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Solange performing 'Orion's Rise' in the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, for Vivid LIVE 2018. Image: Daniel Boud

Solange’s sculptural performance art

Six moments where the artist collided music with movement and space

Justin Tam

She’s an artist in every sense: a singer, composer, producer, choreographer, designer and filmmaker. Solange takes architectural spaces and uses them as part of a performance, an instrument to realise her works just as she does with her music and movement. In Vivid LIVE 2018, she took over the Sydney Opera House to a sold out crowd for ‘Orion’s Rise’, a towering cosmic structure inside the Concert Hall. 

Next January, she returns for four nights with a new 360 degree visual set that traverses When I Get Home, her latest album. This residency will be her only Australian shows.

To prepare, we looked at six of Solange’s iconic “modular” performances where she made sound, space and movement all part of her musical sculpture.

Solange plays the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall on 27-28 and 30-31 January 2020. Tickets on sale to the general public Friday 23 August 9am AEST at sydneyoperahouse.com.

‘we sleep in our clothes (because we’re warriors of the night)'

Tate Modern, London – 2017

One of Solange’s earliest documented collaborations was a commission from the Tate in London. The gallery asked her to respond to their exhibit ‘Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.’ She picked a photo from Betye Saar, a photographer from the Black arts movement of the 1970s, and filmed a digital art piece featuring actor Sophia Monique Brown. In it, the ensemble wore Solange’s signature white clothing and responded via movement to the interiors of the gallery space. 

On recording A Seat at the Table, and after creating this piece, she wrote: “I mourned. I grieved. I raged. I felt fear and triumph while working through some of the trauma I set out to heal from. The state I so greatly wanted to experience, but that never arrived was optimism. I couldn't answer my own question, if I had a responsibility as an artist to also express optimism in the midst of working through so much of my own healing.”

‘An Ode To’

Guggenheim Museum, New York – 2017

Solange picked the Frank Lloyd Wright building as a statement to the high art world. Horns, guitars and keys players descended the circular ramps through the performance, spreading out and playing their sounds into the hollow of the rotunda. Audiences were invited to dress in white, and leave their phones at home. 

But for her, it was a performance not about the building, but the people gathered within. 

“Hold your communities tight. That’s why I’m here,” she said. “I care about seeing your faces in this light. I don’t care much about the institutions. I care about having the show to see the faces that I wrote this album for.”

‘Orion’s Rise’

Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia – 2018

For her performances in Australia, Solange worked with Griffin Frazen, an architect responsible for designing sets such as ‘M.Y.R.I.A.D’ with Oneohtrix Point Never. 

For Australia, it was a much needed celebration of black excellence to a diverse audience of colour. “When I was thirteen I took one of those ferries right in front of the Sydney Opera House,” she said in the middle of the performance. “And to be here this many years later, and to activate this space, in this way, in such a powerful, moving way, with people from all backgrounds. Lots of beautiful black and brown people. Lots of beautiful people from all over Australia.”

A planetary orb rose above the stage like a giant pearl and two prisms framed the stage beneath the grand rafters of the Opera House’s Concert Hall. Her band ascended and descended a shallow flight of steps, with audiences positioned in the round, surrounding the stage. 

“The idea that I stand here on this stage just to entertain you guys, I want more than that,” she said. “I want to engage with you, I want to see you, I want to feel you, I want to speak to you and I want you to speak to each other. And it just feels like the best job in the world to be able to do that.”

Solange performing in the Concert Hall, Vivid LIVE 2018. Image: Daniel Boud
Solange performing in the Concert Hall, Vivid LIVE 2018. Image: Daniel Boud

‘Scales’

Marfa, Texas – 2017

The city of Marfa in Texas has become a southern locale for artists seeking strange locations for their installations. With a stage designed by Julia Heymans, Solange and an ensemble of horns and rhythm performed against the backdrop of ‘15 untitled works in concrete’ by Donald Judd, an arrangement of hollow concrete boxes lying in the desert grass at the Chinati Foundation.

The costumes, designed by Carlos Soto and the artist herself, stood out in striking bold pink against the horizon. 

‘Metatronia (Metatron's Cube)’

Hammer Museum, Los Angeles – 2018

Solange worked with Frazen again to build a “modular sculpture” on the grass of the Hammer Museum, in partnership with UNIQLO. Dancers wearing a monochrome palette performed precise choreography inside the layered white cube, to a gentle score by Solange and John Carroll Kirby. You can watch a four minute film of the performance piece on the Hammer’s website.

“Metatronia explores the process, and mapping of creation,” she said of the installation. “The piece is an exercise on following the intuitive force that guides us, helping us to create space, and silence the mind to create the work. 

“Continuing my practices and interest in exploring the relationship of movement and architecture as a meditation, Metatronia centers around building frequency and creating charge through visual storytelling.”

‘Witness!’

Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg, Germany – 2019

Not much is known about ‘Witness!’, except that it takes its name from a song in her latest album. Composed and directed by Solange, the piece is an orchestral collaboration at the Elbphilharmonie hall in Hamburg, Germany. 

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