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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12/30/07 12:00:00 am
Allan Kaprow: 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (Re-doing) at Deitch Studios
The venerable, self-proclaimed ???un-artist??? Allan Kaprow passed away last year and the art world hasn??t been able to let go. Just as history needs its stories, art needs its artifacts and though the ???Happenings??? Kaprow coined and created were meant to slip from gerund to past tense, posterity must have spooked Kaprow from his deathbed. Having repeated many of his early pieces with self-imposed rules to safeguard against tedium, Kaprow authorized a precise re-doing of his most time-sensitive creation mere weeks before he died. Despite writing, ???Happenings should be performed once only??? as the fifth decree in his 1965 manifesto, ???Untitled Guidelines for Happenings,??? he halted the fleeting motion of experience for the benefit of future audiences. Thus based on a bundle of scrupulously detailed notes, Kaprow??s 1959 magnum opus has been given another life, first at Haus der Kunst, Munich, in the Fall of 2006 and again in the Performa re-creation, Allan Kaprow: 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (Re-doing). The homage turned out to be a harsh debunking, for contrary to Kaprow??s entropic philosophy, it demonstrated that nothing past is gone forever, it just loses energy in the resurrection.
In a full-scale replica of the three plastic-shrouded particleboard rooms that housed the original Reuben Gallery performance, director Andr?© Lepecki followed Kaprow??s notes obediently, hoping to reconcile temporality with contemporaniety. He draped the set in Christmas tree lights as instructed, and arranged seats on which the audience would play a very tightly controlled, non-competitive musical chairs between observing the robotic movements of a dozen participants extracting art out of common yet displaced gestures, such as bouncing a ball, squeezing oranges, and reading from a scroll of words orphaned from their context. Like factory work and public school classes, the performances began and ended with the sound of a bell.
Context, as postmodern theory both warns and celebrates, changes everything. One major change in this re-creation was the lackluster cast compared to the original, which included John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg. Hard acts to follow, they were visionaries who enacted the balance of intention and abandon just by being themselves. Rearranging props, speaking of art and time in fragments, assembling into a discordant noise band, showing a slide show and painting briefly, they were practicing what they preached with an urgency that today??s performers can??t fully embody.
Analogous to modern science, many contemporary performances seem driven to revive and enhance our memory, reverse the aging process and extend the theoretical virility of the past. Another Performa production, Yvonne Rainer??s anticipated RoS Indexical, for example, reworks Millicent Hodson??s own reconstruction of Nijinsky and Stravinsky??s 1913 landmark leap into Modernism, Rites of Spring. All the awkward inadequacies of the restoration are exposed through scrupulous videos of the process, whereas the new 18 Happenings keeps them hidden. Both approaches are honest yet ersatz. In RoS Indexical, that??s the point, but 18 Happenings was left in limbo, neither grounded in the now nor peacefully ephemeral.
Evident by the high bids 1970s performance documentation receives at auction, all significant art will be remembered (and sold) despite its transient ingredients. Though what Kaprow initially advocated can only be practiced by being left alone, we sacrifice theoretical piety for mortal curiosity. It is not enough for Kaprow??s critical writings to inform our conception of performance art; for better or worse, we have to see it to believe it. "How can you retrospect on a 30-year career where everything was throw away?" Kaprow once asked. When the career was as momentous as Kaprow??s, how can??t you?
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12/29/07 10:21:27 am
Ei Arakawa and Amy Sillman at the Japan Society
Ei Arakawa and Amy Sillman, "BYOF-Bring Your Own Flowers," 2007. 1. Sergei Tcherepnin, 2. Patricia Treib and Sakura Shimada, 3. Alisha Kerlin, 4. Patricia Treib. Photo: Paula Court
BYOF-Bring Your Own Flowers, Japanese artist Ei Arakawa's latest elaborate performance incorporating high-speed construction and deconstruction was as unpredictable, complex and provocative as the subject it was built around: art and artist. Arakawa created an interpretative, live-action experience of New York painter Amy Sillman's conceptual process and work. Incorporating the flowers audience members were asked to bring with them, building materials (such as wood, drills, etc.), multimedia and music, he reconstructed the look, feel and process of Sillman's abstract, psychologically-charged paintings. Along with the physical materials, the performance included the underlying framework of two Japanese traditions-the 600-year-old Ikebana art of flower arranging and the nearly 60 year-old Gutai movement of performance oriented art-actions.
With the help of 12 collaborators or "participants," as he refers to them, Arakawa remodeled the Japan Society lobby's quiet symmetry into a dynamic Sillmanesque composition of long, brightly-colored sheer curtains, hung from the ceiling. Dividing the area was an oversized, Styrofoam panel used both as a canvas and a screen to project the surrounding viewers back at themselves. Tables, covered with the audience's flowers, were scattered around the perimeter, lights were dimmed and electronic keyboard music, composed by Sergei Tcherepnin, played in the background.
In a visually shocking and stunning move, Arakawa and his collaborators began to use the flowers themselves as both paint and brush. With bold gestures and jabbing marks, the pigments in the petals and pollen were crushed out directly onto the Styrofoam panel and hanging curtains, some of which were taken down by members of his group during the flower "painting," sewn together and rehung, changing their opacity and colors. These actions brought to mind principles in Gutai, that in the decay or destruction of a material or object its inherent, authentic beauty is released. In fact, there was a painful, raw aesthetic in watching the flowers be drawn across the Styrofoam and cloth, such as the roses with their vivid strokes of indignant resistance.
For those in the audience familiar with Sillman's work, the experience felt like having entered one of her canvases. Arakawa had literally brought her work to life. Being surrounded by the weightless insistence of translucent and solid curtains captured her dynamic compositions and forms. The vibrant, free-associative calligraphic flower gestures embodied the language of her strokes and dense narratives. As if to underscore the expository nature of the moment, passages of Peter Handke's Offending the Audience were read out loud by Daniel Lepkoff.
Two of Sillman's paintings were then carried into the center of the performance area and immediately a scaffold-like structure was built around them with narrow, plywood beams. Installed solidly in place, the work was put on view for the audience. During the rapid construction, in an opening-night gesture, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer was sold to the audience while a darkly humorous, fictional PowerPoint presentation, written by Patrick Price, titled "12 Steps Towards Non-Alcoholic Paintings" was projected onto the Styrofoam support. Arakawa alternated between reading from the lecture on the destructive and productive effects of alcohol on the arts and auctioning cereal boxes wrapped with photocopies of details from Sillman's work. The price of the boxes, starting at $20, went up as the Arakawa did tricks, such as picking some off the floor with his teeth or dancing over others.
No sooner was the entire structure completed around Sillman's paintings then it began to be methodically torn down by Arakawa and his collaborators??the lobby cleared away of all evidence of the performance. During its dismantling, two members of Arakawa's group, Patrick Palermo and Patricia Treib, reenacted an April 2006 interview between Sillman and the Brooklyn Rail publisher Phong Bui. The background music turned to a high drone as the actor-Palermo-Bui asked each philosophical, rhetoric-laden question.
All of this felt familiar too. The performance left the internal world of the artist and constructed the external world of polemic influences via artistic inspiration, theory, the art market, critics and media. In the late ???50s, Robert Rauschenberg was quoted as stating, "painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made, I try to act between the two." Arakawa's compelling and irreverent performance, BYOF-Bring Your Own Flowers, choreographs the artist's actions within that transient gap.
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12/29/07 10:18:59 am
Tris Vonna-Michell Tall Tales and Short Stories
Tris Vonna-Michell, Tall Tales and Short Stories. Photo courtesy of Dispatch
British artist Tris Vonna-Michell??s co-conspiratorial and dynamic performance Tall Tales and Short Stories took place in Dispatch??s compact storefront on Henry Street. For four days he told each visitor that stopped by a customized tale, redefining the tradition of storytelling with a Fluxus-inspired lexicon of deconstructivist semiotics and discontinuous, fragmented images.
Vonna-Michell sat at a small narrow desk with a nostalgic, pre-digital slide projector that incorporated its own 9-inch-square viewing screen, a table scattered with unpopulated still-life and location snapshots and an egg-shaped egg timer. He invited one listener at a time to take a chair across from him and then choose the duration of a story and type of visual support imagery??either by the individual photographs or slide show. Suggesting the average story length of 10-12 minutes, a final time and method was agreed upon, the egg timer set and the story begun. Forced intimacy is usually disagreeable and often clich?©d, but with Tall Tales and Short Stories there was a matter-of-fact accessibility about Vonna-Michell??s initial process and presentation that avoided these dangers.
His low voice encouraging one to lean in close, the suddenly and startlingly rapid-fire speaker Vonna-Michell barraged the listener with an uninterrupted stream of words and images that formed a non-linear narrative. Filled with themes of war, conspiracy, identity and aesthetics, Tall Tales and Short Stories wove together Vonna-Michell??s other performance-driven allegories that constitute chapters of his overall continuous work. Hahn/Huhn (2004) derives its content from the conspiratory-laden investigation of underground tunnels of the Anhalter Bahnhof that run between East and West Berlin and the shrouded and eventually shredded truths by the Stasi in postwar Germany. Down the Rabbit Hole/Finding Chopin: In Search of Holy Quail (2006) is loosely based on Vonna-Michell??s quest for his own identity through finding the concrete sound poet Henri Chopin, who according to Vonna-Michell??s father, holds the answers??and seemingly the inspiration for Vonna-Michell??s process of voice as medium.
Vonna-Michell entwined the past and present with a mix of oral history and Fluxus concepts. Historical facts and fiction about the places and protagonists in Tall Tales and Short Stories are spliced in with current events, the canon of art and Vonna-Michell??s biography. Layered into the improvisational, variable components, the content in each telling also subtly changes direction in response to the individual??s reactions to the story.
At first disorienting and frustrating, Tall Tales and Short Stories eventually led to unexpected connections with Vonna-Michell and his work. After the initial attempt of mental resistance and literal deciphering (Slow down! Wait! What?) the brain surrenders to his pace and process. The sound of his voice merges with the silent one in the listener??s head and the visual experience of slides and photographs becomes integrated with that of the mind??s eye??a fluid stream of (un)consciousness projections and transference fill in the gaps. Vonna-Michell??s descriptions become part of one??s own perceptions. At that moment, his story becomes, in part, your story.
In Tall Tales and Short Stories Vonna-Michell defies a single interpretation of his work or the creation of an over arching meta-narrative to his performance. He integrates post-structuralism??s distortion and dissolution through finding alternative meanings and connections of existing ???historical facts.??? And yet this experience, splintered as it was, still felt strangely unified and inclusive in the end. No matter how fragile the connections or ambiguous the plot there was an irresistible desire to partake in the journey.
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12/29/07 10:15:06 am
Mesostic: Allan Kaprow, 18 Happenings in 6 Parts
ppenings in 6 Parts
ur the boundaries of art and audience.
A rejection of any formalism in L
anguage, music, dance and art.
tional and tightly scripted instructions,
its unique identity is its non-ideN
s free of the constraints of time, place and space.
A radically shocking response to the A
Concept and process are more imP
ortant than a final art object.
ienced in the mind, and yet,
when recreated frO
m the past becomes a concretely melancholic
reminder of where are we noW
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12/29/07 10:14:07 am
Yvonne Rainer: RoS Indexical at the at the Hudson Theater
RoS Indexical began, as in Igor Stravinsky??s and Vaslav Nijinsky original Rite of Spring, with wise tribal leaders (Sally Silvers, Emily Coates, Pat Catterson and Patricia Hoffbauer) seated in a circle. Except, rather than watching the dance of a sacrificial virgin, they are adorned with headphones and hum Stravinsky??s score. Dressed in modern tribal sports gear, go-faster stripes and sweatpants designed by Elizabeth Hope Clancy, they danced with angular and thrusting movements loosely inspired by Nijinsky??s original choreography and mixed with Rainer??s everyday gestures. Along with aspects of the Rite of Spring, RoS Indexical is choreographed to the BBC??s Riot at the Rite, a documentary of the violent reactions from the media and public to Stravinsky??s and Nijinsky??s opening night in 1913.
For Rainer all the world is a stage and vice versa. She challenges the accepted dichotomies of reality and fantasy, past and present, viewer and performer, process and product. The metaphors and associations these paradoxical pairs evoke were explored in movement, language, sound and image throughout the performance. Such as the floating words, like rhythmic notes, that slowly turned above the dancers?? heads, provoking constantly new associations for the audience, from the poetic to absurd. Wielding an effortless sense of humor and challenge reserved for those who are masters of their crafts, Rainer delved into the limits and possibilities within performance art and audience.
RoS Indexical, includes the BBC??s documentary??s catcalls and whistles of the Parisian critics from the original Rite of Spring opening, such as, ???Go back to moving Pianos, Nijinsky!??? Unexpectedly, planted audience members, ???stormers,??? some dressed in traditional Rite of Spring ballet costumes, reenacted the violence and rushed the stage, indignantly shouting in the middle of the performance. Exactly whom they were criticizing was left undefined.
In an ironic twist seamlessly in line with Rainer??s concepts, one contemporary reaction was not so different than the initial ones in the early 20th century. New York Times dance critic Claudia La Rocco??s unleashed unsubstantiated and misplaced snarkiness translatable into similar sentiments. She might as well have been a ???stormer??? for RoS Indexical ???Go back to film, you??re history Rainer!??? Fortunately, like Stravinsky, all of Rainer??s contributions to literature, dance, cinema and performance will only appreciate in value, as will her influence and inspiration on the present and future artists. To answer La Rocco??s narrow-minded inquiry: ???How many more choreographers must come to grief on Stravinsky??s unconquerable score before it is left alone in all its riotous splendor???? Perhaps that depends on when critics can genuinely grasp the riot as part of the splendor.
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12/28/07 03:04:41 pm
Ulla von Brandenburg: La Maison
Ulla von Brandenburg??s work is full of contradictions. She explores death but is fixated by ghosts; her work is invested in theatre but not in narrative; and she consistently invokes the concept of infinity but clearly references very specific historical styles. She likes to conflate the present and the past, most often by using subtle fashion and props in her works that give the air of the 1970s, of the turn of the century, and of today simultaneously. It??s not done in a nostalgic way, but rather to draw out the notion of Timelessness. Brandenburg??s recurring motifs of stasis, the occult, and concepts of infinity and theatre have all culminated in La Maison, Brandenburg??s installation and film contribution to Performa 07.
La Maison takes the form of a complex of rooms created by hanging multi-colored fabrics tainted with colors from the old Luesched diagnostics examination. The rooms correspond to the ones in an historic French castle in which the film takes place. Her longest and most complex film to date, it winds in a loop through the castle corridors, beginning and ending by zooming into and out of a traditional oil painting depicting a landscape with a castle presumably similar to the one we are taken through in the film. The place of the painting in the castle hall corresponds to the screen??s placement within the fabric installation. The black and white film sequence shows actors frozen like sculptures in various poses, barely moving: They are in modern day tableaux vivants depicting a man with a ribbon around his hands in a figure 8, a woman holding a mask, a couple playing chess and reading palms, a man on a bench with his head covered in a cloth that undulates to his breath, a flute-player on the stairs, a man on his deathbed surrounded by onlookers, and finally two women holding against a wall the floorplan of the castle. Random props, such as a double cane, occasionally lie discarded on the floor. The silent loop is one continuous film take that makes the viewer feel as though she were a slow insect flying through a 3D photograph.
Brandenburg takes her cue from the theatre in using props and symbols. Throughout her multidisciplinary practice, her most common props are the mask and the cane possibly because they are the simplest way to transform oneself, to become Charlie Chaplin or a Dadaist. But they are also surrogates for body parts. The cane in Brandenburg??s works is often doubled, with two handles, alluding to a pair of legs. Mirrors are a recurring theme too. Through such theatrical props she explores the supernatural, itself intrinsically intertwined with theatre. Brandenburg often depicts images of a magician levitating a woman as if on display. Her ghosts are usually simply people sporting white sheets. Yet, instead of dramatizing her content, Brandenburg takes on a rational, perspicacious approach, as if she were a scientist in a lab coat. Drawings of Rorschach tests and old psychology evaluations using color, are mixed in with chess games. A recurring image in her oeuvre is of a man on his deathbed, surrounded by reserved family, none of whom sheds a tear or seems overwrought. This is Brandenburg??s world, as stark and existential as an Ibsen play or a Munch drawing.
Brandenburg??s practice seems to manifest in every medium. Her wall drawings are as well known as her films; her paper cut-outs as mysterious as her performances, and her installations are as rich as her drawings. The only thing missing is photography. For an artist completely invested in the concept of Time, and with her work so utterly photogenic, this seems a puzzle indeed.
A photograph is a moment, the decisive moment when the photographer releases the shutter. This is the precise moment when she does not see her subject. The shutter blocks her field of view, and she will only see it as a representation (after being developed on film and then on paper). Brandenburg, however, refuses to go blind, even momentarily, keeping her penetrating eyes open wide, unflinching from the subject. There is no one instance that is memorialized and therefore relegated to the past, to death and to stasis. Brandenburg??s film presents something in-between, a sort of living dead that operate at the intersection of photography and film. Extreme in their non-action, the works are half-living apparitions that are shadows of ourselves. Instead of creating a monument to time past, Brandenburg lets that moment go on forever, solving the conundrum and dispelling the seeming contradiction of death and eternity.
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12/05/07 11:50:17 am
Review: Pablo Bronstein
Pablo Bronstein, Balletto Neoclassico, 2007. Dancers from Teatro Nuovo, Torino. Courtesy Galleria Franco Noero
Pablo Bronstein Plaza Minuet
, Nov 7
2 ?? 2.30 Winter Garden, Word Financial Center
3 ?? 3.30 80 Pine Street
4 - 4.30 One New York Plaza
5 -5.30 60 Wall Street
Apart from the turquoise-leotard wearing dancers who perform in them, each of the spaces chosen by Pablo Bronstein for his Plaza Minuet
have one thing in common. These grand halls in New York??s wealthy financial district are all ???privately owned public spaces??: areas designated for public use and maintained by private companies. When Bronstein??s dancers bound into each venue, mark a cross on the floor and move in slow unison between Ballet positions, they are simply exercising their public right to be there. So what makes them look so strange?
Firstly, the dancers?? costumes deliberately jar with their surroundings. Their bright, figure-hugging leotards clash with the d?©cor and the dark suits worn by those who work nearby. Secondly, the dancers?? movements look out of place. These splendid lobbies, with their marble pillars, palm trees and ambient lighting, are used as spaces to walk through, not perform in. Even the vast atrium of 60 Wall Street (owned by Deutsche Bank), in which people play chess on tables and chairs at the sides of the hall, functions mainly as a thoroughfare on the way to the subway.
These public spaces have been carefully designed by their private owners with particular uses in mind. But by marking out their own area in the middle of each venue, as well as marking themselves as visually different, the dancers in Plaza Minuet
ignore both the architectural imperatives of the buildings?? design and the social implications of other people??s willingness to abide by them. In 60 Wall Street, for example, the trees and pillars are not just grand but they also compel people forward, narrowing pathways and suggesting direction. The dancers cut across these pathways and the commuters using them, to disrupt the flow of movement.
Put simply, the dancers don??t behave like you??re supposed to ?? they don??t behave in the way these spaces expect. As well as looking strange, this misbehaviour exposes the rules the rest of us follow. But it??s more than mere resistance to authority that makes the Plaza Minuet
dancers stand out ?? it??s competition to it. The artist, Pablo Bronstein and a choreographer, Hilary Nanney, instruct the dancers when to change position, and they correct individuals when they make a mistake. In this way, the dancers in Plaza Minuet
do not simply disobey the silent rules of their architectural surroundings, but they submit to an alternative authority ?? the bodily discipline of Ballet, as embodied by Bronstein and Nanney.
Brought together physically, the authority of Ballet and the authority of the architecture of public space expose the ideological implications of each other. The comparison between the two is illuminating, because both types of authority compete on the same terms. Both Ballet and the architecture of public space adopt a strong visual code (turquoise leotards/ marble pillars); both expect silent complicity from their subjects (no rewards for success, only punishment ??for example, looking strange ?? for failure); and both seek to incorporate individuals into a compliant group (with no reward, conformity must be an end in itself.) It??s also illuminating because these terms normally remain hidden ?? naturalisation, in fact, is another tactic the two types of authority share. While the beautiful illusion of Ballet is maintained by its disavowal of physical hardship, the awesome spell of Wall Street??s architecture is preserved by the myth of the easy accumulation of wealth.
enacts a competition between the authority of Ballet and the authority of the architecture of public space, the process of which makes them both visible. But, just as the ???lie?? of capitalism is not weakened, according to Marx, by its exposure, this explication of institutional authority is far from critical of its subject. Opening up the machinations of Ballet and of the architecture of public space, Plaza Minuet
questions the institutions?? claims to natural authority; but it also suggests that authority itself is inescapable ?? the only way to notice one set of rules is to succumb to the other.
In fact, it??s this interest in rules as a principle ?? rather than what they stand for ?? that finally marks the dancers in Plaza Minuet
as strange. Even though Ballet is exposed as a form of bodily control, the dancers choose to conform to its strictures. This choice to comply goes against the pervasive individualism of twenty-first century Euro-American culture. Indeed, it goes against the capitalistic individualism on which Wall Street??s wealth is built, at the same time as it questions the veracity of that myth by exposing the architectural authority that supports it. Using a dance derived from Renaissance-era court practise, Plaza Minuet
reaches behind our understanding of the individual and questions the sovereignty of the twenty-first century subject.
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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
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".
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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 Maison
infuses 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.
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11/20/07 12:18:18 pm
'The Non-Event Event'
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.
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