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Performa 07 Live
Here's your chance to read comments, reviews and ideas arising out of this year's Biennial posted by specially commissioned writers, critics and theorists. The Writing Live Fellows have been generously supported by Arts Council England.

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12/05/07 09:51:32 am
Review: John Cage's 33 1/3 at White Box Gallery

John Cage, 33 1/3November 20, 2007
6-8 pm
as part of the 'White Noise II' Programme at White Box Gallery

John Cage's 33 1/3, originally performed in 1969, was re-staged at White Box Gallery on November 20th as part of Performa 07.

White Box's restaging of 33 1/3 involves 200-300 records and twelve record players situated in the gallery space and the audience are invited to choose and play the records in the space. In this, 33 1/3 accesses a familiar urge to dictate the music at parties. For those with the urge such social occasions are the chance to prove you know the best songs by the best bands and compete with others to see whose song reigns supreme. 33 1/3 at White Box was just such a chance to dismantle the DJ from his golden pedestal and see whose song wins out over the cacophony of scratchy LP's being played on second hand record player's in White Box's basement level gallery space. I celebrated the occasion by subjecting 20 or 30 Chelsea gallery-goers to ABBA's 1970's hit "Dancing Queen."

33 1/3, revolutionary at its original inception in 1969 for metaphorically pulling the audience on stage and asking them to enact - and complete- the work, seems standard today given our contemporary world of user generated content initiatives such as YouTube and Wikipedia. Yet unlike YouTube, the materials of 33/1 - the records - were already pre-selected and, for me, this inhibited personal involvement - although I don't think anyone would have stopped me from adulterating the sanctity of 33 1/3 with a record from my own collection. Instead, the 200-300 records already inside White Box were donated to 33 1/3 with no specification of musical genre. The result was that many people were more than ready to relinquish their 'Joni Mitchell', 'Chaka Khan', 'Beatles', 'Star Wars' and 'Frederick Douglas African American History Part II' records for manhandling by the performance art going public, which meant the musical score for 33 1/3 leant towards a folsky-Pop-Sci-Fi variety. Amongst this, the Star Wars theme tune was a favorite with the audience and was played as if on a continual loop. As was a song from the Wizard of Oz soundtrack, which received undue attention because of the record sleeve's gold color. Unfortunately, only the most recognizable lyrics ; "back black do it again" and "let it be, let it be," could be distinguished from the noise.

The overall atmosphere of 33 1/3 was wonderfully chaotic, a weird noisy Rock dance-party lubricated with plenty of Grolsch beer and too many bright lights. The only downfall was the gallery attendant who insisted on aggressively turning down the volume of every record player the second she deemed that some participant was usurping too much sound space. This continual censorship of the sound was irritating and antithetical to the goal of the work: to create a set of directions and then allow the audience/performers to determine the outcome of the performance. If the audience members had insisted on turning up the volume on successive record players until they had created an intolerable din, the result would have been an interesting, albeit unpleasant, consequence of the established framework for 33 1/3. If the White Box staff didn't want such loud noise, they should have elected to perform Cage's other numerically titled piece, the decidedly quieter 4'33".

Adda Birnir

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12/02/07 06:45:21 am
Interview between Carlos Amorales and Rachel Lois Clapham, New York 15 November 2007

Carlos Amorales, Spider Web Stage (negative), 2006-2007. Courtesy of the artist and Yvon Lambert Gallery, New York/Paris.

Carlos Amorales??™ Spider Galaxy is a 400-piece sculpture resembling a spider??™s web that is the site for an ongoing performance by a lone dancer, accompanied by a subsonic sound composition by Julien Lede transmitted through the sculpture itself. Spider Galaxy adds to Amorales??™ oeuvre of ritualistic performance projects and animations, including Amorales vs. Amorales, which involved professional wrestlers and was exhibited at the Tate Modern in London and at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, amongst other venues.

Rachel Lois Clapham (RLC): Can you tell me what happened in your studio with regards to Spider Galaxy?

Carlos Amorales (CA): In my practice I build structures for other people to work in, like the record label I set up ???Nuevos Ricos??™, then I invite other people such as bands, artists and graphic designers, to be involved in that structure. It??™s the same in my studio. I collaborate with three of four people at any one time. Various people do graphic design, draw, research software or write. Together we build an archive of digital images which I use in different ways. Working in this way means I can create the conditions for something to happen within the limits of my own practise. Spider Galaxy really illustrates that way of working, that collaborative process that happens in my studio. I literally constructed a stage and asked a dancer (Galia Eibenschutz), musician (Julien Lede) and choreographer (Eri Eibenschutz) to develop their work on it.

RLC: What currently binds all these different ways of working?

CA: Thematically, it is Fantasy - whether it is inherited fantasy, myth or the clich?© of Fantasy - how it operates; how we rationalise it or don??™t. Essentially I want to unpick how we relate to the clich?© of Fantasy in its own specific language. That is why the digital archive is very important. It contains all these different pictorial elements, tools to make a fantasy story. My other main concern is analysing the process of doing artistic work. That??™s why I work across many different formats and within various institutions - both within the art-world (in galleries and museums) and outside it (in Wrestling or the music industry). I like to test the ways in which I can work within those different environments and how the specific audiences??™ interact. I do see all these things as part of my practice but at the same time, with the record label Nuevos Ricos, it??™s not like I??™m declaring it ???art??™.

RLC: What is the significance of the dancers??™ costume in Spider Galaxy?

CA: The bird shape for the costume comes from my archive. It is the combination of an image of a bird mixed with the pattern of a spider web and the grid-like structure of a Samurai Warriors??™ armour. I wanted to abstract the costume, to make it more open as an image, and if I had used a spider as reference point it would be too obvious.

RLC: Why have Spider Galaxy in the atrium at 590 Madison? - was it the fact that there are trees and real birds inside that space?

CA: The birds flying inside the space was a pure coincidence. The most important thing was to find a mixture of public and private space. I wanted Spider Galaxy to occupy a space that wasn??™t specialised like a Theatre or a gallery, but that wasn??™t directly on the street. The key element of public space is to creating a spectacle that is not overly theatrical; where the work is not so much about creating a show for people to turn up, be seated and laugh at. Having Spider Galaxy in the atrium public plaza area meant that some people travelled directly to see it and the passing public might enjoy it, but then again they might not look at or even notice it. I like that mix. It also means that people can stumble upon the work without meaning to.

RLC: What is the significance of the sound in Spider Galaxy?

CA: For many years the musician Julien Lede and I have been collaborating, he is a part of Nuevos Ricos. The sound he made for Spider Galaxy was quite simple, with really low bass and really high pitched sound at opposite ends of the sound spectrum. There was no rhythm in the sound so that the dancer could move independently, according to her own natural or bodily logic, that way her moves might look stranger. The sound was also designed to match the physicality of the space; the spider web has a built-in seated space for the audience as well as the dancer. This highlights the audience??™s physical interaction with the work, it brings them in. The vibration the audience feels moving through them heightens the fact that they are implicated in the work. The bass moving through the stage is also an analogy of the movements that a spider uses to track food on its web.

RLC: I looked away when the dancer was coming onto the stage. When I looked back all I saw was an inhuman looking bird form perched on the side of the stage; it was very still, moving only when it was breathing. It looked really unfamiliar and was quite a disturbing moment. The thing that came to mind was the Uncanny. In what way does this aspect of primal fear operate in your work?

CA: I think you were really lucky. The fact that you looked away and suddenly something had appeared like that is an important moment in the piece for me. I??™m jealous of that experience because I know the story from the beginning, but that??™s a moment I really like: when you don??™t know if the dancer is an object or a human or what is about to happen. For me, Spider Galaxy has a lot of tension and the idea was to really slow that moment of anticipation and unfamiliarity down, to prolong it so the audience would have to wait a long time to realise what it was, before Galia starts dancing. That??™s another way in which Spider Galaxy plays with the audience??™s expectations of being ???entertained??™.

I would say a notion of the uncanny: attraction and at the same time repulsion, is very important to my work and is built into the aesthetics. Beauty can have this dual element, it can be attractive yet really scare people. Aztec art is beautiful but it has that same air of strangeness, I think because we know so little about it, yet the images are quite commonplace. It??™s important to me not to make anything nightmarish or gothic though, that would be reduce the work to the level of gimmick. Instead what I want is to try to work with the spaces I can??™t grab. I try to find something in beauty. The Uncanny is perhaps not a psychological narrative in my work, rather it is built into its material form. It is a way to perceive the graphic forms I use.

RLC: How do you think of Spider Galaxy when there is no dancer?

CA: I displayed the spider web stage itself, with no dancers, as an installation ???Spider Web Negative??™ in Milton Keynes Gallery in 2006. So the work does have an important function in the atrium space without the dancer. There are deliberately no signs to say you cannot touch or climb on the spider web when there is no-one there, whether they are staff, dancer or audience; it is a stage ready for anyone who wants to interact with it. Sometimes people do step on it or play with it, which is important. In that sense the installation, the empty spiders??™ web, has an element of performance waiting to happen. It??™s also an invitation to perform, which can be quite alienating or frightening because you??™re not sure how you are implicated, or what you might be expected to do. With this invitation to perform Spider Galaxy is passive yet equally quite aggressive.

RLC: Perhaps for the people who stand on the empty spider web stage their uncertainty is ???When is the spider going to come and eat me??™?

CA: Or ???Am I the spider???™...

RLC: Spider Galaxy is a Performa Commission. Performa Commissions usually represent a shift of some kind in an artist??™s practise with regard to working live. You have worked live before, why do you feel you were commissioned by Performa?

CA: I stopped doing live performance after the wrestling and Devil Dance projects about 5 years ago so Spider Galaxy does represent a shift for me, quite a big one, as it is my first live work since I quit performance. It was a big step for me to come away from that kind of work but I wanted to change something in my practise at that point. Spider Galaxy is very different from what I have done before. I really wanted to depart from previous work, which was much more entertaining and ???popular??™, the audience knew exactly how to react to it. Of course, there are similarities in Spider Galaxy; the idea of the stage remains the same as in the wrestling or Devil Dance. But other aspects are totally in another direction. Spider Galaxy is against the idea of entertaining. It is slow, more demanding of its audience and not so immediately translatable. The design of the work, a certain graphic Bauhaus feel, is also more developed. It??™s that deliberate shift of direction and the fact that the previous performances were made in my late twenties, whereas Spider Galaxy comes at a time when I am in my late 30??™s, which makes this work feel more mature.

RLC: If Spider Galaxy represents a change in your relationship to live performance, does this mean you will begin to make live work again?

CA: I don??™t know. Performance is such a burden. When you make studio work you are in a private space. The moment you exhibit or show someone the work is of course public, but when you finish it, it stays finished and static. In my current exhibition ???Black Cloud??™ at Yvonne Lambert Gallery - I installed the work, then I left it and only return every now and again to check on it or fix the odd bit. I can release myself away from the work. The problem with performance is you carry it everywhere in your daily life, and it??™s so intense. Even though I no longer perform in my work myself ??“ I am only directing or behind the scenes in Spider Galaxy - the tension is still huge. I don??™t think I could cope with making it regularly as the main outlet of my expression.

Rachel Lois Clapham

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11/30/07 09:36:47 am
Interview between He Yun Chang and Rachel Lois Clapham, New York 14 November

Mahjong 2007 (Detail)

He Yunchang, Majong, Courtesy of the artist and PERFORMA Photo: Paula Court

Beijing-based artist He Yun Chang is arguably the leading performance artist presently working in China. Over the last eleven years, he has created a series of unique and discrete solo performances in which he has placed exceptional physical demands upon himself both in terms of his strength and endurance. For PERFORMA07, He Yun Chang devised a unique version of Mahjong, based on the ancient but popular Chinese game, but using over 100 mahjong ???tiles??™ made from large cement bricks. The artist played this game in New York's Washington
Square Park for four hours with various audience members.

Rachel Lois Clapham (RLC) How did Mahjong 2007 come about?

He Yun Chang (HYC) I thought of the idea 2-3 years ago but my gallery, Chambers Fine Art, set it up with Performa for 2007. People usually play Mahjong recreationally but I wanted to subvert it, turn it into something else and make it physically oppressive. My version of the game is quite cruel, that's what the heavy bricks are about. Also I like the idea of playing it for a long time in the hot sun or in middle of winter, like here in New York. Someone told me that Korean soldiers are made to play a similar model of the game, with very large bricks as part of their torture in prison but that's not necessarily the most important thing in Mahjong 2007. What's important is playing the game with the audience, rather than the game itself. Previous performances have been dangerous, solitary or censored, whereas in Mahjong it was important that I was able to have the audience in the space with me in, and interact with them. My relationship with the audience in Mahjong is also quite friendly - unlike the wrestling game I played in 'One and One Hundred, 2001' where the relationship with the audience was definitely tense, antagonistic. People really wanted to hurt me and to win! In Mahjong the process of playing, the time we spend playing it, is much more important than winning the game.

RLC Why do Mahjong in Washington Square?

HYC Because it's a public space; some people go ice skating, some people eat a meal there, I chose to play my version of Mahjong. It could have been anywhere public really. I was ideally looking for somewhere a bit warmer!

RLC You wanted to be warmer. You also ended the performance 45 minutes early (at 6.15). Does this mean perseverance or physical endurance are less important to you in Mahjong than in other previous works?

HYC Physical endurance is still a factor, its' just that there were logistical problems with Mahjong. I ended the work early because it was cold and raining but more so because several of the people could not play the game properly, which really affected the piece. The police also came part way through Mahjong and made me put my clothes on, which also interrupted the performance. The nakedness was important. I have always performed naked so I was naked whilst playing Mahjong- for continuity- but I also think nudity makes the performance more pure, with less distractions. Being exposed to the elements when naked was also a way of increasing the magnitude of what was happening in Mahjong, it made the game a starker contrast to the wet and the cold.

RLC Do you consider Mahjong a success, even though you were interrupted by the police and stopped early because it was cold and raining?

HYC Yes. It is a success because I completed the performance. I carried it out. It is out of my control whether the police stop the work; they have guns and I don't! Carrying out my work in the face of those elements does have a connected interaction with those chance elements. But they are also forces that are out of my control and so not central to the work's success.

RLC Is Mahjong a new side to your work, a softer side, in which you testing your physical and mental limits is less important?

HYC It's true that I often pitch my body and my individual will in contrast to external forces ( harsh weather, strong water, poured concrete) or chance elements, like being interrupted by the police, that is important in my work. But in some pieces I vary the concept and lessen that element. Often, like in Mahjong, the process itself is as important as fighting against those forces, whether they are outside (natural, instigated by others ) or from within myself (my own endurance against my own body or will). In that way, the process and act of completion, following through with the act of performance, expressing it physically with the audience is key, in spite of any logistical, natural or chance factors that may stop or hinder the work in some way.

RLC How would you feel if a someone walked through the park, saw the game, and didn't realise Mahjong 2007 was a performance or something original?

HYC I wouldn't mind at all, that would be wonderful! My work is very ordinary looking. I always use the simplest materials in order to create the largest imaginary space. Even with simple, everyday gestures and materials you can make work of a great magnitude and get the essence of something important. Also, it wouldn't matter to me if some people thought what I was doing wasn't art, or was pointless. In my 9 month tour of the UK in 2006, 'Touring Great Britain with Rock,' I often had only two or three people watching me and sometimes in China I don't have any audience at all, so I don't necessarily think about who will witness or understand the work. My feeling is that if some people pass by Mahjong and don't understand what they see, give them 100 days and they can have a think about it.

RLC Is it true that your work gets more interrupted here in the US, than in China?

HYC I have never actually been 'caught' doing a performance in China, but have been arrested in the US a few times. My work is under the radar of the authorities in China because of the locations and spaces I perform in; often in private enclosed gallery spaces or outside in the remote countryside. But there are big differences too: my performance work is not so easy to do in China because nudity is not allowed, that's why I waited to do Mahjong here in New York. Chinese audiences don't have the general level of understanding about art, or the same generosity or openness to understand or interact with different things as art. For instance, a lot of people in China still don't consider what I do art. On the other hand, there is more financial support and artistic, institutional, frameworks outside China for artists doing performance. That doesn't mean performance doesn't happen in China. There are spaces in which you can perform, and perform nude, but for big projects like 'Touring Great Britain with Rock' 2006, it is much more conceivable outside China.

RLC Pitching your individual will or mental limits against that of your own physical body- do you see that separation of those two elements, a separation of self, as political in your work?

HYC For most people intellect and body operate in tandem, but sometimes the intellect is superior. Under normal conditions we are used to what the body and intellect can do together, but under extreme situations sometimes the body takes over to do amazing things as well. I feel that China is a very complex society, one in which it is important to use your body and your intellect so you can stop and face its reality. Highlighting the body in this way, as separate, is also important because, historically, Chinese people have not endowed the physical body with value, rather they have valued the spirit of the Chinese people, as a collective. Contemporary China is much more individual in its thinking, so it's a pull between the two. By putting pressure on an idea about myself (my intellect) and my own body I can make it into something much larger.

RLC Do you foresee a time when political, body-based or nude performances will be shown alongside other contemporary visual art forms in china?

HYC Not in the short term, no.

RLC What has been the most lasting effect of your performance work to date-mentally, physically or emotionally?

HYC It is my health that has suffered the most because my body has been in danger so many times. In Buffalo 2005, as part of the exhibition 'The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art,' I did a performance where I stood in the Niagara waterfall and the police came, they were worried and took me straight to hospital. The doctor told me my kidneys had failed because my body was so cold from being submerged in the freezing water. In general I am also getting increasingly grumpy and short tempered. Despite all this I think the most valuable contribution I can make is to use my body to express ideas and give other people imagination. That is more important than my health. I have also derived much pleasure and enjoyment from my performances over the years.

RLC What project are you planning next?

HYC I'm planning to do something for 2008 in China that involves my mother and will be three months long. It's going to be great. I can't do it in the UK or the US as the insurance costs will be too high. I can't say anymore about it, all will be revealed in due course.

RLC Is there anything you want to ask me?

HYC Can you please ask if Performa can happen earlier in the year for next time, so it's not so cold? October and November are too cold in New York.

RLC I'll do my best.

Rachel Lois Clapham

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11/21/07 10:14:31 am
Review: Ulla von Brandenburg

Ulla von Brandenburg, La Maison at Saatchi & Saatchi, 375 Hudson
Nov 12 - Nov 17

The black and white film in La Maison is a grainy journey through the rooms of a baroque country house. Shot on 16mm film in a single take, the camera??™s gaze feels as continuous and fallible as that of a human being. As it moves through the building, it discovers people in modern dress acting out tableaux vivants against a grand architectural backdrop.

In contrast to the elaborate architecture depicted in the film, as well as it??™s grey and textured aesthetic, the work is shown in a bright, crisp, multi-coloured installation ??“ it??™s the film and the installation together that make up La Maison. The bright colours are large hanging rectangles of yellow, blue, green and red, which create a simple network of corridors leading to a central viewing area.

In fact, La Maison is structured out of contrasts. As well as the contrasts between the film and the installation, the dead-ends and blocked corridors of the installation itself seem to conflict with the clarity and simplicity of its fabric walls. Within the film, the decorative interior of the house contrasts with the utilitarian furniture and modern dress of the things and people that inhabit it. And ??“ most strikingly of all ??“ the constant movement of the camera contrasts with the frozen stillness of the tableaux vivants it finds on its journey.

These tableaux vivants are ???living pictures??™ in two ways; not only do they show real people who remain static in time, as if drawn or painted mid-movement, but they also quote from pictures or genres of picture from the canon of art history. A woman faces a mirror but her reflection shows the back of her head ??“ an echo of the painting Not to be Reproduced (1937), by the surrealist painter Ren?© Magritte; a man sits on some steps playing the flute ??“ he is a latter day Pan (the Greek God of nature), stripped of his flock of sheep but lifted straight from an eighteenth-century Elysian landscape.

And yet the movement of the camera versus the unnatural calm of the actors has already marked the poses as significant. Leading the viewer through the building in a single shot, the film stumbles upon these tableaux as both deliberate and unexplained, which denotes (but does not define) meaning. Beyond the layered symbolism of its individual elements, the formal balance of opposites in La Maisoninfuses it with energy.

Because its structure is built from contrast, La Maison speaks its own signification without having to explain it. And yet there are things to explain ??“ intricate layers of meaning that sculpt the design. The fundamental contrast in this work, then, is this contrast between formalism and symbolism. Just as the moving camera marks the stillness of the actors, the formal elements of La Maison mark its symbolism, and vice versa. The resultant tension is what holds the disparate elements in this piece together, but it is also what separates them from the outside world. Concentrating on its own elaborate balance, La Maison presents a chilly face to its visitors and, ultimately, speaks to itself.

Mary Paterson

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11/20/07 12:18:18 pm
'The Non-Event Event'

Pablo Bronstein
Ballet Park Avenue at a private upper east side residence.
7.30pm Saturday November 16 2007
Presented by PERFORMA and Curated by Catherine Wood

Last night I was one of the three people to be invited to a private patron's Park Avenue apartment to witness Pablo Bronstein's Ballet Park Avenue. We entered through the austere marble lobby, were escorted up in the residents private lift and met by two maids in matching black and white uniforms who lead us through a labyrinth of oak panelled rooms, past full sized Canaletto's, original Vermeer's and Louis 14th furniture. The space for the performance of Ballet Park Avenue was marked out by blue tape on the carpet of the large banquet room. After a while, 12 Ballet dancers in lurid green unitards entered the room and stood poised in the taped box beneath the central chandelier waiting for instructions from Bronstein.

You will need to imagine what happened next as Ballet Park Avenue did not actually happen. It never existed as a performance. Or rather, the event as described in the PERFORMA 07 programme never existed. In short, there was no ballet performance in the Park Avenue apartment of a wealthy New York patron. This may come as a shock to you if you were amongst the many who called the PERFORMA offices-whether cajoling, name dropping or shouting-demanding access to this 'exclusive' event only to be told that Ballet Park Avenue was for a select few and that the identity of the attendees themselves was a secret. Yet despite this revelation, your being set up or feeling excluded from Ballet Park Avenue is not in vain.

Ballet Park Avenue is at once a total 'non-event' and a carefully curated performance piece that represents a continuation of Bronstein's conceptual concerns. In the artists' earlier PERFORMA presentation, Plaza Minuet (7 Nov 2007), a series of unitarded ballet dancers performed in four public lobby spaces of Downtown Manhattan. It was a piece in which dancers were manipulated into, and then held in, strenuous poses by the artist as if they were paint on a canvas - roughly, with disregard for any signs of the dancer's physical strain or human emotions - in order to perform, and skew, the coded behaviours and social control inherent in both Ballet and public architectural spaces.

Bronstein's interest in Ballet stems from its roots in the Fifteenth Century Italian aristocratic practise of 'Sprezzatura' (the art of making the difficult look easy or concealing artifice), the legacy of which can be seen in the development of the genre through the Baroque period to the Classical Ballet we know today. The performative of Plaza Minuet was to enact, and skew, the specific politics of Manhattan based privately owned public space. Ballet Park Avenue, on the other hand, is concerned with the performance of exclusive, private space and, as John Cage's infamous musical composition of silence in 4.33' (1952), testifies; a dematerialised or non-event is certainly no less visceral or message laden than a real one. In fact, the elements of control, concealment of artifice and class that Ballet Park Avenue manifests are paradoxically more poignant, tangible and live because the work is fictional; how better to put focussed pressure on the social codes, individual insecurities and privilege regarding access to a private performance than creating an exclusive event that does not exist? Where better to perform the ultimate in interiority than in the privacy our own imaginations?

The non-event or non happening 'happening' that is Ballet Park Avenue does fit into a lineage of historical Conceptual Art but has more in common with other overtly de-materialised Twenty First Century pieces in the PERFORMA 07 programme, including Tris Vonna Michell's story telling and The Swiss Institute Spoken Word exhibition. The way in which Ballet Park Avenue differs fundamentally from these works is in the duplicity and antagonism the work both openly trades -and depends- on in pretending the event is happening. Such a cynical approach to audience doesn't fit comfortably into the PERFORMA remit to bring new live work to a more mainstream and accessible visual art world stage. But it isn't simply cynicism on Bronstein's part. The fact that Ballet Park Avenue may be difficult to swallow due to the artist's manipulation of our expectation, ego and desire is a central aspect to Bronstein's articulation of the private.

Rachel Lois Clapham

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11/19/07 03:51:13 pm
'Some Intentions of the Document'

You Didn??™t Have To Be There: Photography, Performance, and Contemporary Art
The New School, Tishman Auditorium
Wednesday, November 14th

Panellists : Marina Abramovic, Vanessa Beecroft, Babette Mangolte and RoseLee Goldberg

What is the relationship between live performance and its documentation by photography, moving sound-images (film/video/DV), audio recording and writing? How does this relationship inflect questions of truth (what ???actually??? occurred) and mediation (what stands between the supposed truth of an event and what is known about the event retrospectively)? The panel that took place this past Wednesday at New School University, You Didn??™t Have to be There: Photography, Performance and Contemporary Art, moderated by Performa director RoseLee Goldberg who was joined by artists Maria Abramovich, Vanessa Beecroft and Babette Mangolte, explored both these questions extensively.

The panel began with opening remarks by Goldberg, who discussed the importance of documentation to her work as a scholar of live performance in visual arts. During these remarks Goldberg situated problems of historical reconstruction tracing them back to photographs and sound records of the Dadists and other early 20th century avant gardes. For Goldberg, the historian must bring all of her powers of imagination to understand an original event through traces, hearsay and artifacts of its occurrence. What??™s more, the historian must create ways of ???reading??™ documents (Golberg??™s term) specific to live performance. That so few were ???there??? at performances by Judson, Beuys, Kaprow, Acconci, Higgins and others in the 60??™s and 70??™s both intensifies and renders instable the importance of eye-witness accounts. That, as in the case of Beuys??™ How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, photo-documentation was not planned or even welcome for that matter raises yet another issue of intention.

Babette Mangolte, who was first to present after Goldberg, addressed early documentary intentions in relation to 60??™s/70??™s live art. Mangolte admitted when she began documenting performances by Richard Foreman and (most famously) Trisha Brown she did so out of a sense of urgency and experiment. To document in ???those days??? meant making decisions intuitively, having few if any examples to follow otherwise. The result of such intuitions are, as we now know, some of the most significant documents we have of the performance-based art, period.

During Mangolte??™s talk, she also spoke critically of her use of photography over Super 8 and early video technologies. That photography neither showed continuous movement nor could capture sound pointed to the inadequacies of the medium for documenting live performance, a sentiment seconded by Beecroft and Abramovich. Mangolte also expressed reservations about her own uses of photography, which she considered ???interpretive??™ as they often added significance to certain moments in performance those moments should not have had otherwise. In such photographs Mangolte said ???insight??™ triumphed over ???artifact??™. Where the historian is concerned, Mangolte and Goldberg agreed one must go back to the photographer??™s contact sheets to get a better picture of live events as the singular photograph can only point to movement. Magolte added that contact sheets are especially important after the dances of Judson, who took the ???deconstruction??™ (Magolte??™s term) of dance manners as one of their principle intentions.

Beecroft began by approaching the problem of documentary practices in performance by meditating on an ???unofficial??? performance she gave at the last Venice Biennale. This performance featured twenty or so Black women ???refugees??™ dressed head-to-toe in black tights and sprawled across a huge, Pollock-esque canvas. The video showed Beecroft walking in and out of the canvas as she spread blood-red paint over the refugee-models. Beecroft??™s reuse of the 70??™s ???street art??? format (Beecroft set up her live painting event in a tent independently of the official Biennale organization) and of ???action painting??? radicalized both visual art formats as she brought to them the content of the ongoing genocide in Sudan.

Beyond the issues raised by such a work (the dramatization of spectatorship in regards to relationships of power; the obfuscation of living ???subject??? and art ???object???; the complicity of object and subject, victim and persecutor-witness both), the work??™s documentation allowed Beecroft to consider her own approaches to documentation in relation to the history of live performance documentary practices. Through an anecdote about being on a panel with Allan Kaprow and Paul McCarthy at MIT before Kaprow??™s death, Beecroft marked three stages of live performance documentary history. Allan Kaprow was most ???innocent??™ in that he preferred not to document his performances. McCarthy was of a different generation (and level of ???purity??™) in that he decided to document his performances only after others would not ???believe??™ he had done them. Beecroft found herself at yet another generational remove (and considered herself most impure) inasmuch as she never thought twice about documenting her performances despite her admitted ???guilt??™ about documentation. At this point the panel became somewhat mystical as Beecroft and Ambramovich both articulated a melancholy about the loss of original presence through documentary of live performance??”the purity of events unrecorded, lost to representative history.

Beecroft??™s longing for purity above both the commodity fetishism of the documentary object??”a document??™s salability in ???the marketplace?????” and the object??™s ???symbolic??™ value??”a document??™s ability to communicate what occurred to a particular moment??”led into Abramovich??™s presentation, which involved an enthusiastic diatribe against photographic documentation as well as praise for Mangolte??™s documentation of her 2005 performance at the Guggenheim, Seven Easy Pieces. After the performance Abramovich discussed how she worked with documents to reconstruct well-known performances by Beuys, Acconci, Export, herself and others. She and Mangolte also considered Mangolte??™s documentation of the reenactments as they were to supplement both the original performances and their reenactments by Abramovich. Here, a feedback loop between a documentary imagination ???then??? and ???now??? was infinitely curious and interesting as it seemed to point to a larger problem of live art in our present in relation to documentary practices. Is it a widespread nostalgia for original presences (???if I only could have been there???) or market-forces that are driving such reenactments as Ambromovich??™s? Has a renewed historical consciousness not irrupted into our present marking an era of reenactment? That many works in the 07 biennial are involved in reenactment??”Tony Conrad??™s Window Enactment, Allan Kaprow??™s Happenings ???redo???*, Yvonne Rainer??™s Rite of Spring Indexical, International Festival??™s On the Town??”seems evidence of a larger cultural trend??¦.

To close Abramovich showed part of Guy Ben-Ner??™s video Stealing Beauty and an infomercial for money laundering (that is, cleaning money) by an artist whose name I did not catch. Before showing the videos Ambramovitch left the audience and panel with the provocative question: ???When do we have documents [of art], and when art in artifacts???™
In terms of a fine line between the artist ???supporting??? herself and feeding a marketplace hungry to fetishize aesthetic production by any means, Abramovich??™s question fanned the flames of those in the audience who dominated the Q&A. In answer to Ambramovich??™s original question, and a question asked by an audience member, Beecroft stated ???the market is the market,??? qualifying that it is a challenge for the artist to tarry with the marketplace as opposed to more comfortable and typical places for art. ???Try to make art in a store full of bags,??? Beecroft quipped in reference to a work of hers commissioned by Louis Vuitton. As earlier that night Golberg mentioned current anxieties about the U.S. economy Beecroft??™s comment seemed a fitting, however ambivalent, close to the panel??™s substantial offerings.

*thanks to Shamim Momim for this term.

Thom Donovan

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11/19/07 01:38:44 pm

Carolee Schneemann at Anthology Film Archives, Nov 15.

Five of Carolee Schneemann??™s early seminal works were screened Thursday evening at Anthology Film Archives, part of PERFORMA??™s ongoing homage to the origins of performance art. But as opposed to Kaprow??™s early works, also re-enacted for the Biennial, which displayed a renewed sense of contemporaneity, Schneemann??™s films stayed firmly grounded in the decade that created them ??“ the ???60??™s. Drawing largely from issues surrounding the Sexual Revolution and Vietnam War, the films have acquired nostalgic overtones in the 40 years since their initial debut. One would think this would be disappointing ??“ at least to a bunch of feminists gathered in a small theatre to view the works of the indomitable Schneemann ??“ but it wasn??™t. Instead, the screenings offered both an intimate portrait of the artist and insight into the world that called for the creation of something like Schneemann??™s self-proclaimed, ???not-erotica.???

The night began with a screening of Illinois Central, a short silent film from 1968 that featured a number of college age students in ???70??™s undergarments grappling, hugging and rolling around on a gymnasium floor. Undoubtedly a reference to the artist??™s more provocative Meat Joy, the piece maintained the same air of exuberant experimentation. This lightheartedness quickly gave way, however, to an even earlier film, Viet Flakes (1965), one of Schneemann??™s first forays into the juxtaposition of film and collage. Here, frames oscillated between newspaper clippings of wounded and agonized Vietnamese civilians and those of U.S. soldiers, while images of Nixon and a radio dial soundtrack of Beatles and Jackie DeShannon lyrics were interposed at random. A frenzied picture of war and confusion emerged, the dematerializing effects of which were evident in the successive screening, Body Collage (1968) wherein Schneemann literally turns the collage process into a physical reality.

The last two films were probably the most famous of the evening??™s line-up. They also spoke to Schneemann??™s sense of crescendo ??“ an element that pervaded both the order of the screenings and the works themselves. In Plumb Line (1968), the artist paints an excruciatingly personal account of the dissolution between her and her long-time lover, the narrative reinforced through the splitting of screens. By shooting in both Old 8mm and 16mm, Schneemann is able to simultaneously project four images, effectively creating a dialogue within a dialogue, as the frames speak to and cancel each other out. In using ???found sound??? she pushes the discordant further, bombarding the audience with the agonized cries of her, her cat, Kitsch, and the sirens outside, inadvertently captured when a tape-recorder was turned on in Schneemann??™s apartment.

Love and harmony return, however, in the artist??™s critical work, Fuses (1967), screened for the first time at Anthology Film Archives since its initial debut almost forty years prior. Filmed with wind-up Bolex cameras, the piece defies traditional categorization as erotica, its frames giving way to an intricate density of layering that all but precludes customary means of viewing. Embedded within a frenzied cadence of images are snippets of love-making, flashes of genitals and the play of light across Schneemann and her then partner, James Tenney??™s, nude figures, all visible through a filter of dust, dirt and time. Both beautiful and severe in its depiction, the film challenges notions of femininity outside of the conventions of pornography by revealing the most intimate moments between partners. The exchange is a sexual one, yes, but what Schneemann illuminates is what exists in the gap between sexual acts. Silent footage of seascapes, the overlays of collage and shadows cast by antique curtains become metaphors for the binds that constitute human connection.

As the works built up to a definitive climax, so did the unveiling of each piece in relation to each other. In beginning with a sketchbook extension of Meat Joy and ending with Fuses, Schneemann??™s artistic process (and visual maturity) seemed to unfold chronologically. A rare occurrence in and of itself, what the multiple screenings revealed about the artist??™s nature was even more atypical. Undeniably brave in her confrontational explorations of feminine identity, Schneemann it seemed, is as much a romantic at heart.

Kara Rooney

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11/19/07 12:59:49 am

Francis Baudevin, click

Ryan Ganders with Dexter Sinister, click here.

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11/16/07 01:35:41 pm
'Review: Wow and Now'

Wow and Now: A Celebration of Feminist and Queer Performance at Joe??™s Pub, Nov 10.
Featuring Lois Weaver, Carmelita Tropicana, Holly Hughes, Dynasty Handbag, My Barbarian, and Kalup Linzy. Hosted by Karen Finley and Nao Bustamante.

???I know I??™m Wow,??™ said Carmelita Tropicana, an explosive Latina performer in a blue and gold jumpsuit, ???But am I Now???™

Carmelita Tropicana was the first act in Wow and Now, a cabaret night of feminist and queer performance at Joe??™s Pub on Saturday 10th November, and she got straight to the point. There was plenty of ???Wow??™ on show ??“ both in terms of the lineup (featuring legendary performers Karen Finley, Nao Bustamante, Holly Hughes, Lois Weaver, and Carmelita Tropicana herself, and hot new stars Kalup Linzy, My Barbarian and Dynasty Handbag) and in terms of the ???WOW Caf?©??™, the New York venue and arts collective that has nurtured and played host to many of these artists.

But the ???Now??™ part was harder to define. Presented by Performance Studies International, whose academic conference was being held at NYU from 8th ??“ 11th November, and bringing together artists who burst onto the scene in the 1980s, the evening was also a celebration of performance in history. At one point, while a technical fault caused a lull in the momentum, an audience member shouted out that the WOW Caf?© was in fact still running, even if, as she said, ???the title of this show doesn??™t make that at all clear.??™

Carmelita Tropicana (aka Alina Troyano) answered her own question by showing a You Tube video ??“ which is 2007 shorthand for ???current??™. In Use Tube, a work in progress, Tropicana played to the academic ear of the audience, many of whom had come straight from three days of conference discussions. She deconstructed ???Chunkalicious??™, in which two teenage girls parody (knowingly or not) the misogynistic tone of R&B music videos. But this was deconstruction with a heavy dose of fun, encouraging the audience to sing along to the catchy tune.

Kalup Linzy also used song to skewer serious issues. Performing as Taiwan, a long-haired, leotard-wearing singer with a flower in her hair, Linzy belted out beautiful melodies about his ambitions to win an Emmy and his doomed love affair. Recently awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, Linzy is perhaps better known for his video works, and his spot on Wow and Now was not quite long enough to get an understanding of his style, or his humour.

My Barbarian treated us to an abridged version of their show, Non Western: Our Western. There wasn??™t enough time to follow the plot, but amidst the giant Pterodactyl and the singing nuns it was clear that this idiosyncratic blend of American musical theatre, Californian mysticism and global politics was both rammed full of meaning and shamelessly fun.

Dynasty Handbag, the real-life ventriloquist??™s dummy created by Jibz Cameron (she mimes to her own pre-recorded voice) sang, ???I would like more memories??™, a song that was unwittingly apt for the occasion. In an evening tinged with nostalgia for the 80s New York scene (whether or not members of the audience had been there), Dynasty Handbag wished for the memories of things, without having to do them in the first place. Meanwhile, some of her older colleagues were labouring under the weight of performing their own histories.

Holly Hughes ducked the ???now??™ imperative of the evening??™s title, claiming that her performance looked ???back??™ to ???something dark??™. Her haunting and hypnotic monologue was an invocation of the power and danger of desire. The evening??™s hosts, Karen Finley and Nao Bustamante, performed an awkward skit in which they tried to recreate aspects of each other??™s work. At one point Bustamante poured honey over her fingers and asked her co-host to make ???Karen Finley noises??™. Later, Finley bared her breasts as she announced another act.

Somewhere between the WOW Caf?© on 11th street and the art theories pored over at the PSI conference, transgression and spontaneity had been ironed into history. Twelve of Holly Hughes??™ students stood at the back of the room, cheering and whooping. But to them (as to me), Finley and Hughes and the NEA scandal that branded them ???controversial??™ is part of the structure of performance history, and the stuff of dense academic essays. Some of Hughes??™ students lined up by the bar with their coats on, as if they were visiting a museum.

Lois Weaver finished the evening by bridging this gap between new and old ??“ putting the ???wow??™ back into ???now??™. Introduced as ???fifty-eight and counting??™, she strode on stage naked, and stepped into her Tammy WhyNot costume in a reverse strip-tease. She tackled the challenge of the evening??™s title head on, and demonstrated how ???now??™ the issues explored in this kind of performance can be ??“ even if their effect has already been theorised in the history books. Transformed into character before our very eyes, Lois Weaver showed the defiance it takes for a woman and a lesbian, and for a woman who is no longer young, to get up on stage and assert her identity.

Mary Paterson

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11/15/07 04:51:07 pm
Interview between Pablo Bronstein and Rebecca May Marston, New York, 4 Nov 2007.

Pablo Bronstein Plaza Minuet at World Financial Centre, One New York Plaza, 60 Wall Street, and 80 Pine Street, 2007. Curated by Catherine Wood and presented by PERFORMA

RMM: We only have 30 minutes so I will leap in; when did you start using dance in your work?
PB: With Plaza Minuet in 2006, which was a Tate Commission as part of the Tate Triennial. It was a natural extension of my installation work where I was theatricalising space and making the viewer the performer with the walkways and pathways in the installations.

RMM: But you began working with an unknown territory of dance?
PB: Yes. It developed from my interest in ???sprezzatura??™, which is the art of aristocratic comportment; about bodily positions, manners and elegance. It developed amongst the Italian aristocracy in the 1500s, although I??™m not interested in its courtly manifestation, more the legacy and how it developed through baroque into classical ballet. Sprezzatura became preserved in, codified as ballet with the increase of behaved gender differentiation in the modern period.

RMM: Yesterday we were talking about the two separate contexts of art and dance in reference to a dance duo showing work with your gallery in London. Do you think the dance context is interested in your work?
PB: Although the dance context seems much more receptive and open than art, my work isn??™t a language that they are bothered about. Dance tolerates it and dance simply sort of does what it is asked by providing me with professional dancers, then that is it.

RMM: And you are not a dancer, nor a choreographer. How does it work? How does the work develop?
PB: Well I don??™t dance in them myself??¦

RMM: But you did in the one in Gyonata Bonvicini??™s exhibition in London and you said you??™d taken Baroque dance lessons?
PB: Yes ok that one, but that was very simple and very short, as an antidote to Frieze Art Fair. Usually the choreography is done in collaboration with the professional dancers.

RMM: Have you ever tried to choreograph yourself?
PB: Once, I tried in Munich but it was really unsuccessful and became a parody. The works are co-authored, it??™s very rare that I think of them as being me, alone.

RMM: And are the dance works, or works using dance, within the same trajectory as the rest of your practice? The same as the architectural/object based works?
PB: It??™s all linked with an architectural interest in spatial thought and the politics of space. There is a lineage through all of my work that begins with this.

RMM: And the way in which your work is heavily influenced by art and other histories, has using dance enabled you to bring in dance history apart from sprezzatura? Because in the text that Catherine Wood wrote for this she talks about a relation to minimalist 60s dance and I wondered if that was her interpretation or if it had come from you?
PB: I??™ve been interested in pedestrian movement for a while, which is based in postmodern dance history. My work balances two ideas of ???natural??™ or artificial behaviour, like the quick piece during Frieze was a ???natural??™ walk along a line (1960??™s), with a held pose (1660??™s).

RMM: For this Plaza Minuet you are doing it in four places in the financial district and there is something funny in them being in financial places because the public space is already so mannered, codified and formal, in the way people dress and behave.
PB: Yes, I was imposing a minuet on Manhattan. As with the piece in the Tate Duveen Galleries, it came a little out of my interest in a kind of institutional critique, so I place the green crosses on the floor to make a grid and attempt to delineate a symbol of ???pure??™ public space within a once-public, now privatised space. A location which resisted (with the cooperation of Tate) commercial enterprise such as the caf?© and the shop. Also the lobbies use much language associated with public space -benches, trees, paving, free access- for commercial and planning ends. My idea was to insert an emblem into these spaces which demonstrated an ideal citizen in a state of ???pure existence??™ or embodiment of values contrary to the work ethic of the places. With laying the grids on the floor, part of it encourages the distinction between pedestrian movement and mannered choreography, but when you put the pedestrian or naturalness on a pedestal it is shown as a construct anyway.

RMM: This idea of formality in your work reminds me of Rene Mackintosh and that Art Nouveau and Art Deco thing of living in spaces that envelope you and dictate how you are meant to behave, like Mackintosh chairs being so short in depth but very high-backed so you would sit straight, tall and elegant.
PB: No-one has ever mentioned Mackintosh in relation to my work??¦ The body politics of sprezzatura would be codified as queer politics now.

RMM: So are you ever informal in your work?
PB: (Laughs) No. I love order and power, it relates to the queer thing and the sexualisation of power and how you actually subvert power by sexualising it.

RMM: And I have to also ask you about your costumes. They are pretty jarring, tight with Jazz shoes?
PB: Yes, I like bad taste. It??™s also important to see the body though, and the turquoise green colour relates ???80s colour schemes. Big garish spaces need big garish costumes. But the ???Jazz shoes??™ aren??™t really that, they are just a black slipper that was the closest thing to the baroque dance shoe with a slight heel.

RMM: And another thing to end on that you said last night was about the ???wall of expectation??™ that the audience comprises and how it turns into a sculptural manifestation of expectation so you prefer fewer people in the audience??¦ That is just for live work?
PB: Yes, the presence of the viewer distorts the space, sometimes, if there are enough, creating alternate and unpredictable architectural volumes. I don??™t like too many people watching a performance.

RMM: Does that relate to the fact that you are giving a private performance in a private space for one wealthy patron as well as the public performances in public spaces? Or is that more related to the history of private rendition and patronage? It seems a bit seedy.
PB: If a patron is willing to become a symbol for something seedy, long may he reign.

Rebecca May Marston

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>>Looking Back at ???Writing Live: Writers Hub??™...
>>Allan Kaprow: 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (Re-doing) ...
>>Ei Arakawa and Amy Sillman at the Japan Society...
>>Tris Vonna-Michell Tall Tales and Short Stories...
>>Mesostic: Allan Kaprow, 18 Happenings in 6 Parts...
>>Yvonne Rainer: RoS Indexical at the at the Hudson ...
>>Ulla von Brandenburg: La Maison...
>>Evaluation of the PERFORMA07 Biennial...
>>Review: Pablo Bronstein...
>>The Long March...

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