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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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01/01/08 12:00:00 am
Looking Back at ???Writing Live: Writers Hub??™

Writing Live: Writers Hub was part of Performa 07??™s Not For Sale education series. The programme was a peer review forum, led by Writing Live Fellows Rachel Lois Clapham, Rebecca May Marston and Mary Paterson, designed in support of a new generation of artists, authors and critics engaged in discussions around prescient issues in Performance and new media, and the related task of writing about art and artists whose work encompasses several disciplines at once.

Over the course of the Performa Festival, Writers Hub writers published 39 reviews of Performa events, 3 previews, 4 interviews with Performa artists and 2 opinion pieces about the work shown in Performa. 14 writers contributed to the Writing Live blog, from a range of backgrounds including critics, curators, performers and academics. Together we generated 48 responses to the Biennial, and had six meetings (including writing workshops and peer critique session) to discuss the work in Performa, our writing for it, and the practise of critical writing itself.

Writers Hub brought together a mix of different voices in a network of critical writing and debate around Performa 07. Meeting up six times over three and a half weeks meant that together the writers were able to build a community. Together we discussed the work in Performa, critiqued each other??™s writing, and considered the issues associated with writing for Performance. Critical writing is often a solitary task, and the value of these discussions came from their focus on critical writing as a subject, as much as the individual items discussed.

Performa??™s Director, RoseLee Goldberg, and Performa curator Defne Ayas attended three Writers Hub meetings between them. Jennifer Liese, editor of the 2005 and 2007 Performa catalogue, also attended one meeting. Jennifer discussed our writing, as well as writing on performance in general and was keen to articulate how Writers Hub activity would be an important archive for Performa, and vital to creating a comprehensive biennial catalogue. RoseLee initiated discussions on the role of the critic and writing about Performance. Combined, Roselee, Defne and Jennifer??™s input provided an important link between the festival, its staff and Writers Hub.

The combination of the busy Performa schedule and the immediacy of the Writing Live blog format meant that all Writers Hub writers were subject to time restrictions (including a 48 hour final deadline), which encouraged us to write quickly and accurately, and to record fresh responses to the work seen. As a result, the writers generally feel that our standard of writing on the blog was high, and that our skills have improved with the practice. But Performa??™s schedule also caused problems for the writers involved. With such a lot programmed every day, it was difficult to choose which pieces of work to visit; and, without comps for most of the writers, seeing work could also be expensive. Four of the Writers Hub meetings were held during the day and on weekdays, which meant that those with work or studying commitments found it difficult to attend.

Moving Forward

For Performa 2009 the writers felt that the peer critique meetings should be made more accessible (on evenings or weekends) so that more writers can attend more regularly. Other suggestions were to give more benefits- including fees, comps, access to workshops and events - to the writers in return for more formalized roles and responsibilities. Making the Writing Live blog more readable and navigable for readers, for example by ensuring that blog posts can be viewed by date of posting and type of post, but also by author and artist name, would also make the online resource more accessible for readers and writers alike. It was also suggested that Writers Hub could invite guests ??“ artists, critics and editors ??“ to contribute to Writers Hub writing workshops and peer critiques.

The Writing Live Fellows also feel that writer profiling and public interaction with the website would be beneficial to both blog readers and writers. For 2009, it could be useful to enable online feedback and comments on the Writing Live blog and profile all participating writers on the Performa website. We would also suggest distributing the Writing Live blog link on business cards and flyers, and doing flash publishing as well as after show 'Live Review' sessions or other education events associated with Writing Live. This would better highlight the Writing Live Programme activity and encourage more debate (both online and in realtime) on the work seen.

The Writing Live blog will remain archived online on the Performa website The 2007 Performa biennial catalogue will be published in 2008 and be available to purchase from In 2008 there will be also various reviews by the Writers Hub writers published in international journals and magazines. We will keep you updated on this site as to where this press coverage will appear. Plans for a Performa 2009 Writing Live programme are already under consideration and we hope that the connections and collaborations Writers Hub has already established will continue, both in affiliation with Performa and between individual Writers Hub writers.

Whether you are a blog reader, writer, artist, Performa visitor or an art historian (or all of those things) we thank you for your involvement and interest in Writing Live: Writers Hub and hope you enjoyed the Performa 07 biennial. If you want to commission any of the individual writers listed please contact the office of Performa.

The Writing Live Fellows were Rachel Lois Clapham, Rebecca May Marston and Mary Paterson.

The participants in Writers Hub and Writing Live were Adda Birnir, Vanessa Baish, Thom Donovan, Marianne Dicker, Karinne Keithley, Inju Keum, Shama Khanna, Lyra Kilston, Sophie Landres, Quinn Latimer, Christine Licata, Kevin McGarry, Kara Rooney, Rebekah Rutkoff and Chen Tamir.

Writing Live was supported by the Arts Council of England and Writing From Live Art, a Live Art UK Initiative.

Mary Paterson, Rachel Lois Clapham, Rebecca May Marston

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12/30/07 12:00:00 am
Allan Kaprow: 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (Re-doing) at Deitch Studios

The venerable, self-proclaimed ???un-artist??? Allan Kaprow passed away last year and the art world hasn??™t been able to let go. Just as history needs its stories, art needs its artifacts and though the ???Happenings??? Kaprow coined and created were meant to slip from gerund to past tense, posterity must have spooked Kaprow from his deathbed. Having repeated many of his early pieces with self-imposed rules to safeguard against tedium, Kaprow authorized a precise re-doing of his most time-sensitive creation mere weeks before he died. Despite writing, ???Happenings should be performed once only??? as the fifth decree in his 1965 manifesto, ???Untitled Guidelines for Happenings,??? he halted the fleeting motion of experience for the benefit of future audiences. Thus based on a bundle of scrupulously detailed notes, Kaprow??™s 1959 magnum opus has been given another life, first at Haus der Kunst, Munich, in the Fall of 2006 and again in the Performa re-creation, Allan Kaprow: 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (Re-doing). The homage turned out to be a harsh debunking, for contrary to Kaprow??™s entropic philosophy, it demonstrated that nothing past is gone forever, it just loses energy in the resurrection.

In a full-scale replica of the three plastic-shrouded particleboard rooms that housed the original Reuben Gallery performance, director Andr?© Lepecki followed Kaprow??™s notes obediently, hoping to reconcile temporality with contemporaniety. He draped the set in Christmas tree lights as instructed, and arranged seats on which the audience would play a very tightly controlled, non-competitive musical chairs between observing the robotic movements of a dozen participants extracting art out of common yet displaced gestures, such as bouncing a ball, squeezing oranges, and reading from a scroll of words orphaned from their context. Like factory work and public school classes, the performances began and ended with the sound of a bell.

Context, as postmodern theory both warns and celebrates, changes everything. One major change in this re-creation was the lackluster cast compared to the original, which included John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg. Hard acts to follow, they were visionaries who enacted the balance of intention and abandon just by being themselves. Rearranging props, speaking of art and time in fragments, assembling into a discordant noise band, showing a slide show and painting briefly, they were practicing what they preached with an urgency that today??™s performers can??™t fully embody.

Analogous to modern science, many contemporary performances seem driven to revive and enhance our memory, reverse the aging process and extend the theoretical virility of the past. Another Performa production, Yvonne Rainer??™s anticipated RoS Indexical, for example, reworks Millicent Hodson??™s own reconstruction of Nijinsky and Stravinsky??™s 1913 landmark leap into Modernism, Rites of Spring. All the awkward inadequacies of the restoration are exposed through scrupulous videos of the process, whereas the new 18 Happenings keeps them hidden. Both approaches are honest yet ersatz. In RoS Indexical, that??™s the point, but 18 Happenings was left in limbo, neither grounded in the now nor peacefully ephemeral.

Evident by the high bids 1970s performance documentation receives at auction, all significant art will be remembered (and sold) despite its transient ingredients. Though what Kaprow initially advocated can only be practiced by being left alone, we sacrifice theoretical piety for mortal curiosity. It is not enough for Kaprow??™s critical writings to inform our conception of performance art; for better or worse, we have to see it to believe it. "How can you retrospect on a 30-year career where everything was throw away?" Kaprow once asked. When the career was as momentous as Kaprow??™s, how can??™t you?

Sophie Landres

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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

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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

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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

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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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12/28/07 03:04:41 pm
Ulla von Brandenburg: La Maison

Ulla von Brandenburg??™s work is full of contradictions. She explores death but is fixated by ghosts; her work is invested in theatre but not in narrative; and she consistently invokes the concept of infinity but clearly references very specific historical styles. She likes to conflate the present and the past, most often by using subtle fashion and props in her works that give the air of the 1970s, of the turn of the century, and of today simultaneously. It??™s not done in a nostalgic way, but rather to draw out the notion of Timelessness. Brandenburg??™s recurring motifs of stasis, the occult, and concepts of infinity and theatre have all culminated in La Maison, Brandenburg??™s installation and film contribution to Performa 07.

La Maison takes the form of a complex of rooms created by hanging multi-colored fabrics tainted with colors from the old Luesched diagnostics examination. The rooms correspond to the ones in an historic French castle in which the film takes place. Her longest and most complex film to date, it winds in a loop through the castle corridors, beginning and ending by zooming into and out of a traditional oil painting depicting a landscape with a castle presumably similar to the one we are taken through in the film. The place of the painting in the castle hall corresponds to the screen??™s placement within the fabric installation. The black and white film sequence shows actors frozen like sculptures in various poses, barely moving: They are in modern day tableaux vivants depicting a man with a ribbon around his hands in a figure 8, a woman holding a mask, a couple playing chess and reading palms, a man on a bench with his head covered in a cloth that undulates to his breath, a flute-player on the stairs, a man on his deathbed surrounded by onlookers, and finally two women holding against a wall the floorplan of the castle. Random props, such as a double cane, occasionally lie discarded on the floor. The silent loop is one continuous film take that makes the viewer feel as though she were a slow insect flying through a 3D photograph.

Brandenburg takes her cue from the theatre in using props and symbols. Throughout her multidisciplinary practice, her most common props are the mask and the cane possibly because they are the simplest way to transform oneself, to become Charlie Chaplin or a Dadaist. But they are also surrogates for body parts. The cane in Brandenburg??™s works is often doubled, with two handles, alluding to a pair of legs. Mirrors are a recurring theme too. Through such theatrical props she explores the supernatural, itself intrinsically intertwined with theatre. Brandenburg often depicts images of a magician levitating a woman as if on display. Her ghosts are usually simply people sporting white sheets. Yet, instead of dramatizing her content, Brandenburg takes on a rational, perspicacious approach, as if she were a scientist in a lab coat. Drawings of Rorschach tests and old psychology evaluations using color, are mixed in with chess games. A recurring image in her oeuvre is of a man on his deathbed, surrounded by reserved family, none of whom sheds a tear or seems overwrought. This is Brandenburg??™s world, as stark and existential as an Ibsen play or a Munch drawing.

Brandenburg??™s practice seems to manifest in every medium. Her wall drawings are as well known as her films; her paper cut-outs as mysterious as her performances, and her installations are as rich as her drawings. The only thing missing is photography. For an artist completely invested in the concept of Time, and with her work so utterly photogenic, this seems a puzzle indeed.

A photograph is a moment, the decisive moment when the photographer releases the shutter. This is the precise moment when she does not see her subject. The shutter blocks her field of view, and she will only see it as a representation (after being developed on film and then on paper). Brandenburg, however, refuses to go blind, even momentarily, keeping her penetrating eyes open wide, unflinching from the subject. There is no one instance that is memorialized and therefore relegated to the past, to death and to stasis. Brandenburg??™s film presents something in-between, a sort of living dead that operate at the intersection of photography and film. Extreme in their non-action, the works are half-living apparitions that are shadows of ourselves. Instead of creating a monument to time past, Brandenburg lets that moment go on forever, solving the conundrum and dispelling the seeming contradiction of death and eternity.

Chen Tamir

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12/10/07 07:32:01 pm
Evaluation of the PERFORMA07 Biennial

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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

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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

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