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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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11/08/07 10:37:38 pm
Review: Allan Kaprow

Allan Kaprow, 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (re-doing), Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2006. Photo by Marion Vogel.

Allan Kaprow 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (Re-doing) at Deitch Studios, Nov 8.

If we bypass ???art?? and take nature itself as a model or point of departure, we may be able to devise a different kind of art by first putting together a molecule out of the sensory stuff of ordinary life??Alan Kaprow, 1958.

A bell gongs loudly, announcing the entrance of four subjects. A deafening score of electronic bleeps and blips follow as a slide projector casts Ab-Ex images rapid-fire onto a white screen. An oration of monosyllabic words ensues in a third room; ???Up, what, out, and, no, which, each, the,??? all while the performers engage in a deliberately choreographed sequence of movements made to suggest the arms of a ticking clock. The bell gongs again. Act 1 is over.

Act 2: This time the slide show consists of Renaissance paintings. A Caravaggio catches the eye while a male subject reads off of a note card. ???It??s simple to tell time,??? he tells us, ???we have designed the clock.??? Yet his awkwardly staged pauses, starts and stops, combined with the sound of another orator in the background, belie his words. Time is not the issue here, the suspension of it is.


Everyone is required to change seats. Moving from one makeshift room to another, the first space remains visible through a screen of transparent vinyl and open doorways. Large painted dots in primary colors float amidst the plastic barriers while individual light bulbs illuminated in patriotic shades of red, white and blue grace the perimeter of the space. Rhythm and balance have joined time as central themes for Act 3 but are destroyed by the dissonant sounds of a screeching violin, ukulele and kazoo in Act 4.

In 1959, Kaprow was standing on the precipice between modernism and the postmodern. 18 Happenings in 6 Parts embodies this middle-ground. Not yet of the same caliber that would come to typify the spontaneous and decadently feral Happenings of the 60??s, 18 Happenings in 6 Parts demonstrates the organic basis and subsequent evolution of Kaprow??s artistic idea(l)s.

Recreated from dozens of pages of original notes, the performance??s format still maintains the narrative structures inherent in modernist theatre, with six consecutive acts separated by two intermissions. But the interplay of meticulously choreographed movements with everyday actions, such as the bouncing of a ball, the act of painting or the drinking of orange juice, creates an infinite number of variables that cannot be accounted for nor pre-determined. It is this intersection of philosophies, of the elements of chance combined with that of the mundanely routine that keep Kaprow??s work contemporary.

In the final act, a scroll of words is pulled down from an overhanging bar in the center of the middle room. As all four subjects read in unison from its score, this notion of contemporaneity hits home. We are all joined, regardless of decade, by the elements of art and language; 2007 may as well be 1959. A bell gongs and we exit.

Kara Rooney

11/08/07 05:47:42 pm
'Preview: Mahjong by He Yun Chang'

Washington Square Park

Project team 'Mahjong 2007' in the park

Preview: He Yun Chang
Washington Square
09 Nov 4-7pm
Presented by Chambers Fine Art for PERFORMA07.

I went to Judson Church on Washington South yesterday to meet He Yun Chang whilst he prepared for his performance of Mahjong, 2007. Mahjong is a traditional Chinese game that He Yun Chang will perform with various audience members in nearby Washington Square Park on the 9th November. The performance of Mahjong itself has nothing to do with the church, but the tiles that He Yun Chang will use for the game are large bricks, 100??s of them, and they are all to be hand painted by the artist himself, so Judson Church kindly agreed to give Performa space in their basement for the brick storage and painting.

That the tiles for He Yun Chang??s unique version of Mahjong are big, heavy bricks and that each one is to be painstakingly hand-painted should come as no surprise to those who know He Yun Chang??s work. Previous projects have tested the limits of the artists?? physical and mental endurance against insurmountable odds. Such odds have included the artist trying to move a Chinese mountain with string in Moving a Mountain, 1999, being suspended over a river whilst trying to cut water with a knife in Dialogue With Water, 1999 and more recently Touring Great Britain With Rock, 2006 in which He Yun Chang walked 2000 UK miles in 9 months whilst carrying a large rock.

Although He Yun Chang doesn??t succeed in physically moving mountains or dividing rivers, the artist??s persistence does prevail in incredibly moving ways that reference human struggle and the triumph of the individual over both internal, natural and external political forces.

Mahjong,2007 will be the latest in a long line of powerful, poignant and quintessentially Chinese performances by China??s leading contemporary performance artist. Put simply, it is not to be missed.

Rachel Lois Clapham

11/08/07 02:10:41 pm
A Screening of Contrasts

Daria Martin, Harpstrings & Lava, 2007. Film production still. Photograph Thierry Bal, courtesy of PERFORMA and Maureen Paley, London.

Daria Martin Harpstrings and Lava at Tribeca Grand Hotel Screening Room, Nov 4 & 19.

The title of Harpstrings and Lava, the new film by the American artist Daria Martin, is taken from a nightmare that a friend of Martin??s had as a child. The nightmarish element is the conjunction of two seemingly impossible things ?? the thick, molten heat of lava and the cool, clear strings of a harp. The film, a PERFORMA Commission co-commissioned by S.M.A.K and Outset, also builds to an encounter between two conflicting ideas ?? this time, embodied in characters. There is the driven activity of a musician, played by the experimental musician Zeena Parkins, and the exploratory, animal-like behaviour of a woman in a woodland set, played by the performer Nina Fog.

Parkins wears a Japanese Kimono and carries out a series of unexplained rituals ?? banging chalks together, whipping the sleeves of her dress ?? before sitting down to play the harp. She is surrounded by formal architecture and when she starts to play music, it??s in a never-ending courtyard. The courtyard??s walls and archways glimpse more walls and archways, receding into an infinity of man-made space. In contrast, Fog??s world is consumed in nature and discovery. She wakes up, confused, under a tree, and scrambles round for food. Her dextrous fingers fumble through leaves and dirt, while Parkins?? dextrous fingers take command of the harp. The camera slides between each character by way of a long, twisted branch; it is dead when it leads to or from Parkins, but comes to life as it gets closer to Fog.

Harpstrings and Lava is itself a contrast to the other two Daria Martin films shown at this screening, Birds (2001) and In the Palace (2000). In these earlier works, the camera travels around performers striking poses, or getting prepared to strike a pose. These films draw on modernist aesthetics ?? relishing the shapes, forms and colours of objects; attending to the acts and tools of representation and performance themselves, rather than to mimesis (the drive to imitate). They draw attention to the camera??s participation in performance and the actors, as Daria Martin said in her introductory speech to this screening, are used like mannequins or marionettes, rather than individuals with their own agency.

In Harpstrings and Lava, however, the characters sometimes lead the camera. While in her earlier films, Martin uses the camera to explore a set that is complicit in and produced entirely for its gaze, in Harpstrings and Lava the camera seems to have stumbled upon a world that resonates beyond its horizons. Here it is the agency of the camera and the performance of film as a medium that are rendered passive. Dripping with meaning beyond the viewers?? control, Harpstrings and Lava really does feel like a nightmare. It ends just as the two irreconcilable characters meet. The lights go up in the auditorium, and we wake without resolution.

Mary Paterson

11/08/07 01:21:40 pm
???Please Note: This is Not a Traditional Ikebana Workshop??

BYOF (Bring Your Own Flowers) by Ei Arakawa and Amy Sillman
Japan Society Lobby
Friday November 02 at 8pm

Ikebana is the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging, or Kad?? (the ???way of flowers??), the traditional practise of which involves great skill and accomplished craftsmanship after many years of being tutored in the correct Ikebana school. In Japan, Ikebana is also revered and loaded with cultural, artistic and religious (Buddhist) significance and continues to be a popular contemporary art form. It is wise, then, that for Ei Arakawa??s performance of BYOF (Bring Your Own Flowers) a large disclaimer "Warning: This is Not a Traditional Ikebana Workshop" was printed in the programme booklet. Traditional, harmonious, reverent and highly crafted, this performance installation was definitely not.

Instead, the audience for BYOF (Bring Your Own Flowers) were packed into the downstairs Japan Society lobby; tightly squeezed around a large make-shift installation that included paintings on canvas, polystyrene screens, data projectors -some rigged up, some strewn on the floor- sewing machines and unopened boxes of canned Blue Ribbon beer. We stayed like this, tense, shuffling and expectant whilst nothing happened, for some time until a Japanese man in tight leggings and a baggy tee shirt entered. He runs between the polystyrene screens, fumbles with the data projector, moves chairs around. The audience start to smile knowingly. Some of us start to take photos. The man senses our - misplaced - attention and, with some difficulty, holds up a metal table attached to a small microphone. Through the table-microphone he shouts: ???This is not the performance. The performance hasn??t started. We are not ready yet!??? The man has an altogether worried look on his face. Does he think this performance is all going horribly wrong as we, the audience, do? Perhaps it is because we think it is going horribly wrong that we carry on smiling even more and taking photos. Looking exasperated at this the man then lurches forward at the happy snapping audience: "No photos please, this is not the performance!".

Although this was the performance; BYOF (Bring Your Own Flowers) had already begun and Ei Arakawa??s performance persona was already in full force. With only a faintly ironic hound-dog expression, a baggy tee and a pair of leggings this likeable whirlwind of Japanese mischievousness already had us in the palm of his hand. We liked him, at least I did. And it didn??t matter that I was tired, crushed and not just a bit confused about what was actually happening.

Amid Ei Arakawa??s genuine protestations that his performance was not a performance, Japan Society staff, bored looking audience members and other ???helpers?? of undefined status idly tinkered with the installation??s equipment, moved boxes and draped material over polystyrene screens. 20 minutes later and I think I can say with confidence that the performance had definitely started (again). The artist and his helpers collected the all important flowers that the audience had brought, then proceeded to besmirch and swat them mercilessly across floor, table, chairs, data projector and beer cans. Chaos still reigned 10 minutes on, some confused audience members left, and Ei Arakawa gave out cans of "little bit chilled" - read : warm - beer and performed a disorganised slide lecture about famous artists throughout history whose life and work had been indebted to the consumption of alcohol (Van Gogh, Kandinsky, some others I couldn??t hear). At some point in the middle of all this Ei Arakawa took US $150 from the audience and the American painter (Amy Sillman) was interviewed by a journalist for the Brooklyn Rail. It is unclear whether the money was ever given back (I very much doubt it) and if the interviewee really was the renowned Amy Sillman, or a younger stand in? It is in the rather punk spirit of BYOF (Bring Your Own Flowers) that all these questions - and many more - remain unanswered.

In a neat circle of self reflexivity the process for BYOF (Bring Your Own Flowers) - including the waiting, the nothing happening, the false starts and the non performance performances - is the work itself. BYOF (Bring Your Own Flowers) is at once the bare, shambolic, manic and sketchy bones of how a performance comes to be, or sometimes doesn??t quite happen, whilst being the final finished version of itself. In this way, Ei Arawkawa and co skilfully perform creative chaos while enacting the grey, shifting and difficult area of live work that reveals the different levels of Performance itself (Ei Arawkawa performing himself performing, or rather, not performing). Breaking down traditional and deeply suspect notions of artistic skill, craftsmanship and cultural relevance for our contemporary times, BYOF (Bring Your Own Flowers) was high class Japanese theatrics with no Theatre in sight: sheer adulterated joy.

Rachel Lois Clapham

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>>Review: Allan Kaprow...
>>'Preview: Mahjong by He Yun Chang'...
>>A Screening of Contrasts...
>>???Please Note: This is Not a Traditional Ikebana ...