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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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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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11/16/07 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 04:12:26 pm
???Review: 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (Re-doing)??™

Marc Etlin, Kyle Shepard, No?mie Solomon, and Chelsea Adewunmi performing in Allan Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (Re-doing), 2007. Photo copyright Paula Court. Courtesy of PERFORMA, Allan Kaprow Estate, and Hauser & Wirth Zurich / London.

Allan Kaprow 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (Re-doing) at Deitch Projects, Nov 11.

Deitch Projects, on the Long Island City waterfront, hosted a re-doing of Allan Kaprow's 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, one of a handful of archival performances connecting PERFORMA07 with performance's recent past. Kaprow's 1959 happening, reconstituted under the direction of Andr?© Lepecki, struck me as tableau vivant, an old theatrical tradition of staging living pictures; the living bodies in the picture produce a tension between the image staged and the rolling, ticking time of the present. Although the program notes indicate that this performance is remade from the notes and scores left by Kaprow (as opposed to a wax museum reincarnation of its every gesture), my curiosity about the piece is dominated by a sense of getting access to a primary document. It's an odd tension and a hard way to view something, and it felt to me like the anxiety was shared by other folks in the audience. Were we going to be in the presence of something great and timeless? Or would we be witnessing a kind of living history?

When happenings were first, well, happening, their value lay in part in existing in a space in which there existed no vocabulary of authority to describe it. Kaprow had to stake out new terms in his writings to describe and justify the new medium of happenings. Paintings are made from paint; happenings are made from events. The assertion of equivalence of visiting a set of events and seeing a painting was a kind of meta-provocation to the audiences at the original happenings, I imagine, exceeding simply the experience of watching. The compositional language of events is now so foundational to performance, theatrical or otherwise, that it took an act of historical imagination for me to feel that same provocation. In the same way that performance art is often described as putting value in creating a performative frame around normal activities, this act of imagination asked me to put a theoretical frame around my habits of viewing. This mental exercise dominated my experience of the work, and I'm not much able to give an account of the piece itself, how it worked, what it did, or what other claims it might have made on my time.

Other people on this blog will describe the piece better. I'll offer instead a set of questions I was left with: Must performance be particularly wedded to the behavioral syntax of its own era? How do we see past anachronism and experience the vitality of the past? What does it mean to reconstruct historical work? Must it be translated into the vocabularies of our time to be not just interesting but moving? I'd also like to point to two groups making performance events that I think joyfully inherit the spirit of Alan Kaprow: AUNTS, who approach curated (and anti-curated) dance performance as a happening, and Nature Theater of Oklahoma, who take almost religiously Kaprow's call to source art materials from the most throwaway parts of everyday life.

Karinne Keithly

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11/14/07 02:51:05 pm
???Triple Vision??™

Isaac Julien and Russell Maliphant, Cast No Shadow, 2007. Photo copyright Paula Court. Courtesy of PERFORMA and Sadler's Wells.

Isaac Julien and Russell Maliphant Cast No Shadow at BAM Harvey Theater, Nov 8-10.

For their three-part screening at BAM, filmmaker Isaac Julien and choreographer Russell Maliphant joined forces, the result of which could undoubtedly be dubbed the duo??™s magnum opus. One of the many PEFORMA commissions, this one left the audience breathless, stunning not only in the subtle beauty that has come to characterize Julien??™s filmmaking but in the equal pairing of Maliphant??™s expertly staged choreography.

The first film, True North, featured a three-screen projection of the arctic wilderness. Panoramic shots of frozen tundra accompanied three dancers as viewers followed a nameless African woman, played by Vanessa Myrie, on a fictitious journey to the North Pole. Like flowing water turned to snowflakes in a blizzard, the performers twirled, spun, leapt and slid over invisible mountains and ravines. Cloaked in white, Myrie seemed to float amidst their movements while in the films, she traversed the icy topography in a full-length, black coat ??“ the estimable yin and yang of a pseudo-Nordic world.

The second screening did not feature dancers, instead, consisting solely of Julien??™s three-screen projection, Fant??me Afrique. The film was no less riveting, however, for the absence of live routines were made up for by dancer, Stephen Galloway??™s incredibly powerful performance set to a backdrop of desert scenes and the primitive rhythm of beating drums. Visually, the film oscillated between urban shots of Ouagadougou, which, according to the playbill was the center of pan-African cinema, and Africa??™s barren desert landscape. A sense of displacement pervaded the work as Myrie again wandered into and out of each frame. In his cinematic choices, Julien seemed to imply that as powerful a hold as contemporary art may have on society (here depicted as filmmaking), ultimately, its force is not potent enough to rival one??™s roots. Consistently drawn back to the desert-scapes, the primordial in Fant??me Afrique appears to house where art both ends and begins.

This idea carries through in the artists??™ third and most successful collaboration, Small Boats. Here, water serves as the origin of death and rebirth as the audience followed five performers??™ quest for asylum spanning two continents. A stage-sized single screen projection of vibrantly colored shipwrecks dominated the performance space while the dancers??™ graceful forms slowly materialized behind the increasingly transparent mesh facade. As they enacted various feats of strength and control (rolling down (and up) stairs, the carrying of each other??™s limp, voyage-torn bodies) the audience was inevitably reminded of the effects of dislocation, this idea driven home by the jarring juxtaposition of stately 17th century interiors with their tangible but lifeless figures.

In the final scenes, the bodies are shown on a barren stretch of beach, covered in aluminum blankets not far from where vacationing Europeans swim and play. Their figures have been forgotten, lost, yet are plainly visible to those willing to look. Finally, large nets are lowered onto the stage. As the dancers climb the nautical webbing, weaving their limbs lyrically about the structure??™s open holes, a screen projection of water rises before them out of the stage floor. As (a la Bill Viola) a torrent of bubbles envelopes the images of the castaways, the projection becomes increasingly opaque, at first diluting the dancers??™ writhing forms and finally, ablating them altogether, as they are returned to the watery source from whence their journey began. The stage goes black as a fervent ovation ensued.

Kara Rooney

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11/12/07 04:49:12 pm
???Dancing About Architecture??™

Isaac Julien and Russell Maliphant, Cast No Shadow, 2007. Photo copyright Paula Court. Courtesy of PERFORMA and Sadler’s Wells.

Isaac Julien & Russell Maliphant Cast No Shadow at BAM Harvey Theater, Nov 8-10.

The quote ???Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,??? variously attributed to Frank Zappa, Steve Martin and Lester Bangs, among others, implies that dancing and architecture have nothing in common, except, maybe, if you are dancing on a piece of architecture. Not so, if you can accept that the body is a structure the dancer shapes. In Cast No Shadow (a PERFORMA07 commission), with video by Isaac Julien and choreography by Russell Maliphant some of the most affecting moments in the first portion of the show, True North, are exactly when one or another of the dancers, normally running and leaping and bending, suddenly flings himself into a rigid shape and is manipulated by is fellow dancers-placed at an angle from the floor, held up and carried like a piece of lumber, propped onto another dancer and so on.

Otherwise, the relationship between the video, the dancers and the audience, is slightly distant. The projected images are absolutely beautiful, in fact, I had forgotten, until I saw this performance, that I had seen a video projection in a gallery (where? I know I was visiting someone, and I remember the space-something more like a house than a white cube) by Julien before. But once I remembered, I remembered very clearly that it was Vagabondia that I had seen and that I stayed where I was to watch while my friends? Family? walked on ahead. I was taken by the installation??™s ability to speak to me, despite being a projection; it had a faintly palpable presence. So I know Julien is capable of immediacy.

Honestly, I think it was the distance between the audience and the, I??™ll say for here, action that created the barrier. The second projection, Fantome Afrique, would have, I??™m sure, knocked me breathless had it taken up more of my field of vision, but from so far away and small, the projection only made me yearn to be closer to it. I will certainly go see Stephen Galloway, the dancer and choreographer in the video, when I have a chance, and I will definitely also go see the video itself, when it is installed in a gallery. The few magic moments when Julien and Maliphant worked together -video and dance- were in the last portion of the performance.

And on to the last piece, Small Boats. It was the longest and the most narrative of them. There was travel and then being in a place. The projection was cast onto a scrim, with the dancers behind, occasionally revealed by backlighting. The first time we see them, the projection is of a ship, and the dancers perform their sudden architectural movements with a constant rocking undercurrent, as if they were on a voyage. The second time they appear in the projection, the one that was most startling, the video is of a desert with people standing still at various places on the dunes when the screen is backlit and the dancers are standing at nearly, but not exactly, the same places. This established, for the, the relationship between image and live performance and made the rest of the piece, carried out largely in something that appears to be an Eastern European palace, more human and real. The distance between performers and audience shrinks or is bridged by the blending of human and man-made. The dance is about the space and the space is beautiful. We travel there too; now distance is cancelled and that thing that the internet cannot do, make our viewing experience a physical experience, is briefly done. Success! Then the performance returns to the ship and we are back in our seats. Finally, it ends. For a few seconds, this collaboration has taken the audience traveling with them. It was a lovely trip.

Vanessa Baish

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11/12/07 04:43:26 pm
'Review: International Festival'

On the Town, MGM Pictures, 1949

International Festival, On the Town, 2007.

International Festival On the Town at Storefront for Art and Architecture, Nov 1??“20.

???New York, New York it's a wonderful town! / The Bronx is up and the Battery's down! / The people ride in a hole in the ground!??? So begins On the Town, the riotous MGM musical film released in 1949, which follows the amorous adventures of three Navy sailors as they try to find dates and see the city in just 24 hours of leave from their ship.

Paralleling this madcap race is International Festival's attempt to restage the film with their small, hand-held recorder during the three weeks of the Performa Biennial. Swedish duo International Festival (aka Tor Lindstrand and M??rten Sp??ngberg, and herein ???IF??™) decided to retain the original soundtrack and dialogue, but do away with actors and instead retrace and film only the locations featured in the movie. Therefore, where in the original we see the three sailors excitedly strut down the Brooklyn bridge, IF's footage is a straight shot of the same location, with tourists milling about. The original movie features New York as a central character, and America's post-war invincibility is apparent in the heroic way the city is presented. In IF's version, the city is the only character, with its present-day throngs of tired commuters and preoccupied pedestrians; the city is cast as a loose collection of places and strangers that offers no narrative thread.

Without the distraction of dance numbers and dazzling dresses, the antiquated interactions (one sailor says to a female cab driver: ???What you doing working? The war's over!") and ???primitive??? grunting songs in the fictional Museum of Anthropological History are set against IF's deadpan shots of a bored, gum-chewing magazine stand attendant, African drums behind glass, or a skeleton on display. It's tempting to read irony into the work??”it??™s almost too easy with the over-the-top campiness and "Everyone loves the Navy!" optimism of the musical. Making the juxtaposition of the different eras even more jarring is the fact that while filming a scene that takes place on the Empire State building, IF were stopped and interrogated for two hours by security guards??”who were very concerned in these post-9/11 times??”about why these men were filming the fire escape for so long (in the movie, a song and dance sequence took place there).

But the project is more than an easy puncturing of 1940s values from our enlightened, if cynical, present day. International Festival has over the past several years presented a wide range of projects that are a dynamic hybrid of dance, architecture, and performance. With this background interest, their project acts not only as a premise to see how the city itself can perform, but further, replaces the candied spectacle of action and sublime dancing with the pedestrian movement of the everyday by using??”yes??”actual New York city pedestrians.

IF??™s choice to foreground the city recalls, oddly, artist Allan McCollum's "Surrogate Paintings" of the late 1970s??”black squares of varying sizes that acted as surrogates for indiscernible paintings used as background decor. Reversing McCollum??™s project, IF??™s footage of the city is the ???real??? thing, setting up the fantasy-city portrayed in the 1949 film as a surrogate. Yet the new city scenes also stand in as surrogates for the human drama and spectacle pictured in the original film. In this later version, the city, while realer, is voided of the action we hear occurring??”its banality provides us with a blank screen on which to project our own fantasies suggested by the snappy dialogue.

At this point, IF is not finished filming their version and haven??™t concluded how they will handle the two dream-sequence scenes, one of which is a recap of the movie within the movie, meaning that they will have to create a reenactment of a reenactment...stay tuned.

Lyra Kilston

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11/12/07 04:35:09 pm
???The Multilingual Art and Soul of Adam Pendleton??™

Vanesse Thomas, Adam Pendleton, and Renee Neufville in The Revival, 2007. Photo copyright Paula Court. Courtesy of PERFORMA.

Adam Pendleton The Revival at Stephan Weiss Studios, Nov 1.

Having recently re-assembled 1960s poetry and Civil Rights speeches onto smoke-colored silk-screens, Adam Pendleton has a reputation for handling the visual substance of text. Getting a PERFORMA commission upped the ante by requesting his next project to include a live, durational element, and the 26 year old, black, gay conceptualist upped it again, performing with an ethereal backup choir, two poets and a three-piece band. Diving into poetics and resurfacing with a fist full of politics, art and personal theology, the pure zeal of The Revival roused a crowd of non-believers.

While the audience settled onto simple wooden benches or minimalist, black cube seats, three projections by Charles Sandison showed pixilated white figures slowly blown apart like dandelion petals and reconfiguring as other people. Though the videos stopped when the performance began, they readied the stage for the shape-shifting energy and gusts of fragmented prose to come.

The choir entered through a partition in the audience, announcing a ???new day??? by singing Duke Ellington??™s I like the Sunrise and making its way to two staggered rostrums adjoining a piano, bass, and drums. Pendleton followed, reciting the first stanza of the amalgamated monologue and performance underscore, dream of an uncommon language. ???We lived on a small island stone nation, love without color, sound, garlic,??? his voice began evenly.

Throughout the performance, phrases borrowed from cultural figures such as John Ashbery and Jesse Jackson reoccurred in shifting cadence. The mood swelled with tenderness and torridity to address the pain of living in homophobic America and then calmed in a jumble of obscure quotations. Recalling the semiotic challenges of Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner (among others) the alternate shortcomings and multiplicities of language were weighed politically. Proving that every word speaks a thousand more, ???Here is your language,??? Pendleton gave us repeatedly, at one point adding, ???mother fucker.???

Definition is rarely an only child and in The Revival, it was born a Gemini, starting sentences that a disparate twin would finish. Spirit, for example, was synonymous with linguistics and with love, introduced through gospel praise and morphing into something vaguely aesthetic. Language gained emancipation through experimental form and it took love with it, delivering a singular message of freedom: in art as in sexuality. Loosely conjoined in a patchwork patois, these ideas were felt, rather than understood.

Half way through, Jena Osman and Liam Gillick mounted the pulpit to read stylistically similar poems referred to as ???Testimonials.??? Awkward guests in the authorless hybrid, they ???testified??™ to the monotheistic (albeit multimedia) emphasis of The Revival. Whether one considers the spirit Pendleton spoke of to be secularly aesthetic or guided by God, The Revival showed gospel optimism, rare among evangelical hypocrisy and art world restraint. When soloist Renee Neufville refused to take credit for her beautifully human voice by pointing to the ceiling, her faith was blind, rapturous and unfamiliar to an audience that has seen too much materialism and criticality. This spiritual forcefulness left the audience stirred, baffled and with a strange taste of faith in their mouths hung ajar.

Sophie Landres

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11/12/07 09:34:41 am
???Heavy Metal??™

Xu Zhen, In Just a Blink of an Eye 2005-07

Xu Zhen In the Blink of an Eye at James Cohan Gallery, Nov 7-10.

An uneasy silence hangs in the air as visitors hesitantly traverse the intermediary space between two New York Chinatown migrants. With voyeuristic gestures, they lean closer to the two figures, in an attempt to dispel the dreamlike atmosphere staged by artist Xu Zhen. One can sense the performers breathing, the diminutive pulses of life perceptible in the slight rustle of clothing or a brief flickering of movement that plays across their faces. Yet their bodies linger at inhuman angles ??“ crooked, awkward and lumbering ??“ deceptively suspended as if frozen in time. Like mannequins, they stare into nothingness, apparently immune to the viewers??™ presence. Their expressions are blank, detached; and then one of them blinks, catapulting the onlookers back to reality.

Since his first appearance on the global art scene in 1998, Xu Zhen has worked with the human form, consistently challenging its limitations on both a physical and psychological level. His performance, 6th March (2000), created for the first Shanghai Biennial, consisted of over 100 participants positioned outside of a gallery and disguised as the mentally ill. Their purpose was to follow viewers into the exhibition space, shadowing their movements and reactions to the work on display, effectively limiting ways of viewing by establishing an atmosphere of anxiety and unrest. The same elements are at work in the artist??™s most recent piece, In the Blink of an Eye.

Zhen??™s latest illusion is achieved by means of industrial strength steel frames that are fitted underneath the actor??™s clothes. The redolent symbolism inherent in the use of such a medium seems fitting considering the piece was created in conjunction with the Long-March Project, an artistic undertaking that aims to underscore both the political and cultural struggles encountered by contemporary Chinese and African-American societies. Yet Zhen??™s work is also doing something different. By placing his performance outside the realm of human proportions, his work reaches beyond the confines of mere political activism or commentary and into the nebulous zone that typifies the stuff of science-fiction novels. Hovering only a few feet from the ground, Zhen??™s subjects are literally immobilized by their state of helplessness. It is this weighted sense of stasis, not the possibility of movement that imbues his work with power.

In the Blink of an Eye is one of many works by Chinese artists that will be performed in conjunction with PEFORMA and the Long-March Project over the course of the weekend.

Kara Rooney

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11/10/07 10:15:18 am
???A Multitude of Elsewheres??™

Vito Acconci A Live Reading at Swiss Institute, Nov 7.

Being better acquainted with Acconci??™s language-based performances and photographic works from the 60??™s and 70??™s it was a refreshing surprise to hear him read from unrealized architectural and design projects this past Wednesday evening.

During the reading the artist read four ???chapters??™ from the writing project, each chapter dealing with a different architectural theme (e.g. ???Buildings Inside/Out??™). Between chapters Acconci played ???interludes??™??”CD tracks of some of his 70??™s recording projects.
That the 70??™s recordings should be interposed Acconci??™s mainly 90??™s and 00??™s architectural writings proved a bit like time-travel (???Vito??? then, ???Vito??? now), yet also consistent with a sense of delay pervasive throughout Acconci??™s entire work.* For instance, the series of performances he did in the early 70??™s involving the transportation of his library back and forth from his West Village apartment to a gallery where he was showing Uptown; when he wanted to peruse any of his books he would have to get on a train, delaying research. Or the infamous St. Mark??™s Poetry Project ???reading??? consisting of a series of phone calls to the audience at the Project from different phone booths throughout the city. Acconci??™s represented voice arrived, as well as his coordinates on the ???grid,??? however never the bodily presence of the performer one expects from a poetry reading context.

If any delay is at work in Acconci??™s reading of last Wednesday it is that of architectural endeavors that also never embody or presence themselves for any number of reasons (because the money doesn??™t exist, or technology hasn??™t become sufficiently developed; because a particular location is not available or convenient). Among the projects Acconci proposed one of my favorites was his plan for a ???research station??? in Antarctica. Here the metaphysical thrust of the artist??™s writings was felt as Acconci announced ???an Antarctica of the mind??™ and imagined ???seeing the mind??™ itself through the ???blankness??™ of Antarctica. ???Think of this world as a blank piece of paper??™. The ???beacon??™ of the Antarctica research station, likewise, would project a light not for ???anyone??™ (as hardly any one goes to Antarctica and fewer still inhabit it) but for ???itself??™. A communion or conveyance with the stars (???information gets pulled down from the stars??™). A space-age movie house for a cold, iconoclastic geography (???a movie that is the air we breathe??™).

Many of the spaces Acconci chose for his implausible projects may be considered utopian in a literal sense, the term deriving from the Latin for ???no place???. In the spirit of Italo Calvino??™s Invisible Cities or (closer still) Arakawa/Gins??™ Reversible Destiny projects Acconci enumerates spaces of potentiality, the drafts of a capable artist-architect??™s imagination unloosed.

Other projects I especially liked were for a garden at W. 24th St. in New York City along Chelsea??™s ???Highline???. Here a ???crisscross of moving greenery??™ would allow the occupant to ???move through a magic carpet??™ eventually ???becom[ing] a spaceship [him]self??™. Other aspects of Acconci??™s utopian projects were to confuse opposed categories such as ???nature??? and ???culture,??? ???appearance??? and ???reality,??? ???identity??? and ???non-identity,??? ???surface??? and depth,??? ???inside??? and ???out,??? ???public??? and ???private???. As the utopian must admit the all-too-specific as well as the wildly implausible Acconci also projected a National Quilt museum for Indiana where each room of the museum would showcase a different type of quilt, or quilt by itself. Here the artist acknowledged the quilt as an American art form exemplary for its ???multitude of elsewheres???: places, identities, substances, beliefs, fabrics and stitching patchworked.

Other projects included a ???Plaza of Plazas??? for Strasbourg whereby the elements of the typical plaza should be set into motion creating a plaza its occupants ???never knew they wanted until they formed it by accident??™. Also a ???Sculpture Jungle??™ for the Czech Republic (???another world that??™s somewhere but isn??™t here yet??™) and a ???transfer??™ for an airport in Atlanta.

In the ???transfer??™ piece the connection between the ???no place??? of Acconci??™s unrealized projects and writing itself was evident in the many puns at play (???you have lost your head, you have gained still another head??™), as well as the conceitful position of Acconci??™s narrator (first he tells his reader he is home in NYC, then says he has lied, he is in Atlanta, then says he is ???nowhere??™, he is at an airport, writing). Indeed we have perhaps always been nowhere before Acconci??™s work, which consistently pits its audience between here and there, arriving and departing, potential and actual, on paper and off. For Acconci, who began his career as a poet and in so many ways still acts as one, language itself finally seems the ultimate elsewhere.

*for more about Acconci??™s ???delay??™ see Craig Dworkin??™s introduction to Acconci??™s 2005 MIT Press book, Language to Cover the Page (ed. Dworkin).

Thom Donovan

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