PERFORMA BIENNALE PREVIEW
In the contemporary art world it seems that every work, every exhibit and every sale is a performance. The elaborate previews which precede each auction, the publicly staged sales the carefully orchestrated gallery openings, complete with a familiar cast of art world characters, create a modern commedia dell’arte. This November, a more thoughtful act takes center-stage as the fourth inception of the Performa Biennale will be happening throughout New York.
This three week long consortium of over 100 artists engaging in time-based practices of conceptual, theatrical, musical, dance-based and even food-related art happenings reaches an audience of 70 000 spectators. This enormous effort is steered by the pioneering historian of performance art and founder of the Biennale – RoseLee Goldberg. Her efforts are inseparable from the success of Performa and her commitment as a mentor comes across as she is able to reduce a room full of press to a class of freshmen. “Academics don’t have the right to bore you” is her motto, and if academics do not, then art doesn’t stand a chance. She challenge artists outside of their comfort zone and inspires many to create performance pieces for the first time. Her wry humor and critical eye are felt in the careful selection of the works. Do not expect clichéd art world jokes – no pointless nudity nor tortured duration; she is a self-proclaimed ‘puritan’ and demands the artists “impress me please, without taking your clothes off.”
The programming calendar can be found at http://11.performa-arts.org/ with up to a dozen events scheduled each day all over the city. Some of them require advanced tickets, while others do not. Here are my selections of performances not worth missing:
Elmgreen & Dragset – Happy Days in the Art World
The opening night performance where Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days meets Sarah Thorton’s Seven Days in the Art World. Need I say more to have you convinced that the literary forces will collide and the dark humor and self-referentiality of the art world will spiral out of control on what is sure to be a minimally set stage. Who would dare to miss this – not Thornton’s legal team I assume. (Bonus: acted by Joseph Finnes and Charles Edwards!)
Liz Magic Laser – I feel your pain
All the commissioned artists for Performa were provided with a reader on the theme of this year’s Biennale – ‘Language and Russian Constructivism’. Laser draws on the text and recreates the soviet era ‘living newspaper’ as a modern-day American parody by restaging moments of recent U.S. political events as a live romantic drama. This performance will take place in a movie theatre, amongst the audience and the absurdity that is bound to ensue sounds irresistible.
Mika Rottenberg and Jon Kesser – 7
Cryptically titled, this collaborative effort will attempt to fuse the urban landscape of New York with the savannahs of Africa using Kessler’s unique kinetic sculpture and Rottenberg’s video to collapse film time and real time into one grand, cross-continental spectacle. As well there will be several other components including body fluid (sweat) dyed the colors of skittles as a part of the ‘Chakra Juicer’.
Ming Wong – Persona Performa
In a sweep of poetic grandeur and drawing on the dynamic architecture, Wong will create a site-specific performance at the Museum of Moving Image meditating on the Ingmar Bergman cinematic masterpiece Persona (1966). A cast of 24 actors, each representing a single still-frame of the film, will move through the space and amplify her being while contemplating the history of the moving image.
Shirin Nenshat – Overruled
Nenshat, who RoseLee attributes as a founding inspiration for Performa, will be creating a new commission based on her earlier film, The Last Word (2003). The examination of censorship of women in Muslim society continues to be her central theme, interspersed with a breadth of literary overtones that are sure to make this a poignant piece.
Guy Maddin – Tales from the Gimli Hospital: Reframed
Based on the cult film which shares the name, this is a story of two men going mad while sharing a hospital room in a remote Canadian village. The piece has been adapted and interpreted through a score of stellar musicians under Maddin’s direction. Though difficult to grasp, it sounds like Darren Aronofsky’s take on the ‘Garrison Mentality’ set to world-class strings.
Zhou Xiaohu – Crazy English
This work is a cultural transplant and capitalizes on the Chinese phenomenon of rapid English teaching to the masses. This (real) program brings together thousands of people in parks and stadiums all over China to learn through the process of chanting and repeating Anglophone worlds yelled out by the teacher over a microphone. “China’s Elvis of English” and founder of the program, Li Yan, will be in town to teach (and preach) to the masses. Hallelujah hilarity!