Kate Sutton goes to Manchester for a performance art blowout as described here in ArtForum’s Scene & Herd:
Following the breakout hit “Il Tempo del Postino” in 2007 (resurrected last month for Art Basel), this year’s hopes for a “Manchester Miracle,” as Hans Ulrich Obrist insisted on calling it, centered on “Marina Abramovic Presents.” The ambitious live exhibition, which required Manchester University’s Whitworth Art Gallery to move its entire collection to storage, imagines what a museum of performance might look like. Fourteen artists, including Abramovic, perform four hours a day for the duration of the festival (a little more than two weeks). Upon arrival, visitors are asked to don lab coats, leave their bags—and, more pressingly, cell phones—at the entrance, and commit to staying the full four hours, after which they are awarded a summer camp–esque commemorative certificate. The project is dedicated to Tehching Hsieh, who Abramovic introduced at the opening as her personal hero, applauding his decision to “quit art” and “just do life,” an act Abramovic interpreted as exemplary of the “transformative power of art.” Tehching looked less convinced as he smiled shyly, shrugging off the praise and slipping to the back of the room to avoid attention.
The program begins with Abramovic’s The Drill, a crash-course in performance art appreciation, during which the artist purrs instructions on how to breathe, walk, drink water, and stare deeply into one another’s eyes. (Blissful in that yogic “less is more” way, though it might have been more fun to skip the rest of the show and just let the audience wander through the empty halls, feeling up the walls and gazing into air ducts in a Marina-induced trance.)
The erotic energy of Abramovic’s exercises suffused the rest of the exhibition experience. There were few, if any, rules for the other performances, though nudity seemed to be de rigueur. In a piece titled simply Nudity, Yingmei Duan “confronted” the taboos of her Chinese upbringing by spending the four hours naked, standing uncomfortably close to visitors, her eyes squint shut in shame. (It would seem her fingers had a different upbringing, given the way they wandered freely along her body.) Meanwhile, Kira O’Reilly, also au naturel, spent the hours slowly tumbling down the stairs in a “reenactment” of Nude Descending the Staircase.
Though performed fully clothed, by far the most erotic work belonged to the phenomenal Eunhye Hwang, who did a kind of Dance of the Seven Veils using handheld radios tuned to static, followed by a coquettish duet with a green Jell-O mold. Afterward, visitors were given spoons and invited to partake. For his piece, Terence Koh curled up in a fetal position in the front hall. “I couldn’t tell if he was asleep or not,” one visitor confessed. She paused, biting her lip. “Then again, is that supposed to matter?” Clearly, The Drill had put the fear of Performance Art into more than one attendee. (“I just took my contacts out,” Koh later clarified. “I’m shy. I didn’t want to see all these strangers staring at me.” Because this is an artist known for his timidity…)
Manchester United (ArtForum.com)