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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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01/01/08 12:00:00 am
Looking Back at ???Writing Live: Writers Hub??

Writing Live: Writers Hub was part of Performa 07??s Not For Sale education series. The programme was a peer review forum, led by Writing Live Fellows Rachel Lois Clapham, Rebecca May Marston and Mary Paterson, designed in support of a new generation of artists, authors and critics engaged in discussions around prescient issues in Performance and new media, and the related task of writing about art and artists whose work encompasses several disciplines at once.

Over the course of the Performa Festival, Writers Hub writers published 39 reviews of Performa events, 3 previews, 4 interviews with Performa artists and 2 opinion pieces about the work shown in Performa. 14 writers contributed to the Writing Live blog, from a range of backgrounds including critics, curators, performers and academics. Together we generated 48 responses to the Biennial, and had six meetings (including writing workshops and peer critique session) to discuss the work in Performa, our writing for it, and the practise of critical writing itself.

Writers Hub brought together a mix of different voices in a network of critical writing and debate around Performa 07. Meeting up six times over three and a half weeks meant that together the writers were able to build a community. Together we discussed the work in Performa, critiqued each other??s writing, and considered the issues associated with writing for Performance. Critical writing is often a solitary task, and the value of these discussions came from their focus on critical writing as a subject, as much as the individual items discussed.

Performa??s Director, RoseLee Goldberg, and Performa curator Defne Ayas attended three Writers Hub meetings between them. Jennifer Liese, editor of the 2005 and 2007 Performa catalogue, also attended one meeting. Jennifer discussed our writing, as well as writing on performance in general and was keen to articulate how Writers Hub activity would be an important archive for Performa, and vital to creating a comprehensive biennial catalogue. RoseLee initiated discussions on the role of the critic and writing about Performance. Combined, Roselee, Defne and Jennifer??s input provided an important link between the festival, its staff and Writers Hub.

The combination of the busy Performa schedule and the immediacy of the Writing Live blog format meant that all Writers Hub writers were subject to time restrictions (including a 48 hour final deadline), which encouraged us to write quickly and accurately, and to record fresh responses to the work seen. As a result, the writers generally feel that our standard of writing on the blog was high, and that our skills have improved with the practice. But Performa??s schedule also caused problems for the writers involved. With such a lot programmed every day, it was difficult to choose which pieces of work to visit; and, without comps for most of the writers, seeing work could also be expensive. Four of the Writers Hub meetings were held during the day and on weekdays, which meant that those with work or studying commitments found it difficult to attend.

Moving Forward

For Performa 2009 the writers felt that the peer critique meetings should be made more accessible (on evenings or weekends) so that more writers can attend more regularly. Other suggestions were to give more benefits- including fees, comps, access to workshops and events - to the writers in return for more formalized roles and responsibilities. Making the Writing Live blog more readable and navigable for readers, for example by ensuring that blog posts can be viewed by date of posting and type of post, but also by author and artist name, would also make the online resource more accessible for readers and writers alike. It was also suggested that Writers Hub could invite guests ?? artists, critics and editors ?? to contribute to Writers Hub writing workshops and peer critiques.

The Writing Live Fellows also feel that writer profiling and public interaction with the website would be beneficial to both blog readers and writers. For 2009, it could be useful to enable online feedback and comments on the Writing Live blog and profile all participating writers on the Performa website. We would also suggest distributing the Writing Live blog link on business cards and flyers, and doing flash publishing as well as after show 'Live Review' sessions or other education events associated with Writing Live. This would better highlight the Writing Live Programme activity and encourage more debate (both online and in realtime) on the work seen.

The Writing Live blog will remain archived online on the Performa website The 2007 Performa biennial catalogue will be published in 2008 and be available to purchase from In 2008 there will be also various reviews by the Writers Hub writers published in international journals and magazines. We will keep you updated on this site as to where this press coverage will appear. Plans for a Performa 2009 Writing Live programme are already under consideration and we hope that the connections and collaborations Writers Hub has already established will continue, both in affiliation with Performa and between individual Writers Hub writers.

Whether you are a blog reader, writer, artist, Performa visitor or an art historian (or all of those things) we thank you for your involvement and interest in Writing Live: Writers Hub and hope you enjoyed the Performa 07 biennial. If you want to commission any of the individual writers listed please contact the office of Performa.

The Writing Live Fellows were Rachel Lois Clapham, Rebecca May Marston and Mary Paterson.

The participants in Writers Hub and Writing Live were Adda Birnir, Vanessa Baish, Thom Donovan, Marianne Dicker, Karinne Keithley, Inju Keum, Shama Khanna, Lyra Kilston, Sophie Landres, Quinn Latimer, Christine Licata, Kevin McGarry, Kara Rooney, Rebekah Rutkoff and Chen Tamir.

Writing Live was supported by the Arts Council of England and Writing From Live Art, a Live Art UK Initiative.

Mary Paterson, Rachel Lois Clapham, Rebecca May Marston

12/05/07 09:51:32 am
The Long March

Long March projects for Performa 2007 included; Nov 7-10: Long March- Xu Zhen, In Just a Blink of an Eye (2007), Nov 10 - Qiu Zhijie, The Thunderstorm Is Slowly Approaching (2007), Nov 11: Long March- Avant-Garde (2007), Nov 14: Long March- Zhao Gang, Harlem School of New Social Realism (initiated by Gang Zhao, organized by Long March Project) (2007).

The Long March, also called ???The Great March of the Red Army,?? 1934-1936 was a defining moment in Chinese history when soldiers and members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) including intellectuals and artists made a radically political move into the Chinese countryside; marching 8000 miles from Jiangxi to Sichuan via Guizhou over some of the country??s most remote and harshest terrain, in protest against the hierarchy of Chinese aristocratic rule and Literate society. Although the military project of the Long March failed, by engaging with, and harnessing the power of, the country??s rural majority and setting a new revolutionary agenda, The Long March heralded the onset of Modern Communist China and paved the way for Mao Zedongs?? influential twenty seven year reign as leader of The People??s Republic of China.

Miming the same collective structure, revolutionary spirit and educational remit of the 1934 Long March, The Long March Collective, founded in 2002 by curator Lu Jie, explores a distinctly Chinese notion of Avant-Garde arts practice; one that does not have to look outside China to articulate an idea of revolution or artistic change and goes beyond the oft quoted 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre as starting point for politically motivated contemporary art in China. The collective itself has 20 staff, over 300 Long Marchers and its activity includes International Biennials and Triennials, as well as a 20 step curatorial programme and Ghizou-based ???curatorial summit?? camps. The Long March collective is also geographically embedded at the site of the original Long March; every year a group of Long Marchers ?? including both international and Chinese artists, curators and theorists - take to the countryside, walking together as a communal piece of live art from Jiangxi to Sichuan whilst marching in the physical and historical footsteps of their Red Army comrades. Along the route Long Marchers work with rural communities to collect research, create exhibitions, host workshops and keep the Long March spirit of avant-garde revolution and notion of ???art for the people?? alive.

The Long March Collective might use the rhetoric and strategy of a manifesto??d military political party but they don??t want simply to become the latest Red Army faction to make the Long March across China. Rather, they want to use the revolutionary impact of the Long March as case study to explore the validity of contemporary art in relation to the public whilst interrogating the possibility of a contemporary art practise in China that is autonomous from Chinese state rule. With this, the Long March collective have its sights set firmly on the future of art whilst literally maintaining a foot-hold in China??s political past.

It is on this openly interrogative note that the Long March collective contributed to the PERFORMA 07 programme, playing host to a variety of live works. Long Marcher and international conceptual artist Xu Zhen exhibited In Just a Blink of an Eye at the James Cohen Gallery. It was a deceptively simple show in which Zhen made an ephemeral, live and ?? paradoxically ?? monumental sculpture out of the suspended bodies of two real-life Chinese migrant workers. The precarious free-fall position in which the two were suspended was an effective metaphor not only for the liminal status and uncertain future of the two Chinese migrants, but of the status and future of China itself.

Artist Qui Zhijie took a more militant approach in order to convey his message. His frenetic The Thunderstorm is Slowly Approaching was a Chinese Dragon Dance performance with traditional music and two important contemporary twists; the troop, including Zhijie, the dancers, musicians and the dragon itself all wore Chinese camouflage combats from head to foot, and the dragon chased, not a pearl, but a camouflaged fighter plane. The troop whipped up a crowd of followers in Columbus Park, danced through the streets of Chinatown and later stormed New York??s Asian Art Fair. By overtly re-asserting Chinese (military) identity in the polished and rather non-descript ???Asian?? art fair Zhijie??s message was clear; the Chinese are coming.

Lu Jie, Qiu Zhijie and German artist Long Marcher Ingo Gunthe were slightly less fervent but no less openly subversive when they hosted Avant-Garde; a Long March workshop at the China Institute that introduced the Long March collective, explained its social remit and openly grappled with some important questions of how and why to go beyond ideology to initiate an Avant-Garde art movement in China. We were also given a glimpse into a certain Chinese mindset by Gunthe and Zhijie, who explained that the traditional Chinese notion of time is non-dialectic due to a lack of Greek philosophical and Hegelian influence, therefore historical progression and going -or looking- backwards are inextricably bound together in a way necessarily and radically different from Western philosophical thinking. This theory was then put into practice with a 100-strong line of workshop participants who completed a three hour backwards march from the China Institute down a busy 5th Avenue, through the Lobby of the Museum of Modern Art, ending at Times Square. By facing backwards whilst moving forwards the 100 ???Backward Long Marchers?? performed the complex Chinese contemporary relationship to history that Gunthe and Zhijie had articulated. Moreover, by physically embodying this specific sort of Chinese backwardness Avant-Garde made it easier to conceive of the Long March Collective??s relationship to the historical Long March and to understand exactly how they (and now us) were attempting to create a new future past for Chinese contemporary art.

History was also at stake in the final Long March project ???The Harlem School of New Social Realism.?? The school was initiated by artist and some-time Long Marcher Zhao Gang and took the form of an amplified open-air group discussion between various artists, theorists and critics of African and Chinese descent in Harlem??s Adam Powell Clayton Junior Plaza; a location at the heart of Black America named after the first African American Congressman that has played host to many political protests over the years. The question as to why African Americans should be involved in the Long March were- to my ears at least- left un-asked. However, heated debate about what form Harlem??s New School of Social Realism should take floated over the cold afternoon to the mixed interest of locals; some of whom were obviously more concerned with where their next hot meal was coming from.

The lack of understanding, or interest, displayed by certain members of the Harlem public is exactly what is at stake in The Long March??s Harlem School of New Social Realism; ie why is contemporary art not valid to these people, and if it isn't then how can it - or should it - it serve them better? This was the genuine spirit of enquiry demonstrated in all the PERFORMA Long March projects and it is a reminder that its work isn??t just for art??s sake; it anticipates real, public and social results. Combined, the work of the Long March Collective is also living proof that the Chinese are not only coming; they have of course already arrived. And with them comes the clear message that contemporary performance, be it from China or not, is still an important critical mediator for the political.

Rachel Lois Clapham

11/02/07 02:32:13 pm
'Opinion: When is it ok to leave a durational performance?'

When is it ok to leave a durational performance? When your legs go numb? When your drink is finished? Or perhaps when you notice the gallery audience has been slowly disappearing behind you?

I stayed for an hour and a half of Tony Conrad??s Window Enactment at Greeene Naftali Gallery on 30th October, which means I waited long after all those criteria had been met. Advertised on the PERFORMA programme with just a start time, I spent the last half hour wondering if Tony Conrad??s piece was close to a resolution, and if I would be a fool to leave now.

In an object-based show, a few minutes looking at each painting or sculpture will let you know if you want to move on, or if it deserves more attention. At the theatre, your time is packaged up neatly into watching and socialising between acts, and a lot of Live Art or performance follows a timed structure. But when a piece is deliberately unclear or open-ended about its time frame, and especially if you are unfamiliar with the artist??s work, it can be agonising to decide whether to leave and if you should risk missing out later on.

I felt a similar audience-anxiety watching Marie Cool and Fabio Balducci at the National Review of Live Art in Glasgow, UK, in February this year. The awkwardness of coming and going was exacerbated by the fact that the artists were in a special room with a kind of sound-proofing air lock between it and the corridor outside. This meant the performance space was rudely interrupted by any audience member who started shuffling her shoes, grabbing her bag and heading for the door. In February my anxiety was fleeting; I enjoyed the work, and the longer I stayed the more it absorbed me. I left when I felt pleasingly full?? the feeling you get from that last mouthful of food that sates your hunger.

But the lack of beginning and end was obviously troubling for some people, and it became troubling for me with Window Enactment. The problem comes down to how much agency and control you, the viewer, feel you need. One of the first reactions to unclear definitions is anger ?? how dare the artist waste my time? I??m not here to be manipulated! Except of course that??s exactly what you want the artist to do ?? to invade your life, your headspace, your normality, and show you something different or interesting.

In which case ?? whose responsibility is it to set the boundaries? Should we, as viewers, submit to the mercy of the artist for an undelineated period of time? Should we surrender to an artistic authority beyond our grasp, or should we expect the artists to work for our attention and justify their right to occupy our thoughts? Obviously, it is never that black and white. In reality, there is a delicate contract between artist and viewer that laces them together in a web of possible meanings. And yet that contract often crystallises in the minutes and hours after a performance ?? it creeps into the corners of your mind while you are doing other things.

Perhaps it is not the time you spend watching a performance, then, but the way that you approach it that matters. And if this is the case, then the artist and audience both share some responsibility in opening up the work. It??s a complex network of viewing and trust that amounts to a community of participation; but
it does not get me much further to resolving my question ?? when is it ok to leave a durational performance? Answers on a postcard please.

Mary Paterson

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