Body Medium: Annika Rhea’s energetic collaboration of dance, live music, paint & audience
By Hannah Reimann
“The audience is part of the energy,” Annika told me.
On September 28th at 7pm for our second Revelation Tuesday event at St. John’s in the Village’s gallery, we will have the pleasure of witnessing Body Medium, Annika Rhea’s one-woman synthesis of live dance and painting with her body on a floor canvas which, when dry, is exhibited, a resulting keepsake art. I’ll collaborate with her, playing solo piano music of a composer she loves, the innovative, Argentine Astor Piazzolla. We spoke about Piazzolla and decided to work together.
I first met Rhea at a show near her workspace at The Box Factory in Ridgewood, Queens. A multi-use facility for artists on the border of Bushwick, Brooklyn, and Ridgewood, Queens, the Box Factory is a prime example of how the outer boroughs, over decades, have served artists in the 21st century, much like Soho and Noho did in mid-and later 20th century Manhattan.
Clad in a white or black ankle-length unitard with long sleeves, she dips her fingers into bowls of paint, engages in Jasper Johns-like flinging of the paint, then, in her unique style, strokes the canvas with her feet, hands, elbows and any other body part that her improvisation leads her to. Her unitard also becomes a canvas. At her live performance to an enchanted audience at the Box Factory in June 2021, she wore white, quickly flecked in azure, royal blue and yellow.
Born in Westchester County amongst Pound Ridge’s forest and wetlands, Rhea started dancing at two years old, and started performing at age four. A lifelong visual artist who draws and paints, she has always been a movement artist who has aspired to mix media.
While a freshman in college, she excelled in the dance program that was her main focus. Her dancing suddenly stopped due a hip contusion injury and two other serious injuries. She refocused on her painting and also began to write. It was a dark period wherein she missed dancing tremendously. She would imagine “dancers pushing the paint along” as she painted, a spatial choreography of her inner eye. She envisioned a group of dancers, each a different color, creating a type of abstract expressionism also known as action painting. She also spent four years working in film, expanding her repertoire and skills.
One day she wanted to become one of the dancers herself, and to match her own movement with the paint. Thus began the conception of Body Medium, a title formally given to this work in 2016 when she performed her premiere performance for Bushwick Open Studios. Her love and work for film, paint and dance all inspired this new way of creating.
Performance art is fleeting. The longing to create a concrete piece that can be exhibited and enjoyed after engaging in a dance is satisfied by these unique performances. We intend to videotape September 28th’s show, as well—another keepsake of the work, one that can be shared again and again.