Reflections on “Intersections with Art + Performance”

This past Monday I attended the event Intersections with Art and Performance, a performance/panel/discussion at the Martin E. Segal Center at CUNY, which featured Brooklyn alternative performance group Radiohole, Sharon Hayes, noted curator Nancy Spector, Alix Pearlstein and was moderated and introduced by Gavin Kroeber. Embedded in the proceedings are provocative questions, some of which have been posed before and some of which are in the process of being posed, even more provocatively, by current artistic practice in NY and elsewhere.

The theme of the evening appears to have been the interdisciplinary tension between the “performing arts-based institutionalization “ of current “performance art” and whether this is a good thing a bad thing, or, perhaps, no thing at all. I would have to support the latter option and was not persuaded to think otherwise by the time the participants had finished. (I was unable to stay for the discussion).

I’m not entirely clear who’s tense and why. Well, actually, I am sure about Sharon Hayes – she’s clearly annoyed that any of her performance works, such as The Lesbian, might be mistaken for theatre, with its historical devotion to audience pleasure and spectacular delights (despite theatre’s long self-struggle with this concept, ever since Aristotle’ denigration of opsis). One wonders why Hayes, who referred to one of her site-based pieces as ‘teeming” with public, and her own obdurate need not to “satisfy” patrons who “just get up and leave” her performances, and refuse to become a transformed public or notably altered in their responsibility (to Hayes?) to become acolytes of her school of thought. I think Hayes might consider being grateful to them for watching her at all, as any performer, or performance artist might. If Marina Abramovic can, with all that she goes through, she can. (Although I realize here that Abramovic’s recent casting of other performers to re-represent her signature works may get her booted from the ranks of Important Performance Artists – she’s even been criticized by Ulay….

Radiohole, on the other hand, seems to know how to relax and have a good time almost anywhere; one imagines that if they were transported to a USO show and were asked to please the soldiers serving our country they would begin by painting their eyes shut, as they did Monday night and in the company’s Fluke from four years ago and doing a naked, beer-swaddled striptease while shouting lines from a manual on concrete repair. Monday night had them deploying one of their most crowd-pleasing tropes – painted eyeballs on the lids of their own making them look like aliens on Ecstasy. Working literally “in the dark” Maggie Hoffman and Eric Dyer grope towards a means of figuring forth themselves, their own fictionalized personae, into haunting creations that are funny, autobiographical (see their latest work, well, you cant, it just closed at PS 122, for the best take on fictionalizing while exploring biography since Rumstick Road).

But really, is this question all that necessary? Forms are changing, practice changes – let the artists worry the details of their own interdisciplinarity and let the curators support, show, contextualize, and institutionalize what moves them, not what fits a determinate definition of commitment to a discipline. How might we characterize what was, to my mind, one of the most interesting, provocative, theatrical performance art works of many years – Jeremy Deller’s It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq, at New Museum, which featured a month of live discussions between “experts” on the war and politics, and “the public” or whomever took the challenge of sitting down on a comfy couch to talk about U.S. foreign involvement – oh yes, I almost forgot – in the shadow of a massive burned-out Humvee that had been destroyed in Fallujah, along with photographs of the preparation of the vehicle as a “performative object.” In other words, its role in battle, destruction, killing – its nomadological war machinic assemblaging in real time, real space, real history. Now that’s theatre!!!

Finally, Nancy Spector deserves a word for mentioning Peggy Phelan’s notion of disappearance, evanescence and the ontology of loss in some of the works she spoke about. This is a key term, the trauma of loss being omnipresent in so much work of the last ten years, since 9/11/01. But it is also a model of performance framing that is being challenged in its hegemony – all is not disappearance, loss. There are other models – like the distribution of the sensible (Ranciere), or the inoperative community (Jean Luc Nancy) that address what remains, what appears, what is created, when performance happens that challenges the state of what IS. It is an exciting and bracing theoretical armature – which I don’t have time and space to fully explore here.

But in any case, I’d like to see a lot more performance that might be theatre and vice versa.  And I’d like to see it at the Nederlander Theatre and also at PS 122, and in a basement in Ditmas Park.

Let them eat cake. And film themselves doing it. And show the video. And re-perform the action. And invite the public to talk about it in the same room.

And let them all have a beer while they do it. It’s okay to laugh and be in deadly earnest at the same time, I swear….


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