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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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11/01/07 05:33:42 pm
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11/01/07 04:20:31 pm
???Hyper Hyped??

Francesco Vezzoli, Right You Are (If You Think You Are), 2007. Photo copyright Paula Court. Courtesy of PERFORMA, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Gagosian Gallery.

Francesco Vezzoli Cosi E (Se Vi Pare) Right You Are (If You Think You Are) at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Oct 27.

At one time, in the not-so-distant past, it would have been impossible to conceive of performance art taking its cue from red carpet glitterati. The ???market??? then hadn??t teeth as sharp as today, when the more elusive and coveted the thing, the more adept we are at capturing it. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon, it??s human nature, and it isn??t entirely bad. I??ve stopped believing in black and white long ago, and to experience a work of art that revels in the fine line between the two is an exercise in reality not for the faint of heart.

The pamphlet said ???free??? and so I arrived at the Guggenheim with 15 minutes to spare in anticipation of a crowd. What I didn??t expect was a line of anxious ticket-holders that went around the block. I heard from impatient fellow hopefuls that one needed to know Gagosian or Vezzoli to get one of the 300 tickets that were allotted for the event. It was hopeless. Even a friend that works at the Guggenheim??s curatorial department wasn??t granted a ticket. And so for over an hour I vacillated between trying my charm on the doormen or taking a nightwalk in the park. It was the lovely couple I befriended in line who helped pass the time and made the wait worthwhile. My anger grew ?? partly at myself for not having guessed the VIP filter and partly at the world, meaning that little big art world, which seemed then the strata of civilization most naively and fervently romanticizing hierarchical societal structure. When did our crush on the high life become a full-fledged love affair? When did we trade our berets for Prada couture and why was I spending an hour and a half in line for a show I clearly couldn??t get into and didn??t even know why I wanted to see it so badly?

But then, finally, o miracle of miracles, the frozen runway turned into a conga line of art fiends and by the time we reached the door it was a full-on frenzy. I put on my best smile and prepared my ???what-do-you-mean-I??m-not-on-the-list??? look, geared for a futile battle and ready to join the ranks of commoners and weirdoes walking the park, when I got a green paper shoved into my hand and was rushed towards the door. The entrance I was ushered into was not the main one and I realized that we at the tail end of the line got a bonus: we were in the auditorium and were to view the performance on screens rather than live in the main hall. I felt a bit slighted but realized that having to stand atop the spiral rotunda for the duration of however long this was going to be was less than appealing. I felt cozy and relieved. It was gonna be like a movie, even the program listed Hollywood stars I had no idea were involved. I got excited.

What followed was a play I had the benefit of multiple vantage points to. The actors sat facing each other on a small round platform in the middle of the rotunda. We in the auditorium had close-ups of each actor??s face and also wide views of the poor standing-room only horde lining the famed Guggenheim coil. O, their legs must be tired and all they could see from so far away were probably the tops of heads and nothing more. I pitied those little people but wouldn??t trade my cushy center-screen seat with any of them. I felt special. Lucky. But I deserved my seat too. I earned it. I was one of the faithful ones who really worked hard to get here.

The play itself was written by Luigi Pirandello in 1917 and tells the tale of gossipy petit-bourgeoisie whose flapping tongues weave the legend of a mysterious woman who becomes the town scandal. The interesting bit was the translation from Italian to English that incorporated old aristocratic language with modern lingo that served as a constant reminder of the artifice of it all. That was Ellyn Burnstein, not some character from 1917. It was really Natalie Portman up there, right in front of me almost, with her fake moustache barely registering as a prop. Turn-of-the-century provincial Italy was a thin veil for Manhattan in 2007. I knew exactly what Francesco Vezzoli was doing. He was playing the hype, giving us everything and nothing, which is exactly what we want. I was seduced by the sexiness of it all, just like those people in Italy. I came to see what the hype was about. I wanted to know, exactly, what everyone was talking about. But we all create that hype for ourselves. There??s nothing really there.

The foreplay, the buildup, was part of it all. When it was over, I humbly joined the plebs walking the park

Chen Tamir

11/01/07 12:34:38 am
???Naughty By Nature??

Nathalie Djurberg, Untitled (Working Title Kids & Dogs), 2007. Photo copyright Paula Court. Courtesy of PERFORMA.

Nathalie Djurberg Untitled (Working Title Kids & Dogs) at The Zipper Theatre, Oct 28.

A graying ribeye, hacked-at cantaloupe, washboard and cereal litter the stage amid a cataclysm of folding chairs, buckets, balloons and tissues. These are the props and instruments that give sound and added theatrics to Swedish born Nathalie Djurberg??s 50 minute claymation, Untitled (Working Title Kids & Dogs). As one of Performa??s ten commissioned pieces, it is the longest video of the young artists?? oeuvre and an inaugural reformulation of medium. Without the live musical auxiliary, her malleable putty characters, detailed with wagging tongues, exposed bones and ornate costumes, would be silent. The tactile handling of instruments, corresponding to animation imprinted with the artist??s hand, creates a parable of power and manipulation that is utterly physical and perversely redemptive.

Each stop-motion frame of Kids & Dogs is an allegorical portrait of aggression and pathology. It begins with a lumpy aurora borealis in the sky over an urban ghetto. Squeaky rats nest in overturned trashcans as a pack of mangy dogs and another of scruffy children forage through empty tin cans, (what looks to be) castrated genitals, fish bones and other alley cat delicacies. Meanwhile, the performers (Djurberg, her trusty musical accomplice, Hans Berg, and a d?buting Pascal Strauss) get to work using the objects around them and their own panting breath to simultaneously orchestrate and pantomime the video??s activity. When resources can??t get scarcer, the rival gangs amass into a face-off (think Michael Jackson??s ???Beat It???) and begin blasting holes in their gaunt and gummy chests with Tommy guns, tossing around putty grenades pulled from suitcases, and loosing limbs in the process. The theater reverberates with stage-made pounds while the audience watches cement erupt in spouts of puffy, gray mushroom shapes. Though the kids are mostly winning (their bodies seem built for war) neither allegiance nor justice is asked of our vantage point. Violent curiosity and amoral desire are liberated from a fear of consequence and energized by the beat of Berg??s bass drum, squeaky dog toys, and popping plastic. When one is wanton, one is free.

After the battle subsides, the injured are taken to a hospital where amputees from both sides are subject to the sadistic benevolence of supermodel nurses. Their mechanical tenderness is maddeningly untrustworthy. Shedding fat blue tears, the aggressors-turned-victims bark and glare, x-rayed, spliced, haphazardly bandaged and flopped together on bloodstained operating tables while power-tools rev sinisterly on stage. Though one buxom surgeon goes on all fours to puke briefly in lime green splatters, being adorable doesn??t deter the nurses?? suspicious bedside manner. But soon a feast is served and the patients stuff their cheeks happily. The performance ends abruptly here. Rather than anticipated punishment, the mutts and ruffians got the nourishment they had been fighting for. The performers giggle at the resolution and take a bow.

Sophie Landres

11/01/07 12:24:10 am
???Exploitation is for Kids (& Dogs)??

Nathalie Djurberg, Untitled (Working Title Kids & Dogs), 2007. Photo copyright Paula Court. Courtesy of PERFORMA.

Nathalie Djurberg Untitled (Working Title Kids & Dogs) at the Zipper Factory, Oct 28

The pervasive cleverness and craft of Nathalie Djurberg??s Untitled (Working Title Kids & Dogs) lies in the continuous play between a non-live claymation video and live-soundtrack performed simultaneously with the projection of the video, and loosely synched at times with the video??s visual-narrative content: down-and-out children warring Untouchables-style with a pack of dogs over scraps of food and other dejected objects, eventually to be given medical treatment and chow after the ???war??. The inconstant delay between pre-made visual and live sound elements offers a satisfying game for an audience to play. The sound of dogs sniffing each other??s asses is seen and heard while viewing the video, then one looks down to Djurberg and fellow performers on stage before the video and sees one of the performers rubbing a pencil against a notepad (the sound of sniffing!). The sound of grenade explosions are offered by an aerosol-paint stenciled bass drum being struck with a mallet, and gunfire by one of the performers rapidly tapping their finger-tips against the contacts of a mixing board. When often there are images of gore and wounding the accompanying sound effects are provided by the squeezing of a ketchup bottle onto the stage by Djurberg herself.

As in children??s toys and media Untitled??s spectator gains pleasure from the tactility of the object of their attention??there is a remarkable visual tactility about claymation, a medium of children??s entertainment typically??as well as from the concomitant observation of the way something being seen and heard is constructed. Operative is the old dyad mimesis and diegesis whence the active attention must negotiate the realities of a living and performed present with multiple levels of representation (sound effects, drum and bass soundtrack, and purely playful performance actions??a head is bandaged or a back scratched in ???real time?? redoubling the action in the video).

The fun of such ???figuring out????the revelatory art of producing the ???mise-en-scene?? and the representative object for the audience in tandem??is both complemented and disrupted by the video??s content, as it presents a cartoonish violence not unlike that of typical cartoons (Tom and Jerry) or recent parodies of them (The Simpson??s Itchy and Scratch) if only, as Untitled??s press release reads, to provide a litany of abject ???twists??? on the ???innocuous??? medium. That the video??s narrative features a ???war?? taking place between the triply marginalized??homeless animals and children of color??gives pause. The extreme visual and aural pleasures of the video and live soundtrack are always in relation (and troubled by) the fact of the work??s narrative content: figures (however fashioned by brightly colored clay) doing tremendous harm to one another (however unrealistically) eventually to be sutured, put back-together, and convalesced by light-skinned, human nurses with uniformly skinny, big-breasted bodies and puffy multi-colored hair.

In the end perhaps Untitled takes most after 60??s and 70??s exploitation cinemas in their various tactical deployments of socio-economic and racial stereotypes, and displays of brute force (however senseless much of Untitled??s violence seems opposed to the complexities of much exploitation cinema). Beyond Tom and Jerry et al, Untitled specifically recalled for me the Fat Albert cartoons of my youth in their own abject tweakings and telling slant of the children??s cartoon genre post-Blaxploitation and in lieu of what I sensed were Djurberg??s unique problems: how to maintain visual-aural pleasure and social critique in constant, yet dislocated, relation; how, what??s more, to interrogate the innocence of children??s entertainment in relation to adult decisions, effects, results, consequences; how, finally, to embody these problems through the formal involvement of live and non-live elements.

Thom Donovan

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>>PERFORMA TV is live!...
>>???Hyper Hyped??...
>>???Naughty By Nature??...
>>???Exploitation is for Kids (& Dogs)??...