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Dancer and Poet Lightsey Darst Explores Reading as Movement

Posted on Fri, Jun 21 2013 2:28 pm by Emily Mininsohn

Last night I attended a presentation of new work by poet and dancer Lightsey Darst. Darst’s talk and performance were inspired by her two-week residency at the Walker Art Center’s resource library. I expected to witness something genre defying and unique, but could not have guessed that I would end up in front of an audience myself, flipping through a book of drawings, self-consciously aware that all of my subtle movements were on display. Darst gave her audience the chance to act as both readers and performers as part of her presentation on the action and habit of reading as something inherently beautiful and fascinating.

Darst’s residency at the Walker’s library is the first installation of Coffee House Press’s Writers and Readers Library Residency Program. This program, which places writers in artistic residencies at various kinds of libraries and collections, aims to inspire the public to engage with libraries in a new and meaningful way by thinking of libraries as creative spaces.

Darst described her experience at the Walker's library through a mix of words and movement. She explained that as she spent time in the library with no agenda or plan besides the aim to create art, she found herself fascinated by watching people read. She described a variety of readers who she observed at the library, and contrasted their engaged and physical interactions with books with the stiff and stationary process of reading from a computer screen.

I was particularly struck by Darst’s description of a reader who alternated between typing notes on her personal computer and flipping through a book filled with brightly colored page markers. Darst explained that this reader knew this particular book intimately and yet still continued to study it. She still had more to find among its pages and would continue reading it until she had exhausted its contents. As a recently graduated literature student, I personally identified with that reader. Darst’s description helped me reflect on how during my studies I got to know books not only as sources of content but also as physical objects and constant companions.

Between her observations, Darst described the process of reading a book through poetry inspired by how-to instructions. After each physical description of “how to read a book,” Darst demonstrated those actions with exaggerated physical movements. She silently moved her eyes across an invisible page in front of her, tilting her head down slightly until she was ready to turn the page.

After her introduction to the movement involved in reading books, Darst invited the audience to participate in an experimental piece of choreography. Participants took turns reading silently and watching others read.

A table was set up with a variety of books from the Walker’s library at the front of the lecture hall. The books were artfully chosen to represent a variety of shapes, sizes, and content matter. Some were traditional books, full of text about their subjects, while others were works of visual art themselves, some unbound, and some containing only images.

Audience members were invited to choose a book and sit down at the table to read. When each participant finished their reading experience, they silently stood up and returned their book to its place. The next reader, sometimes hesitantly, selected a book, took up the empty seat, and began to explore their selected material as the rest of the audience watched.

“I feel people are beautiful when they’re reading,” Darst explained after the final reader returned to her seat in the audience. Darst expressed her belief that people would respect texts more and plagiarize less frequently if they thought more about their relationship with those texts as objects. Listening to Darst’s ideas certainly expanded how I think about the act of reading, and I expect to look more closely at my own interactions with books in the future.

Emily Mininsohn is a marketing and communications intern at The Loft Literary Center. She recently moved to Minneapolis from Baltimore, Maryland, and is enjoying exploring the vibrant array of literary and arts events that the Twin Cities have to offer!