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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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12/29/07 10:21:27 am
Ei Arakawa and Amy Sillman at the Japan Society

Ei Arakawa and Amy Sillman, "BYOF-Bring Your Own Flowers," 2007. 1. Sergei Tcherepnin, 2. Patricia Treib and Sakura Shimada, 3. Alisha Kerlin, 4. Patricia Treib. Photo: Paula Court

BYOF-Bring Your Own Flowers, Japanese artist Ei Arakawa's latest elaborate performance incorporating high-speed construction and deconstruction was as unpredictable, complex and provocative as the subject it was built around: art and artist. Arakawa created an interpretative, live-action experience of New York painter Amy Sillman's conceptual process and work. Incorporating the flowers audience members were asked to bring with them, building materials (such as wood, drills, etc.), multimedia and music, he reconstructed the look, feel and process of Sillman's abstract, psychologically-charged paintings. Along with the physical materials, the performance included the underlying framework of two Japanese traditions-the 600-year-old Ikebana art of flower arranging and the nearly 60 year-old Gutai movement of performance oriented art-actions.

With the help of 12 collaborators or "participants," as he refers to them, Arakawa remodeled the Japan Society lobby's quiet symmetry into a dynamic Sillmanesque composition of long, brightly-colored sheer curtains, hung from the ceiling. Dividing the area was an oversized, Styrofoam panel used both as a canvas and a screen to project the surrounding viewers back at themselves. Tables, covered with the audience's flowers, were scattered around the perimeter, lights were dimmed and electronic keyboard music, composed by Sergei Tcherepnin, played in the background.

In a visually shocking and stunning move, Arakawa and his collaborators began to use the flowers themselves as both paint and brush. With bold gestures and jabbing marks, the pigments in the petals and pollen were crushed out directly onto the Styrofoam panel and hanging curtains, some of which were taken down by members of his group during the flower "painting," sewn together and rehung, changing their opacity and colors. These actions brought to mind principles in Gutai, that in the decay or destruction of a material or object its inherent, authentic beauty is released. In fact, there was a painful, raw aesthetic in watching the flowers be drawn across the Styrofoam and cloth, such as the roses with their vivid strokes of indignant resistance.

For those in the audience familiar with Sillman's work, the experience felt like having entered one of her canvases. Arakawa had literally brought her work to life. Being surrounded by the weightless insistence of translucent and solid curtains captured her dynamic compositions and forms. The vibrant, free-associative calligraphic flower gestures embodied the language of her strokes and dense narratives. As if to underscore the expository nature of the moment, passages of Peter Handke's Offending the Audience were read out loud by Daniel Lepkoff.

Two of Sillman's paintings were then carried into the center of the performance area and immediately a scaffold-like structure was built around them with narrow, plywood beams. Installed solidly in place, the work was put on view for the audience. During the rapid construction, in an opening-night gesture, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer was sold to the audience while a darkly humorous, fictional PowerPoint presentation, written by Patrick Price, titled "12 Steps Towards Non-Alcoholic Paintings" was projected onto the Styrofoam support. Arakawa alternated between reading from the lecture on the destructive and productive effects of alcohol on the arts and auctioning cereal boxes wrapped with photocopies of details from Sillman's work. The price of the boxes, starting at $20, went up as the Arakawa did tricks, such as picking some off the floor with his teeth or dancing over others.

No sooner was the entire structure completed around Sillman's paintings then it began to be methodically torn down by Arakawa and his collaborators??the lobby cleared away of all evidence of the performance. During its dismantling, two members of Arakawa's group, Patrick Palermo and Patricia Treib, reenacted an April 2006 interview between Sillman and the Brooklyn Rail publisher Phong Bui. The background music turned to a high drone as the actor-Palermo-Bui asked each philosophical, rhetoric-laden question.

All of this felt familiar too. The performance left the internal world of the artist and constructed the external world of polemic influences via artistic inspiration, theory, the art market, critics and media. In the late ???50s, Robert Rauschenberg was quoted as stating, "painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made, I try to act between the two." Arakawa's compelling and irreverent performance, BYOF-Bring Your Own Flowers, choreographs the artist's actions within that transient gap.

Christine Licata

12/29/07 10:18:59 am
Tris Vonna-Michell Tall Tales and Short Stories

Tris Vonna-Michell, Tall Tales and Short Stories. Photo courtesy of Dispatch

British artist Tris Vonna-Michell??s co-conspiratorial and dynamic performance Tall Tales and Short Stories took place in Dispatch??s compact storefront on Henry Street. For four days he told each visitor that stopped by a customized tale, redefining the tradition of storytelling with a Fluxus-inspired lexicon of deconstructivist semiotics and discontinuous, fragmented images.

Vonna-Michell sat at a small narrow desk with a nostalgic, pre-digital slide projector that incorporated its own 9-inch-square viewing screen, a table scattered with unpopulated still-life and location snapshots and an egg-shaped egg timer. He invited one listener at a time to take a chair across from him and then choose the duration of a story and type of visual support imagery??either by the individual photographs or slide show. Suggesting the average story length of 10-12 minutes, a final time and method was agreed upon, the egg timer set and the story begun. Forced intimacy is usually disagreeable and often clich?d, but with Tall Tales and Short Stories there was a matter-of-fact accessibility about Vonna-Michell??s initial process and presentation that avoided these dangers.

His low voice encouraging one to lean in close, the suddenly and startlingly rapid-fire speaker Vonna-Michell barraged the listener with an uninterrupted stream of words and images that formed a non-linear narrative. Filled with themes of war, conspiracy, identity and aesthetics, Tall Tales and Short Stories wove together Vonna-Michell??s other performance-driven allegories that constitute chapters of his overall continuous work. Hahn/Huhn (2004) derives its content from the conspiratory-laden investigation of underground tunnels of the Anhalter Bahnhof that run between East and West Berlin and the shrouded and eventually shredded truths by the Stasi in postwar Germany. Down the Rabbit Hole/Finding Chopin: In Search of Holy Quail (2006) is loosely based on Vonna-Michell??s quest for his own identity through finding the concrete sound poet Henri Chopin, who according to Vonna-Michell??s father, holds the answers??and seemingly the inspiration for Vonna-Michell??s process of voice as medium.

Vonna-Michell entwined the past and present with a mix of oral history and Fluxus concepts. Historical facts and fiction about the places and protagonists in Tall Tales and Short Stories are spliced in with current events, the canon of art and Vonna-Michell??s biography. Layered into the improvisational, variable components, the content in each telling also subtly changes direction in response to the individual??s reactions to the story.

At first disorienting and frustrating, Tall Tales and Short Stories eventually led to unexpected connections with Vonna-Michell and his work. After the initial attempt of mental resistance and literal deciphering (Slow down! Wait! What?) the brain surrenders to his pace and process. The sound of his voice merges with the silent one in the listener??s head and the visual experience of slides and photographs becomes integrated with that of the mind??s eye??a fluid stream of (un)consciousness projections and transference fill in the gaps. Vonna-Michell??s descriptions become part of one??s own perceptions. At that moment, his story becomes, in part, your story.

In Tall Tales and Short Stories Vonna-Michell defies a single interpretation of his work or the creation of an over arching meta-narrative to his performance. He integrates post-structuralism??s distortion and dissolution through finding alternative meanings and connections of existing ???historical facts.??? And yet this experience, splintered as it was, still felt strangely unified and inclusive in the end. No matter how fragile the connections or ambiguous the plot there was an irresistible desire to partake in the journey.

Christine Licata

12/29/07 10:15:06 am
Mesostic: Allan Kaprow, 18 Happenings in 6 Parts

18 HAppenings in 6 Parts

bLur the boundaries of art and audience.

A rejection of any formalism in Language, music, dance and art.

Incorporating improvisAtional and tightly scripted instructions,

its unique identity is its non-ideNtity that

breaKs free of the constraints of time, place and space.

A radically shocking response to the Art world.

Concept and process are more imPortant than a final art object.

ExpeRienced in the mind, and yet,

when recreated frOm the past becomes a concretely melancholic

reminder of where are we noW?

Christine Licata

12/29/07 10:14:07 am
Yvonne Rainer: RoS Indexical at the at the Hudson Theater

RoS Indexical began, as in Igor Stravinsky??s and Vaslav Nijinsky original Rite of Spring, with wise tribal leaders (Sally Silvers, Emily Coates, Pat Catterson and Patricia Hoffbauer) seated in a circle. Except, rather than watching the dance of a sacrificial virgin, they are adorned with headphones and hum Stravinsky??s score. Dressed in modern tribal sports gear, go-faster stripes and sweatpants designed by Elizabeth Hope Clancy, they danced with angular and thrusting movements loosely inspired by Nijinsky??s original choreography and mixed with Rainer??s everyday gestures. Along with aspects of the Rite of Spring, RoS Indexical is choreographed to the BBC??s Riot at the Rite, a documentary of the violent reactions from the media and public to Stravinsky??s and Nijinsky??s opening night in 1913.

For Rainer all the world is a stage and vice versa. She challenges the accepted dichotomies of reality and fantasy, past and present, viewer and performer, process and product. The metaphors and associations these paradoxical pairs evoke were explored in movement, language, sound and image throughout the performance. Such as the floating words, like rhythmic notes, that slowly turned above the dancers?? heads, provoking constantly new associations for the audience, from the poetic to absurd. Wielding an effortless sense of humor and challenge reserved for those who are masters of their crafts, Rainer delved into the limits and possibilities within performance art and audience.

RoS Indexical, includes the BBC??s documentary??s catcalls and whistles of the Parisian critics from the original Rite of Spring opening, such as, ???Go back to moving Pianos, Nijinsky!??? Unexpectedly, planted audience members, ???stormers,??? some dressed in traditional Rite of Spring ballet costumes, reenacted the violence and rushed the stage, indignantly shouting in the middle of the performance. Exactly whom they were criticizing was left undefined.

In an ironic twist seamlessly in line with Rainer??s concepts, one contemporary reaction was not so different than the initial ones in the early 20th century. New York Times dance critic Claudia La Rocco??s unleashed unsubstantiated and misplaced snarkiness translatable into similar sentiments. She might as well have been a ???stormer??? for RoS Indexical ???Go back to film, you??re history Rainer!??? Fortunately, like Stravinsky, all of Rainer??s contributions to literature, dance, cinema and performance will only appreciate in value, as will her influence and inspiration on the present and future artists. To answer La Rocco??s narrow-minded inquiry: ???How many more choreographers must come to grief on Stravinsky??s unconquerable score before it is left alone in all its riotous splendor???? Perhaps that depends on when critics can genuinely grasp the riot as part of the splendor.

Christine Licata

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>>Ei Arakawa and Amy Sillman at the Japan Society...
>>Tris Vonna-Michell Tall Tales and Short Stories...
>>Mesostic: Allan Kaprow, 18 Happenings in 6 Parts...
>>Yvonne Rainer: RoS Indexical at the at the Hudson ...