Soft is Fast: Simone Forti in the 1960s and After
Simone Forti's art developed within the overlapping circles of New York City's advanced visual art, dance, and music of the early 1960s. Her "dance constructions" and related works of the 1960s were important for both visual art and dance of the era. Artists Robert Morris and Yvonne Rainer have both acknowledged her influence. Forti seems to have kept one foot inside visual art's frames of meaning and the other outside them. In Soft Is Fast, Meredith Morse adopts a new way to understand Forti's work, based in art historical analysis but drawing upon dance history and cultural studies and the history of American social thought. Morse argues that Forti introduced a form of direct encounter that departed radically from the spectatorship proposed by Minimalism, and prefigured the participatory art of recent decades. Morse shows that Forti's work negotiated John Cage's ideas of sound, score, and theater through the unique approach to movement, essentially improvisational and grounded in anatomical exploration, that she learned from performer and teacher Ann (later Anna) Halprin. Attentive to Robert Whitman's and La Monte Young's responses to Cage, Forti reshaped Cage's concepts into models that could accommodate Halprin's charged spaces and imagined, interpenetrative understanding of other bodies. Morse considers Forti's use of sound and her affective use of materials as central to her work; examines Forti's text pieces, little discussed in art historical literature; analyzes Huddle, considered one of Forti's signature works; and explicates Forti's later improvisational practice. Forti has been relatively overlooked by art historians, perhaps because of her work's central concern with modes of feeling and embodiment, unlike other art of the 1960s, which was characterized by strategies of depersonalization and affectlessness. Soft Is Fast corrects this critical oversight.
A page-turner, Soft Is Fast plumbs the depths of Forti's multifaceted art, unearthing aspects largely ignored in previous writing about her work. At long last Forti is getting her due in this definitive and exhilarating examination. -- Yvonne Rainer Among the groundbreaking artists active in New York during the early 1960s, Simone Forti has seemed a minor figure -- an assistant to La Monte Young, an appendage to Robert Morris, a mere shadow of Yvonne Rainer. In this book, Meredith Morse corrects this historical condescension, showing Forti to be a subtle innovator within a visual arts scene profoundly shaped by experimental music, especially that of John Cage, and, most illuminatingly, by a major current within modern dance, especially the legacy of the teacher Margaret H'Doubler, conveyed via the dancer Anna Halprin. Forti's key works are explored in detail and with lucidity unmatched in other writing, and our understanding of the art of contemporaries such as Morris and Rainer is greatly enriched. -- Terry Smith, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory, University of Pittsburgh A fascinating study of Simone Forti, with an illuminating emphasis on her links with and differences from other well-known artists of the 1960s -- especially Cage, Halprin, Rainer, and Whitman. Superb archival work structures Morse's skillful addition to a new history of conceptual art and minimalism, one that uncovers the affective and social roots of abstraction and objectivity. Soft Is Fast uncovers Forti's choreography amid a dense network of visual artists, musicians, and dancers who created a fecund chapter of American art. -- Peggy Phelan, The Ann O'Day Maples Professor in the Arts, Stanford University
Meredith Morse is Assistant Professor of Humanities (Art History) at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.