Dressed plainly in track pants, a black jacket, and a brown trilby, a wiry, white-haired man sways his body back and forth, arms outstretched. For seven and a half minutes, he continues to dance, occasionally with a wry half-smile and often with his eyes closed. His score is a custom track created by Michael Stipe using a Moog synthesizer and a Roland Juno. As the man gets more immersed in his movements, he begins to remove his outer layers. Sewn into his jacket lining are sequined shapes.
Titled “Jeremy Dance,” Michael Stipe’s installation at Moogfest 2017 in Durham, North Carolina, is many things: it is the musician and artist’s first solo composition and an evolution of his past video work. Perhaps most importantly, it is also a loving tribute to its subject, Stipe’s late friend Jeremy Ayers.
“In 2011, I made two video portraits of friends of mine: the poet/artist John Giorno, and the actress Kirsten Dunst, who was my neighbor at the time,” Stipe explains. “In shooting the pieces I was struck by the rawness of emotion and candidness that I got from each of them, and I decided to expand the idea.”
While teaching an art class at NYU in 2014, Stipe reached out to Ayers and artist and former athlete Casey Legler. “I asked them if they would come and dance for me to a very stripped-down, classic disco beat—120 beats per minute … The idea was that I would videotape them dancing, and then strip away the basic track, and compose specifically to their performance,” Stipe recalls. “Jeremy is the first of these performances that I choose to work on, specifically for Moogfest. In this presentation of the piece, I used one camera only, unedited, establishing simple, sometimes awkward camera moves as I tried to follow his performance.”
Based in Athens, Georgia, the birthplace of Stipe’s band R.E.M., Ayers was a poet, photographer, and artist, who was famously credited as one of the co-writers of the B-52s‘s 1979 single “52 Girls.” As Sylva Thinn in the early 1970s, he was a Factory fixture and contributor to Interview. When he passed away last October, he was greatly mourned by the Athens creative community.
“The desire to create this piece and the musical composition that goes with it were entirely instinctual choices,” says Stipe. “I am thrilled with the result, as an homage to the curiosity and beauty of my dear friend Jeremy.”
“JEREMY DANCE” WILL BE ON VIEW AT MOOGFEST 2017 IN DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA, FROM THURSDAY, MAY 18, THROUGH SUNDAY, MAY 21. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THE MOOGFEST WEBSITE.