Image © Movement Research.
Image © Movement Research.
January 20th, 2015 · Adrienne Edwards & Jen Rosenblit

The Herko Dialogues: Adrienne Edwards, Performa Curator, and Jen Rosenblit in Conversation

This interview was originally published in Movement Research's Critical Correspondence on December 19, 2014. 

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On October 27, 1964, Fred Herko, dancer, choreographer and founding member of Judson Dance Theater, leapt to his death from a fourth story window in the West Village, while listening to Mozart’s Requiem. Or perhaps it was another piece of music. And maybe it wasn’t the fourth floor. Beyond the fact of his suicide, and the presumption that is was staged and performed for an unwitting friend, there is much ambiguity around the circumstances of Herko’s death. And, for that matter, his life and works. Herko’s aesthetic entanglements were many—Judson, Andy Warhol, Jill Johnston and more. His dances have been described as campy, romantic, queer, lazy, incandescent, excessive and potentially leading his career nowhere. Or, maybe he knew exactly what he was doing.

In the ensuing five decades since his death, many in his Judson cohort have met with praise and, what is more, a secured place in dance history. Herko continues to flicker on the periphery, appearing in photographs or films, alone or with other eventual giants of Judson and Warhol’s Factory. Herko’s elusive status offers unexpected lines of thinking, radicalizing traditional ideas secured within historical narratives. Herko’s presence has embroidered the works of a handful of writers and historians, notably, the late performance scholar José Muñoz in his chapter devoted to Herko, entitled “A Jeté Out the Window,” housed within his text Cruising Utopia: The Then and Now of Queer Futurity. Muñoz engages Herko—and his suicide—as a choreographic figure whose movements respond to the contours of queer time, denaturalizing both the theatrical and the quotidian and inviting a kind of utopian performativity into the world. Walking the reader through a profound rumination on the limits of finitude, performance, queerness, utopia, labor and time, Muñoz, points out that this dancer’s final gesture of flight indicates apertures through which we might reflect on escapes from capitalist and historic oppression.

On October 25, 2014, almost exactly fifty years after Herko’s death, NYU’s department of Performance Studies, in tandem with the Tisch Institute for Creative Research, sponsored a one-day symposium called Fred Herko: A Crash Course. Taking as its premise the fact that no one is an expert on Herko, scholars and art historians presented their biographical research and thought experiments around Herko’s life, suicide and legacy. Critical Correspondence invited eight relative strangers: choreographers, performers, and scholars to attend the symposium and then pair off to reflect on how that day’s discussions about Fred Herko, José Muñoz, Judson and the 1960s coincide with their own artistic and intellectual practices, bodies, and politics today. The meanings of Fred Herko’s life, work and death, and whether such meanings can be consistently deployed, is a central question of THE HERKO DIALOGUES.

 

 

Adrienne Edwards: Maybe we could begin with initial reactions to the symposium? Because that is what we have been asked to discuss, right?

Jen Rosenblit: I think so, about the conversations, or whatever sorts of things were circling around surrounding our reading or thoughts on them.

Adrienne: The first thing that came up for me, for better or worse, is this question that seemed to linger between what constitutes truth and history, versus interpretation —which seemed to be a kind of question of value. What I mean is, I’m going to forget his name—but the historian, the biographer (Gerard Ford) who José spoke to as part of his research for the chapter on Herko in Cruising Utopia—seem to put forward. He was insistent about a truthfulness that can be located in the archive, which seemed to be an overly valued estimation about what that archive can hold and therefore what it can do with a certitude that what is located there can be trusted. This was particularly evident in the instances when as he went through his talk and said, “and this person is here, and so in so is in this room” to make a claim, it seemed to me, which I really wanted to trouble or think through or see if you had also noticed this desire for certitude. Then, especially revealing was the last part of the conversation, when there was a dialogue between all the participants in a round table wrap up, there was a kind of sparring around the fact that interpretation is somehow inherently suspect, somehow impermissible and inadequate. And so I was thinking about this from the vantage of my work as a curator, or particularly in relation to my work as a writer and scholar with a particular understanding of where I tend to fall in relation to those kinds of unfortunate binaries. Then I was thinking about it in relation to your work as a dancer, your process and what you value in your work. This question of memory, this question of truth, this question of what does one have permission to do, and the question of how does one interpret. How do you think about interpretation in relation to embodiment? Or working with the body as a tool?

Jen: We tend to talk about embodiment in the dance community in a certain way, as though it has to be achieved. It is as if you’re not actually doing the ‘right’ thing unless you’re embodied. I often believe that even though it sometimes feels problematic and like another kind of systemic virtuosity that I tend to shift away from, when I am not so interested in something performance- or practice-wise it is often that I’m seeing a carving of something or a shell of something but it might not feel embodied in this thrusted way. So, I’m waiting for that moment because there is a transcendence that happens when the body is working on the idea versus the idea sort of sitting in a book, or on a shelf, or in the studio. I think it’s about being seen, having audience. This is when the question of permission or interpretation comes into play. I’m going to go on a little tangent here, it’s not directly related to Herko but more to things that I am thinking about now in my own process that feels aligned with how I am relating to this conversation. I don’t know if my research is giving me permission or access to certain cultural or communal knowledge bases (if that is what we mean in terms of permission), but I definitely feel a crack or an opening inside the landscape of ‘yes’ and ‘no’, allowed and not allowed.

I’m curious about the consideration of physical matter as a source and substance, of bodies as matter, objects as matter, space as matter, a room as matter and audience as matter. All of the things involved in witnessing and seeing and being seen are sort of participants in this way that is really hard to negotiate and even harder to craft, especially in that singular moment when the audience comes in as the final participant. Considering matter seems to challenge the final nature of that moment, it seems to speak to a multiplicity of moments.  Even with Herko, this being seen thing comes so far after his death and, still, questions of right story or wrong fact seem to be important. Knowing what happened, being clued into the cultural moment seems to give us some truth that can reflect back on where we are now. This concept of matter—to start to place a value and an importance on everything as body – seems to create spaces around truth or rightness that allow for that transcendence that I know exists with a relationship to embodiment. If I have an object that I’m working with like a lemon tree, it is either a prop or an object that’s a little lesser than the equivalent to my body, inside of the framework of me making performance. I could also consider it in this excessive way as an extension of my body and so I don’t have to dance with it or even touch it to enact or embody that relationship. The consideration of it as substance and nonhuman body is an interesting place to start thinking about relationships both inside of the work itself and to the people seeing it. This exchange or relationship is directly when problems occur. People see things and either permission is granted or not.

Adrienne: How do you think your work is perceived? And then I would like you to think about your work in relation to perhaps how Herko’s was perceived.

Jen: My work is received with a lot of questions because I think I also put it out with a lot of questions.

Adrienne: What sort of questions?

Jen: Questions like, what does it take to come together? Heather Love spoke to the dystopia of coming together, this is a real question for me. How do we not idealize and create a situation where every time you see an arranged thing there’s an assumption that it’s going to feel good and right and look good and be its whole self? But there’s actually a crack in that system, that coming together for me, I have questions around it. How do we come together? How do we organize information? Is it always about assimilation? I feel like there’s something that happens when things come together, especially relationships between people that is about ‘let’s become one.’

Adrienne: Some kind of conflation, or a tendency towards a kind of reduction. Do you feel that in your dances sometimes there is a perception, which conflates a dance into a common denominator of ‘these things in relation to each other mean x’?

Jen: Yes, meaning is always at the center. It’s not anti-meaning or a lack of meaning but I think there’s a value system and a tone of that value. Meaning is not always on the top of my agenda. It exists and I don’t deny its existence and sometimes I operate inside of it. Sometimes I capitalize on meaning, on inherent meaning, and sometimes I’m trying to poke fun at inherent meaning. That’s what my last work, a Natural dance, was working inside of. Two male bodies stand next each other and if you squint their similarities blend and they look the same and that’s really problematic.  People commented on their brotherness or their sameness, when really they look nothing alike. What is seen is a kind of shell—brown skin, dark hair, light facial hair, masculine gender—that can also be sensitive and soft. We talked a lot about the permission I had to box this, to frame them. It’s not like permission was ever granted to do so, and it’s not like they didn’t have problems with the questions that were coming up. I had problems with the questions that were coming up. Based on what my work leans toward or shows, people think “Oh, Jen thinks they look the same. Jen thinks they look like brothers because she put them together and they look like brothers.” There’s ultimately always a relationship to me, my views, beliefs, politics and my work and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It does limit a kind of permission in the work however. I am only allowed to explore things I believe in or ways in which I want to represent myself and others. It is another problem in performance and the body relating to other bodies that I am deeply interested in.  The way that I craft work is bound to my politics but I’m not always enacting them or reproducing them with dancing bodies. Maybe I’m trying to push them a little bit with the dancing body, but not reproduce them. Then—you were saying in relation to Herko’s work?

Adrienne: Yes. Do your remember Gerard going through the various interpretations, recollections about Herko’s personality? The question of who is this person illumines  a yearning for a kind of biographical knowledge and desire to continue to circulate it. I think that there was all of this inconsistency around that and I was thinking about Paxton’s reaction to Herko’s work, specifically when he said “It’s not my thing”, meaning that it was campy, that Judson was a space, a sensibility that was about a particular kind of aesthetic—minimalist, for example. The understanding was that a minimalist aesthetic meant only certain kinds of movements were acceptable. So, what is it that this queer presence in that context is doing? How is it disrupting, not even disrupting, but playing into a certain kind of factor of significance? For me, this signifies something. Herko was just being in his own world in a particular kind of way, which leads me to wonder what exactly is excess? What is impermissible (as we discussed in relation to Herko’s body holding space in a particular way)? I don’t know, perhaps you’ve already answered it.

Jen: Certain people come to mind in my direct community, Greg Zucculo—I’m thinking that especially during this seminar, when there was a really sentimental nature of talking about Herko with the limited information that we have. Then, especially the older woman’s reaction of “I actually knew these people,” I just started thinking about people I know and how they may one day be retold and the sorrow in that.

Adrienne: That was really sad.

Jen: It is sad. You cannot retell someone’s life. Especially if the life is potentially wrapped up in, I won’t say lies, but in alternate realities.

Adrienne: Because he was living in an alternate reality.

Jen: And I’m sure not even just about drug use. This person was especially intelligent in terms of creative process but maybe, as the failed resumé on the cover of the program at NYU shows, not business savvy.  Somehow, and this is likely due to his early death, he didn’t manage to position his living legacy like Yvonne Rainer or others who have made names for themselves and their accomplishments are my generation’s new standards. We know who these artists are. My generation feels like the grand child of this time, it is part of our embodied knowledge and so we’re also the same. We’re exactly the same. Greg Zucculo is this artist who will always be around and for most will always be too much. People will always cast him off as too much, then one day someone’s going to curate him and say “the too much-ness is just enough.” Then he will be written about. My concern is that the value is only extended in a post sensibility or economy.  How do we support and value processes and lives that are deemed as off center, too much, queer.  I’m also thinking about Walter Dundervill. His aesthethic contains a lot and I think there’s a precarious nature to some people who are really operating not just inside of the craft of the form, like a formalist approach to the medium, but people who are actually inside of performance in this multi-spectrum kind of way. I often find that that’s related to the nightlife scene, the queer scene, the gay scene. I might be trying to say that I don’t think Herko is especially special?

Adrienne: You know, I credit choreographers like Ishmael Houston-Jones, perhaps one of the earliest people to meld club movements into the experimental downtown dance scene, which I would suggest has spawned the whole tradition that you’re talking about. How do all of these things fit together? I find it really interesting that he referenced “form” and then switched to “performance” and that performance somehow has the same kind of capaciousness, meaning an ability to take on all of these things in a way that form would not, I presume. Dance is this really specific particular thing. It has a certain set of presuppositions—it’s the body, it’s the body doing something whether still or moving —it has a set of parameters. Whereas performance seems to be more open…

Jen: I think this is probably going to sound confusing but I qualify form as something that has an audience, and performance doesn’t always. This is the whole glorious debate around Herko’s final performance that only one person saw. I think there’s such a sentimental thing about that, who sees. And we know that the most transgressive performances have happened in subversive ways other than this staging and sitting way. I have no desire to think about if his suicide was performance or not, for me that’s not of interest.

Adrienne: It’s irrelevant. I do think that in some ways that slippage has to do with an immediate knowledge of the most basic things we do, which we think are natural and in fact are not. They are all performances such as the way in which we inhabit our body, the way we figure out what it is that a body can do is deeply performative.

Jen: Considering relations between people to me is deeply performative and at the center of my work.. What does it mean that we stand far apart? But really, what is this thing, this standing thing?  Why are we doing this together? Or, why are we doing this together and there’s no togetherness?  What bodies do best is relate or they don’t relate. This thing about form—I know this is a cup but it could be so many things or, the cup could be with that excess. And not just what else could it be—could it be a candle? Not “things” like other items, but it can hold so much information. Then when it gets an audience, the audience delineates its form based on what they see and what they don’t see and their cultural understanding of cup, or that particular kind of cup, of the aesthetic of that cup, what is around the cup. Whereas, especially in considering the cup as body or as matter or as substance, it performs, it sits still, it holds a space in the room.

Adrienne: It’s back to the kind of slippage that you were doing around the word “matter.” I want to introduce a third way to think about matter in relation to your work: Is matter a thing? It’s a question of value. But it’s also mater without one of the “t’s. I have been thinking and writing a lot about what I am calling ornamental feminism, and I was reminded of it because we’re two women sitting here thinking about this idea of excess, which José actually writes about, though in relation to Herko through Ernst Bloch’s formulation of the ornament. Specifically, José was riffing off of Diana di Prima’s description of Herko’s dances as neoromantic, which he himself described as excessive, campy. However, his understanding of Bloch suggests that the ornamental is about more than aesthetics but also the promise of an elsewhere and elsewhen not bound by the norms of the present. How do you think about ornamentation in your work? How do you think about the way in which you play with that in terms of notions of femininity? My interest in it came from a critique that Angela Davis did of the Feminist movement in the 70s, when she wrote “the abstract negation of ‘femininity’ is embraced; attempts are made to demonstrate that women can be as non-emotional, reality-affirming and dominating as men are alleged to be. The model, however, is usually a concealed ‘masculine’ one.” Which is intriguing and I’m thinking of this notion in relation to artists like Lorraine O’Grady, Tracey Rose, Wangechi Mutu, Mickalene Thomas, and so on. Their works have the assertion of a certain kind of spectrum of womanness, even like vamping within what that is—of what that could be. So, I want to talk through with you, which is José’s assertion for a claim of value for excess.

Jen: In the dance field there is a starting place that is simple, clear, clean, efficient, thin and white. It’s a starting place. To be anything off center of that, you’re already excessive. You, personally, are excessive and your work is too. That’s something that in hearing you talk and hearing names of artists I’m thinking. What is the relationship of the artist’s body and their work? That’s always a major element. Not just the way that they look, but how we imagine them to be. How we place that in the seeing of the work or in the doing of the work. My body will never be separate from my work, even if I am not performing. My relationship to queerness will never be outside of my work. Even if these things aren’t named by someone seeing the work, they often perceive offness. They are being tugged away from center.

Adrienne: A thing that’s compelling about your work, something commentators seem blown away by, is your presence.

Jen: It’s because I don’t look like everyone else. But it’s also because I’m a good dancer, because I’ve been training as one just like millions of other people have. Reading reviews that comment surprisingly on my dancing ability gets me fiery. I have to weed through the virtuosity of wanting to prove myself in those moments, not over performing, being inside of the actual work that was crafted and not drifting into territories of delivery that can often over shadow the subtlety of what the work is doing.

Adrienne: Yes. I was really struck by that because what else would you expect? She’s a beautiful dancer.

Jen: I’ve practiced dancing for many years. I’ve worked with this one performer, Addys Gonzalez, consistently and he couldn’t be more different from me physically, so we kind of act as backdrops for each other. We’ve actually, through the work, had to really fight against that external viewing of form. Very early on it was said “you are the luscious, extreme, maybe excessive performer who whips your hair around.” I don’t really whip my hair around but I have long hair so it does move when I dance. And he’s this Greek God of a body. Writers, and even audience and friends, position us in this oppositional manner. The rebellion coming from Addys is astounding and something I want to witness and something that will keep me curious about his body. He often says ‘this is not a Greek body, this is a Dominican body and it’s strong but it does break and it wants to have long hair too sometimes and flip it around.” There’s a really quick read that happens. I don’t think it is just dance that does this framing. Women who are not thin are immediately read. Women who are thin are read as well. I find interesting the extreme levels that I can never quite understand, or hold onto, of complete invisibility and complete visibility. The relationship between those two for me is a bit excessive but it’s there. It’s always a wavering participant in the work.

That’s why I talk about getting the sentimentality out through writing. Sometimes I have to negotiate my body beforehand because I don’t want the content to necessarily be about the bodiness of the way I look. Even though I won’t hide that away and I’ll often be very proud of it, but the aboutness of the work might be something else. How do I get to that? How do I then use my body, or embody that as work? The feminine, or feminism or femininity, are major questions and also confusions inside my work. My deep relationship with this male collaborator who is often negotiating his relationship to femininity inside of the work leads me to look for more ways to support his male body. I’m often negotiating my relationship to masculinity. We’re both deeply interested in problems and what we don’t quite know yet is. Do we have permission to showcase problems, especially when they most often come out in a problematic way? During one talk in Toronto—I toured with Young Jean Lee’s Untitled Feminist Show (which is a whole other conversation)—a man in the audience said “What is it about feminism? Why do you all identify as feminists?” My heart started pounding in a real important way. This is not about just the cisgendered female body needing to reclaim their power, although it is also so much about that. This is not about me needing an identity to hold onto, although it feels so important that I can identify with this. This is a really large landscape and set of issues that include this man who wants to know why I identify as something, as if it is outside of something he could identify with or feels as though he needs to. The question directly placed on aggression onto my body.

Adrienne: Constant.

Jen: I was looking through the program from the NYU conversations (I’m jumping now to something else) I saw this Paul Taylor history by Fred Herko. He says, “Love is ultimately beautiful, love is interesting, love is exciting. It was lovely to watch Paul Taylor. Paul Taylor is not lovely to watch. Paul Taylor is not exciting. Paul Taylor is not interesting.” He goes back and forth between this positive and negative or this is or is not. I feel like that is so present or maybe truly part of the queerness and truly at the center of a femininity, a feminine source that isn’t only negotiated on the female body but in a way is a lot like queerness. It’s a thing we don’t quite know yet and it’s an ‘is’ and an ‘is not’ and I’m often ‘not not.’ I’m often inside of the space of people saying, “is it or is it not?” Especially in writing, when people edit my writing—well is that this or is that not this? I understand where that clarity can be useful and I also relate when I read and see and feel things that aren’t clear, the excessive nature that comes with that. There’s something in that that I understand.

Adrienne: Same here.

Jen: That feels deeply feminine to me but can easily be swayed as “you don’t know what you want.” Or, “you have a lack of clarity around the form.”

Adrienne: Fluidity is an issue. It always stakes a claim.

Jen: That whole talk—I became hyper focused on Mark Siegel’s notion of gossip. For me it was the ultimate. It was everything for me in that moment of welcome to the body! This is how information passes over time. This is how lives of people pass, how dances get made. It’s such a viable form of archive and documentation and I just felt like it was being written off!. It’s almost like he’s not historicizing Herko by talking about gossip. I feel like I got the best account, the most reflection on this conversation, through his singular presentation and proposal of gossip.

Adrienne: It’s a beautiful juxtaposition too. On the one hand, a demand for historical fact versus “this is gossip.” The thing for me that was really profound was the way in which formulating Herko’s life and work through gossip becomes a way in which things actually circulate in the world, right? It always circles back to the fact that it’s sort of like history is with a small “h.” The capital “H” is just ridiculous. [laughter]. The papers can only tell you so much. You only get the things that were deemed worth saving. What happened with what went in the garbage or was burned? The night of anger with the lover, maybe some things went up in flames.

Jen: Or even what actually did happen, even if these are your first hand accounts.  Someone pointed that out.

Adrienne: It is all perception.

Jen: But someone said it in the combat mode of “You trust Carolee’s account of her own work?”

Adrienne: Yes, which I thought was brilliant.

Jen: Yes, it’s brilliant. Of course, my account of my own work is going to be as skewed and as gossip-riddled as anything. In starting this conversation, thinking about the people who I named, Greg and Walter, I think about how they would be renamed and retold and it would be gossip-riddled. How I am retelling them now is trails of stories of, “I saw or I met him here and this happened,” oh yeah, and “the work included some ballet moves.”

Adrienne: Gossip is super productive.

Jen: It really held a space for me of the flamboyancy of what everyone wanted to say. Everyone wanted to say this artist is profound because he was operating in a liminal space and queerness was all over him and his work and it was not supported. I think that’s the whole thing with queerness and being in that minority space; it’s not being supported and it’s still operating. How crazy is that? It’s probably operating with aggression and distaste and discomfort. But it’s operating. I think there’s a push and pull between wanting to celebrate this person, but also an element of how can we celebrate something we don’t know? That’s the center of dance for me. It’s the center of performance. We keep coming together thinking this is going to be it, but what is going to be it? So we have to start thinking about what’s important. Some people think his reference to ballet was really important, some people think that doing a lot of drugs was really important, some people think his suicide was important. Ultimately, I think the glorification of one human being onto the whole form or scenario of potentially queer dance in a non-queer dance community is a little large. I think he was operating at certain levels and other people are operating at different levels and there is somehow still presence there. That, to me, is the most interesting thing. He was still in the room. Maybe he was too excessive but he was there still, and that seems historical.

Adrienne: I completely agree.

Jen: It’s so interesting how heated everyone got.

Adrienne: I think that has to do with Herko. I’m thinking particularly about this chapter that José wrote, even Herko’s closest of friends were at this point railing against his unreliability. “You’re off-course,” di Prima said. That can singularly describe the work that he did in life and in the afterlife. This kind of off-course, this being off-course. Di Prima’s complaint in some ways perfectly describes the way in which he occupied space and now, gossip or memory or mythology, is off-course. “That’s not the way I remember,“ the witness said—It’s so interesting.

End of article

Tags: Category: Interview
Trajal Harrell, Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church: L. Performance view, The Kitchen on September 19, 2014. Photo courtesy The Kitchen. Photo by Paula Court.
Trajal Harrell, Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church: L. Performance view, The Kitchen on September 19, 2014. Photo courtesy The Kitchen. Photo by Paula Court.
January 8th, 2015 · Mary L. Coyne

Trajal Harrell: Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church

XS at The Kitchen, New York

Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church is a performance in seven parts, or “sizes," presented over the course of a week at the Kitchen. Each unique event explores Harrell’s question “What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing ballroom scene in Harlem had come downtown to perform alongside the early postmoderns at Judson Church?” The series takes its title in part from the 1990 Jennie Livingston documentary Paris is Burning, which was largely responsible for introducing the underground voguing ball culture of working-class gay black and Latino nightclubs in Harlem during the 1970s and '80s to a broader audience. The contrast between this extravagant culture of fashion and celebrity and the elimination of spectacle from performance of the Judson Dance Theater, located a just few miles south of Harlem in Washington Square, is Harrell’s unchartered geography to explore.

The series begins with XS, a brief performance and an introduction of sorts to the rest of the sizes. The intimate show, limited to an audience of only 25, begins upon the audience entering the theater. Harell establishes a relationship with each viewer by greeting everyone at the door,  introducing  himself and shakes everyone’s hand.  He invites his audience to take their seats on the black-box theater floor—encouraging them to be comfortable, to relax, to lie down. This simple set of instructions in itself is in homage to the Judson Theater’s evaporation of the proscenium stage, a core aspect to the work of the early postmodern dancers from which Harrell draws his inspiration. Once inside the theater, it is difficult to determine a moment at which the performance actually begins, as Harrell takes a seat on the floor near the small group and provides some background on the work. He also provides the audience with a cue: “When I make this sign, the performance is over.” Harrell makes a slated "T" with his arms.

After explaining the thesis behind the work, Harrell disappears behind a black curtain and retrieves prepared reading packets containing a statement and selected reference texts as background. Integrating the didactic into the performance itself, Harrell encourages his audience to "take their time, to read." As the audience turned their attention to the texts, Harrell was able to slip out of view and disappear behind the curtain at the far end of the theater. Harrell employs this subtle shift in focus, he fills the void of his physical presence in the space with this moment of engagement with the text. As opposed to being a distraction, the moment, in retrospect, is an expansion of the performance beyond watching the performer. When the artist re-appears this time dressed in a red kimono and carrying four red tap lights we view his actions against the texts’ context. Harrell silently places the lights on the floor—he creates a mood, initiating the performance into another chapter. He has transformed from another body in the space to a performer.

As a study in intimacy, Harrell draws attention to the idea of ocularity, the idea of looking and being looked at. Harrell confesses to his nervousness of being watched: The original performances of XS, with an audience of 50, was admittedly "disastrous"— 50 people equals 100 eyes. Even with a smaller group, one could feel Harrell’s nerves, even insecurity during some moments; one feels that he knows no more about the work’s eventual outcome than the audience does. Yvonne Rainer, who articulated her conflicted feelings about being watched as a performer, developed a style in which she avoided eye contact with her audience, seeking to become an object in space rather than engaging with an emotional relationship with those watching her, while vogue performers sought out the gaze of others, relying on a Warholian celebrity worship. Harlem ball performances mimicked fashion runways in their quest for empowerment through receiving attention from their peers.

While constantly engaging with these disparate histories, the work refrains from falling into a revisionist history of dance in historic New York; Harrell instead footnotes elements from both the expressionistic, pop-enthused performance of Harlem voguing and the pedestrian movement of early postmodern dance as performed at Judson Church in a contemporary and subtle study. The result could not have been performed by either set of dancers; instead Harrell muses on these differences and similarities. In providing reading for his audience, the performance becomes, as in reading, a personal dialogue with an existing history.

Harrell’s series of costume changes (three in 30 minutes) prevents the formation of a single character. Seeking visibility while simultaneously keeping his individuality in flux, Harell dances against the modest red lights, his choreography at once expressionistic and quotidian. As a song (which was played on a iPod in a case with bunny ears in the center of the floor) comes to an end, Harrell makes the "T" formation with his arms—the performance is over. Like a model on a catwalk, Harrell turns and walks back slowly, disappearing behind the curtain. When he disappears and the theater is silent, the performance continues. "Go home and read it!" Harell encouraged his audience upon handing out his printed matter. “That too is part of the piece."

 

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Trajal Harrell performs Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning: jr.++ at The Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York on January 11, 2015. He presents In one step are a thousand animals at The Museum of Modern Art in New York until January 15, ending with a conversation with Eiko Otake and Sam Miller on January 15. 

End of article

Tags: Category: Review
Photos by Jessica Craig-Martin.
Photos by Jessica Craig-Martin.
September 10th, 2014 · Jessica Craig-Martin for Performa

The Last Days of Folly

Rachel Feinstein in Maidson Square Park

Artist Rachel Feinstein’s The Last Days of Folly, a sculpture installation of illustrative architectural follies on view through Madison Square Park in New York, finished with a one-day performance festival co-produced by Performa and Art Production Fund. The artist led the crowd throughout the park, where artists such as My Barbarian, Tony Oursler, Lil Buck, Molly Lowe, and Kalup Linzy, designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez (Proenza Schouler) and Cynthia Rowley, filmmaker Sofia Coppola, and musician Jarvis Cocker activated the artworks with performances throughout the evening.


See photographer Jessica Craig Martin’s photographs from The Last Days of Folly for Performa here:

 

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Tags: Category: Review
“Why Dance in the Art World?,” presented by The Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt at Judson Memorial Church on September 17, 2012. Photo © Paula Court.
“Why Dance in the Art World?,” presented by The Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt at Judson Memorial Church on September 17, 2012. Photo © Paula Court.
April 24th, 2014

Adrian Heathfield—Who Can Write About Performance Art?

A Symposium

Who Can Write About Performance Art?

Thursday, April 24, 2014, 6:30pm

Judson Memorial Church
55 Washington Square South
New York City


How many histories do you need to know in order to write exciting criticism about art at the axis of dance and visual art, theater and performance, and every iteration in between?

Performa is pleased to announce Who Can Write About Performance Art?, a lively informative panel discussion and forthcoming series of instructional workshops investigating the myriad knowledge and skills necessary to write thoughtful and insightful art criticism at the axis of dance and visual art, theater and performance, and every iteration in between. Panelists Claire Bishop, RoseLee Goldberg, Adrian Heathfield, John Rockwell, Hrag Vartanian, and David Velasco will contribute their own expertise in writing about performance in an evening that specifically focuses on the ways and means that writers approach their writing, to be as flexible in crossing these various borders as are the artists who create multi-, inter-, and trans-disciplinary works. Specifically, panelists will discuss their backgrounds and interest in performance—do they come from art history, theater history, or literature?—share how they first came to write about performance, and express their ideas about the responsibilities of writing about work that demands a knowledge of several disciplines at once. Participants’ contributions are informed by their diverse perspectives and experiences in art criticism, ranging from publishing texts in international monthly art magazines, daily newspapers, and websites, to extensive, book-length scholarly publications.

In anticipation of Who Can Write About Performance Art?, Performa has invited the panelists to submit one of their early performance reviews.

Adrian Heathfield writes about a visit he paid to Tommy Cooper, the British variety performer and comic-magician in "Impossible Return," for Cabinet magazine in 2007. He chose to write about a comedian and magician instead of a more traditional visual artist as a way to cross disciplines and expand the definition of a performance artist. 

 

Cooper was famous for his artfully crafted disastrous magic acts: exquisitely shoddy rambles through apparently impromptu sets of doomed illusions. His act turned on physical paradox. A dexterous hulk of a man, he often appeared in sharp formal attire supplemented by unwieldy hair sprouting out from under a fez. He would systematically mistime his tricks (and jokes), drifting through his prop-laden routines with shaky gestures and an air of purposelessness. By this bad magic, Cooper reveled in an array of human falls, his performances of the failure of illusion always depending on its stage machinery and skills. At the center of his metaphysical tremulousness was his laugh. Cooper laughed at and with himself quite freely throughout his routines, as if he had finally managed the impossible: the self-tickle. His corpsing (as it is known in the trade) frequently occasioned involuntary outbursts of laughter from the audience, making audible what was already apparent, that his act was founded on the contagious powers of the negative. The joys of Tommy Cooper were always shot through with a certain sense of futility.

 

 

Originally published in the summer of 2007. Read "Impossible Return" in its entirety in Cabinet magazine. 

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Tags: Category:
“Why Dance in the Art World?,” presented by The Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt at Judson Memorial Church on September 17, 2012. Photo © Paula Court.
“Why Dance in the Art World?,” presented by The Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt at Judson Memorial Church on September 17, 2012. Photo © Paula Court.
April 22nd, 2014

John Rockwell—Who Can Write About Performance Art?

A Symposium

Who Can Write About Performance Art?

Thursday, April 24, 2014, 6:30pm

Judson Memorial Church
55 Washington Square South
New York City


How many histories do you need to know in order to write exciting criticism about art at the axis of dance and visual art, theater and performance, and every iteration in between?

Performa is pleased to announce Who Can Write About Performance Art?, a lively informative panel discussion and forthcoming series of instructional workshops investigating the myriad knowledge and skills necessary to write thoughtful and insightful art criticism at the axis of dance and visual art, theater and performance, and every iteration in between. Panelists Claire Bishop, RoseLee Goldberg, Adrian Heathfield, John Rockwell, Hrag Vartanian, and David Velasco will contribute their own expertise in writing about performance in an evening that specifically focuses on the ways and means that writers approach their writing, to be as flexible in crossing these various borders as are the artists who create multi-, inter-, and trans-disciplinary works. Specifically, panelists will discuss their backgrounds and interest in performance—do they come from art history, theater history, or literature?—share how they first came to write about performance, and express their ideas about the responsibilities of writing about work that demands a knowledge of several disciplines at once. Participants’ contributions are informed by their diverse perspectives and experiences in art criticism, ranging from publishing texts in international monthly art magazines, daily newspapers, and websites, to extensive, book-length scholarly publications.

In anticipation of Who Can Write About Performance Art?, Performa will share performance reviews from the panelists in the days before the symposium.

John Rockwell wrote "REVERBERATIONS; Preserve Performance Art? Can You Preserve the Wind?" in The New York Times in response to Performa's very first NOT FOR SALE discussion, which preceded the first Performa biennial in 2005, Performa 05. NOT FOR SALE: Curating, Conserving, and Collecting Ephemeral Art  included Joan Jonas, Robert Storr, Chrissie Iles, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, and took place on April 19, 2004 at New York University. NOT FOR SALE gathered an enormous crowd of artists, students, and critics, reaching far beyond academic circles, receiving Rockwell's full-page review in the Times, an unusual response for a lecture-symposium. 

 

One photo on the postcard and the program showed a naked, paint-besmeared man dragging a naked woman through more paint, all solemnly observed by dimly lighted musicians and art fans sitting in the background. There was a second photo on the postcard, of a naked woman (presumably the same naked woman) posing demurely in profile, her right breast dark with paint and hence obscured, standing next to a wall covered with butcher-paper on which she had pressed herself, leaving the predictable marks.

The performance was staged in Paris in 1960 by Yves Klein and called ''Anthropometries of the Blue Period'' (the dark paint was Klein's obsessively personal shade of blue; the musicians were playing Pierre Henry's ''Symphonie Monotone''). The photos, by Harry Shunk, constituted the event's immortalization, along with the memories of those who were there, other photos that may have been taken and whatever prose records exist. Not quite the same thing as being there, or being able to hang an artwork on the wall of your living room or a museum.

 

 

Originally published on April 20, 2004. Read "REVERBERATIONS; Preserve Performance Art? Can You Preserve the Wind?" in its entirety in The New York Times

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Tags: Category:
Robert Ashley, That Morning Thing, 1967. Performance view, 2011. Photo by Paula Court.
Robert Ashley, That Morning Thing, 1967. Performance view, 2011. Photo by Paula Court.
April 1st, 2014 · Mark Beasley; Gelsey Bell; Victoria Keddie, Scott Kiernan, and Alex Waterman

Remembering Robert Ashley

Robert Ashley, 1930–2014

In 2011 Performa presented a series of performances celebrating Robert Ashley’s work, restaging the definitive version of his seminal operatic work That Morning Thing (1967) at the Kitchen, and the New York-based composer/performer collective Varispeed’s inspired twenty-four-hour public reworking—from Washington Square Park to an Elizabeth Street bar—of Perfect Lives Manhattan for Performa 11. Ashley dealt with words and sound in a manner that reinvigorated storytelling: His use of voice and phrase gave life to countless characters making their way through a musical landscape while telling their tales of bank robbery, cocktail lounges, geriatric love, and adolescent elopement. With works such as That Morning Thing (1967), Perfect Lives (1977–83), Dust (1999–01), Now Eleanor’s Idea (1993), and Atalanta (Acts of God) (1981–87), Ashley recast an old form—European opera—and with a deft vernacular phrase and electronic musical line delivered the television opera to a new century and a new continent. His music from the sonic power of The Wolfman (1964)—the first recorded use of feedback as an instrument on record—and the distant spectral voices of Automatic Writing (1979) prefigured Noise as genre, and also the haunted strains of contemporary record labels such as Britain’s Ghost Box.

In my many meetings with Robert he was never less than a generous host, ready wit, and storyteller beyond compare. My abiding memory is of Robert many months after the Kitchen presentation: He sat in the Manhattan apartment of one of the members of Varispeed, glass in hand, watching new works by young composers. Robert also performed, reading from Quicksand (2011) while sitting behind a small circular table lit by a bedside lamp. It was a very casual affair, a performance for friends by friends in a social setting. What struck me was the fact of a new generation and their connection to Robert, and his connection to them—his attentiveness to new work, new thought, and new music. If there is such a thing as passing the baton between generations it couldn’t be more lovingly understood than this.

Our thoughts are with Mimi, Robert’s family, and the many artists, musicians, and friends who were touched by his work.

Mark Beasley

 

 

The Heaviness and Lightness of Passing it On: Some Thoughts on Robert Ashley


I want to swim in quotations from Robert Ashley’s work. In a lengthy conversation about talking to oneself last autumn, Bob explained to me that he often finds himself talking to himself in the form of composing or practicing a line for one of his operas. Akin to humming to oneself, the repetition of vocalizing these phrases is how he learns to get them right. In my own voice, practicing the lines of his operas over and over—learning the lay of the land so that that I can smoothly navigate its territory—I find myself talking to myself, using his words. I try them on for size, chew them up, push them around a little, smooth them out, lay them flat, and parade them into my psyche. Every time I go to write something about him, I find myself turning to a libretto—grasping at lines like puzzle pieces or keyholes. I read through old emails. I listen to recordings. I drown in the archive. And though I want to focus on him and not talk about myself, his words are always stubbornly mediated through my mouth, and my mediation remains the foot stuck in the doorway—my only way to keep the door open.
Great works of art hold you by the stirrups and don’t let go for years. They are something you can spend a lifetime going back to—an animate mythology that weaves itself into the foundational fabric of an individual’s ever-evolving personal meaning making. That’s how I feel about the work of Robert Ashley.

I am part of the younger generation that has taken up Bob’s work in recent years. We have been lauded as proof of the staying power of his art, serving as evidence of the fact that his words can withstand a severing of the umbilical cord from their creator’s mouth. I am also part of a movement of new American opera that holds the fundamental shifts he made in musical practice and thought as foundational, as inspirational, as obvious—we’ve made our homes on the mountains he moved, even as we continue to learn their terrain.

My relationship to Bob and his work has taken on a vigorous dialectic of heaviness and lightness in the last few months. ("heaviness" and "lightness": terms I heard repeatedly from Bob and eloquently used by Sam Ashley in his response to Bob’s passing.) There is a great heaviness in the discourse of legacy, in the mourning that follows death, in the writing of history, and in the weight of wisdom I have found in Bob’s words and musical choices. When I infuse these weighty loads with my own breath and musical ideas, I strive for lightness—literally in the performance of his words and conceptually in how I let myself co-exist with them. The lightness of the first time I performed Bob’s work—in 2011, with Varispeed, in what became known as Perfect Lives Brooklyn, a casual, barely rehearsed all-day reading of his Perfect Lives—remains present in my every subsequent turn: A continued drive of discovery and learning, outside a matrix of perfection and instead within a logic of awakening.

Scholars in performance studies love to rehash the issue of ephemerality in performance (made so pivotal by Peggy Phelan). What is stuck in time does not stay. The grandest argument against the ontology of performance as fleeting is the urge toward and practice of repetition: the drive to perform again, to experience anew through performance. History is seen as living in the re-enactment. Re-performance is a concept dreamed up by an object-based economy before it understands the "re" that functions in every performance. Time plays tricks on us through the labyrinth of meditation, and somehow I find myself blowing air into the shed skin of a life, watching it levitate like a balloon, becoming lighter and lighter.

I am thinking again of how I talk to myself using Bob’s words. I am one of six performers in Bob’s last opera, Crash, completed in December 2013, about two months before he passed away, and premiering in April in the Whitney Biennial. Crash is a kind of performed memoir with three levels of mediations: readings from the journal of an old man recounting his life, with thirty seconds of recollections for each individual year; talking to an unseen person about someone else—him, the old man, Robert Ashley, Bob—in the manner of something like a late-night heart-to-heart on the telephone with a dear friend; and a distanced and poetic narration of moments throughout the old man’s life when he has passed out; his "crashes." These crashes are brought on by "a fear of people who are/important to some people any people/a fear of people barely known/and a fear of a large number of people" (Crash, Act 1). The swirling heaviness and lightness of the importance of the figure of Robert Ashley pushes me onto my own brink of a crash. In the score, my parts are indicated with my name. I am never asked to be anyone but myself. But I am always singing of Bob.

Despite never being an official student of his, I learned a great deal from him in the short amount of time I knew him. Of immense influence is the idea that I should always follow my own ideas and musical instincts before trying to guess at those of others. The key to successful performances is a structure that allows each individual collaborator to use their strengths unhindered, keeping their musical ears open and instincts active, while being connected to the work of the others. He embraced the ambiguities of interpretation, and, furthermore, these ambiguities reflected those of sensibility in modern life. The secret to the power of Robert Ashley is that he not only had influential musical ideas but influential ideas in general. What makes the music better makes the life better. It’s hard to talk about the blurring of life and art within his life and work, without the same blurring occurring in my own. The realness of all of this makes the dialectic of heaviness and lightness glow.

The other most influential idea I gained from Bob was what he learned from examining his practice of talking to himself: that speech is music. Moreover, music holds a key to our survival in the face of the organizational drive of modern life to Make Sense. That which falls out of intelligibility, traveling beyond our ability to make sensible, coheres to and with musicality. The ambiguity of language, the excessive remainder inherent in the process of naming, performs itself as music, throwing a safety rope to our own sense of confusion in the face of a life never fully legible.

Many years ago a friend of mine remarked that sincerity is the new avant-garde. I have held onto this idea like a lucky rabbit’s foot. No wonder I was attracted to the rigorous sincerity of Robert Ashley. It stands as a monument to his enduring influence. The integrity behind his mundane occurrences of talking to himself remind me of how and why to do this whole music thing. When talking to oneself is music, and speech is song, and we’re all just lifting our voices in the glow of our own impenetrable mortal solitude, I’ll be singing this next one of you and for you, Bob. A grateful passing it on.

Gelsey Bell

 


Victoria Keddie & Scott Kiernan (E.S.P. TV) in conversation with Alex Waterman on Robert Ashley's operas in the 2014 Whitney Biennial


We were asked to write about our collaboration with Robert Ashley for the three opera performances—Vidas Perfectas, The Trial of Anne Opie Wehrer, and Crash—as part of the Whitney Biennial. Robert Ashley passed away the day before the Whitney Biennial opened. In Robert’s passing, we see our contribution as a work to honor a great man’s artistic vision.  In place of a reflection, we chose to pay focus to the kinetic energy surrounding the operas as we near our performance premiere. We’ve asked Alex Waterman, director of the three operas and close collaborator with Ashley for over a decade, to answer questions surrounding the background, the program, and the decision to collaborate with both Scott Kiernan and myself for Vidas Perfectas. As Alex remarks, our collaboration with Robert comes from a shared embrace of the "impossible landscape."



Victoria Keddie & Scott Kiernan (E.S.P. TV): What is your background in working with Robert Ashley? How did this happen?

Alex Waterman: I met Robert Ashley in 2004 in Holland. I was producing a concert of instrumental music for a festival dedicated to his music at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. Bob had sent us a huge package of scores and I read through all of them and chose which works we would play. There were two sets of pieces from 1963 that blew me away. I hadn’t seen music like this before. I had worked on many experimental scores that employed graphic or verbal notations, but these were different. The first set of works were called the "in memoriams…" They were four pieces, each dedicated to a different historical figure from America’s dark past. They were a bunch of scoundrels, depending on which side of history you were on: John Smith, Esteban Gomez, Kit Carson, and Crazy Horse. All four were exquisitely detailed, hand-drawn graphic scores. Next to John Cage, they were the most beautiful scores I had seen. What was remarkable was the fact that they were blueprints for how to create a music that could exist "outside of time." They were a kind of drone music, but they were incredibly complex and full of instructions, rules, and strategy. The result may be a “drone” of some description, but the underlying structure was far too complex. Or was it? Why couldn’t a “drone” be a sonority composed of intricate waves and independent listening strategies? If we were to truly perceive a music outside of time, wouldn’t the code indeed be hard to crack? As Chris Mann would say, "with resistance comes the gift."

The other set of pieces was called "Trios WHITE ON WHITE." It was a set of three trios. Each trio was one typewritten page. The first of the four pages was a set of instructions for printing. The first line reads, "Imagine these trios to have been printed in the following manner."

Instructions follow on how to print three types of white ink on an off-white page. Bob wrote in a letter to me that this piece had been his statement against "sight-reading." He hated the fact that musicians didn’t rehearse new music but instead just tossed it off. Sight-reading was a negative value judgment of a music that was premised upon the attentiveness and creativity of the musicians. Classical musicians weren’t interested being involved in a creative process or in listening as a practice; they just wanted to play and be virtuosos. Bob was frustrated by this. His solution was to imagine a piece that would be printed with three white inks superimposed over one another. Each white was a different player. Remember, the three players are reading from one page! Imagine that…

I was captivated and this piece became a challenge that would keep me and my best friend and collaborator, Will Holder, busy for almost ten years. (We are just finishing the printing of the third trio.) Bobby Rauschenberg told Ashley that it couldn’t be done.

Well… it just takes some time.

After producing that concert and beginning work on the Trios, it became apparent to Will and I that we should work on a longer-term project. This became Yes, But is it Edible—a sung biography of Robert Ashley for two or more readers. We are in the final stages of making this book. At the same time, Will and I also produced three other books on experimental notation, the "social act of reading," and conversation as a mode for production in the arts and music: Agape, Between Thought and Sound, and The Tiger’s Mind.

In 2010, Zach Layton asked me to produce a new version of Perfect Lives as a chamber-music performance at ISSUE Project Room in Brooklyn. We applied, together with Robert, for a grant from the NEA, and, to our surprise, we got it. It wasn’t enough money to even produce a chamber-music concert, but Bob and I decided that we shouldn’t "sell the audience a used car, we should build a new one." This became Vidas Perfectas. A Spanish-language translation had already been made, so I took that and reworked the setting and made new scores, templates, and conducted the dramaturgy. We gathered an incredible group of musicians and artists, and through fundraising and bank loans, I managed to produce three of the episodes with beautiful staging, lights, and projections of language at the Irondale Theater in 2011. The piece traveled to London, where we performed at the Serpentine and Cafe OTO, and then we were on a hiatus until this year’s Whitney Biennial, where we are presenting the whole opera as live television inside the museum.

How did the idea culminate to do three operas for the Whitney Biennial?

Anthony Elms called me and asked if I would be in the biennial with Robert Ashley. The original idea was to do Vidas Perfectas. I wanted to do a couple of other pieces, so Bob started pulling things from drawers. We talked through a bunch of options before I asked if I could present his early opera, The Trial of Anne Opie Wehrer. I had spent two years archiving documents from the ONCE Group and the ONCE Festival, which took place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, between 1961 and 1966. A lot of those documents were Anne Opie Wehrer’s letters, minutes from meetings, grant applications, correspondence, photographs and ephemera of The Trial.

I was sitting there one day when I realized that Anne Opie Wehrer and I have the same initials: AOW. Then I looked to see where she was born: sure enough, we were both born in Norfolk, Virginia. I felt that she put her hands on my shoulders. We were in contact (Anne died in the late 1990s). Later that day I found the letter to Marcia Tucker where she asked Marcia if she could present The Trial of Annie Opie Wehrer at the Whitney Biennial. The letter was written in 1974. Forty years later, we are finally presenting the piece. We are presenting Anne’s life as "living sculpture," just as she wanted.

The third piece came out of our discussion of in memoriam…John Smith. I had been working on that piece for the book, and I was having trouble with it. It’s incredibly difficult, to the point that it may actually be impossible. Bob started reading through it and working out its problems. I proposed that we use the score to stage a series of stories in different locations throughout the museum. The score would tell us where to move and when, and when to start and stop the stories. Bob liked the idea, but then a couple weeks later said, “Hold on, I’ve gotta keep working on this.” Next thing I knew, he was writing from Arizona to say that he was nearly finished with a ninety-minute opera, called in memoriam…John Smith, of course. By the time he got back to New York, it was called Crash, and it is the last opera he ever wrote. It’s a piece in six acts, each act fifteen minutes long. It tells the story of his life year by year from three vantage points, by six voices. There is no music, just voices, light, and images.

The three operas are a kind of retrospective of Bob’s work, but better than that they are a grand arc that describes the incredible richness of his cosmology and the brilliance of his vision. It’s a celebration of Bob in every way.
And then you reached out to us to get involved in the production…

I reached out to you [Victoria and Scott] because you are really into making live television and making it with a range of equipment that explores the history of the medium as well as the tactility and sensibilities that only television can truly explore. You understand Bob’s idea of television as an impossible landscape. You also know John Sanborn and Dean Winkler’s work well, and respect the original version enough to want to do something completely new this time. We are not re-making Perfect Lives—we are telling the same story in a different language and bringing it into a new landscape. That’s the spirit of Bob’s work. As he used to say, “I only work with geniuses…it pays off in the end.”

Was Robert aware of E.S.P. TV?

I talked to Bob about E.S.P. TV and showed him some of your work online. You didn’t get a chance to meet in person unfortunately, but he approved of my choice. He trusted all my decisions, which sometimes made me nervous. I would sometimes repeat the same question multiple times and do the same with my ideas, just to see if he would answer differently or come up with a disagreement… In this case, he had no qualms at all.

How do you envision Vidas Perfectas or Ashley’s works in the future?

We are creating a sound stage and live television environment in the Whitney Museum. This is a huge undertaking. We are bringing in everything, building the sets, lights, sound installation, screens, setting cameras and monitors, and composing the video live. It’s a huge job.

We will be working together in Marfa, Texas; El Paso; and Juarez, Mexico this summer to complete the live television version and film the remaining footage needed for the final television episodes, which will compiled in the fall.

How important was video and broadcasting for Ashley?

I’d refer you to the BOMB article (118/Winter) where Bob and I talk specifically about the landscape of television. His comments are incredibly clear and brilliant. He understood that television enables us to tell stories in new ways and to re-present landscapes in ways that are not possible in any other medium. Television changed music and how we compose narratives. Bob wanted to compose for television because of the speed and complexity of the medium, but also because it was a technology best received by two people on a couch sitting together. The living room as the new concert hall was one of Bob’s utopias. It happens to be one of mine as well. I guess this also explains why I am working with E.S.P. TV: They live their professional lives like they live their lives at home. They know how to entertain an audience and they know how to entertain guests. For them it’s the same thing. I relate to that.

Why would you want to play a concert for people who you wouldn’t invite to your house for dinner?

 

 

All images: Robert Ashley, That Morning Thing, 1967. Performance view, 2011. Photos by Paula Court. 

End of article

Tags: Category: Feature
Terry Adkins, Sacred Order of Twilight Brothers, 2013. Performance view, Performa Hub, 2013. Photo courtesy Salon 94, New York.
Terry Adkins, Sacred Order of Twilight Brothers, 2013. Performance view, Performa Hub, 2013. Photo courtesy Salon 94, New York.
February 13th, 2014 · Adrienne Edwards

Terry Adkins 1953–2014

We are bereft by the untimely death of Performa 13 artist Terry Adkins.

Terry was a one-of-a-kind artist, performer, musician, and educator who approached his life and work with mammoth spirit, remarkable courage, unwavering commitment, and keen wit. On November 18, 2013, during Performa 13, audiences were smitten by Terry’s indelible performance, featuring a variety of colossal eighteen-foot tall horns he invented and called Arkaphones. It was the first time these magical instruments had been showcased in New York City since the 1990s. Two days later, Terry joined his dear friend the artist Clifford Owens for the resonant and evocative Dad, one in a series of performances at Third Streaming as part of Owens's Five Days Worth.

The Performa team extends our deepest condolences to Terry’s family. We, alongside the immense number of artists who have been profoundly influenced by his work, will miss our comrade greatly.

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Terry Adkins, Sacred Order of Twilight Brothers, 2013. Performance views, Performa Hub, 2013. Photo courtesy Salon 94, New York.

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Tags: Category: Feature
Julie Béna, Card Game, 2013. Detail. Image courtesy of 100% Transparent.
Julie Béna, Card Game, 2013. Detail. Image courtesy of 100% Transparent.
November 18th, 2013 · Linda Mai Green

The Peculiar Order of the Playground: Julie Béna

In Homo Ludens, the groundbreaking 1938 study on the importance of play in human culture, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga explains that the spoilsport is the most heinous traitor in the fragile world of play. Defecting from the temporary rules that delineate the play space, the spoilsport shatters the illusion for all. The play space is itinerant and flexible; it can be at "the arena, the card-table, the magic circle, the temple, the stage, the screen, the tennis court, the court of justice." There is a flip side to the opprobrium of spoilsports. These killjoys, Huizinga argues, are also called by other names. They are "apostates, heretics, innovators, prophets, conscientious objectors." All it takes is a shift in perception to label a traitor instead as a rebel.

French artist Julie Béna’s works deal with this threshold between one perception and another; between being a player or a spoilsport, participation or abstinence. In fact, Béna refers to the exhibition space her "playground," which she populates with performers, singers, sculptures, photos, videos and installations. Early in her life, Béna acted in a roving theatrical troupe in France, and the transient and artificial staging of play resurface in her practice. Béna’s works are often disguised as everyday objects, and the viewer sees them twice: once as banal, and again as an object animated by its proposal to exist an artwork.

In addition to seeing exhibition venues as playgrounds for interaction, Béna borrows from the visual language of games. The installation Let’s Play, Pleasure Is In Illusion (2012), is a work inspired by Bagh-Chal, a Nepalese board game. A network of thin brass lines wedged between marble floor slabs are camouflaged as an architectural flourish, and the viewer walks unwittingly into a life-size game, with vaguely humanoid sculptures standing in as pawns on the playing field.

The window and the borders of the stage are important sites for Béna’s investigations. In the past, curtains, drapes, or blinds have appeared often in her practice. They serve not only as allusions to the rituals of theater but also as veils between two worlds. Gloves and pointing hands turn up as well, as symbols of costume, and stage magic. In Elizabeth II (2009), ordinary and vaguely corporate blinds, now motorized, turn back and forth in their window. Although successfully anthropomorphized—the blinds are "waving"—they fall comically short of being as regal as their title suggests.

As part of Performa 13, Béna will present The Song of the Hands for her U.S. debut. At 100% Transparent, Béna’s contribution will be twofold: multiple layers of printed, semi-transparent blinds will be installed in the venue’s storefront windows for the duration of the exhibition, which will serve as a backdrop to Béna’s one-night performance with Adrien Vescovi. The pair will act out two types of gestures, creating parallel languages and infusing the otherwise ordinary space with conjecture and movement.

Julie Béna (b. 1982) studied fine arts the Villa Arson in Nice, France, and at the Royal Academy of Arts in Brussels, Belgium. She has exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo, Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian and Display Art Projects in Paris, Song Eun Art Space in Seoul, Korea, at Nettie Horn in London, Fonderie Darling in Montréal, and was a resident at Le Pavillon at the Palais de Tokyo in 2012–2013.

 

Images, from top: Julie Béna, Card Game, 2013. Detail. Julie Béna, Let’s Play, Pleasure is an Illusion, 2012. Images courtesy of 100% Transparent.

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Tags: Category: Feature
Ryan McNamara, MEƎM: A STORY BALLET ABOUT THE INTERNET, A Performa Commission, 2013. Photo by Paula Court.
Ryan McNamara, MEƎM: A STORY BALLET ABOUT THE INTERNET, A Performa Commission, 2013. Photo by Paula Court.
November 17th, 2013 · Grant Johnson

Mime: A Review About the Internet

Oscar Wilde once said something. What exactly, I can’t remember, but it would have made a perfect epigraph for this review.

The classical didactic tool, perfect quotation via rote memorization—whether a poetic aphorism, a dated painting or the quadratic equation—has been in large part called into question by the promise of the internet as world brain. Why memorize anything when you can simply Google it later? And yet, as with most utopian projections, at the moment, the blueprint proves more stirring than its execution. I am left sans exact quotation, so allow me to paraphrase.

Oscar Wilde once said something like, "People don’t go to the theatre to see a play. They go to see each other." Spotting Work of Art’s @JerrySaltz (not to mention his new-to-Twitter partner-in-crime, and other critics about town) as we waited to take our seats for Ryan McNamara’s MEƎM: A STORY BALLET ABOUT THE INTERNET, I may have been thinking about this Wilde-ism before even sitting down. Waiting in a humble antechamber filled with dynamically dressed New Yorkers (when did long chains over buttoned-up dress shirts become a thing for men?), I was filled with that uncanny sense of imperfect recognition. I was reminded what a small town even the New York art world is. I knew I was looking at someone, but I wasn’t quite sure whom.

Several minutes later, the performance well under way, an admirable young woman in a maroon sweatshirt and grey sweatpants was carting me, still seated in my assigned seat, up a ramp and onto the stage of the Connelly Theater, whereupon a trio of three svelte young men in black tanks and royal blue spandex leggings were decorously gyrating, I most certainly was thinking Wilde thoughts.

McNamara’s ballet promised to be "about the internet," but what, pray tell, about it? How about society of spectacle, party of…everybody? Presenting an overwhelming amount of dance simultaneously, across an immense space, MEEM emulated the Internet’s hyper-saturation of pleasure-principled content, but also the mechanisms through which users must make themselves visible in order to gaze upon this content. In addition to a diverse troupe of highly qualified dancers evoking the moves of a grab bag of sources from Janet Jackson to Mark Morris, McNamara’s cast calls for fifteen "People Movers." They progressively move the audience from their point of origin, in highly traditional theatrical rows facing the proscenium arch and stage, to various points around the venue, including the stage itself, dicing the theater into a series of smaller venues and vignettes. This central conceit creates an intimate, extremely uplifting twelve-ring dance circus of styles and narratives that is as much about watching the dancers as one’s fellow audience members. Did someone say #artselfie-surveillance? No matter how captivating McNamara’s dancers are (they are! they are!) the audience cannot help but become incorporated into the show’s many vistas.

Some of McNamara’s sources were more obvious than others. Indeed, recognition of them as citations at all certainly depends on one’s connoisseurship of modern dance, or possibly more precisely, YouTube. The two serious women in grey and black, emoting all the way to the hem of their full skirts, were dead ringers for Martha Graham (but then again, is Martha Graham always so funny?). As for the rest, your guess is probably better than mine. Dare I say, Balanchine?

This question of quotation, exact source, original origin brings us back to Wilde (not to mention postmodernism) and as such highlights what may be MEEM’s primary point of inquiry: What’s the difference, and the distance, between quotation and paraphrase? The internet, MEEM suggests, makes an empire of deferred meaning and lost origins. Twitter, Instagram, YouTube clips that digitize analog tapes that, once upon a time, indexed human agency. In an act of optimism and levity, MEEM grooves to the logic of the search engine. Instead of projecting the computer screen ­onto the stage as I expected, it bathes its audience in the auratic glow of live action and the pleasure of human bodies in motion. Its style is one of recurrence, without repetition. There is throughout MEEM a sense of familiarity, that comfort of having seen it before, without the traumatic shock of exact replica, the monotony of exact quotation and endless repetition.

This may account for why I felt it could go on forever, but also was sad to see it end. The project highlights its distance from postmodernism’s anxieties over the empty simulacra by making itself about rather than of the internet, and keeping the digital at the door. For though the internet may allow us to conjure up and live exact recorded quotations over and over on loop, MEEM forswears this life, opting for the sweaty attempts of human flesh. For although the contemporary capitalist world may largely be a mass-produced place, and the internet its newest conduit for the commodification and distribution of desire, lived experience generally fails to quote itself, exactly. Life, like MEEM, is largely an act of paraphrase, not quotation.

 

Grant Johnson is a 2013 Performa Magazine writer in residence.

Photos: Ryan McNamara, MEƎM: A STORY BALLET ABOUT THE INTERNET, A Performa Commission, 2013. Photos by Paula Court.

End of article

Tags: Category: Review
Photo courtesy of Witte de With. © Sanne Peper.
Photo courtesy of Witte de With. © Sanne Peper.
November 13th, 2013 · Amira Gad

Alexandre Singh: The Humans

The Humans tells the story of two spirits named Tophole and Pantalingua, who would rather see the Earth not created. The work is modeled on the comic writings of Aristophanes and set during the dawn of time and space. In a battle against the egomaniacal Creator, Tophole and Pantalingua conspire their way to an accidental Paradise Lost, ultimately corrupting the eponymous humans—portrayed as a vast, songful, and statuesque Greek chorus—into the flawed mortals we are today.

That’s the story behind The Humans, a theatrical production imagined, written, and directed by visual artist and writer Alexandre Singh. While the story is one that would already incite us to go see the play, it surely offers us more: from the sensational visual aesthetics of the set design true to the work of an artist to many more surprises in the music, dances, costumes and more.

Though The Humans has all the ingredients of conventional theatrical play, it is somewhat atypical. The structure of the play is one of a Greek comedy, but its style is not: The servants try to upset their masters, but no matter what plan they come up with, it never works out. In a way, each character in the play embodies its own theatrical style, as with the character of MsChief, a reference to kabuki theater. The character of Charles Ray, on the other hand, is quite Aristophanic and makes use of Shakespearean verse. The masks that the Humans wear are inspired by Commedia dell’ arte. The story in general, but in particular the character of Tophole, makes the play as a whole quite Woody Allenesque.

Contributing to the dynamic visual nature of the play are the costumes designed by Holly Waddington. The costumes of the statues (consisting of the Chorus, who later become the Humans) are a mixture of images of Hellenic bas-reliefs and traditional classical Greek costumes, and later on in the play, the costumes of the chorus-turned-human are inspired by James Gilray, Daumier for their masks, and 1830s-style Parisian dress. The identity of each character is strengthened by their costumes: Charles Ray, N and MsChief are inspired from the Elizabethan era; Pantaligua from 1920s artistocrats; Vernon is vaguely inspired by characters such as Dottore from Commedia Dell’Arte and Tartouffe by Molière.

The play starts with Gregorian music, then has a nineteenth-century waltz, followed by some Baroque references, and continues into the swinging thirties, big band, barbershop and Rameau as the final song. Not to be dismissed is the live (folly) sound element to assist the story throughout the play. The play includes nine songs in total, all lyrics are written by Singh (the music is composed and arranged by Gerry Arling, Touki Delphine (Rik Elstgeest and Bo Koek) in collaboration with Annelinde Bruijs, Robbert Klein, and Amir Vahidi)—and each one of them remain buzzing in your ear, making you wish you had them on record.

The choreography of the play is conceived by Flora Sans and is mainly based on three styles: Baroque, Contemporary, and Lindy Hop. Throughout the play, there is a visible evolution in styles, but also within each dance there is an evolution between the beginning and the end of that dance. During the first part of the play, the choreography focuses on Baroque dance and poses of Greek statues. There is an obvious switch (during the "Toilet" song), a key moment when the statues become human, for which the style used is Lindy Hop. In each scene, Flora Sans creates a subtext by complementing the story with gestural and dance moves.

There are more than fifty people involved in the play, and this excludes the crucial work of a dozens more volunteers, production and technical assistants. The Humans counts seven principles, twelve chorus members, a choreographer, eleven persons on the creative team, two in makeup, a costume designer with a team of twelve assistants, a producer, and more than twelve people working on the set and props.

Singh, who was born in Bordeaux, France to Indian and French parents, was brought up in Manchester before studying Fine Arts at the University of Oxford. The play has been ruminating in his mind since high school. It also has been in the mind of curator Defne Ayas since they first met in New York in 2005. And so, when she took up her post as Director of Witte de With in 2012, this was the first project she wanted to realize.

For Singh, this play is not only a bold move but it is also a new step in his professional career: He has done many one-man performances, or lecture-performances, but never until now a play, and one of this scale which surely marks his debut as a theater director. Though one would mention that his approach in developing this play does not necessarily step far away from the way he is used to working: Singh’s work derives at once from traditions in literature, performance, photo-conceptualism, and object-based installation art. All of this also transpires in The Humans.

In April 2012, Alexandre Singh relocated to Rotterdam upon invitation by Defne Ayas, Director of Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (and Curator at Large of Performa) to develop his play. At this stage, The Humans had been played out in Singh’s mind but not yet in practice. From April 2012 to January 2013, Singh transformed Witte de With’s exhibition spaces into his workshop, studio, script room. And from January 2013 to present, Singh continued working on the play and its production from a studio in Rotterdam. Throughout this period, Singh developed his research that would feed into the realization of his play, and shared this through thematic and monthly public events that took place at Witte de With in the program Causeries.

Taking its title from the French verb causer—to converse or chat—the Causeries were set up as a series of discussions in which Singh expanded on The Humans’ key themes, ranging from cosmology and cosmogony to satire, theatrical costumes, and scatology as well as key inspirational figures such as Aristophanes, Alexander Pope, P.G. Wodehouse, William Hogarth, John Ruskin, South Park, and Woody Allen. Rather than discursive events in the well-known format of a conference or a symposium, the Causeries were conceived as informal conversations between the artist and an expert in a given field. Much of these discussions have been instrumental in writing the script or inspirational in the development of characters, or even the look of the masks.

After eighteen months (and counting) of production, The Humans had its world premiere in Rotterdam on September 28, 2013 at the Rotterdamse Schouwburg; The Humans premieres in the U.S. tonight at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of Performa 13. While we may still be able to catch the play in other cities around the world in the upcoming years, The Humans will also morph into a video installation, including a number of props that would be presented in Singh’s exhibitions. His forthcoming exhibition in January 2014 at Sprüth Magers in London will show the masks.

 

Amira Gad is the Managing Curator at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam.

Photos courtesy of Witte de With. © Sanne Peper.

End of article

Tags: Category: Feature
Maria Hassabi, PREMIERE, A Performa Premiere, 2013. From left: Andros Zins-Browne, Maria Hassabi, Biba Bell, Robert Steijn, Hristoula Harakas. Photo by Paula Court.
Maria Hassabi, PREMIERE, A Performa Premiere, 2013. From left: Andros Zins-Browne, Maria Hassabi, Biba Bell, Robert Steijn, Hristoula Harakas. Photo by Paula Court.
November 11th, 2013

PREMIERE: Maria Hassabi’s new instance on dance

Maria Hassabi’s PREMIERE, a Performa 13 Premiere, had its debut at The Kitchen in New York on November 6, 2013. As its title suggests, PREMIERE depicts a reflection on the moment in which an artwork is presented to an audience for the first time. The cast is composed of Hassabi, her longtime collaborator Hristoula Harakas, and performers Biba Bell, Andros Zins-Browne, and Robert Steijn. The work brings on board dramaturge Scott Lyall and counts on the lighting design of Zack Tinkelman, co-created along with Hassabi.

In PREMIERE, it is possible to trace the recurrent peculiarities of the dance structures choreographer Maria Hassabi has continuously developed over the last few years, more specifically with works such as SOLO, SoloShow (2009, P.S. 122 and Performa 09), and SHOW (2011, The Kitchen). Her optioning for the intimate, the use of lighting equipment as installation piece, the minimalist movement compositions with extended duration, as well as the incitation of the observer’s gaze are all part of her visual and kinesthetic vocabulary. Hassabi’s new instance on dance touches on recognizable structures from earlier works, though not as mere recurrence. PREMIERE could rather be defined as a step into a deeper level of the core of Hassabi’s choreography. Extreme and fragile, her dance advances into a territory in which the gaze is expanded and the viewers’ expectations reframed.

When the doors of the theater open, the image seen from the foyer is magnificent: Two parallel structures in front of the right and left walls sustain a considerable quantity of lighting equipment forming vibrant light walls; the audience seats are facing the theater’s entrance, and at the center of the performative space, the five performers are fixed on specific positions, staring in the direction of the viewers.

The performers, each dressed in different colors and styled by threeASFOUR, are all dressed in denim costumes composed of long-sleeved shirts and pants, accompanied by black shoes. Harakas, in magenta, and Biba Bell, in a bleached grey and cream outfit, are standing. Hassabi sits on the floor wearing light blue, while Steijn, in beige, and Zins-Browne, in gray, are lying on the floor. While crossing the performance space to reach the seats, the audience’s footsteps mark the black floor of the theater, tracing a contour of footprints around the performers. From the seats, the flux of spectators resembles extras making their entrance out of a backstage. The doors of the theater are closed and the initial composition of the performers remain, their back turned to the viewers. The image persists for minutes, immersed in the luminosity that comes from the walls.

The stunning visual composition captured on the first glimpse at PREMIERE is delivered in its fullness to the viewer’s contemplation along the entirety of the piece. The performance is ultimately centered on the revelation of the first and last gaze at—and by—the performers. What is seen in between is the development of a slow dance that never detaches itself from the ground.

The dance develops in slight movement shifts—inclining, crouching, standing, lying down, reclining—in between long pauses. The initial grandiosity of the piece gives room for an intimate atmosphere between observer and performer, whose eyes eventually meet. The impact of the lighting design created by Tinkelman along with Hassabi is suddenly minimized, its effect seems to be diluted. Distilled from the glittering of its first moment, the dance starts revealing the humanity of each dancer: their gaze, their tempo, their silently presence, only broken by the sound of their shoes gripping onto the floor. The score modulates new images, slowly constructed, as the aligned frontality gains spatial depth and movement variations. The viewer becomes witness and beholder of the dancers’ minimal scores, while the passage of time reveals five solos evolving simultaneously, side by side.

Incidental sounds coming from the lighting equipment accompany the dance. Later on, what sounds like a reflector bulb loudly crisping entices certain tension in the audience. In fact, the pre-recorded soundscape overlaps the actual equipment noises and apparently comes from the speaker placed along with the stage lights on the left wall. The original sound design by Alex Waterman is composed of what resembles white noise sounds, and include a song excerpt coming from another speaker, on the back of the stage. Still, for most of the time, it is silence that prevails allowing the incidental sounds originated in the theater itself to be heard.

Although the lighting design was a strong visual component of the performance, the lighting changes seemed mostly unnecessary. The shifts on the light did not last enough to reframe, modify, or reassure what was already seen, and its few alternations seemed unclear in purpose, yet too evident not to address one.

Hassabi’s choreography is extreme. It makes the viewer look at those interstices that would not be perceived otherwise. By asking to be looked at patiently and persistently, her work claims to the viewer to immerse oneself in the act of seeing. Thus, it is necessary to endure the slowdown of one’s own rhythm and to enter in a contemplative mood to fully experience her dance.

The solos draw spatial relationships that are soon dissipated. The individuality of each dancer is revealed by the way each body copes with his or her solo and the idea around the meaning of a premiere. From sustaining a pose for too long, not uncommonly, the bodies experience involuntary movements—some hesitation, some trembling. After approximately eighty minutes, each performer gets once again aligned in an mirrored image of the one seen when the theater doors opened. They are looking at the audience’s direction, but their bodies highly differentiate from the first moment we looked at the performers. The score they performed clearly altered their physicality and presence, and their faces have dramatically changed. They are vulnerable, yet their presence stands stronger. The dance culminates at this final image and it is suitable to wonder if we also have been transformed, mirrored on and by the performers’ gaze. It is like meditating on anticipation: once the expectations are broken, the viewer is free to see the intricacies of what is fully presented. The audience leaves the space, carrying this updated image, whilst the performers remain onstage.

For those who have seen Hassabi’s earlier works, to experience PREMIERE is seeing her evoke the same quality of questions over and over again. As she attunes to and extracts the subtlety of her dance, we all can muse on what is revealed and transformed when dance and observer experience each other.

 

Cristiane Bouger is a 2013 Performa Magazine writer in residence.

Photos: Maria Hassabi, PREMIERE, A Performa Premiere, 2013. From left: Andros Zins-Browne, Maria Hassabi, Biba Bell, Robert Steijn, Hristoula Harakas. Photos by Paula Court.

End of article

Tags: Category: Review
Noé Soulier, Idéographie, 2013. Photo by Paula Court.
Noé Soulier, Idéographie, 2013. Photo by Paula Court.
November 4th, 2013 · Noé Soulier

Noé Soulier: Idéographie

Noé Soulier’s new performance draws together seemingly disparate thoughts, arguments and lines of reasoning from various modes of understanding the world as movements. From cognitive science to his memories of classical ballet technique classes, Soulier employs musical structures and patterns—such as choruses and verses—to structure this material into a lecture-performance. In doing so, Soulier exposes the mechanics of movements by revealing the combination of thoughts that produced them. The audience is presented with both a physical and mental choreography in this "dance of ideas." Noé Soulier’s Idéographie is a Performa Project and premieres on November 7 at Danspace Project. Here, the artist describes this new piece:

 

The starting point of Idéographie was a question: what could be a choreography of ideas? The goal was not to create a dance that would express ideas through movements but to try to choreograph the ideas themselves: to organize ideas in a way that could be called choreographic. There has been a lot of theoretical writing on dance and performance and it seemed interesting to try to reverse the process. Not to write about dance and performance using theoretical tools, but to approach theoretical reflection choreographically. I was curious to see what it would do to theory and what it would do to performance.

It seems quite hard to isolate choreographic principles from dance itself. How to define what is specifically choreographic once choreography is detached from the composition of physical movements? The first thing that shifted when trying to conceive a choreography of ideas was the goal pursued by the argumentation. Contrary to usual forms of theory, the goal was not to convince someone, to defend my own theoretical position, or to give the most coherent account of an ensemble of facts, but to affect an audience. This is usually a side effect of theory: the thought experiments of philosophy can affect our experience of the world, of ourselves and of the context that surrounds us as we go through them. For example if I engage myself in methodical doubt following Descartes’s guidance, it will dramatically shift the way I experience myself and the objects that surround me. The experiences that an argument produces cannot be addressed by the argument itself. As soon as one starts to talk about the way he is affected by the line of reasoning, one has stepped outside that line of reasoning. So the affects triggered by the argument are a blind spot of that argument.

When two philosophers who support mutually exclusive ontological positions try to talk together they often reach a point where they cannot argue anymore because the premises of the philosophical traditions to which they belong are not compatible. If a phenomenalist and a realist try to find an agreement on the foundations of epistemology, they will reach a dead end, and this impasse cannot be overcome by theoretical means. The two positions are perspectives that one can take towards the world. One might feel more right, more elegant or more convincing, but neither can be grounded by theory itself. Here the way the arguments affect us is not only a side effect: on the contrary, it seems to be central to the foundation of the theories themselves. Since I am not trying to build a coherent theory, I can juxtapose these different ways of conceiving the world and play with the ways they affect our experience of the present situation. In one part of the piece, I intertwine a description by Jakob von Uexküll of the world seen from the point of view of a tick and an analysis of our daily experience of the things around us as networks of tools by Martin Heidegger. Both discourses are rephrased and re-contextualized in the space and time of the performance, so one can shift rapidly from the theater seen from the perspective of the tick to the theater as a network of tools that refer to one another.

The arguments I use come from heterogeneous fields: philosophy, linguistics, theology, ethology, cognitive sciences, music, personal history, etc. Since I do not use them to defend a thesis or to build a theory, I do not order them in a demonstrative way. I rather use what can be conceived as a choreographic approach: creating and breaking expectations, playing with rhythm, repetition, montage, and acceleration. By using contrasting theories as lenses through which one can observe the situation, I try to choreograph the spectator’s attention. There are many relationships between the lines of thought: correspondences, contradictions, similarities in structure, and influence. For example, an argument from the Arabic philosopher Averroes and an analysis by the French linguist Jacques Benveniste interrupt each other at an increasing rate. The first is a twelfth-century law decree on the compatibility of faith and science, and the second one comes from an article from the 1960s comparing the symbolism of language and the symbolism of the unconscious. These texts are temporally and culturally very far apart, but there is something common in their line of reasoning. Averroes argues that one has to overcome the apparent contradiction between science and the Qur’an by interpreting the holy text using the established figures of speech of the Arabic language, while Benveniste tries to shows that the link between the symbolism of language and the symbolism of the unconscious is figures of speech. In both cases, there are two realms that seem incompatible: science and religion, the symbolism of language and the symbolism of the unconscious; and in both cases this apparent incompatibility is overcome thanks to a poetical use of language. As more lines of reasoning add up, it creates a complex polyphony, and I cannot track all the relationships produced by this counterpoint. I have tried to construct a conceptual landscape by choreographing different theoretical positions towards aspects of the performance. I cannot control the underlying meaning of this landscape, on the contrary, it is open to multiple interpretations and explorations.

 

Photos by Paula Court. 

End of article

Tags: Category: Feature
Left: Eleanor Bauer, Bauer Hour, 2013. Right: Musée de la danse: Three Collective Gestures, 2013. Photos courtesy of Performa.
Left: Eleanor Bauer, Bauer Hour, 2013. Right: Musée de la danse: Three Collective Gestures, 2013. Photos courtesy of Performa.
November 4th, 2013 · Performa

Performa 13: First Days

As we raced through the first days of Performa 13, Boris Charmatz paid tribute to Merce Cunningham in "Musée de la danse: Three Collective Gestures" at MoMA; Paweł Althamer takes over Biba in Williamsburg for the duration of the biennial; musicians Meredith Monk, Joan La Barbara, Maja Ratkje, Jenny Hval, Stine Motland & C. Spencer Yeh, and Attila Cshar expressed the full range of just what the voice can do in a pair of experimental concerts, while choreographer Eleanor Bauer hosted The Bauer Hour, a nighttime variety show, at the Bowery Poetry Club, among many other highlights.

For three weeks, Performa and a consortium of arts organizations band together to transform New York City into the performance capital of the world, breaking down the boundaries between visual art, music, dance, poetry, fashion, architecture, graphic design, and the culinary arts.

Many artists in Performa would not define themselves as performance artists, and often work live for the first time while taking part in the biennial. We asked several biennial artists about their experience of creating live work, and as well as highlights from Performa 13 artists and friends of Performa.

 

Eleanor Bauer, Bauer Hour:

What’s most at stake when working live?
Timing (is everything). Being present with what’s happening. Deciding how mistakes are included, which is different with each piece.

How does your live work relate to your work in other media?
My live work is my main work. Other kinds of work are usually in support of that work: writing, drawing, talking, organizing.

Do you call yourself a performance artist?
Yes. Also call myself a dancer, a choreographer, a director, an entertainer, a writer, a comedian, an amateur singer, and an artist with no other modifier.

Performa 13 performances not to be missed: 
Eleanor Bauer, Bauer Hour; Eleanor Antin, An Afternoon with Eleanora Antinova (A.K.A. Eleanor Antin); Cally Spooner, And You Were Wonderful, On Stage; Florian Hecker, C.D. - A Script for Synthesis, Eddie Peake, Endymion

 

Shana Lutker, The Nose, The Cane, The Broken Left Arm:

What’s most at stake when working live?
Liveness is a lack of control, the remove of the privilege of declaring something finished or complete. When something is performed for a live audience, it can never be complete, because it can never be exactly the same twice. That’s very exciting and simultaneously very terrifying.

How does your live work relate to your work in other media?
I use similar strategies, trying to create a certain kind of viewing experience, situating the viewer in between knowing and not-knowing, between the rational and the unconscious.

Do you call yourself a performance artist?
No, I just call myself an artist.

Performa 13 performances not to be missed: 
Maria Hassabi, PREMIERE; Molly Lowe, Hands Off; Two Arrabalesques: A Surrealist Café; Vishal Jugdeo, A Shaky Picture Has No Weight; Joan Jonas, Reanimation

 

Dani Gal, Failed to Bind:

Do you call yourself a performance artist?
I don’t call myself a performance artist. I am working a lot with sound in general and specifically with voice and speech, so performance has become part of my work.

Sound can only exist in a live situation. The rest is documentation. So if the tape recorder won’t work, the live performance is at stake.
 

Alexandre Singh, The Humans:

What’s most at stake when working live?
Sometimes in the middle of an earnest and dignified speech, your lead character’s trousers may fall down to his ankles. This actually happened to us. It wasn’t meant to.

How does your live work relate to your work in other media?
It’s exactly the same as the rest—minus the trouser splitting.

Do you call yourself a performance artist?
No. Especially not at the immigration counter. Some of those officers wear moustaches.

Performa 13 performances not to be missed:
Bedwyr Williams, A Break In; Cally Spooner, And You Were Wonderful, On Stage; Rashid Johnson, Dutchman; Shana Lutker, The Nose, The Cane, The Broken Left Arm; Philippe Quesne, Bivouac.


Keith Rowe, Lynn Loo, and Guy Sherwin, Man With a Projector:

What’s most at stake when working live?
Not enough writings on the experience of the works when they are performed.

How does your live work relate to your work in other media?
Making works for live film projection performances brings further challenges in understanding time, space, and especially in light. The gap between the audience and the work becomes much closer when projectors are present in the space and the filmmaker manipulates the functions of the machines that affect what happens on screen. So, during the performance, the audience is experiencing the making of the work.

Do you call yourself a performance artist?
I call myself an artist filmmaker.
 

Guy Sherwin:

What’s most at stake when working live?
Keeping it live. Making it work as choreography. In the case of Man with Mirror, not dropping the mirror.

How does your live work relate to your work in other media?
In recent years I’ve moved my work with Lynn almost entirely into live performance in the attempt to bring film closer to the condition of music, especially live improv music, with which it sometimes interacts.

Do you call yourself a performance artist?
An artist who works with film and performance. The word film has to be in there somewhere.
 

And picks from Aditya Julka, Performa Board of Directors: Rashid Johnson, Dutchman; Subodh Gupta, Celebration; Alexandre Singh, The Humans; Raqs Media Collective, The Last International; Ryan McNamara, MEƎM: A STORY BALLET ABOUT THE INTERNET

End of article

Tags: Category: Feature
Pierce Jackson, Ecks, Ecks, Ecks, 2013. Film still.
Pierce Jackson, Ecks, Ecks, Ecks, 2013. Film still.
October 21st, 2013 · Interview by Performa

Ecks, Ecks, Ecks

Performa and Interview magazine launch the commissioned film Ecks, Ecks, Ecks by director Pierce Jackson. Performa 13 Commission artist Ryan McNamara’s performance for Performa 09, Ecks Ecks Ecks — AKA —Sacred Band of Thebes —AKA — In Memory of Robert Isabell — AKA — Any Fag Could Do That, is re-imagined and recreated specifically for film. Offering an intimate glance of McNamara’s live performance, which is based on a historical fourth-century Greek army battle, Ecks, Ecks, Ecks serves as an original trailer for McNamara’s forthcoming work for Performa 13, MEƎM: A STORY BALLET ABOUT THE INTERNET, which will premiere on November 8 at the Connelly Theater.

...

Inspired by the accomplishments of the Sacred Band of Thebes—a small brigade of homosexual lovers that crushed the Spartan army in 375 B.C.—and the haute-glamour of the late Robert Isabell—the innovative event planner who once flooded Studio 54 with four tons of glitter—Ecks Ecks Ecks was a half-hour-long extravaganza performed by forty toga-clad young men who enacted McNamara’s vision of the ancient Band mixed with iconographic imagery from contemporary gay culture.

For artist Ryan McNamara—obsessed with what he calls "the emotive power of pop music" and the flashy stylishness of early MTV videos such as Michael Jackson’s ThrillerEcks Ecks Ecks was an assault on the indifference of history to gay culture and achievement. His camp-infused performances, which since 2005 have taken forms including a stage musical, a TV variety show, and a public dance-training workshop in galleries throughout New York, expanded in this work to mix ideas of of clubbing and war. A flute-accompanied procession, led by McNamara, began the piece; performers sashayed and snapped their way into the space and, in choreographed pairs, demonstrated classic combat moves, which evolved into feigned erotic acts and disco dancing, performed to a techno house beat. Following a writhing climax the performers collapsed to the floor, leaving a field of immobile bodies amongst which audience members had to tiptoe to reach the exit.
—Kevin McGarry, Performa 09: Back to Futurism

 

Performa: Why did you choose to film a performance of Ryan’s 2009 piece, as opposed to a brand-new performance, as a trailer for his upcoming work?

Pierce Jackson: I like entering the debate about how to document, archive, and conserve performance.

When you watch this film, you can’t watch it without thinking about the original live performance. It is the difference between watching something live and watching a film: When you’re watching something live, you see the action from only one angle, but when you watch a film you are omnipresent in the world that the film creates; you’re at character A's hands as they grab the car door, you’re at the their feet as they touch the ground, you’re inside the house where character B, expecting character A's arrival looks up, and then you’re at the front door as character A knocks. You, the viewer, are everywhere at once.  I like the idea of providing that to the Performa audience.

Lastly, and most humbly, I am likely one of the most prolific film-documenters of performance art in recent times [Jackson is the director of Performa TV]. As a documenter, it is a treat to be able to produce a piece in a way that’s similar to the way that I see it when I am documenting.

Had you seen Ecks Ecks Ecks live before, or had you just seen film footage? What made you focus on this piece?

I first saw Ecks Ecks Ecks during Performa 09 at X-Initiative in Chelsea. I came to document the piece for Performa TV, so my introduction to the performance was through the dual lenses of live, in person action, and also through the single eye of the camera I was carrying. I wanted to capture footage in a way that would allow for a virtual, YouTube audience to experience the piece as if they had actually been there at X-Initiative that day, and were remembering it later on for themselves.

What’s interesting is that when you are documenting a performance, you look for the most composed and cinematic angles. That year, I visited and documented nearly eighty performances and exhibitions during the biennial. This year, when I was mining my archive of performances to find a piece that would translate well to film, the memory of my Ecks Ecks Ecks documentation stood out. So in a fun, "meta" way, what you’re seeing on screen is me trying to recall a video I made in 2009. 

What about this performance made you want to turn it into a film?

Immediately, the wardrobe stood out. The dramatic draping of the fabrics used I thought would look great on camera with the right kind of lighting. I loved the music when I first saw the piece, I’ve been a longtime fan of house music going back some sixteen years. The soundtrack made me want to dance. Put it all together, and the idea of a crowd of men, wearing togas, wrestling, to house music, was irresistible.

How was Ryan’s work modified for recording? What was the difference between documenting this piece as opposed to making a film of your own using the performance as your material?

The two biggest differences are the changes to the sequential order of the original performance and the ability to start, stop, and re-do movements as we recorded the action. This is not documentation, this is a performance re-imagined.

Another difference was that we had Ryan involved, thus lending authority to any production choices we made. An important part of the archival process.

How is this work related to Ryan’s Performa 13 Commission, MEƎM: A STORY BALLET ABOUT THE INTERNET? How is it a trailer, since Ecks Ecks Ecks is an unrelated work?

It’s a reminder that Performa is coming, and what better way to do that than by highlighting a great performance from Performa’s past via the medium of film?

 

Ecks, Ecks, Ecks was made with generous support from Friends & Family. Commissioned by Performa and Interview. Read more about the film in Interview.

Learn more about Ryan McNamara’s forthcoming Performa 13 Commission, MEƎM: A STORY BALLET ABOUT THE INTERNET, here.

Watch Performa TV here.

Photos: Pierce Jackson, Ecks, Ecks, Ecks, 2013. Film stills.

End of article

Tags: Category: Feature
Photo by Lucas Michael
Photo by Lucas Michael
August 9th, 2013 · RoseLee Goldberg

Only Connect: One on One with Jay Z

Since the early 1970s, Marina Abramović has made performances that were all about connecting. One on one or with a large crowd, she created situations that were designed to make viewers feel more intensely—in the moment, in relation to space, in relation to each other. She has built a career from such careful examination of how we see (or don’t see enough of, she would say) the world around us, and how little awareness we have of the human threads that bind us.  Always insisting on the "here and now," each of her performances stretches time, usually to many hours and sometimes to many days (hence the term "duration art," which she might have invented), for she recognized that the only way that she could get people to fully experience her work was to make them stop in their tracks, and to be with her in real time, one hundred percent and without distraction.

There are many examples of the ways in which Marina has done this, but in each case, the context for examining such an intangible, non-saleable idea about an individual’s consciousness of their own existence has mostly taken place in the art world: that somewhat insulated, frequently misunderstood enclave of museums and galleries where artists and art lovers like to investigate the outer limits of the senses and the entire history, from Paleolithic times to the present, of the ways in which artists represent the universe. Think of it as an experimental laboratory, where artists set up tests and trials, each having to do with human perception and awareness, which is exactly how Marina’s work functions. In addition, each of her tests or trials takes place in a setting that is frequently dramatic and quite beautiful; it might be an intricately decorated eighteenth-century salon in a museum with bright accents of red or blue (of the clothing that she might wear) or it might take place in a pristine white gallery on a raised blond-wood platform built six feet off the ground to resemble a set of rooms in a house.  It was this last work, House with an Ocean View, where she lived for twelve days, only drinking water, standing or sitting silently and locking eyes with visitors, that would be her first to gain mainstream attention. It was seen by the producers of Sex and the City, who recreated the entire scene and used it as the dramatic start to Season 6, known as the "Russian Episode," when Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) meets Alexsandr (Mikhail Barysnikov).

Marina’s sitting in a chair for almost three months, day in day out, across from visitors who would sit, one at a time, for varying lengths of direct eye contact with her, as part of her major retrospective "The Artist is Present" at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010, sparked fires in the imagination of the thousands who lined up each day to see her, and of the many hundreds of thousands who only heard about it or viewed it online. One of those of course was Jay Z, who no doubt was fascinated by the idea of a one-on-one performance, in contrast to his stadium-filled concerts singing to an ocean of fans. That he was intrigued to try out Marina's work, to riff on one of the most talked about art events of recent years, as the basis for a video for his new song about collecting art, "Picasso Baby," is not surprising; indeed he chose well in selecting The Artist is Present as backdrop to a complicated and not un-ironic song, the words of which are as critical of race and class, of the presumptions of  "high art" in providing status and power, as is Marina’s attempt to "democratize" the art experience by concentrating on the basics of eye contact and connecting. His interest in her work speaks about the ways in which visual artists have frequently been the source for some of the most creative and inventive figures in popular culture. Those who translate from one side to the other, from the art world to pop music, like Jay Z or Madonna or Lady Gaga, do so with an instinctive understanding of the originality of the artists’ material even though they might have little knowledge of the circumstances that formed it. In their reworking of the artist’s ideas, they serve to popularize them. Far from trivializing or simplifying Marina’s performance, as some have said, Jay Z paid homage to her, first by securing her permission to create his own version of The Artist is Present and then by inviting the artist to be present with him. So, fans watching "Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film" get not only a hip-hop introduction to Marina Abramović, but also links to Jean-Michel Basquiat, George Condo, Francis Bacon, as well as Picasso, and a momentary glimpse into who they are and why they matter.

End of article

Tags: Category: Feature
July 26th, 2013 · Performa

Introducing About Time

A Performa Magazine Commission featuring David Gilbert, July 29–August 19

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Night, 2013. Color photograph. 13 x 19 inches. Limited PERFORMA Magazine Edition of 10.

$500

A limited-edition of ten print of Night, 2013, are available for purchase through Performa: 

About Time

 

Performa Magazine is delighted to introduce About Time, a new series of commissioned photography premiering work by visual artists who are looking at art today and in history, distorting and manipulating the processes of creating powerful images within a performative context.

Performance documentation has evolved in the last decades as our notions of performance have evolved: its aesthetics developing, its visual signifiers crystallizing. Images are not only re-appropriated, but outright staged; we can look at Ryan McNamara’s gallery exhibition “Still,” using the artist’s background as a performance artist and his use of public participation to create group photos, complete with props, the gallery a proscenium for these amusing, if momentary, collaborations. We can look a generation further back to Francesca Woodman’s bodies in performance, identities hiding in nude portraits.

The first artist featured in About Time is David Gilbert, a photographer and installation artist based in Los Angeles. Gilbert photographs precarious, delicate situations in his studio, leaving us to wonder how long until a teetering installation collapses once his camera snaps a photo. His work straddles a line between documentation and portraiture: an accumulation of materials that feel personified support each other in various stages of their (still-) life cycles. Each frame captures the moment before unraveling.

He explores the life span of commonplace materials such as paper-towel rolls and bits of cardboard, fabric, and string; tracing their presence from situation to situation, as the detritus from one installation is revived obliquely in another. The materials live on capable of having several lives and incarnations simultaneously: as sculpture, as photograph, as jpeg.  Gilbert makes sculpture as a photographer, tactile yet flat, making reference to how we see images today: online, on screens, where they are perpetually refreshed and seen anew.

These “portraits" of objects playfully metamorphose on both conceptual and formal levels: His Little Flamer (2010) has fabric flames in acid colors erupting from a lowly cardboard paper-towel tube, which are finally extinguished in flat white paint. The soft textures and color palette of works such as Scary Mary (2010), Couple (2009), and Light Impressions (2008) assert aesthetic propositions less candidly. The carefully lit compositions reveal his intimacy with photography’s history: previous descriptions of his work refer to the chiaroscuro finesse of the Old Masters; photographs with pristine backgrounds suggest Richard Avedon’s portrait studio drop-cloths.

For About Time, David has culled his archive and selected one object, a tall cardboard box, to follow its transformation in his studio. He will then use this adorned object to produce three new images over a month. These images will then be uploaded to Performa Magazine from July 29 to August 19. Limited-edition prints will be available for purchase.

It is this intent that we wish About Time to encourage: knowing the impossibility of, but yet still acting on, the impulse to stop a moment from disintegrating.

 

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Dawn, 2013. Color Photograph.
 

 

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Early Morning, 2013. Color photograph.

 

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Mid Morning, 2013. Color photograph.
 
 
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Noon, 2013. Color photograph.

 

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Early Afternoon, 2013. Color photograph.

 

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Late Afternoon, 2013. Color photograph.
 
 
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Twilight, 2013. Color photograph.

 

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Evening, 2013. Color photograph.
 

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Night, 2013. Color photograph.

David Gilbert (b. 1982, New York) is based in Los Angeles. He received his BFA from the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, and his MFA from the University of California, Riverside. He has exhibited at Abrons Arts Center, Andrea Rosen Gallery, Bronx Museum of Art, White Box (all New York); Clifford Art Gallery, Colgate University, Hamilton, New York; and ACME, Los Angeles, and reviewed in The New Yorker, Hyperallergic, and I Heart Photograph. He is represented by Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery in New York, and his forthcoming exhibition will open there in September 2013.

He maintains a tumblr of his own: artfortheinternet.tumblr.com.

About Time is organized by Job Piston, Performa Special Projects.

End of article

Tags: Category: Artist Project
July 17th, 2013 · Performa Staff

Rossella Biscotti: The Trial

By Performa Staff

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On April 7, 1979, a number of militants and intellectuals, formerly members of Potere Operaio (Workers Power) and Autonomia Operaia were arrested on charges of terrorism throughout Italy. They were accused of being leaders of the armed organization the Red Brigades, and were charged for the kidnapping and execution of Aldo Moro. As head of the governing Christian Democratic Party, Moro was on the eve of successfully engineering a “historic compromise” between the Christian Democrats and the Italian Communist Party. Evidence to support the prosecution was, and remains, unfounded, yet the majority of the prosecuted were held in preventative prison from 1979 until the trial’s close in 1984. It is this 1982–84 trial that artist Rossella Biscotti takes as her point of departure for the performance and exhibition The Trial at e-flux.

The core of The Trial is a six-hour audio edit of the original courtroom recordings. Initiating the show on May 11 and 12 was a two-day simultaneous live translation of this sound piece from Italian to English. The act of translation is central to the exhibition, both as a transferral and an embodiment of the trial’s language within the present time. Projected on the wall is a black-and-white silent film that traces a performance held in the high-security courthouse, designed by rationalist architect Luigi Moretti in 1934, in which the trials took place. Remnants taken from the courtroom, wooden benches, and keys are present in the exhibition, activating the history of the courthouse building. A series of red silkscreen prints are hung on the wall, and documentation of previous translation performances are on view. Over the course of the exhibition, Biscotti, Yates McKee, co-editor of the magazine Tidal, and special guests have co-facilitated a reading group devoted to the historical legacies of Autonomist Marxism relative to recent struggles including but not limited to those affiliated with Occupy.

The Trial must be situated within the period of social and political unrest experienced by Italy, beginning with its rise in economic productivity following World War II. Before its dissolution in 1973, Potere Operaio was influential in pushing for an alliance between the libertarian student protests of 1968 and the autonomous workers movement of 1969. This formed the backdrop against which Autonomia Operaia would emerge in the mid-1970s as a rhizomatic network of intellectuals throughout Italy. The thinkers of the Italian autonomia movement were the first to recognize a massive integration of labor, exploitation, and creativity that artists around the world continue to grapple with today. In unfurling a decisive moment in its history, Rossella Biscotti reminds us that our work still happens within a political project, even if its name is not apparent. (Text adapted from e-flux.)

The Trial is on view until Saturday, July 20, at e-flux in New York.

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Performa: The first iteration of The Trial, in Rome, was split between the MAXXI Musuem and the Aula Bunker, the courthouse where the April 7 trial actually took place. In New York, the performance is in one location. How do you think this changes the process and meaning or reception of the work?

Rossella Biscotti: I think the New York show puts together what is for me the core of the project. In a way it’s focused on the text, the language, and the translation. It involves people in translating the text coming from the trial into another language but also into the present time. At the same time, the space is conceived in such a way that the spectator becomes part of the trial. The position of the spectator in the performance is important for me. In this case I think the spectator is on the same level as the performance. They become a part of the project.

Much of your work implicates the spectator as the public. Can you talk about this within the framework of the The Trial?

Yes, I always perceive the public as the main point. Often it’s something practical. In The Trial, I took benches directly from the courthouse where the trial took place. I placed them in the exhibition space, and these benches became seating for the audience. I normally try to leave the center of the exhibition empty. It’s important for me that the center of the exhibition belongs to the spectator. The performance takes place off to the side, and you are able as spectator to move all around the space. In a way, it creates a set, but it doesn’t create a scenography. The set includes the spectator.

Also important for the public is the relationship between the Aula Bunker, a high-security courthouse in Rome where The Trial took place, and the space. The courthouse is an important architectonic element. It was a modernist building constructed in 1938, which was then reused for trials in the 1970s. When I started the project in 2006, the building had to be renovated. Now, it is in the process of changing and becoming a museum of sport. When this building was a courthouse, it had a straightforward use. As a space, it enforced certain rules to anyone who entered. I think it’s important that you have points of view in the exhibition which give you this same feeling; the benches are bolted to the floor, so when you sit as a spectator, you feel that you are part of this bureaucratic machine.

Some of your prior work was filmic, and the script played an important role in your exhibitions. How do concepts like mise-en-scene play a role in the performance aspect of your work? 

When I work with any media, I work with it as if it were film. The most important film concept here is editing: It starts with information, then structure, and all of the works have a narrative. The idea of narration comes from the script. But The Trial is freer than film because as the spectator you can choose your entry point into the exhibition.

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What led you to this subject matter? You first visited the courthouse because you were interested in its architecture.

This is true. My first interest was in the architecture of this specific building. When I first entered, I noticed that the architecture was mostly unchanged. It was like a film set. But I first knew the space through media—the images coming from the trials. The most famous trial was for the kidnapping and killing of a Democratic party leader, the trial of the Red Brigades, and then this trial, which I ultimately decided to work with—the April 7, 1982 trial of Autonomia Operaia. 

I wanted to learn more about the trial, but for me knowledge is usually a function of relationships with people, so in a way, it contrasted my first feeling of knowing through media. I knew the history, but I knew it through media. In the beginning, I ran parallel research both on the Red Brigades and on the 7 April trial. I found the 7 April trial interesting because it is much more contemporary. These lawyers experimented with legislation which later became standard practice, especially with regard to terrorism. For example, they first used preventative imprisonment for those who had charges. When a charge was invalidated, they could keep them imprisoned until new charges were brought, and informants could get immediate reprieve and had no obligation to swear in during the trial.

The trial begins with accusations against many defendants who were university professors. They were mainly people who during the sixties and seventies were teaching and writing books. They were observers of social movements. The main accusation was that they had shaped the minds of the students who later took up arms and engaged in political action.

The name The Trial recalls Kafka, while being charged for antagonistic speech or corrupting the youth brings to mind Socrates. Were these important touchstones for you?

Yes, of course. These things were even on the mind of the people in the trial, and articles written by Deleuze, Guattari, and Lotringer touched on this context as well.

Can you explain the gap between the performance and the historical material of The Trial?

A difference is produced from the historical material and the work. It is difficult to see. I find that interesting because in a way, a person who is familiar with the history would not know this material. The audio material, for example, which is the base of the performance and the work, is edited down from 200 hundred hours of material into six hours. A big part of this is choosing which people enter the trial, almost like characters. I consider it more like theater than cinema, so there is a completely different structure. The structure I gave through editing is completely fictional in relation to the original trial. In the trial, you have one defendant who goes to speak and is kept with a judge for days. What I did was make it more collective. For me it is mainly an idea of editing information. It comes from the fact that we have so much information that we have to mediate in order to give the material structure.

Is The Trial guided by your systematic approach to constructing narrative, or do you find yourself working more from the material history behind a given project?

It comes primarily from the material. The research process is huge. There are two phases: the research through documents, but also research through testimony. I don’t believe you can do everything through records or traditional research. It is also a way to create a group. I want to create a community around the project. That is my main interest. I want there to be something there when art goes away. Also, because of this project, I remade connections between people who were originally involved.

Tell us about the film in the exhibition.

I call the films “notes” because they are a kind of documentation. At a certain point, coming from film, I felt constrained by having a script, editing, and having a crew, so I transferred this to installation, and I retained the film as a more private way of documenting moments. The films are in 8mm, so I'm not tied to the time of editing. The films have their own time. They aren’t made specifically for exhibition. Another interest is disconnecting the audio from the video—it allows me to choose between film and audio.

In the film, you see different moments from the trial within the courthouse, as well as the architecture of the courthouse. Much of the architectural details have been removed during the building's transformation. It’s not a pure documentation of a production—it's documenting this moment in history. I created an encounter between various defendants, friends, families, and lawyers, along with people involved with my project, so the film shows an informal tour of the building.

What is the importance of language and translation within the performance?

Language is really a central point of The Trial. There is a point in the trial when a judge says to Antonio Negri, "We speak two different languages." This is really important. In the editing process I gave Negri the role of someone who starts primarily with a political defense and tries to give both a historical and political frame of the trial. He tries to explain specific political terms to the judge, explaining phrases that he borrows from Brecht. All of this is in the trial.

There is a second aspect of this that I identify as the core of the project. I began thinking about how to translate the political language and the history to contemporary time. The language is quite specific. It pertains to the things that are more difficult to translate to the present than they are to translate between languages, and this led to the idea of spreading this work internationally. So, the idea of translating, interpreting, and sharing this history through the process of translation became crucial.

Many of the original participants in the trial have become prominent leftist theorists. How do you think your work fits within this new context?

My interest came through strong connections to Autonomia, but also in how they worked with communication, politics, and life as well as the way they tried to connect these things. They were not tied to ideology, so they were constantly changing.

We used the exhibition space at e-flux to hold workshops which explored the possible connection between Occupy and Autonomia, which I don’t think is a given thesis. It is an attempt to discuss some topics and see if there is a line. I think if there is a connection, then it is about life, and whether it is sustainable. It is something discussed in terms of the Greek crisis and Occupy. For Autonomia, culture was a part of living. Fighting for free concerts, free university, for higher wages: this was all a part of the same point. If a factory worker cannot go to a concert, then there is no point in having a higher wage.

 

 

The Trial is on view until Saturday, July 20, at e-flux in New York. More information is available here

 

 

 

All images: Rossella Biscotti, The Trial, 2013. Exhibition view, e-flux, New York, 2013. Photos: Ray Anastas.

End of article

Tags: Category: Interview
May 30th, 2013 · Charlotte Cosson

Catalyst Artists

By Charlotte Cosson

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The works of many contemporary artists—Jochen Dehn, Aurélien Froment, Dominique Gilliot, Louise Hervé & Chloé Maillet, Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, Gareth Long, Benoît Maire, Olivia Plender, Julien Prévieux, Benjamin Seror, Nathaniel Sullivan, Raphaël Zarka and many others—involve library research, essay writing and lecture-performance as well as more tangible objects. Indeed, the 2000s saw the emergence of a trend in current art practice towards methods resembling those of academics rather than visual artists. The temptation is strong to call these artists "researchers," but they do not see research as an end in itself, and allow themselves considerable freedom of methodology. As a result, the presentation of their findings is often unconventional in form due to deviations, improbable connections, even deliberate mistakes. The resulting art is therefore discursive in more ways than one: it is a reasoning, chiefly expressed through speeches and words, yet paradoxically untrammeled by strict continuity and tending to proceed through digressions. These artists work as what Elisabeth Wetterwald calls "connectives," using analogies and subjective associations, building an entirely personal continuity between the facts and anecdotes they have assembled. These materials thus function as ingredients for use in "artwork-laboratories" designed to test their possible combinations. Consequently, the artists modify the connections between data without changing the latter's nature, just as catalysts work in chemical reactions.

The relationship between these "catalyst" artists and those known in the United States as "research-based"—whose works are inspired by research—is not so clear. Moreover, this American neologism is itself ill-defined as it refers both to historic figures (most of whom taught or studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, such as György Kepes, Piotr Kowalski, and Antoni Muntadas) and younger artists whose research is more in the nature of investigation. Moreover, the catalyst artists in question here have moved away from the age-old art-science debate, and do not confine themselves to investigation. As there are similarities between these movements, it seems necessary to develop a fresh analysis of the influences behind this new trend. It probably owes its origins to reflexive and critical practices in which narrative, or even fiction, plays a major role; as these are recurrent issues in the works of Pierre Huyghe, Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, or Philippe Parreno, and of their predecessors Robert Smithson, the conceptualists and General Idea, this seems an interesting path to pursue. 

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Narration and discourse have constantly grown in importance since the era of Conceptual Art, with its artist-theorists; over the same period, the questioning of the border between fiction and reality has shifted into a questioning of truth. Jean-François Lyotard proclaimed the “end of great narratives” in the late 1970s, and Nicolas Bourriaud promoted relational aesthetics almost two decades later. So, what is the explanation for these contemporary tales that function primarily through the creation of links?

One avenue worthy of exploration is the methodological borrowing from science, but also from the internet—whose hyperlinks foster serendipity—and from the humanities, notably postcolonial and cultural studies. These programs of study—and the artistic practices under discussion here—are characterized by the use of all data, regardless of whether or not they come from the art world or an elitist culture. Moreover, these new approaches to knowledge, which challenge its underlying power relations, are central to the questions inherent in this discursive trend and are sometimes even advocated, by artists such as Mathieu K. Abonnenc. This art appears to take a deliberately political stance with its rejection of positivism and promotion of knowledge, and poses a challenge to historians precisely by stepping outside the conventional artistic framework. 

Finally, at a time when the Bologna Process requires fine art students to write an academic thesis, how should we understand practices that lie between research and visual output? The catalysts appear to question their own legitimacy to claim artistic status when extending their field of activity to extra-artistic disciplines. However, by conceiving of their work as a work-in-progress, every piece of which represents a step, they actually exhibit their own creative process as a work in its own right. Catalyst artists: artists squared? 

 

Charlotte Cosson is a PhD candidate at the Graduate Center of CUNY, New York/ La Sorbonne, Paris, and an independent critic and curator. 

 

Images, from top:

1. Gareth Long, Bouvard and Pécuchet's  Invented Desk for Copying, 2007-2011. Materials and dimensions vary. Image courtesy of Kate Werble Gallery, New York. Photo by Elisabeth Bernstein.
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Gareth Long, Bouvard and Pécuchet's Invented Desk for Copying, 2007-2011. Materials and dimensions vary. Image courtesy of Kate Werble Gallery, New York. Photo by Elisabeth Bernstein.

 

 

 

 

 

End of article

Tags: Category: Feature
May 1st, 2013 · Przemyslaw Strozek

Futurism in Egypt: Nelson Morpurgo and The Cairo Group

By Przemyslaw Strozek

The leader and founder of the Futurist Movement, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, was born in Alexandria in 1876, of Italian descent. He spent his early school years in Egypt, and, as a teenager, he founded a small literary review, Le Papyrus: revue bi-mensuelle litteraire, artistique, fantaisiste et mondaine (1894–1895), in which he published poems and articles in defense of naturalism and modern literature. In this eclectic periodical, of which he published twenty-one issues, Marinetti showed a keen interest not only in the newest French poetry, but also an early fascination with politics, and especially anarchism, that marked his later writings, including the first manifesto of Futurism. The manifesto, published on February 20, 1909 led to the launching of a Futurist group, which had during its thirty-five years of activity far-reaching representatives in various parts of Italy and abroad. Marinetti was certain that a radical condemnation of tradition and the transformation of provincial Italian towns into large industrial centers would lead to a strengthening of the country in the international arena and would make the country a fully modern one, governed by the "proletariat of geniuses." Marinetti believed that the proclamation of a futurist Italy would take place simultaneously by means of political as well as a literary and artistic upheaval. It was not without reason, therefore, that the Futurists were the first to call for Italy to participate in the First World War, as it was the War which paved the way for political fights, culminating in the March of the Blackshirts on Rome and the establishment of the Fascist government in 1922.

From the very beginning, Marinetti’s ideas achieved great acclaim, mainly among young poets and artists who under his protectorate were eager to mark their existence on the artistic scene. The budding local Futurist groups were taking up ideas connected with the political and artistic renewal of the country, and yet, before the Great War, apart from the Futurists residing in Milan, there was only a Florentine group connected with Lacerba magazine. During the war between 1916 and 1919, the number of local groups started to grow: L’Italia Futurista (Bruno Corra, Emilio Settimelli) in Florence, La Folgore Futurista in Pavia, Noi (Enrico Prampolini) and Roma Futurista (Mario Carli, Settimelli) in Rome, Vittorio Veneto (Carli, Settimelli) in Venice. They united mainly local Futurist soldiers and combatants (Fasci di Combatimento) who desired to use the turmoil of the post-war political scene and under Marinetti’s leadership to take control of the country. In November 1919, combatant groups ran in elections, where Mussolini was on the same list alongside the futurist leader. The elections ended in spectacular failure and as a result of this severe defeat, the Futurists left Fasci de Combettimento in May of 1920.

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Top: Nelson Morpurgo attending Fascist March in Milan (after 1918). Courtesy of Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Bottom: Movimento Futurista. Futuristi di Cairo (1921)

 

In the face of these events, special attention was paid to the first (and probably only) group of Italian Futurists out of Italy—in Egypt’s capital city, Cairo. Almost all of its members took part in the war and were members of Movimento Futurista, an association which was also incorporated in Fasci di Combattimento. It had its headquarters in Cairo in Via Cheich Abour El Sebaah 25. They shared Marinetti’s political views, supporting Gabrielle D’Annunzio’s expedition on Fiume, and turned against the internal politics of Giovanni Giolitti and socialism. Its members included Italian lawyers, politicians, poets, playwrights and painters. 

Nelson Morpurgo, born in Cairo in 1899, an advocate in the Appellate Court, poet, and Marinetti fan, was the leader of Cairo’s Movimento Futurista. In his memoirs, he recalled his teenage fascination with the Futurist leader, who gained support from the Italian youth during the tough times of the war. During the First World War, when Morpurgo was staying in Milan, he became involved in intervention and irredentist movements, printing leaflets aimed at the Central Powers and the Vatican. In 1915, he contacted Marinetti, organizing interventionist manifestations, which were to lead to Italy’s involvement in the Great War. Fascinated with the idea of a literary experiment and words expressing liberty, as an 18-year-old, he started publishing his poems in La Folgore Futurista and L’Italia Futurista, to which he contributed with his Citta’ + Campagna, which he also published in his later book of poetry, Il fuoco delle Piramidi. During his stay in Italy, he befriended Mario Dessy and Francesco Cerati—authors of several theatrical syntheses—Futurist plays, written to reflect the truth about the dynamic, contemporary world and usually lasting only a few minutes. While in Italy, Morpurgo also encountered Settimelli and Carli, who were involved in the political battles of the Futurists following the war. As the war ended, Morpurgo returned to Cairo and started to form a Futurist group, which would support the country’s legions of Futurists in political and artistic terms. 

In 1920, Morpurgo issued his first futurist publication in Cairo, Movimento Futurista. Per i bimbi, which was an expression of propagandist support for the fights over Fiume. On June 26, 1920, he organized a great Futurist evening in Egypt, a performance of twelve theatrical syntheses by Umberto Boccioni, Paolo Buzzi, Remo Chiti, Francesco Cangiullo, Cerati, Dessy, Marinetti, Corra and Settimelli. In 1921 in Cairo, the first and only issue of a futurist periodical XX Settembre 1921 was published by Ferrentini, whose name recalled a historical event, when the Italian army under Victor Emmanuel II seized Rome from the French. This Egyptian Futurist magazine included, among other contributors, Morpurgo and Renato Servi, who on October 12, 1921 signed the manifesto "Noi Futuristi Italiani." This was also signed by other members of the Egyptian group: Natale Luri, Rudolfo Piha, Saverio Critelli, Enrico Pirro, Pietro Luri, and Rambaldo di Collalto. Four days later, Morpurgo put on stage in Teatro del Giardino (Esbekieh) his own trilogy in three acts, titled Morfina!, which was published in the same year by Edizioni del Movimento Furutista. In the early 1920s, he organized some futurist performances in Egyptian theaters, not only in Cairo but also in Alexandria, promoting the poetic and theatrical revolution of Marinetti’s in North Africa. 

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From top: Morfina!, Teatro del Giardino, 1921. N. Morpurgo, Il fuoco delle piramidi, 1923. N. Morpurgo, Amore, 1923

 

From 1922, Morpurgo edited the magazine Bar, and in 1923 he published his first volume of poetry, Il fuoco delle piramidi: liriche e parole in liberta. In the preface to this volume, Marinetti described Morpurgo as a "great paroliberist"; the book was published by the most prestigious Futurist publisher, Edizione futuriste di Poesia. Morpurgo’s book was a collection of works that formed a type of Futurist hieroglyph, which inscribed the Italian language and the liberated Italian words in the form of pyramids and Egypt’s natural landscape. Simultaneously, they were inspired by the spirit of Marinetti’s poetic revolution and life experiences of the sunny Cairo. It is worth mentioning that one of the poems, "Sintesi," was reprinted for a leftist organ of the Czech avant-garde “Red” in 1929, receiving international acclaim. 

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N. Morpurgo, Sintesi, "Red," 1929.

 

In 1923, Morpurgo worked as a futurist correspondent based in Egypt for the magazine L’Impero, edited in Rome by Carli and Settimelli. Nonetheless, neither Morpurgo nor the group from Cairo were listed in an index of “the world’s Futurists” published by Marinetti in his manifesto "Le Futurisme Mondial" (1924). The founder of Futurism pointed to different centers of international Futurism in Europe and across the world, including in it the different tendencies of the European avant-garde: Dadaism, Constructivism and Zenitism. The idea of the manifesto was to highlight that the whole avant-garde upheaval, which intensified in the 1920s, grew out of the Futurist foundations of individual artists.

The Manifesto “Le Futurisme Mondial” was reprinted in the Egyptian magazine AnaMali, published on December 25, 1929, in an issue entirely dedicated to Italian Futurism. At the same time, on December 28, 1929, a special issue on Futurism was published by another Egyptian magazine: Maalesh. They were published on the occasion of Marinetti’s arrival in Cairo for the Congress of the Association of Literature & Art (December 15–22, 1929). The representative of the fascist state arrived then as an Italian delegate (already a member of the Mussolini’s Royal Academy). Taking place in the then-inaugurated literary club Al Diafa, presentations of the poetic revolutions of Futurism were made.

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From top: Caricature from Maalesh (28 XII 1929). Caricature from Maalesh (28 XII 1929). Front page of AnaMali (29 XII 1929).

 

Yet, in 1932, Morpurgo released the book Per le mie donne, under the supervision of the magazine La Semaine Egyptienne, published in Cairo in French. The French translation of Morpurgo’s work was by Jean Moscatelli, who, in the same year, published an article presenting Morpurgo in the pages of the same Egyptian periodical. It is worth mentioning that Valentine de Saint-Point—the founder of the manifesto of Futurist woman of 1913—published poems in the same issue, which also contained an article by a French painter Albert Gleizes. The following year, Marinetti published the book Il fascino dell’ Egitto (1933), displaying an interest in the pleasures of contemporary Egypt; in 1938, he once again visited Cairo, which turned out to be his last visit, remembered heartily by Morpurgo as the last meeting with his master.

In studies covering Futurism, it is hard to find further information regarding the group of Futurists established in 1920 in Cairo. However, the group deserves significant attention, as they were probably the first colony of European avant-garde artists in North Africa. They were certainly the first group to unite representatives of Italian Futurist literature and art, residing permanently away from Italy. Other advocates of Italian Futurism residing abroad, such as Prampolini and Ruggero Vasari, did not go on to form independent groups in their given countries. The former resided in Germany, the Czech Republic and France from 1917, while Vasari, following his arrival in Berlin in May 1922, went on to publish the German magazine Der Futurismus. For a short time it became a German voice for Italian Futurism, promoting its ideas mainly in central Europe. Although Marinetti did not include the Cairo group into his list of "world’s Futurists" in his "Le Manifeste Mondial," it is worth mentioning that it was in Egypt that the new Futurist ideas were spreading on a wide scale, and Futurist performances were organized in Egyptian theaters and literary clubs. Cairo became a significant colony of the Italian Futurists, who in North Africa, away from their homeland, were promoting Marinetti’s political ideology and propagating the values of the futurist revolution.

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Top: Nelson Morpurgo and a group of Italian men (1930).
Bottom: P. Oriani, Enigmo del deserto (1937).

 

 

 

 

Przemyslaw Strozek is based in Warsaw, and runs futurstro.blogspot.com

End of article

Tags: Category: Feature
April 24th, 2013

Backstage with Dorit Chrysler

Backstage with Dorit Chrysler

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Last week, Dorit Chrysler gave an intimate performance for Performa friends and supporters in New York at the Standard, East Village. The Standard Culture caught up with her backstage.

[Photo @ The Standard, East Village.

One might wonder just how, without ever touching her instrument, the ethereal Dorit Chrysler can make such beautiful sounds. She plays an early 20th-century electric device called the theremin which, after a fit of Googling, we are still at a loss to fully explain. Something to do with electromagnetic fields and etherwaves, but more on that later.

We had the pleasure of meeting the lovely Ms. Dorit when she performed this past week at The Standard, East Village. Chrysler’s eclectic musical career includes a vocal début at the age of 7 at an Austrian opera house, a rock band at the age of 13, side-by-side billing with Marilyn Manson, musical collaborations with the likes of Neon Indians, and, most recently, a more classical turn towards the mysterious theramin. We sat down with her after sound check to learn more about this fascinating instrument.

Standard Culture: The theremin is still very under the radar. How did you discover it?
Dorit Chrysler: I was introduced to the theremin at a friend’s house. Because it is still fairly obscure there are no set rules when approaching it, so I thought that it opened a lot of interesting venues. I was really just being creative and experimenting. There were really no limits to what I could try to do so it was very appealing.

How long ago was that?
Eight years ago. It takes a while to get somewhere with it.

You had been a musician for many years prior to that…
Yes! I had a rock band for many years. I was playing guitar and singing and really felt kind of limited and I also thought if I pick up the theremin, ya know, even at age 70 you can stand on the stage and maybe bend towards a more classical repertoire. But there are so many different angles that you can take. It didn’t limit me to any genre or style. I thought it was really interesting.

 

How did the music world react to your new act? 
Well, it causes a tension. Just like it did when it was invented in the early 20s. It still has such an unusual and spectacular way of playing it. You have your hands in the air and don’t touch it. So, it causes a tension. Which can be good or bad. But some people that know it are pretty opinionated. They’ve heard it sound really dismal or make noise. So they kind of disregard it as a serious instrument. In a way I try to incorporate it as one of many aspects into my musical work, but I also feel obliged to pay tribute to the instrument and show a little bit what it can do so that people give it the respect that it deserves.

When you are playing the instrument does it have anything to do with energy kinesiology? 
It’s very physical. I mean, one wonders. It’s an electromagnetic field and it’s just very physical and very internal. Like the voice. Every motion of yours, even the tiniest motion, translate into sounds. So if you’re nervous, or you have a bad day, or if you’re happy you can hear it. So in that sense it is a very spiritual instrument and it’s really almost like dancing. It’s very much about body control. All the parts of my body translate into sound for the theremin. It’s an extension.

Débussy’s Clair de Lune, transformed on the theremin.

 

Let’s talk about the experimental side of your music… Do you find that it’s more supported in Europe versus New York or L.A.?
That’s a really interesting question. I am always surprised that I find people working with the theremin in the most remote, odd places in the world. I find Scandinavia is very eclectic and down with the sound, but is more minimal and almost too dense for them. New York of course is a great city. They’ve seen it all. The inventor Léon Theremin was living in New York in the 20s. He was the toast of the town. So actually New York has a strong history with the theremin. I’m also the cofounder of the New York Theremin Society.

What are the messages or themes that you are trying to share with your music?
Autonomy. Autonomy! Liberty and openness. Explore fearlessly and be creative. Whatever makes people excited is fine with me.

 

This interview first appeared in The Standard Culture on March 21, 2013. The complete piece is available here

End of article

Tags: Category: Interview
"Vis-à-vis", Canada Shadows, 1978.
April 24th, 2013 · Liz Park

Tales from the Western Front (part 2)

Tales from the Western Front (part 2)

By Liz Park

This is the second half of "Tales from the Western Front." The first half is available here

  

If I am to imagine the Western Front Lodge as a living organism, its heart would be the Grand Luxe Hall—a 1,250-square-foot black box performance space with a fourteen-foot-high ceiling fitted with theatrical lighting and adjacent media production facilities. The Luxe has hosted not only performances, screenings, readings, and occasional exhibitions, but also rehearsals, community meetings, dinner parties, marriages, funeral wakes, festivals, badminton games, and other social functions of various sizes. In this hall, relationships are forged, ideas exchanged, declarations made, and life becomes intertwined with art.

As Hank Bull recalls:

It is useful to remember that for the first 5 years of its existence, the Front did not have a gallery in the sense of a white cube. The idea as I understood it was to leave all that behind for a trans-disciplinary, performative, networked, and collaborative collectivity, [striving for] a kind of revolutionary creative movement.

 

The Luxe was the platform for these collective activities. However, just as a single-cell organism divides and multiplies to become complex in their composition, the Lodge soon began evolving in its physical and operational structures. Glenn Lewis was an exceptional administrator and organizer who facilitated many such changes.

Our aims and purposes were defined at the get go when we formed as a society. Each of the member/curators defined their own program, and I, as the administrator, would get the details of each and then work out their individual budgets with them. I conceptualized the Media [Arts] Program, which was mostly because I was applying for the funds.

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HP Radio Show, Hank Bull and Patrick Ready, 1977.

 

While Lewis was laying down the foundation for further media-related experiments at the Western Front, Michael Morris and Vincent Trasov conceptualized the Exhibitions Program. After their departure from the organization, Bull was entrusted with the curatorial responsibility. 

When the gallery was set up circa 1978 it was used for things like an exhibition of colour photocopy, mail art, and the first slowscan and telecom show produced by Bill Bartlett and Peggy Cady from Victoria. While Michael and Vincent conceived and designed the gallery, laid the beautiful new floor, and decided most of the exhibitions, after they left for Berlin [in 1980] I became the first formal "curator" of the gallery in 1982.

 

A few years prior, the Performance Program came under Eric Metcalfe’s direction.

Glenn passed on the Performance Program to me in 1979. But I also did the music program, because of my interest in jazz, and some gallery shows. When Glenn got the job as the Head of Media Arts at the Canada Council for the Arts [which remains a financial supporter of the organization to this day], he said I should take on the Performance Art Program. I did for probably too long—20 years. It was a very successful program, given that it sustained itself for those 20 years.

 

For Metcalfe, Lewis’s mentorship was of utmost importance, especially to him and Kate Craig, who was in charge of Media Arts, Artist-in-Residence Program:

Glenn was very encouraging to us. He really mentored Kate especially. Kate had a chance to start her own thing – the visiting Artist-in-Residence program for video production. This was very innovative for the time.

It was a sentiment shared by many others, including Lewis.

Artists-in-residence is perhaps the most significant Western Front contribution, an idea which has spread worldwide. There are residency programs for artists everywhere now. In the early years of the Western Front, I don’t recall any other galleries or centres promoting performance or artist-in-residence.

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"Mini-FM," Tetsuo Kogawa demonstrates the fabrication of a 1-watt FM radio transmitter, 1994.

 

As the member/curators started molding their own programs, the silo-like structures became more defined. However, the process of becoming an institution of sort was not a conscientious decision for Lewis.

I don’t think I, or probably we, thought, OK, now we are going to be professional… but more likely it snuck up on us. It was a slow process where more was demanded from us from the funding agencies.

 

For Bull, this period of professionalization was also an opportunity for curatorial experimentation.

In the 1980s, the Front became a platform for curatorial production. As the organization professionalized, so did I. I produced a project with musicians from Africa, which failed but taught me a lot. Then I did Infermental VI, "a video map of the world." Exhibition projects with William S. Burroughs and Canadian tours organized for a number of Japanese artists closed the decade. At the same time I remained active with telecommunications and video projects, including a number of video productions with Eric. The 1980s also saw the proliferation of artist-run centres in Vancouver, with the founding of Or, Artspeak, Grunt and others... 

At the same time that we clung to our inter-disciplinary ideals, Glenn, and later Karen Henry, did a lot to develop an effective board and gradually separated the roles and responsibilities of owners, board, and staff.

 

As Keith Wallace reminds in Whispered Art History, the gradual process of professionalization and division of programs had its root in the funding system from the very beginning.

In late 1973, the Western Front was encouraged by the Canada Council to apply for a grant from the newly instituted Explorations Programme which encouraged ‘exploration’ in new areas of cultural activity. As a result, [Martin] Bartlett, Lewis and Morris developed a music and performance series comprised of six events for the 1974 season… The music and performance series marked the beginning of the Western Front’s gradual division of programmes, a development that often corresponded with the gradual division of funding programmes at the Canada Council. As different media became more evident or specialized within the artist-initiated centres, the Canada Council responded with new programmes. (1)

 

What Wallace suggests is that the relationship between the arts council and the organizations that it supports is not unidirectional. In fact, as Morris imagined and wrote into the mandate of the Western Front, artists had an important role in determining the cultural ecology, and even shaping the funding structure. Lewis is a prime example of an artist-administrator who has had an influential role at the level of the federal granting body as Head of Media Arts. Nonetheless, as Metcalfe affirms, his performance programming had to be responsive to the context of the funding structure. 

My rule was that the performers have visual arts training. If they came from theatre or dance, I was always suspicious. The program was born out of visual arts… and that’s how I ran the program. By the time other people took it over, the whole funding structure shifted and the money was coming from media arts. So the criterion has shifted.

 

It is no surprise that after the Canada Council disbanded a separate funding stream for performance art that the Western Front began to fold performance art activities into other programs. However, the dissolution of the Performance Art Program itself is no indication of the Western Front’s commitment to supporting the production and presentation of inter- and trans-disciplinary art activities which include performance and live art. For instance, in fall 2012, Media Arts Curator Sarah Todd invited New York-based artist Brendan Fernandes to produce The Working Move. Developed in collaboration with Vancouver-based choreographer Justine Chambers, this performance piece involving ballet dancers in various movements with museum pedestals sat somewhere between dance and visual art, performance and a rehearsal, an exhibition and a demonstration. The work questioned these boundaries and drew new contours around how the audience understands their role at a performance event.

Another example of how performance is currently taken up at the Western Front is Exhibitions Curator Jesse Birch’s most recent group exhibition "Edible Glasses," which was on view from January to February 2013. The title comes from the performance work of Lithuanian artist Ieva Miseviciute, in which edible glasses are brought to life as part of a joke. The curatorial decision to ground an exhibition about how objects become animated through the work of performance is truly in line with the spirit of the Western Front; its members furiously rejected the bourgeois understanding of objet d’art and instead, engaged in intense experimentation around what can be done with such objects. Just as Metcalfe breathed life into the wooden saxophone with leopard spots and a kazoo mouthpiece in his performances under the alter-ego Dr. Brute in the 1970s, the exhibition was pregnant with the potentiality of the objects that can become something else in a performance.

This exhibition opened on January 17, 2013, in honour of Art’s 1,000,050th Birthday; in 1963, Robert Filliou proclaimed that Art was invented a million years ago when someone dropped a dry sponge into a bucket of water. This anniversary tradition at the Western Front is a way of looking back and acknowledging art as something living, growing, and maturing—something worth celebrating. At the Western Front, such celebrations often take place at the Grand Luxe Hall, where its constant use is like the beating of the heart. The hall has recently undergone a number of improvements, including new walls, technical equipment upgrades, and uncovering and reinstalling the windows.

Each time the physical building is renovated, it is indicative of a new phase, growth, and evolution of the organization itself. It only makes sense that the architecture that fostered certain kinds of practices and socialization would be modified according to the structural changes that take place. With every new addition to the staff, the building, and the community that it supports, the Western Front builds on the work of its forbearers. The work and the very lives of those who made the Western Front what it is today can be seen and heard in the walls and the floors. The Western Front is a place for not only the living but the memories of those who are no longer in this world. Traces from Filliou, Craig, the late Patrick Ready, and others are in the media archives, the old filing cabinets, pictures on the wall, and dusty storage bins in the nooks and crannies of the building.

As an upstart curator and researcher, I had the good fortune to sift through these traces in 2008–09. During my time there, I got a sense that the organization has a life of its own. Precisely for this reason, the task of introducing the Western Front is a tall order. In place of a conclusion, and with my most humble respect, I close this text with the words of the late Kate Craig—a pioneering video artist who was at the helm of the most innovative video production and residency program in Canada.

It’s very easy for an outsider to analyze work from the Front and see it as critical of the general culture, but I know with my own work, and my attitude to the Front, it’s not so much a critique, as it is an alternative, a way of dealing with one’s life 24 hours a day, how one relates to the outside world or to one’s community. The motivation behind a lot of the work is very positive; it’s about being able to find resources—people, buildings, and facilities to actually produce something new. It’s never been a school, there’s never been a manifesto, there’s never been an over affiliation, except with other artists. (2)

 
 
Liz Park is a 2013 Performa Magazine writer in residence.
 
 
All photos courtesy of the Western Front Society and Hank Bull.
 

Works cited:
1. Keith Wallace, “Introduction,” Whispered Art History: Twenty Years at the Western Front, Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp, 1993, p.5.
2. Kate Craig, “Personal Perspective,” an excerpt from Personal Perspective. Vancouver: Art and Artists 1931-1983, ed. Luke Rombout, Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 1983, pp.261- 262. Re-published on the Western Front website: http://front.bc.ca/events/personal-perspective/
 
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End of article

Tags: Category: Interview
April 24th, 2013 · Liz Park

Tales from the Western Front (part 1)

Tales from the Western Front (part 1)

By Liz Park

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The Western Front, Vancouver's historic artist-run center for new art forms, is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Founded in 1973 by eight artists—Martin Bartlett, Kate Craig, Henry Greenhow, Glenn Lewis, Eric Metcalfe, Michael Morris, Vincent Trasov, and Mo van Nostrand—the Western Front has been an important pillar in the city’s contemporary art community. This interdisciplinary art organization has supported the production and presentation of exhibitions, media art residencies, performance art, music, and publications, and houses an impressive archive of early media work and recordings of performance art by international artists including Antoni Muntadas, Tania Bruguera, Mona Hatoum, Chip Lord, and Sanja Ivekovic, to name a few.

I first became involved with the organization as a Media Arts curatorial intern, and soon after, as a curator in residence. This experience has been instrumental in my development as a curator and the Western Front continues to be one of my most cherished workplaces, sites of social gathering, and contemporary art spaces. What makes this organization unique is that it is a living space, literally and figuratively. Initially conceived as a communal live-work space by the eight founders, the Western Front still remains home to Eric Metcalfe and Hank Bull, who later joined the group and took up residence with his late wife Kate Craig.

In writing about the activities of the Western Front, it is impossible to separate the lives of those involved with the organization from their art practice. The members were inspired by Fluxus ideals, and saw their life as art and the everyday activities of their communal living as a performance. This brief text cannot do justice to the 40-year history of the organization that has fostered the growth of so many people in the arts and has left a profound impact on the arts community in Vancouver and beyond. In place of writing an authoritative or a didactic account, I engaged in a conversation with Eric, Glenn and Hank as well as consulting previously recorded statements and publications about the Western Front. This text is a confluence of stories from the artists whose performance of the everyday became the very fabric of this important organization that continues to define the place of art in the larger cultural ecology.

Stories of the Western Front often begin with the purchase of a building, now lovingly called the Western Front Lodge. Keith Wallace, the editor of Whispered Art History: Twenty Years at the Western Front, writes about the Lodge in the introduction:
 

The building initially catered to the secret fraternity of the Knights of Pythias, a charitable organization founded in 1864 to heal the hatred instigated by the American Civil War, and whose rituals are based on the story of Damon and Pythias, two ancient Syracusians so committed to their friendship that they were willing to die for each other. The interior contained two large gathering halls, two kitchens, office areas, staircases, a long corridor dotted with closet-like spaces that stored ritual paraphernalia, and other assorted undefined rooms and closets. The doors were fitted with peepholes that serviced requests for entry during initiation rites. For artists, it was a building ripe with possibilities for residences, common areas and working spaces that, though within the same complex, could also provide some degree of privacy.


It was indeed a space of possibilities. As Kate Craig states in a 1983 statement about her personal involvement with the Front:

It was becoming increasingly difficult to find space to work, and the nature of the work was changing. So when the Western Front building became available we decided to buy it… In the seventies, with the performance work that was going on, the beginning of video, a place like the Western Front was ultimately suitable. In fact, I think the building itself had a tremendous influence. It made it easier to do certain kinds of work.

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Kate Craig, Flying Leopard, 1974

 

For Eric Metcalfe, the building itself and the collectivity of the group fundamentally changed how he practiced as an artist:

I am sure the architecture informed our practice. The bigger room upstairs offered itself to performance. We had poetry reading, musicians coming by to play music…. The next thing I know, I found myself moving more and more in the direction of performing and making videotapes as did Kate. The practice shifted into what was going on there. The development of our practice was very organic, although there was a strong dose of conceptualism.

 

The physicality of the building also helped foment a sense of community. It not only provided a much needed space for performance and exhibitions, but also acted as a hub for long-distance exchanges.

 

A lot of people came here the first year to see what we were doing. Ant Farm, an architectural group from San Francisco, came up. Willoughby Sharp and Liza Béar from Avalanche magazine came and did a profile on us. Robert Smithson [who also visited Vancouver, but earlier in 1970] was on the front cover of the issue we were in. Those were the kinds of infusions that happened at that time.

[Because of the building] they could come and stay here. It was like a big rooming house.

We were trying the communal thing. Undoubtedly we shared meals together, talked about ideas. The building allowed for social exchange, parties, and the things that went with it, in the best possible way.

 

But it was not all parties, of course. It was a site of learning. When Hank Bull joined the organization shortly after its formation in September 1973, it provided him with an unparalleled education in contemporary art: 

I had already spent a couple of years at the New School of Art in Toronto, which was an artist-run alternative art school. The Front was kind of like a post-grad experience, if one were to compare it to formal education. In material terms, it is also worth pointing out that although I was there almost daily (and nightly) and worked in many capacities, I was not paid for the first few years. So that makes it more like a school. And of course it was not a formal education; it was an informal education.

Speaking only for myself, I took a kind of anti-professional stance, a kind of militant improvised Renaissance amateurism, inspired in part by Don Davis, the one-man band we met in Hollywood during the Deccadance (1974), whose motto was TOTALmedia. The seventies were a period of intense artistic production, with HP radio [a weekly radio show I ran with Patrick Ready on Vancouver Co-op Radio for eight years starting in 1975], the shadow plays, numerous collaborations, and support for many productions by other artists.

 

Guiding the experimentations, collaborations, and the ongoing learning process were key mentors. By 1973, Glenn Lewis had had experience teaching at art schools and organizing exhibitions and performance events as a member of the Intermedia Artists Co-operative (1965-1971). Michael Morris was another member of the co-operative with significant curatorial and administrative experience—it was Morris who penned the organization’s mandate to promote “the role of the artist in determining the cultural ecology.” They had an influential role at the Western Front, as did the French Fluxus artist Robert Filliou, a frequent visitor and artist-in-residence in 1973, 1977, 1979, and finally in 1980. Lewis states:

 

Filliou and his Fluxus work were a great inspiration when he visited and worked at the Front in the early days. I had already been doing conceptual work at Intermedia, like the film Blue Tape Around City Block in 1969, but Filliou confirmed and strengthened this direction for me, and showed me the depth of this kind of “living art.” There were a tremendous number of artists and their work from all over the world passing through the Western Front. As an artist, some of that must have rubbed off on me.

 

Filliou provided affirmation and encouragement by providing an international context for the activities at the Western Front, which considered itself one of many hubs in the Eternal Network. As Wallace explains:

 

This term was coined by… Filliou, who optimistically expressed a belief that artists should be in communication at all times in all places without dependency upon the art establishment. Within the Network, artists most often used correspondence through the postal system as a means of exchanging ideas and images. In this context, making art was a shared activity and not dependent upon the individual artist creating objects within the isolation of the studio. The Network also challenged the idea that certain cities constituted geographical art centres; through the medium of correspondence each artist could be connected internationally without having to live in a major urban centre.

 

Filliou’s Eternal Network connected the Western Front to its counterparts dotted across the globe, but the members were immersed in other postal exchange networks as well, including Ray Johnson’s New York Correspondence School of Art and the Image Bank founded in 1969 by Morris and Vincent Trasov. In an obvious nod to Johnson, Lewis founded the humorously named New York Corres Sponge Dance School Vancouver, under the auspice of which he performed synchronized swimming dance routines with all the swimmers sporting a shark-fin cap.

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From top: Martha Rosler, slowscan transmission, 1990; Vincent Trasov, Mr. Peanut Mayoralty Campaign, 1974; Wadada Leo Smith, solo concert, 1976.

 

Lewis, Morris, and Martin Bartlett provided guidance as well as a lineage and local context for the kinds of experimental art activities that took place in Vancouver before the inception of the Western Front. As members of Intermedia (short for Intermedia Artists Cooperative as well as being a Fluxus reference to discipline-blurring), the three artists brought much of the ethos of the previous collective to the Western Front. Lewis recounts the arts community in Vancouver in the 1960s and some of the events that led up to the formation of the Western Front: 

Intermedia established an art community in Vancouver… I think in the late sixties it had arisen as part of that period’s worldwide young people’s (student) uprising, drugs, free love, and back to the earth movement. McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller were looked at seriously. The environment at Intermedia was collaborative, but artists did individual work as well... Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, and Yvonne Rainer came and gave performance art workshops and the first performances in Vancouver were done in 1968. By 1973 Intermedia had ceased operating.

During the late sixties the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), under Tony Emery, had been enormously supportive of the work Intermedia was doing, basically turning the Gallery over to the artists once a year. I co-ordinated the exhibition at the VAG in 1970. The artists would have large meetings to decide what we would do. In this case, we all decided to construct domes (re: Buckminster Fuller) for each room of the Gallery…. Performance, readings, and installations took place in the domes. It was quite innovative for its time. I mention this because I think Michael Morris, Martin Bartlett, and I took this spirit with us in forming the Western Front. When Intermedia folded, the artists divided like a cellular division, if you like, and formed separate organizations (some not formal) to carry on activities that were developed at Intermedia. The Grange with Glen Toppings and Gary Lee Nova did construction and installations for themselves and others. Intermedia Press was formed by Henry Rappaport and Ed Varney. Video In (now Vivo) was formed by Michael Goldberg and a number of others… Women in Focus was formed by Marion Barling and others. Cineworks was formed…

Western Front was formed and probably had the most ambitious programming (of subsequent artist-run centers in Vancouver) incorporating exhibition, new music, performance, readings, film screenings, video documentation… and you could probably throw in cooking and dinners.

 

So began the first few years at the Lodge and a new chapter in all of the artists’ lives as the Western Front became a way of life for them. In the words of George Maciunas, the leading proponent of Fluxus who penned its Manifesto, the members of the Western Front “obtain[ed] their ‘art’ experience from everyday experiences, eating, working, etc.   

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WF NOW (New Orchestra Workshop), concert, 2008, Grand Luxe Hall.

Liz Park is a Performa Magazine writer in residence. 

(from top): Glenn Lewis, New York Corres Sponge Dance School of Vancouver, 1973. Hank Bull and Patrick Ready, the HP Radio Show, 1976. 

 

All photos courtesy of Hank Bull and the Western Front Society. 

End of article

Tags: Category: Interview
April 24th, 2013 · Liz Moy

Barbara Bloom at The Jewish Museum

“As it were … So to speak: A Museum Collection in Dialogue with Barbara Bloom” at the Jewish Museum is an exhibition which reflects the artist’s interest in the fallacies of language. The title speaks to the intricacies of communication—each phrase that was chosen intrinsically contains doubt. “As it were” is in the subjunctive tense and “So to speak” is a condensed version of the modifying phrase “in a manner of speaking.” These common expressions, which call little attention to themselves or their oddness, suggest that what you are about to hear or have just heard is not exactly what it appears to be. This fascination with the indelible nuances of language manifests in the array of objects Bloom culls from the museum’s permanent collection. Her curatorial choices in grouping the objects enhance their delicateness and curious nature. Vestiges of past lives, the objects are juxtaposed with selected texts from rabbinical debates and contemporary conversations, to point to the occurring misdirection and misplacement of value caused by semiotic subtleties. One portion of the show focuses on synesthesia, as possessed by popular figures such as Geoffrey Rush, Wassily Kandinsky, Marilyn Monroe, Duke Ellington, Nikola Tesla, and Mozart. Delicate silver spice containers embody this mingling of sensory information. Another section is solely devoted to the idea of gift giving, and the social, ethical, and political implications that come with participating in such customary exchanges. Focusing on Freud’s analysis of a gift cycle, we see how the implied generosity of giving gifts can be problematic. One example is a silver cigar box that Freud received from his patient Anna. Inscribed on the top corner of the box is the word “Christmas,” indicating the bestowal of a gift based on a word that is fundamentally English and Christian. The German “Weihnachten,” Jewish “Chanukah,” or the more neutral “Holidays” would have all been more culturally appropriate.

#

 

Adjacently shown is a signet ring, which Freud gave to his daughter. Despite joyously ushering her into his inner circle, the gifting of this ring also reinforced the pressure bestowed upon her to protect the famed psychoanalyst’s legacy.The exhibition almost boasts its own intellectualism with a selection of texts, including Jonathan Spence’s Memory Palace of Mateo Ricci, Daniel Dennet’s Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, and Spalding Gray’s Swimming to Cambodia. But Bloom can be comical as well, as shown by the plaques of “Laws Regarding Charity” written by Moses in the twelfth century and Bloomberg recently in New York City. While the former pays attention to the important roles of will and guilt, the latter remains purely bureaucratic, discussing taxes, itemization, and fair market value. Bloom creates a dialogue across time and space, which tests the viewer’s ability to infer a whole from all of the gathered information. This discourse is appropriately represented by the pairs of painted eyes highlighted in slots on the walls connecting each room. Their penetrative gazes assume an unspoken reciprocity that effectively sums up the main concerns of this show.

 

Images: “As it were…So to speak: A Museum Collection in Dialogue with Barbara Bloom at The Jewish Museum,” 2013. Exhibition view. Photos by David Heald. 

End of article

Tags: Category: Review
March 26th, 2013 · Grant Klarich Johnson

An Ode to Tilda Swinton's The Maybe

An Ode to Tilda Swinton's The Maybe

By Grant Klarich Johnson

Likely, you have already heard about Tilda Swinton’s The Maybe at the Museum of Modern Art in midtown Manhattan. Reported by several media outlets by early Saturday, the work has proved a sensationalist stroke of brilliance on MoMA’s part, buzzing across social media channels both in the art world and otherwise. 

The piece, originally performed in collaboration with the sculptor and installation artist Cornelia Parker in 1995 at London’s Serpentine Gallery, then later at the Museo Barracco in Rome, features Swinton feigning sleep atop a thin white mattress in a raised glass-and-metal vitrine. Her costume of rolled denim, sneakers, and oversized work-shirts echo the hipster ease distilled in the thick square frames of her glasses, which punctuate the bed. Recalling the coy geometry of Damian Hirst, the minimalist set frames and compliments Swinton’s own sparse, androgynous form, literally lifting her from the realm of the everyday and into a consecrated box, a readymade sign of the aesthetic. 

As the piece will continue to reappear unannounced at the museum, its invasion of pre-existing museum installations will draw both an exceptional crowd and comment to these unsuspecting spaces. Mindful of this promising Situationist-esque intervention, MoMA curators likely already have plans to rhyme The Maybe with Joseph Beuys’s vitrines (with which and whom it bears both a striking formal and performative similarity) currently on view on the fourth floor, as well as many other insightful pairings, from Monet’s Nympheas to the dreamy and threatening surrealist objects down the hall, already caged in their own sterilizing vitrines. When I caught it, The Maybe stood in the shadows of Douglas Gordon’s towering video work Play Dead; Real Time (2003), itself a recording of a trained elephant playing at its own extinction, and thus a delightful backdrop and interlocutor to Swinton’s striking performance. 

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Joseph Beuys, Untitled V (1949-82).* 

Perhaps a passive-aggressive form of institutional critique, The Maybe threatens MoMA’s prowess without even getting out of bed. Indeed, to sleep (perchance to dream?) upon some of the most valued real estate in the art world, to close one’s eyes to supposed masterworks suggests an extremely literal critique—boredom of the institution and all it contains. And yet, ultimately, The Maybe presents no real threat. It—possibly all too—flawlessly continues MoMA’s popular performance programming and gives a sense of history and community to Marina Abramovic’s call for long-durational work. In the end, it may not challenge, but reinforces all that for which MoMA stands. 

Free of a formal press release, website, or even an extended interpretive label, The Maybe suggests an art event as free of discourse as possible. And yet, like Swinton’s convincing slumber, punctuated by transcendent passages of elegant tossing and turning—this is all largely an act. The variable presence of the piece seems tailor-made both to the museum’s interest in luring visitors away from other, less fleeting urban attractions, as well as to engaging the attention deficit world-brain that is Twitter. The Maybe makes MoMA itself an event, trending, tempting, tough-to-beat. 

The presence of a celebrity actress like Swinton means the import of the full discursive field she, and her public, carry with them into the museum—a field arguably much vaster than that of any living artist. Navigating the aura of supposed evanescence while also highlighting a performer and work whose potency is largely contingent on the aura of celebrity, the fetishistic notion of the author drives The Maybe and makes it a strong argument for MoMA, the kingmaker incarnate, to stage. This is not just anyone in a box. This is a highly accomplished, highly skilled, luxury-goods-endorsing, sometime fashion model performing an idealized form of slumber. The Maybe has more in common with the precise, confident beauty of Maderno’s Saint Cecilia (1600) than the prosaic performance of the sleeping homeless that likewise present themselves unannounced on the exterior architecture of one’s local church.

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That said, just as I go weak before Cecilia, I must admit my pure delight at the prospect of The Maybe, as well as its promise of Swinton in the role of Sleeping Beauty. An unselfconscious fan of Swinton’s various apparitions—from the utterly unassailable visual banquet I Am Love to a certain spread in W magazine where she (not uncommonly) looked more alien than human—as soon as I heard about The Maybe, I reserved the right to drop everything and rush to the museum to bear witness to Swinton in all her startling perfection. 

Grant Johnson is a Performa Magazine writer in residence. 

 

*Images (from top):
1. Joseph Beuys, Untitled V (1949-82), MoMA.
Courtesy of www.adiciones.es.
2. Stefano Maderno, Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia, 1600. Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome. 
Courtesy of www.bettybaroque.wordpress.com.


 

End of article

Tags: Category: Review
March 15th, 2013

Yoko Ono: Half-A-Wind-Show.
A Retrospective.

 

The Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt presents a stunning retrospective by Yoko Ono. "Half-A-Wind-Show. A Retrospective." looks back at the past six decades of the artist's work, who has been a leading figure in the development of conceptual, performance, and Fluxus art, and a pioneer of  avant-garde and experimental music and film.

More information about "Half-A-Wind-Show. A Retrospective." is available from Schirn

 

 

Images above:
1. 
Add Color Painting, 1960/1966. Paint, newspaper, tin foil on canvas. Collection of the artist. © Yoko Ono.
2. Apple, 1966. Apple, Plexiglas pedestal with brass plaque engraved: APPLE. Collection of the artist. © Yoko Ono.
3. Bed-In for Peace, 1969. Hilton Hotel, Amsterdam, 25.-31. März 1969. © Yoko Ono.
4. Blue Room Event, 1966. Detail Installation with handwritten texts. Concept collection of the artist. © Yoko Ono.
5. Ceiling Painting, Yes Painting, 1966. Text on paper, glass, metal frame, metal chain, magnifying glass, painted ladder. Collection of the artist. © Yoko Ono.
6. Cut Piece, 1965. Performed by Yoko Ono Carnegie Recital Hall, New York, 1965. Photo: Minoru Niizuma © Courtesy Lenono Photo Archive.  
7. Fly, 1970. Still from 16 mm film transferred to digital. Color, sound, 25 minutes. Collection of the artist. © Yoko Ono.
8. Fly, 1996. Billboards. Concept collection of the artist. © Lenono Photo Archive. 
9. Morning Beams / Riverbed, 1996. Installation view, Israel Museum, 2000 Photo: Oded Lobl. © Lenono Photo Archive.
10. Sky TV, 1966/2013. TV monitor, closed circuit video camera. Concept collection of the artist. © Yoko Ono.
11. Yoko Ono and John Lennon, War Is Over!, 1969. Billboard installed in Times Square, New York. © Yoko Ono.
12. Water Piece, 1962/1966. Sponge, eyedropper, water in glass vial on Plexiglas pedestal engraved: WATER PIECE YOKO ONO 1962 / WATER EVERY DAY. Pedestal: Collection of the artist. © Yoko Ono.
13–14. "
Half-A-Wind Show. A Retrospective." Exhibition view. © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2013 Photography: Norbert Miguletz.
15. Action Painting, 2013. © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2013. Photography: Bernd Kammerer.
16. Sky Piece to Jesus Christ, 2013. © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt 2013. Photography: Bernd Kammerer.

Yoko Ono, Half-A-Room, Lisson Gallery, London, 1967, photo: Anthony Cox, © Courtesy LENONO PHOTO ARCHIVE

 

End of article

Tags: Category: Feature
March 8th, 2013 · Victor Wang

Performing around capitalism (Part 2)

Performing around capitalism (Part 2)

By Victor Wang

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This essay is part two of two. Part one is available here.

 

 

In the past, the Turbine Hall has seen some live art that Sehgal’s These Associations nods towards, knowingly or not. For example, Tania Bruguera’s Tatlin’s Whisper #5 (2008) a piece which included an exercise in crowd control by mounted police, or Martin Creed’s Work No. 850 (2008), which saw sprinters race through the Duveen Galleries (1).

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Tania Bruguera, Tatlin’s Whisper #5, 2008. Performance view, 
Tate Modern, London. Photo © the artist.

 

For Sehgal, the body is not the only medium that can generate immaterial value. The chance conversations In These Associations are actually based on a set of open-ended questions asked by Sehgal, such as "When did you feel a sense of belonging?" and "When did you experience a sense of arrival? (2)' This use of performative speech is what OJ.L. Austin described as phonetic acts, which has a long history of knowledge production in non-European models. In his text How To Do Things With Words (1954), Austin distinguished what he calls speech acts that simply say something (constative) from speech acts that do something (performative), i.e., they accomplish what they say (3). In this sense the use of language in Sehgal’s pieces are doing more than conveying lexical or grammatical convention (producing an English sentence). Language here is directly tied to the act of doing something, activating a response, and producing a non-material exchange of knowledge production that is immeasurable by monetary gain.

In a recent interview it was noted that Sehgal has developed a 'literal interpretation of Benjamin’s statement that authentic art has its basis in ritual' (4). The tradition of passing on knowledge through ritual or ceremony has an extensive history in non-Western civilizations, such as the First Nations of Canada or in Asian folklore such as the Jingjiang (Telling Scriptures)—a 'local style of oral prosimetric narrative performed in ritual contexts in the area of Jingjiang…in Jiangsu Province, China' (5), where semi-professional storytellers perform oral narratives that are accompanied by the audience. Examples of other cultures producing community value (other than material exchange) are important when defining the above stated thesis, because it is non-Eurocentric forms of knowledge production such as these that according to Boaventura de Sousa Santos are crucial to the anti-capitalist perspective. Where 'Western supremacy was also instrumental in suppressing other, non-scientific forms of knowledge and, at the same time, the subaltern social groups whose social practices were informed by such knowledge' (6). Conditioning Western audiences to expect specific avenues of receiving knowledge from the media to its cultural centers, dominating economic systems such as the late capitalist model of the museum in turn dictates the forms of display and representation used when constructing exhibitions.

Does every exhibition have to be documented? Allan Kaprow didn’t necessarily believe so. As a producer, what are the best methods of documentation that allows for the public to experience the live act? For Sehgal the museum and the industrial society are solely concerned with the displaying of objects and the 'kind of wealth that can be derived from objects and promoting that point' (7). Where Rosalind Krauss points out in her essay "The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum" that historically this was not merely out of dire financial necessity, but a result of the American tax law of 1986 eliminating the deductibility of the market value of donated art objects (8), where the governing bodies of the market have introduced incentives for such structures to exist. And because of the current funding structure of the Turbine Hall commissions—funded by Unilever—it may be appropriate to also point out that Krauss accounts for this profound shift in the very context in which the museum operates, a context whose corporate nature is made specific not only by the major sources of funding for museum activities, but also, closer to home, by the makeup of its boards of trustees (9). Thus the writer of Selling the Collection can say: 'The notion of the museum as a guardian of the public patrimony has given way to the notion of a museum as a corporate entity with a highly marketable inventory and the desire for growth' (10). But it is within this desire of growth that Sehgal as producer makes a departure.

If we think of economist John Kenneth Galbraith’s question of whether persuasion can keep up with production, can the institution—like the products of corporations—continue to persuade us to consume or commit to "things" that we don’t necessarily need. An idea that many Conceptual art movements of the 1960s and ’70s explored. But what does it mean to produce non-object, nonducumentable work today? Where those like the Fluxus artists (George Maciunas, Yoko Ono, George Brecht) made instructions to subvert the role of authorship in art production, and as Claire Bishop points out in Artforum: The first generation of Conceptual artists, for whom dematerialization was a way to subvert the work of art's relationship to the market and museum (Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Lawrence Weiner) Sehgal has no such desire for circumvention (11). Where Sehgal intentionally works within the system, looking for new ways of adjusting the existing model rather than disposing of it completely. Where even his own artworks are no longer passed on, or sold, but rather verbally exchanged amongst different parties—the only stipulation is that his pieces cannot involve the "transformation of any material, in any way. No written instructions, no bill of sale (purchases are conducted orally, in the presence of a notary), no catalogs and (to the dismay of photo editors in the art press) no pictures" (12), positioning a practice that seeks to develop alternative forms of acquisition and conservation, concurring with the views of economist Tim Jackson, author of Prosperity Without Growth, which states that one method is to move away from products, and invest in areas such as health, education and experiences, rather than having the museum be a repository of material objects.

As a curator or artist producer, one can choose to produce work for art’s sake (historically inward in scope), often for a privileged class, or produce art for change—society and the systems that govern them at large. A combination of the two may be ideal, but perhaps utopian in scope. Yet with the expansion of art (globally and across disciplines), the definitions that hold its structures in place—perhaps should be contested. For when one is given a stage (with a potential to reach millions) of global proportions, to not address issues that are pressing (globally and socially), which also threaten to change the very structures that frame our cultural experience, seems like an opportunity missed. For museums are structures that not only affirm and implement belief systems (in the perceived value of objects, and the dissemination of knowledge); but assist in the transition of culture to social value in a society. Where museums are spaces of affirmation – teaching individuals how to interact, perceive, and value culture. Like physical newspapers they inform us of what issues a society should be contemplating and addressing.  Funded by the people (and corporations) the institution in its many forms must aim to be sustainable, like every other entity in the ecology of the market—looking to improve on outdated business/exhibition models, and rethinking the product life cycle that was once thought of as being liner—with a beginning and an end.

In a recent interview Nicolas Serota noted: "At a time of austerity, people are rethinking their values and looking at art that doesn't straightforwardly have a market … artists want to make work that engages directly with audiences and is not so susceptible to commercial development" (13). Unlike Gustav Metzger’s Art Strike 1977–1980, Sehgal does not seek to fully recreate the economic structures of the art world, but simply reaffirms the viability of service goods and oral knowledge production, from the supply side of the economic equation. During a time where the museum has seen unprecedented growth globally (China, Brazil, Mexico, etc.), and with the professionalization of the artist and curator, the question now is how to manage our cultural resources and maintain a system that is not merely producing objects and positions. Where perhaps now the museum can become a testing ground for new ways of art production, that takes on characteristics of capitalist production, such as socially engaged art practices, but still allows for institutional support and reflexive dialog to exist, developing a new lexicon that can eventually be applied to other areas of production outside of the arts.

 

Victor Wang is an independent exhibition maker, curator, and writer based in London. He is also an MA candidate in the Curating Contemporary Art program at the Royal College of Art. 

 

Works cited:
1. Kari Rittenbach, "Tino Sehgal," Frieze D/E, Issue 6, Autumn 2012. Retrieved November 5, 2012, Frieze database.
2. Charlotte Higgins, pg9.

3. Jörg Heiser, "This is Jörg Heiser on Tino Sehgal," Frieze magazine, Issue 82, April 2004. Retrieved November 5, 2012
4. Anne Midgette, "You Can’t Hold It, but You Can Own It," The New York Times: November 25, 2007.
5. Mark Bender, "Asian Folklore Studies." Published by Nanzan University, Vol. 60, No. 1 (2001), pp. 101-133.
6. Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Joao Arriscado Nunes, and Maria Paula Meneses, "Opening up the canon of knowledge and recognition of difference." Published by Verso 2007, pg.1.
7. Jo Confino, "Tino Sehgal's Tate Modern exhibition metaphor for dematerialisation," Guardian Professional, October 5, 2012.
8. Rosalind Krauss, pp. 429.
9. Rosalind Krauss, pp. 429.
10. Rosalind Krauss, pp. 429.
11. Bishop, Claire, "No pictures, please: Claire Bishop on the art of Tino Sehgal," The Free Library, May 1, 2005. Retrieved December 6, 2012, from http://www.thefreelibrary.com/No pictures, please: Claire Bishop on the art of Tino Sehgal.-a0132554959
12. Anne Midgette, "You Can’t Hold It, but You Can Own It," The New York Times, November 25, 2007.

13. Charlotte Higgins, pg9.

End of article

Tags: Category: Feature
March 7th, 2013 · Victor Wang

Performing around capitalism (Part 1)

The museum as a place of art production

The museum as a place of art production

By Victor Wang

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This essay is part one of two. Part two is available here.

 

This essay seeks to provide a tentative bridge between the conditions of the museum as a cultural institution undergoing a transformation: one that see its current structure as a late capitalist model—collecting objects as a form of asset—come into question by artists and producers concerned with ephemeral, non-object based art production. Using live art and performance as examples of art production that can continue to produce value in an art economy, while simultaneously not producing an object. This essay will focus specifically on museums, as a site where the "cultural logic of late capitalism receives its concrete expression within both the economic structures and aesthetic forms involved in it" (1).  Using Tino Sehgal’s exhibition of These Associations, 2012, to provide the reader with a definition of an artist that embodies both an artist-curator and producer. This text will draw on aspects of his practice to outline his socially engaged "signature" as a form of ecology activism—from the lack of documentation allowed, to the ways the artist has navigated around traditional methods of artwork consumption, i.e., the verbal contract as a subversion of modern material consumption within the art market. By critically examining the exhibition, and Tate Modern’s ambitious expansion of the Tate Tanks, we can read the exhibition as an economic experiment where the museum becomes a testing ground for future methods of ecological art production.

These Associations debuted just after the opening of the Tate Tanks, one part of a £215 million extension project that will increase Tate Modern's size by 60% (2).  This expansion saw the repositioning of the former oil well reserve of the once-power station converted into a space for performance and installation art inside Tate Modern. In a late capitalist society, with institutions that are so finely woven into the economic climate of a city, every decision made by the institution will ultimately affect how a society views the production of art, and the dissemination of culture. It is no coincidence then that Sehgal’s work accompanies the inaugural season’s program, The Tanks: Art in Action, of live dance and performance. At a time when the art market and its institutions have been what Dietrich Dietrichson would call 'speculating' on a form of art production (performance/live art) ironically often sides with concepts of anti-art production. American performance scholar Peggy Phelan once stated, "To the degree that performance attempts to enter the economy of reproduction it betrays and lessens the promise of its own ontology" (3).

 

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Official opening of the Tanks, 2012, Tate Modern, London, Photograph: Luke Macgregor/Reuters.
The Guardian. Web; 1 December 2012.

 

 

Being one of the UK’s top three tourist attractions (4), the Tate Modern cannot elude the all-reaching invisible arm of the art market. In fact, no institution is immune. At the moment performance and live art is the flavor of the month, perhaps year. And if we inspect the art world through an economic lens, one can start to see trends develop. For the first time in its history, a performance artist, Spartacus Chetwynd, has been shortlisted for the Turner Prize. This year also saw the release of veteran performance artist Marina Abramović’s documentary about her recent retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. And this is not to mention all the biennales and exhibition spaces opening in an attempt to catch the performative wave. Like brokers speculating on commodity markets, the art world has its curators and directors dictating what is shown and what is not—not so much by reason of the audience. 'These are places of high, high legitimation in our culture,' says Tino Sehgal in an interview with the Guardian. 'A museum is like a valuing machine' (5). Yet according to the Tate Modern’s website, the museum generates an estimated £100 million in economic benefits to London annually (6); therefore the valuing machine is not only symbolic, but also largely measurable. Further, one cannot forget that These Associations would not be possible without the £4.41 million sponsorship between the gallery and the Unilever Company, whose brands include Dove soap and PG Tips, among others. The new space thus appears as a "grand metaphor for (cultural) energy in a post-industrial, service-industry economy, where the body is easily fetishized as bearer of the real" (7). Fashioned with ideas of preservation and collecting as a form of appreciating wealth, the museum from its inception has slowly digressed into a post-state of what Karl Marx would call commodity fetishism, which would account for the neglect of performance art by the museum. Even Nicholas Serota, the Director of Tate, confessed that performance art had traditionally been left for alternative spaces, "and often barely recorded, into the museum" (8). Where the marginalization of live art may have more to do with the structure of the institution (and its exhibition makers), rather than its "avant-garde" nature. It is said that the 'two greatest mistakes of modern capitalism have been to confuse materialism with happiness, and growth with the need to produce an ever-increasing number of physical goods' (9).

As a producer that deals with the notion of anti-production, Tino Sehgal has taken control of the assembly line to forge a work that directly addresses many of the above stated issues.  Perhaps a self-reflexive act that examines the museum as a testing ground for capitalist production is necessary. As Rosalind Krauss points out in her essay "The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum" (1990), "it is not exactly [the] viewers who are raising controversy in this matter, but artists themselves" (10).  Krauss sees the museum as a space where the boundaries of the aesthetic experience are tested against capitalism (11), where the producer/curator is to co-constitute a model of post-capitalist existence through the function of the museum as a testing ground for possibility and inception. 

In These Associations, producer and artist Tino Sehgal creates a stage of ephemerality, where we (the audience) activate and become the artworks. The work is mobile, allowing for it to engage with the audience, even if the audience does not wish to engage with it. Like a tide of people, rising up and down the banks of the Turbine Hall, These Associations infiltrates families, groups of tourists, or the individual. Consisting of roughly seventy 'agents' camouflaged by streetwear—one could easily mistake them for a large crowd of loitering tourists—gathering by the ramp near the museum entrance or at the far end of the Turbine Hall. This inconspicuously constructed crowd mixes with visitors who soon find themselves in a strange assortment of personal tales—one young woman describes a love affair in Thailand—related by the performers, or caught in a game of chase that turns the museum into a playground of running objects for the young and old alike.

Yet Tino Sehgal’s piece would not be complete without an oral component: "electric"…"electric"…"electricity"; the voices reverberate off the wall, framed by the flickering of lights in the Turbine Hall. With several hundred participants involved in the project, how do we distinguish the curator’s voice? Can a curator have a voice when Sehgal has taken on the role of producer? Boris Groys wrote that "the work of the curator consists of placing artworks in the exhibition space, and this is what differentiates the curator from the artist" (12) but if there are no art objects to be placed, and the producer of the exhibition is also the maker of the artwork, then perhaps Sehgal is playing with the fine line of artist as curator, at least in this context. For These Associations the agents (or walking art objects) were "recruited through networks of friends and acquaintances, and rehearsed by Sehgal and his producer, Asad Raza" (13).  However, how does the use of a 'network' or 'acquaintances' (with people being the main form of production) reflect how the art economy works in London? As Jessica Morgan, the curator of the Tate show explained in a recent interview, "the hardest thing is getting a cross section of society" (14).

Yet one could argue that this difficulty in getting a cross section of society is not a coincidence, but in fact an integral component in how Sehgal’s works speaks to issues of the market and how the institution (the Tate) wishes to position themselves—as a democratic public institution where opportunity is equal for all, regardless of race, gender, or class. However, one reporter noticed on a recent review of the exhibition that "on Monday morning … none of the participants [were] black" (15). According to Raza, the work "shows London to itself; it is a more accurate picture of London than something that is cooked up by one particular person" (16). Ironically, this aspect of the work, being largely a white middle-class participant group, may not be far from the truth—as Raza states, economically speaking the labor involved, and the class "associated" with the work, would have to reflect a section of society that dominates the fine art sector of London—which it does. Like a mirror, the exhibition holds the reflection of the contemporary art scene in London, for all to see—homogenous, dominant, and predominantly of a single class. 

 

Victor Wang is an independent exhibition maker, curator, and writer based in London. He is also an MA candidate in the Curating Contemporary Art program at the Royal College of Art. 

 

 

Works cited
1. Dr. Pablo Markin, Towards the Theorization of Cultural Logic of Museums as Places of Memory in the Late Capitalism, Munich, GRIN Publishing GmbH, 2006, pp.4.
2. Tim Masters, 'Tate Modern’s Oil tanks to fuel live art performances,' BBC News, April 23, 2012, Arts, pp.8.
3. Peggy Phelan, Unmarked:  The Politics of Performance, Routledge London, 1993, pp.146.
4. Tate Modern official website, 2012. Retrieved December 5, 2012, http://www.tate.org.uk/about/who-we-are/history-of-tate
5. Jo Confino, 'Tino Sehgal's ‘Tate Modern exhibition metaphor for dematerialisation,' Guardian Professional, October 5, 2012. 
6. Tate Modern official website, 2012. Retrieved December 5, 2012, http://www.tate.org.uk/about/who-we-are/history-of-tate
7. Kari Rittenbach, "Tino Sehgal," Frieze D/E,  Issue 6, Autumn 2012. Retrieved November 5, 2012, Frieze database.
8. Charlotte Higgins, 'Tino Sehgal fills Tate Modern's Turbine Hall with storytellers,' The Guardian, July 23, 2012, Arts Section, pp.9.
9. Jo Confino, 'Tino Sehgal's 'Tate Modern exhibition metaphor for dematerialisation,' Guardian Professional, October 5, 2012. 
10. Rosalind Krauss , 'The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum,' October: The Second Decade, 1986-1996, MIT Press, 1990, pp. 425.
11. Dr. Pablo Markin, p.3 
12. Boris Groys, Art Power, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts,  2008, pp.42.
13. Charlotte Higgins, pg. 
14. Lauren Collins, “The Question Artist,” The New Yorker, August 6, 2012, p. 34.
15. Charlotte Higgins, pg9.  
16. Charlotte Higgins, pg9.  

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Image courtesy of Ztohoven.
Image courtesy of Ztohoven.
February 26th, 2013 · Esther Belvis Pons

The Politics of the Social in Contemporary Art

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Discussions around the politics of the social in contemporary art are taking place in all sorts of scenarios: informal gatherings in alternative spaces, public squares and parks, university campuses and cafés, and, of course, galleries and museums. The Tate Modern in London recently hosted a one-day symposium titled “The Politics of the Social in Contemporary Art,” which presented work from artists working in the blurred fields of social practice and visual art, such as Etcetera, Ztohoven, Renzo Martens, and Wafaa Bilal, among others. The emergence of participatory, interactive, and collaborative art practices has stressed several concerns that address not only the capacity of these practices to intervene in social relations, but also their particular way of performing politics within the public sphere. The revivification of social movements and the reoccupation of public spaces by the citizens affected by the global financial crisis through the Occupy movement has intermingled perspectives and interests, activating a specific social agenda. This one responds to current political matters and triggers actions that often perform between the boundaries of art and the social.

An example of that is the work of the collectives Not an Alternative, from New York, and WochenKlausur, from Vienna, who have both staged discussions of issues regarding housing and urban planning in New York City as performances. These collectives often use processes of appropriation to further their message: In the case of Occupied Real Estate, Not an Alternative used the imagery and tools of real-estate corporations to perpetrate their own actions and empower the citizens affected by this problem.

The interdependent relationship between politics and art has given birth to the development of intermedial practices that often engage participants in global actions. Often these artworks allow participants to become socially engaged in practices that might not be referring to their immediate context, but rather address a topic of social interest beyond the particularities of their territory, or that explore the tensions emerging between individuals and socially constructed spaces. This would be the case, for instance, of Renzo Martens’s Enjoy Poverty or Wafaa Bilal’s A Call. The latter premiered simultaneously at the Aaran Gallery in Tehran and at a parallel opening at White Box in New York, as the Iranian government denied Bilal an artist’s visa. Thus, the artistic proposals are also mediated by specific contingencies. Each piece responds and triggers its politics through the network of institutions and individuals that make the artwork possible. This embedded understanding of art and the social surfaces of the negotiations appears among the cultural institutions, the artists, and the broader public sphere.  The comprehension of the pieces is consequently described by the disciplinary barometers that are used to present and interpret the artwork.

Stating discomfort and disagreement through social intervention is one the aims of the Latin American collective Etcetera. Regarding their political tendencies, the collective made an interesting point stressing how working closely with the human rights  group H.I.J.O.S. (Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice Against Forgetting and Silence) increased their motivations and affiliation to a particular cause but also triggered certain tensions and difficulties that appeared when performing some of their committed interventions. This is an interesting point, as these practices are framed by relational parameters that perform within a constellation of affects and effects.

So, the political implications of collaborative art appear in the act itself, of establishing personal and artistic commitments that are obviously marked by ethical issues. In her keynote speech, Shannon Jackson gave evidence of the need to rethink the politics of the social in contemporary art through an interdependent approach. It is important to find a discourse to help us describe these practices within a wider context and beyond the assumption of dissidence or disruption. In this regard, she proposed the term ‘antagonism’ through the ideas of Mouffe and Laclau to spark new directions in the discourse of art and politics. Antagonism understands and explicates the interdependency that emerges in the creation of socially engaged artwork; often, practices include our ideological opponents or are even built through a network of partners that we recognize as the constituents of a system with which we don’t agree.  The supporting system that surrounds the piece becomes therefore explanatory. This approach  might enlighten how dissensus has been managed and included in the creative process and might also prompt a more in-depth approach of analysis regarding politics and contemporary art.

It is not surprising that many practices try to discuss the faults and weaknesses of democracy, as the current social fracture responds to the neglects and crimes carried out under its umbrella. That is the case of the Czech guerrilla collective Ztohoven, who promoted The Moral Reform by hacking the mobile phones of members of parliament. Some members received a text containing a statement of complaint of the abuses committed as politicians. As each text had a sender of another member of Parliament, the work generated a moment of confusion, but also a discussion that emerged through an exchange of texts which were collected by Ztohoven and made public. Thus, the politics of contemporary art navigates through the spaces that construct the social, and as Ztohoven pointed out, for them these are the institutional space, the public space and media space. Contemporary artists find in the bordering and unexplored spaces a position from which they ca temporarily trigger action; an action that can be politically ambiguous too.

The range of practices shown at the Tate gives evidence that their impact and comprehension has not been yet circumscribed in a paradigm. This is probably due to the fact that their complexity demands systemic and interdisciplinary reflections that are still under construction, as art has always been.

 

Esther Belvis Pons is a researcher-artist and writer based in London and Barcelona. She recently received her PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom. 

 

End of article

Tags: Category: Feature
February 25th, 2013 · Chris Green

Forced Entertainment

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For nearly three decades, Forced Entertainment has been making work at the forefront of experimental theater in Britain. Their work is playful in nature and often subversive, but after almost thirty years, how relevant is the work to a contemporary audience? Can their work still be considered "experimental," or has it become the mainstream of alternative theater?

In June 2012 I attended the UK premiere of FE’s latest performance, The Coming Storm, at Battersea Arts Centre, London. Like most people who have studied contemporary performance at the university level, my first and most substantial experience of Forced Entertainment has been institutional. I found myself sitting through the performance thinking about how the work is similar to their other pieces, the different strands of work they have made, and making connections to the conventions.

Forced Entertainment has dominated the world of alternative and experimental performance in England almost from the outset. They challenged the way that theater was being made: their work is created collaboratively, which indicated a new way of working by breaking away from the traditional hierarchy found in most theater, and their notion of collaboration is a rich and complex area with multiple definitions and practices undertaken. Ranging from Deleueze and Guattari’s collaboration of the self along to the more contemporary debates around the subject within the field from Claire Bishop and Grant Kester. The development of socially engaged art in recent years has seen the development of a new model of collaboration, adopting a much more democratic approach where performers and audience work on the same level, without having one author the other. For companies such as the Wooster Group and Forced Entertainment, their model of a collaborative practice is slightly different, placing the artistic director at the top of the spectrum.

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Forced Entertainment has different strands of work that they present, ranging from the very theatrical performances—The Thrill of It All (2010), Bloody Mess (2004), 12 am: Awake & Looking Down (1993)all of which seem to have a level of chaos and a suggestion of spontaneity.  However, we know that all of these performances are highly rehearsed. The performances make a clear parallel to the form of traditional theater, yet clearly shaking up normal conventions by creating chaos and mess on the stage. Spectacular (2008) consisted of two actors standing on a bare stage. The male character wore a skeleton outfit and the female screamed into a microphone, enacting a death scene and trying to provoke a reaction from the male character, who was describing all of the things that would be happening and the scenery that should have been onstage. This was the first Forced Entertainment performance that I saw live, and it was something completely different from what I had seen from their previous work, and not what one would expect from the mainstream theater context in which it was presented.  

The suggestion that the work is experimental means that some of it will inevitably fail. This is most apparent in their durational work, a challenge on both audience and performers, as performers reach a point where they will shift from performance mode into their natural state. "The essence of Speak Bitterness (1994) is a line of people making confessions from behind a long table. Occupying a brightly lit space, the performers take turns reading from the text that is strewn across the table." (Forced Entertainment, 1994) As Speak Bitterness was six hours in duration, there would have been points where the traditional concept of performer/audience was destroyed and was replaced by a new relationship and experience. 

This idea of failure, then, suggests that to experiment is to open up the opportunity to fail. Work such as Speak Bitterness, Quizoola! and 12 am: Awake & Looking Down all have an aspect of uncertainty. They are inquisitive: the format has been decided beforehand but what happens within that is open to chance and as well failure. Reciting confessions in Speak Bitterness, there is no way of knowing who will be talking, at what point, and if people are going to over lap with one and other or cut in at the wrong moment. This is what is exciting about these works—it is these acts of failure that are experimental, or at least leave the opportunity for failure, so the performance is not closed off, creating an exciting atmosphere and potentiality for something new to be created at each performance (although arguably, no performance is ever repeatable). The challenge, now the company has settled into its own format, is to avoid habit. The audience can find itself identifying techniques and devices rather than being surprised, shocked, or challenged. But, the question still remains, are they still challenging the norm if after three decades, they are the norm?

 

This April, Forced Entertainment will performa a 24-hour version of Quizoola! at the Barbican Centre as part of SPILL Festival. More information about participating in this performance is available here

Chris Green received a Master's degree in Visual Language of Performance at Wimbledon College of Art, London, and is currently an Associate Lecturer in Performance at Sheffield Hallam University. 

Images, from top: The Coming Storm, Quizoola!, and 12 am: Awake & Looking Down. Performance views. Photos by Hugo Glendinning. Courtesy of Forced Entertainment. 

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Tags: Category: Feature
February 19th, 2013 · A.E.Zimmer

Venice International Performance Art Week

Venice International Performance Art Week

Interview by A.E.Zimmer

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Top: Ilija Šoškić, Panoptikon 2012 (-1969). Photograph © Monika Sobczak.
Bottom: Boris Nieslony, A Feather Fell Down On Venice. Photograph © Monika Sobczak.

 

 

In Venice, in the suggestive location of Palazzo Bembo, a new exhibition made its debut on December 8, 2012, entirely dedicated to performance art: the 1st Venice International Performance Art Week.

Under the title "Hybrid Body–Poetic Body," this first edition featured the contributions of 31 artists: pioneers such as Yoko Ono, VALIE EXPORT, Hermann Nitsch, Ilija Soskic, Boris Niesloni, established artists such as Jan Fabre, Lee Wen and Jill Orr, and other emerging ones, set forth a series of live-actions, installations, videos, movies and meetings. 

Some numbers of this first edition: Over 2,000 visitors at the opening; more than 9,000 in the whole week; over a hundred newspapers, magazines covered the event. 

These results have been quite unexpected to the festival's founders, Verena Stenke and Andrea Pagnes, considering the timing—the Venetian winter—and the novelty of such an event, in a city not so accustomed to performance art. 

 

A.E.Zimmer: How did the idea of the Venice International Performance Art Week come to life and what is its identity?

Andrea Pagnes: In the summer of 2011, Jennifer Macmillan Johnson, President of the Cultural Association Studio Contemporaneo (the event's promoter), introduced me to Rene Rietmeyer, Director of the Global Art Affairs Foundation, at its new Venice location of Palazzo Bembo. For my work as a performer (as VestAndPage, with Verena Stenke), he proposed that I conceive a project specifically dedicated to performance art. I immediately imagined the maze of rooms in the palace lived by artists in action enhancing their art during its process of making, thus giving evidence of a conflict: whether and how vital but ephemeral art can be documented, without losing its content and substance. Gradually, the vision of a live art exhibition, which could transform continuously day by day, begins to shape clearly to me.

Why "Hybrid Body – Poetic Body"?

I wanted to line up a very accurate indication since the very beginning. The question of the body (the artist’s body) as a means of expression is, in fact, the fundamental feature of the entire project. Hybrid body as indicator of form and substance in constant transformation, even if it’s put at risk or subject to manipulation; a body carrier of meanings while in possible extreme situations, element from which, in the here and now of the performance, just as in life, it is impossible to ignore, and then poetic because it is genuine, a place where emotional intelligence resides to come true, a holder of authentic and immediate sense.

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Zierle & Carter, At the Edge of Longing. Photograph © Monika Sobczak.

 

 

Performance art in the past and the present: which differences do you find comparing your actual experience to the one at the beginning? In other words, the necessity to play the double role of curator and performer as you do remarks also the need that today Italy lacks a methodical study and more in-depth history of performance?

Performance art, by its nature, is a “non-discipline” in continuous transformation. One must live it inside his/her own flesh to try to understand it as much as possible. The more you practice it, the more you can comprehend it. It is dynamic and complex as the life itself. It says that simplicity and essentiality, synthesis and intensity, are the most difficult things to reach. It is research and exploration into the human. The multiplicity of languages and expressions we use today there wasn’t sometime ago. There are different styles and emergencies related to the place of belonging and the ways of leaving of each artist. This is positive because generates thoughts, knowledge and continuous inspiration. If technology, ecology and emotional intelligence are just some of the topics that are most frequently treated (since nowadays they are those the world focuses its attention on, however), the analysis of the individual placement in political situations, or special social conditions, always remains and is particularly pointed out in the works of artists from countries where certain achievements in this regard are slow to come.

Performance art, over the years, has contaminated so deeply certain avant-garde experimental theatre, dance, and cinema, that the term "performing arts" is now far too abused and also generates some confusion even among the experts, and not only in Italy. Looking at examples from the past and present, I think, though, that performance art has always wanted and wishes to speak through a quality work, an essential value, the one of authenticity: it has to refer essentially to our true inner self—the place where there is no pretense—beyond what we want to or believe we are.

It's true, however, that in Italy the study of the history of performance art is perhaps still too superficial because of the lack of specific publications and improper teachings, although it is an art form of great interest, especially among the young people.

How did you select the artists?

For their historic itinerary; adherence to the main theme of the project; also for their cultural consistency, with respect to a certain ideal of performance which bases its raison d'être in the practice and constant dedication. Finally, militancy—something which I see tactile, physical, and which emerges clearly from their ouvre: In other words, when performance art is their real-life project, devoting themselves entirely to it, without compromise. 

Although it is a term that I don’t like, I am interested principally in the "specialists" of performance art, but today I can’t—for intellectual honesty—recognizing as valid a few sporadic raids or targeted interventions by artists who are not performers in the strict sense.

In this first edition, Yoko Ono, VALIE EXPORT, Hermann Nitsch, Jan Fabre—whose works are milestones of the performance art movement—participated with interactive installations and videos. Live interventions by masters such as Ilija Soskic, Boris Nieslony, Jill Orr, Lee Wen, Gonzalo Rabanal and young emerging in the international arena with durational outstanding actions contributed to make the Art Week extremely vibrant. There has been also be a section dedicated to the students of the Academy of Venice, and a Fringe section where we have invited to participate young international performers to present their proposals too. During the mornings, we have set a program of artist talks: the public could meet the performers directly, debate and discuss with them, and listen to their life stories. We had also four bloggers, who wrote daily about the event, among them Randy Gledhill, the Director of Live Art Vancouver; and Francesca Romana Ciardi, co-Curator of the Month of Performance Art in Berlin (Celeste Ricci and Chiara Cartuccia the other two).

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Top: Manuel Vason. Exhibition view. Photograph © Monika Sobczak.
Bottom: Yoko Ono, Night and Day for Venice, 2012. Installation view. Photograph © Monika Sobczak.

 

What does mean to be a curator of performance art and a performance artist today?

First, I think is important to seek, as far as possible, a certain historical continuity in terms of open confrontation between what was (and still is) and the new, especially for this art form, where the artistic value often coincides with human qualities. The overall vision will be always partial, of course, but at least we will avoid slipping on the shoals of another  hypertrophied platform of global art.

As a perfomer, what I try is to reduce the apparent boundary that exists between art and life with my work, the constant practice, and again I'd like to conclude with a renowned phrase that many have already said, "if you dream alone it's only a dream, if you dream together it's the beginning of reality."

That is to work and act even in the art to reach this goal, but dutifully with full consciousness of the time and the world in which we live in. It is a pure matter of responsibility towards themselves and others.

The next edition?

We are now investigating new possible funding sources. It will be probably held in the second week of March 2014, at Palazzo Mora, another fabulous building that the Global Art Affairs Foundation has been starting to renovate these days. 

It will be titled "Ritual Body-Political Body," always having in mind and heart, as Lee Wen wrote about the Art Week, that ”this is not a circus, this not a show, this not a biennale, this is a meeting of artists and people who looked for the pearls in the rivers of human civilizations and came to share what they found.”

 

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BBB Johannes Deimling, Blanc #9. Photograph © Monika Sobczak.

 

More information about Venice International Performance Art Week can be found here

 

This interview took place in December 2012 and has been edited for clarity.

End of article

Tags: Category: Interview
Photo: Márcia X, Desenhando com Terços, 2000. Installation view, Casa de Petrópolis, Instituto de Cultura. Photo by Vicente de Mello.
Photo: Márcia X, Desenhando com Terços, 2000. Installation view, Casa de Petrópolis, Instituto de Cultura. Photo by Vicente de Mello.
February 5th, 2013 · Cristiane Bouger

The Brazilian Experience—Puzzling Morality and the Effusive Body (Part One)

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Daniel Fagundes, Existe alguma possibilidade ética que não acene ao totalitarismo? (Is there any ethical possibility which will not wave to totalitarism?), 2008. Performance view, VERBO 2008. Photo by Ding Musa.

 

When asked about her perspective on performance, the independent curator Daniela Labra stated with simultaneous confidence and perplexity: “Brazilians are performative. We deal with the body in a libertarian way, but we are also impregnated with moralisms.” The paradox raised by Labra can be identified in almost every aspect of Brazilian culture and social behavior. Nevertheless, her statement also addresses a poignant criticism to the conservatism of art institutions.

Labra has been working as a researcher and curator of performance works since 2004. In 2011 she conceived the Festival Performance Arte Brasil at the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro–MAM RJ. The six-day festival received a grant from FUNARTE/MinC (The National Foundation for the Arts/Ministry of Culture) in the amount of approximately USD 125, 000. A curatorial team formed by professionals from different regions of the country composed the festival program, which presented the work of more than forty artists and art collectives.

According to Labra, there is a lot of work to be done before Brazilian artists working in performance could benefit from a professional art market. She defines the institutional reception of performance as precarious. In her analysis, curators and artists face a lot of institutional conservatism, bureaucracy and nepotism, which are aggravated by a lack of understanding of this practice by those who work in the museums. “In Brazil, performance production is still considered underground,” she states.

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Daniel Toledo with Ana Hupe, Veste Nu, 2011. Performance view, Festival Performance Arte Brasil, Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Julio Callado.

 

Her perspective evokes, for instance, the polemic around Márcia X in 2006. The first performances by Márcia X (1959-2005) date back to the 1980s, but it was Desenhando com Terços (2000-2003) that became perhaps her most emblematic work. Performing in a white gown, Márcia X silently and repetitively connected white rosaries, shaping them in the form of phalluses on the floor of a room or gallery. The performance duration varied from three to six hours, in accordance with the size of the space in which the work was performed.

In 2006, an image showing four rosaries shaping the form of two crossed phalluses was part of the collective show “Erótica–Os Sentidos da Arte” presented by Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil–CCBB in São Paulo. When the same exhibition was presented in Rio de Janeiro, members from Catholic groups claimed the work was offensive and urged CCBB to remove it from the exhibition. CCBB, the cultural institution of Banco do Brasil (Brazil’s Federal Bank), ceded to pressure.

Notwithstanding the censorship resulted in counter-protests, the expected opening of the exhibition in Brasilia was canceled after the incident in Rio. The anachronism implied in the decision of censoring Márcia X’s work caused to many artists a bitter perplexity, and perhaps, a reminiscence of the censorship experienced during the years under dictatorship (1964–1985).

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Márcia X, Desenhando com Terços, 2000. Installation view, Casa de Petrópolis, Instituto de Cultura. Photo by Vicente de Mello.

 

 

Performer and curator Marco Paulo Rolla uses nudity to nullify the economic and social status that clothes inscribe over the body. He points out another variant to the conservatism equation: “Some public art institutions are more concerned with the schools visiting the museums than to the art that is presented there. I cannot be naked in my work because the school will be visiting the museum. So, it is the school who defines my work and what I cannot do.”

If the Brazilian scenario seems not to be so enthusiastic, do not let this perspective fool you. The concomitant aspect in this paradox reveals that the institutions in the country have been also showing signs of maturity since the last decade or so.

In the last years, the Bienal Internacional de São Paulo included in their program performance works such as A Bondade de Estranhos (2008), by Maurício Ianês; and Divisor (1968/2010), by Lygia Pape (1927-2004).

In the south of the country, Luiz Ernesto Meyer Pereira, Director of the Bienal Internacional de Curitiba, affirms that in 2013 performance will be included in the biennial program, receiving the same visibility of works created in more traditional mediums. For the performance’s program curatorship, artist and curator Fernando Ribeiro was invited to join the team.

Along with Patrícia Valverde, Ribeiro also co-curates the performance event p.ARTE at Bicicletaria Cultural in Curitiba. The independent venue is a hybrid bike repair shop and cultural space run by Valverde and the visual artist Fernando Rosembaum.

In Florianópolis, the visual artist Yiftah Peled runs Contemporão Espaço de Performance, a garage studio in which exhibitions and performance works have been presented in a non-regular program since 2009.

Festival Panorama founded in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, was originally conceived as a dance festival. Currently directed by Nayse Lopez, Eduardo Bonito and Catarina Saraiva, the festival has expanded its program to incorporate interdisciplinary works. In 2012, Panorama Festival partnered with the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage to commission the presentation of happenings and performance works, including the piece Big Bang Boom by choreographer and performer Michelle Moura.

Events such as Performance Presente Futuro at Oi Futuro in Rio de Janeiro from 2008 to 2010, curated by Daniela Labra, conceived as an interdisciplinary platform dedicated to research the cross-boundary between performance and technological/scientific resources; Encontros de Arte e Gastronomia at MAM SP in São Paulo in 2012, curated by Felipe Chaimovich and Laurent Suaudeau, proposed to pair visual artists and cuisine chefs; and Performa Paço at Paço das Artes in São Paulo in 2011, which was conceived by Priscila Arantes and curated by Lucio Agra around the theme "extreme actions," constitute important investigations and curatorial approaches that reflect the renovated interest for performance in a Brazilian context.

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Michelle Moura, Big Bang Boom, 2012. Performance view, EAV - Parque Lage, Rio de Janeiro, during Panorama Festival 2012. Photo by Inti Briones.

 

Back in the late 1990s in Belo Horizonte, Marco Paulo Rolla felt the performance field was lacking vigor. According to Rolla, there was a lot of resistance against performance, as institutions feared this practice for not having much control over it. So in 2003, Rolla founded the event Manifestação Internacional da Performance—MIP along with Marcos Hill and CEIA—Centro de Experimentação e Informação de Arte. 

MIP constitutes a platform to present performance works, reflect upon current productions, and document work. A book is published after each edition of the event and distributed in print and online. The second edition of MIP occurred in 2009 and presented the work of more than 60 artists from different parts of the world.  

Galeria Vermelho presented the annual performance festival VERBO in São Paulo from 2005 to 2011. According to curator Marcos Gallon, in those years, around 400 performances were presented at Vermelho. In 2012 the festival format was extinguished, and performance was incorporated on the gallery schedule of exhibitions throughout the year. 

Based on the importance performance has achieved in the current context, Gallon affirms that the idea of sustaining a separate festival for this art form seemed a paternalist choice. According to Gallon, “there are no more reasons to separate performance from the other mediums.”

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Left to right: Cris Bierrenbach, Comida, 2008. Performance view, VERBO 2008. Guilherme Peters, Marcando Território, 2010. Performance at VERBO 2010. Photo by Ding Musa.

 

 

Considering institutional art collections, the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo was the first museum in Brazil to acquire an artwork based on a scripted action. Laura Lima’s piece Quadris de homem=carne/mulher=carne (1995) was included in the MAM SP collection in 2000. In 2006, Inhotim – Instituto de Arte Contemporânea e Jardim Botânico, in Brumadinho/Minas Gerais, acquired Dopada (1997), among other works by Lima.

Since the mid-nineties, Laura Lima has rejected the foreign term "performance," which she considers inadequate to surrogate the concepts of her work. The understanding of carnality and flesh as simply matter is a fundamental aspect of her production, in which people and animals are deliberately employed. This option confers to the work what the artist calls “a brutal fragility,” and the artworks are sold to the institutions under very specific demands scripted by the artist. 

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Laura Lima, Marra, 1996. From the series Homem=carne/Mulher=carne. Photo by Eduardo Eckenfels, Inhotim, Belo Horizonte/MG.

 

 

The 2012 retrospective of Lygia Clark (1920-1988) at Itaú Cultural in São Paulo included some of the artist’s participatory propositions. Rede de Elásticos and O Corpo Coletivo are among the works visitors could experience. The iconic proposition Baba Antropofágica (Cannibalistic Drool), first proposed by Lygia Clark to her students at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1973, was also recently reenacted by the Clark Art Center - CAC, in Rio de Janeiro, with the participation of musician Jards Macalé. In the experience, Macalé lies down on the floor while the other participants, carrying spools of cotton thread in their mouths, pull the threads with expelled drool and place them over the body on the floor, creating a kind of connective net among the participants. The attention that has been given to the reconstruction of Clark’s propositions, including the recreation of Livro-Obra (1983), with its manipulable structures on a free iPad application, also signalizes a significant progress for the preservation of Brazilian cultural legacy on the field. 

This month, MAM RJ opened the anticipated exhibition "Arquivo X/X-Files," curated by Beatriz Lemos. Engaging with the conundrums of how to archive or exhibit performances, as well as in the process of donating Márcia X's works to MAM RJ, Lemos and the museum staff developed an extensive research on the artist’s performance and visual art production archives since the early eighties. The exhibition, part of a larger project that included the publishing of a book on X’s production and the restoration of some of her pieces, will be on view until April 2013.

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Marco Paulo Rolla with chef Henrique Fogaça, O Esmagamento Sensível, 2012. Performance view, Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo. Photo by Edouard Fraipont.

 

 

Independent efforts to document and map the works developed in Brazil have been significant: in 2007 artist and researcher Zmário mapped the performance scene in Salvador; in 2008 the visual artist Newton Goto launched Circuito Compartilhados, a 35-DVD collection, the result of extensive research on the production of independent video art and video performance in Brazil since the seventies. In 2010, the art critic Paulo Reis curated the exhibition "O Corpo na Cidade - Performance em Curitiba," mapping this practice in the city since the early 1970s.

The independent scene is also acquiring more visibility and public funds. With grants elaborated by the Ministry of Culture and FUNARTE based on artists' participation, the inclusion of interdisciplinary arts in the public programs and the creation of grants focusing on art research have been replacing or expanding old models and obsolete art categories. An increasing number of independent artists have become proponents and facilitators of events related to performance.

Art collectives such as Corpos Informáticos, Grupo Empreza, Couve-Flor, ES3, Coletivo Filé de Peixe, Grupo de Interferência Ambiental – GIA, and e/ou (Curitiba) have developed a diversity of discourses and extended practices that incorporate interventions, happenings, actions, performance, technology, and interdisciplinary discourse permeating theater, visual arts and contemporary dance. The challenge for artists in Brazil remains the uncertainty of the continuity of cultural programs. Federal, state, and municipal grants tend to suffer disruption or changes according to the politicians in office. Brazil has not developed a culture of art philanthropy. The available funds are usually provided trough competitive grants and commissions directly related to the cultural marketing departments of private corporations (tax-deductible sponsorship), or by federal sponsorship concealed for art projects with budgets and creative standards previously approved by the Ministry of Culture. Given the extent of the country and its geographical and socio-economical diversity, to trace a comprehensive picture of Brazil is a challenging task.

Brazil is in a frank transition. Advancements can be seen in many of the structures related to its art production, but the cumbersome aspects of stagnating models based on old behaviors and an intimidating bureaucracy are still aspects to be faced and overcome.

 

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Rose Akras and Rob Visser, Movement with a rest product: space, 2010. Performance view, VERBO 2010. Photo by Rafael Cañas.

 

Cristiane Bouger is a 2013 Performa Magazine writer-in-residence.

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February 5th, 2013

Get Ready for the Marvelous: Simone Leigh

Get Ready for the Marvelous: Simone Leigh

This week, The Performa Institute presents Get Ready for the Marvelous: Black Surrealism in Dakar, Fort-de-France, Havana, Johannesburg, New York City, Paris, Port-au-Prince, 1932-2013, a two-day symposium focusing on international black artists who were directly or tangentially involved in Surrealism, engaging with it as an ideology, artistic movement, and a state of mind—a way of being in the world—and their influence on contemporary art and culture throughout the African Diaspora. 

Get Ready for the Marvelous will take place at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development this Friday and Saturday, February 8–9. As we count down the days, we’ll be revealing glimpses of some of the fascinating material that will be shared at the conference. Join us! A full schedule of the symposium is available here

Today, we have artist Simone Leigh, who will be sharing her work at Get Ready for the Marvelous:

Simone Leigh and Liz Magic Laser, BREAKDOWN, 2011. Digital video.

 

 

 

Get Ready for the Marvelous was organized by Performa’s Associate Curator, Performa Institute, Adrienne Edwards. 

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February 5th, 2013 · Michele Louise Schiocchet

Performance and Digital Poetics in Brazil

Performance and Digital Poetics in Brazil

 

To invent something is to invent an accident. To invent the ship is to invent the shipwreck; the space shuttle, the explosion. And to invent the electronic superhighway or the Internet is to invent a major risk which is not easily spotted because it does not produce fatalities like a shipwreck or a mid-air explosion.*

 

 

 

The aim of this text is to describe different experiences which explore the connections or boundaries between arts, technology and society in a Brazilian context. These works are not just performances which can immediately be recognized as such, but I have chosen to bring a variety of examples of works that may dialogue with each other, composing a quite a heterogeneous reality. 

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Eduardo Kac. © The artist. 

 

 

 

According to Eduardo Kac, Abraham Palatnik was the first Brazilian to explore the creative use of technology in Brazil. Mario Pedrosa called his devices cinechromatics  (Morais 2012). In 1951, his work was part of the first edition of the Bienal de São Paulo, despite being initially refused, as the curators couldn´t categorize his work. The devices were composed of 600 meters of electric wires and 101 lamps (Morais 2012):

In 1968, Waldemar Cordeiro in collaboration with Giorgio Moscati produces the first Brazilian artworks made by computer; BEABÁ and Derivadas de uma imagem. Cordeiro aimed to produce works of emotional content using techniques and tools know as "cold." In 1969, the Bienal de São Paulo opens a section for arts and technology and in the same year Waldemar Cordeiro and Giorgio Moscati exhibit their work in another national event called "Computer Plotter Art." Cordeiro represented Brazil in several events worldwide, such as “Cybernetic Serendipity” in London in 1968. He believed that the computer was able to change society, due to its capacity of apprehend reality and translate it into digital form, proposing then alternative developments through simulation processes. The artist wanted to create a new art form: "repeatable relation, a mechanism for integrating the object in the outer world," with accurate meanings that do not exist in conventional and subjective formulas of traditional aesthetics (Fabris 1997), compatible with the industrial production. 

The first known Brazilian video work is M 3x3 by Analivia Cordeiro, Waldemar's daughter. It was a choreography for video, composed for the Edinburgh International Festival. The project was recorded with the resources of TV Cultura de São Paulo in 1973. She conceived the work using the notion of embodiment, using the body as interface between subject, culture and nature (Machado).

According to Arlindo Machado, the first generation of video artists, such as Sonia Andrade, were actually working with performance for video. The artist recorded little self-mutilations, deforming her body with nylon threads, nailing her hand on a table, or removing body hair with a pair of scissors; or Rafael França, producing a video testament a few days before dying of AIDS; or Letícia Parente, another artist of the period, embroidering "Made in Brazil" on her own foot. 

During the sixties, few portable video devices were available throughout Brazil, and even if accessible to just a few artists, they allowed them to explore different ways of expression, blurring boundaries between artistic fields, and especially offering alternatives to the television perspective, as television has always had a massive influence in Brazilian popular culture.

The use of digital technology in dance today is also thoroughly explored through advancement in the use of sensors, images and telepresence, wearable devices and so on, seen in the work of Cena 11, the PIP pesquisa em dança, Lali Krotoszynski, and universities such as the Grupo de Pesquisa Poéticas Tecnológicas from UFBA. Artists have also applied creative use of technology in installations, such as Aguilar, a first-generation video artist; Chelpa FerroLucas BambozziSandro Canavezzi de AbreuRaquel KoganGisela Motta and Leandro Lima; and Vivian Caccuri.

In theater, we can quote the work of pioneer Jocy de Oliveira, whose work has experimented with everything from installation to opera, creating multimedia pieces such as Probabilistic Theater (1967–68) and Polinterações (1970). The Teatro para Alguém group affirms to be the first Brazilian group to produce web plays. Since 2008, the group has created over 60 works accessible online and free of charge. The TPA website also has a cultural network where artists can have a profile and interact with each other. The Phila 7, founded in 2005, works with telepresence and remote spatialities. In 2006, the group produced Play on Earth, which was performed simultaneously in São Paulo, New Castle, and Cingapure. Corpos Informáticos, led by researcher Bia Medeiros at Brasilia University, is another national reference regarding the use of telepresence in performance, having produced several performances, texts and events between 1999 and 2006.

We can also look to Luis Duva, who explores the idea of  live cinema using his own body; Eder Santos; and Otavio Donasci, a pioneer of video performance since the eighties with his video creatures. Later on, he explored multimedia performance, like the one presented in Videobrasil in 1992, where he built an immersive environment with floating screens and projectors on wheels moving during the scenes. Artur Matuck, also active since the eighties, was one of the first Brazilian artists to raise questions of copyright, proposing a series of publications of previously published articles with the author's consent. A  Semion label was applied to the text.

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Photo © NANO.

 

Other cross-disciplinary projects with an emphasis on the dialogue between organic and artificial organisms include núcleo de artes e novos organismos (NANO), a study group based at Rio de Janeiro university that investigates hybrids of natural and artificial organisms within the fine art departments. One of the projects, developed in collaboration with the University of Bahia (UFBA) and the University of Ceará, UFC, is a telematic performance involving an antropofagic hyperorganism (AH) robot. For the performance, three interfaces communicated with each other and the robot. Body sounds, vibrations, and breathing noises were captured through OSC protocol transmitted via xBee from Rio de Janeiro to Fortaleza. Group leader Guto Nóbrega also explores the artistic use of plants.; the professor facilitated a workshop where a simple interface was built, using plants as organic sensors for hybrid interfaces. They also built a shield for Arduino, using the devices to produce a sound installation

Another artist that has been very polemic and has destabilized some frontiers between biology and technology is Eduardo Kac. Kac performed Time Capsule in an event curated by Lucas Bambozzi titled "Arte Suporte Computador," hosted by Casa das Rosas in 1997. In this action, the artist implanted a chip in his leg; the event was broadcast on television nationally. Kac´s works raises many discussions concerning ethics: He has worked with telematic connections, biopoetry, and transgenic organisms, like Alba, the rabbit. He used a protein from a Aequorea Victoria and injected Alba with the genes of the zygote, making the rabbit glow fluorescent when exposed to blue light. In another work titled A-positive, made in collaboration with Ed Bennett, Kac explores the relationship between living organisms and hybrid machines. These machines incorporate biological elements like metabolic and sensorial functions. In A-positive a human and a robot are connected through a tube and a needle feeding each other mutually. The robot is called "phlebot" and uses human red blood cells to absorb oxygen in order to maintain a small flame. In exchange, the robot gives dextrose to the human. Kac´s works have many ethical and philosophical implications, suggesting in one of his articles an inversion of McLuhan´s quote: "the machine is an extension of the body." Kac's works is a proposal that the body is becoming an extension of the computer.

Arlindo Machado suggests that the value of art lies exactly in its ability to subvert the productive functions of machines and being able to create new ethics and aesthetics for the technological era. The artist is capable of refusing the industrial project, creating a metalanguage of the mediatic society, acting as medial and institutional derivations, creating critic alternatives for the laws and models of the mechanisms of control (Machado 2004: 5-7). For Machado, the arts could deprogram the techniques of industrial tools, distorting their symbolic functions, proposing them to work outside of their know parameters, making then visible its mechanisms of control and seduction.

A movement of new ethics is connected to technologies in the open source and copyfelt movements. Making tools, programs, and knowledge accessible and questioning the notions of property and authorship could be the beginning of more processual researches that are not necessarily connected to final products or subject to institutional restrictions. Many artists in  Brazil are developing projects which use very cheap and simple prototyping platforms like Arduino. The changes in the perception of space, body, presence, and human communication beyond a space-time unity definitely have many more implications in several aspects of everyday life, and new aesthetics and ethics are still emerging.

Philip Auslander believes that the performing arts have already been placed within the culture of commodities, and they are almost impossible to distinguish from the mass media discourses. For him, one of the most important aspects of performance was its liveness, or presence, but once it is circumscribed in the culture of flows, the difference between life and mediated presence is irrelevant (Auslander 1989: 130). For Auslander the organization of spaces in flows, controlled by capitalism, has created a global hypertext which converts every element and place to its logics; he suggests, then, that it might not be very important to determine whether a work is performance or if it is art at all; but rather we could ask ourselves in which way these works can create a differentiated experience inside a network that tends to standardize discourses and isolate experiences (Auslander in Connor 2004: 99-100). 

 

*Virilio in Dufresne 2005Dufresne, David. (2005) Virilio - Cyberesistance Fighter: An Interview with Paul Virilio. Trans. Houis, Jacques. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michele Louise Schiocchet is a PhD candidate in Theatre at the UDESC, Santa catarina, Brazil. She is based in Florianópolis, Brazil. 

 

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February 5th, 2013

Get Ready for the Marvelous: Black Surrealism

Get Ready for the Marvelous: Black Surrealism

This week, The Performa Institute presents Get Ready for the Marvelous: Black Surrealism in Dakar, Fort-de-France, Havana, Johannesburg, New York City, Paris, Port-au-Prince, 1932-2013, a two-day symposium focusing on international black artists who were directly or tangentially involved in Surrealism, engaging with it as an ideology, artistic movement, and a state of mind—a way of being in the world—and their influence on contemporary art and culture throughout the African Diaspora. [[MORE]]

Get Ready for the Marvelous will take place at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development this Friday and Saturday, February 8–9. As we count down the days, we'll be revealing glimpses of some of the fascinating material that will be shared at the conference. Join us! A full schedule of the symposium is available here

Get Ready for the Marvelous was organized by Performa's Associate Curator, Performa Institute, Adrienne Edwards. 

 

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Left: Cover of Légitime Défense (Self-Defense) journal, 1932. Right: Adam Pendleton with Jaan Evart and Marc Hollenstein,Black Dada (Ian Berry, couple dancing, independence celebration Congo, 1960), 2008/2012. Courtesy the artist, Pace Gallery, and Shane Campbell Gallery.

 

 

 

The Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt are pleased to present Get Ready for the Marvelous: Black Surrealism in Dakar, Fort-de-France, Havana, Johannesburg, New York City, Paris, Port-au-Prince, 1932-2013, a groundbreaking conference exploring historical Surrealism in the African Diaspora and its relevance to contemporary art.  The conference is a platform to elaborate on the group of international black artists who were directly or tangentially involved in Surrealism, engaging with it as an ideology, artistic movement, and a state of mind—a way of being in the world—and their influence on contemporary art and culture throughout the African Diaspora. 

The context-setting keynote address titled "Blues People and the Poetic Sprit: Recovering Surrealism's Revolutionary Politics" will be given by Robin D.G. Kelley, Gary B. Nash Professor of American History, University of California Lost Angeles, and co-editor of Black, Brown, and Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora with Franklin Rosemont. Participants include Awam Ampka, Associate Professor, Africana Studies in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University; Isolde Brielmaier, Chief Curator, Savannah College of Art and Design; Barbara Browning, Associate Professor, Performance Studies, New York University; artist Simone Leigh; Gabi Ngcobo, Curator and Founder, Center for Historical Reenactments, Johannesburg; Tavia Nyong’o, Associate Professor, Performance Studies, New York University; artist Paul D. Miller a.k.a. ‘DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid’; artist Wangechi Mutu; artist Adam Pendleton; Lowery Stokes Sims, Curator, Museum of Art and Design; Greg Tate, Visiting Professor of Africana Studies, Brown University, musician with the Black Rock Coalition and Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber, cultural critic, and record producer; and director, producer, writer, actor, composer, and editor Melvin Van Peebles.

The two-day convening will traverse a medley of dynamic interrelated themes, including the art of Wifredo Lam; the poetics and politics of Negritude poets Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor; the intersection of dance and ethnography in the work of Maya Deren and Katherine Dunham; theater and politics during the period of decolonization in West Africa; Afro-Futurism and black science fiction; élan vital and black performance; and contemporary art-making and curatorial approaches to Black Surrealism. Adam Pendleton will present a new performance piece, inspired by and in honor of award-winning playwright Adrienne Kennedy

The conference will be complemented by a remarkable film program comprised of a suite of historical and contemporary documentaries, featuring Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (1985), a documentary film about dance and possession in Haitian Vodoun compiled from footage Deren shot during her fieldwork on the island between 1947 and 1954; William Greave’s The First World Festival of Negro Arts (1967), the official documentary film of the 1966 festival held in Dakar, Senegal, which over 2,000 writers, artists, and performers from throughout the African Diaspora attended, including Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, Alvin Ailey, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Aimé Césaire, and other artists, performers, and dignitaries from 30 countries; and Gilles Elie-dit-Cosaque’s Zétwal (2008), a documentary film that tells the story of local Martinican legend Robert Saint‐Rose’s attempt to propel himself to outer space, through the poetry of Aimé Césaire. 

The conference title is inspired by Suzanne Césaire’s poetic description “Surrealism is permanent readiness for the Marvelous.”  It is also informed by Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci’s The Prison Notebooks, in which he wrote, “The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical processes to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory.” Further, despite “the vast critical literature on surrealism,” as Kelley and Rosemont note in their introduction to Black, Brown, and Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora, “all but a few black surrealists have been invisible…Occasional token mentions aside, people of color – and more particularly those from Africa or the Diaspora – have been excluded from most of the so-called standard works on the subject.”

Accordingly, the conference proceedings will illuminate the complex heterogeneity of historical Surrealism, its circuits of artistic and political exchange in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and the United States, and its accumulations as manifested in interdisciplinary art created in relation to ideas of the sublime, the miraculous, the supernatural, the surprising, and the wondrous as expressed in political and socially oriented works by black contemporary artists. The conference is an important part of Performa’s curatorial and program planning for the Performa 13 biennial’s historical anchor of Surrealism. 

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Tags: Category: Review
February 5th, 2013

Get Ready for the Marvelous: Aimé Césaire et le mouvement Surréalisme

Get Ready for the Marvelous: Aimé Césaire et le mouvement Surréalisme

This week, The Performa Institute presents Get Ready for the Marvelous: Black Surrealism in Dakar, Fort-de-France, Havana, Johannesburg, New York City, Paris, Port-au-Prince, 1932-2013, a two-day symposium focusing on international black artists who were directly or tangentially involved in Surrealism, engaging with it as an ideology, artistic movement, and a state of mind—a way of being in the world—and their influence on contemporary art and culture throughout the African Diaspora. 

Get Ready for the Marvelous will take place at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development this Friday and Saturday, February 8–9. As we count down the days, we’ll be revealing glimpses of some of the fascinating material that will be shared at the conference. Join us! A full schedule of the symposium is available here

Today, we have poet Aimé Césaire discussing Surrealism with Michel Fried, from September 2, 1994. The English translation is below:

 

 

Aimé Césaire: So, when I met the Surrealists, it was for me a great encounter. I did not become a Surrealist; it didn’t make sense.

Michel Field: Why?

No…

But why were you not more involved then?

No, because I am not a man of movements. I am not a man of clan! It wasn’t at all my direction! What did I find in the Surrealists, that I love enormously? I admire André Breton a lot. And I admired and loved profoundly the man. Well, I was less with Aragon. I found him too urbane, pathetic actually, a bit of a socialite, which I could not bear, especially coming from a Communist comrade. Well, it shocked me. Whereas Breton posited himself on the same level, a Celt, a mystic, a love for the wonderful. It is extraordinary, a man who had an astonishing sense of poetry; it’s prodigious. He found it everywhere; in the street and in the landscape. In the ‘objet brut’. It’s wonderful, Breton. A detector of poetry! A fantastic man and with an extraordinary purity. But, pardon me, still the same issue, I love the Surrealists a lot. I love André Breton a lot but it is always the same for me: I never forgot I was a Martinican. Nicole, are you listening to me? And you don’t leave.

[Laughs]

Here you go.

It’s very autocratic.

A bit. Yes, but it is ‘Enlightened despotism’. No, but she knows it is also a sign of affection and connivance with her. That is why she is listening actually. But she also knows well how to disobey…

You were telling me that you had never forgotten that you were Martinican.

No, I never forgot that, you understand? Never. So that in this respect I enter what I got from Surrealism. What is it? Well, it is not the wonderful; we Martinicans have this naturally. But it was the will to descend into oneself. It was in reality authenticity and sincerity. But one has to really do it; it is not that easy. You forget that we are prisoners of conventional forms, academic poetry, and even the most beautiful of this poetry … it wasn’t what we wanted. The Surrealist quest was something else; it was profoundly different. It was to descend to the deepest part of oneself. It was to liberate the repressed imaginary. We are in the lineage of psychoanalysis. Some automatic texts could even be psychoanalytic documents. That is what interested me. It interested me as a Martinican, Sorbonnard [graduate of the Sorbonne], Normalien [graduate L’École normale supérieure]. Just like that! What are we going to do? What will we find? Come on! Further! Even further! So what? Further, again further, but what I found in me when I was at the bottom. I found, laughingly actually, the nègre fondamental. This is it. I didn’t want to be another French Surrealist, although my admiration was big. I wanted to be surrealist but to put it to the service of my own ego and my own cause.

 

 

Get Ready for the Marvelous was organized by Performa’s Associate Curator, Performa Institute, Adrienne Edwards. 

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January 29th, 2013 · Jennifer Piejko

Kelly Nipper, then and now

By Jennifer Piejko

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On Wednesday, January 30 and Thursday, January 31, Performa artist Kelly Nipper presents a newly commissioned performance at the Museum of Modern Art. Kelly Nipper with Japanther: Tessa Pattern Takes a Picture will explore the processes of photography, the influence of choreographer Mary Wigman, and Laban Movement Analysis, just as much of her previous work has moved seamlessly between photography, video, installation, movement, and personal history. 

Her performance for Performa 07, Floyd on the Floor, her first live work, was titled after 1999's Hurricane Floyd, which devastated much of the East Coast and parts of Florida. Floyd on the Floor considered the hurricane's movements through the interpretions of eight contemporary dancers handling an oversized striped parachute while responding to instructions from a square dance caller. 

Tessa Pattern Takes a Picture is directly influenced by Floyd on the Floor, and these tensions between old and new work, communication, and perspectives continue entangling in accidental and electrifying ways.

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Images: Kelly Nipper, Floyd on the Floor, a Performa Commission, 2007. Performance views. 

For more information about this week's performances at MoMA, click here. For more about Floyd on the Floor, read our interview with RoseLee Goldberg and Kelly Nipper. 

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January 24th, 2013 · Bree Richards

Doing, Being, Performing

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Live and performative art practices are enjoying a resurgence today internationally. While the range of influences is as diverse as the approaches employed, a new generation of artists are making works that utilize a startlingly direct gaze in their forthright engagements with viewers. Alongside the literal positing of entanglements between subjects, authors, and viewers, these younger, experimental, and, in an Australian context, frequently female artists are referencing performative art practices of the 1960s and '70s. Of particular interest are works that bridge the gap between artist and viewer—creation and reception—whereby the audience is an indispensible participant in the enactment of art (1). The diversity of approaches includes redeploying the intense focus on the body as subject and object, emphasizing the theatricality of performance, and intermingling mirroring self-portraiture where unconscious selves are actively projected externally.

In a general sense, renewed interest in performative forms of art is being driven by a number of overarching factors: the abundance of new technologies has had a huge impact on the reception of contemporary performance, given it is now easier than ever before to document and distribute; a growing trend towards self-surveillance and public sharing via online platforms and social networking, along with the rise of mass media and a celebrity-obsessed culture. We live in a time that is essentially awash with ‘performance’, so it makes sense then that artists are responding to the situation, whether explicitly or implicitly. 

Perhaps a broader question to ask here is whether feminism has played a role in this resurgence. Trying to define what feminism means today is infinitely problematic, and the fact that it is nonprescriptive is perhaps the only thing we can all agree on. Yet in the art world, a number of major exhibitions examining feminism and contemporary art—"WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution," "Global Feminisms," "Rebelle: Art and Feminism 1969-2009," and "elles@centrepompidou"—evidence a recurring question, regardless of the different approaches applied: Have ideas of gender equality become more acceptable in a wider range of areas, or have the multiplicity of contemporary feminisms served to fragment a central idea? (2) Discussions abound, with no clear-cut answers to be found other than to say that there is more than one way to be a feminist today. 

In the 1960s and '70s feminism was a political force, and though its image has shifted radically over the years, in some quarters "feminism" has been transformed into "the f-word." Increasingly weighed down by its own history, its mere mention can elicit sighs of exasperation. Or is this position simply part of the inheritance for a younger generation—the bounty of battles fought by first-, second-, and third-wave feminism—that women feel they have earned the right to disavow feminism altogether? Feminist and postfeminist theory has become increasingly institutionalized, which in turn, has stripped the word of some of its political sting. The writings of Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray, and Simone de Beauvoir are now commonplace in university tutorials, yet pop culture is nonetheless riddled with conflicting messages about empowerment and femininity. From Sex and the City to Desperate Housewives—we’re left questioning whether the early aims of the women’s movement, or later waves of feminism, have been achieved. (3) 

The activist bent of early feminism emphasized the importance of doing, and for artists this meant cultivating an agency. Performative forms of art (and video) in particular are genres we now associate with the history of feminism—in fact, these formats were pioneered by avowedly feminist artists. With greater access to early performance documentation, there is now a history of these kinds of works for artists to respond to, and contemporary visual language has increasingly been recharged via appropriation. Many younger practitioners have moved to distance themselves from feminist discourses, yet whether consciously or not, reference the performativity of seventies feminist practices with the intense focus on the body as both subject and object. While the range of influences is as diverse as the tone of their approach, this new generation operates freely in a culture of obsessive self-documentation, under the "omnipresent gaze of myriad media formats." (4) These artists are fluent in the execution and reception of the gaze, employed both as a self-conscious tactic and method for articulating and disseminating their own representation. 

Narrowing the field somewhat, let’s look collectively at a group of emerging Australian women artists working across analogous thematic lines, and whose practices criss-cross between disciplines and interests, foregrounding site-specific, performative and ephemeral art forms. Whether employing humorous, critical or sensual approaches, these artists present work that interacts with the everyday in order to offer new vantage points on the worlds we inhabit and negotiate. This focus on the performative seeks variously to titillate the viewer’s curiosity, to activate visual and auditory senses, and shake up notions taken for granted about life and art. In these supposedly post-feminist times, these artists are engulfed in a world of options where identity and gender constructions are precarious, and viewpoints are multiple, contingent and fractured. (5) 

While some artists would not agree with attributing a feminist reading of their work, there is often acceptance that some kind of feminist trace may linger. Though she describes herself as a painter, in recent times Lauren Brincat has worked predominantly in performance, drawing inspiration from durational, body-oriented forms of practice that came to prominence during the 1970s. Her action-based works are often presented as video documentation and sometimes accompanied by a live element. High Horse (2012) documents a feat of endurance, with the artist standing proudly atop a horse, bearing a tambourine like a talisman. Her monumental stance recalls two of her heroines, Joan of Arc and celebrated performance artist Marina Abramović, appearing in The Hero (2001). The nearby sculptural objects—timber pyramids topped with tambourines—signify both the artist’s presence and absence, and their circular arrangement denotes the zone within which she presented a sound happening in real time, incorporating both pyramids and tambourines to create an intuitive sonic soundscape in collaboration with percussionist Bree van Reyk. 

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Lauren Brincat, High Horse, 2012. Documentation of an action. Single-channel high-definition video, 16:9, colour, sound; 26 seconds, looped. Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery.

 

 

Kate Mitchell, like Brincat, is known for performance videos that see the artist conceiving a scenario and then living it out. She places herself at the center of precarious cartoon situations that involve an element of risk, becoming both the agent and object of the work. Defiantly tongue-in-cheek, Mitchell weaves a spirit of larrikin abandon into her projects, which have seen the artist swinging from a chandelier, falling through an awning, and sawing a circle in the floor and falling through. Often set at the edge of what is possible, or socially permissible, Mitchell uses her art both to test her physical limits and to ask questions about the society in which we all perform. 

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Top: Jess Olivieri and Hayley Forward with the Parachutes for Ladies, I thought a musical was being made, 2011. Photo by Jess Olivieri, courtesy of the Parachute for Ladies.
Bottom: Jess Olivieri with the Parachutes for Ladies, I am an Island, 2011. Photo by Lucy Parakhina, courtesy of the Parachute for Ladies.

An exploration of how norms of behaviour structure experience is a core interest for Jess Olivieri and Hayley Forward with the Parachutes for Ladies, who make works that sit at the juncture of live art, dance, sound, performance and installation. Often considering individual behaviour within broader public contexts, they also work with a continually changing group of participants, who form the ‘Parachutes for Ladies’ on any given project. The duo frequently deploy media platforms in unexpected ways, a strategy that is tied to a sophisticated understanding of participatory practices whereby the audience is complicit in producing both meaning and ideas. Their works, which often take place in public settings, have variously spanned humming choirs, self-help audio guides, large-scale pseudo-musicals and video installations in order to investigate the vulnerability of individuals in society and the sociopolitical territorialisation of space. 

In a number of ways, space is also a recurring theme in Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano’s art, though drawing forms the basis of many of their collaborative works. Typically low-fi and self-produced, the duo records their carefully choreographed actions on video, utilizing a pared-down visual language that at times recalls Italian neorealist cinema. The Manganos are twin sisters, and frequently use their own bodies as subject and object, creating elegant mirrored conversation with selected props—pencils, paper, fabric, and furniture—to explore their relationship to each other and the spaces in which they perform.

Sharing the Mangano’s interest in mirroring self-portraiture is Anastasia Klose, an installation, video and performance artist known for her "aesthetic of the pathetic." Using a lo-fi style derived from YouTube videos as much as from the history of performance art, her works strike the viewer with their startlingly direct gaze, as much as their pointed performativity and confessional aspect. Klose often draws on painful and funny moments from her own life, creating works about being single, love, sex, as well as the process of making art. One video, Film for Nanna (2006) sees her walking along a major Melbourne thoroughfare, decked out in ill-fitting bridal garb, bearing a sign that reads "Nanna I am still alone." In another work, we watch, or rather we bear witness, to the artist having sweaty sex on the floor of a public bathroom with a boy we know only as "Ben." These are moments laid bare—it’s not about cheap thrills, but about uncovering human experiences, whether absurd, humiliating or perverse. Self-deprecating, melodramatic, and romanticized, the dry humor of Klose’s works is balanced by her sensitivity to the foibles of human nature and a resilience of spirit. 

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Anastasia Klose, Film for Nanna (still), 2006. Images courtesy of Tolarno Galleries.

 

 

Humour forms the lynchpin of Brown Council’s practice, a collaboration between four artists who make video and performance works that deliberately blur the distinction between stage and gallery, high and low culture. The group draws on the histories of both visual and performance art, combining these sources with elements of street theater, amateur magic, and stand-up comedy. Ranging in tone from biting political satire to slapstick farce, Brown Council’s works often engage with notions of endurance, humiliation and spectacle, dissolving boundaries between artist and audience in the process. Performance Fee (2012) for instance, an endurance event, where for two dollars  viewers can procure a kiss from one of the blindfolded artists, sees performance combined with installation and elements of vaudevillian sideshow. And while the work engenders a range of emotional responses—curiosity, laughter, disbelief—there is also a discomforting undertone: in this lineup, the artists are vulnerable and very much on display, at the same time they are literally playing out the cliché of the starving artist. Forthright and unapologetic, Brown Council succeed in their aim to re-vision objectification as objective, asking us to consider the politics of representation in the process. 

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Above and top: Brown Council, Performance Fee, 2012. "Contemporary Australia: Women," Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art, 2012. Courtesy of Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art. Photo: B Wagner.

This is just a snapshot showcasing the diversity of performative practice among a group of younger women artists working in Australia today, and is far from exhaustive. While it is impossible to speak collectively, for this emerging generation experience, gesture, action and bodies are inexorably tied to production. By repositioning the artist repeatedly, and often literally, in the frame or in a live situation, the viewer is forced into a ‘series of negations that create a turbulent understanding of human personae and human vulnerability.’(6) In a variety of ways, these artists successfully bridge ‘multiple points of interruption, moving through media platforms, spaces and the center of our vision with occasional savvy impudence.' (7) While some, such as Brown Council, contextualize their practice within an avowedly feminist framework, others are less comfortable with this attribution, yet at the same time continue to reference strategies associated with its history in art, particularly an embrace of new media technologies, and tropes associated with the performative. And whether acknowledged or not, and in spite of the diversity of approaches to artmaking, each in different ways speaks actively of freedom from social constraints. 

Distance is often sought from such interpretations, yet these shifting concerns and debates in art about the body are certainly pertinent and continue to have currency in the contested landscape of international theory and art production. This new generation often performs—whether for an audience or for the camera—and they hold unprecedented control as author, performer, director, and even distributor. The artist is the image in this case, spanning production and representation in a way that enables them to reveal themselves without flinching. The antithesis of passivity, instead, the artist orchestrates, interrupts, or turns the perceived order of things inside out. By neatly sidestepping disavowal, repression or the taken-for-granted, these artists are authors of their own representation: their collective sidelong glances, quotations, nods, random encounters or riffs on the multi-layered histories of the body and the performative in art history gives presence to the past, reimagining the terrain for new parallels. (8)  

1. Warr, Tracey and Jones, Amelia (eds), The Artist’s Body: Themes and Motives, Phaidon Press, London, 2000, page 70. 

2. Glass, Alexie. "Extimacy: A new generation of feminism." Art and Australia, Volume 47, Number 1, Spring 2009, page 135.

3. Linz, Talia. "Ways of Doing: T&A and the F-ing Gaze." Runway, Number16, 2011, page 23.

4. Glass, p.135.

5. Linz, p.23.

6. Glass., p.136.

7. Ibid., p.139.

8. Ibid.

 

 

Bree Richards is a 2012-2013 Performa Writer in Residence. 

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January 15th, 2013 · Kelsey Halliday Johnson

Playing with Chance: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, and Rauschenberg at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Author, when believed in, is always conceived of as the past of his own book: book and author stand automatically on a single line divided into a before and an after. The Author is thought to nourish the book, which is to say that he exists before it, thinks, suffers, lives for it, is in the same relation of antecedence to his work as a father to his child.

Roland Barthes, Death of the Author, 1967

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Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Cunningham Solos and Duets. Performance view, December 21, 2012. Dancers: Rashaun Mitchell and Andrea Weber. Dancers appear courtesy Merce Cunningham Trust. Photos by Constance Mensh, Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

 

How do artists distance themselves from the intimate act of creation? Or at the very least, how is it possible to set up rules within the studio to un-anticipate the formulaic direction of one’s process and outcome? In the exhibition Dancing Around the Bride, the Philadelphia Museum of Art tackles an artistic moment where artists began to problematize their own hand in the work. On display is a constellation of chance-based pieces (musical, visual, written, and choreographed) by John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg. Fluidly haunting the process and conceptual backbone of the works is the legacy of Marcel Duchamp, the father of conceptual art.

The exhibition battles the inherent pitfalls of historicizing art in a fresh way that stands out within contemporary curatorial practices. Curator Carlos Basualdo with assistant Erica F. Battle (and help from French artist Philippe Parreno) attempt to recover the not-so-distant past, not necessarily as merely art historians but as sociologists as well. While some contemporary art-lovers tend to flippantly joke (through the words of British philosopher Alan Watts) that museums are “places where art goes to die,” this exhibition proves that museums can be rewarded by active interpretation of their collections that can reenergize our understanding of the artistic past. In the PMA this is primarily accomplished through the exciting addition of a ballroom-like architectural setting (an intervention by Parreno), two Yamaha Disklavier pianos performing “live,” and, of course, the vibrant living bodies of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company within the gallery.

Cunningham is the true ringleader of this show, as he magnetically drew this group of artists together for a lifetime of collaboration and dialogue. Rauschenberg would become the Company’s Resident Advisor from 1954-64 and Johns would take up the role of Artistic Director from 1967 to 1980, creating sets and costumes, but also inviting other visual artists, including Andy Warhol, Bruce Nauman, and Robert Morris. John Cage, meanwhile, met Cunningham early in 1938, becoming his partner and eventually the Company’s Musical Director in 1953, a position he kept until his death in 1992. Black Mountain College in North Carolina was the early hub of this artistic network, where they solidified their artistic alignment in 1952 through an event sometimes referred to as the first Happening, as well as Cage’s early lectures on Duchamp.

In her most recent book, Artificial Hells, art theorist and historian Claire Bishop laments,  “the worlds of music, film, literature, fashion, and theater have a rich vocabulary to describe co-existing authorial positions (director, author, performer, editor, producer, casting agent, sound engineer, stylist, photographer), all of which are regarded as essential to the creative realization of a given project. The lack of an equivalent terminology in contemporary visual art has led to a reductive critical framework…” Yet Dancing Around the Bride relives a moment where visual artists attempted to exist within those working systems. And their studio practices, in dialogue with dance and its physical processes, benefited from such rich collaboration. Cunningham was a methodological trailblazer and it is crucial that we revisit this mode of artistic production in an era where artistic co-authorship is once again flourishing.

Basualdo and Battle understand this as one of the critical underpinnings of the exhibition, and in their curatorial statement declare: “Creating individually and together, they arrived organically at an aesthetic model that is also a political model—something to aspire to, a certain way of coexisting not by resigning who we are but finding in the fluidity of ourselves the evolving basis of an enduring connection to others and to the world.” Cunningham would withhold details from his dancers about the structure, duration and number of dancers in a piece— leaving these decisions to the roll of dice. This new process deprived control from the choreographer and dancer equally, letting the end product be a result of their mutual reaction to new circumstances. Meanwhile, the music, set, and costumes would sometimes be used for the first time in formal public performances, allowing ample room for failure but also opening the door to a new unpredictable energy with the fresh conditions set by Cage, Rauschenberg, and Johns.

The strict definition of artistic roles in this exhibition are questioned; the painter becomes a performer, the sculpture is now a figure on stage, and dancers are transformed into mere points in space and time. The staging of the exhibition also battles the iconic aesthetic of these prominent visual artists through unlikely and beautiful pairings of pieces. We are allowed to clearly see the beginnings of a dismissal of authorship and submission to chance with the integrated grid installation of Robert Rauschenberg’s lithograph series Veils (1974) and John Cage’s monotype String series (1980). For these, Cage released pigment-drenched strings from the top of a ladder and Rauschenberg dropped handkerchiefs randomly onto light-sensitive photo emulsion plates. The two gracefully co-exist, each based on a play with materials and the printing press, marked by a distinctive lack of authorial style due to their stochastic process. While many could point out a Rauschenberg from across the room, series like this demythologize artistic ownership. Additionally, the pieces play with the idea of singularity in a mode distinct from Pop Art or Minimalism, a dialogue that infrequently accompanies Abstract Expressionism.

Meanwhile, Cage shines in this exhibition through his fascinating conceptual conversations with chess, visual art, compositional games, and text. His mesostics, poetry, and music made by generative rules with raw text directly from Duchamp are in beautiful dialogue with the artist in the room adjacent to the museum’s permanent installation of Duchamp’s Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even. 2012 marks the Cage Centennial, and he is given a rousing memorial organized by Philadelphia experimental music nonprofit group Bowerbird and unprecedented live performances in the museum’s gallery from contemporary music stars like Lee Ranaldo, co-founder and guitarist of Sonic Youth. And in one of their most beautiful performances, Lisa Boudreau, Jamie Scott, and Daniel Squire of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company seemingly froze in time and space for the minimalist and austere choreography of Stillness (in three movements) made for Cage’s 4’33”.  

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"Dancing Around the Bride," 2012. Exhibition view.*

Despite the honorable attempt to revive a previous artistic moment, the exhibition is still haunted by ghosts and that which has been lost to history. The seldom-discussed or seen set pieces are too few and sometimes replicas, with the stunning stand-alone Minutiae from Rauschenberg (a 1976 copy of a 1954 original) and the aged billowing veils, chairs, and bicycle wheels called Tantric Geography created for Cunningham’s 1977 Travelogue, placed immediately next to the stage. John’s set for Walkaround Time looms like a chandelier over a ballroom, a transparent vinyl-box homage to Duchamp.

The exhibit does offer unexpected gems, including a 2012 restoration of Charles Atlas’s Walkaround Time, a two-channel film documenting the 1973 Cunningham performance while Atlas was filmmaker-in-residence for the MCDC from 1974 to 1983. Fittingly, the film was first shown at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with two projectors and has been reedited digitally for this exhibit.  Atlas’s film stands alone as a work that pushes the boundaries of how dance can be documented. John’s set pieces in the film are equal characters to the dancers, and a long intermission of the dancers lounging and stretching between movements was voyeuristically filmed. 

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Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Cunningham Solos and Duets. Performance view, December 21, 2012. Dancers: Rashaun Mitchell and Andrea Weber. Dancers appear courtesy Merce Cunningham Trust. Photos by Constance Mensh, Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

 

If this show is to teach us about attempts to take precision and direction out of the work via chance, we are left with a series of artists who still held tight to their own desires. This attempted reinvention of function, both for the artist and the work, becomes irrelevant when we examine the art for what it truly is. Despite attempts to lose control and make generative studio practices for their work, Johns and Rauschenberg still remain kings of beauty and formalism. In Rauchenberg’s Express (1963), an early experimentation in the image transfer process, the elegant bodies of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and a ghostly nude figure walking (a photographic nod to Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase) become the central classic figures to the nearly narrative piece.

Cunningham wanted to distance himself from the dance in order to allow viewers space for projection and interpretation of the human form, isolated only in time and space. However, through many of the Solos, Duets, and Trios selected for the exhibition it becomes exceedingly clear that his style occupied a unique in-between ground, marked by romantic sensibilities and stripped-down classicism along with the ingenuity of modern dance. (His duets are particularly poetic, such as Scramble, 1967, Trails, 1982 and Rainforest, 1968) The dancers are overtly balletic: stretching, folding, and bending with sculptural precision and accented with the slightest traces of human theater. It is an interesting paradox for all of the artists that were trying desperately to break with history but was still very much bound by it.

Charting this complicated relationship between an artist’s process and desired outcome begins to explain how we arrived at such a diverse moment within contemporary conceptual practice. And it allows us to meditate on the difficulties artists faced while breaking from classicism. But most importantly, this exhibit reunites friends within the type of institution that tends to segregate them based on genre, movement, and media into separate rooms and even under different curators. The dialogue between these seminal artists was lifelong, represented by a recent Johns piece from 2007 (the large aluminum-plated piece Numbers) whose surface was imprinted with the right foot of Merce Cunningham only two years before his passing. As art history canonizes its heroes more rapidly, sometimes even before their death, this exhibit coaxes us to revisit the recent past as a living vibrant moment and not as a series of fossilized artifacts.

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"Dancing Around the Bride," 2012. Exhibition view.**

Dancing Around the Bride is on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through January 21, 2013. 

 

Kelsey Halliday Johnson is an artist and writer based in Philadelphia. She is the Performance Coordinator at Vox Populi gallery.

 

*"Dancing Around the Bride," 2012. Exhibition view. Photos by Contance Mensh, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Top: Robert Rauschenberg, Bride's Folly, 1959. Oil, fabric, paper, printed paper collage and metal on canvas; 57 1/2 x 39 3/4 inches (146.1 x 101 cm). Private Collection. Bottom: Main stage. 

**"Dancing Around the Bride," 2012. Exhibition view. Photos by Contance Mensh, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Top: Entrance marquee.
Bottom:
Robert Rauschenberg, Set for Tantric Geography, 1977. Row of wood chairs mounted on dollies separated by bicycle wheels, fabric. Eight dollies: wood boxes with four casters, painted white, each marked with numbers 1-8 and arrows; dollies link in a train with joining hardware. Five stainless steel bycicle wheels. Four pipes, aluminium and cast iron; two wood base plates with speed-rail joint painted black; Each (single dolly): 8 1/2 x 23 1/2 x 23 1/2 inches (21.6 x 59.7 x 59.7 cm) Each (pipe): 16 inches (40.6 cm) Each (wood base plate): 15 x 8 1/2 x 1 inches (38.1 x 21.6 x 2.5 cm) Each (folding chair): 34 x 11 x 1 1/2 inches (86.4 x 27.9 x 3.8 cm) Each (wood stool): 18 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 10 inches (47 x 31.8 x 25.4 cm). Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Walker Art Center, Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection, Gift of Jay F. Ecklund, the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation, Agnes Gund, Russell Cowles and Josine Peters, the Hayes Fund of HRK Foundation, Dorothy Lichtenstein, MAHADH Fund of HRK Foundation, Goodale Family Foundation, Marion Stroud Swingle, David Teiger, Kathleen Fluegel, Barbara G. Pine, and the T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2011. 

Jasper Johns, set for Walkaround Time, 1968. Plastic, paint; Each (Bride): 103 x 41 x 25 1/2 inches (261.6 x 104.1 x 64.8 cm) Each (Occult Witness): 41 x 35 x 25 1/2 inches (104.1 x 88.9 x 64.8 cm) Each (9 Malic Molds): 54 x 80 3/4 x 25 1/2 inches (137.2 x 205.1 x 64.8 cm) Each (Sieves/Parasols): 38 1/2 x 49 1/2 x 25 1/2 inches (97.8 x 125.7 x 64.8 cm) Each (Milky way with Nets): 37 x 108 x 25 1/2 inches (94 x 274.3 x 64.8 cm) Each (Chocolate Grinder): 85 1/4 x 95 3/4 x 25 1/2 inches (216.5 x 243.2 x 64.8 cm) Each (Watermill): 90 x 54 1/2 x 25 1/2 inches (228.6 x 138.4 x 64.8 cm). Walker Art Center, Minneapolis T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2000.

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January 11th, 2013 · Anthony Romero

Utopian Impulse and Social Practice

By Anthony Romero

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Allan Kaprow, Trading Dirt, 1983-85/1989.* 

 

 

Art is at its core a social event, from the museum to the stage, the apartment gallery to the performance arena. Even when spectators believe themselves to be fully alone in their experience, they are in fact always in the company of others. Whether it is the other mediated through the object, the event, or the body, art relieves us of our solitude and returns us to the multitudes. What is it about this particular facet of the art experience that feels particularly important to this moment in the contemporary art world? More than a simple formal turn towards the materiality of social life or even a kind of conceptual drive to legitimize its social tendencies, the desire to reveal the social quality of art is a desire to return to the kind of performative utopias that have populated western art throughout its varied histories. In this way the social turn can be seen as a return to utopian practices and possibilities that feel particularly relevant in a tumultuous present, where revolution and change are palpable events.    

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Image courtesy of InCUBATE and Sunday Soup Chicago.

 

Artists and performers have long relied on the sociality of art to express their political leanings to the masses. From the pre-fascist public spectacles of the Futurists to the communal utopianism of the Living Theater, performance practitioners in particular have utilized the power of collective bodies to promote their political ideologies. 

In 1922 the Russian theater director and theorist Vsevolod Meyerhold produced his first constructivist performance, The Magnanimous Cuckold, by the playwright Fernand Crommelynck. Film footage made available through Northwestern University reveals the process to be a rhythmic affair, relying heavily on Meyerhold’s own theory of biomechanics. The process, which he had begun to develop in advance of the production, is an early example of physical theater. More than this, Meyerhold’s experimentation is an attempt to understand the body in relationship to the growing emphasis of the industrial in his own social climate. Meyerhold’s desire to break with the long-standing traditions of Russian dramatic theater and to collapse the distinction between the two-dimensional theater set and the three-dimensional performance is wrapped up in the utopian vision of the Constructivist movement. Theater for Meyerhold is a site in which the utopian is enacted through the live event. In writing on the relationship between theater, performance, and utopianism, Jill Dolan has noted that “audiences are compelled to gather with others, to see people perform live, hoping, perhaps, for moments of transformation that might let them reconsider and change the world outside the theatre, from its macro to its micro arrangements.” More than this, the very act of making theater or performance allows the makers to arrive at a new understanding of their own ideology by embodying the process. Together the act of making and the act of viewing creates a performative encounter between two social bodies that reveal new ways of understanding the self through collective experience. The transformative potential of the theatrical experience coupled with the audience's desire to be transformed makes the theatrical space the premier site of social engagement and an ideal platform for displaying utopian ideologies. The utopian aim of Constructivism, that of providing modern subjects with new modes of collectivity through the revolutionary potential of industrial production, is at the heart Meyerhold’s theater.

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Liubov Popova, maquette for the construction used in The Magnanimous Cuckold, 1922. Photo © Northwestern University. 

At mid-century, as visual artists experiment with the social fabric, their reliance on theatrical space was replaced by networks and newly available distribution methods. Utopian practices no longer unfolded before a seated mass but were instead performed on street corners and in storefronts. The site of change takes place through smaller and smaller experiences, eventually arriving at the micro-utopianism of Allan Kaprow’s later work.

It’s fairly well known that for the last thirty years my main work as an artist has been located in activities and contexts that don’t suggest art in any way.  Brushing my teeth, for example, in the morning when I’m barely awake; watching in the mirror the rhythm of my elbow moving up and down . . .

— Allan Kaprow, "Art Which Can't be Art," 1986.

Kaprow begins his essay Art Which Can’t Be Art with the brushing of his teeth. He writes very simply of the act of waking every morning, the turn towards the mirror, the warm face wash, and the “aromatic taste of toothpaste.” The way he is slowly made aware of himself brushing his teeth. How he has come to understand it is his arm that made the brushing motion. The way the bristles massaged the teeth. Kaprow uses this as a metaphor to describe a way of making art that does not so much strive to put art back in its life source, as so much modern art has, but to arrive naturally at the life of the artistic pursuit. The life of the individual as it is captured in the act of making. If earlier in his career Kaprow sought to make a kind of theater of the everyday, an arrangement of mundane and non-conscious behaviors that through their totalizing force as environments might reawaken the audience, then what we have in these later writings is not simply a rescaling of the work but a kind of all-out reduction to the basic principles, zeroing in on the moment of transformation. Kaprow's micro-utopian gestures seek to facilitate the desire to change the world outside the performance that Dolan recognized in theater audiences. Kaprow’s retreat from the art world was a way to restrategize and reevaluate his own utopian impulse. What he arrived at was a reimagining of the utopian spectacle, as Meyerhold and the Constructivist has presented it, as a personal theater in which the viewer and maker are collapsed into one body. In this way the individual becomes the site of social change, leading the charge out of the self and into the public realm.

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Allan Kaprow, Trading Dirt, 1983-85/1989.* 

 

Our contemporary moment is one in which the utopian impulse has driven artists and performers to once again reveal the inherent sociality of art through practices of engagement. Oscillating between ideas surrounding theatricality, particularly the possibility of theater to initiate a transformative collective experience that incites social change in a given a community, and the micro-change of a utopianism steeped in individualism. Contemporary social practice borrows from artists like Meyerhold and Kaprow participation, hospitality, collectivity, pedagogy, and process to arrive at an individualized ideal present. Social practitioners have collapsed the social work of their predecessors into a politicized landscape of alternative living strategies, a collapse that is as much mobilized by the rapidly expanding cultural field as by a renewed belief in the possibility of art to transform and change society. Like Meyerhold, Kaprow, and the countless artists who have created encounters, situations, engagements, and the like, what drives contemporary social practice is a utopian impulse to call attention to our collective potential, one made visible through the experience of art. 

Anthony Romero is an artist and writer based in Chicago. 

 

*Allan Kaprow, Trading Dirt, 1983-85/1989. Activity. Reinvented for "Allan Kaprow: Precedings." Sponsored by Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kusten. Coast of the Netherlands. Photograph © Jeff Kelley. Courtesy Allan Kaprow Estate and Hauser & Wirth.

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January 9th, 2013 · Federica Bueti

Authenticity. Inauthenticity. Electricity.

 

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Elfriede Jelineks, Rechnitz (Der Würgeengel) [Rechnitz (The Exterminating Angel)]. Actors (from left to right): Steven Scharf, Katja Bürkle, and Hans Kremer. Photo courtesy of DPA.

 

 

 

What makes a gesture "political"? A young woman is chatting with a friend at a table next to mine. It’s lunchtime. Her eyes glance around the busy cafè, but their conversation flows without interruption. I notice her fingers sliding into her handbag. She draws something out, then puts in her mouth and under her upper lips. It’s snus, a moist tobacco popular here in Norway, where anti-smoking regulations are particularly strict. I noticed the same gesture time and again, in restaurants, bars, train stations, shops: Put it under the lips. Chew it. Snus seems to be stronger and more addictive than cigarettes, but the mode of consumption changes and it makes the difference: while the theatrical gesture of holding, slightly squeezing the rolled tobacco between fingers, bringing it to the lips, and inhaling the sweet smoke is dismissed as unhealthy, the contemporary one is a gesture performed with discretion. From the realm of modern provocation to contemporary forms of soft subversion, what constitutes a political gesture today? And how do artists develop political gestures? Provocative, shocking, diplomatic, strategic, anarchic, anti-conformist, eccentric, conservative, nihilist, hedonistic: How are artists, curators, and writers engaging the political within art? As for the snus versus the cigarette, in defining a political gesture in the realms of visual and performance art, the battle seems to be between those who go for histrionic gestures and those who look for more diplomatic strategies of action. But are there other possibilities in understanding the political in an artistic gesture?

Take Artur Żmijewski, for instance, artist and curator of the 7th Berlin Biennale. His opening statement for the Berlin Biennale is a categorical provocation: “Art must perform politics,” and "Politically committed art has often come to a tragic end." And indeed, from the title of the exhibition, "Forget Fear," to the Occupy movement at Kunst-Werke Berlin, to the installation of the Peace Wall in Friedrichstrasse by artist Nada Prlja, the whole Biennale is a gesture of political provocation. But what effects does a provocation of this kind produce?

Another eloquent example is the re-enactment of the 1945 Battle of Berlin, the defeat of the Third Reich, performed by amateur actors from Poland in Berlin and Warsaw on the opening day of the Berlin Biennale in April 2012. The re-enactment—aimed to question the contemporary use of historical re-enactments as a product of national identity—ends with reinforcing such ideas in the first place.  While the Biennale addresses cultural transformation and political engagement, the re-enactment seems to be more a self-deceptive act: history will never stop repeating itself. In The Second Sex, French philosopher and feminist Simone de Beauvoir describes women’s self-deceptive attitude as a result of the commonly accepted belief that they are second-class humans and therefore they need men, as women are missing some “elusive” elements of the self which endows men with freedom. In a similar way, Artur Żmijewski’s provocative political gestures seem to accept the belief that art has been downgraded to second-class status and therefore its political commitment needs to be reinstated, but the consequences of such gesture are clearly ideological: labeling political art that responds to curators "authentic" and excluding the rest.

Then there are also more "inauthentically" provocative gestures. The theater of German author and dramatist Renè Pollesch is a significant example. Pollesch’s political theater is an analysis of the dysfunctional reality of late capitalism: neurosis, the frantic rhythm of the megalopolis, pathological anxiety, and various forms of hysteria are pushed to extreme and most absurd consequences. By looping together social theory, pop culture, Marxist philosophy, gender studies, business and marketing languages, soap operas, and B-movies, Pollesch staged the reality of a world where human beings are engulfed in information and infinite networks of social relations which they seem to produce and reproduce. His irony is disarming insofar as it is uncontrollable, overwhelming. The represented pathological world is incurable, any redemptive thought or action pointless, any attempt to change the existing meaningless. Pollesch seems to be reinforcing this self-deceptive attitude.

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Renè Pollesch, Throw Away Your Ego, 2011. Performance view, Volksbüne, Berlin.

The 2011 production of Throw Away Your Ego performed at Volksbüne, Berlin, explored the desire for appearance to match being, even though the inauthentic act emerges in full light as the real authentic. Referencing French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s examination of the Cartesian relation between mind and body (the program lists Nancy’s Corpus as recommended reading), one of the characters tries to figure out why we only perceive souls and not bodies: “I was so disoriented,” the actor exclaims, “because I was supposed to believe in some sort of inner being, but I didn’t; I only exist on the outside. Me. The mouth and the spirit are one and the same!”  Surreal, excessive, freaky, inconsistent and comical, Renè Pollesch’s characters are political subjects: they embrace and embody the reality surrounding them. They are in the system, but not for or contrary to it, as they have no real cognition of what is happening around them.They exist within the circularity of a loop that spins itself to erasure. 

However, society doesn't operate in the same ways of the curatorial gesture of Artur Żmijewski’s Berlin Biennale or Renè Pollesch’s theatre of the visibly inauthentic; merely complaining about dysfunction won’t change anything. American author, feminist, and activist Bell Hooks has said, "When we only name the problem, when we state complaint without a constructive focus or resolution, we take hope away. In this way critique can become merely an expression of profound cynicism, which then works to sustain dominator culture." There is the constructive political gesture, and there is the experiential gesture, which contrary to Artur Żmijewski and Renè Pollesch, doesn’t necessarily produce symbolic monuments to the transformation of reality. Experience is knowledge that comes from an act of implication of oneself into a situation, of inhabiting a problem, without the necessarily analytic distance. Experience is constructive: Instead of issuing a provocative statement or exaggerating reality, experience might save us from making judgments or considering the political as a terrain of opposition and confrontations. 

Carol Hanisch’s statement "the intimate is political" can be read in this light: experience of the everyday life is political and it doesn’t need great poses or gestures to be considered as such. Women might teach something to politicians and to fellows artists. A good example of the experiential gesture is Anne Waldman’s approaches to poetry, performance practice, and politics. In her excellent performance of her poem “Fast Speaking Woman,” Waldman explodes a patriarchal cultural and political paradigm through exuberant breathing and chanting, repetition and fast-speaking. “I’m a shouting woman, I’m a speech woman, I’m an atmosphere woman, I’m an airtight woman, I am a flexible woman, I’m a high-style woman.” And indeed, Waldman has “high style”: her performance is erotic, concrete, and politically inspiring.

Anne Waldman, "Fast Speaking Woman," 1974. Performance view, Backdoor Playhouse, Tennessee Tech. Cookeville, Tennessee. December 2, 2010. Presented by Center Stage & The Living Writers Project.

The artist herself suggested: 

I want [my poetry] to be the experience... a sustained experience, a voyage, a magnificent dream, something that would take you in myriad directions simultaneously, and you could draw on all of these other voices and you could pay homage to ancestors and other languages--a poem that would include everything and yet dwell in the interstices of imagination and action.

 

 

Rather than a self-reflective or self-deceptive act, rather than explaining, commenting, or dispensing opinions, Anne Waldman exposes herself as woman and as embodiment of all women; her speech is clear, gestures are affirmative. Anne Waldman proposes questions of gender by taking a more subtle and constructive position as a woman and as an artist. Waldman does not analyse, complain or reject any political position; on the contrary, she embraces all possible positions with artistic intelligence, making visible different social and political conditions. "Fast Speaking Woman" is not a provocative action: She might raise her voice not to shout off the enemy, but to begin a dialogue. Waldman’s voice, through its rhythm and repetition, is a displacing, unexpected, electrifying political gesture.

Do I need to call myself an activist to be an artist who performs political gestures or an artist to perform artistic gestures? The battle between friends and enemies as the battle between cigarettes and snus is ideological, not political. Every artist who, as Carol Hanisch’s song "Do You Know How Beautiful you Are?" suggests, "boldly dare[s] to hold to dreams/so very often crushed/Dreams of things not ready to be born/ That won’t be rushed/ For it’s only those who work and dream/Who really keep us moving on," are already part of a cultural transformation.

 

Federica Bueti is the Founder and Editor in Chief of ...ment journal, an editorial initiative for contemporary culture, art, and politics.
www.journalment.org

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January 4th, 2013 · Em Rooney

Strauss Bourque-LaFrance

 

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"In The The Spring," 2012. Exhibition view, KANSAS.

Strauss Bourque-LaFrance’s work is often driven by formal decisions, though each gesture is latent with subversive qualities. This mechanism predates his 2010 MFA thesis show, "Rotten Sun," but these moves can be seen here—perhaps most explicitly. Thesis exhibitions that year at Tower Projects, a factory warehouse-turned-gallery in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia, used the size and character of the space to their advantage, of which Strauss’s work was a prime example. In a piece titled Black Rainbow Gets a Free Ride, three tropes (a Carl Andre-like wooden sculpture, being straddled by a black/fecal rainbow, and a 1970s gay biker hat placed conspicuously on top of the wooden sculpture) bring sobering straightforward art-historical (evoking Minimalism)/historical (evoking Stonewall) presence to a room that looks like the aftermath of a late '80s coke-driven SoCal occult gay party gone awry. Appropriately at the opening, a male body slow-danced to Lenny Kravitz’s "It Ain’t Over ‘till it’s Over" near a pole on the brick-covered wall of the gallery across from the deflated party tent.

Preexisting memes and those of his own creation co-mingle. Cats and magic eye posters (reminiscent of animated GIFs) are among the borrowed. Mikhail Baryshnikov (and other ballerinos), ghost faces, ghost people, and punctuation marks developed out of his own lexicon are neither figural or literal, but function as emblems. Their message is not a direct call to action, at least not any specific action, but more to a series of actions that starts with developing new symbols and changing or expanding on the meaning of old ones. Commas (sometimes read as teardrops), slashes, and colons function similarly, as sign, or meme (within SBL’S oeuvre) but they also refer to a common language: they are punctuation marks shared and understood by a range of cultures but they all refer to the space in between two distinct points.

Provocative Feelings and Sculptures, a dance choreographed by Strauss and performed at Judson Church this past November as part of their Movement Research series, functioned like an awkward collage with moving parts:

 In the beginning dancers move back and forth across the stage like ghosts, zombies, or minstrel-show dancers in slow motion. Dragging each other, carrying each other like baskets, moving back and forth across the stage with stiff and slow movements, breaking into a trot, and then back to a pointed stride, the dancers look like scared kids chasing the dark. They regain composure only for the sake of shared goals acting as a team to inspect the properties of their hands and tricking the audience—provoking applause before the performance had really ended—practicing group movement.

The acoustics and the architecture of Judson were paired perfectly with the music in the second half of the performance (the only noises in the first half are those made by the dancers' bodies)—sounding something like the music from a '70s movie about the exhumation of Cleopatra, followed by what sounds like the music playing during consummation between lovers in the last scene of a mystery romance movie. And it is while this music plays that all four dancers face the audience in summer clothes, white tees, linen pants, and ripped blue jeans, evoking yet another kind of scene—young love, summer love, a pack of teenagers bound together by an unknown breach, or a group of grown-ups, a pack of outsiders, connected by their longing for the former. 

As the last song plays out, the third dancer in the lineup flashes black and white photographs—some recognizable forms, others not—adhered to cardboard, picked up one by one, on tempo, held in front of the dancers face, and presented to the audience like cue cards in a series of movements that mimic the silent, crying thrashes from the beginning of the piece making the intentions behind each, seemingly disjointed, section come full circle.

 

In an earlier piece, Black Environment, slides are projected onto a black canvas painting. Similar in tone to the ending of Provocative Feelings and Sculptures, the slides interchange between formless abstract paintings (painted on the slides, projected onto the painting) and androgynous self-portraits recalling Marilyn Monroe’s last pictures. The formlessness of the abstractions and the subtlety of his femininity here is disarming. It is disarming in the way that harks to our most basic instincts and images—an almost prenatal craving for amoebic environments and inter-sexuality.

Provactive Feelings and Sculptures, and many of the new works shown at his recent open studio on Crosby Street in Soho seem to be about love in one way or another. It’s not cupiditas, an insecurity of losing the object of desire, or a passion that excludes reason. Nor is it solely a caritas or deus caritas est; love of God, or a general sense of charity, but instead something in between, or something that expands out in many directions. It is a love that is based on differences, requires training and organization and evokes multiplicities. It is closer in meaning to Agape, the Greek word for love, which is vocational and thoughtful and passionate. This kind of love, as described by Michael Hardt, co-author of The Empire Trilogy in Hardt and Negri’s third book in the series The Commonwealth, is integral to his concept of the common.  The book addresses the “political project of instituting the common, which cuts diagonally across false alternatives—neither private nor public, neither capitalist nor socialist—and opens a new space for politics.” There is a caveat proposed in their idea of the common: not all forms of wealth [love] offer liberation. Hardt and Negri see today’s practices of commonwealth as created by neoliberalism and existing only as corrupted forms, such as the nation state, the corporation and the family.  It is with this last form that both SBL and Hardt see a possibility, or an opening for collective self-transformation, that starts with thinking of love as a political concept. 

Hardt argues that love is destroyed by having boundaries that enclose it only within the family, or that limit it to the idea of unity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), or national or ethnic identity. And furthermore, he contends, the idea that one loves least those furthest (emotionally, geographically) away from the family causes the destruction of difference and is the kind of love (corrupted love, or evil) that spawns racism and willful negligence to global and national issues that don’t directly effect us. What Strauss’s work does most is to use abstract forms, materials from the everyday, symbols and icons, to map out the beginnings of a cultural language that is connected to the past (the way that queerness creates inter-generational families), but is not routed in identity politics. His work guides by example; creating yet another form of new abstraction, one that is neither purely academic or sublime. He shows us how life is dancing, and that our movement through space, all of our decisions, have intention that relates to our person, to the political space we inhabit, that they should not be thoughtless or shameful.  So when Strauss cuts two perfect ovals in a sheet of sunshine-colored vinyl and calls it Glory, we know that no glory hole has ever been so optimistic, but perhaps he’s suggesting it should be.

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Glory, 2012.

Freud tells us that “[in] mourning [we mourn] not only the death of a loved person, but also the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as fatherland, liberty, an ideal…” and to this Douglas Crimp, in his essay "Mourning and Militancy," asks: “Can we be allowed to include in this ‘civilized’ list, the ideal of perverse sexual pleasure itself rather then one stemming from sublimation?” There is a generation, for whom, the death toll of AIDS, and the lost culture of sexual possibility, have created an inherited guilt and mourning, but for something still veiled in false histories, a regressive backlash against polyamory—in favor of gay marriage instead, and a perceived safety and distance from direct harm. 

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All Ways Us Living in Love, 2012.

Through SBL’s dark thought process, his various appropriations, and the care he takes with their placement (i.e. isolated objects and forms; two heads detached from their bodies form the eyes of a nose-less face with lipstick for a mouth, or in Think/Like/A/Man—a bent black tower held to the wall by a framed photo of a dancer in an open-legged kneel, with matte board forming three windows—again evoking a ghost face—the borders of which block most of the dancer’s torso and his face, a husband-and-wife-united sculpture mocked by ghost-face graffiti) it becomes evident that phrases like All Ways Us Living Love, Are You In, and No One/No Thing to Party for/ About are characteristic sentiments of a still-ostracized, facet of the common for whom generally accepted definitions of love and family are ill-suited at best. Some works satirize the existence of that family unit and its trappings, others seem to mourn their own exclusion from it, while a third expansive variety offer these new, albeit abstract, solutions and definitions to problems with romance, and modernism. 

Crimp reminds us that the role of an emblem within a movement is mainly graphic, though the phrase or sign must rely on real information pertinent to the cause, i.e. [silence=death]= [talk about sex]. While Strauss isn’t specifically looking back to that generation and reexamining the usefulness of its rhetoric, there is something he has grasped—entirely—about the importance of design and love (as an open social concept) to a movement. 

 

Strauss Bourque-LaFrance's solo exhibition "In The The Spring" opens tonight at KANSAS gallery in New York. More information about the show is available here

 

 

Em Rooney is an artist based in New York. An extended version of this essay first appeared in The St. Claire.  

Images courtesy of KANSAS.                                            

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December 20th, 2012

Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art

Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art

Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art examines the practices of performance in the work of three generations of black artists. Traditionally, black performance has been largely understood through the lenses of popular culture and the dramatic arts. However, black visual artists have long utilized performance as a stand-alone practice to address such themes as the fluidity of identity, the limitations of the body, and the interaction between viewer and performer.  This exhibition approaches the material from the perspective of the visual arts, beginning with the “happenings” of the early 1960s and into the contemporary practices of a new generation of artists.  

Given the nature of performance as an experiential medium, this exhibition features a variety of performance documentation in the form of photography and video.  In other instances, artists have performed directly for the camera, and thus the records of these events are both art and document.  The exhibition also includes objects used in performance or performance relics, installations and constructions that serve as the remains of these performances. In addition to the works on view here, live performances are scheduled throughout the duration of the exhibition.

—Valerie Cassel Oliver, Senior Curator, Museum of Contemporary Arts, Houston, and curator of Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art.

 

Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art is on view until February 15, 2013.

Photos:
Installation views, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. Photos by Jerry Jones.

Performance views:
Terry Adkins (and musicians) performing The Last Trumpet (1995) at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, November 16, 2012. Photo by Max Fields.

Jamal Cyrus performing Texas Fried Tenor from the series Learning to Work the Saxophone (2012) at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, November 29, 2012. Photo by Max Fields.

Theaster Gates performing See, Sit, Sup, Sing: Holding Court (2012) at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, December 1, 2012. Photo by Max Fields.

Maren Hassinger (and members of the Houston community) performing Women’s Work (2009) at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, November 17, 2012. Photo by Max Fields.

Shaun El C. Leonardo (and wrestler) performing The Arena (2012) at Progressive Amateur Boxing Association, Houston, December 8, 2012. Courtesy Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Photo by Max Fields.

Maren Hassinger performing Senga Nengudi’s RSVP (1975-77) at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, November 17, 2012. Photo by Max Fields.

Tameka Norris performing Untitled (2012) at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, November 17, 2012. Photo by Max Fields.

Performance of Pope.L’s Costume Made of Nothing (2012) at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, November 16, 2012. Photo by Max Fields.

 

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December 20th, 2012 · Grant Johnson

"They need time": The Marina Abramovic interview

Interview by Grant Johnson

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Photo of Marina Abramović, 2012.*

 

Last spring, artist Marina Abramović unveiled plans for The Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art, in Hudson, New York. In the following interview, Abramović details the subtleties of her institutional vision.

 

Grant Johnson: The Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art promises to provide a fixed, material location for relatively immaterial forms. What is at stake in this dynamic? What is gained or what is lost through the ‘institutionalization’ of performance?

Marina Abramović: You know, we, as human beings, are very nostalgic in a way in general, and we always think that things are better when they have already happened. We are nostalgic about past times and somehow think that it is not good if we change something because it was better how it was before. I really think that nostalgia is kind of overrated, and I think that we have to think about presence, and what we can do now and how we can use that strategy to do something better.

Performance was first, definitely, an alternative art form. It happened in different spaces, mostly in private—you know, different garages and alternative spaces and streets, and so on and so on—but these times are over. I think that performance has come into a new light and become very much an accepted form of art in the last few years. So I think that accepted form of art needs some kind of institute that can be seen as the platform where this can develop.

I am making something that is very private in many ways, because I think that in my experience—40 years performing—I understood that a long-duration form of performance art is the most rewarding, most changing, more than any other experience of art, both for the public looking at it, but also for the performer doing it. This is why I am making the Institute. It is very specific. It is not an Institute for any other performance art but long-durational art. So this is why it is so different, that is why I cannot really categorize if it is good for performance art generally or not. It is only for long-durational dance, theater, music, video, film, performance— and I am also including new forms of long-durational art that have not even been made yet.

So my limit, the starting point of the Institute, is the idea of six hours, that you have to spend six hours and you have to write a contract with me that you will give me your time. Otherwise, if you don’t give me your time, you cannot have the experience. So, it’s a very particular viewing of performance in this context.

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Do you see the Institute responding to a particular need? Why start a new institution and not adapt, or work within existing institutions?

I think that existing institutions don’t actually accommodate this kind of attitude. They’re really just old and not adaptable. I really think that after my performance in MoMA ["The Artist is Present," 2010], which literally was so simple, close to nothing, attracted a record number of visitors, I understood the enormous need of the public to experience something on a one-to-one basis. Other institutions don’t have this kind of ability. So I think creating my own, and focusing on that need, that the public needs some kind of experience of getting to their own center and changing consciousness, for all that, they need time.

So if I provide them with an institution that will accommodate that kind of desire; that is really what I am trying to do. Which, in other institutions, absolutely, I don’t see any of that in similar institutions. Because, basically, when you come to my Institute, you’ll leave all this—iPods and cameras and watches and telephones—in a locker, and you can drop it off. And then you go to the chambers, which are, you know, a ritualization of daily life, like a slow motion movement chamber, a levitation chamber, a crystal chamber. You actually can begin to tune yourself so you can begin to see something that is long-durational. I don’t see any kind of institution that has this kind of structure.

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Could you articulate any other ways the Institute will distinguish itself from other arts organizations—the various museums, galleries, foundations or theaters we are familiar with?

What is the difference? Again, this is a completely different program. First of all, if you have an audience which you have to keep for six hours or more in the space, you also have to provide the a lot in the program. That means that I have to commission, to request different artists to actually create long-durational works, even if they may have never created long-durational works in their lives before. The thing is, for certain artists, it could be very beneficial to make long-durational works. I would like to commission pieces that could be shown as a premiere, but also to have very young artists creating long-durational work. So that could be something very different, that you would come to see premieres of something that you couldn’t see anywhere else. I can imagine a concert of music that is longer than six hours long.

There is a lot of history of long-durational work. There is a kind of search. You have John Cage, there is a concert that takes 639 years, an Indian dance that takes 173 hours to complete, the original Einstein on the Beach is eight hours. There are so many long-durational works of the past that you can actually do quite a lot beyond six hours. So, there’s actually a lot of history of the long-durational, but it’s all kind of in tatters, you know, here, there. I want actually to reflect on the history, and have people see the documents, but then also to create a new history of long-durational work and to continue with it.

May I ask, how is fundraising going? Amid a season of intense political campaigning, why support the Institute?

Fundraising: I’m actually doing lots of thinking and searching, because I would like to fundraise in different ways than fundraising is normally done. I am kind of sick and tired of thinking about sponsors and the big corporations and the people who have the money. I can’t really tell you my plan, because it’s a secret, but I’m really looking for the new ways of fundraising that have never been done before. That’s what I can say now. We will start with the fundraising in February, but not before then. I am just making my plan how we are going to do that, attacking from many fronts.

I really want to do something different, because this Institute is unique and nothing similar has ever existed anywhere else in the world. I want to offer fundraising in this same way. I really believe that right now we have a necessity for something, for a change, for something different. And we need enormous necessity to back this necessity and really regain our time. I’m giving you time, basically, which has never been done. And in that way I also want to find a way that businesses create a need for people that will be met, in order to get something so special. So, I want the ones who really believe in this concept to act as sponsors and not just the ones who want something tax-deductible, because that’s not interesting to me.

My final question is simply, why Hudson?

You see, my first choice before Hudson was Bushwick. I found a very big factory in Bushwick, which was an eight-year deal. And then when I started to research the pollution of the factory, there was so much pollution because there was no regulation of the oil in the '30s, '40s and '50s. And then the woman asked this enormous amount of money from me, almost the same as the building cost, to actually clean up the area, which I could not reconstruct. I found this extremely disturbing. And then I was thinking, OK, but if I am exhibiting work that is such a rush, I have to really figure out what I can do so that even people who have a decent feeling of time arrive at a place that is more peaceful.

I first got my house in Chatham, which is 35 minutes from Hudson, and was looking for a space mostly for my storage and I found this space, and I said, Oh my God, this is not for storage, this is going to be my foundation. I found Hudson really wonderful, because it is surrounded by the countryside and at the same time, it is a really beautiful community. But now I am interested in influencing some other friends of mine to invest in Hudson because we need hotels and we need infrastructure in a more concentrated way. 

I think in the last two to three years, there has been a most enormous development. There are over 60 design shops for furniture. We have Basilica. There are already two people who are now building hotels, there are restaurants opening. And there are lots of expectations also connected to my building, because, you know, the master plan was made by Rem Koolhaas and OMA foundation, and this will definitively bring lots of interest. Because if you remember when Frank Gehry made the Guggenheim in Bilbao, just the building without even the concept, it already attracted so many people to come see. So that is why many people have become interested, and the city mayor has supported whatever I am going to undertake to make this possible.

Now we have to start a donation [fund], which I am thinking we can start in the next year, and not complete, but at least make possible, functional, by the end of 2014, so we can begin to be working with different concepts. And as the situation is going on, we can still be active, because 30 million dollars is a lot of money that I have to raise in such a very short time. But I am incredibly convinced that I can do that, because right now I have been doing some mega lectures in Europe and I have between two-and-a-half and three thousand people in the audience, and I haven’t even started the benefit.

There are lots of young people especially that want this Institute to open, and that is my main support. The young generation is very important to me because they see that this can be a very interesting future, and I they have more of a sense of time than my generation. So that’s why, and that’s why Hudson. And plus, another very important reason is that actually, right now, [getting to] Hudson on Amtrak is about a two-hour ride along the river [from New York], but right now they are planning, I don’t know when it's going to come, in the near future the train will only take one hour from New York, which is super-short. This will change everything. This will make it all the more accessible.

And a part of this, what I want to tell you, is what I am planning now—I just took up the grant the Jean Tinguely grant, and you know this is 500,000 euro, and now I am building with the Luminato Festival in Toronto—which is adding some more money—we are building a moveable Institute. It’s only going to be eight rooms, and it’s going to be a montage so that you can be transported wherever you want. This Institute’s contract will be two hours of time. So I can move this Institute around wherever in Europe and I already have a long list of museums that want to have it. So there will be like a graduation from this Institute—you go two hours and then you have to go to the big mother Institute for six hours in Hudson. We’re going to start with the moveable Institute in June, first in Toronto, and then in Basel, and then after this we’re going to have it in different places in Europe; in 2014 it’s going to the Serpentine gallery, and so on.

Because I realize I have already done one project in Milan, which actually I adapted the Institute for an already existing museum and created that which led to an exhibition which actually interacted with the public. But I realized that by the time you are working with an existing institution, you have to always adapt it to the space of the institution, but not only to the space but also to the history and infrastructure of the institution—which is not necessarily a history you like or you want. But if you have your montage institute you can always put it in the park next to the museum, use the facilities of the museum, but still be the tenant. So that is what I am doing now. For the next year, while I am raising the money, I will have this montage Institute traveling around everywhere and then that Institute will be an introduction to the main one.

This interview has been edited for clarity. 

 

Grant Johnson is a Performa Magazine writer in residence. 

 

Photo of Marina Abramović, 2012
©ORE Cultura S.r.l. and  ©Laura Ferrari 
Photography by Laura Ferrari
Courtesy Marina Abramović Archives

All other photos: Marina Abramović, Seven Easy Pieces, 2005. Performance view. Photos by Kathryn Carr © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York. Presented by The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum for Performa 05, 2005.

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December 18th, 2012 · Valeria Missalina Bembry

Adalet Garmiany: Past and Present

By Valeria Missalina Bembry

The life and work of Kurdish-Iraqi artist Adalet R. Garmiany is a study in contrasts. From sorrow to success, tragedy to triumph, he is a storyteller whose performance practice is a narrative of a life and a people as resilient as the mountains of his homeland, Iraqi Kurdistan.

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Placeless, 2009. Performance view, Reel Iraq Festival, Edinburgh.

Born in Kirkuk, Iraq, in 1973, Adalet Raza Garmiany is a performance artist, musician and cultural producer. He is also the founder-director of ArtRole, a cultural NGO that works to establish artistic exchanges between Iraq, the Kurdish region of Iraq and international creative communities. Communication is a prominent theme in the former guerilla fighter's practice, as his heritage and ancestral homeland is little known outside the region, yet plays a pivotal role in the history and future of the Middle East. 

The Kurdish people are an indigenous ethnic minority with ancient roots in western Asia, currently inhabiting areas that include present-day Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, with a significant diaspora throughout Europe and the United States. Numbering approximately 30 million, Kurds are the largest ethnic group without an independent state, at the heart of decades of bloody conflict between national governments and Kurdish nationalists. NATO-enforced no-fly zones protected Iraqi Kurds, who suffered through a brutal genocide campaign known as al-Anfal. The name comes from sura al-Anfal in the Qu’ran, which refers to the “spoils of war” and was the code name for the series of systematic attacks on the Kurdish population in northern Iraq in the 1980s, culminating in a chemical attack on the town of Halabja in 1988.  In the years that followed, the population gained considerable autonomy and tumultuously evolved into the self-governing federal region of Iraqi Kurdistan. 

It was against this backdrop that Garmiany’s art education began. In 1986, he entered a secondary-school art course in Tuz Khormato, 34 miles south of his birthplace. In 1989, he enrolled at the Institute of Art in Mosul, but, sadly, his studies were cut short after only one year, as the town where his family still lived became a battlefield. Garmiany recalls, “I was about 15 or 16 years old; I remember the fights with tanks and helicopters.” Losing his family; having his home occupied, looted, then destroyed by the Iraqi army, Adalet joined the fighting. Eventually he and his family fled the town. They walked for three days, surviving on whatever vegetation they could find along the way. Like millions of others, they briefly sought refuge in Iran before returning to Iraq.

He resumed his studies at the Institute of Art in Sulaymaniyah in 1992. He described the following three years as a “surreal experience,” struggling to find the words to reconcile his pursuit of normality in his current educational experience against the state of hardship and recovery around him: The child who sketched the world around him grew into an adult who wished to learn about the world past borders and battles. In the absence of Saddam Hussein’s control in the northern provinces, the educational system allowed for an expansion of the arts curriculum, and Adalet was exposed to teachings in Western art history from the Classical period through the Renaissance to Modernism. He was also drawn to philosophy and world history. Studying by candlelight, with the Iraqi army a few miles outside the city, education was Adalet’s “safe zone.” Encouraged by his family—his mother especially—Adalet completed his studies in 1995 and moved to Erbil to work as a fine arts instructor.

One of 11 children, Garmiany came from a tight-knit family for which creativity and curiosity was as natural as the affection between them. “I have had influence on my family. I always encouraged them to read and find out about their skills, about the world…. I knew that the guns and violence are not always the solution and [the day will come] when we will need people with brains to make something good for this country.” Five of Adalet’s siblings followed creative paths. Ali is a painter and performance artist; filmmaker Sarbast is currently screening his latest film, Grill, at international film festivals; his sister Shwanm is a photographer involved in women’s issues; Chro is currently studying English literature at university while working on her first book and is an integral part of ArtRole; actress Hesho starred as the protagonist in Grill and is currently working on other film projects. Their maternal grandfather, Rafiq Sabr, was a well-known singer as was their uncle, Jabar Sabr (who was killed in the Anfal campaign).

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Spirit and Flesh, 2007.

Adalet’s cultural pedigree and Dervish heritage informed his work in experimental music and performance. He grew into his artistic persona and away from the conservative politically charged environment that was about to cleave itself in two, growing his hair long, wearing fetching jewelry, and no outfit was complete without a scarf; all the while perfecting his ancient chants and daf drumming skills and incorporating them into his contemporary art practice. He began working for a French NGO involved in youth development.

This would be his last job in Kurdistan for a very long time: Between 1994 and 1997, a civil war between the two major Kurdish political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), unfolded, shattering the region's fragile stability in the region that had emerged after the establishment of no-fly zones. Garmiany wanted no part in a political power struggle, but independence was not an option. One was to be either for one party or the other or condemned to constant scrutiny and suspicion. When he traveled to Sulaymaniyah he was accused of working for the KDP; when he was in Erbil he was accused of spying for the PUK. “There were articles [laws] by the Iraqi government,” he said as if it were a situation experienced by someone else, ”stating that any Iraqis working for Western organisations were considered spies and the punishment was the death penalty. My name was on the list.”

The internal conflict, also known as Birakujî or fratricide, not only pit Kurdish leaders against one another, tore families and communities apart along party lines, but allowed the re-entry of the mutual enemy: Saddam Hussein took advantage of the fissure and, at the invitation of one of the party leaders who wished to crush his adversary at any cost, invaded the capital. Deeply affected by the depravity of the situation, Adalet’s artwork began to take more of a critical approach. His work was still predominantly painting, sculpture and installation. He contributed artwork and designed posters for events commemorating the Halabja attack and festivals to remember the Anfal campaign. According to Garmiany, one of the first installation pieces created in Kurdistan was a stone sculpture created using rocks he collected from the mountains. The untitled work was produced in 1995 “in the name of Anfal.” The work was symbolic of the importance of the Kurds’ connection to the geography of the region, as the rocky landscapes of Kurdistan served as a sanctuary for several millennia. Kurd hich hawerrey neya taneya shax nabey is a popular Kurdish proverb that translates into "Kurds have no friends but the mountains."

Garmiany’s artistic output spoke out against Saddam’s brutal repression as well as his own society and government, whose infighting threatened to drag the budding political entity back down the bloody path of the previous decade. “I was always one of those crazy artists trying to do something new. This is the kind of challenge facing a society just beginning to start their journey in establishing a nation. So, trying to challenge that, the world has changed and we need to hurry up to find out how we are going to manage to at least be a part of the caravan. I was someone who believed in modernity. We need to change. We need to keep our identity, but we need to change.” Adalet earned the ire of the Kurdish and Iraqi authorities with his activism. His ability to remain in Kurdistan, yet out of prison, soon became untenable. 

“At the end of the day you stand up and say ‘what else can I do? There is no alternative, at any moment you can get killed. I simply did not want to follow any political party. So my only choice was to leave the country.” Paying smugglers to get him out of Kurdistan, it took Adalet four months to reach the United Kingdom. “I faced death many times, but this is life. You want to gain something, you have to be ready to pay something back. And I consider myself a tough guy, I had seen a lot already. This is the life; you have to fight until you die. This is the life for people like us…with our history and background.” 

He arrived in the UK on March 22nd, 2000. Among his possessions were documents attesting to his persecution and imprisonment and photographs of his installations, some drawings and other vestiges of his oeuvre that he was able to carry with him. With the support of new friends and refugee activists, Adalet secured a lawyer and applied for asylum. He also applied to art school, sensing an opportunity to expand his arts education. He was granted asylum and a place in the Fine Art program at Lincoln University on the same day.

He described his experience as a student in the UK as an “eye opener.” Even with little English, he found new ways to communicate and network with artistic peers. He also broke away from one practice to develop a new creative identity. Not content to continue with what he called the “usual form of making artworks,” Adalet immersed himself into his new life as an art student in the west, opening up to using different materials in new environments. He was astonished to learn that his Anfal rock sculpture and its process is actually identified with an artistic genre. “I never heard of 'installation art,' I just did it, without any [outside] information. It was an organic development to me, as I did not have any resources on contemporary art or internet. I think this kind of attitude, this kind of foundation inside me was already there so when I went to Europe I welcomed it.”

Memory Game, 2009. Performance view, ArtRole: Post War Festival.*

Adalet recounts the story of his evolution into performance: 

“I remember my first 4months [in the UK]. It was November, 2000; I went on a university camping trip. It was snowing and it was really cold. I did not understand English really well. The teacher asked the students to bring some materials so they can make artwork during the trip. I did not understand so I did not take anything. When I got there, they said I should make something. All I had was my bilûr (a flute-type instrument), a banana, some apples, and a few other items. I went with one of the students to the countryside and found a small creek. I decided I was going to do a performance there. I had just learned about performance. I took my clothes off, picked up some stones from the water, and put something together. I put my bilûr on top of the rocks with the banana and apples. I found a piece of wood and put my socks on both sides. 

My friend took photos. When we got back everyone was extremely surprised. Because they thought I came from this other background they wondered [if] I could immediately do something like that? It was extreme for them and it was extreme for me but also it was really great to break the barriers. There was nothing stopping me if I wanted to do something. That is how I became a kind of site-specific artist. I was into the area of freedoms the area of testing everything, taking from the whole space around you…for the simple materials for even the smell around you. And this is how my journey started with performance.”

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Top and bottom: Silence, 2006. Performance view.

Adalet stopped producing painting and sculpture in 2001 and devoted himself to performance and conceptual art. He co-founded the music group Yorkshire Kurd and founded the Kurdish dance troupe Hawtaw. During his studies he created a number of performances including Color Games (2002). Fascinated by the sea, something he had never seen before, Adalet devised a collaborative project with 20-25 people to celebrate the battle between the land and the sea. Participants painted themselves with color to emphasise the contrasts of nature. Terrorist (2003) was performed a few days before the start of the second Iraq war. Incorporating volunteers in balaclavas, sound, a darkened room, and audience participation, the performance challenges the definition of “terrorist”. Who is a terrorist? Is there one particular "face" to be identified with terrorism? These were a few of the questions the work sought to encourage audiences to ponder. Adalet and his colleagues occupied the basement, dressed in balaclavas and using their voices, sound equipment and props like wood and metal, which created an eerie scene that visitors were meant to navigate in the dark. They were asked to write their thoughts on terrorists/terrorism. The first Iraqi Kurd arrived in Hull in 1999 and as part of the UK’s policy of dispersing asylum seekers, more Kurds began to arrive in subsequent years. However, the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the 2003 war with Iraq threatened discord and distrust in the northern English town. The performance was designed to confront the issues of misperception and mistrust.

The majority of Garmiany’s work is drawn from his personal experiences or his background as a Sufi and Dervish. Garmiany says Silence (2006) was an “interpretation of spirituality.” Performed at Hull Art Lab, the performance involved turning the exhibition space into a desert using two to three tons of sand. Using candles, fabric, scent, and smoke, Garmiany created a temple complete with chants from a variety of religions, mixed his voice chanting in Kurdish. Beside the candles, the only other light was a bright spotlight. The rest of the space was dark and viewers had to navigate blindly until they found Adalet in the centre, under the spotlight in solitary meditation. This work was a commentary on the demands of society affecting one’s inner balance. 

“We live in a very crowded world and lots of things [are happening] around us, a very demanding society. Individuals sometimes get lost, you barely recognize yourself. So my point is whatever is happening around you, how much we can gain, we can achieve. But do not lose yourself.  [From] time to time you need to review yourself; you need to get back to yourself. Getting connected to the universe, you need to first communicate with yourself before you can communicate with the rest.“

Garmiany founded ArtRole in 2004 after graduation from university, in keeping with his desire to foster greater communication between diverse groups through artistic practice. He especially wanted to develop creative dialogues between the Middle East and the West. Since 2006, ArtRole has produced projects in the UK, USA and Iraqi Kurdistan, including the Post War Festival in Sulaymaniyah in 2009, where his largest collaborative performance to date, Memory Game (2009), was performed; and Contemporary Art Iraq in Manchester in 2010. It was in 2010 that Adalet felt it was time to return to Iraqi Kurdistan. “I just noticed that that whole world changed. Looking at Kurdistan Iraq, it is not the same [region] I left before. It is growing, wealthy, fresh and looking for the future. I saw myself as being part of the process helping Kurdistan, helping Iraq.” He also pointed to the economic crisis affecting the cultural sector in the UK. “I was not going to achieve any more in the UK what I have achieved in the past 10 years and I need to be here myself, connected to the ground in direct projects.”

It has been two years since Adalet R. Garmiany returned to Iraqi Kurdistan and opened the Erbil office of ArtRole. He still performs at events and festivals. However, more of his energies are directed towards running ArtRole’s programming, including curating exhibitions and conferences. Active in promoting women’s rights and gender equality for over a decade, ArtRole’s annual Women in Action Conference is an extension of Adalet’s goal of highlighting the position of women in Iraqi society. This was a fitting role for someone whose name means 'justice.' It is the first conference in Iraq to examine the issues around women’s rights through arts, culture and education. Now in its second edition the conference has brought together Iraqi and international female artists, activists and academics together to discuss how the arts can address the gender divide in the region. Participants have included the American playwright and performance artist Catharine Filloux and Kurdish playwright and theatre director Gaziza Omer. 

Although he has endured great loss and suffering, Adalet has always maintained a positive outlook and sought peace with the past and a desire to help rebuild a nation through artistic dialogue.

More information about ArtRole is available on their website.

Valeria Missalina Bembry is a writer living in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. At the time of writing, Iraq and the autonomous region of Kurdistan were embroiled in a tense standoff in disputed areas. Tensions led to a troop build-up after a clash between Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish security occurred in Tuz Khurmato, killing a civilian bystander.

 

Photos courtesy of Adalet R. Garmiany
 
 
Memory Game, 2009. Performance view, ArtRole: Post War Festival. Performers include Richard Wilson, Ann Bean, Miyaka Marita, Chris  Gladwin, Anna Bowman UK and Liaka Rafik (Adalet's mum) and about 50 Kurdish artists,  musicians, students, Saddam Hussian X-prisoners.

End of article

Tags: Category: Feature
December 12th, 2012

Tonight: The Languages of Dance / Performance: The Art of Notation

Tonight, Performa Founding Director and Curator RoseLee Goldberg is in conversation with Simon Dove about the languages of dance at the Jewish Museum in New York as part of their Dialogue and Discourse series. 

In preparation for tonight's discussion, we are sharing her seminal essay "Performance: The Art of Notation", first published in Studio International magazine, Issue 192, July/August 1976.

More information about the event is available here

 

Performance: The Art of Notation
RoseLee Goldberg

Reading about dance, writing on dance movements, is complex and contradictory. Through words or abstract printed signs, physical images must be constructed, layers of real space juxtaposed and time changes indicated. Preparing a performance presents similar problems for the artist.

Throughout the history of dance, choreographers and performers have made notes and diagrams during the formulation or after the execution of their work. This material has rarely been published or discussed in relation to the performances. Only recently have several dancers put together in book form the residual material of the ephemeral events—notes, sketches and photographs. [1] Yet the distance between the printed material and the experience of the performance remained. If we look closely at the ‘live’ work, we recognise certain movement phrases which accumulate to form a specific ‘body language’ with its own signs and connotations. This body language can be ‘read’ both in real space and, through, diagrams, on paper. It can be understood as part of a contemporary dance theory which has refuted the narrative, stylised movement and atmospheric environments of earlier dance. This theory provides a key to experiencing the live performance. It reveals the working method of many dancers who make little distinction between the notes and diagrams, research and rehearsal, and the public performance.

The following text looks at notation as a method of planning for the dancer and as a means of ‘reading’ dance for the reader. The selected examples describe both the work of dancers whose backgrounds may have been in classical dance but who work predominantly in an art-context, and the work of performer-artists who use a ‘performance space’ to execute their ideas. Despite their different attitudes, both use diagrams as a means of translating their three-dimensional work into a two-dimensional format.

A Purely Functional Art
From late 19th-century Romanticism to Modernism, from Minimalism to Conceptual art, modern art theory has been marked by two poles both characterised by a certain moral conviction: functionalism and non-functionalism. Although the terms have been variously defined, gratuitous pursuits and utilitarian ones have opposed each other in the history of modern arts, whether ‘Surrealism versus Purism’ or ‘Bauhaus Craft Workshop versus Bauhaus Theatre’. 

In Conceptual art, this distinction has been blurred by questioning the role of art objects as contributions to the art market. If the function of the art object was to be an economic one, then the ‘conceptual’ work (initially designed to oppose that market) could have no such use. In these terms, performance has been considered an extension of the non-utilitarian ethic: on the one hand, it is intangible and leaves no traces to be consumed by commercialism; on the other, it reduces the alienation between producer and consumer since both audience and performer experience the piece simultaneously. From Happenings to the Grand Union [2] the spontaneous elements that were often used defied commercialisation, unlike ‘conceptual art instructions’ and their potential saleability.

Yet the evolution of performances, their increased sophistication, required analytical methods of preparation which would allow for quite different manners and structures. Notation is one such method. It is essentially a ‘thinking tool’ for the performer, a means to generate and express abstract ideas, a set of instructions, and a language for discussing those ideas with others. Far from being a saleable commodity that could become art by the mere fact of being exhibited in a gallery context, notation serves the performers only. It is a means to an end and nothing else.

Procedures
A conceptual tool, notation reflects the changes in performance over the past two decades. From its early beginnings with John Cage to the transitional works in the mid-sixties of dancers like Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton and Lucinda Childs, performance moved away from expressionistic and technical-virtuoso concerns to preoccupations with ‘duration’, ‘space’, and ‘the body as a functional mechanism’. Movement evolved from kinaesthetic research rather than from attempts at ‘visual composition’, ‘plot’, or ‘character portrayal’. Moreover, movement was no longer tied to musical phrasing. Along with costume and narrative gesture, music was considered a distraction from the ‘essence’ of movement. Rather, the body itself determined the nature of the work and the time taken to move that ‘mechanism’ became the underlying pulse of the work.

In order to break away from conventional dance, performers experimented with numerous procedures. In 1951, Merce Cunningham created 16 Dances by chance, tossing coins to determine the sequence of movements. Yvonne Rainer wrote of her work in 1965 that she felt it was ‘necessary to find a different way to move’. She wished to arrive at ‘undynamic movement’, she explained, ‘no rhythm, no emphasis, no tension, no relaxation’. During the same period, Robert Dunn’s composition classes at the Cunningham studios concentrated on chance scores of John Cage, as well as the structures of Satie’s work. Separating ‘composition’ from choreography or technique, he encouraged the dancers to arrange the material through chance procedures. Lucinda Childs took chance one step further: in Street Dance of 1964 she instructed the audience in a loft to watch the street below where she and another dancer performed a dance ‘based entirely on its found surroundings’.

Anne Halprin, equally influential on dancers who began working in the late fifties, used improvisation ‘to find out what our bodies could do, not learning somebody else’s pattern or technique’. She invented new movement possibilities by ‘putting everything on charts, where every possible anatomical combination of movement was put to paper and given numbers’. Written texts, like the improvised piece Simone Forti presented at a Dunn class (where she ‘brought a dance which was a poem about an onion’), ‘instructions’ (to draw a line, which lasted a whole evening), diagrams, mathematical calculations, number theories, cubes, triangles, rectangles, all became part of the exploratory process.

Notation
Such interest in ‘written dance’ was not entirely new. Indeed, considering that notation is an essential complement to dance theory and practice, it is even more surprising that no comprehensive history of its development exists. Reconstructing that history, we see that notation reflects the various changes in sensibility and attitudes of dance forms. We find the ancient beginnings of movement notation in Egyptian hieroglyphs depicting processions and ritual dance; in Roman documents on the variations of salutatory gestures; in the 5th century bas-reliefs of central Indian temples from which the classical dance practised today has been reconstructed. We find the origins of Western dance notation in manuscripts prepared in Spain in the 15th century, followed by texts composed by French Ballet masters based on the existing music scores. But music scores were insufficient to indicate movement patterns, the various body ‘compartments’ or the delineation of the space covered by the movement. French 19th-century scores were accompanied by studies on gesture and explanations of their symbolic meaning, but it was not until the 1920s that a complex key was drawn up intended for all movement analysis.

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Labanotation
This key was formulated by Rudolph Laban, a choreographer and theorist who worked closely with European dance, music and art personalities of the time, like Mary Wigman and Sophie Teuber. Beginning with the premise that ‘dance can be best explained by dancing’ Laban proposed to ‘treat dance as a science, at least as a discipline.’ Given that there ‘exists no generally accepted grammar of dance which could be the rational basis for the discussion of dance’ he analysed the body as an instrument, ‘nothing else than a complicated system of cranes and levers of various extensions’ [3].

Verbal explanation and study of the source and purpose of a movement might, he added, be considered as a way of perfecting the conception and the meaning of it. It would become possible to understand different movement combinations ‘if these were recorded in an appropriate notation’. Laban insisted that dance movements could be recognised as ‘entities of their own’ and in this way his work provides an important tool for understanding similar preoccupations in contemporary dance.

Laban’s theories were reflected in the work of his contemporaries, particularly that of Oskar Schlemmer, working as a painter and director of the Bauhaus Theatre in Weimar.

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Laban wrote that no name existed for the ‘tracks written in the air by the dance movement’, but Oskar Schlemmer soon provided both a name and a theory: the sterometry of space. Schlemmer explained that ‘if one were to imagine space filled with a soft, pliable substance in which the figures of the sequence of the dancer’s movement were to harden as a negative form, this would demonstrate the relationship of the geometry to the plane to the stereometry of the space’. Schlemmer was preoccupied with the different manifestations of space: its two dimensional rendering as illustrated in his painting, and the three dimensional alterations which occurred as the body moved through space: painting and the ‘graphic representation of the dancers’ paths’ were for him the theory of space, while performance in real space provided the ‘practice’ to that theory.

The Triadic Ballet first performed in 1923 was considered by Schlemmer to be the merging of these opposites since in that work ‘the plane geometry of the dance surface and the solid geometry of the moving bodies, produce a sense of spatial dimension which necessarily results from tracing such basic forms as the straight line, the diagonal, the circle, the ellipse and their combinations. Thus the dance, which is Dionysian and wholly emotional in origin, becomes strict and Apollonian in its final form, a symbol of the balancing of opposites’. [4]

Personal Notation Systems
But the opposition of visual plane and spatial depth remained a complex problem if a truly accurate notation system was to be used. Such opposing elements were only partly solved by Labanotation and the later Benesh notation. [5] Both systems resembled what in music is called ‘tablature’—that is they indicated where to place limbs (in music, as in ‘teach yourself’ books, where to place fingers on a particular instrument), rather than quality of movement (or quality of sound, in music). In addition, Labanotation tied dance phrasing to musical counts, making it obsolete for much recent work which often takes place independently of musical accompaniment, or without it. For instance, in many of Cunningham’s works the dance phrases are quite separate from the accompanying John Cage music score. Or another example, Trisha Brown’s Planes performed in 1968, was backed by a ‘duet for a vacuum cleaner and voice’, also scored separately from the dance. Above all, the scores were cumbersome and complicated for a dancer to follow while moving in space. So the extensive notation archives in London and New York are used mostly by notation experts and translated verbally for performers, rather than by the dancers themselves.

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Contemporary performers find these systems outdated and inadequate for expressing current preoccupations. Rather each dancer, performer and choreographer has developed a private notation method. Merce Cunningham has recalled many earlier pieces in verbal transcripts, using stick-figures where necessary. Since the easy accessibility of video however, he has recorded more recent work on tape, taken from two angles, frontal and from the side, with a back view reflected in a mirror. New members of the company learn dances through a mixture of video, notes and his own demonstration. Cunningham predicts that a more complete system will one day be developed, incorporating video and screen diagrams which will provide a more accurate description of the choreography-in-the-round, and which will be large enough (using video screen projections) for the dancer to work from directly.

Trisha Brown rarely used notation or diagrams for her earlier ‘equipment dances’ such as Walking down the side of a building (1969) or Walking on the wall (1971).  But Locus, first performed in 1975, she committed entirely to a drawing and worked simultaneously with three methods of notation. Firstly, she drew a cube, numbered it and made a sequence of numbers based on biographical information. She studied the numbers, then matched them with the drawing, then returned to the number score and back to the drawing. ‘I went through the score four times making different sequences each time—by then I was quite literal’, she explained. Following this procedure she invented movements which would allow her to move from one number to the next. ‘It was like working out an extremely difficult puzzle. It was gruelling finding something satisfying for dance because after all the score doesn’t make beautiful dance at all—it is just a score’.

Part two was for the four dancers involved. She expanded the initial drawing with explanatory notes. Sometimes she added stick figures, ‘but the drawings were always a reminder for the work, they were not a representation’, Brown said. Pursuing the idea of notation she developed part three of her system. Taking a section of the original dance, she wrote it out, gave the written text to a dancer who was not familiar with that piece, but who had a general idea of the style of her work. In this way, she wished to arrive at ‘natural variations—the erosion of the piece, something that impinges on the original and causes it to change’. Titled Rinses—‘like when you dye something, each time you wash it, it gets lighter’ this third adaptation of notation altered each time it was ‘rinsed’.

The first rinse showed the difficulty in conveying nuances of movement through the words and the insufficiency of diagrams alone to indicate movement. However, from the first score to the series of rinses, the dance evolved entirely from the cube and the notation was followed exactly. The scores only indicate potential movement, ‘they tell nothing about the flesh of the piece’.

Lucinda Childs began using scores in 1973 after many attempts to record performances on video tape. She had not found it necessary to write down her earlier pieces, which were mostly solos. It was only when she began choreographing group pieces with their complex patterns for several performers, that a recording and teaching device became essential. The scores were a time-saver for new dancers learning the work. “Like a musical score’, she explained, ‘they eliminated the cumbersome trial and error which was always part of choreographing new pieces’. Admittedly the dancers find it impossible to work directly from the scores. Rather the scores are read to the dancers and directions given by an outsider. However, notation as a way of thinking out a piece and of presenting those abstract ideas to other performers, has now become indispensible to her working method.

The first piece notated, Calico Mingling (1973), was scored after the work was performed. Subsequent pieces have been devised directly in score form. Her scores are ‘diagramatic studies of movements in space and time’, and numbers, arcs, mathematically worked out diagrams, are for her the most precise means to measure time and space. Particularly they allow her to direct the movements of several dancers simultaneously, in intricately woven patterns. ‘In this way the actual pieces work out more precisely, dancers are less likely to bump into each other or break the overall design.’

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In Congeries on Edges for 20 Obliques (1975) five dancers travel on sets of diagonals crossing the space. Throughout the dance various combinations of grouping are explored. ‘Thus by adhering to a system which can be applied and re-applied to repetitions of the same sets of movement sequences, the material is continually removed from its original mode of presentation. These dances exist in the time it takes to exhaust the given variables that can be used, without forcing the material outside of its inherent structure in time and space’.

Viewing the live performances one begins to recognise the accumulation of movement phrases. They form visual layers in space as the piece unfolds. Accumulation, also an aspect of Brown’s work, is central to many of Child’s performances. The notion of accumulation could be illustrated by the rhyme, ‘The House that Jack Built’: each verse begins with the house, and no matter how many are added, we always return to the first, second, third verses, and so on. So with the movement phrases.

Accumulation takes another form in the work of Laura Dean. Having collaborated for several years with musician/composer Steve Reich, she indirectly absorbed the ‘phasing’ patterns so particular to his work. But she disregards the notions of accumulation or phrasing, explaining that the work is rather based on ‘mathematical cycles’, a system in which the stamp or step remains the same, but the structure changes. The cycles of movement increase in intensity (when voices are added to the movements, for instance), decrease and increase again. All the work is calculated in score form: ‘everything is worked out beforehand’, she explained, ‘and there is no improvisation. The only ‘improvised’ qualities come from the personalities of the dancers themselves, but in fact they follow the scores exactly’.

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Nice Style, The World’s First Pose Band, whose work during the early seventies provided a funny and elaborate theory on pose, only recently revealed the drawings and notation which were the scores for the live performances. Unknown to their audience, each movement was noted and followed according to plan. They arrived at their notation system after intensive research into the various notation forms, particularly Labanotation. Although these models proved to be too rigid for their purposes, the notation they use is similarly detailed.

The group has now disbanded but two founding members, Paul Richards and Bruce McLean, continue to work independently along similar lines. Over the past year Richards/McLean have collaborated on a new work, so far only in score form. The diagrams function on three levels, approximately equivalent to ‘head’, ‘upper torso’, and ‘lower torso/legs’. The charts are coloured according to the three layers and drawn on to a plan of the proposed ‘performance space’. The space and body parts are carefully aligned so that the shape of the room interacts with the style of each pose as well as the movement from one pose to the next. The chart ‘key’ explains the various types of passages through the space that the performer takes, the timing and the accompanying music.

The need for notation
The work described above is only a small sample of some of the contemporary notation forms used. Although most performers working in the early sixties had not at that time devised their own scores, many turned later to some form of notation as part of their working method. The diagrams are as varied as the performers and the performances themselves. In no way do the drawings pretend to any aesthetic qualification nor are they considered as art objects. This may explain why they get so little exposure (compared with drawings of artists such as Vito Acconci, Bob Morris, Dan Graham, Dennis Oppenheim and Bruce Nauman for example, who all use some form of working plan to script their movements in space). In each instance, notation is a system for planning as well as recording pieces for others to perform. Notation also provides a method for documenting movements in space.

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However, one particular characteristic distinguishes notation from conceptual art instructions, which rely on general conventions for the representation of ideas. Notation as yet has no general system to express contemporary attitudes. Rather it is made up of a series of personal systems, which limits their readability to the performers themselves. Many performers feel that the development of a general system is essential. Without such a ‘thinking tool’, a ‘descriptive tool’ and even a ‘conversational tool’ the difficulty in using words to describe music, dance and live performance remains.

 

Yvonne Rainer Work 1961–1973. The Press of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax. 1974. Ed. Kasper Koenig. Simone Forti. Handbook in Motion. The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax. 1974 Ed. Kasper Koenig.

The Grand Union was formed in the fall of 1970. Founding members of this ‘anarchic democratic theatre collective’ were Becky Arnold, Trisha Brown, Dong, Douglas Dunn, David Gordon, Nancy Green, Barbara Lloyd, Steve Paxton and Yvonne Rainer.

‘Dance as Discipline’ published in Rudolph Laban Speaks about Movement and Dance. Laban Art of Movement Centre, Ed. Lisa Ulmann, page 22.

The Letters and Diaries of Oskar Schlemmer page 127. Wesleyan University Press. 1972. Ed. Tut Schlemmer.

‘Choreology’, a stick-figure based notation system, published in 1956 by Joan and Rudolph Benesh.

 

End of article

Tags: Category:
December 11th, 2012 · Esther Belvis Pons

Low Pieces but elevated emotions

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Xavier Le Roy is a French choreographer and dancer who experiments with the constraints of the body the context and the image in his compositions. In one of his latest works, Low Pieces, he transfers some of these constraints to the audience, disrupting perception of the performers’ bodies by creating landscapes that emerge through interaction and nakedness. 

At the beginning of the performance, Le Roy sits at the front of the stage, facing the audience while he explains that the performers would like to start the piece with an informal chat. There is no topic, there is no order, there is no premise: anyone can start the show. The lights are on and a feeling of expectancy and restlessness populates the space. There is no escape or protection. There is no hideout or excuse. We are the audience, and today we have been asked to take responsibility; a small one intensified by the openness of Le Roy’s proposal. The audience becomes aware of the other individuals sitting in the stalls. They take the time to look at each other, examining the characteristics of the community they form. They are not sitting looking at a piece but performing it themselves. After a few moments of tension, someone in the audience breaks the silence with a question and the dialogue begins. Low Pieces starts with a simple and improvised dialogue that ends with a sudden blackout. Silence again. 

From that moment onward, the stage is inhabited by naked bodies performing a hypnotic range of movements. You see the flesh, but the more you get into the piece, the more you see the naked bodies becoming new corpuses. These corpuses are created through beautiful, minimal, repetitive, even architectural movements. The group of bodies becomes just one, bringing scenes that connect us to nature. I saw a group of felines and seaweeds. I heard screeching and shrieks. This is my version of a performance that triggered a contradictory sensation of strangeness and familiarity at the same time. In this regard, one of the most interesting aspects of the show is its narrative. All occurs within experiential bodily frames that produce these specific evocative images. All of the landscapes are self-contained; they don’t intend to concatenate actions which lead to a traditional narrative structure. On the contrary, these landscapes are just as formless as they are created to be sensed. ‘The notion of the formless can be traced back to Kant, Lyotard, Bataille and Baudrillard. Kant argued that we cannot know the formless because it exceeds our cognition and capacity for reason. What we can do, however, is feel it. The formless is a destabilizing force; it unsettles organization and totality" . Le Roy’s work has the capacity to captivate the audience by creating contemplative episodes that transform our perception of the naked body.

The work is about what our bodies can possibly be, about the multiple identities that flesh can have. The atmosphere has a powerful calmness that drags you into each of the scenes. While being positioned in front of these performative bodies, I ask myself questions about the relationship between the audience and the performers. First we talked with them, now we see them naked, but in these emerging bodily landscapes we see something else. As questions flow in my mind, I enjoy seeing these bodies offering us intense sensations as well as an experience of ambiguity. Once again we are immersed in the darkness. Xavier Le Roy proposes a continuation of the conversation. Now we don’t see each others’ bodies. We can only hear our voices. In the intimacy that darkness offers, more provocative and engaged questions emerge. The audience addresses questions about the nudity, about the skin, about beauty, about seeing and being seen, about shame but also about our role in there. At some point lights turn on. The performance is over. 

The piece still interrogates after leaving the theatre. The performers have exposed themselves in front of us. They have exposed their bodies. They have given us the chance to talk and react to their exposure. Power is played throughout the piece. Low Pieces has been constructed to plunge us into a dialogue that adopts different forms and conditions: voice and silence, light and darkness, strangeness and familiarity, power and vulnerability, and all the nuances in-between.  All the rules were clearly announced at the beginning of each section.  Decisions were also in our hands; we did talk and we did look, but most of all we did transform our beliefs about the sceneries that the body can perform.

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Esther Belvis Pons is a researcher-artist and writer based in London and Barcelona. She recently received her PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom. 

 
All photos © Xavier Le Roy, 2012 © Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona. Photography: Albert Ibanyez, 2012. 
 
 
 
i. Gritzner, Karoline. “Form and Formless Participation at the Limit.” Performance Research 16.4 (2011): 109-116. Print. p.112

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December 5th, 2012 · Jennifer Piejko

Relâche!

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Photos by Paula Court. 

Relâche: The theater may have gone dark, but the lights flashed on again on November 29th, as Performa held its Surrealist fantasy of a fundraising gala, Relâche—The Party. Relâche is the most successful Performa fundraiser to date, and we are truly grateful for everyone's generosity and support. 

To date, Relâche has been covered extensively in ArtforumArt in America, Artinfo, ArtObserved, Black Tie Magazine, GothamerThe New York Times, Paper, W magazineThe Wall Street Journal, Whitewall, and, last but not least, this editor's own review in V MAGAZINE

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Photo by Jonathan Hokklo.

We will be sharing more behind-the-scenes coverage from this unforgettable event in the coming weeks. Photos from our archive photographer, Paula Court, are already available to view here, and our Relâche Photo Booth album by Jonathan Hokklo can be seen here

Our heartfelt thanks to everyone for making the evening an extraordinary kickoff to Performa 13, taking New York by storm next November. Surrealism will serve as a historical point of reference, and Relâche—The Party supports Performa Commissions and the biennial. We can't wait to share it with you. 

Jennifer Piejko is the editor of Performa Magazine. 

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November 20th, 2012 · Joshua Lubin-Levy

"Some sweet day" at MoMA

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Performance of Dean Moss’s Voluntaries (2012) at The Museum of Modern Art, October 2012. Part of "Some sweet day" (October 15 to November 04, 2012). © 2012 Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

On November 4th, 2012, Sarah Michelson’s Devotion #3 brought a close to “Some sweet day”, an exhibition of dance at the Museum of Modern Art curated by choreographer Ralph Lemon.  It is fitting that Michelson’s choreography, which is so precise in the way it both controls and illuminates the spaces it inhabits, would round out this nearly three-week engagement of dance in the museum.  The exhibition took place in MoMA’s first floor atrium, a large and almost overwhelmingly white space.  As the primary passageway for visitors, the atrium is in many ways the museum’s heart, extending nearly the entire height of the building, traversed above by walkways that connect the various galleries, and filled with the day-to-day noise of the museum itself.

For Devotion #3, Michelson turned the atrium inside out.  Through the formal presence and performance of a group of security guards, Michelson cleared this once-public space, imposing a certain frame around it that also transformed the atrium into a private dance floor — one on which a single female dancer performed a series of repeated movements (mirrored by a male dancer who traveled throughout the MoMA’s galleries).  Dressed in Converse sneakers, a blue polo shirt and pigtails, and performing choreography that, characteristic of Michelson, moved from expressive to formalist in its use of repetition, Devotion #3 simultaneously built up and then broke down the illusion of a teenager dancing alone to music in the privacy of her room.  So much could be said of the performances that allowed this private revelry—from the protection of the guards to Michelson herself, who was DJing the event from a table in the audience—but what stands out most is a striking moment in which Michelson’s dancer (Nicole Mannarino) would seemingly attempt to break out of her carefully constructed container. Running to a point where the atrium’s wall met the watchful eye of the guards, Mannarino paused on this charged threshold between inside and outside, public and private, even visibility and invisibility.  Hesitant about breaking out, Michelson’s male dancer would suddenly break in to the atrium (even if only briefly), the first and only time the piece revealed that it was more than merely that which was directly in front of the audience.  Indeed, as Mannarino continued to hesitate at this border, and only enter or leave accompanied by the guards, it was clear that Michelson’s choreography had already passed beyond these vast white walls. All at once Devotion #3 seemed to not merely frame the MoMA atrium, but to overflow it. 

What seems so fitting about Devotion #3 as the summation of “Some sweet day”—which also featured works by Steve Paxton, Jérôme Bel, Faustin Linyekula, Dean Moss and Deborah Hay—is the way it highlights the question of how dance might inhabit the museum.  Indeed, all the choreographers, in their own ways, ask us to consider what it means to dance in the museum, or what dance might have to offer the art world in general.  Museums often work with fixed objects, whereas dance is a time-based and immaterial practice.  There are notable exceptions to this division, of course, but it’s useful in thinking about how dance might be disruptive to the museum’s traditional function.   Taking MoMA as our example, we can see that the museum produces an experience and a knowledge of art by arranging art objects.  Designed to move us, room by room, through various stages of art history, or into curated exhibition spaces centered in a particular theme or ideology, MoMA relies on its objects to perform as instructed, to stay put with the histories in which they are inscribed. In other words, if fixing, framing and capturing seems to be precisely the logic of the museum, then dancing is exactly what we are not supposed to be doing at MoMA.  We are supposed to contain ourselves, to look-but-not-touch in quiet contemplation.  If you dance in the museum you might break something.  You might also confuse the naturalized movement of the public through this familiar space.  And you might trouble the correlation between art and its material manifestation.  

That said, dance in the museum is not exactly a radical proposition.  Dance has always been part of the modern museum.  In MoMA’s collections we find dancing in such paintings as Dancing (I) by Henri Matisse (ca. 1909); in Barbara Morgan’s photographs of Martha Graham (ca. 1935); and in the film of Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A (1978).  Dancers appear in a number of works by Andy Warhol, and the dancer Fanny Cerrito was the inspiration for Joseph Cornell’s 1945 exhibition “Portrait of Ondine.” Dancers were instrumental in re-performing a number of works in Marina Abramovic’s 2010 retrospective “The Artist Is Present.”  And from 1940 to 1949, MoMA even housed its own Dance Archive, which facilitated a number of exhibitions, including one titled “Isadora Duncan, Drawings, Photographs, Memorabilia.” But dance in this sense appears in the museum’s archive much like “Isadora Duncan,” arguably one of the founders of modern dance, appears in the title for her exhibition - separated from the representations of her work by a comma, one art object among many that could be placed on display at the museum.  In a sense, the Museum’s collection is full of attempts to capture dance, to contain it alongside more material arts.

But if dancers and dancing are the foundation and content of so much of the museum’s archive, dance as its own practice seems to be precisely what eludes these material works of art. In terms of dance photography, critic Edwin Denby once wrote that there was a distinction between a photograph that merely “represents a dancer” and ones in which the dancer looks “as if his body remembered the whole dance, all the phases of it, as he holds the one pose in the picture; he seems to be thinking, I’ve just done that, and then I do that, and then comes that .  Like Denby, I am curious about the kind of pose that radiates so strongly it might give a sense of moving past the picture’s edge.  And like Denby, I’m particularly curious about the way dance’s capacity to exceed the still image inheres within a negotiation between dance and the material document itself. Simply put, dance as a way of engaging with and considering the museum might offer us something images and histories don’t.  How, for instance, might dance allow us to see the act of descent behind Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, or where the "action" is in Pollock’s “action” paintings?  As the radical act that both produces and eludes the material work of art, dance in the museum seems to call on institutions like MoMA to reconsider the way it use materials to write history, to guide its visitors and to define art works themselves. 

I get the sense of such a radical work in watching Voluntaries, a thirty-minute excerpt of a larger work-in-progress called johnbrown, conceived and constructed by choreographer Dean Moss and painter Laylah Ali, and performed as part of “Some sweet day.”  Moss and Ali make brilliant use of a white stage constructed in the center of the atrium.  Standing on one of the walkways high overhead and looking down, their work almost resembles an abstract painting.  The stages looks like a large canvas, covered in red dots (partially inflated red rubber balls) and black or mirrored squares (double-sided boards familiar to several of Moss’s previous works). Amidst this setting, a collection of dancers move about, performing certain interactions that seem to have their own logic. Indeed, Moss is particularly keen at staging these interactions as relations that narrowly move between narrative and abstraction, troubling any sense of a natural or given interpretation. For instance, in one moment the dancers collect the black/mirrored boards in order to smack each other down to the ground with them, but the sequence happens so fluidly that the smacking itself moves in and out of violence, in an out of intimacy.  It’s not the movement, however, that makes Voluntaries so compelling, but the way this movement frames and unfolds moments of stillness, in which these interactions themselves are arrested.  Whether it is watching as dancer Asher Woodworth hangs on top of Moss himself in a tangle of limbs, or as Kacie Chang and Cassie Mey push against one another to find a balance between them, or watching from above as Sari Nordman is lifted high in the air, almost reaching out to the audience above—one has the sense that stillness no longer means repose, it means a precious and precarious balance between dynamics that are always circling underneath, always threatening to topple these singular moments.  If Moss and Ali are asking anything through the choreography and the content of the piece (which is infused with the radical spirits of John Brown[ii] and Harold G. Moss[iii]), it is, How do we collect these radical moments of stillness, these interruptions to violence and intimacy, to the movement of the dance itself?  I am calling these moments radical because they do not easily choose sides between one and the other, but are already on the outside, like the pose that is in the photograph and yet somehow thinking beyond it.  Moss does what he does best in Voluntaries by creating a dance that eludes its best-laid plans, that always interrupts itself, shaking the very foundation it takes place on.  And it seems particularly prescient that this canvas just so happens to be on the floor, at the center, of the Museum of Modern Art. 

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Top and bottom: Performance of Dean Moss’s Voluntaries (2012) at The Museum of Modern Art, October 2012. Part of "Some sweet day" (October 15 to November 04, 2012). © 2012 Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Edwin Denby, Looking At The Dance (New York: New York, Horizon Press, 1968), 290–291.

[ii] John Brown is a white abolitionist widely cited as a major catalyst for the Civil War.  The charge he led on Harper’s Ferry in 1859, designed to collect weapons to arm the enslaved, infamously failed, and Brown’s subsequent trial and execution catapulted him into the status of martyrdom for the abolitionist cause.

[iii] Harold G. Moss is a civil rights organizer and politician from Tacoma, Washington.  He established the first Urban League there, and served as the first black member of the city council as well as the city’s first black mayor. He is also Dean Moss’ father. 

 

All images courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art.

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November 19th, 2012 · Roselee Goldberg

The performance era is now

By RoseLee Goldberg

 

Historical perspectives, the changing role of museums and a performance biennial have propelled the form to centre stage [[MORE]]

Following the opening of the Tate Tanks, for film and performance, in London in July and a seminar on dance in museums in New York in September, the director and curator of New York’s Performa biennial considers an art practice that has come of age

 

Now that major museums around the world are discovering performance art, the registrars and curators who oversee their collections are learning that they have been harbouring substantial holdings of performance material all along—only by another name. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Whitney in New York, Tate Modern in London, Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Mori in Tokyo, to name a few, each have extensive collections of material produced for or during performances including Dada and Futurist drawings, Russian Constructivist stage sets, Gutai wall hangings and all kinds of instructions, scripts and documents scattered among their various departments as “drawing”, “photography”, “video”, “painting” or “sculpture”. Yves Klein’s anthropométries, Robert Rauschenberg’s combines, Cindy Sherman’s untitled portraits, Rirkrit Tiravanija’s left-over plates, stools and fold-up tables and an extensive assortment of recent work referred to as relational aesthetics, were all performances first and foremost. Only now are they are being recognised for what they are.

Overnight it would seem, several key museums have established performance art departments, appointed curators, built dedicated spaces for performance and now are raising questions about how such work might be collected and preserved. The Tate Tanks just completed its inaugural season, the Whitney’s recent biennial devoted an entire floor of their building to performance, MoMA’s performance art department is in full swing this autumn and the Metropolitan Museum of Art has just announced a year long series of events organised by Paul Miller, AKA DJ Spooky. There is also talk that the British Museum might use its historic Reading Room as an occasional performance venue (The Art Newspaper, September, p18).

So what took so long? When I wrote my book on the history of performance art [Performance Art: from Futurism to the Present] in 1979, I mapped out a history of artists’ performance, or live art (which was the subtitle of the original edition), pointing out that museums, art historians and critics had been seriously remiss in overlooking the significance of this material to the development of 20th-century art. One of the main reasons for this omission was the fact that long entrenched boundaries between departments were difficult to cross, and doing so meant having a grasp of several histories at once—theatre, dance, film, poetry, architecture and music—which few art historians had and few institutions were equipped to do. Another reason was the fact that the work was ephemeral and impossible to “museumify”, which was exactly the point of the artists who made the work in the first place; to engage the public directly with live actions and to counter the safety of conservation, the “museum as cemetery”—as the Italian Futurists notoriously quipped—for storing work of long gone artists.

The record performance-heavy biennials, exhibitions and art fairs of the past five or six years—the Yokohama Triennial of 2011, Art Basel’s Art Parcours or this year’s Documenta—make it clear as we move into the second decade of the 21st century that performance is indeed the art form of our times. Not surprisingly, it is turned to by emerging artists whose background and training is as interdisciplinary as the visual and aural worlds within which we exist daily, on our iPads, computers and smart phones. For these artists performance is a layered container for new content and formal devices of all sorts.

Performance has also found a home in the modern museum because museums themselves have changed radically, from places of contemplative study to cultural pleasure-palaces of engagement, with spaces especially designed for the congregation of large numbers of people to interact with art and artists. The once formal flow of art historical story-telling through quiet halls of display was, around the turn of the new century, disrupted with arrangements that cross-referenced time zones and media, as did the Tate Modern’s hanging of its collection when it opened in 2000, and by event-driven installations that involved viewer participation, such as Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project, 2003, which encouraged viewers to lie splayed out on the floor in the Turbine Hall. Such actions made the process for absorbing the ideas of art as entertaining as the intended perceptual effects.

Another explanation for the museums’ recent embrace of performance art is the fact that the 1970s is now history. Since decades tend to be re-examined after a thirty or forty year gap, the 1970s as a field of study has become important to our understanding of the chronology of the recent past. To curators responsible for this period it was evident that much of the conceptual art to be included in these galleries was actually performance art, and that the curator’s job was finding ways to display and elucidate the material of a generation of highly articulate and influential artists that took place live and existed only as documents or video. Performances by Joan Jonas or Vito Acconci, Ana Mendieta or Stuart Brisley, have since been reconstructed or in some cases re-imagined for museum display.

Last but not least, the impact of the Performa biennials since 2005, and the interdisciplinary organisation Performa, which I established with the intention of making the history of performance art widely known, has acted as a catalyst for a new appreciation and celebration of the medium. Performa has changed opinions about performance art, showing its exciting new aesthetic dimensions, while at the same time, proving that it can have broad public appeal.

Performance is being recognised not only for its ability to attract crowds to museums, especially a younger generation, but also for the fact that it encourages those gathered together to voice their opinions about the art they are viewing. Without hesitation, audiences experiencing Marina Abramovic’s "The Artist Is Present" at MoMA in 2010, or Tino Sehgal’s These Associations, just ended in the Turbine Hall, have plenty to say; they have no trouble at all commenting on events in which they have participated, unlike the hesitation they might feel to speak up on viewing an exhibition of paintings by Cy Twombly or Mark Rothko, given the extensive background knowledge implied by these classic examples of the modernist canon. Followers of Spartacus Chetwynd or Carsten Höller, Abramovic or Sehgal, form a new kind of museum network, building an unusually collaborative and involved version of art and culture, between people and the institutions that house them.

Performance also provides a unique window onto the global culture that is now the expected scope of the contemporary art historian, curator, or collector, for it is through performance that artists from India, China, South Africa, or Brazil, have been able to penetrate the higher echelons of the biennial circuit, art institutions and even the market place, that would be almost impossible through traditional means of painting or sculpture. Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, Chinese artist Zhang Huan, Mexican artist Santiago Sierra or Indian artist Nikhil Chopra, each became known internationally through early performances, although all now work across disciplines, while the Guatemalan artist, Regina José Galindo, the Mexican artist, Teresa Margolles, the South African artists Tracey Rose, Steven Cohen or Athi-Patra Ruga, provide a bird’s eye view of the densely variegated social and anthropological landscapes from whence they come, holding their own no matter the setting where the work might be shown, in Venice, Istanbul or São Paolo. Since the experience of watching a performance is predominantly a visual one, and since the language is a universal one of gestures and movement, fluid border crossing between cultures is possible.

Today’s contemporary art museum has taken on the role of directly activating the creative community, entirely different from 20 or 30 years ago. Curators commission new projects, provide context and public conversation, and spend studio-time with artists, teasing out new work and providing feedback, criticism and expertise. With performance art also under their purview, tech facilities and support staff, rehearsal space and even a green room, must now be added to the checklist for museums of the future. Given the newness of the field, with few curators yet trained to run performance art departments, it will take some time before museums each have performance art departments of their own as a matter of course. In the meantime, they will find ways to make space for the waves of new work that will be coming their way, for they will not be able to ignore this major strand of contemporary art and the many visitors that performance will bring into their museums.

 

 

RoseLee Goldberg is the Founding Director and Curator of Performa.

This article first appeared in The Art Newspaper, Number 240, November 2012. It can be viewed online here.

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November 16th, 2012 · Liz Park

Worth More than One Million Dollars

 

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Photo © Brad Isaacs.*

 

On November 17, 2011, Occupy Wall Street’s National Day of Action saw thousands of people turn out at a number of events planned throughout Manhattan and beyond. I too intended to join the Arts and Labor Group’s Occupy Lunch on the Highline—an event that sought to address the working conditions of the 99% in the arts: overqualified gallery assistants who do not have a proper lunch break; unpaid interns racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student debt; art handlers who are often artists juggling multiple part time jobs with no security. But before joining in on the protest, I attended the conference “A Symposium of Curatorial Interventions” at NYU because I took particular interest in seeing the keynote lecture performance by then-Vancouver-based artist Rebecca Belmore. One of the most renowned performance artists in Canada, and the first aboriginal woman to represent the country at the Venice Biennale in 2005, Belmore’s practice has consistently dealt with marginal histories and contemporary politics through poetic references and evocative actions. Needless to say, OWS stole away most of the conference audience. Among those gathered, including the organizer Lissette Olivares and the speakers (the Yes Men among them), OWS was the coda to which they constantly returned.

It was in this context that Belmore began her keynote. She gave an overview of her practice and showed documentations from previous works, including Wild. For this 2001 performance at the Grange House, a nineteenth-century manor and a national historic site in Toronto, Belmore refitted the beddings in the master bedroom with a deep red cover decorated with beaver pelts and tassels of long black hair. Lying in bed as visitors came through, the artist’s physical presence evoked the invisible histories of aboriginal people in this site of colonial settlement where an aboriginal woman would certainly have been unbidden. Topless and comfortably snuggled under the cover, Belmore also pointed to the repressed interracial relations that have always marked the history of contact. After brief descriptions of a number of works, she began to show images of the Vancouver Art Gallery, a civic art museum currently housed in an historic provincial court house. Her photographs of the museum showed clusters of tents and camping gear set up in the front lawn by Occupy Vancouver. The most prominent public square in the city, the site of the museum often serves as a meeting point for political and cultural congregations. Drawing on the political potency of the site as well as the building’s history as the seat of judgement, Belmore so aptly presented Worth (—Statement of Defence) in front of the museum.

On Sept 11, 2010, Belmore staged this previously unplanned performance in front of the main entrance of the Vancouver Art Gallery. That morning, she called Daina Augaitis, Chief Curator and Associate Director of the museum and a number of friends to come and witness. By 3pm they saw Belmore sitting down on the pavement with a hand-painted sign that read “I am worth more than 1 million dollars to my people.” After scrubbing down the sidewalk, she carefully laid out the cover from Wild, taking time to brush the tassels of hair to one side. When the cover was finally arranged the way she wanted, she wiped her feet and lay down, arms outstretched as though she was getting crucified. After a number of deep breaths, she got up, folded up the cover, and called upon Augaitis to receive the bundle. As she walked away after the performance, she yelled, “I quit!”

Video courtesy of Harold Coego.

 

As people speculated on the meaning of those two words, the details of why Belmore would even consider quitting emerged. This performance launched into public view the ongoing legal battle between Belmore and her former gallerist Pari Nadimi. Sued for upwards of a million dollars for alleged wrongful termination, Belmore has been struggling to keep her autonomy as an artist, as well as control over the way her work is presented and circulated. In giving Wild directly to the museum, she was not only bypassing the dealer but putting herself in the position of the donor. Designating how and to whom she will give, she was able to reverse the power relations momentarily. I say momentarily, because in the end, the museum received the work for free, and the artist remains monetarily unrewarded. This is not to suggest that this gift-giving is meaningless; however; it continues to raise important questions of monetary compensation and value as it is related to Belmore’s case specifically and to the larger issues around performance art and other practices that remain difficult to commodify.

Central to Belmore’s performance is the question of worth. Closely related to the term “value,” “worth,” as it is used in the title and the hand-painted sign, implies an importance beyond the dollar amount that has been affixed to her work. To what exactly is this exchange value of one million dollars assigned to when it comes to suing a performance artist? How is the immaterial creation and artistic labour measured? It seems egregiously arbitrary for the gallerist to slap on this price, especially considering that Nadimi had previously raised the damages sought from $250,000 to $750,000. The public proclamation of Belmore’s self-worth—more than whatever dollar amount her former gallerist determines she is worth—can be understood as a refutation of the capitalist art market where the market value is as much determined by pure speculation as by supply and demand. Simply put, the work begs the question of how art is valued. Belmore’s performance is a refusal to let Nadimi—and by extension, Sotheby’s auction houses, Chelsea galleries, and the larger mechanisms of the art market—determine the value of art at the cost of the livelihood of artists.

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Top: Worth (Statement of Defence), 2010. Performance view, the Vancouver Art Gallery. Photo: Emilio Rojas.
Bottom: Wild, 2001. Performance view, Grange House. 

 

In the context of the understandably trying and paralyzing legal battle, this performance and the “I quit” statement may appear at first glance to be a complete repudiation of the art world. Perhaps it was at the moment of the performance, the peak of her frustration. However, as she continued to discuss her work, I began to think otherwise. Looking at the sign, I questioned to whom Belmore was referring when she wrote “my people.” Did she mean the Anishinaabe people from her home in what is now called Ontario, or perhaps all indigenous people? By using the singular possessive “my,” she is referring to a community of which she is a part. Given that the witnesses to her performance are her friends—fellow artists, writers, and curators—I am convinced that “her people” is the larger art community that she feels invested in being a part and nurturing. It is also this community of artists, art administrators, curators, and writers who rallied together after this performance to get the media to cover this story and raise money for her legal defense fund by holding an art auction.  

Those who were called to witness played an important role in the performance. Among the Pacific Northwest Coast indigenous nations, the tradition of potlatch, a ceremony during which gifts would be distributed to the guests who are called to witness an important public event, has held an important role in marking significant moments in the community such as birth, marriage, and death. I see Belmore’s gifting operating in a similar way, where her people, including the chief curator of the largest art institution in the city, were called upon to acknowledge the declaration of her worth as an artist and as a person. The witnesses also served another function. Having seen Belmore’s performance, the audience gathered there can then give testimony elsewhere, telling and re-telling her story as proof of her worth and artistic autonomy.

After Belmore talked about this piece and her continuing legal troubles during the lecture performance, she showed a newspaper clipping about an imprisoned man ordered by a judge to create art. It was an absurd story, but one that struck a chord with her. She wondered out loud whether she would be forced to make work for her ex-gallerist if she loses the case—churning out one work after another as though she is sentenced to hard labor. She also wondered what it means for artists to quit. What if all artists stopped making work? I thought about Occupy Lunch and the working conditions of my peers as she searchingly asked this question. Put differently, to what distressing condition must artists be driven before they give up making art altogether? As though in response, the last few slides of her presentation showed images of Ai Weiwei, the famous dissident Chinese artist who was detained without charge for three months and fined for 2.4 million USD for tax evasion by the Chinese government, all for speaking out against government policies through his art practice. As Belmore showed a picture of paper money folded into airplanes that were thrown over the fence of Ai’s residence by his supporters, she brought out a stack of Cuban notes. She explained that her husband, Cuban artist Osvaldo Yero, was recently in his home country and brought back some money. After crumpling the bills up into little balls with the help of an audience member, she ended the lecture by throwing the clumps of notes to member of the audience, who would eventually realize the money is fake.

This gesture at one level speaks to Ai’s practice and his design firm Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., where the idea of creating something fake questions the authority of what is accepted as real. In the lecture-performance, Belmore drew clear parallels between herself and Ai; both artists in situations where their artistic autonomy and livelihood are threatened by the forces of the art market and the state in the worst possible scenarios. On another level, given the history of political tension between Cuba and the U.S., the act of distributing fake Cuban notes puts Belmore in the position of a smuggler of the counterfeit. In light of the discussion of her performance Worth, Belmore, as a counterfeiter and money launderer, seems to return to the question of value and the role of the artist in the art market. Distributing fake notes of the enemy state, Belmore is not outright rejecting her participation in the art market with its attendant problems; rather, she is putting forth subversion as a tactic. In the same way Ai is using the concept of “fake,” Belmore is responding to her quandary by creating fake money, thereby questioning the supposed real value of Belmore’s creation as determined by her ex-gallerist. Quitting may have crossed Belmore’s mind as an attractive option. But in continuing to make work that directly problematizes this ongoing legal conflict, she is determining the value of her own artistic labour and output.

With scrunched up color-photocopied Cuban notes in hand, I left the conference to join friends and allies at Occupy Lunch where they were handing out sandwiches and sharing too-familiar stories of their struggles in the art world. Later, we headed over to Union Square to join the larger congregation of people with all sorts of political messages from educational reform to union politics. On that day of action, among the overworked and underpaid, I continued to think about Belmore’s performance. I returned again to the question of “my people” and for whom she makes art. (And now I ask for whom do I write?) Looking out onto the mass of individuals with whom I stood in solidarity, I speculated that Belmore makes art for her people, in the most fluid, inclusive, and expandable way one can understand that phrase. 

 

Liz Park is a Performa Magazine writer in residence.
This essay is published on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of Rebecca Belmore's performance and Occupy Wall Street's National Day of Action. 

 

* Photograph (c) Brad Issacs. Location: London, Ontario, Canada. Billboard project organized by Jamelie Hassan and Ron Benner, supported by London Ontario Live Arts Festival. Unveiled Dec 8, 2011.

 

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November 9th, 2012 · Kelsey Halliday Johnson

Joy in People (Watching)

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Valerie's Snack Bar, 2009. Installation view.

 

"Goth@ica.upenn.edu." I remember having had to do a double take, but I read the contents of my e-mail correctly: “Please contact us at goth@ica.upenn.edu.” The Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia posted an opportunity in August: “Volunteers needed to relax on a couch. Read, study, lounge, doze… Dark attire appreciated.” 

Two months later, I found myself walking around the exterior of Valerie’s Snack Bar (2009), a life-size recreation of a Bury Market café in Lancashire, England, by British artist Jeremy Deller. This piece was part of the mid-career retrospective exhibition at the ICA (the artist’s first in the States) looking back at the Turner Prize-winning artist’s socially engaged and unexpected career. While one would ordinarily approach the mundane typology of the ICA's architecture in a social and functional capacity, the building had been transformed into the realm of the sculptural as the installation sat awkwardly isolated in the expansive white space. 

A female voice from within Snack Bar asked if I would like some tea. The young woman behind the counter poured me a cup of hot water; the clink of the real metal spoon against the white teacup was satisfying and rich. This act was not merely a disposable simulacrum but a generous re-staging of an encounter within a place, complete with the right props. I sipped my tea and watched museum-goers wander in and out of the work on the first floor. Some of them watched me. I was, after all, sitting inside a work of art on display. It became increasingly clear to me that the primary medium of Deller’s artistic practice is, in fact, people-watching.

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Battle at Orgreave, 2001. Installation view.

Across the room, a “goth” was sleeping on a black leather couch next to her Spanish textbook and an unfinished knitting project. Above her, glossy black text on a massive, matte, black wall read the bumper sticker-esque slogan “I<3Melancholy.” She was a figurative subtext to a piece of text art, a demonstrative charade. At first, the bombastic black background seemed to be there to celebrate her indulgent slothfulness. However, her sleeping body mocked the grandiose melodrama of the wall, while the wall poked fun at the humbleness of her nap in return.

Jeremy Deller is not afraid to let art be uncomfortable and funny. 

The woman behind the counter within Valerie’s Snack Bar was a university student, and her work-study position at the ICA had turned into a weekend gig dawdling on her laptop and pouring tea at Valerie’s. “Some people don’t know that they can even sit down, so I offer it to them. Sometimes the DVD player brings them in,” she remarked. This act of invitation is crucial to all of Deller’s work in its latest translation of living within a formal institution. For this show, the roll of the museum guard has been entirely inverted throughout the ICA: they now tell art-goers how they should interact with the work instead of how far they should stay away. In the recreation of Deller’s first solo show "Open Bedroom" (1993/2012), an “open studio” originally staged within his own bedroom at his parents’ house, the museum guard came right up to us as we entered. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are welcome to go through all of the drawers and look through, the um…the, er…. Viewmasters over here,” she nervously announced (later confessing to us: “I almost couldn’t get it out”).

My roll as a museum-goer had also suddenly switched. Now I was a voyeuristic stranger, rooting through drawers in what could be a British teenager’s bedroom. Handmade posters and photographs papered the wall, centered around a large Union Jack adorned with sewn white letters that self-reflexively proclaimed “SUBURBIA”. A lone, angst-y t-shirt hanging within a dresser read: “They fuck you up / your mom and dad.” Further inspection of the drawers uncovered not clothes, but immensely personal fragments of gossip (Deller’s “Dead Sea Scrolls”), lenticular photographs, and private correspondence. One drawer stored formal invitations to various family homes, complete with addresses. Each cryptic card simply read, “At home any time.”

The small video screen on the counter in Valerie’s Snack Bar plays documentation of Procession (2009), Deller’s contribution to that year's Manchester International Festival. This large community-based performance took the form of a humorously curated parade. Procession involved people from all over the Manchester area uncovering alternative local histories and reinterpreting folk arts and traditions. It included formal community groups, but also those types of social activities that Deller describes as “lazily referred to as antisocial when in reality they are the exact opposite.” Even when people opt out of the mainstream, Deller celebrates and scrutinizes them for opting in to a different kind of establishment, culture, and social structure.  

In the video, a group of people saunter through the parade behind a beautiful handmade banner that reads “Unrepentant Smokers.” At the sight of this, someone next to me in Valerie’s laughed. The banner was designed in collaboration with artist and smoking enthusiast David Hockney, and fabricated by a traditional British banner maker (and longtime Deller collaborator) Ed Hall. A group of banners from Procession, including this one, regally hang from the ceiling of the ICA above Valerie’s. With the love and care of their presentation, one would expect the banners to be for the local Rotary Club, not a loose self-identified group of cigarette enthusiasts. Deller does not smoke, but is interested in the changing laws that crack down on public smoking, ironically making smoking more public than ever by sending smokers to the curb. I’m suddenly reminded of the small habits we all have that become ritualistic performances to onlookers: the theater of the everyday. Before I left my seat at Valerie’s, a small group of us had the uncanny experience of watching on the tiny monitor as the very snack bar in which we were seated rode down a Manchester street as a parade float. 

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Acid Brass, 2005. Installation view.

“That lady woke up,” someone observed. We looked across the room at I<3Melancholy. The girl was now quietly knitting, her feet curled underneath her body.  I had been busy admiring a small red and yellow banner that simply read “Carnival Queens.” Suddenly, a song by Devo started blasting from another corner of the room near a table covered with music zines.  I didn’t know where my attention should lie, which was both a weakness and strength of the exhibit. But between all of these disparate experiences, I encountered an art where the performative, relational, and participatory all collided. 

Jeremy Deller asks us to examine the inherent performance in all human behavior. In his most radical pieces, he magnifies how we can choose to perform on behalf of a social structure or political system. At their most intimidating, those structures enforce and uphold conformity. On the other hand, some people choose more independent behaviors: performing through dance, music, counterculture (emo, goth, punk), or protest. But even in a quest to be original, there is a propensity for forming likeminded groups. And each niche subculture carries its own inherited and shared behaviors, spectacles, and dramas. 

This phenomenon is made most evident in the contrasting behaviors presented in one of Deller’s most successful pieces, a video titled Jerusalem (1993). In it, ceremonies from the extreme poles of society are mashed together: a military display, a rave, a formal British parade (visibly segregated into different social/racial/gendered groups), Morris dancers at a county fair, and an environmental protest. From the synchronized feet of the parade march to the spastic gyrations of an intoxicated rave-goer, each movement has its own beautiful rhythm. But in their conglomeration, each action seems equally absurd, hyper-performative, and self-important. It is this tension—between Deller’s intimate celebration of each action and his critical distance in observing the strangeness of the larger cultural picture—that makes his work so compelling. The video eventually falls into chaos when the environmental protest is broken up by the police. The two extremes of behavior become radically and violently at odds with one another within the one scene, rupturing the neat taxonomy of the film.

Directly behind Jerusalem, a Deller-narrated slideshow, Beyond the White Walls, asks us to consider works that he deems “often performative, ephemeral, or very slight, and can’t be bound in the gallery.” Throughout other rooms, Deller’s work has been bound to objects, but the slideshow successfully recontextualizes his practice as interventions in the real world that are more open, spontaneous, and democratic. Many of these smaller works maintain an energetic and playful quality that some of the installed pieces lack in their institutional permanence. For example, Deller highlights a 2008 project called Risk Assessment, in which random members of a beach community were asked perform classic slapstick comedy routines (tripping in public, setting up a deck-chair on a windy day, etc.). 

Deller notes that the times and locations of these small-scale performances were spontaneous and unscheduled; he hoped that each intervention wasn’t “acknowledged as even being art art, it was just something that would happen to them.... and think it was something funny or memorable, or maybe not think of it at all.” Here we are allowed to step into the complicated the relationship between Deller (who originally studied art history) and the kinds of social art and entertainment that came before him. He concludes: “A lot of performance art looks like slapstick, probably, anyway. Especially from the seventies. These performance art photographs, they always struck me as being like stills from Buster Keaton or Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy films.” The iconic image of Marina Abramovic’s Rest with Ulay (1980) interrupts the slide presentation, made suddenly strange when presented next to a still of Chaplin. 

The exhibition resolves its diverse themes, methodologies, and genres with the installation of Deller’s most political piece, The Battle Of Orgreave (2001). A timeline wraps around a small room documenting the violently crushed 1984 National Union of Mineworkers’ strike in the UK. Deller has left visitors a small reference library in one corner, noting the books are “from varying political standpoints. Feel free to browse.” A small video screen loops footage of police officers in riot training opposite another looped recording of historical war re-enactors. All of this culminates in video documentation of Deller’s largest orchestrated performance—a re-enactment of the clash between police and strikers in “a battle that occurred within living memory, alongside veterans from the campaign.” For it, Deller utilized 800 professional re-enactors and 200 of the original miners. Yet the exhibit does not feel like a foreign history lesson; instead, our polarized Occupy-era climate activates the piece in a new way. The modern role of labor has been debated throughout the Presidential election, and repercussions are still being felt from Scott Walker’s union debacle in Wisconsin. Much like the post-Industrial Northern England that Deller grew up with, America is now coming to terms with similar economic and social shifts. It is timely and crucial that this piece is finally being exhibited in America, when the themes are so resonant and the inherent conflicts so close to home. In the end, the work does not didactically spell out how we should judge this history, but like the rest of the exhibit, cues us to observe, learn, and participate. 

Thinking back on "Joy in People," I am left with a quote Deller cites from Karl Marx: “History does nothing, it ‘possesses no immense wealth’, it ‘wages no battles’. It is man, real, living man who does all that, who possesses and fights; ‘history’ is not, as it were, a person apart, using man as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his aims.”

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Exhibition view. 

 

"Jeremy Deller: Joy in People" will be on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania through December 30. 

Kelsey Halliday Johnson is an artist and writer based in Philadelphia. She is the Performance Coordinator at Vox Populi gallery.

 

All photos courtesy of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia. Photos by Aaron Igler/Greenhouse Media.

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November 5th, 2012 · Marc Arthur

Relâche Postponed

 

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On the evening of November 27, 1924, a large audience, including many artists such as Marcel Duchamp, André Breton and Fernand Leger, arrived at the Théâtre des Champs Élysées in Paris for the opening of Francis Picabia and Erik Satie’s much anticipated Relâche. They were surprised to find the theater closed with a large sign bearing “Relâche” plastered across the door.  There was much confusion; “relâche” is a theater term used to describe a dark night, and audiences assumed the double entendre was another Dada prank.  No amount of banging on the doors got the theater to open; rather, the audience was informed that the first performance of Relâche was cancelled because the choreographer and lead dancer, Jean Börlin, was ill. 

It could not be more ironic that 88 years later Performa has been forced to postpone its own Relâche, due to the disastrous aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, as unstoppable surging waters hit New York a few days before the performance.  Relâche-La Boume was to be a vibrant, re-imagined reconstruction of that famous evening, which Fernand Léger described as “a lot of kicks in a lot of backsides whether hallowed or not!” in his rave review of the performance when it eventually ran a week later. He also pointed out that this provocative event “burst the watertight division between ballet and music hall. Actor, dancer, acrobat, screen, stage, all these different means for creating a spectacle came together and rearranged themselves,”  he wrote.  While our star performer Ryan McNamara is fortunately in good health, he was delayed in Los Angeles and was unable to return to New York until flights resumed and airports reopened. 

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As with Relâche in 1924, Performa has rescheduled its gala. It will take place on November 29th,  and it promises to be an extraordinary event with some new twists.  In Picabia’s words, the evening will offer "perpetual movement, life, the quest for happiness; it is light, riches, luxury, love, removed from prudy and convention; without a moral for the fools, without studied artistic effects for the snobs."

Considered one of the most radical and vanguard theatrical works of 1920s Paris, Relâche was a dazzling performance that was neither ballet, film nor theater.  As described by Picabia in a letter to Satie: “People will feel a sensation of newness of pleasure, the sensations of forgetting that one has to think and know in order to like something.”  Relâche also brought together some of the most intriguing and adventurous artists of its time.  Erik Satie composed his "furniture" music especially for the evening, Francis Picabia designed a set that featured a curtain of hundreds of bright lights that blinded the audience periodically throughout the performance, and it was choreographed and performed by Jean Börlin and the Ballets Suédois with cameo appearances by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp.  During a filmed intermission sequence by René Clair, discontinuous episodes and superimpositions portrayed Picabia hosing down Duchamp and Man Ray playing chess on top of a roof; a dancing ballerina filmed from underneath, only to be revealed as a bearded man; a huntsman shooting an ostrich egg, only to be shot himself; and a funeral hearse drawn by a camel. In a program note, Picabia correctly predicted that the film Entr'acte, which he commissioned Clair to make, would be a game-changer in the history of the twentieth century film when he said “the cinema is only now about to begin…”.   Historian Chris Townsand describes the notorious Entr'acte as the formative moment of modern cinema because it “emphasizes projection of light in abstracted patterns and rhythms to other forms of performance and communication.”

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Titling the piece Relâche emphasized a sense of irrationality that was core to the protagonists' Dada beliefs of rejecting reason and logic in favor of absurdity as a reaction to the devastation of WWI. Fellow Dada artist Tristan Tzara proclaimed as such in a song: “Dada, Dada, Dada, crying open the constricted pains, swallowing the contrasts and all the contradictions, the grotesqueries and the illogicalities of life.”  In a playful manner, Relâche criticized the dominant and "bourgeois" ballets and realistic theater of the time.  Nonsensical actions evolved throughout the night, including a fireman chain-smoking, a group of men in tuxedoes undressing to reveal polka dot leotards underneath, Man Ray pacing the stage taking measurements, gloomy dancers being carted around the stage in a wheelbarrow, and the creators of Relâche driving on stage in a mini Citroën car. 

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At the time of the performance, Francis Picabia was not speaking with poet and impresario André Breton because they were in conflict with some of the tenets of the Surrealist manifesto, published just one month before Relâche. Here is an excerpt from a 1923 poem that Picabia published in his 391 Journal:

“André Breton is insane, André Breton never said shit, André Breton lost his watch.”

Signs posted in the Théâtre des Champs Élysées read “If you’re not satisfied, go to hell!” and “Whistles are for sale at the door”, intended as criticism of Breton’s more erudite and highbrow intentions for Surrealism.  Many of the artists in Relâche later became involved with Surrealism, and Relâche is considered the beginning of Surrealist movement.

Committed to bringing the history of artists’ performance to life in vibrant ways, Performa's Relâche takes us into the mind and spirit of those earlier times with a decidedly New York twist.   

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Marc Arthur is a writer and artist based in New York.  He has worked at Performa since 2009, where he currently heads the Research and Archive Department.  

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October 23rd, 2012 · Natalie Musteata

Defying the Canon: Performing Histories (1)

 

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“History repeats itself,” or so goes the age-old adage—a lesson in the possibility of reasserting the past, albeit with a difference, in the present. In the last few decades, artists working primarily in media and performance have probed the idea of historical reconstitution. Restaging, rethinking, remaking. Through these actions they have subjected history to revision and renewed interpretation. The prevalence of this approach has been the focus of several exhibitions, including "A Little Bit of History Repeated" (Kunst-Werke, Berlin; 2001), "Life: Once More" (Witte de With, Rotterdam; 2005), "Again for Tomorrow" (Royal College of Art, London; 2006), "Ahistoric Occasion: Artists Making History" (Mass MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts; 2006), and "History Will Repeat Itself: Strategies of Re-enactment in Contemporary Art" (Kunst-Werke, Berlin; 2007).

"Performing Histories (1)", the first in a two-part exhibition of newly acquired media artworks at the Museum of Modern Art, is a compelling addendum to this string of exhibitions. Organized by Chief Curator of Media and Performance Art Sabine Breitweiser and Curatorial Assistant Martin Hartung, the show features seven cross-generational artists who have “deconstructed, reassembled, and re-performed history.” The title wall itself, which features “Performing” in capitalized bold white letters, and “Histories” as an irregular Tetris-like construction, announces history’s slippery course and its skewed perspectives—history is, after all, subject to constant renegotiation and rewriting; it is also not “one” but inherently multiple. Although the exact relationship between the works included may seem tenuous at first, on closer examination the exhibition’s thesis highlights the tenets of anti-canonical histories: feminism’s “personal is political” dictum, former Eastern Europe’s communist past, and colonialism’s racial politics.

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Sharon Hayes’s (b. 1970) conceptually provocative media installations (recently the subject of solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Reina Sofia in Madrid) position her as one of the leading voices in contemporary art. Here she is introduced with one of her earliest works, The Interpreter Project (2001), a four-channel video installation, which explores the construction of “feminized” historical narratives. Displayed on four back-to-back cubic monitors, each video shows an unedited head-on shot of Hayes. Sporting headphones, she repeats the words of tour guides of historic sites, such as the former houses of Clara Barton, Mary McLeod Bethune, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Maggie Walker—the only U.S. National Historic Sites consecrated to women. As Hayes stoically re-delivers the guides’ narratives, a projector, propped up on stacks of history books written about these women, displays a series of exterior shots of their homes. Several times removed, Hayes here acts as a “re-interpreter” of women’s histories, which she reveals to be mediated, incomplete, and subjectively assembled from books and anecdotic accounts.

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In She Sees in Herself a New Woman Every Day (1976), Martha Rosler (b. 1943), America’s preeminent political artist, reflects on gender identity by reexamining her own complex history as a young Jewish adolescent in relation to her mother. The photo-text installation includes twelve color pictures of her feet wearing different shoes arranged in a grid directly on the floor, and a 17-minute tape recording of Rosler engaged in an imaginary conversation with her mother around the theme of shoes. Although she begins by recounting her childhood admiration of her mother’s “wonderful shoes,” the one-sided conversation quickly turns to darker, uneasy memories of her mother dressing her in red rain boots several sizes too large, or getting hit over the head with a shoe by her mother for smoking a cigarette. The complex generational differences about how women ought to look, act and think is captured in the work’s narrative structure. Different histories of what it means to be female separate two generations of women of Jewish descent.

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Interest in the once-underground artists of the former Eastern European Bloc has grown exponentially in the last few years. One such example is the Romanian conceptual artist Ion Grigorescu (b. 1945), a subversive figure, who dismissed the socialist-realist state-sanctioned aesthetic, producing politically inflected performances and pioneering films instead. "Performing Histories (1)" presents two works by Grigorescu. Boxing (1977) is a double-exposure film in which the naked artist frantically spares with himself in his small unkempt apartment. Grigorescu notes that in this work “the image of one fighter progressively fades although he is the stronger one and will eventually win.” This doubling and splitting appears also in Dialogue With Ceausescu (1978), where Grigorescu plays again two opposing roles—one of himself, and another in which he wears a mask with the face of Nicolae Ceausescu. Like Rosler, Grigorescu carries on an imagined dialogue, an “impossible conversation,” in which he interviews the now defunct dictator about the economy, progress, and the revolution. In order to compensate for the lack of sound, Grigorescu superimposed the words of each speaker over their bodies, thus rendering them physically and psychologically imprisoned by their own words. Due to the strict ideological control in 1970s Romania, Grigorescu made most of his films in secrecy, alone in the confines of his tiny Bucharest flat.

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One of the foremost Lithuanian film and video artists, Deimantas Narkevicius (b. 1964) engages with historical material to probe the extent to which our understanding of the past is partial, constructed and mediated. In Once in the XX Century (2004) Narkevicius addresses his country’s collective amnesia by performing a simple gesture: reversing footage from the Lithuanian National television archive of the dismantling of a larger-than-life-size bronze statue of Lenin in Vilnius following the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Consequently, in less than eight minutes, we witness cheering crowds of flag-waving Lithuanians celebrating the arrival and erection of the founding father of the Soviet Union. Lenin’s customary salute—one arm outstretched to the people—is turned into a superman-like gesture as he soars heroically through the sky and back onto his pedestal, where the expectant gatherers awaiting his displacement are turned back into his silent compliant followers.

If Narkevicius’s video could be read as a cautionary tale on the cyclicality of history, Austrian artist Dorit Margreiter’s (b. 1967) ostalgic multimedia installation zentrum (2004-2011) purposefully brings back to life an obsolete modernist neon sign from the socialist housing project Brühlzentrum in Leipzig of the former German Democratic Republic. A 16mm black-and-white film shows her crew applying reflective foil to the broken neon tubes, causing them to momentarily flicker anew, while three neighboring posters featuring Margreiter’s “zentrum,” a typeface inspired by the New Typography movement of the 1920s, recall modernism’s utopian goals and ideals.

The last two artists, namely the French artist of Algerian descent Kader Attia (b. 1970) and American institutional critique artist Andrea Fraser (b. 1965), reflect on the relationship between the colonized other, Western aesthetics, and museological structures. In Attia’s two-screen slideshow projection, Open Your Eyes (2010), photographs of World War II soldiers’ cosmetically reconstructed, disfigured faces are juxtaposed with images of restored African masks, sculptures, and objects from the collections of Western institutions, such as the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. Phrases addressing modernism, its values, orthodoxies and myths, such as the “myth of perfection,” are interspersed throughout the slideshow to further illuminate the East/West split. Attia turns into historian, archaeologist and ethnologist to reflect on the concept of “repair:” whereas African societies create something new out of the broken, Western ones try to “put things back into order,” to achieve perfection.

Meanwhile, Fraser’s two-channel video installation, Soldadera (Scenes from Un banquete en Tetlapayac, a film by Olivier Debroise) (1998/2001), addresses the complicated ties between Latin American artists and their Western benefactors. The work revolves around a 1930 letter from dealer Frances Flynn Paine to Mrs. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, in which Paine argues that American support for the Mexican avant-garde, in addition to artistic recognition and fame, would quell, even suppress their “Red” communist ideas. A facsimile of the letter recalls the time of the Mexican revolution and the problem of North American influence on Mexico in the 1930s. On two angled screens, the artist performs a double role. On one side, she is a revolutionary—a woman riding a horse waving a scarlet revolutionary banner—and on the other she plays Ms. Paine, pictured in the midst of an audience, applauding something outside the frame. Due to the split-screen format, it appears as if Ms. Paine is celebrating the revolutionary ethos—pictured on the adjacent screen—of which she disapproved in her letter. Fraser’s installation, following filmmaker and novelist Olivier Debroise, revisits, as well as retrieves, Sergei Eisenstein’s unfinished “film symphony,” Que Viva México!, whose final section, Soldadera, was meant to incite revolutionary feeling.

Spatially displaced from the rest of the show, Fraser’s second work in the exhibition, The Public Life of Art: The Museum (1988-89), stationed just outside the entrance to the Media and Performance Galleries on a monitor, is an appropriate endnote to "Performing Histories (1)". Shot in the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the work—made collaboratively with artist Louise Lawler—was Fraser’s first museum tour performance realized for the camera. Here, Fraser begins to formulate the social history of the art museum later developed in her renowned Museum Highlights (1989), and the ways in which corporate art sponsorship and economic social policy, specifically Reaganomics, have shaped and affected institutional history.

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A number of currents run through the exhibition: the relationship between Western power and colonized societies, the reconstitution of political narratives, the role of alternative personal and public histories, and the legacy of modernism (a subject Ms. Breitweiser previously investigated in a larger group exhibition, "Modernologies", at MACBA in 2009). In addition to the subtle themes explored, "Performing Histories (1)" could also be described as an exhibition of modern apparatuses, so diverse is its media presentation. The show’s smart design—a series of distinct installations assembled in a simple winding plan—allows viewers to engage and re-engage with the material through intersecting paths, thus negating any sense of a singular prescribed itinerary.

"Performing Histories (1)" continues through March 11, 2013. "Performing Histories (2)" will present works by Wael Shawky (b. 1971, Egypt) and Chen Shaoxiong (b. 1962, China) from April to October 2013. The two-part exhibition is accompanied by a program of live performances in the Museum galleries.

Natalie Musteata is a Performa Magazine writer in residence.

 

All photos courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art. 

 

 

*Photo credits:

Top row:
Kader Attia. Open Your Eyes. 2010. Photo credit: Musée du Service de Santé des Armées – Paris, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art – Washington DC, Royal Museum for Central Africa – Tervuren.

Second row, left to right:
Andrea Fraser (Performer, script); Louise Lawler (Production design); Terry McCoy (Producer). The Public Life of Art: The Museum. 1988-1989. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2012 Terry McCoy/McCoy Projects, Inc.

Andrea Fraser. Soldadera (Scenes from Un banquete en Tetlapayac, a film by Olivier Debroise). 1998/2001. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Installation view, Modernologies, MACBA, 2009. © Photographer: Tony Coll. Courtesy of Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA).

Third row:
Martha Rosler. She Sees in Herself A New Woman Every Day (detail). 1976. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2012 Martha Rosler.

Fourth row:
Ion Grigorescu. Boxing. 1977. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2012 Ion Grigorescu.

Fifth row:
Sharon Hayes. The Interpreter Project. 2001. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Sharon Hayes.

Sixth row, from left to right:
Dorit Margreiter. zentrum. 2004-2011. Installation View. Gallery for Contemporary Art, Leipzig, 2006. Photo: Andreas Enrico Grunert. © 2012 Dorit Margreiter.

Dorit Margreiter. zentrum. 2004-2011. © 2012 Dorit Margreiter.

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October 18th, 2012 · Cassie Peterson

The Architecture of E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E

“But the body is also directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold on it; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs…”

—Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish 

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In September 2012, in preparation for the premiere of E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E, Daria Faïn staged Begging #1 Detoxification of Preconceptions about Money. In this performance at Dance New Amsterdam, she performed an intensive public fast for one full week. About the fast she wrote, “With this practice I am bridging (1) funding in performance, (2) begging in both the monastic tradition and streetwise sense of panhandling (3) and the crisis of poverty, all in order to raise awareness of the positioning of the role of the artist in society and the role of funding. I'm positing that performance is a direct service to society.” Her begging performance was both a meditation on the unequal distribution of wealth and a way to prepare her body/mind/sprit for the epic social undertakings of E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E.

Daria Faïn and Robert Kocik have worked together to establish what they call The Commons Choir—as part of a field of research committed to exploring “language as sound, embodiment and utmost expression.” Their artistic/performative work extends into and incorporates “architecture, health, education and socioeconomic justice.” Faïn and Kocik envision the artist as a necessary social actor who critiques dominant power arrangements and mends our collective ails. Thus, E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E is an experimental ritual that aims to mourn and heal the current economic crisis.

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Faïn is an artist, performer, teacher and choreographer; Kocik is a poet, sculptor, and teacher—both renaissance people in their own rights. Their work understands and postulates that the body is a force unto itself, but also exists as an object, symbol, and target of systemic powers and pressures. The body is a material representation of the ways we exist in relation to the social (dis)order. In her essay "How Can We Have a Body?: Desires and Corporeality” (2006), psychoanalyst Susie Orbach writes, “All our known ways of being create physical and neural pathways that become constitutive of self, not just on a psychological level but on a physical, material level.” Much like Foucault, she believes that our bodies are constituted by the social discourses that shape them. She asserts, “bodies are made, not born,” meaning that we become our “selves” through repetition of language and social practices. Accordingly, E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E begins with a performer asking us, “What’s the difference between uncirculated money and heart disease?”

Nothing. There is no difference. Social discord manifests as personal dis-ease. The social body is becoming in the physical body. 

Our relationship to our bodies mimics the perpetual privatization of space and resources. We are socialized to dominate our bodies, to “own” them, and shape them to meet idealized consumer standards. In 1975, Foucault wrote an essay called “Docile Bodies,” in which he concluded that the more a body is coerced by dominant social forces, the more equipped it is to reproduce these same disciplinary forces unto itself and others. The more "productive", economically viable, and groomed for service our bodies become, the less political force we have because we have become isolated in narratives of individuality and exploitation, ensnared in the competition and tyranny of the market. 

But Faïn and Kocik’s dance/ritual is a disruption of these expectations as well as a proposal for something new. E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E rejects the dominant socializations and regulations of the body and aspires for agency through collective embodiment. This performance strives to call attention to the ways that economics live inside of our bodies and are embedded in our relationships. It strives for a togetherness that transcends our prescriptively limited ways of knowing one another that are often dictated by transactional exchanges and predicated on a (false) separation between self and other. E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E features a huge, unwieldy cast to represent the magnitude and power of the populace and to counteract the effects of insidious individualism, privatization, and alienation. Faïn and Kocik have enlisted these bodies for a different kind of service—to resist dominant economies and to create alternative ones; to relocate and reconstruct individual bodies within the social body. Through this resistance and radical, social embodiment, Faïn and Kocik create what Foucault termed  “dangerous communications,” which are connections that threaten the expectations of the dominated, docile body.

No longer legible, solely, through its sheer production potential and identity as an individual, Faïn and Kocik attempt to heal the fragmented infrastructure of self by unifying language, movement, and value of the “common” social body. They perform “the commons” as an antidote to rugged individualism and work to create a new human architecture that questions our current ways of being in the world. In this, the body is re-imagined as a kind of collective, contemplative, architecture—a new architecture of the body politic and the body poetic. E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E is a reparative gesture and an offering; a much needed social experiment and salve.  

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E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E runs October 31 to November 3 at New York Live Arts. More information about the performance is available here

 

"The Architecture of E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E" was originally written as a part of New York Live Arts’ 2012-2013 Season Context Notes.

 

Photos courtesy of New York Live Arts. © Julieta Cervantes.

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October 16th, 2012 · Eames Armstrong

(e)merge: Performance Art

 

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Andrew Schrock, Large-Hadron-Collosus and the White Snake.

 

Call him Ishmael. Seriously. At 5am on a cool morning in early October, Andrew Wodzianski launched his thirty-six hour endurance performance titled Self Portrait as Ishmael at the (e)merge art fair in Washington, D.C.   “Launched” is not a metaphor.  In predawn darkness at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, a sixties-era time warp, Wodzianski slipped a coffin into the outdoor pool and climbed on board.  Barefoot, dressed in a nineteenth-century seaman’s jacket and khaki pants, with only a couple of bandanas as props, he floated on top of the coffin until 5pm the following day.  Underwater magnets kept the light wooden coffin gently turning in the center of the pool, but it was Wodzianski's careful movements—laying back, sitting up, stretching, kneeling, occasionally dipping his hands in the water—that appealed to me, a convergence of weighty themes and the absurdity of the reality of the performance, and it appeared to fascinate a good number of visitors to (e)merge as well—an art fair that has managed to make performance not only an integral part of its programming, but a centerpiece.  

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J.J. McCracken, The Huntress.

There was, for instance, J.J. McCracken’s The Huntress, which brought some in the audience to tears (possibly especially me).  The performance was based in part on nineteenth-century Washington, D.C. journalist Anne Newport Royall, who was punished for voicing her political opinions.  The set featured a tall interpretation of a ducking chair, Royall's punishment device, and a bed of broken eggshells from which McCracken, in a long white dress, and another female performer arose as the performance began.  Then, from the seat of the tall chair, the other performer, McCracken's sister, fidgeted with a radio playing the sound, a cacophony of voices talking about women, from Rush Limbaugh to journalist/activist Lydia Cacho Reberio.  McCracken told me, “I wanted the piece to weave different time periods together so I could look at the history of women's speech in the context of the soundscape, made of recent soundbites or on-air discussions of women being punished, chastised, or silenced for speaking out.”  McCracken was strapped into a mask bridle with a mouth bit gag attached to a rusted chain.  When the chain was attached to the leg of the chair, McCraken began to pull against it, crashing back against the wall each time it broke.  Again and again, the chain was reattached by assistants.  The assistants, wearing white jumpsuits, then stripped her of her nineteenth-century gown and redressed her in a black contemporary business suit, forcing her body into a fists-on-hips power pose. 

Meanwhile, out on the pool deck, Mandy Cano Villalobos dealt with similar themes in her ongoing project Voces.  In connection with a shrine in the style of a Mexican altar overflowing with candles and offerings, Villalobos spent the entirety of (e)merge embroidering the names of femicide victims of Juarez, Mexico onto white shirts.  The white shirts themselves referenced the body, while the embroidered names, obtained from Amnesty International and blogs that track obituaries, memorialized each murdered woman as an individual.

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Left: Sheldon Scott, Down in the Valley. Right: Mandy Cano Villalobos, Voces

At the start of Down in the Valley, Sheldon Scott handed out sealed envelopes addressed to “you”, solemnly instructing each audience member not to open it until the end of the performance.  He then recited a reinterpretation of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail", adding a personal narrative, and sang "Down in the Valley" while a projection behind him flashed images culled from popular culture, and a tall suited man in wayfarers and silver glitter platform heels held a noose.  Leaning forward, with the noose around his neck, Scott then asked the audience to open the letters and answer the questions, which all read “One line to my unrequited love/ One line to make them stay.” and personally hand each letter back to him.  The performance chillingly combined lynching, auto-erotic asphyxiation, and the enormous suicide rate in connection with the current war. 

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Left: Katie Kehoe, Mary Ellen Likes Free Magazines. Right: Joyce Yu-Jean Lee, Made in China.

In performative installation Made in China, Joyce Yu-Jean Lee  operated a cart from which she sold small red and gold packages for five dollars, manufactured in the United States and branded with an image combining a star from the American flag and the Apple logo.  Inside the package was a button saying in both English and Chinese, “Made in China. Bought in the USA.” Using a commercial exchange as the basis of interaction with the artwork was especially fitting in the context of an art fair.

Chukwuma Agubokwu, Holly Bass, and Katie Kehoe each employed storytelling, however differently, as an integral part of their performance.  Agubokwu's Portrait of the Artist as a Greek Myth told a saga of failure at last year's (e)merge, in which everything that could have gone wrong did, including a car crash.  He invited individuals to casually include their perspective of the events, including past and present (e)merge artists Wilmer Wilson IV, Chajana DenHarder, Ian McDermott, and fair co-organizer Jamie Smith.  Agubokwu illustrated the lecture-as-performance with drawn-on photographs on presentation boards and ended by describing himself as a phoenix, fulfilling his own prophecy with the completion of this year's performance.  

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Holly Bass, Come Clean.

Holly Bass twice performed her piece Come Clean, in which she invited strangers to participate in washing her hair in three different stages while sharing personal stories and small talk.  Participants concocted their own shampoo and conditioner from provided materials, and audience members were encouraged to chime in at will.

Incorporating improvisation and absurdity, Katie Kehoe performed Mary Ellen Likes Free Magazines intermittently throughout the fair at various locations.  Mary Ellen is a “transient character”, a persistent traveler who collects free tourist guides, brochure—anything printed and free—and uses them to attempt to understand her locale.  In an exaggerated Canadian accent, Kehoe as Mary Ellen talked about how a D.C. history pamphlet led her to believe that at one time there were no women in the city because no women were pictured in the pamphlet, and how a vegan guide brought her to the conclusion that everyone in D.C. is vegetarian.  Because of her fondness for things free, she also distributed tote bags and beer cozies emblazoned with “Mary Ellen likes things free”, so that audience members could collect their own free materials and share her fondness for beer.

Taking comedy and the absurd as a more central theme of his performance, Ian McDermott's A Brief Demonstration of Interface Theory began as something of an ode to Gaston's opening song in Beauty and the Beast.  Performed at the outset for the “wrong” audience, the piece unraveled in layers, collapsing when a planted townsperson, the butcher, informs McDermott/Gaston that “bonjour” does not mean “hello,” but “goodbye.”  The performance then shifted from spectacular musical to a concert incorporating the artist's own sculptures, including a string instrument hat stand, and a guitar/stool.  Finally McDermott led the audience to the pool deck, to a hammock wired to play sound in response to the body lying in it.

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Chajana denHarder, Singularity

In stark contrast to McDermott's elaborately scripted and perfectly timed musical performance, Chajana denHarder performed a piece in the pool more minimal than Wodzianski's Self Portrait as Ishmael.  In Singularity, denHarder attempted to perform a kind of watery stasis, simply floating in the pool in a black bathing suit with a clear inflated ball.  She performed Stasis on Thursday during the opening party, beginning and ending after dark, and again on Saturday beginning in daylight and ending at after dusk. 

But the most surprising performance at (e)merge was Andrew Schrock's immersive performance space installation in the garage-area exhibition space.  A surprise in part because it wasn't listed on the performance program on the (e)merge website, but also because of its earnest embrace of fantasy as a lifestyle.  On his exhibitor plaque, the New Orleans-based artist's work was titled Large-Hadron-Collosus and the White Snake, next to which the artist had taped a handwritten performance schedule featuring daily performances of Universal Procession and a final performance of The White Snake by collaborators Vanessa Cronan and Amanda Stone.  The installation was made up entirely of materials from an abandoned-space takeover in Richmond, Virginia, and the performances were firmly rooted in ceremony and ritual, although with a vagabond, Peter Pan/Lost Boys spin.  The White Snake is a healing ritual in the form of a Butoh dance.  On his website Schrock writes, “We dream of art as an ongoing daily action that creates a spirit of togetherness and solidarity in a practice of being in the present moment.”

Through its full and varied performance schedule, D.C.’s (e)merge art fair was able to do just that, create a spirit of togetherness and solidarity through works that were present, absorbing, and in opposition to the more typical market-focused construction of an art fair by emphasizing the ephemeral and noncommercial.  A celebration of being in the present moment, even when the moment was thirty-six hours long.

Eames Armstrong writes the blog D.C. Performance Art, where this article first appeared. Read her review of Andrew Wodzianski's performance Self Portrait as Ishmael here

All photos are performance views. Photos by Eames Armstrong.

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October 15th, 2012

Performa Writing Live Residency Fellows Announced

Performa Writing Live Residency Fellows Announced

Performa Magazine is thrilled to announce our Writing Live Residency Fellows: Cristiane Bouger (Brazil), Lucrezia Cippitelli, (L'Aquila, Italy), Grant Johnson (New York), Natalie Musteata (New York), Liz Park (Vancouver), and Bree Richards (Brisbane, Australia).  You can expect to read critical, engaging, and provocative work from these talented writers over the next year as they fulfill their residency.  

Congratulations!

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October 12th, 2012 · Eames Armstrong

Performance at the (e)merge Art Fair in Washington D.C.

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Andrew Wodzianski floated on top of a wooden coffin in the pool of the Capitol Skyline Hotel for thirty-six consecutive hours.  A number of people asked me if, in the scope of performance art history, the length of his performance Self Portrait as Ishmael was a long time, or not such a long time.  It is more useful to consider the specific context than to compare the piece to its predecessors.  In Melville's Moby Dick, on which the performance is blatantly based, the narrator and (perhaps) protagonist survives the shipwreck by floating on a coffin-turned life-buoy for a day and a half before being rescued by a ship searching for the captain's lost son.  And regardless of how familiar you are with the narrative of Moby Dick, the performance clearly dealt with the same major themes of mortality and folly.  However, in actively taking on the role of Ishmael, Wodzianski was effectively taking on Ahab's characteristics of hubris, pushing at the limits of the body for the sake of performance, in an interesting conflation of the entire story into a very minimal durational performance.

I appreciate that the work wasn't monitored or live-streamed for “accountability.”  As such, the piece wasn't just about the artist himself, but had room to ask about the purpose of the audience as more than just a witness.  The performance began at 5am on Friday, and ended at 5pm on Saturday.  I got there at about 5:10am. Wodzianski was already in place in the pool, and his crew of three were packing up to leave.  If the performance occurs without audience, (if a tree falls in a forest?) and so much of the performance took place outside of fair hours, work becomes kind of a myth.  It was dark, it was cold, his crew left, the door going back to the hotel was locked (the security guard had to let me onto the pool deck; I think she assumed I was still there from the night before) and we were alone, me watching, and him, laying there in the middle of the pool.  For no real reason, I was afraid, suddenly solely responsible, and I felt really foolish for coming.  It seemed so absurd- waking up at 4:30am to look at someone doing nothing, but there I was and there he was, doing something presumably even more absurd.  Besides being very self conscious of my presence, I felt a strong pathos for the artist, which would have been very different if I knew him personally.  I wrote a blog post while sitting there.  I stayed until after sunrise on Friday, around 7am, which was such a weird and pleasant experience as to justify my exhaustion for the rest of the day. 

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A few days later, my memory of going there is so surreal that I can read my own action as a reverberation of the tragic futility of Wodzianski's performance.  Through the rest of the performance, I was surprised to find myself feeling guilty that I couldn't be there for more of it.  Maybe the role of the audience in performance has much to do with affirmation of the work, and I wanted to continue to perform my own appreciation, recognizing intent through compassion. 

The space of literature is neat and immaterial, but performance takes those poetics and enacts them in real life, in real time.  Rather than ending with a big splash, Wodzianski stayed true to the reductiveness of the rest of the work.  At 5pm, he simply slid off the coffin into the water, pushed the coffin to the side of the pool, and exited.

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Eames Armstrong writes the blog D.C. Performance Art, where this article first appeared. 

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October 12th, 2012

Performing Architecture

Performing Architecture

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"Performing Architecture" is a one-day symposium this Saturday, October 13th, at Princeton University. Theorists and practitioners in the fields of architecture and performance unite to examine the art world's fascination with performance and architecture's social and political relevance. 

Performa Founding Director and Curator RoseLee Goldberg will be on the panel of "Performing Architecture". More information about the event is available here. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. We hope you can join us.

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September 28th, 2012 · Jennifer Piejko

Why Dance in the Art World?

Photographs by Paula Court

By Jennifer Piejko

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Left: panel members RoseLee Goldberg, Ralph Lemon, David Velasco, Jenny Schlenzka, and Jennifer Homans. Center: Jennifer Homans gives an introduction to Why Dance. Right: Judson Memorial Church. Below, right: Performa Dance Curator Lana Wilson.

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On Monday, September 17, the Performa Institute and the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development presented Why Dance in the Art World?, a panel discussion exploring the riveting relationship between dance and visual contemporary art.  

The panel, comprised of Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet author and art historian Jennifer Homans; dancer, choreographer, writer, and visual artist Ralph Lemon; PS1 Associate Curator Jenny Schlenska; Artforum.com editor David Velasco, and moderated by Performa Founding Director and Curator RoseLee Goldberg, led the audience through a brief history of dance as performance and artistic medium, and arrived at a spirited conversation regarding dance's place in visual art practice and institutional programming today. From ballet's acceptance as artform in the eighteenth century to the groundbreaking work of artists Merce Cunningham and Yvonne Rainer at the Judson Dance Theater (the location for Why Dance) in the 1960s to Ralph Lemon's upcoming exhibition at MoMA, the evening was best summed up by a question Ms. Homans posed at the end of her introduction: "These are old questions, but what are the new answers?"

The panel discussion can be heard in its entirety on Performa Radio and on the link above. Why Dance in the Art World? has been covered on The Performance ClubGallerist NY in The New York Observer—including their fantastic recent feature hereand on Dancing Perfectly Free. 

More information about Why Dance in the Art World can be found here

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Photographs by Paula Court.

 

Jennifer Piejko is the editor of Performa Magazine.

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September 17th, 2012

RoS Indexical, Yvonne Rainer

On Monday, September 17, the Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt present Why Dance in the Art World?, an exciting evening where we will explore the history and future of the visual arts’ relationship to and interest in dance. The panel discussion will include historian and author of Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet Jennifer Homans; choreographer, writer, and visual artist Ralph Lemon; MoMA PS1 curator Jenny Schlenzka; and Artforum.com editor and Artforum contributor David Velasco, moderated by Performa founding director and curator RoseLee Goldberg.

As we count down the days to this groundbreaking event, we will look back through Performa’s archives as we search for the answer to “Why Dance in the Art World?”

Today, we have Performa artist Yvonne Rainer discussing her seminal work RoS Indexical:       image

One day when I was growing up in the early ’60s and studying with Merce Cunningham, the late Judith Dunn—then dancing with the Cunningham Company and married to Robert Dunn, the musician and dance educator who conducted the workshop that led to the Judson Dance Theater in 1962—exclaimed, “I’m not interested in history!” I was aghast. How could an artist not be interested in history?! Everything Cunningham was doing bore the cumulative marks of his relation to modernism. Everything I had done or thought about thus far had a particular connection to some aspect of Western dance or art history, most immediately to composer John Cage’s ideas about silence, which themselves drew a direct line back to Futurist Luigi Russolo’s Art of Noise. But strangely enough, Judith’s work didn’t seem to relate to the past. Her choreography—to my eyes, at least—eluded historical references in its seemingly arbitrary originality and ingrown perversity. I perceived elements in my own choreography to be perverse in the tradition of Duchamp and Dada, hence reflective of a historical link. But Judith’s low amble with a stuffed bird in her mouth, or the motorcycle used as inscrutable décor, in her dance of the same name, seemed too private, too hermetic, while my screaming fit at the end of Three Seascapes, on the other hand, referred back to Munch, or the “syntesi” of the Futurists, or was a sock in the eye to previous modern dance proprieties. Come to think of it, maybe that motorcycle was too.

Now I find myself “embedded” (please excuse the sinister association with the U.S. invasion of Iraq) even more implacably in history—in 2006 with Balanchine’s 1957 Agon and in 2007 with Nijinsky’s scandal of 1913, The Rite of Spring. About two years ago I was in London visiting my friend Ilona Halberstadt, who, quite fortuitously, had recorded a 2005 BBC dramatization called Riot at the Rite, a fictionalization of the making of Rite of Spring. All the characters in the historical event are on view, foremost among them Igor Stravinsky, Vaslav Nijinsky, Nicholas Roerich, and Serge Diaghilev. The film culminates on that infamous night, May 29, 1913, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, with a performance by the Finnish National Ballet standing in for the Ballets Russes. The perspective cuts back and forth between the stage and the riotous audience, which is fictional here, of course, but attempting nonetheless to recreate the tumult that ensued when people first heard the music and saw the very unexpected dancing. In the cutaways from the stage, we are shown the wildly booing, hooting, catcalling spectators, dressed to the nines, fainting from the heat, and venting their outrage with the likes of “You’re taking a piss on us, Diaghilev” and “Go back to Russia!” In an otherwise corny and badly cast movie, this climactic episode is astonishing.

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It was while watching this BBC film that I got the idea to make a dance using its soundtrack, with all the cacophony that intermittently engulfs the music. As it happened, RoseLee Goldberg had previously approached me about contributing to Performa 07, hoping I might present an evening-length work from 1973 called This is the story of a woman who . . . Reviving this piece was clearly impossible; in spite of the existence of a published scenario, too many things in the original evening had simply disappeared—like some of the improvisational material performed by John Erdman and me. Furthermore, I had already obtained a DVD of the BBC program from Ilona, and the four dancers with whom I’d worked the year before on a re-vision of Agon—Pat Catterson, Emily Coates, Patricia Hoffbauer, and Sally Silvers—were available and eager. With RoseLee agreeing to produce a new piece, I began to work on what would become a forty-minute dance called RoS Indexical.

Mikhail Baryshnikov, who commissioned a dance from me some years ago, recently teased me mercilessly, “What kind of avant-gardist are you? You’re dancing on the music!” In my salad days I used music—or “muciz,” as I preferred to disparage it early in my career—to accompany dance only to send it up. I once had twelve people jogging in formalized floor patterns to a grandiose section of Berlioz’s Requiem—and I’ve even called myself a “music hater” in an essay written over forty years ago. And if I did dance “on the music,” as in Chair/Pillow to Ike and Tina Turner’s River "Deep Mountain High", the simple moves were an ironic comment on the pounding beat.

So now I have to ask myself why I’m aping the serious musicality of previous choreographers whose relation to music was interdependent and predictable. And what do I think I’m doing immersing myself in these cultural glories from a bygone era at the risk of courting nostalgia and sentimentality? 

Perhaps “glories” is a key word here, to be preceded by “disruptive.” Disruptive glories. Works that outraged or stunned their audiences when first performed; works that assaulted preceding notions of connoisseurship and taste; works that stepped beyond tradition and marked their creators as “deviant, outside the bounds of society”; works that have become part of a modernist canon. All of these descriptions are pertinent to Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring and, to a lesser extent, Balanchine’s Agon. To rework these dances under the aegis of my own disruptive and disjunctive sensibility is both a tribute to their historical significance and a challenge to their canonical status. My mission—which I prefer to describe as re-vision rather than reconstruction or spin-off or re-make—is complex, ambivalent at best.

 “Reconstruction” was the term Millicent Hodson used for her exhaustively researched Rite of Spring that was first mounted on the Joffrey Ballet in 1987 at City Center for forty-six dancers. The question is: How do we know exactly what Nijinsky’s dance was like? In Hodson’s words: “There were undeniably curious circumstances involved in the making of Le Sacre du Printemps and the way it disappeared. . . .  What happened . . . invite[s] analogy with cloak and dagger tales. Its creation was fraught with secrets—covert agreements, deceptions, reversals of fate. Its premiere was surrounded with a degree of suspense and violence never associated with ballet, before or since.” Furthermore, it wasn’t filmed. Relying on photos, drawings, and hearsay, we can be grateful for whatever legacy has survived. Given these circumstances, I must pay tribute to Hodson’s diligence and tenacity. She worked on Rite for seven years. Some of the participants originally involved were still alive. She was able to interview Marie Rambert, Nijinsky’s assistant, and study her notations. When I saw the Joffrey’s Rite in 1987, it certainly had an air of authenticity. The costumes had been carefully replicated, and the surging power of the dance matched what we have come to imagine when we listen to the music. The costumes, the turned-in feet and hunched backs all resembled photos of the original. Even after seventy-four years one could intuit what all the fuss had been about at Rite’s initial unveiling. The time-honored ethereality of the ballerina and the air-borne prowess of the classical male dancer, the tutus and white tights, had all been erased in one fell swoop, or should I say, in a relentless series of surging stoops, the dancers’ bodies bowed and invisible under baggy wooly tunics. Added to the outrage of the choreography and costumes, the Stravinsky score, with its dissonances and irregular rhythms, had been another insult to the refined tastes of the Parisian culturati.  

Hodson’s Rite is a remarkable invocation, if not an exact reconstruction. Still, the questions persist. Historical memory disintegrates and reconfigures just when we think we are drawing near to the object of our scrutiny. To incorporate this instability and skepticism was part of my project here, and it was part of the fun—after all, even the Finnish National Ballet’s performance in the BBC film is mediated, modeled as it is on Hodson’s Rite while still differing in many details from the Joffrey version. So I have settled on re-vision to describe what I’m doing: a looking again, but at a long deflected remove from the 1913 original—as well as from the Hodson—bringing all these shifty matters of re-creation, remaking, reconstruction, history, and faulty memory overtly (and covertly!) into play.

Pushing Misha’s caveat to the back of my mind, I continued to work. In the first half of RoS Indexical the dancers sporadically dance on the beat, moving in and out—in a fragmented fashion—of some of the configurations from the BBC production. Where we were unable to see the stage during cutaways to the audience, I inserted my own stuff or had the dancers retreat to an overstuffed sofa that plays a larger role in the second half. In rehearsals, rather than turning to a Stravinsky orchestration available on any number of CDs, I used the BBC video for both sound and image reference. Every recording being different as to tempi and nuance, it was important that we share the same hearing difficulties as the original dancers when the unruly spectators drowned out the music. The BBC soundtrack also contained cues for my dancers in the form of specific remarks by audience members and Diaghilev. The four performers, radically different in age (early thirties to early sixties), technical finesse, and formal training, offer a challenge to dance conventions of physical uniformity and standards of virtuosity. They dance in unison like the pros that they are, but their varying degrees of difficulty and ease are at every point apparent. This disparity results from the outset in a kind of distanciation, you might say, from any notions of unity and harmony. They are not the traditional ensemble, rather a quartet of individuals who have come together to take on the formidable task of conjuring, but not assuming or appearing to reproduce, a legendary work.

RoS Indexical begins with the four dancers sitting at a small table downstage right. Three of them wear headphones. It becomes apparent that they are listening to an orchestration of Rite of Spring as they begin to hum the famous opening melody of the oboe solo (daa, da-da-da da daa, etc.). In rehearsal it was necessary for me to calm their apprehension at exposing their untrained voices to possible ridicule by telling them that being off-key was the point. In fact, I had anticipated that they would be off-key, and after hearing them I thought they were not sufficiently off-key!

The opportunity to present Stravinsky’s Rite as failed performance was also what intrigued me about using the BBC soundtrack with the audience interruptions, not only the possibility of re-seeing the work in terms of its effect on the Parisian audience, but also of retrieving Stravinsky’s masterpiece from the pantheon to which it has been relegated. As I’ve indicated above, I’ve been very aware of how my work is in a continuum of modernist and postmodernist moments of rupture. And certainly, Rite of Spring was one of those moments where the conventions of ballet and Western harmony were challenged, turned upside down. Today Nijinsky’s Rite, in any number of salvage operations, both written and staged, is a star in the pantheon of dance history, and Stravinsky’s score—partly through the notoriety of its infamous premiere—glows with the same aura of swollen myth. Bringing both dance and music down to earth from those Olympian heights seemed the right way to proceed. It is this earthiness, you might say, of both the dancing and the soundtrack of RoS that hopefully makes you deal more critically with ideas of authenticity and beauty, while the moments of untrammeled Stravinsky still create an homage. (I always like to have my cake and eat it.) 

In the second half of RoS Indexical sixteen double-sided banners designed by Joel Reynolds, imprinted with thirty-two words, having dropped from the flies, dangle and twist. The words range from the emotionally charged to the banal—from “suffer,” “terror,” and “glories” to “lunch,” “sofa,” “Who? Me?” and “aargh.” My choices followed a process of elimination. I wanted to avoid the academic “history,” “tribe,” “sacrifice,” etc., with their explicit references to the pagan rituals imagined by archeologist/artist Nikolai Roerich in his collaboration with Nijinsky and Stravinsky for the original Rite. A more oblique strategy seemed called for, an ambiguous move forward and backward in time, from the emotional topicality of “terror” to the banality of “lunch,” with “decay” and “struggle” and “if not now, when?” thrown in for good measure.

The second half of RoS sends authenticity to the dogs as the choreography falls off the “muciz” bandwagon altogether and erupts with entirely new source material. The dancers enact the flamboyant gestures of Robin Williams and Sarah Bernhardt (his gleaned from an HBO special, hers from two 1911 silent films) while the cacophonous soundtrack of Riot at the Rite plays on and the central theme of Rite of Spring—the sacrifice of the virgin—is ignored. I was ecstatic to find that my dancers could so skillfully and accurately—and hilariously—embody the personae of Williams’s kinetic obscene genius and the great diva’s demonstrations of pathos and despair, enactments that depart radically from what we might think Rite of Spring was about, as displayed in the more decorous moments of the first half of RoS.

Finally, I have come to think of RoS Indexical as both pedagogy and entertainment, a kind of pedagogical vaudeville that integrates traces, analysis, and tribute. A knowledgeable spectator may have a very complex experience with the piece. It may evoke flashes of your imaginary 1913, or memories of other versions of the dance. At the least you may come away with the realization of the impossibility of an authentic template. Insofar as history is something we can neither escape nor replicate, it remains an act of imagination and will to negotiate the past. RoS Indexical may make Nijinsky and Stravinsky turn over in their graves. But then again, they may just giggle in spite of themselves.

image

 


 

NOTES

1. Yvonne Rainer, Work 1961–73 (Halifax: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, with New York University, 1974), 110–12.

2. Millicent Hodson, Nijinsky’s Crime Against Grace (Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press, 1996), xix.

3. Ibid., xiv.

 

This text was first published in the catalogue for Documenta 12 (2007).

 

All photos by Paula Court, courtesy of Performa.

 

Why Dance in the Art World? takes place tonight, Monday, September 17, at Judson Memorial Church.  Join us

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September 16th, 2012

Why Dance in the Art World? Elaine Summers and Lana Wilson in Conversation

On Monday, September 17, the Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt present Why Dance in the Art World?, an exciting evening where we will explore the history and future of the visual arts’ relationship to and interest in dance. The panel discussion will include historian and author of Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet Jennifer Homans; choreographer, writer, and visual artist Ralph Lemon; MoMA PS1 curator Jenny Schlenzka; and Artforum.com editor and Artforum contributor David Velasco, moderated by Performa founding director and curator RoseLee Goldberg.

As we count down the days to this groundbreaking event, we will look back through Performa’s archives as we search for the answer to “Why Dance in the Art World?”

Today, we have artist Elaine Summers in conversation with Performa Dance Curator Lana Wilson, January 2008:

Lana Wilson: You are known as a pioneering intermedia artist. What does the term “intermedia” mean to you?

Elaine Summers: It’s a very old thing that has been going on ever since performance began—putting music with dance, dance with sculpture, and so on. Different mediums are juxtaposed, but that doesn’t necessarily create a new effect in the space in-between, like intermedia does. Intermedia is a rainbow. You can’t have a rainbow unless you have three elements—the sun, the rain, and the space in between. 

You’re saying that putting a song and dance together doesn’t create a new physical effect, where intermedia does.

Putting things together creates a magical happening that takes place in your head, but not visually. I am very interested in primal sources, and the very first form of intermedia was the candle, the body, and its shadow. 

You mean starting with the candle and adding the body in front of the flame to create the shadow on the wall. 

Right. Isn’t that nice? That kind of magic is something that a lot of early dance films from the early 1890s and 1900s played with too. I fell in love with the whole early dance film thing and wrote my Master’s thesis on it [in 1986]. I especially loved Thomas Edison. Every Sunday, Thomas Edison would leave his Black Maria Studio in New Jersey and go to Coney Island, where he shot many, many fabulous dance films. All three minutes long. He was crazy about Loie Fuller’s dancing and wanted to film it, but Loie Fuller was in Paris. So he got the variety show star Annabelle Moore to perform Fuller’s choreography in the thirty-second film Annabelle Serpentine Dance (1895), one of the first movies ever made. It’s hand-painted so that it looks like her dress is changing color. In his other shorts Edison used almost every camera resource available. And there’s even one where he tried to make intermedia.

How did he do that?

There’s this image of a man standing in a train station, and the train is coming along. And Edison tried to make it look as if the man was outside of the screen and jumped into it. It’s like that other movie, that’s very famous . . .

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). The Woody Allen movie. 

Right!

When did you first become interested in dance films? You didn’t grow up here in New York, did you? 

No. I’m from Perth, Australia, originally, but when I was three I started going to boarding school [in Massachusetts], and when I was five we moved to Boston. Perth is very warm, and when I’d come home from boarding school, we’d put cots out in the backyard. My mother ran a hairdressing shop in the front, and we slept in the back, and then there was this very narrow backyard. And next door there was another backyard, belonging to a theater that showed outdoor movies. Silent black-and-white-movies from the 1920s.

So you could sit in your cot and watch them. 

I did. I’d be way down here, looking up over there, and that’s an experience I’ll never forget. Then, and throughout the rest of my childhood, my mother always took me to the movies. I’ll never forget seeing the first movie that Balanchine ever choreographed, The Goldwyn Follies, from 1938. I was ten years old. That was when I fell in love with film dance. 

So after your family moved to Boston when you were five, did you take dance classes?

Yes. At a really big ballet studio—you know, a recital once a year and everything. But my mother was not very happy about my becoming a dancer.

Because she thought you wouldn’t make enough money?

Oh, yeah. She said, “You’ll never make any money, and if you have to separate from your husband”—which she had done—“you have to be able to make a living.” So I got a job selling hats on the weekends and some nights during the week to pay for my own lessons. In high school I had this wonderful art teacher and I really enjoyed art classes. I didn’t think I could afford to go to college, but my two best friends, Luis and Dussy, made sure that I applied to the Massachusetts College of Art, which I did, and I got in. It cost $50 a year. 

Only $50 a year?

Yes. It was a state school. I specialized in teaching and graduated with a BFA in art education. My first job was as the arts supervisor for the Wallingford-Connecticut school system. That meant I went for half an hour to every school in the district once a week. It was fabulous. I feel that any kind of visual art is a wonderful education for a dancer, and I think art school is the perfect training for choreography.

How so?

Some choreographers are more interested in dance kinetically, rather than visually. But dance can be both a kinetic art and a visual art.

Do you think that most dance audiences are looking for “kinetic” choreography when they see a show? Are they looking for dancers who are virtuosic performers, who can do things that the audience couldn’t do themselves? Because even though Judson really turned that assumption on its head, people still go to dance shows today and come out saying, “How was that dance? I could have done that.” It feels like a barrier sometimes.

Well, it’s their right to react that way. Sometimes though, if the choreographer really gets them, they don’t even know it at first. They’ll go out into the world, and they’ll begin to see things differently. They’ll realize that there’s a dance going on every day. It opens up all movement as a resource for dance. I’ve had a lot of responses like that to my work. 

This perceptual shift—changing the way people look at everyday events and movements—was such an important idea, which you and the other people in Judson were the first to develop. What were those initial workshops with Robert Dunn, which later developed into the Judson Dance Theater, like?

We were a community that was sort of bubbling from the inspiration of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Anna Halprin, and others—it was all about ideas. You came to this very simple class and did whatever you wanted to complete “assignments” that were often based on Cage’s chance methods, and then this grew into whole evenings. The chance method is so wonderful because it’s completely objective. You have to list all the possibilities for every decision that you have to make, and then you lose the power of command. You’re stopped from doing things in the same way you always do them, and instead you have to try some things that may be impossible. I mean, literally, they could be impossible! 

The evenings at Judson set up a more formal place to meet and show ideas and talk about those ideas—not whether you liked something or didn’t like it, but, what did you see? What was the purpose of this part? Were you trying to do that? It was much more analytical. We would laugh because we would say, “You can’t tell us about light, and you can’t talk about costumes.” No distractions! It was an incredibly wonderful way of doing things.

Tell me about the film that was shown in Performa 07, Judson Fragments (1964). Where did the footage come from, and over how long of a period did you shoot it? It’s a collage of so many different film formats.

Well, I put Judson Fragments together just after I did Fantastic Gardens at Judson in 1964. Fantastic Gardens was a very important performance for me. It started with a screen, onto which we projected several different films that we had cut up and put together using the chance method. Then a dancer came through a split in the screen, and danced in front of the images. This was the first-ever intermedia piece, and a complete performance in every way. It used eight different 16-millimeter projectors and four Super-8s. Films literally covered every available surface! 

Judson Fragments contained a lot of the footage that I had collected for Fantastic Gardens, which I had started shooting in the 1950s. I didn’t know what I was doing then. All I knew was how to stick film together with cement glue. So I decided that I should learn how to do all the technical processes myself.

There’s a lot of formal experimentation in Judson Fragments. You use negative film, and upside-down footage, and every gauge and kind of stock imaginable. Is that all stuff that you shot while you were trying to learn about filmmaking, experimenting with different cinematic tricks?

Yes. That’s what I was interested in with film—what can I do? What is possible? 

So why did you decide to go through all your old footage and bring it together in this way?

Basically just for fun. The animated sequences were by my husband, Carol Summers, and the little boy in the field is my son on Fire Island, and then there’s footage that Carol and I shot of each other rolling around nude, shots of Yvonne [Rainer] and others dancing, some footage that Stan VanDerBeek shot of heads and necks and other body parts—so many bits and pieces. We screened it in St. Mark’s Church, and I thought everyone would be bored, but actually they all loved it.

Everyone was really thrilled by it at the Performa screening, too. But now you’re working on so many more projects—you’re continuing to teach Kinetic Awareness, the system of bodywork that you developed, in your home studio and around the world, and you’re also using the Internet and technology in your new project, Skytime.

Everything we know about technology comes from inside our body. Computers are just brains. The body has the will to heal itself from the inside, and it has the technology to do it, too.

That’s the basic premise of kinetic awareness, right? That it’s a kind of movement therapy that actually heals?

Absolutely. Beginning with the fact that your body is a perpetual massage machine. Every molecule is massaging every molecule that’s next to it.

Tell me more about Skytime.

Well, I love the Internet! The takeover of dance and other criticism by the Web—it’s wonderful! Look at YouTube and the blogs and everything—as soon as people were offered this power, they grabbed onto it. It’s amazing. And now you can make projects like Skytime, where you can use the Web to say, “Everyone, go outside at noon and look up at the sky and do something!” And hundreds of thousands of people can go to Gramercy Park, for example, and check their watch and look up at the sky together.

Is this something you actually did for Skytime?

Well, Skytime is an invitation for everyone who wants to come and play. I talk to taxi drivers about how they feel about the sky. I’ve done some teaching for Harvestworks with young kids, and one little kid said, “I don’t like the sky.” So everyone contributes their feelings about the sky to this Web site. You can even do things like write about 1930s sky music, like [the artist] Russell Connor wants to do on Skytime. And the Web site could be self-supporting! I want it to be totally free for artists, but supported by selling things for the sky, like kites and blimps and planes. Everything needs money to back it. The one thing I don’t want is to end up is a poverty-stricken old lady with no brains!

I’m sure that won’t ever happen. [laughter] Going back to the Judson Dance Theater, do you see any similar opportunities that are available for artists today?

Of course. For us, Robert Dunn was the spark that brought us together, but today it’s still just about people getting together, talking about ideas, making art. You can’t just wait for the dance world to come to you. We had to fight for things—we went to the senators, made the New York State Council support us, and so on. If there was a problem, we would have a meeting, delegate who would do what, and get it done.

What about money? It’s so hard for artists, especially choreographers, right now—they can’t afford to live in New York, they can’t afford studio space.

It’s true that it is much easier to get discouraged today. It’s a very cruel economic environment right now, which is really bad for everybody. But there are some existing things in place that can help, and Mayor Bloomberg and New Jersey in particular have begun to realize that art is incredibly good business for a community, and for attracting tourists. If every country becomes a tourist trap, good! That way nothing hurts anybody, the economy isn’t dependent on killing anybody or taking anything away from anybody, and people who make small, seemingly inconsequential craft items can make enough money to live. 

I think President Bush is tremendously responsible for the current economic crisis, because he told everybody to go buy houses. It’s true—the economy was going up and up. But because of the huge percentage that loan companies charge for credit, and because they allowed people to do it so riskily, they are responsible for this enormous happening. I mean, it’s become like plantation living. The boss man has all the money and you buy at his store. We’re back to that kind of economy, and that’s very sad. But in all the economies all the time all over the world, people dance, people sew, people make lovely things—even small things like candles and fragrances. People should keep doing their little thing and trying to survive. 

But don’t you think that people also deserve help?

Of course. It’s wonderful to have help, and we should get it. You know, you can take a boat up the Danube river and go into a church that has a wall made of pure gold—and you might think, well, instead of using all of this money for art, the Catholic Church should have used it for the various plagues, and all the other calamities around the world at that time, but I looked at it and thought, no indeed! People will pay to come and look at a wall of gold for years to come. An art object gains money, and who gets money after the artist is dead, and after their family is gone? Your country, your community, your neighborhood. You can’t stop art. Artists are like wildflowers that grow in the cracks between the rocks—they’re always able to devise a means to live.

This interview was excerpted from Everywhere and All at Once: An Anthology of Writings on Performa 07.  Why Dance in the Art World? takes place at Judson Memorial Church on Monday, September 17. Join us

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September 15th, 2012

Why Dance in the Art World? Kelly Nipper and RoseLee Goldberg in Conversation

On Monday, September 17, the Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt present Why Dance in the Art World?, an exciting evening where we will explore the history and future of the visual arts’ relationship to and interest in dance. The panel discussion will include historian and author of Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet Jennifer Homans; choreographer, writer, and visual artist Ralph Lemon; MoMA PS1 curator Jenny Schlenzka; and Artforum.com editor and Artforum contributor David Velasco, moderated by Performa founding director and curator RoseLee Goldberg.

As we count down the days to this groundbreaking event, we will look back through Performa’s archives as we search for the answer to “Why Dance in the Art World?”

Today, we have Performa artist Kelly Nipper in conversation with RoseLee Goldberg, November 2008:

RoseLee Goldberg: You work in photography, video, and performance. Can you talk about your training in these various mediums?

Kelly Nipper: I was interested in sculpture early on, but later gravitated toward photography, video, and installation. The movement from one to the other had to do with making, marking, or carving space and time. In graduate school at CalArts, I used photographs of people in my installations. I think I was afraid to work with real people in live performance. With a camera, there’s always a barrier, a distance between the subject and the person behind the camera, whereas performance requires a lot of direct, hands-on work. I am more of the observer type and prefer to keep a distance. Once I left school, I started incorporating live performers into my installations, and it took me about eight years or so to understand on a practical level what that meant. There are now a lot of people involved in each of my pieces, but I still have to be able to get the distance of an observer to make the work happen. 

What was the first piece you made once you stepped away from the camera?

I’m not sure I ever stepped away from the camera—that for me is what makes performance both challenging and necessary. The first time I worked with live performers as part of an installation was in Soap #2, a group exhibition presented at the Soap Factory in Minneapolis in 1995. For my piece, Blond, a single performer wearing white terrycloth from head to toe, chewing flavorless bubble gum, and blowing bubbles stood in a long hallway containing a two-door cabinet and several ceiling fans. It was the middle of winter and there was no heat in the building; my sister was the performer, and my mother called it “the icebox piece.” Looking back, I think maybe it was an experiment in understanding different surfaces and materials, working with inside and outside, light and dark.

Did you photograph the performance? 

Only as documentation.

When did you start working with dancers?

In 1998, at the same place. I don’t come out of a dance background. I don’t speak the language of dance—but I wanted to explore other dimensions of space and time. I first began working with the choreographer Liz Maxwell, who I met through Sarah Roberts at CalArts, and she translated for me, acting as an intermediary between the performers and myself and coming up with a way to make the movement score. The title of the work I made with her was norma—practice for conditioner

Strange title. Where does it come from?

Norma was the name given to the rulers in ancient Rome who first determined the standard plan for laying out city streets in relationship to one another and to buildings. They eventually became known as the Normans. When you use a camera, it forces you to organize things in a series of steps. Working with the idea of Norma as a starting point was a way of controlling my process, of framing ideas and holding them together, much like city planning. It was in this work that I became interested in the science of movement. There were three dancers, weather balloons, and nitrogen tanks containing thirty hours worth of nitrogen that drained slowly through hoses into the space, adding an additional atmospheric “layer” to the piece. I’m not sure if it was about making a picture or about stretching time. Actually, I think it’s all about time. Making a photograph is a highly aestheticized process, but what I was doing in norma—and what I’m still doing in Floyd on the Floor—is stretching images in time. The environment is a shifting shape. 

You frequently mention the importance of the Midwest in your work. Why?

The Midwestern landscape has a lot to do with the aesthetic of my work. It’s desolate, and most of the year it’s dark. Everything is gray and one image melts into the next. I’m obsessed with underground and with tunnels. In the Midwest it’s so cold that a lot takes place underground, or in enclosed environments that either simulate nature or allow you to feel as though you are part of nature—buildings connected by glass skyways, for example, so that you can see what’s outside without actually being exposed to it. The large expanses of white, of frozen water that changes form, also had a huge effect on what I do. 

What’s Midwestern about Floyd on the Floor? 

KN: I think it’s the suggestion of the landscape and of storms, but also the level of craft in the work. I associate the Midwest with craft, so in Floyd on the Floor I combine my feelings about Midwestern geography—where nature and weather are omnipresent—with a kind of “honest craftsmanship” that I associate with the region. 

Where does the title come from? 

It refers to Hurricane Floyd, the 1999 storm that devastated Florida and the East Coast of the United States. Floyd on the Floor is derived from three ongoing, research-based studies—Sapphire, Circle Circle, and Weather Center—that explore the hurricane as a form of unmeasured movement that forms elementally, circles out from the eye, and develops and changes over time.

How did this piece begin?

I started working on Floyd in 1999. I first wrote an elaborate proposal for a show in Europe that included the parachutes and a lot more dancers. While I didn’t get to do that piece, the ideas stayed. Floyd began with a circle and a square. Through Liz, I had learned about Rudolf Laban, which opened up my entire world. I loved Laban’s notation system and the shapes and symbols that make up his language—crystals, platonic solids—which also appear in nature. A figure stands in a space in the center of a crystal; lines extend through the center of the body and out into space. Laban’s ideas made so much sense to me in the bigger picture of life, the way everything connects to everything else in time and space. They became an important part of Floyd.

Floyd on the Floor is a performance that involves eight dancers, but you’re not a choreographer. How did you design the dance, and what should we call you in this role?

I’m a visual artist who uses choreography to shape my ideas about space and time and weather and emotions. I worked with an amazing group of dancers in Floyd. One of them, Sarah Leddy, is a certified Laban Movement Analyst. She worked with the dancers in using the weight of their bodies to carve space and to develop their awareness of the body as a tool to use in my work. It’s a very long, slow process that takes incredible patience, endurance, and commitment from the dancers. 

You never see their faces. They’re always wearing masks.

They’re all wearing masks in the shape of numbers. You couldn’t always read them when the dancers were upright. Sometimes they had to be lying down or upside down for you to read them. Guillermo is 6, Sara is 8. This comes from an Ayn Rand novel, Anthem (1938), which I read in college. It had a huge effect on my thinking about the world and the direction in which we’re heading. 

At one point there’s a recording of voices speaking in French. It’s an excerpt from Jean-Luc Godard’s film Alphaville [1965]. Why Alphaville, and why that particular excerpt?

Very simply, the film is about a city, Alphaville, which is built around and run by a computer, which eventually destructs, so everyone in the city begins to die. The image of how they die—pressing their bodies and faces flat against the walls of buildings as though melting into the walls, and then sliding down them, until they end up face down on the floor—was incredibly powerful for me. The conversation in the film between the man and the woman is about love and the relationship between technology and feelings. They’re talking about different forms of communication, which is what’s going on in the performance—touch between two people, space between two people, communicating and creating relationships.

Extending lines in time and space again.

Yes. French is also the language of Structuralism and of ballet. I liked the fact that people might not understand the French, that they would be one layer removed from the conversation. 

The section of Floyd that you presented at Judson was the first in a trilogy. You are planning to present the second and third parts as individual performances, and then ultimately to present all three parts at once, simultaneously in one exhibition space. 

Yes, and the project as a whole is called Floyd on the Floor, just like the section presented during Performa 07. Even though sections are being produced in different places, Floyd on the Floor is one large work that is shifting shape within the parameters of the circle. The structure has grown in the same way that a storm develops. I don’t think it’s going to be clear what the project is about until the entire work is completed.

How will you know when the work is completed?

I can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel now. Having the entire work performed together is when it will be completed. 

Do you know how long the complete work will run? 

Floyd on the Floor at the Judson Church for Performa 07 was about thirty minutes. I think the final piece, including all three parts, will be the same length or a little longer.

The images of Floyd on the Floor are incredibly beautiful, and cry out to be photographed. Will you do that?

Probably not, but who knows. I work hard not to get hung up on things like documentation, or the picture frame, or the audience’s place in a performance. These are things that art history has been grappling with for quite some time, and for me, they’re kind of over-cooked, over-thought or maybe even boring at this point in my work. Maybe I’ll make a film of Floyd on the Floor eventually. 

You worked with Allan Kaprow for nine years. How has that shaped your ideas? 

The total environment has always been important to me, and of course working with Allan had a lot to do with that. He also taught me that it was okay to say, “I changed my mind,” which is something he did regularly. Tamara [Bloomberg, now the manager of Kaprow’s estate] and I were challenged every day with that statement, which made archiving his materials almost impossible—exactly how he liked it! On some days Allan would sit on the sofa in his studio and read the Dewey book or the Cage book or the Duchamp book for the zillionth time. The books were so worn from use—fading, broken spines, pages tagged with Post-it notes. He would explain to Tamara and me how he wasn’t an artist but a “garbage collector,” and subsequently Tamara and I were “waste removal.” There are so many ways that Allan shaped me. His work and his papers he presented on art education to organizations such as the National Endowment of the Arts in the 1960s have also had an enormous influence on me as a person, an artist, and now as a teacher. I learned a great deal from him—what to do, what not to do, and when to do.

This interview was excerpted from Everywhere and All at Once: An Anthology of Writings on Performa 07.  Why Dance in the Art World? takes place at Judson Memorial Church on Monday, September 17. Join us

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September 14th, 2012

Why Dance in the Art World? Xavier Le Roy and RoseLee Goldberg in Conversation

Why Dance in the Art World? Xavier Le Roy and RoseLee Goldberg in Conversation

On Monday, September 17, the Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt present Why Dance in the Art World?, an exciting evening where we will explore the history and future of the visual arts’ relationship to and interest in dance. The panel discussion will include historian and author of Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet Jennifer Homans; choreographer, writer, and visual artist Ralph Lemon; MoMA PS1 curator Jenny Schlenzka; and Artforum.com editor and Artforum contributor David Velasco, moderated by Performa founding director and curator RoseLee Goldberg.

As we count down the days to this groundbreaking event, we will look back through Performa’s archives as we search for the answer to “Why Dance in the Art World?”

Today, we have choreographer and scientist Xavier Le Roy in conversation with RoseLee Goldberg, November 2007:

RoseLee Goldberg: Xavier, you are a scientist—a biologist—but you are also a choreographer. How did you go from one to the next?

Xavier Le Roy: I started as a molecular biologist at the University of Montpelier, working on a study that culminated in a written thesis. This was my first experience working in scientific research, and it wasn’t as good as I had hoped. Being treated like a machine—expected to produce results—did not correspond to my understanding of what research was. This experience happened just as I starting taking dance classes. I worked as a volunteer for the big summer dance festival in Montpelier, so I was able to sneak in to all the performances, and I was really attracted to the heterogeneity of what I saw—work by Merce Cunningham, François Verret, Mark Tompkins, Dominique Bagouet, Trisha Brown, and William Forsythe, among others. After I finished my thesis in 1990, I decided I would do more dance. Since then, I have been dancing and choreographing.

And did you carry any conceptual root from molecular biology to dance? 

Ten years of study in a scientific university definitely constructed an analytical way of thinking and working. I use this method in my work, but it isn’t specific to the field of biology. I’ve never tried to translate any knowledge or concepts from biology directly into choreography, but of course, they operate unconsciously. 

Could you describe the conceptual starting point of your first solo performance, Narcisse Flip, made from 1994 to 1997? 

Narcisse Flip was about the driving force to deconstruct the body in order to produce a different perception of it.

Would you describe what you mean by “deconstructing the body”?

Trying to consider one part of the body independently, which is of course impossible, but trying to imagine it. For instance, imagine that my upper arms are glued to my torso, and that my lower arms are able to move starting at the level of my hips. In this example, I would reconstruct the body where the arms start at the hips, not at the shoulders. This is a very simple example, but that is how I work in order to produce different kinds of movements—I try to produce a different body. It is one point of departure for exploring what my body can do, in the Spinozian understanding.

I have such a strong visual picture of that piece. How do you relate your work to the world of visual arts?

I’ve been through several different ideas of visuality in my work. For Narcisse Flip, I was working with a mirror—creating movement and watching it at the same time. When I performed the piece, I tried to recall how I saw the movement in the mirror and mimic it, so the fourth wall between the audience and the performers was like the mirror. For my next piece, Self-Unfinished (1998), I worked with a video camera and monitor in a cycle of activities: first doing an action, then recording it, then watching what I had done on the monitor. When I performed Self-Unfinished, instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I had seen on the monitor, I focused on accomplishing the physical task that I had observed as being at the root of each action, perhaps in a way that would look different than it had ever appeared before. I could not do and see what I do at the same time—there would always be a delay, which meant that I could not register exactly what my actions looked like in real time and each repetition would be different. This method also emphasizes the unknown element of what people will see when I perform. I wanted to make “the fourth wall” no longer a mirror, but a membrane that makes the spectator aware of this coming and going of appearances and disappearances that is constructed by the relationships between them, their perception, and the actions of performer. I explored another aspect of visuality in a piece called Untitled

Unfinished, unknown, untitled . . . 

Exactly. 

What was Untitled?

It was a piece I did in 2005 as an “unknown” artist. There was no title, no name, no description, no photos. The principle was to use dummies that looked like me, wearing hoods that covered their faces and clothing that covered their hands and feet, too. I wore the same clothing—all grey—so that no skin was visible. You couldn’t recognize which was an object and which was a human being. The piece was lit by the spectators, who had flashlights. To see something, they had to collaborate to make enough light, so in this piece, it is the audience that produces what it sees. Or in other words, what they see is the extension of the beam of their flashlights, producing a sort of tactile visuality.

Can you say more about the role of the audience in your work?

The spectators, or the audience, have been the focus of my attention for a while. Untitled draws attention to the spectators as individuals who are alone in the darkness. It looks at how the audience constitutes itself out of groups and individuals that do and undo themselves. In this sense, it’s a work that is about the spectators and how they manipulate a show or not, and vice versa. The show was often in the audience. In Le Sacre du Printemps, the spectators are addressed differently at different times. Sometimes they are addressed personally, and sometimes as one or several groups. 

Le Sacre du Printemps takes you into music in an entirely new way. Would you talk more about it?

It began when I saw a documentary of the Berlin Philharmonic rehearsing The Rite of Spring, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. I was attracted to the movements of the conductor, in that at some moments it was very unclear whether what he did was provoking or producing the characteristics of the music, or if it was the other way around. What are the causes, what are the effects, and what are the functions of those movements? Having no musical education, I could not be sure. Slowly I started to conceive of him as a dancer, and because the music was originally written for dance, I thought it would be interesting to use the conductor’s movements as choreography. I learned some of his movements and composed additional material as well. I perform these movements in front of the spectators, who are seated in the audience room of a conventional theater, putting them in a situation where they become “virtual” musicians. They don’t have the instruments, of course, but they sit as they would in an orchestra, and my movements are addressed to different groups of instruments or soloists, according to what the musical composition requires. 

If I am playing the first violin, am I placed in a special seat in this arrangement? Or does the audience become each instrument on more of a conceptual level?

You would be in a specific seat, because each seat offers a different audible experience. Peter Boehm, our sound engineer, distributed the sounds in different places within the audience, so if you sit as the first violin, you will hear the music in a way similar to what the first violin would hear while seated and playing in an orchestra. You won’t hear the music as if you were in a concert among other spectators. 

In this piece, your direct eye contact with the audience is very important. And the house lights are on, so you see them clearly. This is such a change for any performer—how does it feel?

I have never had an experience like it before. It’s quite a challenge because the experience of the piece comes out of relationships established during the performance. These relationships are sometimes very singular and individual, and depend on how each person reacts to the specific movements and gaze addressed to her or him. We are all in the light and none of us can really hide. While performing everything goes very fast—there’s very little time and space to think about what you’re doing or how it’s going. And of course, the exchange of gazes affects me a lot—it’s what creates the richness of the experience. It is difficult to find the balance between keeping track of the recording of this complex music, which continues no matter what else happens, and producing and enjoying these alive exchanges with the audience that are different on each evening. 

Le Sacre du Printemps is enormously theatrical in terms of its visual expressionism, broad arm movements, facial gestures, emotions, and of course the extraordinary sound. These elements are much less related to deconstructivism than your earlier work—it seems like they build another kind of space entirely. Do you agree, and is this a direction you want to continue to move in? 

Yes, definitely, though at the moment, I have no idea how it is going to develop. This year, for a piece based on the work of the German composer Helmut Lachenmann, I will look for choreographic potential in the gestures of musicians. This project is actually quite deconstructivist however: it works with all the possibilities in between seeing and hearing, seeing but not hearing, or not seeing but hearing the sound and gestures produced by musicians playing in a live concert situation. The aim is to investigate three of Lachenmann’s compositions: Pression (1969) for solo cello, Salut für Caudwell (1997) for two guitarists, and Gran Torso (1971/1976/1988), his first string quartet. The musicians will sometimes perform without any instruments, which emancipates them from the actions that serve or derive from playing music; they can instead build autonomous movements not reduced to function, which could at once bring them closer to the spectators and, maybe, transform them into “dancers.”

 
 
 
This interview was excerpted from Everywhere and All at Once: An Anthology of Writings on Performa 07.  Why Dance in the Art World takes place at Judson Memorial Church on Monday, September 17. Join us

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September 13th, 2012

Why Dance in the Art World? Jérôme Bel and RoseLee Goldberg in Conversation

On Monday, September 17, the Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt present Why Dance in the Art World?, an exciting evening where we will explore the history and future of the visual arts' relationship to and interest in dance. The panel discussion will include historian and author of Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet Jennifer Homans; choreographer, writer, and visual artist Ralph Lemon; MoMA PS1 curator Jenny Schlenzka; and Artforum.com editor and Artforum contributor David Velasco, moderated by Performa founding director and curator RoseLee Goldberg.

As we count down the days to this groundbreaking event, we will look back through Performa's archives as we search for the answer to "Why Dance in the Art World?"

Today, we have choreographer and dancer (and Performa 07 artist) Jérôme Bel in conversation with RoseLee Goldberg, November 2007:

Jérôme Bel: I am so happy to be presented in the context of Performa 07 because I feel more connected to some visual artists than to other choreographers. For the same reason, I am a longtime fan of your book, Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present [1979], for its mix of visual art and performance.

RoseLee Goldberg: But originally you came out of dance. Were you were trained as a dancer?

Yes. I was trained as a dancer because dance came easily to me. Also, my teacher fell in love with me, so that was another reason to go on dancing. But at the same time I went to galleries and visual art exhibitions. So when I started to make my own work, some strategies from the visual arts were there.

I identify myself as a visual artist. I identify with the loneliness of the visual artist. I identify with Marcel Duchamp when he says, “Some artists continue painting because they are addicted to the smell of turpentine.” I just change it to, “Some dancers are addicted to the build-up of lactic acid that occurs while training—but it hurts after a while, and I don’t want training to be painful!” I also identify with Daniel Buren. I once read that Buren said, “I have no studio.” It was a very powerful idea for me—that everything could be in my head and not in a dance studio. So I saw these links and grabbed what I could from the visual arts for my own practice.

And how were you able to actually bring the two art forms together? Was it in a dance context?

Oh, yes—in a dance context. It became very clear to me that it had to happen in a theater. Recently I did an installation in a museum for the Lyon Biennale, and I know now that a museum is not my place.

Why not?

The relationship with the audience in the here and now is very important for me; I need to know the effects of what I produce. I love visual art. I love museums. I love galleries. But at the Lyon Biennale, I suddenly realized that they were not the right spaces for me. I need this meeting with you, with the audience, and I need to know that if I do something on stage, it affects you—and how you are affected affects me at the same time.

There is a continuous reciprocal relationship during performance, and that is what my work has been about since the beginning. What is the relation of the people sitting in the darkness to the people standing in the light in front of them? That is my most minimal definition of theater. Now, after Lyon—which was a failure, in my opinion—I would say that theater and the practice of relating to the audience is what I am working on. That is much clearer for me now.

Yet you are still able to cross over and draw an art audience into the theater.

Yes, the people who first started to understand my work had a lot of knowledge in visual art. Also, it is usually people who are very well informed, and who have a foot in one or two other fields, who understand my work. For instance, another burning point of my self-construction, let’s say, is philosophy, especially the French philosophy of Deleuze, Foucault, and Barthes. So that’s another way in. Right now, the most important thing for me is that people who are in visual art go to see theater, because otherwise they are not informed. Of course, if you are not informed, you go to see terrible things. And theater is dusty and boring [laughs]. It’s also expensive to attend, which is not the case with the gallery or museum. But it can really be useful for everybody. I’ve started to notice more visual artists coming to see my work recently, which makes me very happy. Until now “crossover” was usually dancers and choreographers going to see exhibitions, but not so much artists going to the theater.

And that’s what I am trying to encourage with Performa 07. I was very interested in the idea that Yvonne Rainer was here in New York beginning in the 1960s, and that her ideas jumped across the Atlantic in the 1990s to be picked up again, in a very philosophical way, by your generation.

When I started making performances, I didn’t know Yvonne’s work. I was introduced to it when I met Xavier Le Roy and Christophe Wavelet from Quatuor Albrecht Knust. Suddenly I realized how far she and some of her colleagues at the Judson Dance Theater pushed the boundaries of what can be defined as dance. I was already into Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, and John Cage. John Cage was so important for everybody.

Can you talk a little more about how you saw this history of American dance from a French perspective?

Well, the official history, as we knew it in France, was centered on Merce and Trisha. Their work was not only very powerful, but was also shown here regularly. We didn’t know anything about Yvonne Rainer. But Wavelet, who is an independent researcher, said, “This is very important. Let’s think about Rainer. Let’s study her work,” and it’s thanks to him that her 1970 piece Continuous Project-Altered Daily was reconstructed in Europe by the Quatuor Albrecht Knust [in 2001]. The discovery of this piece, and all the parts of dance history that it relates to, helped me to continue to work in the direction I had already defined for myself coming from several other starting points: post-structuralism, Minimal art, Pina Bausch, Godard, Cage, and so on.

Some other French choreographers, like Boris Charmatz, are more interested in other Judson Dance Theater artists, like Steve Paxton and his contact improvisation. Everybody has different threads connecting to this history.

You seem to connect with the more conceptual work that came out of Judson, like Rainer’s. And you work on your own—without a studio, creating dances in your head. Are you training people to learn your way of thinking, or do you teach classes at all?

No, no, no. I am very much alone in the first part of my working process. Then I meet the performers to see if my ideas are shareable, and finally, the last step is to share those ideas with the audience! I think my performances are the best way to share my thinking, no? But in fact, I am not always understood, so I made a “catalogue raisonné” online, in which I try to explain my work.

We have this wonderful piece of yours, Pichet Klunchun and Myself, in Performa 07. How did this performance come about?

I was in Bangkok, where I intended to make a solo for Pichet, but there was a traffic jam and my taxi couldn’t find the theater, so we only had the afternoon to rehearse for a premiere that same night. So I thought, what can we do tonight? We had nothing, but we had been talking in order to get to know each other—so I said, okay, we will talk. Let’s find two microphones, and we will just keep on talking.

So it was like an instant performance?

Yes—we said we would talk about meeting each other. Who are you? What kind of dance do you practice? Blah, blah, blah. For me, it was not a performance at all. I even had us move to a gallery space instead of performing in the theater, because I didn’t think it was really a performance. When I went back to Paris, I said, okay, this is finished. But, fortunately, Frie Leysen, curator from the Kunsten Festival des Arts in Brussels, was in Bangkok that night and called me two weeks later.

And she asked you to perform it again in Brussels.

Right. And I said no. I love talking with artists—it’s my favorite occupation—but it’s not a performance. Frie disagreed, and convinced me to come. So Pichet and I went to Brussels, prepared a bit more, and we did it. Now it’s been going on for years, touring the world, bringing us to unexpected places like Iran, many countries in Asia—places my work wouldn’t ever have gone without Pichet and the intercultural content of the piece. A lot of non-Western dance and theater festivals could relate to this work.

Personally, it has helped me realize what I had been lacking in all my previous work: I was not letting myself speak. When I work with dancers, we speak most of the time in our rehearsals, but it never appears on stage. Even though there are misunderstandings, the spoken language is the most articulate way for a human being to communicate. As a trained dancer, I don’t really know how to use it, but my goal has always been to be as precise as I can, because all of my work is built out of precise ideas. Dealing with language—the tension, the gap between the body and spoken language—has always been one of the major purposes of my work.

I imagine that the conversation you have onstage with Pichet during this piece changes with each performance. When you prepare to perform this piece on various nights, do you think, “I have a new idea tonight,” or, “I saw something on the street in New York that we might incorporate?”

No. We always begin in the same way. But later on, if I see something new in the performance, or if I think about something during the show, I can change a question, or skip it, or ask about a detail I hadn’t noticed until then. It’s a very performative way of thinking.  

Theoretically, it’s interesting to analyze this in comparison to the traditional theater model—a play by Beckett, for example. When you’re performing a Beckett play, you have to respect this wonderful writer and his script, because the guy is dead and the only thing left is his printed text. Not that we are at all comparable to Beckett, of course [laughs], but we—Pichet and myself—we are alive. We are performing ourselves. We are the two authors of the play. Every night we can change it, because we have that “author”ization. But in truth, all theater is not only a written text. It’s words—spoken words—and every night you speak those words differently, even if they’re by Chekhov or Shakespeare. Every night you say them in a different way because, as you said, if something happened earlier that day, it alters your feelings as a performer.

And in terms of the pure theatricality of the piece, you’re not bored with it yet?

No, no. When we started, I said, okay, after six months we’ll be finished. I was sure that it would be awfully boring. But it’s not, because there is this potential to change everything every night.

There are two dominant objects in the performance—your chairs. Are they always in the same place on stage? In a video of one performance I saw you were sitting on the floor.

Yes, in the beginning we sat on the floor, because we started in Bangkok, and in Bangkok there are no chairs. I mean, they have chairs, but people sit on the floor, so that’s where we were.

Was the audience on the floor too?

Yes. And then we realized that in the West, people were sitting on chairs, and we were actually more comfortable in chairs. So it depends where in the world we’re showing it.

Are there other cultural specifics, for example when you performed in Africa, was there a sense of African ritual?

Depending on where we perform, it’s clear whether the audience is “choosing” Pichet or myself. When we are in Asia, they are behind Pichet, and I am the foreigner. When we are in Europe, they understand me better, and Pichet not as well. In Africa, they were really behind Pichet. For example, when we were in Tunisia and we got to the part where we talk about marriage, I said, “Well, in the West to get married is very old-fashioned. Nobody does it anymore.” And Pichet said, “In Thailand you need to marry first, before having children.” At this point the entire audience clapped for him. I was shocked. Sometimes the audience supports us by laughing, but in Tunisia, they showed me that I was being provocative, and that I was the bad West.

In Southern Africa, in the Zulu tradition, you have a baby first and then you get married. The idea is that the woman must be fertile, so you only get married after the child comes.

Ah, I did not know that! But it makes sense.

Why do you think your performance has become such a hit around the world?

I am very surprised that has happened! It’s hard for me to analyze because I am inside it, and the show only works when I am really there with Pichet, concentrating on him and trying to learn from him for my own practice. It is not a diplomatic exchange. Rather, I am interested in his knowledge—the tools of his performative art form can be useful for my own work. And of course meeting other performers, like Pichet, is very interesting for me—it means that I am not alone anymore! [laughs]

Is that good or bad?

It’s good! Until now it was all about me. All of my works were about myself. I might have twenty performers on stage, but they were all representing me. It was an obsession with myself. This project is opening me to otherness.

So you could do this performance forever.

We will see. What’s at stake is how far into analyzing our own practices we can go. Will we ever be able to understand everything? Sometimes I think describing the movement of lifting your arm above your head could be endless.

This interview was excerpted from Everywhere and All at Once: An Anthology of Writings on Performa 07.  Why Dance in the Art World takes place at Judson Memorial Church on Monday, September 17. Join us

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September 6th, 2012

Performance Now: The First Decade of the New Century

This Tuesday, September 11, "Performance Now: The First Decade of the New Century" opens at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.  The exhibition, curated by Performa's RoseLee Goldberg, brings together some of the most important and exciting performance artists in practice today, examining the ways that the ephemerality of live work is transformed into altogether new art works through documentation, and how visual artists use performance throughout their creative process.  

Performance is capable of activating museums and audiences like no other medium, and this program demonstrates that performance is not only contemporary, but the art of the future as well.

"Performance Now" also includes a series of lectures and film screenings; more information is available here

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August 27th, 2012 · Adrienne Edwards

Jayson Musson: "Halcyon Days"

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Performa's Visionaries Circle recently toured Jayson Musson's first solo exhibition, "Halcyon Days", at Salon 94 Bowery, led by the artist and Salon 94 director Fabienne Stephan. While Musson's works on canvas may be making their debut here, his performances as his alter ego, the savvy, satirical Hennessey Youngman and his Art Thoughtz videos, have already brought him significant critical attention (and laughs).  Performa's Adrienne Edwards had a few questions for Jayson as "Halcyon Days" draws to a close.

Adrienne Edwards: You have become so identified with your persona Hennessy Youngman. Few people realize that you have an MFA in Painting at the University of Pennsylvania. With your recent show, "Halcyon Days", at Salon 94, in which you present a group of paintings made of fragments of Coogi sweaters, the work seems to be not only a departure in material in your work but also marks a shift in direction that extends beyond the medium. What was the impetus for this turn?  How do these painting relate to your previous work?

Jayson Musson: The impetus for creating the work in "Halcyon Days" [was] derived from a simple joke. The initial premise of relating the Coogi sweaters to abstraction came from a blog post I did as Hennessy Youngman in the summer of 2010. That simple joke, which was really just a method of helping me characterize the then three-month-old Hennessy [character], gave way to a curiosity which led to the creation of the first sweater painting about a year later. Though "Halcyon" works have fully detached themselves from the originating joke, becoming works that stand on their own formal qualities, they do begin from my sense of humor and it's in that that these sweater paintings relate to my other bodies of work. 

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Is there a performance element to these works that might not be obvious at first glance? Is it perhaps more process-driven or conceptual? It seems to me that your Hennessy Youngman persona, which has been your primary vehicle for performance, is about subversion, irony, and satire, and I see a similar ideology in this work.  

Perhaps there is a bit of performance embodied in these works. I've always had a tenuous relationship with object-making in the fine art sense, never feeling truly comfortable with making "the thing that hangs on walls", what I consider the ever-dreadful and alienating inert painting. I guess I'm predisposed to works that have more charge than paintings, works that reach outside of their own history of means, so to speak. So in utilizing Coogi sweaters to make paintings, I feel as though I am performing being a painter, which creates the distance I need to fully occupy and accept my role as the creator of these fabric works. Coming to painting through the performance of painting grants me the levity I usually need to be engaged with a project.  I may have some commitment issues.

The "Halcyon Days" paintings are aesthetically aligned to the persistent technique of appropriation that has been prevalent in contemporary art and is also a foundational quality of black creativity. I am thinking especially about the spectrum of black music, from reggae to hip-hop, in which appropriation is so central.  What is the significance of sampling or appropriation in your work? Does it extend beyond material (for your objects and performances) to a conceptual frame, or, to go further, to an ideology about art making at this moment in time? 

Hmmm… the answer to that question varies based on the type of work I'm making. When I was writing the posters in Too Black for B.E.T. in the early aughts (2001-06), my use of appropriated images was simply to shift context of the images used, really like Appropriation 101 and very similar to memes that populate the internet today. In my tempera paintings, like Barack Obama Versus the Pink Robots, for example, appropriation, or sampling, or whatever people like to call it, doesn't really occur at all. In Art Thoughtz, the lecture-performances of Hennessy, I rampantly pilfer images. Essentially appropriation, for me, is just a tool for a job. It has definitely been made an easier tool to employ due to the availability of images on the internet, but I don't hold it in any esteemed position in my art making.

Do you think it is possible to locate Blackness (aesthetics, affect, identity, etc.) in abstraction? If so, how might the works in "Halcyon Days" do this?

Blackness is manifest in the works of artists of African decent. I don't believe Blackness to be a unified concept or to be located in a signature aesthetic identity. Yes, there are historical precedents that may dictate how past and present generations of Black artists make work and what they choose to make work about, but I see Blackness as an expansive field, which will be located in any and all investigations of Black artists no matter how far those investigations take them away from assumed notions of Black art. So yes, Blackness can be located in abstraction if a Black artist chooses to take up the task of producing abstract paintings.

Do you envision doing performances beyond your Hennessy Youngman persona? If so, how do you see performance relating to your future work? What does performance enable you to do that other artistic approaches do not?

I definitely see myself working with performance past the Hennessy project, but my future performative works will feature less of me as the central actor/performer. I'm not actually comfortable being in front of audiences, I consider myself an incredibly inept performer which doesn't seem to come across in Art Thoughtz due to editing. There's a lot of cursing and repetition that the audience never sees. It's a struggle. In terms of performance enabling me to do things that other artistic approaches don't, I'm not sure really… I have a set core of values (or lack thereof) and ideas about life that I bring to art making no matter the method of execution. If anything, performance has allowed me to confuse people more than I already do.

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Photos courtesy of Performa.

 

Adrienne Edwards works with Performa and is a PhD student in Performance Studies at New York University. She has written on the work of Lorraine O’Grady and Tracey Rose and is a contributor to the catalogue for Clifford Owens: Anthology.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of Salon 94.

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August 14th, 2012 · Marc Arthur

Relâche! and the Ballets Suédois

In anticipation of Relâche!- The Party on November 1, 2012, Performa's Marc Arthur introduces us to the history of this groundbreaking Dada event in the coming weeks.  This post looks specifically at The Ballets Suédois.

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Still from the Ballets Suédois’ El Greco, 1924.

“I wish to transfer something of the beauty found in these paintings into dance,” said Rolf de Maré, director of the Ballets Suédois.  His company, founded in 1920, would stage only 24 pieces over their five-year run, but their efforts to realize the aesthetics of painting on stage would result in some of the most innovative and genre-crossing works of the early twentieth century.  It culminated in Relâche, a collaborative two-act 'ballet instantaneiste' that featured a score by Erik Satie, sets by Francis Picabia, a film by Rene Claire, and performances by Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, and many others.  

The Ballets Suédois were following in the footsteps of the great Ballets Russes, a company founded by Sergei Diaghilev in 1909.  The Ballets Russes staged the original productions of Le sacre du printemps and Parade, which were results of collaborations with artists like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Joan Miró, Giorgio de Chirico, and Coco Chanel.  While both companies reached across disciplines to achieve their vision, the Ballets Suédois often disregarded all the rules of ballet in the pursuit of making visually compelling works for the stage. The Ballets Suédois were acting against the ballet of the time, which was primarily concerned with expressions of romantic beauty.

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Photograph from the shooting of Entr’acte with Rolf de Maré and Jean Börlin, 1924.

In the photograph above we see Rolf de Maré in front of Jean Börlin, the primary dancer and choreographer in the Ballets Suédois.  As Vaslav Nijinsky was a muse and lover to Diaghilev, Börlin was the same to de Maré.  Before founding the company, de Maré collected Cubist art, unpopular and rarely taken seriously at the time, but works by Georges Braque, Picasso, Fernand Léger, and Picabia would later become the basis for his productions.  The unpopular Paris avant-garde artists, specifically the Parisian Dadaists, were largely supported by de Maré's family's financial stability: His grandparents were prominent art collectors in Sweden.  As Francis Picabia said, “de Maré made it possible for an entire cosmopolitan generation in Paris to work with a purpose, to express itself freely and not have to give in to paralyzing worries about the demands of a capricious audience.”

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Still from The Ballets Suédois’ production of El Greco, 1924.

The paintings that provided the original impetus for de Maré to found his Ballets Suédois were El Greco’s sixteenth-century masterpieces. For de Maré, these paintings articulated the horrors of modern life and he wanted to translate their violent shapes and melancholy characters for the stage.

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Rendering of Fernand Léger’s set and costume designs for La création du monde, 1923.

La création du monde was a 20-minute ballet about the creation of the world. Based on African mythology, the music, written by Darius Milhaun, was heavily influenced by jazz  from Harlem. This piece is often cited as the first jazz ballet.

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Jean Cocteau reciting through a megaphone in his production of The Wedding on the Eiffel Tower, 1921.  

In 1921, Jean Cocteau wrote Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel for the Ballets Suédois.  Members of the Ballets Suédois mimed to the direction of figures dressed as phonograph machines with horns for mouthpieces against a painted set of the Eiffel Tower.

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Jenny Hasselquist and Jean Börlin as the bride and groom in his Les vierges folles (1920), with the Wise Virgins. Costumes and set by Einar Nerman. 

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Carina Ari as La Baigneuse de Trouville and Axel Witzansky as the photographer in Les Mariés de la Tour Eiffel (1921). Costumes by Irene Lagut.

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Les Ballets Suedois in Borlin's Nuit de Saint-Jean (also called Midsummer Night's Revel, 1920), most likely at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysée. Decor and costumes by Nils de Dardel. 

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Marc Arthur is the head of Research and Archives at Performa, and a contributing editor to Performa Magazine. 

All photos copyright the Dansmuseet, Stockholm.

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August 7th, 2012 · Tali Wertheimer

Stuart Ringholt: Anger Workshops

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Combining deadpan earnestness with slapstick humor and a fascination with the absurd, artist Stuart Ringholt’s work takes many forms, from performance, video, and sculpture to collaborative workshops. Ringholt explores mental illness, fear, and embarrassment by positioning himself and his participants in absurd situations and amateur self-help groups that he describes as “education through feeling.”

For dOCUMENTA (13), Ringholt presents Anger Workshops (2008), a participatory work in the form of a group-therapy session. Those in the group are invited to express their anger with, then their love for, each other. In TKTKTK, Ringholt writes about the work:

Groups are offered the opportunity to lose inhibition and express their anger using voice and movement to the sound of very loud house music. This phase runs for five minutes. In the following phase, participants consider ‘love’ and express it using statements such as ‘I am sorry if I have hurt you’ and ‘I love and respect you’ to the gentle and soft sounds of Mozart. The group then gently embraces each other and hugs [for] another for three minutes. After the activity, the group sits and discusses their experience.”

During the workshops, the room is closed to public viewing although the sound of the workshops can be heard outside its walls. When the workshops are not running, the doors are opened and visitors can walk into a large empty, carpeted room. A monitor plays AUM (2007), an abridged version of a film showing how the workshops are practiced.

Performa's Tali Wertheimer caught up with the artist between sessions at dOCUMENTA.

Tali Wertheimer: Where did the idea for the Workshop come from?

Stuart Ringholt: Bhagwan [Shree Rajneesh], or Osho, as he was also known, was an Indian ascetic who created the Aum meditation.  It is an active group meditation whereby you get angry for a day, a whole day, then loving for a day, sad for a day, sexy for a day, laugh for a day and on it goes. There was an article in Playboy [about Aum] in the '70s and a journalist labeled Osho and his followers a sex cult because on the day people were sexy, it turned into an orgy. The article unfairly represented the weeklong meditation, which to this day remains radical to my mind.

After Osho died, Veeresh, a devotee of Osho, created the three-hour Aum meditation as a gift and memorial to Osho. It is this shorter Aum that is currently practiced and involves experiencing all of the emotions, such as love and anger, for 20 minutes each. The Anger Workshops were developed in 2006 from my experience of the Aum.  These workshops are very much ‘baby steps’ for the community and run for 45 minutes. You get angry for five minutes and then loving for five minutes and sit and discuss. They promote the Aum. 

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At then end of my session in the Anger Workshop, someone in the group asked, “What makes this art?” Meaning, how does it relate to art historical practices?

If a gallery visitor gets angry or questions a seemingly non-artistic event playing out, I am happy. Many visit a museum expecting to see paintings on the wall and when they come across an Anger Workshop, they have to accept otherness; this is what’s important, because to accept otherness in every moment is to accept compassion and love.

This said, sound and participation are prevalent in this dOCUMENTA, and the work contributes to this debate.  Performance and Minimalism are also historical markers. The timber-clad exterior of the workshop room acts as a giant speaker of types with sound exiting the roofless room (think Judd with amp).  Minimalism was about what was inside the sculpture and outside, and this dichotomy plays out many decades later in these workshops. I split the audience into two groups; the participating sound-makers and the passive listeners. Earlier today, the alarm went off in the museum due to the sound vibration.

The relationship with minimalism is only tertiary and a collateral effect of the work. The primary motivation for this work has been to not work with synthetic materials but rather to create something inside the body. This is carried out by a series of compressions, which, ironically, is the domain of the traditional arts. Think metal, think paper, [both of] which are a compression of some kind. A potter compresses clay at the wheel and a child melds paper-mache. I continue in this tradition, albeit working with our emotional selves. The anger you release for five minutes in the workshop is very dense and is equivalent to an entire month’s worth of anger. It’s a compression of lived experience. You compress the anger individually and compress the love in pairs. Hugging for five minutes in the workshop may be the longest hug you’ve ever had and literally bringing the hearts so close [to each other] creates a compression. I encourage further compression by asking participants to breathe in unison with their partner while hugging, and this rise and fall of the breath further compresses the heart organs. 

You perform two or three times daily during dOCUMENTA. How did today’s workshops go?

Very well. I just worked with a large family, four or five kids. Eight- and ten-year-olds. They got angry for a minute; they thought they were in Disneyland. When it was time to hug, two of the kids, a little boy and little girl, went into a complete panic. The boy quickly turned to his dad and hugged him.

Generally speaking, people leave the workshop smiling happily, but there was a workshop where several people stormed out during the discussion. A young woman thought the workshop was 'fake' and didn’t enjoy getting angry or hugging. A young artist-psychiatrist took offense at my idea of creating something inside her body and also [suggested] that the workshop could be dangerous for some. Another in the group took offense to me touching her while she was hugging. There were some other minor grievances also.

That must be exhausting for you to deal with two or three times a day.

It’s quite tearful with people’s stories, so it’s quite exhausting. People release emotions related to the death of a father, death of a mother. The hugging reminds people of their mother, so it's serious business when one young Italian guy shares his story. 

Has your gallerist participated in a workshop?

It was good for my gallerist to do it.

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What did he scream?

He got really angry- he wouldn’t mind if I told you. He was upset with a client, a mining magnate who is also mayor of a small town in outback Australia. The guy was bragging about his wealth the same day a boy died of blood poisoning from an infection because there was apparently no money for a resident doctor in his town. He’d been carrying his anger around. He was really upset. After that he hugged a young woman and when the workshop was over she hugged him again, which doesn’t happen often. And they hung out later. He felt like he knew her already. The workshop brings strangers together and they depart as friends. It was lovely to witness.

Do you feel like the workshop is evolving during dOCUMENTA? Since it's being performed routinely, do you feel like the work is changing?

A friend of Josh’s [Milani, of Milani Gallery, who represents the artist in Brisbane] did the workshop and suggested that I get people to meditate on their anger longer before we start, and I adopted this advice. Health professionals who participated have also made recommendations which have been adopted. I have also begun encouraging participants to write me their thoughts in the weeks later. 

The hope is that they take away this lesson of how to express anger in a useful way.

One guy who did the workshop said he doesn’t have a place to get angry anymore since he sold his car. He wants to build a big helmet to scream into.

Society tells us that anger is wrong, that we aren’t allowed to get angry. I don’t think that’s a good thing. Anger shouldn’t be censored that way. We need space to get angry alone, somewhere anger can be transformed.

 

Stuart Ringholt's Anger Workshops run for the duration of dOCUMENTA 13 in Kassel, Germany. New Works opens at Milani Gallery on August 9; Circles Passing opens at the Institute of Modern Art on August 10.  Both in Brisbane, Australia.

All photos courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery. 

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July 31st, 2012

What is performance art?

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July 31st, 2012

What is performance art?

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July 31st, 2012

What is performance art?

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July 31st, 2012

What is performance art?

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July 31st, 2012

What is performance art?

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July 31st, 2012

What is performance art?

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July 31st, 2012

What is performance art?

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July 27th, 2012 · Jennifer Piejko

Blasting Voice

The current exhibition at the Suzanne Geiss Company has turned the gallery into something of a performance after-party, stretched out over nine summer nights. Walking into the gallery, first- time visitors may suspect that they have accidentally wandered into a sleek downtown club, one so new, cool, and underground that it must be members-only— one called Blasting Voice.

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Blasting Voice is a performance program that is, of course, temporary and ephemeral, and the club will soon return to daytime gallery business; the show will live on as anecdotes of seeing downtown celebrities and young artists performing, hanging out; you just had to be there.  Curated by Ashland Mines, Blasting Voice is more an exhibition of atmosphere than visual art. Well-known in Los Angeles for creating "environments" (often parties with committed followers and attendees), including WILDNESS at the Silver Platter, GROWN at Dinner House M, Mustache Monday parties, as well as New York's famed GHE2O G0TH1K.  The show at Suzanne Geiss welcomes artists who may in fact be more accustomed to performing in seedy nightclubs than the white cube. Collaborating with Thunder Horse Video, Mines designed a small stage surrounded by several columns rigged with entirely too much sound and light equipment for a single performer, even for established artists such TV on the Radio’s Kyp Malone, Lizzi Bougatsos, Math Bass, and Wu Tsang, as well as emerging artists such as Shayne Oliver and Geneva Jacuzzi.   

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I walked in last Friday, July 20, when the lineup featured Vishwam Velandy, Ilyas Ahmed, and Lizzi Bougatsos.  The experience indeed started not unlike that of visiting the hottest new club in town: waiting in a long line to get in.  Each show begins promptly at 6:30pm, but the line snaked around the corner long before six o'clock.  The Soho street on which Suzanne Geiss sits has certainly seen plenty of nighttime excess and overindulgence in the decades of mythical Downtown New York, so it seems fitting that the mostly very young crowd are leading the procession to the next wave of performance stars taking the stage inside.

On entering the gallery, audience members are encouraged to sit on the floor of the otherwise empty room, and the pristine white gallery soon fills with neon-colored smoke and lights. The room filled quickly, right before the first artist of the evening, Vishwam Velandy, emerged, suspended upside-down from the ceiling and addressing us over a microphone while maneuvering a laptop set up on stage.  Simultaneously pointing a flashlight and shuffling through YouTube videos projected on the wall, Velandy narrates without explaining too much, speaking in broad generalizations about social media connectivity, melancholy, and being the life of the party.  

Velandy left the stage and gallery staff prepared for the next act in complete darkness. Ilyas Ahmed then took the stage, flanked by a column of dim yellow bulbs, and strumming a guitar and singing a hymn-like song for several minutes. The assuaging music reminded that even the Blasting Voice knew how to whisper, as well.

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After an extended break, a woman dressed as a witch (Lizzi Bougatsos) emerged from the back room, walking a winding path through the audience. She shared tips on living better, including “drinking everything out of wine glasses”, "taking baths because they are cheaper than massages", and "doing one thing every day that reminds you of being in Paris", opening Styrofoam egg cartons out of a tattered Balenciaga shopping bag and dropping dry egg shells all over the floor. She made her way back to the circular stage, bathed in purple light and smoke, and began to sing. The Gang Gang Dance singer kept everyone on the floor entranced, even when she finished her song and appeared to disrobe behind a Mylar screen.

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The program wrapped for the evening, and everyone was ushered out into the somewhat surprising, winding daylight.  We had spent a night at Blasting Voice, but to our surprise the raging party ended briskly at eight o'clock, where the crowds headed out in search of the after- after-party.

 

Blasting Voice runs at the Suzanne Geiss Company until July 28.

Jennifer Piejko is the editor of Performa Magazine.

All photos courtesy of the Suzanne Geiss Company.

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July 26th, 2012

What is performance art?

Noel Buddy Fantastique answers with images

This week, you may have noticed some rather unexpected images floating around Performa Magazine, as well as Performa's Twitter and Facebook accounts. Noel Buddy Fantastique (visual artist Daniel Joseph) has been peppering our site with images from art historical texts, pop culture, and his personal practice as an indirect answer to the question we posed to him: What is performance art? His response was to amass a collection of discordant found digital images, and, in the spirit of his photo collage style, aggregate them into a quickly moving slideshow, overwhelming his audience with a relentless stream of fabricated photos lifted from the Web.  The caption-less images leave us much to dissect, his answer leaving us with many more questions than we had started with or anticipated.  

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This project, organized by Performa's Job Piston, is something that we will do more of in Performa Magazine, in the spirit of artistic collaboration and consideration in both defining and expanding performance today.

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Noel Buddy Fantastique is one alias of visual artist Daniel Joseph. His work consists of painting, collage, video, photography, music, sculpture, installation, curating, graphics, fashion, writing, and performance art, most notably through his collaborations with Brock Enright and the Fantastic Nobodies. His photo collage projects are visible on the Facebook profile of "Saul Goode", another of the artist's aliases. 

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July 16th, 2012 · Charlotte Cosson

Free Ride: The Art (and Science) of Skateboarding

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Raphaël Zarka is a French artist, born in 1977. Although he states that he is mainly a sculptor, he produces works of art in a wide range of media. He first started crafting objects when he attended the Beaux-Arts Academy in Paris before turning to photography, with the intention of documenting them. He then returned to sculpture through the photographic medium. While doing so, he also undertook some amateur research into certain concepts in the history of science—and skateboarding. Soon after, he began writing on these subjects.

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For Performa 11, Raphaël Zarka presented a three-part project: a sculptural installation, an essay, and a lecture, each a different component of the same project. Zarka’s principal innovation for that exhibit lay in his prose work, Free Ride, which was partly translated into English for the occasion. In this text, he unveiled his unusual idea that “the skateboard is the involuntary and intuitive continuation of Tony Smith’s road experience, transformed into sculpture by Robert Morris, Carl Andre or Richard Serra.”  To this interesting interpretation of minimal art, he added the idea that Galilean theories and astrological observations like those of Yantra Mandir in Jaïpur were unintentional skateboarding ramps, and similarly that these skateboarding ramps were in fact unconscious or unwitting tools for measuring gravity. This thesis—at first, only a hunch—made Raphaël Zarka embark on some exhaustive research. From there, he published two books on the history and sociology of skateboarding, while trying in his formal practice to merge his interests in this sport with studies in minimal art and the mechanical sciences. He found many pregnant connections between these three very different domains, and then rendered these links through his use of sculpture “in the expanded field” , as well as in a lecture that he further developed. He then recently transcribed his lecture into his essay "Free Ride". It was thus even more intriguing to attend his Performa lecture, which was in a way a mise en abyme: a conference on a conference-based prose work.   

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The third part of Zarka’s New York project consisted of filling the Performa Hub with a plywood skateboarding ramp. However, it was neither an ordinary ramp nor a proper work of art. The artist presented it as an application to skateboarding of a Galilean theory, which states that acceleration is higher on the cycloid curve than on the arc of a circle.  Indeed, even though some theorists have known that a cycloid might be more efficient for rolling over surfaces, they never actually tried to build one for skateboarding. Raphaël Zarka therefore took upon himself the task of doing so, thus revealing his love for both experimentation and concretization. This is only one instance of how this French artist imparts three-dimensional life to objects that once existed only in theory. He even invented a typology to define his different replicas, and named these specific achievements “reconstructions.”  For instance, he produced Studiolo, a sculptural model of the study painted in Antonello da Messina’s famous Saint Jerome in His Study. With these reconstructions—as well as some other re-creations—Raphaël Zarka seeks to develop the second point of Lawrence Weiner’s "Declaration of Intent": “The piece may be fabricated.”  In the young artist’s hands, it seems that this rule transforms into “anything previously built or thought of can be materialized or readapted, if the artist has a proper justification.” Indeed, Raphaël Zarka creates this justification by writing, which is a medium that allows him to produce concrete works, often based on replicas. In the context of Performa 11, his ramp was a concrete embodiment of the dramatic meeting points he developed in Free Ride, while his essay provided the rationale for constructing the ramp. 

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Raphaël Zarka, Free Ride (Installation Views). 2011. Mixed media.  A Performa 11 Project. Photos courtesy of Performa.

Even though his works of art usually look like abstract sculptures or scientific tools, it would be unfair to label both their aesthetic and their meanings as dry. Indeed, Raphaël Zarka is aware of the awkwardness of his associations, and it is not without humor that he usually displays them. His work is also about the beauty of experimentation—that is, the beauty of testing concepts again and again. The ramp that the artist placed in the Performa hub was, in fact, a way to allow skateboarders to experiment with the efficiency of the cycloid curve. However, it was also a way to embody a poetical fact: the cycloid is proof that the shortest way to go from one point to another is not a straight line. Raphaël Zarka, by making this point, thus gives insight into his methodology of thinking by taking detours, and of working in a spirit of playfulness. “It is better to play with existing things than to believe we can invent new ones,” he likes to say. What better way to assert this concept than by poetically and playfully comparing a skateboarder riding a public sculpture to Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, or to “an Egyptian obelisk on the back of a stone elephant”?   

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Like other European “research-based artists,” Raphaël Zarka thus uses knowledge as his main material, and works like a scholar, without forgetting the possibilities allowed by his amateur status. In fact, his sculpture Studiolo could be seen as a metaphor of contemporary artistic production: a mental space in a post-studio era. His oeuvre therefore seems more concerned with storytelling, connections, and knowledge than activism and political statements. But even though his practice appears harmless at first, what could be more politically engaging than championing erudition and books in a world ruled by short-term profits and high efficiency? What could be more anarchical than introducing skateboarders—better known for damaging public art rather than for seeking to preserve it—into a New York City art hub?

Charlotte Cosson is a PhD candidate at the Graduate Center of CUNY, New York/ La Sorbonne, Paris, and a curator of "Read, Look! We promise it's not dangerous" at the Emily Harvey Foundation, New York.

All photos courtesy of Free Ride by Raphael Zarka unless otherwise noted.

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July 10th, 2012

The Performa Writing Live Residency

The Performa Writing Live Residency seeks four unique voices to serve as year-long writers in residence at Performa Magazine.

Developed to broaden the outreach and scope of Performa Magazine, The Performa Writing Live Residency showcases a select group of diverse voices in the global arts community who will act as international correspondents covering the most exciting and significant artists and ideas in contemporary performance. These four writers will represent the next generation of art and performance critics, and the Performa Writing Residency will provide them with an incredible platform and avid readership of curators, artists, and other arts professionals in exchange for their best efforts. 

A unique online publication with a following of art professionals, Performa Magazine features documentation, short essays, interviews, video, and audio that offer original material in all mediums related to performance. Fellows will exhibit a wide-ranging and cross-disciplinary background with the ability to produce high-quality writing informed of themes, concepts, and issues of live art and performance with substantial academic and historical consideration. 

All potential candidates require:

A degree or current enrollment at the graduate or postgraduate level.  Students in their senior year of undergraduate studies will be considered on a case-by case basis; 

A strong background in fine arts, art history, art criticism and journalism with experience writing about art and culture.  This program is looking for individuals with the ultimate goal of a career in writing;

A commitment of one year-long period of contribution to Performa Magazine. This entails roughly six to eight articles and features, and frequent correspondence with editors and staff.

To apply, please send CV,  letter of interest, and three writing samples attached to amy@performa-arts.org. Please answer the following questions:

How did you first hear of Performa or Performa Magazine? What is your relationship to each?

Where are you located, and why would you be particularly suited for covering art and performance in your current location?

What issues or ideas specifically interest you concerning live art and performance?

Please prepare three short proposals for potential articles (four-line maximum).

All applications are due by August 20, 2012.

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July 3rd, 2012 · A.E.Zimmer

Berlin, The Playground for Performance

Part Two of Two

A.E.Zimmer: With this festival, you’re negotiating a gap in the public understanding of performance, both from the perspective of the artist and audience. As a burgeoning series, how does MPA-B try to engage those unfamiliar with performance art?

Florian Feigl: We learned that there exists quite an interest in events that provide an introduction to performance art, its history and traditions. Besides the professional and already-interested audiences, "first-timers" like coming to watch lectures and video presentations.

 

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We drew two conclusions: There exists a sort of visual illiteracy regarding performance art. People want to get an idea about where to place what they might witness, experience. People are dubious about what to expect when going to see performance art; naked people inflicting pain on themselves is a common expectation. There exists a very restricted imagination of rather conceptual approaches. However, this year’s edition of MPA-B included a series of practical workshops directed to both professional practitioners and students as well as non-professionals and amateurs interested in a practical approach to performance art. Due to basically nonexistent funding, fees had to be charged for the workshops, but it would be great to offer this possibility for free.

Francesca Romana Ciardi: A lot of how MPA-B engages those unfamiliar with performance art has to do with visibility. Obviously, the media has played an essential role in this. This year, for example, we were featured in a number of national newspapers, online platforms and radio interviews which helped us bring the relatively unknown world of “Performancekunst” to a much broader audience. Thanks to this kind of exposure, we were able to better promote our program, which this year featured a wider range of performance projects and a greater geographical outreach than last year, which arguably catered to a much more diversified audience. From performances, site-specific actions and lectures to book launches, talks, exhibitions and participatory initiatives, MPA-B 2012 offered such an assortment of projects that we have seen the emergence of a new audience engaging with the performance art scene of the city.

 

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 A.E.Zimmer: What is required when cultivating an appreciation for live performance?

Francesca Romana Ciardi: To start, it is important to have an openness and receptivity that go beyond the simple expectation of entertainment.

Florian Feigl: Very generally, a certain openness to unusual and surprising impressions to be witnessed on a visual, intellectual, and emotional level. Meaning to, intellectually and otherwise, take part in processes that above all mean to question one’s own points and perspectives in order to make for new ways of thinking, seeing things differently, take part in processes that most probably would not have been accessible without the performance, no matter whether you are an audience member or artist.

A.E.Zimmer: Do you think a sense of community is facilitated by the experience of live performance? Is this community necessary for performance art to thrive?

Francesca Romana Ciardi: I believe live performance carries with it a sense of reflection, wonderment and ritual, and in the shared space of its making and doing, it connects people as if they were part of a constellation that expands and merges with presence and time. As makers or viewers of live performance, we carve out and fill a space that speaks to our experience and which, for as diverse as it can be in its individual manifestations, can consolidate us into a community. However, I believe this affiliation or projection of belonging to a community (here I am paraphrasing Benedict Anderson's notion of imagined communities) is not necessary for performance art to thrive as it is a very resilient, independent and self-determining art form and a very individual, personal and self-involved journey can advance regardless of its existence within a more or less definable and intangible grouping. 

 

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A.E.Zimmer: What are your hopes for the future iterations of MPA-B?

Francesca Romana Ciardi: I hope MPA-B will evolve into a fully sustainable entity, with the ability to offer micro-collaboration grants to its program partners to develop performance art projects that can be incorporated into its framework. Through sustainability, we envisage the possibility of expanding our program, invite international guests and create partnerships with local institutions and universities to further promote dialogue, critical discourses and practice-based exchanges between performance art practitioners and the public. Ultimately, we hope to be able to reclaim the space and prominence that performance art deserves within the city's cultural panorama mainly dominated by subsidized dance, theater and music festivals; to celebrate its breadth, experimentation and creative force and to allow it to enrich the city culturally and artistically in new meaningful and groundbreaking ways. 

This is the second half of Performa Magazine's interview with the organizers of Month of Performance Art, Berlin.  The first half is posted here.  


This interview has been edited for clarity. All photos courtesy of Leon Elias Donath for Month of Performance Art, Berlin.

 

A.E.Zimmer is a writer and regular contributor to Performa Magazine.

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June 29th, 2012 · A.E.Zimmer

Berlin, The Playground for Performance

Part One of Two

Even in the course of its bruised history, few have ever reproached Berlin for a lack of dynamism. Indeed, the scope of Berlin’s iconic energy has spread like wildfire, and “Berlin” as buzzword has only grown in global art circles, as the city has left recovery mode and become a reconstituted cultural capital that’s thoroughly modern, fit with a glamour that hints at its Weimar yesteryear. Berlin’s tolerance for the eccentric has withstood her many re-fashionings and facelifts, even with the city’s current status as a contemporary art capitol, so it’s no wonder that May in Berlin would be dedicated to live art and performance, that rampant visual art offshoot growing in popularity like Kudzu.

Enter Month of Performance Art- Berlin, or MPA-B– an exhaustive, month-long platform held this spring, devoted to spreading live art and performance to all corners of the city. Still in its infancy, MPA-B’s second year in action has already amassed an impressive following, this year’s highlights including performances that observe thresholds of human fascination with disgust, a “Love Mass“ officiated by one Reverend of Love (naturally), and a Surrealist taxi shuttling passengers to and from unheard-of destinations.

 

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I spoke with co-founders and curators Francesca Romana Ciardi, Florian Feigl, and Jörn J. Burmester to discuss the genesis of their great event and their hopes to perfect the confusing, seductive tango between live performance and and audience.

A.E.Zimmer: How did your lives first intersect with performance? What has drawn you to performance as an artistic pursuit?

Florian Feigl: As a teenager, I had some contact with underground filmmaking and industrial music. Living in a small provincial town in West Germany in the mid-1980s, I started out experimenting with sculpting, live performance, filmmaking, and industrial music with a very small group of people. Those practices were almost always crossing borders; sticking to just one practice wasn’t useful- it was a limitation. Liveness definitely was a very important characteristic of our practice. Time-based work with a strong emphasis on process is still what I'd describe as my prime interest in terms of performance.

 

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Jörn J. Burmester: Performance has always been central to my life. As a child, I was playing music. As a teenager, I became fascinated with theater, and was lucky enough to get my start in what was then called project theater and today would be called devised theater: stage formats developed collectively by the groups that performed them. Eventually, I got bored by theater and its focus on individual psychology and more or less fictional narration. 

I was exposed to a variety of conceptions of performance art, both as a form of visual art and as radically different experimental theater, while studying Applied Theater Studies at the University of Giessen. It first presented itself as a chance for liberation, a chance to do perform what I wanted, a space without rules. 

 

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Francesca Romana Ciardi: I first became interested in performance while living in London. I moved there in 1996 when I was only 18, unaware that the city was going through the cultural renaissance known as "Cool Britannia" from which brutally revealing and touching phenomena such as the In-Yer-Face Theatre of Sarah Kane emerged, as well as more dubious, terribly consumerist ones like the Spice Girls. 

I remember going to illegal parties and watching incredible performances transform abandoned factories and disused buildings into places of magic and mystery, and then later trying to reproduce some of their aesthetic qualities while experimenting with old video cameras borrowed from college. But it wasn’t until a few years later that I started performing when I joined the international physical theater company Theatralia and began a series of collaborations with artists working across film, theatre, music and dance.

However, my passion for performance, more specifically performance art, was ultimately cemented when the Brighton-based collective Leonard invited me to take part in their show Grass at the National Review of Live Art in Glasgow in 2007. I knew I had finally found a language in performance that fully resonated with me, and,  free of stage and aesthetic conventions that I had experienced up to that point as a performer, enabled me to take greater risks, thus becoming more receptive and responsive to my surroundings. It also led me to experience real strength and enjoyment, not in being stylistically and choreographically accurate and prepared, but in simply being myself: exposed, vulnerable and honest, armed only with my body and ideas.

 

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A.E.Zimmer: How did you come to Berlin?

Florian Feigl: I'm a performance artist and curator. Besides my artistic and curatorial practice, I lecture, write and teach performance art at art schools and universities.  Berlin seems to be a good spot to get along with practices that tend to not fit into many boxes-which nonetheless have huge potential to be applied to the most diverse topics and situations. The wide range and easy access to all sorts of practices, culturally, artistically, socially make it a pretty surprising and inspiring experience to be in this city.

Jörn J. Burmester: I moved to Berlin in 1985, escaping a quaint but rather boring background in West Germany, to pursue my then still-active interest in theater. After working in a variety of independent theater groups as an assistant director, dramaturge, technician, producer and sometimes actor for some years, I went on to study in Giessen and New York, tried my hand in writing for the theater, was forced to take a job in the corporate world, and finally decided to stop compromising and do only what interested me in 2000. It has been a steady mix of group and solo work since then, and it still is a continuous learning process.

A.E.Zimmer: How did MPA-B come about?

Florian Feigl: At the end of January 2011, Performer Stammtisch (the Berlin-based artist network founded by Burmeister) invited activists from various Berlin-based organizations, project spaces, artist networks, artist-run spaces and galleries to discuss the general situation of performance art and performance artists in the city, and how to possibly improve it, demand more attention, and introduce it to broader audiences. Already in that first meeting we had the idea to install an official Month of Performance Art. The idea was to frame the ongoing practices of various artists during one month of the year and put them into one program, to make visible the vibrant activity that is going on between artists. Three months later, the first Month of Performance Art took place.

Jörn J. Burmester: I founded Performer Stammtisch in 2003 and have hosted it with Florian since 2007. We held regular meetings to watch and discuss performance art. In February of 2011 we called a special meeting, inviting all independent producers, curators and organizers of performance art we knew in Berlin, to discuss ways to collaborate and improve the general situation for our art form in Berlin. The idea of MPA was developed during that meeting, and to our surprise everyone agreed to create the Month of Performance Art, with the first edition taking place only three months later. The basic idea was to join forces to promote a better understanding of the Berlin performance art scene among ourselves and the general public.

 

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A.E.Zimmer: Florian, I'm interested in your referral to the art of performance as a "general situation". Language often grows broad when talking about performance and its reception as an artistic practice. Why do you think this is?

Florian Feigl: I am not quite sure if it isn’t a misunderstanding. What I tried to point out was the general situation of performance art practitioners regarding possibilities to keep up their practices, exhibit, perform, etc.  However, I understand this as a very productive misunderstanding. Performance as a "general situation" describes a growing misunderstanding that confounds the artistic practice with all sorts of performances in very different contexts such as public, economic, social and, of course, the varying cultural performances. From my point of view, the main difference between artistic practice and the other understandings of performance is the non-utilitarian, process-oriented approach of the artistic practice. But let me be very clear: a non-utilitarian, process-oriented  approach is critical. This approach to art is a pretty precise line to be drawn between performance art and performance in whatever other sense: we talk about art and not about running shoes!

 
 
This interview has been edited for clarity.  All photos courtesy of Leon Elias Donath for Month of Performance Art, Berlin.
 
 

A.E.Zimmer is a writer and regular contributor to Performa Magazine.

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June 25th, 2012 · Jennifer Piejko

The New Futurism: From Luigi Russolo to Luciano Chessa

Conductor and composer Luciano Chessa brought history to life for Performa in 2009 by celebrating the 100th anniversary of Italian Futurism with his Music for 16 Futurist Noise Intoners. First designed in 1913 by avant-garde painter and musician Luigi Russolo, the 16 crates with cranks and levers were the very first analog synthesizers, and the beginning of modern music.  The concert featured Einstuerzende Neubauten member and Nick Cave collaborator Blixa Bargeld, avant-garde saxophonist John Butcher, Deep Listening pioneer Pauline Oliveros, Faith No More and Mr. Bungle singer Mike Patton, sound and text-based performer Anat Pick, avant-garde musician Elliott Sharp, and composer and vocalist Jennifer Walshe collaborating with composer and film/video artist Tony Conrad.  Since the orchestra's initial performance for Performa 09, the intonarumori (noise intoners) have continued to tour the world.  

The composer and UC Press have just released Luigi Russolo, Futurist, giving us the first full history of the pioneering Futurist and musician available in English.  Charting the very beginnings of Futurism, analog music, and the connections between music aesthetics and scientific theories, the book reconciles Russolo's artistic temperament, spiritual awakenings, and philosophical entanglements.

Luciano was kind enough to share a preview of this exciting new release; Performa Magazine readers can preview Chapter 4 of the book, "Painting Noise: La musica."

 

Adapted from Luigi Russolo, Futurist, by Luciano Chessa, published by University of California Press. © 2012 by the Regents of the University of California.

 

 

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June 21st, 2012

Summer Reading Sale

Performa's bookstore is launching its annual summer sale, with something just for Performa Magazine readers: All three Performa books with Performa 09 artists Dexter Sinister's limited-edition Last Newspaper and a special publication from Alicia Framis, Lost Astronaut Instructions.  The entire set is available for $75 plus shipping at the Performa bookstore.  

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June 12th, 2012

The Japanese Edition of Performance Art: From Futurism to Present

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Wu Tsang, <i>Full Body Quotation</i>, Performa 11. Photo by Liz Proitsis, 2011.
Wu Tsang, Full Body Quotation, Performa 11. Photo by Liz Proitsis, 2011.
June 11th, 2012 · A.E.Zimmer

Myth and Legacy in WILDNESS

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An aged beauty sits in front of the washed out ambers and reds of a nightclub revealed in daylight. With articulate hands she gestures with a finesse learned when one is practiced in transforming oneself. Chatty and light, she reflects on her past. She remembers why and when she first tried on women’s clothing, and the Silver Platter, the downtown Los Angeles bar that encouraged her to do so. When discussing the Silver Platter’s patrons, she brightens. She recalls the occasional comparisons and jealousies between the emigrant Hispanic transwomen who frequented there, as every Tuesday night, the historic gay bar housed an influx of young artists, musicians, and creatives. The mash-up caused not a little competition, forcing locals to rub up against what some understood as “blancos of every color”.

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Yet, for the beauty in the barstool, the ageist rivalries that arose from such intersection seemed to her, inevitable. Flanked by chipped paint and jewel tone streamers, she remembers the cattiness of those nights warmly, her voice without envy or reproach. She tilts her head and smiles, full of a dreamy nostalgia–“All of this?” she asks, and with a lightness motions over herself. “ All of these ruins were once a monument”.

Such is the tone of Wu Tsang’s Wildness, the artist’s newest work and second foray into narrative filmmaking and documentary. Screened at the Whitney Museum’s 2012 Biennial, Wildness is a film kaleidoscopic in intent, exploring the class-gender overlap of a party (of the film’s namesake) hosted by the bar–and engineered by Tsang and a crew of performers, DJ’s and musicians– whilst also exploring the Silver Platter’s iconic history and community within downtown L.A. Wildness, both the film and party that lends its name, is a dissection of what happens when the analytic minds of young intellectuals converge with the outstanding realities of emigrant urban and Hispanic communities. It is a film at once ecstatic and mournful in its memory of the now defunct party. Ecstatic for the bonds and community forged within the bar’s walls, yet tinged with the trepid fear and danger risked by those who ventured outside.

The emigrant transwomen who face legal, social, and political ramification populate this film like powdered revolutionaries, their stories interwoven with equal parts nightlife and activism, scored by original music from Total Freedom, Nguzunguzu and others.

Wildness anticipates a hairsplitting of differences within race, class and gender , but does not try to confirm them. Instead, and like much of Tsang’s past work, including his “Full Body Quotation”, a performance shown in Performa 11, Wildness hinges on an interest and self-consciousness in understanding voice and representation, doing as much to include a wide breath of individuals as much as it to be self-aware of their exigent contrasts and contradictions.

On the last day of Wildness’ screening at the Whitney, a conversation with Tsang and filmmaker Matt Wolf continued the dialogue of voice, narration, and representation raised by the film. Wolf, the director of Wild Combination, a documentary on Arthur Russel, and the forthcoming Teenage, initiated talk of auteur-ship and the limitations of narrative, especially within the context of queer and experimental filmmaking.

“I think that it’s always a trade-off that I’ve come to terms with, that sometimes you sacrifice meaning and complexity in order to tell a good story, and sometimes there are reasons to want to do that” Tsang reflects. “All of that struggle that was apart of the process of putting together this story, I think, is the thing that the film has become. And that’s what I could have hoped for.”

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In their discussion of Tsang’s use of voice and voiceover, Tsang mentioned his anxiety in projecting a singular “trans-experience” to a wider audience. “I’m noticing this trend– it’s not that the world doesn’t want to see queer people of color, it’s that they want to see a certain kind of representation. If you make something that pushes through that boundary…that can cause a lot of discomfort in wondering what is an authentic represe tation.”  In response, Wolf recites Wildness’s opening lines, spoken by the Silver Platter itself: “Time changes everything. What will become of me? Who will tell of my legacy?” These concepts, Wolf says, are big concepts. They are huge contemplations, largely unanswerable, and it is in the bar’s lines that Tsang’s representational worries are navigated.

Whimsy, when employed effectively, can to regulate a confrontation or problem in subject matter. The decision to give the Silver Platter a literal voice (played by artist Marianna Marrioquin) is inherently fantastic, and furthermore, can allow Tsang a kind of deflection. A tome worth exploring throughout the legacy of transcinema, the whimsy in Wildness allows an ease in exploring problematic subject matter, whilst also allowing Tsang a shirking or side-step in becoming a kind of posterchild for a  “transidentity” oft demanded from those who view a film like Wildness with expectation. Indeed, whimsy helps mitigate any of these ruffled feathers, or anyone who cites the inconsistencies of the cast’s levels of privilege, public voice, race, gender or class. 

It’s Wildness’s very interest in scope that lends it a piecemeal quality, at its core a hybridist enterprise of ideas than anything else. The narratives and tropes of transcinema broken down or readjusted through Tsang’s conceptual lens are broad and ambitious, enveloping the cast of characters in the imagined future of an activist. The ghostly, magical remembrances of those Tuesday nights allow the memory of its patrons to exist in an unidentified post-Silver Platter utopia, where the women of Silver Platter are safe in Tsang’s deconstruction. Their bodies, unspecified as “other”, are liberated by any restraints that articulate transgender experience today. But these joys, in the end, are lyrical and mythic ruminations, hopefully imagined and speculative.  

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As such an envisioned utopia remains foggy in our mind’s eye, a feeling of unfinished-ness lingers in Wildness. This is perhaps its biggest draw and biggest detraction, attributed not just to its narrative ambitions but also to the film’s ongoing reconfiguring (a visit to the film’s blog candidly illuminates its many incarnations). Even Tsang’s denial of a committed interest in narrative filmmaking backs up the film’s haphazard, all-in-the-pot quality; but not without dealing with a care and sensitivity toward his subjects.            

Ultimately, Wildness's rough edges are as exact as anything, a portrait of the precise tears in community fabrics and identities that, unbeknownst to many, are always falling in and out of fray. In this work, unfinished becomes unfettered, and after the film’s end we can leave fantasizing of a carefree clumsiness and frailty in life that little few are ever offered in these times. So the memory of Wildness is wild–our imaginations dance with wild life.

 

A.E.Zimmer is a writer and contributor to Performa Magazine.

All film stills courtesy Wu Tsang.

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June 8th, 2012

Performance: Live Art 1909 to the present, first published in 1979

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June 8th, 2012

The Chinese Edition of Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present

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Liz Glynn at Performa 11. Photo by Paula Proitsis.
Liz Glynn at Performa 11. Photo by Paula Proitsis.
June 5th, 2012 · Jennifer Piejko

Performing Abstraction

Performing Abstraction, the current exhibition at Luciana Brito Galeria in Sao Paolo, traces the performative aspects that live in abstract art, looking at the ways that artists continue to reinvent the notion of abstraction in contemporary practice.

These works articulate relationships across different mediums and artistic traditions, and the processes involved in creating abstract art which relies on action and participation (bringing to mind Liz Glynn's geometric, living, breathing, dancing construction Utopia or Oblivion, part of Performa 11).

Performing Abstraction includes work by Armando Andrade Tucela, Trisha Brown, Carlos Bunga, Ernst Caramelle, Hreinn Fridfinnsson, Mario García Torres, Fernanda Gomes, Marine Hugonnier, Zilvina Kempinas, David Maljkovic, Clido Meireles, Falke Pisano, Tobias Putrih and Bojan Sarcevic.  The exhibition was curated by independent curator Rina Carvajal, and runs until June 30th, 2012.  More information is available on the gallery's website.

 

Jennifer Piejko is the editor of Performa Magazine.

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May 28th, 2012

The Reissue of Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present

"Performance has been considered as a way of bringing to life the many formal and conceptual ideas on which the making of art is based. Live gestures have constantly been used as a weapon against the conventions of established art."

– RoseLee Goldberg

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May 28th, 2012

International Editions of Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present

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A collection of international covers from Brazil, Italy, France, Spain and Croatia for RoseLee Goldberg's Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present, first published in 1979.

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May 25th, 2012 · Marc Arthur

Richard Maxwell in Conversation with Marc Arthur

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Photo by Michael Schlemming

Richard Maxwell is a New York City-based playwright and director who has been making plays with his company, New York City Players, since 1999.  For five consecutive days he staged an open rehearsal with his company on the fourth floor of the Whitney Museum as part of the 2012 Whitney Biennial.  Following these rehearsals, Maxwell and Performa’s Marc Arthur met up to talk about his process and his experience staging theater within the context of a museum. 

Marc Arthur: When I first walked into the vast and empty fourth floor where you were rehearsing with your company, I searched for clues about what I was watching.  Neither the wall text or museum brochure revealed anything.  Why did you leave out the details of content of your show?

Richard Maxwell: The great thing about working with Jay [Sanders] and Elizabeth [Sussman] is that they were really supportive and understanding. Even half-baked notions I was helped along with, which is unusual because I’m used to having to justify my position (instead of collaborating on an idea) and always feeling like concessions must be made.  I had this feeling that the content would convey too much unintentional political or moral information, because the show was about witchcraft and I wanted to be able to change the content at the last minute.  I wrote this very quickly and I wrote it for the Whitney.

Is there any significance to the witch hunt theme in the context of a museum?

Part of the reason I was drawn to it was this public aspect in the play.  I didn’t know how the public would figure into this but I knew that it would only help if you had a trial, for example.  There was public milling about and I thought it would help in making the situation more acute somehow, adding another layer to it. 

So you saw the audience as voyeurs of this trial?

Yes, and they actually were in the end. That was definitely on my mind.  The thing I’m trying to connect is friendship and witch hunts.  I know that they both exist.  And I know that they’re both in this show. I feel like they’re both connected, and I feel like there’s an aspect of a witch hunt inside the dynamics of a friendship. 

It was exciting to watch you cut an entire scene in the rehearsal on Friday.  It felt a little voyeuristic watching you work.  Why did you not step into the action as a director during the final run-through on Sunday?

I learned that I wanted to stay out of it to give the viewer more agency in watching, coupled with a feeling that I wanted to be anonymous. 

Why?

I got tired of reckoning with this question of am I doing this for them or for me?  Which ultimately goes back to the issue of am I doing this to impress people?  I wanted the folks who were watching to be more involved.  I didn’t know how else to get them involved without it seeming like direct audience participation, which is pretty horrible.  However I did try to get the public involved by handing out lyric sheets to a song I wrote. 

How did that go?

I think people liked it but I really didn’t like it.

Did they sing along?

Yeah, everybody sang.  But it was something that I would run from if I were a museum visitor in that situation.  I don’t know what it is; it’s so repellent that it’s probably worth exploring. 

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Photo by Sascha Van Riel

It took eight hours to get through one rehearsal, and you rehearsed for five consecutive days.  How did endurance affect your process?

It turns out rehearsing in front of a crowd takes a lot of stamina. I got a little loopy as the days accumulated and I noticed that I just didn’t want to stop to get into the nitty-gritty of the scenes.  For example, a scene written in a room somewhere in a house and trying to find that space mentally for the performance– it didn’t seem like the best use of time.  So, I kept going back to the question: What’s the big picture? What’s the story arc?  How’s the structure?  And, like you saw me cut a scene– that’s the kind of macro work that was happening.  I felt like that fit into what I imposed on everyone.  Which was that we’re going to start at the beginning of the play and work our way through it in a rehearsed fashion to the end. 

What were pro and cons of developing a piece in such a public setting? 

It was great.  The only con is that I couldn’t really hear so well in there.  It took a lot of energy to listen and the breadth of the space made it hard to see.  I liked it because I was able to respond to the public’s reaction immediately and chart what they responded to without the pressure of being trapped in a seat.  It was interesting to see what people volunteered to stay for- there was never a time when I felt like people were obliged to stay.  That’s a healthy thing to experience when conceptualizing a piece made for theater, because a lot of my stress is about keeping people happy in their seat.  But this anxiety was replaced by a more self-conscious sense of being watched.  That was a little stressful in the beginning. It’s also stressful to deal with these issues without a fixed opening night.  What is it that I’m working toward and how much do I need to press people?  And how much does that feed into why I’m doing what I’m doing? 

In Michael Fried’s 1967 essay Art and Objecthood he said “theater and theatricality are at war today, not simply with modernist painting but with art as such.”  Now here you are in 2012 rehearsing a play in a museum.  Do you rely on a lot of formally theatrical techniques in this show?

This play’s structure needed to be melodrama and I really tried to adhere to that.  Melodrama of course belongs in the proscenium frame.  I felt like I had to carry that over into the museum because all of the other trappings of theatricality, in general, I was trying to avoid.  I felt in my gut that it should be structured dramaturgically as a melodrama– this very clear-cut structure makes a well-made play. I like conventionality as a concept and I think it belongs. That’s what keeps it theater: a sincere attachment to convention, an almost nostalgic attachment.  It’s really integral to what I do.

You were also involved in Sarah Michelson’s “Devotion Study #1” another performance work in the Biennial.

Sarah asked me if I would be in it.  I asked her,  “Are you going to make me wear something that’s emasculating?” Her answer was no.  Sure enough, Jay [Sanders] was in what I would say was a very emasculated outfit.  I dodged that bullet.  But I did write the text for them, I wrote it based on some very simple instructions from her.  She had me read the Marcel Breuer document of intentions before the Whitney was built.  I had wanted to incorporate that into my work, so it was no problem.  

What is the future of this piece?

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Photo by Sascha Van Riel

Our plan is to do it again, to keep working on it in this floating way.  We made decisions about things as we went along and I’d like to imagine a presentation at some point that fuels these decisions.  Costumes, for example. We have people in partial period costumes.  Now, is the goal to make them full period? In the style of a conventional theater production?  Or is there a new version of completion, costuming that instead involves aspects of street clothes?  You could say that about virtually every aspect of the production from the writing, to the space, to the set.  I’m very curious to keep doing this in other venues–other museums, actually– and creating things in a public way, to see what the outcome might be some five years down the road.  The ideal situation would be for us to do this two or three more times in a context where there’s high traffic. 

 

Richard Maxwell is a New York-based playwright and theater director. He is the recipient of several grants and awards including the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, and, most recently, his second Obie for directing Early Plays by Eugene O'Neill.

Marc Arthur is a writer and artist based in New York.  He has worked at Performa since 2009 where he currently heads the Research and Archive department.  Arthur holds a B.A. from California College of the Arts.

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May 23rd, 2012

Performance: Live Art 1909 - Present

A preview of the Portuguese re-issue.

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May 21st, 2012

"The lovely thing is that performance breaks down all the categories one easily falls into."

Performance: Live Art 1909 to the Present

"But the lovely thing is that performance breaks down all the categories one easily falls into."  RoseLee Goldberg

Saturday, May 19th, marked the 33rd anniversary of RoseLee Goldberg's Performance: Live Art 1909 to the Present. In celebration, we've shared the book's very first review in the May 1979 issue of the New York Times.

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And a Japanese advertisement for RoseLee Goldberg's Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present, featuring original cover art by Luigi Ontani.

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May 7th, 2012

Performa Radio: Nathaniel Mellor's Giantbum

As part of Performa Radio presented during Performa 11 at WNYC's Greenspace, artist Nathaniel Mellors presented the radio play Giantbum. A group of medieval travelers trapped in a giant’s lower intestines, Giantbum was performed by the Brooklyn Youth Company.

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Liz Magic Laser, I Feel Your Pain, 2011. Photo by Paula Court.
Liz Magic Laser, I Feel Your Pain, 2011. Photo by Paula Court.
April 27th, 2012 · Performa Staff

Performa Presents Special Series of Videos on Paddle8 TV

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Laurie Simmons, The Music of Regret, 2005. Film still, Act I. Courtesy the artist, Salon 94 and Performa.

From April 27th to May 17th, 2012, a selection of Performa’s archival performance videos from the past four biennials will be on view to the public on Paddle8’s recently launched Paddle8 TV. Viewers will be able to see performances by Liz Magic Laser (Performa 11), Laurie Simmons (Performa 05), Martha Colburn (Performa 09), and Kelly Nipper (Performa 07). All four Commissions have never before been seen online.

On April 27th, a special cut of Liz Magic Laser's Performa 11 Commission I Feel Your Pain will be on view. Presented in November 2011 during Performa 11, I Feel Your Pain was a new mixed-media performance that restaged America’s recent political contests as a romantic drama. Presented in the SVA movie theater in Chelsea, the performance happened both among the audience and on the cinema’s screen. The artist's Performa Commission remixed agitprop theater tactics, particularly the Russian Constructivist idea of a “living newspaper,” to examine how emotion is used to establish authenticity on the political stage.

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Liz Magic Laser, I Feel Your Pain, 2011. Photo: Paula Court. Courtesy of Performa.

On May 2nd, Paddle8 TV will feature Act One of Laurie Simmons’s first film, The Music of Regret, a poignant reflection on life’s disappointments in the form of a 40-minute, three-part “musical.” A Performa 05 Commission, Acts One and Three premiered at Salon 94, while Act Two was still in progress. In the film, inanimate objects from the artist’s oeuvre– a camera, a gun, a pocket watch– are brought to life by Alvin Ailey dancers, and a group of suburban neighbors (played by hand puppets), and a real-life woman (played by actress Meryl Streep) sings love songs in concert with Simmons’s custom-made ventriloquist dummies. Each vignette, filled with nostalgia for the conventions of family life in 1950s America, tears off a veneer of pleasantries to reveal inconsolable sadness caused by one misstep after another. Riddled with the artist’s signature melancholy, The Music of Regret points to today’s surfeit of commodities, which supplement an emptiness born of social and political carelessness.

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Martha Colburn, Introspective Research into States of Mind, 2009. Film Still. Courtesy of the artist and Performa.

On May 9th, Paddle8 TV will present Martha Colburn’s short film Introspective Research into States of Mind, part of Futurist Life Redux from Performa 09. Inspired by the lost Futurist film Vita Futurista (Futurist Life, 1916), Futurist Life Redux featured contributions from 11 contemporary artists, who re-imagined the original film for the twenty-first century. Originally comprised of 11 independent segments conceived and written by different artists, Futurist Life aimed to directly take up several of the ideas proposed in “The Futurist Cinema” manifesto, which declared that film was “the expressive medium most adapted to the complex sensibility of a Futurist artist.” For Futurist Life Redux, the artists were assigned the original film’s 11 segments in a random drawing, given a brief synopsis of the original segment, and ultimately compiled into a single, all-new version of Futurist Life.

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Kelly Nipper, Floyd on the Floor, 2007. Photo: Paula Court. Courtesy of Performa.

Paddle8 TV will present Kelly Nipper’s Performa 07 Commission Floyd on the Floor on May 16th. Nipper’s first live performance examined the movement of a hurricane in relation to technology and human emotion. Working with an enormous striped parachute, eight contemporary dancers laid down the hurricane’s pattern in movements determined by a square dance announcer. Working with basic movement principles in a variety of mediums, Nipper is principally known for her work in photography, which explores time, space and shape in relation to the impending future of technology-based relationships. Floyd on the Floor premiered during Performa 07 at the legendary Judson Church.

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April 17th, 2012

Christian Marclay, Screen Play

Christian Marclay, Screen Play.  Courtesy Performa 05.

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The Revival, 2007, a Performa 07 Commission. Photo by Paula Court.
The Revival, 2007, a Performa 07 Commission. Photo by Paula Court.
April 16th, 2012 · Bartholomew Ryan

Adam Pendleton's The Revival

Adam Pendleton’s The Revival took place in the Stephan Weiss Studio, a cavernous white box chosen for its capacity to accommodate a double world: the rarified white cube gallery and the white revival tent. The audience formed a half circle around the three-tiered podium that served as a stage. Pendleton, in the role of “preacher,” dressed in white jacket and shirt, jeans, and a pair of green shoes, occupied the middle tier (although he moved around a lot), while from the other tiers poet Jena Osman, artist Liam Gillick, and soloists Renee de Neufville and Vaneese Thomas delivered occasional “testimonials.” Directly behind Pendleton, on a Fazioli piano, sat celebrated jazz composer and pianist Jason Moran, accompanied by bass guitarist Mark Kelly and drummer Kendrick Scott. They in turn were flanked by two bandstands, on which stood a 30-person gospel choir. Black ceramic cubes, along with rows of spare, elegant plywood benches, provided seating for the audience. The general effect was somewhere between International Style, Minimalism and Church.

The Revival combined the traditions of the Southern gospel revival with experimental writing, each of which come with a certain set of expectations. To cleave to stereotype, the gospel revival is the ultimate in emotion-laden, ecstasy-ridden religious fervor. Based on a communal journey that seeks to give praise and invoke the Holy Spirit, it involves notions of confession, charismatic performance, a linear journey toward some form of salvation and a climactic rise culminating in transcendence. Experimental writing on the other hand, the cliché would go, rejects the lyric poetry that spins universal truths out of the tortured craft of the genius writer. Seeking instead to make language material, even at times abstract, experimental writing reveals the structures of communication and subject formation by playing on the opacity rather than the transparency of language. Often incorporating found language, chance operations, procedures, puns, and grammatical subversions, American experimental writing has been driven in recent years by a loose association of writers linked to the Language movement of the 1970s and ’80s, along with writers of a younger generation who have variously adapted many of that movement’s tenets. The Revival placed these worlds in conversation, creating in performance a unifying template for the disparate approaches. A productive pluralism emerged, one that frayed conventional perspectives through a generative cross-fertilization across multiple channels, feedback loops and relational sinews.

Gospel comes from the Sanctified Church, a post-Reconstruction evangelical tradition in African-American culture that rose in opposition to the “mainline” Baptist churches. Unlike the Baptists, who rejected the guitar and drums as hedonistic instruments linked to the Blues, the sanctified churches encouraged their congregation to “testify,” using anything that could invoke the Holy Spirit. Talent was God-given, so if you could play guitar, play guitar, and if you could sing, sing. And people did, in an improvisational and communal play that often lasted for many hours. These services were the experimental grounding for much of what we know as twentieth-century popular music. For this and other reasons, gospel arrived at the Stephan Weiss Studio fully loaded, as did the potential and rigor of experimental writing. The Revival cut through the formulas implicit in these contexts, in American culture, and in contemporary art. It presented information with a degree of complexity that bypassed stylistic dogmas. It was something of a provocation, evoking what the poet Amiri Baraka, writing on jazz, referred to as an attitude—something political and social but also something exceeding these terms.

Originally printed in Everywhere and All at Once: An Anthology of Writings on Performa 07 (jpr|ringier 2009).

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Derrick Adams for Performa 05. Photo by Paula Court.
Derrick Adams for Performa 05. Photo by Paula Court.
April 9th, 2012 · Adrienne Edwards

“Performance is a tool that uses me”

Derrick Adams in Conversation with Adrienne Edwards

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Derrick Adams is a New York City-based multi-disciplinary artist whose work is rooted in Deconstructivist philosophies, and the formation and perception of ideals attached to objects, colors, textures, symbols and ideologies. Adams focuses on fragmentation, manipulation, and refraction of structures and surfaces. Particularly concerned with the shape-shifting forces of popular culture, Adams explores identity through the relationship between man and monument as they co-exist as representations of one another. Following his March 11th, 2011, performance of The Entertainer as part of Clifford Owens: Anthology project and exhibition at MoMA PS1, Adams and Performa's Adrienne Edwards discussed processes, evolutions and influences.

Adrienne Edwards: The work you’ve shown, beginning in January of this year, seems to be a definite departure and also an evolution from your previous works. Tell me what brought about this shift. Where are you going with this new work? I’m thinking here about the Deconstruction Worker series and The Entertainer performance.

Derrick Adams: The current direction of my work reflects a new sense of maturity I feel as an artist. Although the conversation between my past and present work has stayed consistent, I’ve learned how to present complex notions of self-image - spawned from outside influences - more effectively and in a simplified manner, which in turn heightens the level of complexity and still keeping it fun and open ended.

Your work references both black cultural history and the art historical canon in interesting and complex ways to realize performances and objects that are absolutely of our contemporary moment. For you, what’s the significance of these histories in your overall work and particularly in The Entertainer? What do you think makes a work contemporary – what qualities or characteristics?

I’m drawn to the history “of the now”, which for me means how did we get to this place or moment in time; who and what brought us here; and now that we’re here, where is this here we’re in. 

Media and television are some of the god-like conduits from which culture is imprinted upon us. So I used it as a reference to go through the documented history of black entertainment and to witness how the entertainer’s performance highlights their significance as cultural producers of our history. 

The Entertainer is live work you made in collaboration with Philippe Treuille and Ramon Silva. Talk about your process for making the piece.

The Entertainer piece came about, starting a year ago, when I emailed composer and friend Philippe Treuille the definitions of white, grey and black noise and asked him to respond to it with a score. I was relating the three to static, distortion, and interference and in my mind as a TV, microphone and speaker. I imagined that the static of a weak TV signal and the high pitched squeals from a bad mic and the various popping and hum sounds of a speaker would combine to create a natural rhythm- or at least an interesting disturbance. I am attracted to ideas of disruptions and disfunction in the norm.

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Philippe came back with four tracks which we named static, distortion, interference and combined (all three together). I loved it. The plan was for me to perform the final piece live with me mimicking various media related programming and entertainer's voices and sounds.

I also invited multimedia artist and friend Ramon Silva to collaborate by creating a video projection piece in his graphic style based on the score of static, distortion and interference and incorporating an archival and contemporary footage and images of black American entertainment chronologically.  

We brought it all together for the first time at MoMA PS1 for Clifford Owen’s closing party: Philippe mixed my live audio as I performed in front of Ramon’s video with Philippe’s score.  

Why do you work in performance– what does performance as a way of making and presenting work allow you to do that other media does not?

Performance is tool that uses me. It tells me what to do when I listen carefully to what it has to say. There’s no failure involved in this relationship. You're out there experiencing it at the same time as the audience - you can't take it back; you can't decide not to show it; you can't throw it out. It's done. It's been expressed.

Whose work particularly resonates for you– historically speaking and among your peers?

David Hammons’s work and artistic practice resonates with me. He reminds me of a visual chemist constantly mixing things up to see how they react to one another and how they affect others.

In my practice I think that all of my peers inspire and challenge me to keep refining my voice and to speak through experience and from an understanding of various points of departure.

 

Derrick Adams received his MFA from Columbia University and BFA from Pratt Institute and is a Skowhegan and Marie Walsh Sharpe alumnus. He is recipient of a 2009 Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, and is an honored finalist for the 2011 William H. Johnson Prize. Adams exhibition and performance highlights include: MoMA/PS1 Greater New York, New York (2005); Performa 05, New York (2005); Brooklyn Museum Open House; The Kitchen; The Bearden Project at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2011-2012, and a solo exhibition at Jack Tilton Gallery in 2012. Adams will present a four-night performance in the Brooklyn Academy of Music's new Fisher Theater in September 2012.  

Adrienne Edwards works with Performa and is a PhD student in Performance Studies at New York University. She has written on the work of Lorraine O'Grady and Tracey Rose and is a contributor to the catalogue for Clifford Owens: Anthology

All photos courtesy the artist.

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March 26th, 2012

Stephanie Skura and Lana Wilson: A Critical Correspondence

Make sure to check out Stephanie Skura's newest interview in Movement Research's "Critical Correspondence", in conversation with Performa's own Lana Wilson. In the interview, conducted before the reveal of her newest work, Two Huts, at Roulette in New York, the choreographer recalls the value of improvisation, impulse, and an appreciation for the unedited in both life and dance.

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Read Parts One and Two of the Interview at Movement Research.

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March 20th, 2012

Simon Fujiwara on The Boy Who Cried Wolf

   

Artnet's Emily Nathan talks to Performa 11 Commission artist Simon Fujiwara about his commission, The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

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