Adam Linder’s latest exploration of dance in a gallery space, Hustle Harder, is deliberately designed to prompt the gaze of Instagram. By Anador Walsh.

Hustle Harder

Dancers in blue outfits.
Dancers perform in Hustle Harder at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Credit: Clemens Habicht

Adam Linder’s Hustle Harder at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Gadigal Country/Sydney is a highly Instagrammable spectacle. It’s supposed to be. Everything about this work imbues spectators with the red-hot desire to document it with their smartphone. From the moment you enter the Macgregor Gallery, your portable electronic device throbs in your hand, begging to be used.

This evocation of desire is no accident. Sydney-born and Los Angeles- and Berlin-based choreographer Linder has long been playing in this space, interrogating the implications of and behavioural shifts associated with exhibiting dance in a gallery. His previous gallery-based works, Full Service (2013-18) and Shelf Life (2020), examined the visual arts’ use of dance as an experience or spectacle, and highlighted the physical and fiscal labour conditions of gallery-based dance. In Hustle Harder, Linder turns his attention to the production and dissemination of imagery that is synonymous with dancing in this context.

In her 2018 article “Black Box, White Cube, Gray Zone: Dance Exhibitions and Audience Attention”, New York-based art historian Claire Bishop defines the dance exhibition as “the prolongation of performance to fill gallery opening hours”. She argues this constitutes a “gray zone” for performance, evoked by the conflation of the theatre’s “black box” with the gallery’s “white cube”. The audience’s use of smartphones and social media to document the dance exhibition and dancers’ awareness of these devices are, for Bishop, key characteristics.

This thinking is central to Hustle Harder. The work runs for the duration of the MCA’s opening hours and is performed by Narelle Benjamin, Taos Bertrand, Juan Pablo Camara, Eugene Choi, Alice Heyward, Bec Jensen, Noha Ramadan, Brooke Stamp and Ivey Wawn. Dressed in blue and black lace balaclavas by Dion Lee, athleisure wear and Nike TNs, the dancers assume a series of unfixed roles, performing scenes of what Linder describes as “virtuosic angling”. This angling, and the scenography that supports it, is designed to make performers and spectators reflect upon their behaviour: specifically the overwhelming desire to create shareable images.

Beneath a halo of fluorescent lights is a series of moveable, rectangular modules that mimic the architecture of the Museum of Contemporary Art. In candy orange and pink, one depicts a level-four toilet door, adorned with a metal handle, hinges and doorstop. One made of plywood bears the words: “authorised access only”. Another mimics the glass interior of the institution’s lift, complete with a handrail. Yet others resemble the stocked shelves of the MCA shop, house ceiling lights and security alarms, or exhibit works from the MCA’s permanent collection, including Agatha Gothe-Snape’s FEELINGS (2009), and Tracey Moffatt’s Up in the sky #16 and #18 (1997). The backs of the modules show steel, structural scaffolding and pipes and cables of various colours, like those that carry water, electricity and the internet.

Audience members are directed to position themselves around the gallery’s periphery, navigating each other and two phallic, pastel-green objects leaning against the walls that resemble police batons. Though they’ve been happening since 2007, it’s interesting to observe how uncomfortable audiences still are with dance exhibitions. Without proscenium seating or single perspective viewing, spectators crowd at the space’s entry, hesitant to enter the scene or get too close to the performers. Only two of the four gallery walls are occupied, as if no one dares to cross to the far sides of the room and risk a human-to-human interaction. The batons are given a wide berth too, their authority and potential for violence palpable even in this context. This discomfort, however, does not stop anyone from coming and going as they please or documenting the work. Everywhere I look, I see raised smartphones capturing the unfolding scenes.

In one scene, Stamp stands before the mirrored module, interfacing with herself in a focused exercise of self-analysis. She alternates between balletic poses and jarring, glitchy movements, her hands either resting on this module’s small rail, like a ballet barre, or tapping the cool, hard surface as if she’s using an iPhone. This is accompanied by an eerie piano refrain. Stamp is surrounded by four performers who lie on the ground, their hands held to one eye like telescopes, observing her as she observes herself. As they watch, they redistribute the audience with their bodies and call and respond “subject” and “object”, as if playing a game of Marco Polo.

In another, three dancers sit with their legs to one side like sirens as a fourth circles them with the ceiling-light module. The seated dancers perform a series of alluring gestures that entice documentation, flicking their wrists and knocking their fists against their thighs. They vocalise technological double entendres such as “amplify me”, “distribute me”, “exercise me”, “call me”, “inhale me”, “see me”, “groom me”, “eat me”, “taste me”, “capture me”, “saturate me”, “edit me”, “minimise me”. The lighting above them oscillates and flickers to a pinkish hue. The accompanying soundtrack is visceral, filled with the lipsmacking, slurping sounds of someone ingesting something wet. Text is often used in Linder’s work and here it builds tension, as the dancers begin singing in unison “air drop, air drop, air drop, air drop”.

I leave the gallery to get some water and when I return, Stamp and another dancer are bending over backwards, one arm outstretched as if holding an iPhone. They appear to be attempting to take the perfect selfie. Their movements look painful as they twist and turn in impossible ways, performing for the camera. Stamp falls to the ground, her face contorting in a half-smile, half-grimace for the void of social media on the other side of her “phone”. Heyward, playing the role of a dog, watches in confusion, cocking her head as if trying to understand why they’re tying themselves in knots to fit the frame of a small glass screen.

In A Grammar of the Multitude (2001), philosopher Paolo Virno claims post-Fordism has turned us all into virtuoso performers. Hustle Harder carefully contrives a situation that brings this into focus. As I leave, Heyward “the dog” barks at my heels. I pause on the threshold and pull out my phone, hoping she’ll do it again. Turning from another audience member back to me, she looks straight down the barrel of my camera and obliges. I upload a video of this to Instagram. We both perform our roles. 

Hustle Harder runs at the MCA until August 20.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 5, 2023 as "Screen time".

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