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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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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 Minuethave 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 Minuetignore 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 Minuetdo 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.

Plaza Minuet 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.

Mary Paterson

 
12/05/07 09:51:32 am
The Long March

Long March projects for Performa 2007 included; Nov 7-10: Long March- Xu Zhen, In Just a Blink of an Eye (2007), Nov 10 - Qiu Zhijie, The Thunderstorm Is Slowly Approaching (2007), Nov 11: Long March- Avant-Garde (2007), Nov 14: Long March- Zhao Gang, Harlem School of New Social Realism (initiated by Gang Zhao, organized by Long March Project) (2007).

The Long March, also called ???The Great March of the Red Army,??™ 1934-1936 was a defining moment in Chinese history when soldiers and members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) including intellectuals and artists made a radically political move into the Chinese countryside; marching 8000 miles from Jiangxi to Sichuan via Guizhou over some of the country??™s most remote and harshest terrain, in protest against the hierarchy of Chinese aristocratic rule and Literate society. Although the military project of the Long March failed, by engaging with, and harnessing the power of, the country??™s rural majority and setting a new revolutionary agenda, The Long March heralded the onset of Modern Communist China and paved the way for Mao Zedongs??™ influential twenty seven year reign as leader of The People??™s Republic of China.

Miming the same collective structure, revolutionary spirit and educational remit of the 1934 Long March, The Long March Collective, founded in 2002 by curator Lu Jie, explores a distinctly Chinese notion of Avant-Garde arts practice; one that does not have to look outside China to articulate an idea of revolution or artistic change and goes beyond the oft quoted 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre as starting point for politically motivated contemporary art in China. The collective itself has 20 staff, over 300 Long Marchers and its activity includes International Biennials and Triennials, as well as a 20 step curatorial programme and Ghizou-based ???curatorial summit??™ camps. The Long March collective is also geographically embedded at the site of the original Long March; every year a group of Long Marchers ??“ including both international and Chinese artists, curators and theorists - take to the countryside, walking together as a communal piece of live art from Jiangxi to Sichuan whilst marching in the physical and historical footsteps of their Red Army comrades. Along the route Long Marchers work with rural communities to collect research, create exhibitions, host workshops and keep the Long March spirit of avant-garde revolution and notion of ???art for the people??™ alive.

The Long March Collective might use the rhetoric and strategy of a manifesto??™d military political party but they don??™t want simply to become the latest Red Army faction to make the Long March across China. Rather, they want to use the revolutionary impact of the Long March as case study to explore the validity of contemporary art in relation to the public whilst interrogating the possibility of a contemporary art practise in China that is autonomous from Chinese state rule. With this, the Long March collective have its sights set firmly on the future of art whilst literally maintaining a foot-hold in China??™s political past.

It is on this openly interrogative note that the Long March collective contributed to the PERFORMA 07 programme, playing host to a variety of live works. Long Marcher and international conceptual artist Xu Zhen exhibited In Just a Blink of an Eye at the James Cohen Gallery. It was a deceptively simple show in which Zhen made an ephemeral, live and ??“ paradoxically ??“ monumental sculpture out of the suspended bodies of two real-life Chinese migrant workers. The precarious free-fall position in which the two were suspended was an effective metaphor not only for the liminal status and uncertain future of the two Chinese migrants, but of the status and future of China itself.

Artist Qui Zhijie took a more militant approach in order to convey his message. His frenetic The Thunderstorm is Slowly Approaching was a Chinese Dragon Dance performance with traditional music and two important contemporary twists; the troop, including Zhijie, the dancers, musicians and the dragon itself all wore Chinese camouflage combats from head to foot, and the dragon chased, not a pearl, but a camouflaged fighter plane. The troop whipped up a crowd of followers in Columbus Park, danced through the streets of Chinatown and later stormed New York??™s Asian Art Fair. By overtly re-asserting Chinese (military) identity in the polished and rather non-descript ???Asian??™ art fair Zhijie??™s message was clear; the Chinese are coming.

Lu Jie, Qiu Zhijie and German artist Long Marcher Ingo Gunthe were slightly less fervent but no less openly subversive when they hosted Avant-Garde; a Long March workshop at the China Institute that introduced the Long March collective, explained its social remit and openly grappled with some important questions of how and why to go beyond ideology to initiate an Avant-Garde art movement in China. We were also given a glimpse into a certain Chinese mindset by Gunthe and Zhijie, who explained that the traditional Chinese notion of time is non-dialectic due to a lack of Greek philosophical and Hegelian influence, therefore historical progression and going -or looking- backwards are inextricably bound together in a way necessarily and radically different from Western philosophical thinking. This theory was then put into practice with a 100-strong line of workshop participants who completed a three hour backwards march from the China Institute down a busy 5th Avenue, through the Lobby of the Museum of Modern Art, ending at Times Square. By facing backwards whilst moving forwards the 100 ???Backward Long Marchers??™ performed the complex Chinese contemporary relationship to history that Gunthe and Zhijie had articulated. Moreover, by physically embodying this specific sort of Chinese backwardness Avant-Garde made it easier to conceive of the Long March Collective??™s relationship to the historical Long March and to understand exactly how they (and now us) were attempting to create a new future past for Chinese contemporary art.

History was also at stake in the final Long March project ???The Harlem School of New Social Realism.??™ The school was initiated by artist and some-time Long Marcher Zhao Gang and took the form of an amplified open-air group discussion between various artists, theorists and critics of African and Chinese descent in Harlem??™s Adam Powell Clayton Junior Plaza; a location at the heart of Black America named after the first African American Congressman that has played host to many political protests over the years. The question as to why African Americans should be involved in the Long March were- to my ears at least- left un-asked. However, heated debate about what form Harlem??™s New School of Social Realism should take floated over the cold afternoon to the mixed interest of locals; some of whom were obviously more concerned with where their next hot meal was coming from.

The lack of understanding, or interest, displayed by certain members of the Harlem public is exactly what is at stake in The Long March??™s Harlem School of New Social Realism; ie why is contemporary art not valid to these people, and if it isn't then how can it - or should it - it serve them better? This was the genuine spirit of enquiry demonstrated in all the PERFORMA Long March projects and it is a reminder that its work isn??™t just for art??™s sake; it anticipates real, public and social results. Combined, the work of the Long March Collective is also living proof that the Chinese are not only coming; they have of course already arrived. And with them comes the clear message that contemporary performance, be it from China or not, is still an important critical mediator for the political.


Rachel Lois Clapham

 
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
6-8 pm
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".




Adda Birnir

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