“I want everybody to think alike… It’s happening here all by itself without being under a strict government; so if it’s working without trying, why can’t it work without being Communist? Everybody looks alike and acts alike, and we’re getting more and more that way. I think everybody should be a machine.” – Andy Warhol

On Thursday 7th April, The Ashmolean Museum opened its doors after hours for “Warhol Late” – a celebration of the recent Andy Warhol: Works from the Hall Collection exhibition. The evening event transported visitors back to 1960s New York by transforming the Ashmolean’s café into an underground “Factory Party”. The party was an eclectic array of happenings and performances inspired by Warhol; DJs, a “Warhol yourself” station kitted out with a variety of wigs, a silent disco, participatory screen tests… and contemporary dance.

Silkscreen|Machine was a work I created for my second year choreography assessment as part of my degree in Contemporary Dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in Greenwich, London. After extensive research into 1960s culture and Andy Warhol’s artistic oeuvre, I noticed a connection between Warhol’s process of repeating images from the contemporary media, and how the 1960s rise of consumerism resulted in individuals trying to fashion seemingly individual lives from a narrow selection of consumer products. After devising this concept I aimed to translate it into a cohesive dance trio, built around the physical emulation of 7 Warhol artworks. The constant repetition, variation and accumulation of these 7 motifs enables the audience to notice similarities and difference between the images they are presented with, echoing how Warhol repeated the same image because “[he]… like[d] the way repetition changed the same image” and also aiming to create a “consumerist machine” onstage, commenting on the materialistic context of 1960s New York.

As my work and research was informed by visiting the Ashmolean’s Andy Warhol exhibition, it felt very exciting and fitting that it should be asked to be performed at the Warhol Late Event. I and my dancers (Claire Peers and Reuben Woodall) donned brightly coloured costumes – echoing the vivid hues of Pop-Art – and performed the work twice throughout the evening, surrounded by the tin foiled columns and atmospheric lighting of the café’s “factory party”. We felt like Andy Warhol art work ourselves. As we moved through the space populated with our partying audience, we attempted to remain detached and emotionless to appear like “human machines”, a venture that made us feel more like art installations that living, expressive humans. Despite this lack of emotional interaction between performer and audience, the work itself appeared to make a strong impression upon the spectators, some of whom joined in and emulated our movements. Not only was this satisfying as it suggested the audience were engaged and intrigued by our performance, I also personally felt it further demonstrated the ideas behind my choreographic research, as it reflected the how messages from the media, fashion and consumer items permeate out into the world from a epicentre – be it a newspaper, a shop, corporation… or in this case, dance work.

However, despite my own personal pontifications, Andy Warhol, his methods, and artistic ideas rightfully remained the key subjects for celebration. As I and my dancers performed the work we created in honour of his contribution to the world of modern art, his voice permeated through the Ashmolean Café as his famous quotations formed part of our sound score, reminding everyone of the enigmatic New Yorker who had brought us all together on a rainy evening in Oxford.

Emily May

11th April 2016

Emily May is currently studying for a degree in contemporary dance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. As well as performing and choreographing, she reviews contemporary dance, theatre and art on her own blog (www.abohemianinlondon.wordpress.com). She was also recently part of the reviewing team for Resolution festival 2016 at The Place, and regularly writes for website “A Younger Theatre.”