I would, as a little kid, kind of do that all the time and be able to be like, Oh, that's 75 degrees outside. It works, it's, it's completely accurate. And this is because they're cold blooded insects, and they can only move their body as fast as the temperature will allow them to, and they speed up when it's warmer, and they slow down when it's cooler. And they don't really know the difference so that they feel like they're doing it at the same rate. But physically, they're able to go faster, and slower based on their environment. And so I was like, Okay, this is relevant, this is really interesting. This is essentially what the choreography is about. So I'd love to incorporate those movements that the crickets are doing when they're creating that chirp, the strangulation, into the movement glyph system so that I could incorporate this into the choreography for the piece. So I went down this research hole. I was looking for the National Geographic slow motion, like macro, high res video of these little wings, you know strangulating and I had no idea what that looks like. I know what it sounds like only, but I know that it's a motion. So it was like this was going to be a great move. So I decided to just go down that Google Search hole to try and find these videos and immediately came across all these kind of very haunting headlines saying like, all of the crickets are going silent, or like silence of the crickets and it sounded like horror film titles to me. And I think probably because of, you know, my childhood and having this nightscape be something that was so comforting and part of this idea I have of the night, the idea that that was disappearing was really terrifying to me and kind of put a like, I don't know, I had like a frog in my throat about it. And so I immediately was just hooked on these stories about how that Marlene Zuk was mostly kind of leading this research and I just read everything that she wrote about it, and realized that I needed to see what the silent crickets were doing because they were actually you know, they were still actively doing the strangulation motion but they didn't have the ridges on their wings to actually create the sound. So all of the crickets in Hawaii were doing this dance silently and no sound was emerging so I was like okay, this is even more relevant. They are now dancing as opposed to chirping and I would love to see what this looks like and neither Marlene or any of the labs that are studying these flowering crickets had any footage.

This reminds me of something my colleague, Dr. Jamie Tanner at The Marlboro Institute at Emerson College was explaining to me. She teaches evolutionary biology and she was telling me about certain anatomical features called mandrels…It’s actually an architectural term used to describe the triangular space formed between archways, usually in pairs, and rectangular frames.These spaces are really the somewhat accidental or provisional product of two more intentional design choices, but they are nonetheless a feature. And there are biologic and behavioral traits that appear the same way, as byproducts of evolutions of other traits rather than as a product of selection. One example is the female hyena having testicles…it serves no evolutionary purpose in and of itself!

Yeah that's really interesting because I did not know that word, but I've been calling those vestigial gestures. So like a vestigial organ is like your appendix or these parts that are no longer needed. We don't know what the use is, but they once had a use. And since Gesture Archive I've been really interested in vestigial gestures so that the movements and reflexes that we do, that no longer serve a purpose, but they did come from somewhere. And so in this instance of the Flatwing crickets, I was getting to witness this transformation in real time, and this evolutionary mutation was something that happened within 10 years instead of 10,000 years. So it's been studied by all these entomologists and behavioral biologists because of how quickly this has all happened. And I thought it would be incredible to be able to witness the evolution of what I thought was going to turn into a mating dance. So I was like, Oh my gosh, in my lifetime, I'll be able to watch a species, you know, mutate so quickly from being something that they need a sonic, they needed a chirp to attract a mate, to a dance, and I somehow convinced myself that that was going to be what I would see in the next 10 years. And I needed to record this and very quickly learned a lot about crickets, insects and behavior from Marlene Zuk. And all of my theories were rapidly shut down, but the process still led me to create this piece. So yeah, vestigial gestures I now [explore] spandrels …I'm going to look into that.

It’s nuts that there was no footage of the crickets…

I was so shocked that none of the labs had any need for or interest or had seen what this movement looks like, and I was told that it would be very similar, if not the same to what they would do to create the strangulation move when they were chirping. But you know, in my mind, there's a difference between playing a violin that produces a sound versus, miming a violin that doesn't produce sound. Everything that I was learning about these new flatwing crickets was that they were more athletic, they were super active, they're jumping around, they're running around, because they had to find new ways to find a mate. So the other part that was exciting to me was learning about this new behavior called satellite behavior. The reason why the flatwing crickets were able to populate the island and survive was that they would find one of those 1% left of the chirping crickets, they find one of those chirping crickets and kind of create a satellite around them. And ventriloquize that sound. So they'd be doing the motion in time with the cricket that's actually producing the sound, wait for the female cricket to be drawn in to the sound and then intercept and go mate with the female cricket before the actual chirping cricket, who's passive, would even know. So they were very active. And I was like, I need to see how this happens, they're obviously doing something new. And it seems like there's already a mating dance happening that's starting with the satellite technique that I need to witness and document. After getting off the phone with Marlene, she was like, she pretty much said that they're all going to go extinct within the next three years. Because the second the remaining chirping crickets die off because of this parasitic fly that's killing off all the chirping crickets, then those flatwing crickets would no longer have a satellite, they wouldn't be able to do the satellite technique. And all the crickets are gonna go extinct. And then this would then kind of expand and go to the mainland and affect the cricket populations, not just in Hawaii, but all over the world. So that was just like a doomy thought. And I think I hung up the phone and was really upset and booked a ticket and rented an infrared camera and was pretty convinced somehow that I could find these by myself or needed to try.

Woah- Marlene….this is kind of upsetting!

Oh, no, yeah, I mean, she's a scientist. And you know, she was like, This is how things go. And that's really devastating and refreshing to hear, honestly, because it's someone who's looking at the data and the statistics and the facts, but I was not interested in any of that I wanted to see the aesthetics and the dynamics and the relationships between these creatures that just had mutated really suddenly, and no one seemed to care. So I wanted to capture them before they… exactly yeah.

You were determined!

I figured that I was gonna give it a try. And I was pretty confident that I would figure it out and find them and then the whole trip. I really felt like I was just going after windmills that were monsters and was completely convinced that everything was there that wasn't and I was capturing cockroaches and centipedes and I was making traps and it was very romantic, and fantastical and kind of psychedelic and I was constantly getting lost and came across all these other animals like pigs and chickens and frogs and every possible insect you can imagine. I kept on sending pictures of these other insects that kind of looked like crickets, katydids and cicadas and things, back to Marlene and say like 'did I find one, is this it?' and she would be like 'nope, that's a...' and then give me the scientific name of it. She was extremely helpful and supportive and I got recordings of the chirping crickets so that I could try and create my own little fake satellite trap and put a Bluetooth recorder out and have the crickets come and the flat wings come and do that. But that didn't work. But you know, the reality is that they're tiny and they're not all over. They're not everywhere. You have to spend more than a week looking for them.

I wouldn’t have realized that either.

Yeah, that was very humbling. The night I got there, I was really, you know, I guess growing up in Los Angeles, the nightscape would be like, Okay, I hear crickets, and then in Hawaii on Kauai I'm in the rainforest, and the sun goes down, and all of a sudden, it's this cacophony of thousands of insect species. So it's ]louder than it is during the day. And I'm hearing everything you know, birds and insects and frogs, and it was just so loud and the recordings are pretty funny because you could tell it's just an orchestra. It wasn't a single insect and I went there kind of anticipating to just hear crickets and had forgotten that they're one of millions of other species that are also doing their night call to find a mate.

What was your set up in the field?

So the recordings I had a boom mic and a field recorder so I was recording everything and I was trying to actually figure out where I would go based off of fine tuning in on cricket sounds or things that sounded like crickets and kind of going in that direction. And that's what led me to all the cicadas and other cricket-like insects, but not crickets. But everything in the film is just the field recording so there's nothing extra…Okay, there is one part that's extra where my sister created a sine wave drone that would create this kind of undulating transformation in the mood…there's a portion of it where I slowed down one of the cricket chirps by 10,000 times and it creates the sound that sounds more like a whale but it is coming from one of the field recordings from the site.

So it’s a mix of basically your field recordings and the drone.

Yeah the drone and then the cricket recordings but all kind of manipulated timewise.

What about video?

Yeah, that was never meant to become a video. This type of adventure or misadventure happens almost in every single project that I begin and I kind of find myself going down these research vortexes and coming out of a research process with a ton of footage, a ton of interviews, a ton of imagery and drawings and notations and then all of that gets sifted through to create a piece and that material just ends up on a hard drive.

But what happened after this trip was that I thought it was a failure. I was pretty upset. I had filled up a couple of hard drives because I was searching every single night. I think it wasn't till like six months later that I actually pulled out one of the hard drives, and I was like, Oh, I have 20 hours of footage, I should look at this. I realized how much the footage is kind of a self portrait -a pretty good depiction of what happens while I'm making a work. My studio practice involves following something down a tunnel that I feel is the only way to go and then come out the other side with a lot more knowledge about a subject that may or may not end up in the piece. This is the first time that I feel like the research material turned into a work of art in its own right. I edited it together as a video that for me is very much a portrait of my practice and not choreography, not a piece about the flat wings. But really just about the feeling of being an artist and kind of blindly looking for something that you feel like is the key to producing…or just the feeling of being lost and navigating that.

The vestigial movements of the crickets didn’t directly appear in New Max, but what was the choreographic process like completing that work?

We all worked really collaboratively during the rehearsals because we're trying to take these very abstract movements that maybe are on the scale of a building or a tractor or you know, a molecule and then remap it onto the body and so it's very much a process of 'okay, what is this movement?' We can do it with our hands, we can do it with our torso, we can do it with our head and our feet, or we could break it down and all of us are going to be individual particles of this molecule and we're going to enact that movement together as a group. So it's very experimental.

Has this collaborative process changed in Covid?

I've definitely been in research mode more so than in rehearsal mode because of just the reality of being in proximity with a lot of breathing sweaty dancers or movers but I've also had a baby so that has changed a lot of the studio dynamic.

I mean, there's a movement….this guy has new moves every single day. It's been pretty sleepless and wonderful and I think this is probably the longest I haven't been in the studio and the type of duration I have to work right now are these interesting little 15 minute increments between feeds and when I can dive into an article or listen to something and I feel like I'm just very slowly accumulating a giant pile of information that I hope to be able to have some time to start mapping out again but I mean it's it's been a whole new world honestly…

He’s four months. I feel so fused, viscerally and emotionally with him that I almost feel like we're still the same body and like he'll stretch and I'll stretch and he'll yawn and then I'll yawn and like who did that first and I'm also delusionally tired because of not sleeping. So it feels like a very surreal relationship right now. I don't think I'm looking at it as intellectually as I thought I would just given my interest in a lot of these different behaviors and how quickly things change and the evolution of the movement. I’m still in the  post birth, deep sea mode of not knowing what day of the week it is or what time it is, ever.

What other changes have happened during the pandemic in your work?

I mean, one of the things that has happened…is a lot of work that was supposed to happen kind of at the beginning or during the spring before everything shut down had got postponed by a year or a year and a half and then finally happened.One of those was Flatwing and another one was the Performa piece called Review. And then there was a piece with David Hallberg called 52 Final Bows. And so all of these kind of took up  themes from the pandemic and incorporated them somehow {once they premiered]. It was a lot of production, both while I was pregnant, and while I had Max. However, it wasn't starting something from scratch, it was kind of just having the pleasure to really dive back into a project. And, you know, continue to do the research in the new context and then adjust it accordingly so that it would feel resonant in this particular time and place. So that was something that was happening.

Right now I'm working on a new piece for Los Angeles Dance Project, which is a dance company based in Los Angeles. The director is Benjamin Millepied, and I just finished a bunch of drawings and notations for Frieze art fair…there's a lot happening.

What’s the relationship of the drawings to the dance?

Usually the drawings are in preparation for the dance or the project or are part of the research, but these drawings are actually notations, they're actually paragraphs. Each wall [of drawings] has a different topic. And I kind of use these as my research boards. And so I decided that I was going to actually create a series of 12 drawings, using my synesthetic language…

I have synesthesia, so most of my notations and drawings, I end up just using colors to write out words or to notate what is left and right or up or down, or the directions of movement. And I have these 12 unrealized projects kind of written out as like a one paragraph proposal, using this color language as something that I'm kind of putting out into the universe, but not announcing. If you can decrypt it, you could figure out what it says and what the project is about. But it felt like a good way to kind of get back into production by putting out these ideas that they've either been on hold or I'm in the process of researching. Planting seeds in the universe, I guess.

Are there new ideas emerging?

There are. So, I have been very interested in sand because it's now a limited resource in the world. Cement industries and concrete industries have been dredging up sand from ocean beds and digging up all the shorelines to send sand to mostly India and China back to the cement industries, where they're making cinder blocks and kind of over-producing things out of concrete. I mean, it's also what makes the roads and glass and silicon chips. So now, this resource that was once all over the place is extremely limited, and the cost of sand has gone up, like, last time I looked, it was at least 300%. And the cement industries are freaking out. They're trying to figure out alternate materials that they could use to create something like concrete or cement. And in the ocean, the shorelines are disappearing.

So this was something that started with researching. I was doing site visits at Rockaway Beach because I was doing a choreography with a beach rake truck on one of the beaches that got destroyed during Sandy in Rockaway. So it's a choreography between a beach rake rock and seven dancers. It's really a sand prayer or it's like a ritual, kind of, that looks at the fact that this material that once was a nuisance (in your bed or shoe) is actually being priced like gold right now, and is going to disappear. And through that research and learning about the dredging and how horrible this process is for the marine system and the oceans, I then started getting into learning about cement industry and talking to a lot of companies about what they're doing and how they're trying to figure out ways to recycle old cinder blocks and break them down into their little particles so that they can reuse. Which is not possible because apparently sand…each piece is unique and has its own very specific form and it's really hard to reproduce that and you can't use something that essentially turns into powder.

So then, that piece, the sand piece is called Arena. And then the next piece after that was a piece called 365, where I worked with a few cement mixing truck companies in Argentina and a group of dancers who walked on top of the barrels of the trucks. And they walked for 365 rotations to represent one year. It was a piece about this kind of countdown and the fact that these trucks are kind of endangered species too. They're not going to be used probably in 10 years. So they're gonna have to figure out what to do with all these barrels. And then out of that piece came another piece with fire hoses. Because the other part of making concrete or cement is a large amount of water. And water as we know, especially in California, it's a very limited resource and drought is a huge problem.

Right- aren’t firefighters needing to put out fires with other materials?

Yeah, there's like foam, and then there's a lot of new foamy materials that they're working on, to try and replace water or to add to water. And it's something that we can't rely on; using water to put out fires anymore. So I went around and asked fire stations for their retired fire hoses. Every year the hoses have to go through an inspection or like a test to make sure they're in good shape. And the ones that don't pass the test get coiled up and put into a shed that ends up being used just for training purposes. And, they have big red labels on them saying 'do not use' or like 'rejected' or 'failed'. And so I asked for these hoses and started to create these glyphs or notations I guess, out of the hoses, using  the hose as a drawing tool e.  or taking the drawings that I was already making (that were movement notations) and recreating them on a much bigger scale using 100 foot or 200 foot retired fire hoses.

A lot of my work I've found has kind of gone in groups of three. So I'll kind of start with one project and get super interested in you know what's happening with sand and then that will lead me to cement and then that will lead me to water and I'll create three pieces and it kind of makes this tripod that, for me, they all fit together perfectly. And then when I get that feeling it's kind of the moment that I find myself diving into the next topic. I guess I'm still on that topic because I'm dealing with hour glasses but–

Still on sand-

yeah, it seems to be a theme yeah…

Oh! I see it’s been almost an hour of talking and I know you have work and care calling you….

Yeah, thank you! Wow. We are efficient as moms. We know how to get it done.



Portrait of the artist by Chase Middleton courtesy of Interview Magazine.

2-3. Madeline Hollander, Performa 2021 Biennial, Installation view, New York, NY, 2021

4-5. Madeline Hollander: Flatwing, installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, 25 March – 8 August, 2021.

6-7. Madeline Hollander, New Max, 2018, The Artist’s Institute, New York, NY.

8-10. Madeline Hollander, Arena, 2017, Rockaway Beach, Queens, NY. Photos by Justin Chao.

11-12. Madeline Hollander, 365, 2017, Performance, Galeria Slyzmud, Buenos Aires, Argentina.