Jennifer Monson is a choreographer, performer, and teacher. Since 1983, she has explored strategies in choreography, improvisation, and collaboration in experimental dance. In 2000, her work took a new turn to investigate the relationship between movement and environment. This ongoing research has led her into inquiries of cultural and scientific understandings of large-scale phenomenon such as animal navigation and migration, geological formations such as aquifers, and re-functioned sites such as the abandoned Ridgewood Reservoir. These studies provide the means to unearth and inquire into choreographic and embodied ways of knowing and re-imagining our relationship to the environments and spaces humans/all beings inhabit. Her projects BIRD BRAIN (2000-2005), iMAP/Ridgewood Reservoir (2007), and the Mahomet Aquifer Project (2008-2010), SIP (sustained immersive process)/watershed are investigations that have radically reframed the role dance plays in our cultural understandings of nature and wilderness. Her current work Live Dancing Archive proposes that choreography itself is an archival practice for environmental phenomena. Her early choreography has been performed in a diverse array of New York City venues including: The Kitchen, Performance Space 122, and Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church; as well as other recognized national and international venues. She has collaborated with Zeena Parkins, DD Dorvillier, Yvonne Meier, David Zambrano, and other interdisciplinary artists. Her multi-year project BIRD BRAIN received funding from MAP Fund, New York Foundation for the Arts BUILD grant, Creative Capital Foundation, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Jerome Foundation, New England LEF Foundation, Altria Group, Inc., National Dance Project, National Performance Network, the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She has received fellowships from the NEA, New York Foundation for the Arts, The Lambent Foundation, and the Foundation for Contemporary Art. She has received two Bessie awards- one for sustained achievement in the field and one for BIRD BRAIN.
In 2004, Jennifer Monson incorporated under the name iLAND- Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art, Nature, and Dance. iLAND explores the power of dance in collaboration with other fields to illuminate a kinetic understanding of the world. This dance research organization upholds a fundamental commitment to environmental sustainability as it relates to art and the urban context, and cultivates cross-disciplinary research among the arts, environmental science, urban design, and other related fields. In addition to serving as Artistic Director of iLAND, Monson is currently a Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign as part of a new initiative of the Environmental Council. Monson is also a Professor at Large at the University of Vermont, a six-year term in collaboration with the dance, environmental studies, and library departments.
I place myself in the tradition of experimental dance artists starting with the early modern dance pioneers and continuing through to the radical artists spawned in the Judson Church era. These inquisitive artists used a rigorous investigation of the body as a vehicle to reconceptualize the nature of form and to constantly re-negotiate the relationships between art, environment, power and place. I am committed to this legacy of being a constant inquisitor and devotee to the rigor of process. Situating myself in the American tradition of examining the frontier—the border between wilderness and civilization—as a dynamic arena for embodying the contradictions of freedom and power, my dance work navigates the territory between what is wild and civilized.
In the navigational dance project BIRD BRAIN I make dances that are informed and created by the process of navigating along the migrational journeys of animals. By literally following a similar time frame and spatial pattern the dancing is responsive to both the micro and macro events that affect the animals migration. My observation of animals as well as scientific research into their navigational tools and perceptual abilities informs my own approach to navigation as a dancer. This process has been rich and complex starting from a deep investigation of the senses and navigating the bodies systems – (Gray Whale Migration); to creating dances within and of particular places (Osprey Migration) to investigating the energetics of flocking and adaptive systems (Ducks and Geese Migration) to creating interactive systems within the container of a theatrical setting as well as pointing to the relationship of the theater’s building to its environment (Flight of Mind). I started this project feeling bereft – that wilderness as I understood it no longer existed in the world (or soon wouldn’t). My understanding of wilderness has evolved into something intertwined within our own consciousness and interaction with the environment. Wilderness or wildness is a state of dynamic adaptability constantly that surrounds us whether in the massive effect of Hurricane Katrina, of the micro affect of endangered butterflies returning to the Twin Cities Ammunitions Plant or the emergent systems of the World Wide Web. Am I compounding wilderness and nature? The usefulness of the term “nature” has become complicated for me as I struggle with the dialectic of nature/not nature. What is not nature? Wilderness becomes a more amenable concept for me in that it alludes to something untamable, unknowable and challenging, and it is a very human concept. Wilderness as a concept seems central to human evolution. Dancing is a powerful medium for addressing our “nature” and is one of the places I experience wildness.
My current artistic concerns have brought me back to the urban environment. In order to support my own work as well as creative interdisciplinary collaborations with other artists, researchers and designers I have incorporated as iLAND- Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art Nature and Dance.