Gwen Welliver


Lines in the body, between people and things—as pathway, intersection, collision, mark and cut—help me to understand what is happening and what might happen. These lines are not abstract or geometric; rather, they are common forms of human communication.

I am a dancer and choreographer who works across performance, opera, drawing, and writing. Since the 1990s I have been tracing various manifestations of line in performance and visual art asking us to think about form in terms of transition.

This page brings together process-oriented materials in various forms as a way to think analytically, anatomically, rhythmically and fantastically about my drawing and performance practice. Descriptions and interview fragments were developed by Cori Olinghouse to create further conversation and interpretation around the works.

Chris Cameron, Overlay, dance and drawing by Gwen Welliver (2018).

A black-and-white video, composed of recorded and pre-recorded imagery, forms a conversation between dance and drawing. Black charcoal lines flicker across the screen and at various points reveal a dancing, abstracted figure. The image looks like an x-ray of a moving body captured three-dimensionally in space. The stop-motion rhythms capture moments of a female form shifting between visibility and invisibility, appearance and disappearance, mark making and erasure. At points her figure doubles and at other points we see a barrage of animated line drawings.

Gwen Welliver, A Girl, performed by Kayvon Pourazar (2010; premiere 2019).

Kayvon Pourazar, a tall man of Persian origin, enters a rehearsal studio with white walls and a grey marley floor and arranges a purple rope into the shape of a girl. The song “Fell in love with a girl” by the White Stripes plays in the background. After his two minute kinetic drawing, a purple child-like outline appears on the ground. Kayvon lies down inside of the drawing and wraps one of her arms over his. His personhood and the drawing collide as the drawing becomes both figure and ground. Kayvon stretches out the drawing, leaving a space for fantasy, projection, and a recasting of images.

Gwen Welliver, Flat Sphere with Corners, charcoal on paper (2008).

A charcoal drawing shows a grey opaque sphere with the tops and sides partially obscured. The sphere’s volume appears too massive to fit into the frame, giving the feeling of overwhelm and intensity.

“These drawings are outliers that don’t have a name. I was working with geometry and volume. I was experimenting with what happens when I use the charcoal in another deliberate way, on its side.” — Gwen Welliver in conversation with Cori Olinghouse, August 5, 2019

Gwen Welliver, Gwen and Fred, photo collage (2011).

A black-and-white photograph shows Gwen Welliver’s face, a smiley white woman with fair skin and a side-swept bob, collaged on top of Ginger Roger’s body, who is pictured dancing alongside Fred Astaire in the 1936 musical comedy Swing Time. ‘Gwen Rogers’ is wearing a black evening dress with a white collar and short sleeves, while Fred is wearing a black tuxedo with tails. Glints of white appear in his shirt, vest, carnation, and spats.

“’Glen, Girl, Gallery’ (2011) brought a lot of new possibilities. Presented at the Center for Performance Research in Brooklyn, New York, it was a dance involving four performers and large-scale ‘drawings,’ real and imagined, focusing on how we translate ideas, images, and narratives from one form or medium into another. We made posters as a way to introduce viewers to the cast and sensibility of the work. [They were] originally seen in the lobby before entering the performance space. I took a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers poster and cut out a picture of just my head and put it on top of Ginger’s body. I was dancing in the black-and-white formal wear with Fred.”—Gwen Welliver in conversation with Cori Olinghouse, February 21, 2019

Gwen Welliver, Line Guy, photograph of performance by Kayvon Pourazar (2011).

This image shows Kayvon Pourazar, a tall man of Persian origin, in an exaggerated lean, wearing a bright red coat and burgundy sweatpants against a white wall on a grey floor. He stands in a wide second position, holding a long black cable with yellow fixtures. A series of vertical lines punctuate the 10-foot space between the cable and Kayvon’s body, graduating on a downward sloping diagonal. The red, black, and yellow accents are evocative of a Russian Constructivist color palette.

“The poster with Kayvon Pourazar was built off an image from a Vladimir Mayakovsky play—here, he is holding a long line, alluding to purple rope he works with in the dance.

This gallery of images was leading people to experience both the formality in the work, as well as something else that was starting to come forth. It wasn’t a character, it wasn’t funny. I don’t even know if I have words for it. That was our pre-show gallery.” —Gwen Welliver in conversation with Cori Olinghouse, February 21, 2019

Gwen Welliver, Paper Wings, photograph of performance by Stuart Singer (2012).

This image shows Stuart Singer, a tall white man, in the atrium of the Museum of Art and Design in New York City. He is sitting with his arms and gaze sloping downwards at the grey concrete floor. Brown craft paper drapes cylindrically along the length of his extended arms. Behind him is a staircase suspended by steel cables, appearing to float in a repetition of lines. In the left top corner, a woman appears in mid-motion walking to the checkout counter. Two white queue ropes create a divide between him and the woman.

“I came across this in one of my notebooks: ‘Myth, desire, prologue, fantasy, design, history.’” — Gwen Welliver in conversation with Cori Olinghouse, Kayvon Pourazar, and Stuart Singer from a rehearsal on May 16, 2019

Gwen Welliver, Falling Face (for TB), charcoal on paper (2013).

A black charcoal drawing depicts an almost face-like image, with cascading lines in varying degrees of opacity—some bold and others more faint. The lines appear to trace the outline of a woman’s profile again and again, giving the feeling of a falling face moving between abstraction and form.

“My intent in drawing is not to make a work on paper, it is to move. Each time I place the charcoal on the page, I try to empty my body and just begin. As I become more involved in the drawing, the edges of my face, the time embedded in my skin, the rhythmic drop of weight against the floor, and the emotional tenor of the day—and much more—become marks on the page. The drawings are not figurative, they are representational. But the boundaries between the two are fluid, not fixed, and less articulate than we often imagine.” —Gwen Welliver, “Self Portraiture, Self Prompt,” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art (MIT Press), Vol 40, Issue 2 (2018)



Connect With Gwen


While there is no overarching theme that unites every faculty member in this exhibition, everyone is connected to someone else through a web of ideas and provocations. We encourage you to use these tags to navigate from one scholar to the next, while understanding that these concepts do not fully account for the depth and nuance of the work you are encountering.

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