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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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11/20/07 12:18:18 pm
'The Non-Event Event'

Pablo Bronstein
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.


Rachel Lois Clapham

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