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Michael Moschen manipulates objects to create a new visual language.

Perpetual Moschen

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New artists can claim appearances at both the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival and the National Mathematics Teacher's Convention, except for Michael Moschen, who adeptly straddles both worlds. Critics struggle to categorize him — he has been called a juggler, a mime, a dancer. Moschen plays all these roles, but he redefines them, finding unique ways to bend rules. In fact, since boyhood, Moschen has worked toward finding his own perspective. "I didn't want to learn the way people wanted to teach me," he says, "and that has a strong basis in my work." Moschen will perform his unique work March 24-25 at the University of Richmond's Alice Jepson Theater.

Moschen explores and performs with objects such as balls, triangles and sticks. These items occupy space with him, and are an extension of him. In some works, the objects appear like Calder mobiles with Moschen as the human form rotating within. In other works, he plays with his objects like a boy goofing around with simple shapes and more esoteric toys. His presence onstage is secondary to the objects themselves, though sometimes he develops an equal partnership, thereby revealing the object's special qualities. "I'm working in dependency with the objects," Moschen explains. "Sometimes the objects move around me, and sometimes I'm moving in reaction to them, and other times, you can't distinguish between them."

Moschen's performances have led to numerous invitations by math and science teachers who use videos of his work as teaching tools in their classrooms. He sees his lectures and residencies at such places as MIT and Carnegie Mellon University as a way of getting teachers to think outside of the academic box, to shift their perspective. He says he, "plug[s] into the mysteries that they're working with to be able to find new facets. ... I'm able to see what the new magic is, what [is] the new membrane between the known and the unknown and the functionality of it. And to experience the poetry of it in a way that, maybe, normal people don't really sensitize themselves to."

A collaborator over the years with sculptor John Kahn, choreographers and musicians, Moschen's primary cohorts are the objects themselves. He says he doesn't choose the objects he works with, though he's constantly looking for what interests him, be it a column or a crystal sphere. He says the items choose him. He works instinctively, led by his curiosities. "I'm not very cerebral about it until I have to be," he admits.

Moschen claims to be "working out imbalances in my life that need to be balanced by making a certain kind of piece, and I never know what that is." Typically, he starts with a shape or dynamic that leads to a series of photo or sculptural studies which eventually must prove themselves worthy to Moschen's subconscious. "It's a strange process which I love, the mystery of it, because I never know which particular shape is going to come to the fore, and then all of a sudden I'm going to learn a new language," he explains. " ... I don't try to go after languages that already exists with manipulating objects, but try new ones."

Every piece in Moschen's show plays between two poles: Sometimes he is in control, sometimes the objects seem to control him. Sometimes he performs with the graceful precision of a tai chi practitioner. Other times, especially with his recent penchant for percussion, he's like a kid who's found a novel way to make noise. Either way, his investigations offer a rare glimpse into a mesmerizing world.

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