Archive for the ‘Recurring Concepts in Art’ Category
Several weeks ago I was given the task of presenting and unpacking a lecture by Claire Bishop for Recurring Concepts in Art, a class with Georgia Krantz. The lecture was from a Tate Talk about relational aesthetics that took place on March 31st, 2006 (which also happened to be my 25th birthday). I decided to make a performance that would address some of Bishop’s key points, and be a point of departure for an in-class discussion.
The score for the performance was as follows:
take everyone downstairs to Broadway
build up the excitement
look up the building and sort of pause
be really involved in it, get in pedestrian’s way
wait for a bit to see what happens
stop someone on the street
“There’s nothing there”
take out chalk and draw an outline of myself on the sidewalk
take out more chalk, break it, and hold it up
people take the chalk, repeat
they do something with the chalk
non-robust graffiti, a metaphor for the impermanence of signification
get up from the sidewalk and start talking about the binaries of spectacle
oscillate between presenting my body objectively and inter-connecting our bodies in a web
ask questions to the students and passersby.
cross the street as a group, or in small groups.
create a rift in the 1st circle of spectatorship
Stop a car
Re-unite the group
In preparation for the performance, at 4:00am the night before class I sent each student an email that said:
Would you be able to help me with my ‘volunteer’ presentation of the Claire Bishop video in RCA class tomorrow? Basically, all you have to do is go with the flow, or rather, be active in response to what I do instead of passive.
Thanks in advance!
Each student was personally asked to participate, given intentionally vague instructions to be active in response to the performer (me), rather than passive. I made it seem like they were the only one I had asked (which turned out to have a huge range of responses in terms of feeling annoyed at being asked to do something, to completely going for it and fully engaging).
The score contains a lot of death imagery, or danger, which for me was synonymous with disassembly, and with release, within the context of the performance. It’s not death as a cut off point, but a point of transition, from one form of spectacle to another—actually blocking the sidewalk, interrupting the social/public space, which is also transitional space—drawing attention to things, and then disintegrating them.
The performance fluctuated between various binary states of the spectacle outlined by Bishop in her lecture (and present in my notes on the video below): passive and active, static and dynamic, etc. I was seeing what it would be like to transform the spectacle into a participatory event.
The intention behind looking up at the building at nothing out of the ordinary was to introduce The Missing Spectacle. Whatever wasn’t on the building’s façade when we were all looking up drew attention to the spectator as the spectacle. Does this change the rules of participation?
By chalk-outlining my supine body on the sidewalk I alluded to Roland Barthes’s essay Death of The Author(/Artist), suicide implied, as though The Missing Spectacle had fallen splat on the sidewalk. This image also alluded to NYU suicides over the last few years, with the intent of having the students connect their own transient identity as a student with the transience of life on this planet, all within the context of NYU. I’m not sure I was successful with that. Holding up the chalk for participants to grab was an invitation to the spectator to follow suit, to participate in the death of the spectator. If the author can be transformed into something else through the act of destroying the self, or at least the self represented as authority, what happens to the spectator if they engage in the same activity of self-destruction? In other words, I’m interested in the transversality of parallel identities, some of which are described by convention, and some of which are hidden, waiting to be flushed like game hens.
For me, the passersby are the true spectator in this performance. However, since it’s public, and relatively free from the institution (aside from being in front of Tisch), and a constructed activity, passersby can feel uninhibited about asking what’s happening. The performance is a conversation starter that relies on conventions of street performance as spectacle, as well as drawing people together informally, through happenstance. While I haven’t fleshed out this thesis, it has something to do with the letter exchanges between Oiticica and Clark (in Bishop’s book Participation) that showed me a simple elegant flow for how to think about it. The artist proposes something; the spectator “expresses this proposition, gathering the characteristic of a work of art of all times: thought and expression.” This is a persuasive way to look at the relationship between performer and spectator.
Referencing depictions in art works and recent events/performances, Bishop outlines several kinds of groups of spectators in her lecture: the ones who are loose knit and messy (the kind who jostle each other and talk), upon whose presence the spectacle relies; and the ones who are distant, passive observers, never connecting with each other until the spectacle has ended, and certainly not participating. I am interested in the first kind.
What kind of groups of spectators are created by the performance I devised for class? 2 or 3 concentric circles of people, with 2 anomalies that are individuals.
The 1st anomaly is the performer (me) who is a total insider, and steward of the shaping of time and space for the duration of the event.
The 1st circle of spectators are individuals who know it is a performance and share a context with the performer, who have been asked to participate but assume they are alone in this invitation; this circle of spectators has 3 layers of perception: ‘what is happening,’ and, ‘how/where do I fit in,’ and, ‘what does the rest of the world think.’
The 2nd circle is comprised of passersby in the public space, who have no knowledge of the event, but can possibly identify the conventions that indicate that, ‘this is a performance.’
The 3rd circle may or may not exist: passersby who know the performer or individuals from the 1st circle, or share the context of ITP, but aren’t part of the class and are unaware of the individual request to participate.
The 2nd anomaly is the professor: director of information in the classroom setting. She is in the dark. Maybe it’s a unique position, as well, because she has more context than the 2nd circle of passersby, but less than the performer or the individuals in the 1st circle.
The danger inherent in crossing the street when cars are coming divides the 1st circle of spectators into parts, the ones who participate and the ones who choose to remain safely on the sidewalk, perhaps falling back into the role of traditional spectators. !!Art is dangerous!! Participate at your own risk.
There will always be an outer circle of spectators defined by the event or action itself, ad infinitum. No matter who the insiders are or what they do. In other words, there is no way for the entire world to know about a performance and thus traverse the boundary from out-of-the-know to in-the-know.
How can there be migration from one circle to another? I was hoping for a moment— a moment where the performance reaches out, literally, to the 1st circle of spectators (students) with the chance to engage (proffering the chalk after outlining myself). At this moment I hoped there would be an internal collision within each student: the decision to participate and the rupture of the anticipatory bubble. After waiting to act on the personal email request the collision would occur when each student suddenly realized they were not alone in this realization: the personal/physical connection to the performer was rigged.
NOTES ON BISHOP’S TATE TALK:
diagnosis: what’s wrong (depoliticization, complicity with dominant ideology), and what might be right (ie a counter model). Depends on an aesthetic reading of politics.
Politics and aesthetics overlap in concern to redistribute power/authority
Shared experience, fate of the community
fragmentation or atomization of society
Debord: pseudo-community united in their separation from one another
representation replaces life once lived
passive consumption, one way livable message
opposite of dialogue, immune to critique
2 types of spectacle:
-diffuse, synonymous with capitalism and commodities
-concentrated, totalitarian, violence to maintain order, a leader who guarantees social cohesion.
2 types converge into integrated spectacle, characterized by incessant technological renewal by the eternal present, impoverishment of memory
collapsed binaries using simulacrum
Periodize spectacle: subsection of capitalism and modernity
equates spectacle and modernity
restructuring of private time, leisure, public life and production
Bishop gives examples:
ex painting1: music is a pretext for gathering, jostling bodies close together
ex painting2: spread out crowd, demarcated identity
spectacle related to innovation in image production, standardization
questions of body in relation to television (obliteration of authority, ever presence)
“observer” rather than spectator, PASSIVITY
image production can be used to liberate or control
How does one stand outside spectacle…
Capitalism’s relentless renewal is schizo mode of attention, past is accessed only through pastiche.
Passivity, populous seduced, no agency, unable to resist
isolated, fragmented individual
slide between aesthetic and political
false consciousness, mass deception, no original or progressive rupture
static and fixed vs dynamic flux
Bishop outlines recurrent binaries of spectacle:
passive vs active
static vs dynamic
synchronic vs diachronic
complicit vs critical
individual vs collective
illusory vs authentic
so now it’s about active participation in the social sphere
anti-spectacular stagings of community in the institution: process over creation of object
collective participation is dehumanization of atomized society
Baudriard: Relatonal art is antithesis to spectacle, resist by making new models of participation
but this becomes a privileged situation
Ex: Margate Exodus– Gormly’s Waste Man constructed with villager’s discarded personal belongings. Reinforcing as opposed to resistant to models of spectacle. Unified populous created by the appearance of unified whole.
two halves of spectacle dyad collapse, no longer meaningful opposites.
Art Fair Art, performance based work, ironic critique of it’s context and as well as insertion.
re-instate the system of performance art of 60′s 70′s where the body can’t be commodified, authenticity of the artist’s body.
Genuine participation, invention of an unpredictable subject that occupies the street, the factory or the museum, fleeting. rather than fixed space of designed participation. working against causal relationship. Participation is not necessarily defined by aesthetics or politics.
-opposition of active and passive is riddled with binaries, dividing society into two, produces an allegory of inequality. Emancipation should be equality. People don’t need to be activated to think. Spectacle might be a crucial 3rd term that both parts refer to and interpret.
evoking theater as spectacle, rather than overcoming the distance imposed by spectacle, the distance is precondition to any communication. it’s the norm. link what they see with what they know, see, and dreamed. Spectators active as interpreters = capacity for independent thought.
BUT the risk is that it seems inconsequential. can’t help to theorize art that plays with spectacle. question of autonomy vs heteronomy, between those two, art becoming mere life, or art becoming mere art. pushed to extreme each entails entropy, end of art, so keep tension between the two. need to use that to rethink definitions of art and authority.
THEM, a personal account of my duet with a corpse (AKA Recurring Concepts in Art response to mid-terms)Friday, November 5th, 2010
The performative aspects of the Time Map table created for mid-terms by Igal Nassima, Sooyun Yun and myself partially originated in the transformative experiences I have had working as a performer in the last twelve years. As I continue to grow, accruing new information in my body and revisiting old information, I am struck by the shrinking boundary between art and life. It might be inherent to the specific choices I make as an artist, or it might be the choices I make in life that open me up to transformation. Either way, both ways, I love it.
The Time Map table asked people to hammer a nail into a box that represented the exact minute in which they exist, within a grid layout of minutes contained in a week (10,080 little boxes). We wanted this marking of time, a violent act, to focus concentration on a task in a particular meaning-laden place (the ITP floor), the physical operations of the body in space and time, as well as the existential questions of what it means to be participating in, or be locked into, the space/time continuum. The hammering person could attach some representation of their identity to the nail (one among many, identical) using a marker, thus rendering each nail unique yet somewhat anonymous, for the head of a nail cannot contain much more than a set of initials or a reductive icon. Each nail is like a tiny person, occupying a modicum of space in a crowded plane, vying for real-estate. The pattern created by the nails on the tabletop shows the accumulation of participation in the project at that location, but more blatantly, it points to itself.
For me, the intersection (or overlap, depending on the subject at hand) of art and life is a very deep and personal inquiry. The questions that keep coming up are, “why do I choose to occupy my limited space/time with art process and production?” and, “how does the work that I do impact the space/time I occupy?” and, “what is it that makes me do what I do?” It was only very recently that I found some form of direction in those questions. Certainly there are no answers, but proceeding with direction comes close. And for me, performance comes the closest to reifying that direction.
Recently, I engaged in a performance at Performance Space 122 that blew the top off my up-until-now intellectual pursuit of finding the intersection between art and life. The performance was a revival of a work called THEM, created between 1984 and 1986, by Ishmael Houston-Jones (dance), Dennis Cooper (words) and Chris Cochrane (music), in collaboration with the dancers. Originally generated during the rise of the AIDS epidemic (aka “the gay cancer”), THEM gets to the heart of what it means to create art in a time when one’s existence is on the verge of being extinguished. The work is dark and raw. It is physically, emotionally and psychologically challenging for the performers and vicariously for the audience. Like the original 1986 version, most of the dance exists as improvisations within movement scores—embodying unique and original behavior within a structured yet open series of tasks. For me, this is the ultimate analog to daily life.
My role in THEM was brief, but intense. I had a couple of small duets in the beginning of the piece to set up the part I did at the end. When asked, the way I described that part to friends and family was, “I have a blindfolded duet with a dead goat.” This short statement, minimally descriptive, says nothing of the extreme emotions and psychological upheaval this act caused within me and the other cast members. It is hard to write about it. The goats (three of them, because it was a two-week run) were purchased from a Halal butcher; it came gutted and drained, but complete with hooves, head and fur. The throat was brutally slashed, the insides humiliatingly naked. The first goat arrived twenty minutes before the dress rehearsal, completely limp and caked in blood and shit, and still warm. Before that night I had only practiced the two-minute duet with blankets or a cast member as a stand-in. I had no time to prepare myself for the reality of the dead flesh, once alive, now an object—the liminal state of a fresh corpse. The encounter will stand out in my memory for the rest of my life. When I finished the improvised duet, which is scored as a frantic oscillation between wrestling, fucking, tender love-making, mourning, refusal, fear, and loathing, I was covered in blood, as was the mattress where the duet took place. I was shaking. The meaning of the work as a whole had come sickly into focus.
Quoted below is an extract of an email I sent to the cast after the dress-rehearsal, in response to an email Ishmael sent. He said that naming the goat would help, to which I replied:
I haven’t named it. I think goats don’t name themselves or each other, and naming the goat would make it more impersonal to me, oddly enough. A distancing. This work is extremely personal to me.
I had a really hard time with it last night. …I know tonight won’t be the same as last night, less blood will help. The arrival of the goat right before dress, and actually having to face it, totally changed the work for me.
I just had a conversation with Dennis [cooper] about the goat, and how neither of us are okay with it. But we’ll do it anyway. We’re both a little worried what our friends will think of us. And that’s okay because it means the work is effective and people should question the validity of what we’re doing. Because it’s both valid and immoral, people who see it will be changed somehow, which is the root of art for me.
[The work] is not just a reminder of mortality for us. It’s really complicated. Problematic. I have multiple perspectives on the same exact thing (the presence and use of the goat), and those perspectives conflict. On the one hand I eat meat and on the other hand I love animals and have never killed one myself beyond insects. I’ve participated in euthanasias [I worked as a veterinary technician for two years]. I still don’t know the ramifications of those either, but they play into how I inhabit the world, how I interact with other beings on this planet in this life. How and why I am an artist is impacted by what I do in life and what I acknowledge as valid source material. That makes the remorse a useful thing instead of stultifying. Anxiety = future, remorse = past, ??? = present. Real life and art have collapsed in this piece for me. It could not have happened without the goat.
The goat had a hard day yesterday. I take that knowledge into me and ask my deepest self what that means, how it felt, why I am drawn to those things. I am going to die someday, and so will the people I care about. Memories vanish. At that point names don’t matter. So I don’t name the goat. I touch the goat and think about what it means to be just like him.
The two weeks following that initial encounter contained more emotional turbulence for me than the two preceding years. I felt simultaneously enriched and drained. I had asked for the part with the goat, nearly begged, because it was a personal challenge, and because I had already known about it for a long time.
Ishmael Houston-Jones has been one of my mentors for some years now. I met him in 2003 when he taught a class at my university. He showed us videos of his old work, including THEM. I was pretty green and had no idea that performance could be made in such a loose way, or be so visceral. Revisiting the work at this age, and being given the role I was given, is an honor. Hearing Ishmael and the other original creators of the work talk about what it meant to be living and making art in that time gave weight to the fact that we were choosing to spend our space/time as artists. Ishmael writes:
I think my […] point here is that we all just wanted to be doing then what you all are doing now – making our art and our mistakes; having sex, having love, getting wasted, loving NYC, leaving NYC, dancing, loving our friends. But there was this pall over everything we did (in addition to the usual, wars, ecological disasters, right winger homophobe/racist/misogynists,) We couldn’t French kiss without thinking we might get sick and die. Sharing a swig from a friend’s beer was suspect. And friends and lovers were dying. It led to some pretty insane reactions. Wrestling with a dead goat on a mattress is just one of them.
Dennis Cooper also had strong reactions to the presence of the goat after the dress rehearsal:
It’s simultaneously like a violent battle, like sex, like an outpouring of uncontrollable grief … it’s very much supposed to reference what it felt like in the early 80s to have friends dying around you constantly and to have to think of sex as a terrifying, possibly fatal act, and so on.
As artists we are remiss if we do not scrutinize the world (including our own actions) and feed it back into the work. Part of art is creating or recreating the world around you. Because after all is said and done, there is only one form of closure for everyone.
Participating in THEM was a wake-up call. It was the first time art and life were joined for me in a matrimony of emotion and function. The work conjured long-dormant memories, and reconstituted personality traits and immature behavior patterns I thought I had put behind me. Being in this show was one of those turning points in life, where the past, present and future collapse into a heap of dust. It was not unlike gestalt therapy, but self-directed. Even though I have had a life-long obsession with death, up until this show I had only vaguely gestured at mortality as an artist, like hammering a nail into a piece of wood. The pre-occupation with death as an inescapable fact of life was revived in me. It made me live harder, love harder and appreciate how I spend my time/space. The rupture will no doubt change how I make work. For a brief span of time, life and art were on a feedback loop, inextricably linked. Now the question is, how the hell do I find that again?
Upon entering the Christian Marclay exhibition at the Whitney Museum the first thing I noticed was tens of chairs scattered throughout the space. It looked as though they had been intentionally placed in chaotic orbits around two stations, one for live performance, another was a large video projection with colorful shapes superimposed on the imagery. Aside from the large chalkboard wall lined with musical staff and covered with graffiti, the chairs were the most participatory part of the exhibition. Also on display were a several works made over the course of the last couple decades, but the majority of the pieces were recent. Most of what was shown were performance scores meant to provoke action in curated musicians, but not the general public. The sense of scrappy irony that drove a lot of the young, downtown art scene in New York during the 1980’s is quite apparent in his earlier performance works, which were projected on the walls in a back room, and remnants displayed in vitrines for protection. br>
The musical scores of Christian Marclay range from video works meticulously edited to create dynamics and rhythms that could be interpreted by musicians, to collages of found objects, to onomatopoetic text. The visual content of some of these performance scores were quite engaging, as well, which added yet another dimension of interpretation for the musicians. This ‘other dimension’ was noticeable in his sculptural works, the clothing scores, the vast assemblies of found paper objects with musical notation, the kitschy bells, the perceived score of which seems to be the size, shape, weight and whatever the handcrafted design evokes. The other dimension is the intention behind the work, the constructed experience. How would a musician respond not only to the occasionally readable marks of musical notation, but also to the colorful imagery, design elements, and so forth that jockey for space on the glossy magazine paper? These are all ‘readable’ scores, the tension palpable between form and content. In fact, anything can be a readable score if the musician is open-minded enough and practiced in improvisation.
As a dancer and artist working with improvisation in performance, I was interested in the scores as legible objects that could tease movement from my body. Having worked with many different kinds of scores in performance, I was keenly aware of my internal response to the notation dots hovering next to the tacky fruit drawings on a wavy musical staff. While I am an amateur musician and cannot read music, I have worked extensively with musicians, sound artists and recorded music. When I hear sound or music my body reacts as another part being played, like how tap-dancers are considered percussionists; I invoke the semi-silent musician in me who adds a contrapuntal visual component to the soundscape. It is no different when I encounter objects, architecture, text, or other bodies. Surely I was not the only one, besides the curated set of professionals, who came to that exhibit and was compelled to perform the scores. br>
However, the prohibitive institutional context in which these visceral scores were presented killed the impulse to perform before it could be released. There was no space demarcated by the artist or the museum for the viewer to interpret the scores in their own way. For me this was the biggest disappointment of the exhibition. While Marclay seemed to be pushing for a score that could live beyond performance as an objet d’art, a score is only alive when a person is activates it or is activated by it. Not allowing physical and artistic space for enthusiastic individuals from the public to express their own interpretations of the scores felt authoritarian and exclusive, which was ironic to me because Marclay seemed so open to allowing the professional artists to take his work and run with it, relatively unsupervised. From my semi-insider perspective this diminished the brilliant openness with which Marclay approaches the form of his artistic expression, as well as the idea of improvisation in general. The chalkboard wall was an attempt at crowd sourcing material for a ‘collaborative’ score, but it appeared to be afterthought, a minimal outlet for the viewers’ behavioral response to the space. People could add to the exhibition by chalking the wall, but could not play it; they could not play. What could otherwise have been an incredible experiment in viewer participation became flattened by the perpetuation of the long-standing (but not unchallenged) functional schism between art producer and art consumer. It made me ask the question of whether or not Marclay is detaching from his forebears in experimental art, which are primarily Beuys and Fluxus, according to Wikipedia. In line with those histories, anyone can be an artist. br>
As I explored the Marclay exhibition, the biggest development I saw in his work was a value shift from raw, uninhibited, experiments in counter-culture inspired by the punk movement to a refined, established system of signification set within the confines of the visual art world. Maybe this is a natural progression for most artists who ‘make-it’, but that does not change the fact that there is a loss, as well as a gain. When I have attempted to ossify into choreography ideas or movement created through improvisation or Authentic Movement, I notice the loss and the gain. What gets lost when refining or setting a work made through improvisatory processes is the impromptu decision-making, the inclusion of new ideas. The work becomes contained. This does not constitute a loss of value. It is a trade-off. What is gained is a nearly repeatable unit that is of a known quantity, a set of firm decisions for how to communicate content. Both choices have their own vernacular, though they pull from one another. The use of scored improvisation in Marclay’s more recent works has lost the gritty urgency of the 1980’s, but gained the resources and depth of polished work nurtured by institutional bodies. br>
Whether or not the exhibition was successful in engaging the public to the degree that would have satisfied a person like me, it had a vitality that only occurs when improvisation is used as a means to an end. The unresolved issue was one of participation versus consumption, which I address in my own work by using the tool of improvisation not only as a means, but also as an end. br>