The Island, by DIS Magazine, Julia Collier, New Museum
Ann Liv Young
The Island, by DIS Magazine, Julia Collier, New Museum
Ann Liv Young
Athens & Epidaurus Festival Bizarrely Filled with Belgian Dance by Jan Fabre
Belgian multidisciplinary artist Jan Fabre has accepted the invitation by the Greek Ministry of Culture & Sports to head the annual Athens & Epidaurus (International) Festival as Artistic Director for the period 2016 – 2019. However, he’s since renounced the title in favor of “Curator,” and what was formerly known as the Greek, then Hellenic, Festival, and last known as Athens & Epidaurus Festival, now appears to be a Belgian event held in Greece. A tragicomedy, indeed, extravagantly placed in such an ancient theatre as that of Epidaurus, built by Polykleitos the Younger in the 4th century BC.
One would imagine that the future of the Festival, despite its debts, would be in good hands, given the breadth and scope of Fabre’s work. But Greek artists, especially from the performing arts sector, expressed outrage on social media as Fabre unveiled plans for the following four years at a press conference, which took place March 30 at the Amphitheatre of the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
In his speech, he spoke about nothing except Belgium. Not even once was Greece mentioned. He pointed to Belgium as a role model for the arts: “In 1980 the ‘Flemish Wave’ was born when a group of interdisciplinary artists overturned artistic conventions and influenced the art scene to become what it is today.”
2016 is to be dedicated to the “Belgian Spirit.” The Festival kicks off with an exhibition of Fabre’s drawings, models, photographs and videos as a retrospective of his stage work since the 1970s, entitled “Stigmata. Actions & Performances 1976 – 2013.” Opening June 15 at the Benaki Museum, it is to travel to the Musée d’art contemporain in Lyon this coming September.
This is followed by events which will include an exhibition of Belgian art entitled “Antwerp-Athens: Two faces of Europe,” opening on June 29 at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the staging of Fabre’s “Preparatorio Mortis,” starring Annabelle Chambo on June 30, and the 24-hour “Mount Olympus. To Glorify the Cult of Tragedy” on July 9 and 10. The latter work, world premiered in Thessaloniki last year, in many ways captures the Greek affliction for greed in its entirety, but also reflects Fabre’s own. Beyond “Jan Fabre” the Festival will feature the work of Anne-Teresa De Keersmaker/Rosas, Jan Lauwers/Needcompany, Jacques Delcuvellerie/Groupov and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui/Eastman – artists not new to the Greek audience – da capo.
2017/18 will feature an “international” orientation and focus on the notion of “Consilience”: a synthesis of different artistic genres including the visual and performing arts, music, theatre, cinema, and literature. 2017 will focus on visual and performing artists, as well as various writers, who have worked and are still working with Fabre, while 2018 will examine the relationship between writer and actor with contributors including Isabelle Huppert, Michael Baryshnikov, Robert Wilson, and Theodoros Terzopoulos.
For these two years, at least one third of the artists will be of Greek origin, culminating in 2019 with the theme “Greek Matrix,” when, hopefully the main stage will see a handing of the torch to a new generation of Greek artists.
But can the blame rest squarely on Fabre’s shoulders, who can honestly claim he didn’t know the Greek scene? Or perhaps attention should turn to the Greek Ministry of Culture for not assigning someone Greek. Either way, the new festival appears to be overshadowed for the foreseeable future by its financing and promoting of Belgian arts – as if the Greeks have none to showcase.
Don’t have more female choreographers for the sake of it”
Dear Akram Khan,
We, the signatories below, contemporary dance artists, members and supporters of the
international dance community, take issue with your statement published in The Stage
concerning the imbalance of female and male choreographers. This is a public response to
you and to others working in and around dance, who are responsible for making change.
Your considerable influence and visibility in the dance sector, both professionally and in
national curriculum education, gives institutional weight to your opinion. Statements can
easily be taken out of context by the press to sensationalize stories; this we understand.
This is not meant as a personal confrontation but rather a necessary response to the issues
raised in the interview. However, you, and others in positions of power, must be aware of
the context and responsibility of your position, and the damage that you can inflict.
Therefore it is our obligation to address our concerns publicly as well.
There is currently a desire in the dance sector to address gender imbalance evidenced by a
spate of recent articles – Luke Jennings’ response (18 Jan 2016) as well as public and
industry discussions (hosted by Rambert, Autumn 2015, and Cloud Dance, Jan 2016). In
The Stage, Georgia Snow refers to the problem as ‘the lack of female choreographers’.
This is inaccurate; there is no shortage of choreographers who are women. The real issue
is the need to redress the gender biases steering the channels of support for artists, which
negatively affect the number of women who achieve certain levels and types of
representation. Failure to acknowledge this subtle, embedded imbalance will create a long
term silencing of women’s artistic voices, and those of future generations.
Gender imbalance is deeply embedded in society at large; to suggest that in dance it exists
by chance rather than because of sexist infrastructure is disingenuous and misleading.
Patterns of discrimination, we well know, occur across all areas of culture and
Currently, out of 16 Associate Artists at Sadler’s Wells, only four are women; of the 36
companies showing work at British Dance Edition (the industry showcase), only 10 are led
by women. Only four women in the entire history of the Academy Awards have been
nominated for Best Director. Women account for 8.6% of all executive roles of the largest
companies on the London Stock Exchange (as of 2015); and currently only 22 world
leaders (out of nearly 200) are women.
In seeking equality, we do not want to simply have more women instrumentalized by the
existing power structures of the dance scene. Artistic success can be measured and
constructed in many ways, not only in quantitative terms (by venue size, international tours,
ticket sales etc) but also by the artist’s own criteria; not everyone wants to show work at
Sadler’s Wells. We do not wish to perpetuate the damaging assumption that there is a
single “top”, or that ‘quality’ will rise to this “top” regardless of support.
This letter aims to challenge any flippant dismissal of the need for positive discrimination in
the dance sector. We do not live in a meritocracy – all the data proves this. The way in
which we ascribe merit is itself socially constructed and gendered. For there to be change
we can’t just wait around for the next wave of dance ‘godmothers’ to emerge from the
woodwork. Change needs to be constructed carefully and patterns of support for the
marginalized need to be learnt. We need to have a responsible infrastructure which
discriminates in transparent ways and holds a longer view for change.
For someone whose work has exemplified how dance can be a site of cultural resistance
and critique, your recent statements demonstrate a failure to acknowledge the ongoing
importance and multivocality of cultural critique. It is in language as well as action through
which change can be made.
We hope that you will feel free to respond to this letter in your own words.
Vanessa Abreu Amanda Acorn Liz Aggis Gaby Agis Simonetta Alessandri Kirsty Alexander Jess Allen
Orli Almi Acerina Amador Lea Anderson Kirsty Arnold Ben Ash Tamara Ashley Charlie Ashwell Antigone Avdi
Katy Baird Fiona Bannon Jo Bannon Michael Barnes Colleen Bartley Natalia Barua Brownlie Andrea Barzey
Alexandra Baybutt Amy Bell Cathy Bell David Bennett Nova Bhattacharya Dagmara Bilon Luke Birch Rachel Birch-Lawson Hetty Blades Sarah Blanc David Bloom Frank Bock Baptiste Bourgougnon Anais Bouts Simon Bowes
Lucy Boyes Tara Brandel Christina Brandt Jensen Carol Brown Joanna Brown Hannah Bruce Ruth Bruce
Zinzi Buchanan Hannah Buckley Lorea Burge Sofie Burgoyne Paul Burns Jonathan Burrows Laura Burns
Ramsay Burt Rosemary Butcher Neil Callaghan Mariana Camiloti Mark Carberry Nicola Carter Lucy Cash Beth Cassani Jane Castree Valentina Ceschi Justine A. Chambers Iris Chan Jane Chan Seke Chimutengwende Jon Chu
Cindy Claes Emilyn Claid Robert Clark Janis Claxton Rachael Clerke Theo Clinkard Katye Coe Marina Collard
Keir Cooper Augusto Corrieri Jane Connelly Nicola Conibere Martina Conti Sam Coren Lydia Cottrell Kate Cox Marie Louise Crawley Ellie Crowther Allison Cummings Claire Cunningham Dom Czapski
Clare Daly Laura Dannequin Siobhan Davies Sue Davies Rachel Dean Sally Dean Chloe Dechery Carolyn Deby
Antonio De La Fe Rowena Deletant Jesse Dell Charlotte Derbyshire Zoi Dimitriou Stella Dimitrakopoulou Emily Dobson Gemma Donohue Louise Douse Sue Doxford Amanda Drago Rachel Drazek Chris Dugrenier Hayley Dun/vard Josephine Dyer Malgorzata Dzierzon Fergus Early Barbara Ebner Mary Eddowes Eleni Edipidi
Becky Edmunds Sofia Edstrand Amelia Ehrhardt Simon Ellis Wieke Eringa Etta Ermini Jennifer Essex Tim Etchells Katie Ewald Brid O Farrell Jade Faithfull Andy Field Emma Fisher Vicky Fisher Tamsin Fitzgerald Heather Forknell Jennifer Fletvher Yael Flexer Jane Frances Dunlop Ed Frith Rachel Fullegar Tina Fushell Marguerite Galizia Karen Gallagher Natalie Garrett Doran George Ruth Gibson Rachel Gildea Hanna Gilgren Gina Giotaki Clara Giraud Julia K Gleich Lucy Glover Jonathan Goddard Jen Goodwin Rachel Gomme
Matt Gough Kas Graham Genevieve Grady Alicia Grant Vanessa Grasse Andromeda Graziano Nic Green
Chloe Greer Betsy Gregory Fania Grigoriou Antonia Grove Chantal Guevara Henrietta Hale Katherine Hall Martin Hargreaves Hollie Harkness-Gowers Janine Harrington Adrienne Hart Lily Hayward Smith Adrian Heathfield Jo Hellier Jim Hendley Alexandrina Hemsley Alenka Herman James Hewison Claire Hicks
Antje Hildebrandt Jacob Hobbs Rebecca Holmberg Duncan Holt Gregory Holt Sarah Hopfinger Denise Horsley Wendy Houstoun Polly Hudson Justin Hunt Sadie Hunt Donald Hutera
A Month to Embrace Unpredictability in Dance
By GIA KOURLASDEC
Paul Taylor might seem like an odd way to get into a discussion of avant-garde dance. But once upon a time, he was at its forefront. In the documentary “Dancemaker,” there’s a still image from Mr. Taylor’s 1957 “Duet,” in which, for four minutes, he did nothing more than stand behind a woman seated on the floor with her skirt draped over her legs. This work and others in “Seven New Dances” made history — as did Louis Horst’s review in the magazine Dance Observer: four inches of blank space.
But Mr. Taylor’s studies of gesture, pedestrian movement and stillness add up to more than just a gimmick or, as Mr. Horst insinuated, a blank — void of meaning and intelligence. Experimental corners of the dance world are still obsessed with that historic program. Wouldn’t it be thrilling if Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance revived those early works?
That will probably never happen. Instead, for the group’s coming season, we’ll be treated to a pair of what are likely to be easy-does-it dances by Doug Elkins and Larry Keigwin.
Stephen Thompson in “Culture, Administration & Trembling.” Credit Meg Lavender/Fierce Festival
Most large institutions rely on the status quo, the safe and the sometimes dull. That’s why it’s so important to seek out dance that exists on the margins. Risk is crucial for an art form; so is failure. They’re necessary for growth. And following a choreographer is an investment. You don’t watch just one Quentin Tarantino movie, you watch them all. Similarly, choreography is a progression: one long piece shown over years.
Each January, the spirit of “trying things” is celebrated and alive in the contemporary dance world. Festivals like Coil 2016, organized by Performance Space 122, and American Realness, put together by Ben Pryor and held mainly at Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side, begin early in the month. Both are presented in conjunction with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters showcase, in which artists show works in excerpt or complete form for theater directors and programmers from the United States and abroad. Much surrounding the association showcase is disheartening, including its meat-market approach. But what’s especially disappointing is the way many productions are presented as excerpts. Dance — both to make and observe — takes time.
These days, following contemporary dance is a little like digging for treasure in a junkyard. What I’m always looking for are choreographers who are not pushing boundaries blindly but investigating the myriad possibilities of modern dance and the body and how to situate both in popular culture. I keep up the search because of those moments during a performance when, suddenly, my spine straightens: I’m in the presence of an artist and not an impersonator. Performance-ready is not the point, and new is never quite new. Imagination and a sense of theater matter enormously. I would rather see struggle, a dance full of tension and questions, than another generic, spirit-free, derivative work.
How do dances even get made these days? Since I started covering it in 1995, contemporary dance has deteriorated — not the work, which will always ebb and flow, but its structure and support system, museums aside. And while it’s nice (or is it?) that the visual art world is interested in presenting dance, the involvement by museums, from the Whitney to the Museum of Modern Art, has resulted in artists trying to validate their ideas more through words than movement. The heart of a dance cannot exist as just a museum catalog. It’s easier to talk your way around a dance than to make one.
While there are exceptions, the company model, in which a choreographer works with a steady group of dancers and puts on a show once a year at the Joyce Theater, has waned for most daring dance makers for reasons that I think are both artistic and financial. Now many choreographers hire dancers according to the project at hand. It’s not new — Twyla Tharp has done it for a long time — but it has become the norm. The impossible economic climate of New York (yes, rent) makes it hard to imagine a return to the spunk and spirit of the 1960s and ’70s. Now, it seems, choreographers and dancers spend more time teaching Pilates than working in the studio or training, and that has seeped onto the stage, where technique has dwindled.
Is this why simple, repetitive phrases have become so ubiquitous, since mastering a variety of intricate steps is harder than just repeating a few? The alternative, in which a dancer tries to attain the kind of presence that emanates from the inside out, is profound in the skilled bodies of dancers like Molly Lieber and Melanie Maar. It may look easy, but there’s nothing simple about such subtle work. Do it halfheartedly, and it’s nothing.
Over the years, American Realness — which will branch out this spring with a tour of France — has been uneven, but there have been memorable performances, including two by Europeans: Marten Spangberg’s “La Substance, but in English,” performed over four and a half hours at MoMA PS1, and Ivo Dimchev’s “FEST,” a brilliantly satirical look at the performance-festival circuit. This season, there are plenty of artists in which to invest some time: Jillian Peña, who works in video, will continue her fixation with unison movement and choreographic kaleidoscopes in the premiere of “Panopticon,” a meeting point of mirrors, film and movement. And the earthy, experimental choreographer and improvisor Yvonne Meier, one of the most important members of the East Village dance scene of the ’90s, presents her new prop-heavy “Durch Nacht und Nebel.”
In “Culture, Administration & Trembling,” another ’90s dance fixture, Jennifer Lacey, returns to New York from Paris to team up with the choreographer Antonija Livingstone and others for a series rooted in “time-based sculptures.” What does a dancer’s discipline look like? “Excavation Site: Martha Graham U.S.A.,” a one-off presentation by the Austrian choreographer Michael Kliën, features performers — past, present, future — from the Martha Graham Dance Company as they explore their relationship to that modern master. In late January, Ann Liv Young, the brash and wise performance artist, takes on Sophocles in “Elektra.”
The point is to embrace unpredictability. But here’s a safer bet: If you missed David Neumann’s “I Understand Everything Better” last April, there’s another opportunity to delve into this choreographer’s deeply personal look at death and dying. Mr. Neumann has been hiding behind his virtuosic performance skill for the past few years. In “I Understand,” he peeled back those layers; he showed himself. Do I support that? Always.
Stabbing at Art Basel Miami Beach Mistaken for Performance Art
By Jackson McHenry
A fight between two female patrons at Art Basel Miami Beach last night escalated when one of them pulled an X-Acto knife and stabbed the other in the arms and neck, the Miami Herald reports. The woman was taken to the a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to a spokesperson for the police department, while many on the scene were left wondering what to make of the events. According to a source for People, “Some of the patrons inside thought it was performance art, or a performance.” According to the Herald, others also mistook the police tape set up following the event for an art installation. A spokesperson for Art Basel told the paper that “the attack was an isolated incident” and event personnel have worked to move forward with the event. Another guard reportedly explained the incident to a bystander by saying that a very expensive statue had fallen on someone
On Schönheitsabend by Vincent Riebeek and Florentina Holzinger
By Ellen Söderhult
Schönheitsabend is a performance created and performed by Florentina Holzinger and Vincent Riebeek. It is a collage of references taken out of context and manipulated in ways that makes us experience them differently and messes with ideas of dramaturgy, puts beauty right next to silly, romantic next to cheap, formal next to trashy, sexy pole dance next to dramatic ballet. The experimental approaches popular, megalomaniac or avant-garde meets lame and skillfulness overlaps just-enough. Or other ways around, but it restructures sensuous relationships between things. In that sense, one could put it under the label “postinternet”, because dance history is no longer necessarily chronological, and what is considered dance history does not anymore have to be confirmed by the same gate-keepers. The internet does not only change what is archived and available, but probably also how we are conditioned to or abled to think dramaturgy. The way of using and mis-using dance history is made even more exciting because of Holzinger’s and Riebeek’s way of executing the material in an almost sport like manner, and by insisting on transforming the heteronormative heritage into something queer, in which gender roles are dispersed, re-written or opposed.
As the loving couple meet, the representation of the well behaved, tempered subject is destroyed by lust and desire. After a from a ballet perspective inappropriate undressing, revealing too much flesh for the well behaved protagonists of a ballet, the next scene shows the loving couple displaying pole dance tricks and showing off beautiful bodies and lots of skin. Still with the just-enough-to-make-it-work-kind of style that points out any partly hidden criteria for quality in defining or evaluating a thing. The explicit dealing with sexiness after a ballet duet ends in a very long scene in which Holzinger with a penis prosthesis penetrates the prince (Riebeek) as they execute an acrobatic duet resembling a version of a youtubeclip of Anita Berber and Sebastian Droste (except with a penis in an anus, staying there for the full duration of the duet). The ways things are transformed and put in relation points to a different way of considering logic that seems relevant. The quoting tests borders and relations, or create meaningful relations between things that seems non-sensical when at first put side by side. This asks for new relationships between things to be formed.
Schönheitsabend is a title that in relationship to the content could lead ones thoughts to the importance of aesthetic pleasure in performing arts history.
When the most random fairy-tale-techno-rave costumes, the fashion of the hottest pole dancing and the most grandiose ballet costumes are put side by side, it surfaces the performing arts history’s past (and present) of didactics, conditioning or social control – of leading by example, educating, shaping our ideas of a good subject, of taste, of decency and proper ways of presenting the self. But side by side with an history of queer-performance, utopian promise on stage, eroticism and ideas of sexy. Schönheitsabend is confusing how beauty is related to heterosexual love, gender stereotypes, ideas of harmony, sex and control.
Schönheitsabend is misusing mechanisms of control to serve other purposes. The display of the good, rich, heterosexual love couple is getting high on drugs, destroying things, displaying the trashiest sexiness, clumsiness and destruction. Representational values are ignored.
In the performance, Holzinger ang Riebeek confuses theatre with reality, being oneself with pretending to be or impersonating another. It confuses relationships within a narrative or a defined fiction with relationships outside of the stage. It confuses what a subject is and what theatre means. It is blurring borders between techniques, styles, aesthetics and tone, to confuse the border of each thing and make me ask questions about where the end of it is or if it actually has ends. Which makes it more like a rehearsal for life than a conservation of something passed or a sport put on stage, sort of approaching the function proposed in Theatre of Cruelty (Artaud). It challenges my ability to create other relationships between the familiar ingredients. The violent distortions of whatever material is being considered is an emptying out of meaning and acutely re-contextualize or confuse subjects, notions and whatever comes their way.
Schönheitsabend, by Florentina Holzinger and Vincent Reibeck, follows (after making a solo each) the trilogy made by the performance couple with the alluring titles Keine applaus for sheisse, Spirit and Wellness.
Making an attempt to write about it, the references on youtube is quite easy to trace. That makes sense. The use of references, the use of youtube, the use of the official inofficial in this show interests me. Florentina’s winning presence makes even the long part of re-enacting Nijinsky’s last performance, sitting on a chair waiting for the drugs to make her do something somehow provocative and seductive. The use of skill and non-sensical sensuousness is what makes this show without a doubt one of the better attempts to make something move.
IVO DIMCHEV ON ROTTERDAM SCHOWBURG
Last night I performed Operville – a new work of mine at Rotterdam schouwburg one of the very prestigious and rich theaters in Holland. In the audience there were exactly 13 people.
Dear presenters working for this theAter, obviously the main efforts of your PR goes for promoting the main stage where musicals, ballet companies and large dutch theAter productions are presented. Nobody really cares about the smaller stage /150 sits/ where more experimental and innovative productions take place. Im really grateful for inviting my work , it shows that you have a good taste and balls, and Im also thankful for trusting me , but someone somewhere in your administrative team needs to understand that if this work does not reach a broad young audience which is surely available in bigger cities, presenting the work does not really make sense. Im happy to have job, to earn money by being invited in good theaters, you obviously also have good salaries working for the same theaters…but there are also other important , even more important aspects of our “job” and one of them is spending money and energy on connecting this work with the right audience! You have the money, if you bring the energy as well would be wonderful „heart“-Emoticon
OPENING OF THE KATALYST FESTIVAL, NIGHTREVIEW
NO PICNIC by GERTJAN FRANCISCUS
by Nicole Strecker
The late 60s had the Theater artist to be ready at all times to: Feels the audience provoked, he might storm the stage. Claus Peymann had gladly served this together with Peter Handke and still pushed by hand at the legendary “Offending the Audience” the audience of his stage. In a subsequent “staging” of a piece entitled “The There’s only one”, he denied equal all the drama, leaving viewers simply a stage full of requisits- and they, betrayed in viewing a real performance, entered the stage and destroyed all props around. Also Marina Abramović documented once the violence of the audience and the vulnerability of the performer, as in 1974 with “Rhythm 0″ their viewers weapons ranges and delivers the flickering aggression. At the end she was half-naked, bloodied wounded, threatened with a gun.
On stage: A white sofa in the “crack” (and the word we may in this context quiet ambiguous understand) buckets of honey, or hopefully artificial honey, is tilted. Then wallow two naked Graces, one blond, the other brunette. Their skin drips already from the sweet mass, when a naked, thin man joined with a golden crown on his head to them. Gertjan Franciscus, choreographer with a penchant for prophetic figures and this evening: “The Honey Queen” – which obviously is but a Honey-King, however, the court can be unabashedly of his two “Honey Bees” in gold bath. The three of them slipping on the cramped space of the sofa for a while in the goo around, devouring the limbs.
But sensuality is turning into senslessness at the latest when the unboxed Honey King raises to speak. A thin voice of Franciscus whispers in English a nonsense series of words: “Hello, Guckguck, epileptic attack, Click Clock, Electric Shock” he says, and that’s almost been a highlight in the People’s speech, because here the king gets a little jitter accumulation. So Franciscus makes a bit the “Klaus Kinski” in a vulgar erotic setting that could have come from the Belgian state Mash expert Jan Fabre. He plays a megalomaniac-hazardous regent, the one divine epiphany believes close. This is moderately funny satire, on the institution ‘theater’ itself, which sees itself as a place for like revelations.
But then: appearance of colleague and improvisation teacher Katie Duck. She had earlier in the evening, together with eleven performers presented the naturally-baked result of their improvisation workshops “Dance and Music”: While the dancer’s body tumble and Krauch, also the instruments are maltreated and processed electric guitar as the instrument of handyman – from spatula until the monster screw everything scratches as a tool over the strings. Normal stage madness.
Whereas for her colleagues, Katie Duck wanted not to recognize the irony of the product but suspected the chauvinism of their production, thus: ‘male choreographer committed two nude model and staged himself as king.’ After verbal disturbances Katie Duck enters the stage and challenged Franciscus to fight for his crown. Not just playful, but aggressive and physically encroaching, so that the little power struggle, unfortunately, ends in the embarrassing debacle for both. The artist-life – no picnic.
And the work of art itself? The effect, to coat the body with honey and leave them as looking like Amber sculptures, may be great – beyond this Gertjan Franciscus offers only tough banality. The long-drawn-Flushed act on the couch followed by a much longer drawn techno dance scene, which reveals in particular that the performers are more danceprofessionals than nude models. Finally, the King shall, in the red-faced contractions, lay a golden egg. From Bee to ‘Chicken? ‘Gaga, gagack’ – one might account for itself in the language of the royal lyric effusions.
Body Parts , Claudia La Rocco
THE SUNLIGHT from the circular window high in the wall marks time in a shifting stretching oval on the floor. I am not quite sure what I am looking at, the various piles of construction and design-related materials, also maybe marking time on this long floor. I haven’t yet made the decision to look closely enough, always that decision when you walk into a gallery, like any conversation, whether or not to commit. I’m still getting my bearings at the echt Brooklyn arts-and-science compound that is Pioneer Works on a Sunday afternoon.
I guess I’m on a compare-and-contrast jag. Last month it was plays. This month it’s gallery shows—specifically collaborations between sculptors and choreographers, and specifically specifically between the sculptor Janine Antoni and the choreographer Stephen Petronio at Luhring Augustine and Bakst and Masnyj at Pioneer Works. Manhattan/Brooklyn, established/emerging, blue-chip/nonprofit… one could go to town on outmoded, accurate-ish binaries.
The unfinished finish of Pioneer Works is a (too?) fitting container for Masnyj’s tidily untidy construction stuffs, stacks and piles and arrangements of wood and tubing and freestanding walls, which are themselves a deconstructed container for a series of duets by Bakst and Emma Geisdorf. On paper I don’t love this setup, which smacks of performance “activating” the white cube, that entrenched art-world trend that lacks faith in both the live and static arts as standalone ventures. But I think that rant-encapsulation says more about my tired eyes than it does about Living Room Index and Pool, which feels quite happily old-fashioned as a conversation between two people in search of a third possibility. Another way to say that is that the question “Would I be interested in these two things in isolation?” ceases to seem like a reasonable thing to ask shortly after Bakst’s performance begins, and the disparate parts snap into an elusive whole.
Bakst and Geisdorf manipulate Masnyj’s quiet objects, moving things around to no discernible purpose like obdurate glitches in the system. They count. They make eye contact. They come just close enough before turning away and I notice that the moments of silence give me relief. There’s something compellingly unavailable about Bakst, as if she’s paying intense attention to something that isn’t in the room.
Bakst has inserted two messy videos of water, one tropical and one arctic, on Masnyj’s clean white walls, and she and Geisdorf record themselves moving and posing in front of these fuzzy backdrops, inscrutable and awkward and strangely intimate. At some point they read from Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s novel Dictée. “Her portrait is seen though her things, that are hers.” Of course these aren’t their things, are they? So many people who have come to watch are taking pictures, this is how they know to watch. When Bakst and Geisdorf exit their captured performances silently ghost the space. Those who come after us won’t notice any disturbances.
It is raining and horrible when I visit Luhring Augustine. One thing Chelsea and Red Hook share: You have to mean it to trek over to them.
Antoni’s show is called “From the Vow Made,” and there is no confusion about authorship. There is no real confusion about anything. The front gallery is taken up by a spare assembly of her milagros, resin cast joinings of domestic objects and body parts that are at once fantastical and didactic; basket weavings interlock with bones, body parts that only metaphors typically join are physically molded together: a head positioned on a rib cage as if listening for what isn’t there, in to long, 2014, or a hand cupping a section of spine in to return, 2014. Her collaboration with Petronio takes the form of Honey Baby, 2013, a video in the back room featuring the dancer Nick Sciscione turning and turning in artistic utero. I keep thinking of it as a prequel to Noémie Lafrance’s Melt, 2010.
And also those lines from Dictée: “It is you who are entering to see her.”
Why don’t I want to stay in this room? It all feels so head on. (But why does it feel this way? Is it enough to say I like that show, and not this one?) The idealized male body. The heartbeat. The dry bones leading to the womb. Antoni’s oft-stated turn to somatic practices as a way to cultivate embodiment feels like a naïve appropriation, no matter how deep her investment. The thing she is showing us corresponds exactly to the thing she wants us to see, and the titles are there in case we still don’t see. Only embodiment isn’t about seeing.
Three scenes from Kein Applaus für Scheisse: by Lauren Bakst
American Realness at Abrons Arts Center
One. I remember Florentina Holzinger’s first costume. It was an oversize, orange-dyed dress, a muumuu really. She was sitting in a chair center stage. A minute or so earlier, a high fan kick had revealed her lack of underwear. Vincent Riebeek, in a similarly loose blue garment, kneeled to sneak his head between her legs—the image momentarily evoking a familiar sexual position. He inched away from Holzinger to display a red string exiting her vagina and entering his mouth. Turning his body to face the audience, he pulled and chewed and the string kept coming.
Two. I remember Riebeek directing his attention toward the audience in a “Look at me!” kind of way while enacting a series of movements. Mid-head-spiral-into-leg-extension, Holzinger hurled herself toward him while jumping. Without hesitation, they collided. We (the audience) laughed. This scene repeated itself: Holzinger or Riebeek would indulge in moments of solo dancing only to be interrupted by a crash from the other, inevitably provoking laughter from the audience. There was something about the full force with which they moved in and out of contact—never pausing to acknowledge the catastrophe of their two bodies meeting, they just kept going, pummeling each other through the space all the while maintaining the clarity of intentionally extended limbs.
Three. I remember the cerulean blue color of the liquid that Riebeek vomited onto Holzinger’s chest. They wore feather-adorned bikinis. Holzinger was lying on the floor and Riebeek was kneeling in between her legs. The violent effort with which he repeatedly rammed his fingers down his throat was more difficult to behold than Holzinger’s apathetic gaze. After a sequence of at least five repetitions—gag, vomit, gag, vomit—Holzinger looked back at Riebeek plainly and asked, “Can I hug you?”
If these scenes sound messy and irreverent, it’s because they are. Holzinger and Riebeek have a way of managing the clichés their work invokes. Their presences balance each other. While Riebeek performs excessively with camp, Holzinger shows no sign of emotion. She under-performs with effort so that we feel everything bubbling up just beneath the surface. This dynamic might be the most radical aspect of their work. It undermines our expectations of gendered power relations within a given image. Riebeek is working for the applause, while Holzinger just waits for it. Together, they succumb to the disasters of these spectacles without apology.
— Lauren Bakst is an artist and a dancer whose work takes the forms of choreography, writing, performance, and video.
Reading and Rumor: The Problem with Kenneth Goldsmith by Brian Droitcour
Last weekend I attended “Interrupt 3,” a conference on poetry and digital media at Brown University in Providence. I was in the audience Friday night when Kenneth Goldsmith read the autopsy of Michael Brown, the teenager who was murdered by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014.
An image of Michael Brown—his graduation picture, which many used as Facebook profile pictures to honor his memory and counter the images spread by the media to portray him as a delinquent—was projected on the screen above the stage as Goldsmith read, rocking and pacing, delivering the autopsy as an incantation. The rhythms and inflections of his reading brought out the repetitions in the report, transforming their formality into ritual.
Word of what Goldsmith had done hit Twitter and the rumor of it rapidly spread. It was met with outrage: How dare he? How could he, a white man, use black suffering—the murder of a black teenager by a white cop—as raw material for his own work? Many revisited the critiques that have been leveled at Goldsmith for excluding poets of color from the history he writes to frame conceptual poetry—a poetry that repurposes non-literary texts as literary ones—as a contemporary avant-garde. Against this background, Goldsmith’s choice to read Michael Brown’s autopsy was especially galling. He was swiftly and viciously condemned.
Goldsmith has encouraged the spread of a work’s reputation through rumor for years as an approach to the conceptual poetry produced by him and his cohort. Conceptual poetry can be intimidating to the reader because the texts are long; they retain the tics that appear in straight transcription and the boredom of official documents. For these reasons they often go unread, and any fame the poet has depends on the circulation of his works as secondhand accounts: “Kenny retyped an entire issue of the New York Times,” “Kenny recorded all the movements his body made in 12 hours,” “Kenny transcribed the first media responses to deaths considered national tragedies.” It’s like the way paintings and sculptures become known through reproductions.
But just as standing before a painting is a very different experience than looking at a reproduction of it, so it is with conceptual poetry. When you learn about Goldsmith’s work through the circulation of summaries it sounds like an incredibly dull affair: the poet’s disappearance into the machine, an embrace of technological knowledge. But when you read the text, or see Goldsmith read it with his dynamic body and lively voice, what matters is the fissures between the embodied experience that was recorded and the recording technologies used. The poet comes back out of the machine to show what the machine can’t know.
And so, any one of Goldsmith’s works is really two works: the work itself and the concept of it, which travels easily as a story. While both invite judgment, by Goldsmith’s own design, I think critics should be responsible for at least acknowledging the differences between them.
Goldsmith avoids addressing the duality of his writing. He has said little of the experience of reading his books, but talks constantly about the mobility of his concepts by issuing trollish aphorisms on Twitter: “If it can’t be shared, it doesn’t exist.” I’ve come to see his public behavior as a tacit acknowledgment that some aspects of art are cheapened by attempts at articulating them, as well as an emulation of his hero, Andy Warhol. Goldsmith’s reluctance to sincerely reflect on his own work is Warholian. But unlike Warhol, he’s a professional academic, so he has to speak about it. And he chooses to mislead.
After Goldsmith read at Brown, members of the audience discussed the reading. Many criticized it for being too poetic, too aestheticized. While Goldsmith’s lilting inflections brought out the repetitions, they seemed somewhat out of place. At times they seemed to disguise his discomfort with the text and his mispronunciations of medical terms. The last lines Goldsmith read were a description of Michael Brown’s genitals; later fact-checking confirmed suspicions raised by the audience that the report had been altered to make it end there. It was a dramaturgical gesture to make for a “satisfying” ending, but the audience didn’t want that tawdry satisfaction. It wasn’t worth the violence done to the text and to the memory of Michael Brown. It was a grave misstep.
Style conventions would suggest I refer to the reading as “Kenneth Goldsmith’s The Body of Michael Brown (2015)”—giving the title Goldsmith announced at the start of his reading—but I’d rather write “Goldsmith’s reading of the autopsy report.” I’m not comfortable with the possessive, the transformation of a body into a title. This was another misstep.
I write “misstep” but the word is weak. Still, I prefer it to “mistake” because it’s shaded more strongly with intent and culpability. Goldsmith’s choices are not accidents. He made them from a position of underexamined privilege.
I’ve cringed when seeing white protestors lie motionless in public places, imitating Michael Brown’s corpse in the street in Ferguson, or chant “I can’t breathe” while miming the chokehold that Daniel Pantaleo used to murder Eric Garner. They are play-acting at being victims of violence that doesn’t threaten them.
I’ve felt disgusted by Joe Scanlan’s Donelle Woolford project, in which he passes off his own paintings and sculptures as the work of a black woman, acting out a delusional fantasy that a “politically correct” art world would receive his white art more generously if his body were black and female.
I’ve seen comparisons of Goldsmith’s reading to Scanlan’s project, but I couldn’t have arrived at that conclusion on my own. Goldsmith didn’t pretend to feel what Michael Brown felt, or use his body as a proxy. Instead, he occupied the position of the medical examiner, giving his body to the autopsy’s anonymous, institutional words. Anyone who followed the news of Michael Brown’s death, of the ensuing protests, of the grand jury that failed to indict Darren Wilson, was looking—looking with horror, looking with fascination. The medical examiner’s report is an account of another kind of looking, with a physical proximity and emotional remove that inverts the looking of those who followed the news from Ferguson at a physical distance but with an emotional immediacy. In reading the autopsy, Goldsmith imagined switching those positions and collapsing the distances, intensifying the affect particular to his own position as a white onlooker.
Can white poets write about the deadly violence of white supremacy? Danez Smith has said yes, and I’d like to think so too-silence can be respect, but it can also be complicity. But how should it be done? The Paris Review published a poem by white poet Frederick Seidel, “The Ballad of Ferguson, Missouri,” which was roundly panned as maudlin embarrassment. Goldsmith ended on the crotch but Seidel begins there: “A man unzipping his fly is vulnerable to attack.” He identifies the black penis as a threat and a liability. It gets worse. He tells us he wouldn’t want to be a black man in St. Louis County and reasons with doggerel: “Skin color is the name. / Skin color is the game. / Skin color is to blame for Ferguson, Missouri.”
Goldsmith’s way of writing has an advantage over Seidel’s. He doesn’t try to inscribe sentiment in the text, where it can come out wrong when read. Rather, in conceptual poetry sentiment comes out on its own when the text is activated by the reader and the listener. This is what gives Goldsmith’s performances their strength.
But conceptual poetry is at a disadvantage, too, because it results in two works. In one of them, sentiment is produced through a prolonged act of reading, while in the other it’s an immediate reaction to an idea. In the latter case there’s often little sentiment. Many of Goldsmith’s works are perceived as merely interesting. But the reaction to the story of the reading at Brown (“Kenny read Michael Brown’s autopsy report at a poetry conference”) was powerful, and because in this case, as before, Goldsmith took no responsibility for the affective content of the concept, it spun out of his control and worked against him.
“Interrupt 3,” the conference at which Goldsmith read Michael Brown’s autopsy report, was an overwhelmingly white conference. Most of the featured presenters were white men, myself included. Over the course of Friday’s presentations several old white men invoked Ferguson as a political justification for the poetics of embodiment that they favored, in a way that struck me as superficial and opportunistic. So when Goldsmith began his reading, I thought: Finally—someone is giving this topic more than lip service. And yet, one of the few women of color present at the reading raised her hand after it was over and called it a “cop out.”
Goldsmith is known for courting controversy, but it tends to be trivial. He “printed out the Internet” for an exhibition in Mexico, provoking hand-wringing about the waste of paper (never mind the carbon resources consumed by data centers) and taught a class at the University of Pennsylvania called “Wasting Time on the Internet.” He relishes retweeting angry responses, and in those cases it is easy to laugh off people who made fools of themselves by responding to his silly provocations. Goldsmith is a clown and a troll, and so for some the very idea that a poet like him would touch material like this—the deadly violence of white supremacy—was unacceptable. But when so many artists of his stature just produce more of what they’ve already done, isn’t it a good thing for him to venture into new territory-to take a risk, to the extent that a man in his position can?
I’ve mentioned the missteps that Goldsmith made in conceiving the piece. After the reading was over he made more.
He did not field questions from the audience following the reading. The poets who had planned to perform after him felt that their readings would be inappropriate at that time, so instead they moderated the discussion of Goldsmith’s reading while he sat in the audience, listening silently.
Goldsmith, who eagerly uses the words of others in his work and has created a pirate archive of poetry, film, video, performance and sound art on Ubuweb, exerted authorial control over his own work by asking the conference organizers not to release the video of his reading.
On Sunday Goldsmith posted a statement on Facebook that addressed the response to the reading but did not specify the nature of the criticism or acknowledge its validity. Instead, he wrote that this is what he does, that he has done it before, that others in the past have been “uncomfortable with [his] uncreative writing.” But what outraged people was not so much his method as his choice of a text and the particular steps he took in order to, in his words, “massage a dry text into literature,” and he neither defended these actions nor apologized to the people who were hurt by them.
His choice to read Michael Brown’s autopsy at a conference that was overwhelmingly white might have been conceived as an intervention in that whiteness, but in retrospect I suspect he was taking advantage of it as a “safe space.”
I wanted to think that Goldsmith was brave in taking an artistic risk but he was full of fear.
Twitter fosters the formation of ad hoc communities, as users come together around an idea or a feeling. Grief, anger and righteous disgust are shared and become stronger in their unity, amplifying voices that would otherwise go unheard.
A work of art can form a community, too—an audience that can be as ephemeral and dispersed as the communities that take shape on Twitter. But an audience is rarely united in one feeling as a Twitter community is; instead, it shares a common experience refracted through the disunity of individual perspectives. Conflicted or complex reactions to a work from any one viewer proliferate in the collective, where consensus can form around ambivalence rather than a singular affect.
The concept of Goldsmith’s reading has been judged by a community united in outrage. Their voices have been heard; I don’t need to add mine to them. But so far the voices of the audience members—the people who had access to the performance of the work as well as the concept of it—have hardly traveled beyond Providence. I can only speak for myself, but having been present at many public and private conversations in Providence I know that my experience wasn’t unique, that it was shared by others.
“If it can’t be shared, it doesn’t exist,” Goldsmith has said. The experience of an audience is hard to share beyond its limits. But it does exist, and it’s also worthy of recognition. That’s why I wrote this.
Where Taboos and Healing Compete for Equal Billing
‘I-Cure’ Provokes at the Queer New York Arts Festival
By Gia Kourlas
When a choreographer like Ivo Dimchev proposes a performance work intended to promote healing, you can’t help feeling suspicion. It’s the good kind. This Bulgarian artist, based in Brussels, has a persuasive subversive streak.
In his playfully sinister “I-Cure,” performed Friday at Abrons Arts Center/Henry Street Settlement as part of the 2014 Queer New York International Arts Festival, he ponders the difference between therapy and theater, or cure and culture. If healing is a choice, as he asks in a festival brochure, why not make the choice while sitting in the theater? Why waste another hour of trying to be cultural when it could be used to become healthier?
At the start, Mr. Dimchev, nearly naked and wrapped in a shawl, sits on a white chair and languidly strokes his blond wig. The sound of a cymbal awakens him from his reverie; brightly, he thanks us for coming to “the most healing performance of the year” and then explains that we need to fill out the “I-Cure” cards that were handed out upon entry. On each are four blank circles representing areas in our life that we wish to cure. By pressing the card, we create a healing intention
It’s absurd, of course, but in “I-Cure” — a reference to Apple devices that help you tune out the rest of the world — if you block out suffering, your own suffering will end. As Mr. Dimchev flows from one story to the next, scampering across the floor, singing about healing energy and engaging in sexual acts, a monitor behind him features scenes — a beach, a waterfall, a cheetah. A man from the audience performs fellatio on Mr. Dimchev — could this be the catharsis he’s after? — and then the image of feces appears on the screen. What if, as Mr. Dimchev asks, you were to examine it with a microscope? “It’s so intense,” he says. “It’s like ‘Star Wars’!”
Mr. Dimchev may push taboos in his work, but his timing, his hushed, whispery asides and the two-way conversations uttered under his breath are virtuosic — even reminiscent of Robin Williams. Animalistic one moment, delicate the next, he meshes darkness and lightness with verbal and physical dexterity. Early on, he notes, “Sometimes I feel like a dead mother with two dead children lying on the street in a very low resolution.”
Sex, defecation — what’s left in this quest for release? Mr. Dimchev’s rant switches from humor to horror as the sight of two bloody children and a mother appear on the screen. Contorting his body, he says: “It’s so disgusting! I can’t even look at it.” How can you cure an unfeeling world? His only escape is a blackout.
ANN LIV YOUNG with Jarrett Earnest
Performance artist Ann Liv Young emerged as one of the most provocative figures of the 2000s. She often uses fairytales to foreground interactions between audience and performer—producing highly publicized confrontations with everyone from Penny Arcade to Georgia Sagri. Her work evolves a complex mythology centered around a character named Sherry. After traveling extensively in Europe with her family of collaborators, chief among them her partner Michael A. Guerrero, Young is back in New York to perform all four parts of her Sleeping Beauty at MoMA PS1(March 2014).
Jarrett Earnest: I always felt that growing up in the South—in a very Southern family—that you have a heightened sense of social performance. Do you think that is true and does it influence your work?
Ann Liv Young: I had a hardcore Southern mother who was really into pleasing everyone but her own family. She was definitely all about, “You do not talk about what happens in this house. You do not speak about these particular things.” She had some major issues that are the crux of the Sherry character—Sherry is loosely based on my mother.
Earnest: When did you start making your own work? What were you making?
Young: I was making stuff when I was 8—I was pretty hardcore about it. Mostly videos with my friends that I would direct that were crazy, a lot of talk shows. I would do performances at my school—put people through watching us in unitards dancing to Enigma. Some of them are actually amazing: we did a cover of an En Vogue song “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” dressed as old women. We had canes, we rehearsed for months, and it won first place in the talent competition. I guess I started making work professionally before I graduated college—I made a show called American Crane Standards which was two women and two toilets, which was put in a show in New York. People loved it.
Earnest: When you are reviewed in the New York Times it is as a dancer, but I think that even though you are coming from a dance context it is really hard to talk about what you are doing as dance—or even as theater—it’s really performance art.
Young: I think one of the problems is that the Times doesn’t have a performance art critic and theater people don’t consider my work as theater. In Europe it’s never reviewed as dance—it’s always either performance art or live performance.
Earnest: One aspect of performance art is that it foregrounds the dynamic: “I’m a body and you are watching me. We’re both here together and this is a relationship,” which is something generally suppressed in most dance and theater. What I really like is how you are keying into the complex desires and expectations embedded in those interactions. How did that evolve for you?
Young: I think it comes from studying dance and being taught to ignore the audience. They tell you to pretend like you are in a forest, but you’re not in a forest, you are in a theater, and most of the time you don’t have very good lights, or very good sound, or very much money. Acknowledging what is really in the room was always a big part of what I was making when I was young. I was never making stuff where I was rolling on the floor frivolously. That thing “I’m here—you’re here” has just become a lot more assertive and blatant with Sherry.
When I was five or seven months pregnant with Lovey in Amsterdam, our set had been lost. I was exhausted from touring Snow White, which is a very physical show. They had given us this tiny little studio to rehearse in, which was hilarious because we couldn’t do anything in it. Suddenly I thought I wanted to make a new part to stick on the end of Snow White:a radio show and the star was Sherry. It was a 30-minute segment. I was really thinking, “I’m having a baby, this job is hard to do, and hard to sustain because we make our living touring.” There were so many problems at every venue that I wanted to make a character that was a superwoman who could bust through everything—who doesn’t need a set, doesn’t need good tech—so the show would be indestructible. I was thinking I could make it for Lovey, my child—that it would be a way to make the work more sustainable for her. It was the best idea I’ve ever had in my life.
Earnest: When you first thought of her, what were the physical or psychological gestures that signified Sherry?
Young: For the original costume we were all naked, but wearing different blazers, which were all khaki and spray-painted pink. We all had badges that showed how important we were so I had the really big badge. There was an importance of hierarchy from the very beginning, an acknowledged hierarchy. I think it’s funny because that is how my mother is: she is smart and funny and charming which enables her to maintain a hierarchy even as she makes fun of it. Her jewelry store was her stage and I grew up watching her perform on it.
Earnest: There is a very clear way that Sherry is in control. How did that dynamic change when people began coming to Sherry’s shows expecting a confrontation?
Young: I do all different things. I am quite gifted at reading people—not even reading them but sensing them, which is very much from studying dance, from kinesthetics, body language. I have done so many “Sherry” shows, I don’t prejudge. I let the audience come in, sometimes I have a very tight structure and sometimes a loose structure, and I just go with what feels right. It is great that people are so scared, because then I can make them unafraid. And they start to think, “Oh, this is great, she’s amazing, she’s nice,” so then in the next show I can terrify them again. What really matters for Sherry is paying close attention to my audiences. I think that a performance is effective if it challenges people and keeps them on their toes.
Earnest: Why are you against grants?
Young: I’m against the idea of a panel of people deciding among themselves what should be funded and what shouldn’t. A lot of the people sitting on panels think of themselves as failed artists—I don’t think about them that way, but that is how they think of themselves. I feel that they are looking for the thing most like what they would be making right now if they were still making and not teaching. I think it’s very dangerous to be sustained by grant funding; I don’t want to feel pressured to please people who are giving me money.
Earnest: You believe grants make the work beholden to someone else’s expectation?
Young: Yes, and I know it does because that is how we are raised in a capitalist society. If that is your financial structure you are setting yourself up to fail—to fail yourself. Ultimately, I don’t feel a lot of people have the courage and strength to make what they want to make, clearly, because look at what is being made in this city. And a lot of these people are getting quite a lot of grant money.
Earnest: You’ve talked about curators being shocked by your performances, even though they invited you. ThePS1 controversy was the first time I became aware of your work because I was living on the West Coast, and I think for many others too it was the introduction to your work. That performance began with you confronting the performer who went on before you and ended with PS1cutting the lights out. Now that you’ve had some distance from it, do you have any reflections on it?
Young: Basically, a woman named Sarvia [Jasso] and another guy [Andres Bedoya] invited me to do a session at PS1. Michael and I met with her and it’s funny because in the meeting I intuitively knew the breakdown of events. Sherry really studies people, so you can tell who has done their research and who hasn’t. I remember asking Sarvia if she had seen my work and she said, “Yes, I saw Snow White.” I asked what else she had seen and I could tell she hadn’t seen anything else, but she said, “some other things.” Then I knew it was going to be a great show.
For instance in Cinderella I do some pretty aggressive things: I poop on stage, I sell the poop, I get very close to people. It’s amazing to have a woman from the audience say, “I want to leave” and Sherry just says, “then leave,” but she doesn’t. Then she’ll sit there and say something like, “You must have paid them to let you perform here.” So Sherry talks about how much she got paid to do the show, and of course the woman doesn’t believe it. So then Sherry looks at the curator in the audience and asks, “Can you please tell this nice lady how much you paid to bring me here? Can you please tell this nice lady why you paid to bring me here, all the way from New York City.” To have that kind of situation—to be able to go straight to the source—is amazing. People don’t like to talk about money. Artists definitely don’t talk about money because they don’t have any, and curators are not often put on the spot to say why they booked something or how much they paid to book it. I was taught never to talk about money, and never to talk about domestic issues that happened in my house. I found a way to go beyond that and to force everyone to really discuss things that people feel are important, but have too much pride and ego to openly talk about.
So with the PS1 show we agreed to do it, and I knew the curator hadn’t done her research. I think I was very tired that night and I remember thinking, “I’ll go watch a little bit of the performance before mine to give myself a jumping-off point.” I knew I really wanted to work with the idea that we were at PS1. You could feel in the room that night that it was an “art crowd”—these “hip” people that wanted to see something very exciting happen and also wanted to protect their “art thing” and Sherry is very against protecting your thing. First of all, she says the thing is not worth protecting and second, she wants you to think about why you feel you need to protect it so much. That was really the initiation of me talking to Georgia Sagri who was the performer before me. Sherry looked into her eyes and said, “That was not good. You need to acknowledge that. What is this idea of ‘art’? What are you people even doing here?” For her performance Sagri just walked around in a circle saying, “Where is Jane?” and that is supposed to make her some amazing artist that can never be called out to answer the question, “Why are you making this?” That is totally crazy. She became a writhing monster. I really wish they would have let her attack me, but her friends were holding her back. Sherry took her clothes off and started masturbating to a Mariah Carey song just to say, “Come on, what are we doing here? This is ridiculous.” It was like 15 minutes, the whole thing. The curator just kept saying afterward “I didn’t expect it to be real.”
Earnest: Like what did she expect, it to be fake?
Young: Well, fake like Georgia, like all the stuff she normally books—safe. I don’t think I make things to make anyone uncomfortable. I pose questions that I want answered. I’m really curious. I think it’s interesting to look at a couple in your audience and ask, “Why do you love this person?” Not because I want to make them feel bad, but I feel as a human being that that person should be able to answer that question, in front of a crowd of people—on a human level. So I try to get him to do that—it’s not about humiliating him. But if you ask a technician to turn more lights on, he looks at you like you just told him his penis is too short. Of course that becomes part of the work because Sherry is not going to pretend he isn’t taking a hit to his ego when she tells him to turn more lights on.
Earnest: Have you ever had an experience as Sherry that you felt went too far?
Young: No. I never have. I think I am very sensitive to how my partner Michael reacts to what I do. I’ve had a few shows where Michael has been a little freaked out. I did a show at the Delancey Lounge and there were a lot of drag queens there and Sherry was saying that the way they were treating her is they way people have treated them in society, which is why they are there, in the Delancey Lounge, treating her badly, and what is wrong with that picture? Someone ripped my wig off and of course Sherry was like, “That only makes me stronger.” I took all my clothes off as I was leaving just to say, “I don’t need a costume. That is not what makes these things happen.” I took off this amazing necklace, it was my mother’s vintage ’70s huge porcelain shell and just threw it on stage when I was throwing my clothes. That photographer Gerry Visco stood up while my necklace was flying and it hit her in the head. She filed a police report about how I attacked her—which is amazing—but I was really sad because my necklace shattered. Michael was a little worried, but he knew I didn’t mean to hit her. He’s very anti-violence. I don’t feel I have ever done anything or had a show that I regretted. I feel very in control when I am performing, I actually have pretty high morals for myself.
Earnest: What are the things that cross that line for you, that you won’t do?
Young: My only rule as Sherry is no physical violence. I threw my necklace and I didn’t mean for it to hit her. I’ve never physically hurt someone in a show. But I’ve experienced a fair amount of violence, in The Mermaid Show for instance.
Earnest: Why is that?
Young: I think people don’t like a mermaid spitting fish onto them. It’s an amazing thing to be dressed as a mermaid and have the realization that someone is threatening me with a microphone stand. I had a guy kick me in my crotch when I was a pregnant dressed as a mermaid. You can have your picture taken with the mermaid and people will use that as a place to attack me, so if I get that feeling from someone during the show I give security the message that they can’t get their picture taken.
Earnest: A lot of your work is structured by fairy tales. What is it that draws you to those archetypes?
Young: The reason I like fairy tales is probably because I didn’t have a carefree childhood—I had a difficult childhood. My parents didn’t have a healthy relationship. It was very stressful. I love the original Grimm’s fairy tales the most, and actually hadn’t seen a lot of the Disney versions until I had Lovey. She and I watched every version of Cinderella we could get our hands on because I thought she would enjoy the process. Lovey was 3 and at the end of the Disney Cinderellashe said, “Mom, I don’t understand why in the movie she doesn’t eat any food.” She is always preparing food and you never see her eat. Also, Lovey pointed out that Cinderella never goes to the bathroom.
Earnest: Is that why you pooped on stage in your version of Cinderella?
Young: Yes, but it’s also because my mother has Crohn’s disease so I grew up with my female role model being 100 percent affiliated with poop—she had a poop bag that she had to wear. She wasn’t a very good mother. In many ways I was her mother. That is the reason the poop was very important for me. It’s funny because Mark Russell did the Under the Radar festival and we approached him about doing a show at the Public Theater and he said, “Just as long as you don’t poop on stage.” I had this moment where I wasn’t sure if I should go there. I thought it would really put him in his place if he knew that at that moment my mom is in the hospital having a colonoscopy on her deathbed. This idea that a man can look at me and say, “Oh, by the way, don’t shit on stage,” like I’m just doing it for the fun of it. Guess what: it’s not fun to poop on stage in front of an audience. It’s not the easiest thing to do. People just assume that it’s for shock value.
Earnest: That is how a lot of people talk about your work in general.
Young: Of course! Of course they do. But what is great is that my daughter knows why I poop on stage.
Earnest: Sleeping Beauty is not a Sherry show. How do you approach those performances differently without the character?
Young: I didn’t really want to make Sleeping Beauty but Lovey suggested I do it, she wanted to play sleeping beauty, it was important to her. This project has been about her inclination to be in the work. She hasn’t seen Sherry in action. Some of the stuff would scare Lovey so much. Sherry can be so scary; I would never want Lovey to see that. She is not mature enough to understand. So this for me was great because it’s been a process to see how I work with my child. How do I let her know that her choices are valid while also letting her know that ultimately I am the director of this project? It’s been really fun and she’s loved it. I think the show is really about Lovey’s involvement in the work.
Earnest: People just think that Sherry is you. How do you see the differences between Sherry as a character and you as a person?
Young: We are very different. I wish that I had some of Sherry’s qualities—that I could communicate in the ways she does. But like you I was brought up in a very Southern household, I was very polite, I am always trying to protect everyone else’s feelings all the time, making sure everyone is happy, and it’s really a curse because I can’t undo that. When I’m Sherry I can undo it, and that is the only way I can. I feel like I’m a good actress and part of that has to do with my upbringing—going through so many things, I learned to hide my emotions, to pretend that things are okay.
Earnest: How much of the violence toward you do you think is rooted in misogyny?
Young: A lot of it, and I think women are the most sexist, the most uninformed, the most evil toward Sherry. Men can also be crazy, but I think that is more of a sexual power dynamic. I do see that a lot of women are very threatened by Sherry.
Earnest: Why do you think that is?
Young: I think because she challenges the idea of what is attractive, what is not attractive. She is abrasive, she’s funny, she’s sexy, she’s disgusting: she’s these things that all women are but that they do not allow themselves to be. When they see that it takes a minute to adjust and figure out how to feel. And Sherry moves very fast and demands that the audience keep up, which can be difficult for people.
Earnest: Can you explain to me the history of the “Sherry Truck”?
Young: When I first moved to the city and was not making a living making work I was making clothes and was selling them on the street in SoHo. Then I went to the Union Square area and it was very difficult because it was raining and snowing and freezing but I did it a lot. I took it very seriously. Then I was hired by these two women: one to make princess dresses for her daughter, the other to make her clothes. That is how I made a living for maybe four years. Then I thought it would be so great if I had a truck that I could just pull up. I wanted to have this mobile boutique. After coming up with Sherry I realized it would be perfect for her because it’s a truck, which is very North Carolina, and that it could be like mobile therapy. One of Sherry’s complaints is that we go to these privileged areas and everyone is white, middle-to-upper-class, educated—these people often don’t have huge problems. Not to diminish the size of people’s problems, but there is a real lack of awareness that some people can’t eat, or some children are being hit right now. I would like Sherry to have access to people who don’t have access to theater or art. Because, I feel like it’s just not fair that only a certain group of people have access, so with a truck we can drive to more remote areas. To be honest, it’s terrifying.
Earnest: Are you actually going to drive into rural areas?
Young: We are. When it comes back from Europe. The idea is to do a North Carolina trailer park tour—we want to film it.
Earnest: When you do something atPS1, for example, I don’t think you or the audience are scared that something really bad will happen.
Young: Yeah, because everyone is privileged and you are in a protected institution. I was very afraid of public art for a very long time. It did not feel right to me. I think I’ve done enough stuff, that I have hand-tailored the work so much for audiences, that I am confident I can get my message across and access these people: that I could give them something and not get killed.
Earnest: I want to know more about your ideas on therapy—self-help rhetoric is a huge part of Sherry. What interests you about it?
Young: My mom did a lot of therapy when I was little and I used to wait in the lobby. That is something that stuck with me. My dad had severe substance abuse issues so I was in Al-Anon as a child; I was 5 years old going into a group and talking about how I felt that day. I had an amazing mentor who would drive me to those meetings two hours away. I had so much support as a child from people who were not my parents. I feel like it was a very meaningful part of my childhood and it gave me the tools to not end up like my parents. It’s important to know that sharing your feelings doesn’t make you a lesser person, but it makes you stronger and it makes you vulnerable and that is beautiful.
Earnest: Tell me about the Sherry Art Fair and what happened during the recent American Realness Festival.
Young: At Abrons we set up a Sherry show with Christmas trees and balloons and sculptures—it was very pretty. I had three long tables that were covered with jewelry and I was there as Sherry selling jewelry to people and Lovey had a make-up stand and she would give make-overs. It’s a different side of Sherry because people are so afraid of her it’s important to (I’m not going to say the word “trick”) but it’s important that the character is dynamic because most people are complicated. It was really interesting to see people going into and leaving shows day after day after day so complacent, apathetic, on their cell phones, not engaging with themselves in the space.
I didn’t see much of the festival but I did see Dana Michel’s show, which I thought was wonderful. People kept asking me if I had seen Rebecca Patek’s show because they wanted to see what I thought. I was in the Sherry shop and I got a ticket to go see it and I was dressed as Sherry so went in character, and was planning to go back to the Sherry store afterward. I sat down and near the front. I had never heard of her and I had no idea what to expect—I thought, “This is great, I’m getting to see a show, someone is manning the table and my kids are at home—I feel very lucky.” This guy in tight cut-off shorts, a plaid collared shirt, and no shoes was walking around the audience handing out a piece of paper that said: “We would appreciate your feedback.” Of course I knew immediately they wouldn’t really appreciate my feedback, that it was supposed to be ironic and funny and meaningless, but I was like, “Come on Ann Liv, just give it a chance.” So a video started that said: “It isn’t a rapist’s fault; he had a hard life; he’s suffering,” etc. But, she was kidding—it was a joke. I was still trying to go with it, but then she started coming down the stairs to the stage and I knew we were in trouble because of her performance: the way she spoke, the way she moved—it was really bad “modern” dance trying to deal with “controversial” material. There was a narrator and the two of them dancing kind of in sequence but kind of not, like they need more rehearsal, and she is making these facial expressions so that you aren’t sure if she’s in character or not. It was all very confusing. The narrator said: “I went to the doctor the next day and I realized I have H.I.V.,” and they spelled out H-I-V with their arms like it’s the YMCA. And then the guy did the same thing—he got H.I.V.from being raped too. I was just like, “is this the point where I leave?” There was a moment where she sits in the audience, pretends to be an audience member and it’s supposed to be an AIDS panel and she’s an audience person who asks, “What was it like when you were raped? Did you fight him?” But her acting was so bad you couldn’t tell if she was just a horrible performer or if it was a joke. I eventually stood up, walked across the stage to the doors where you would exit and said, “This is crazy. This show sucks. I have a question for you: Have you actually been raped?” She just looked at me and clearly didn’t know what to say, and finally said, “You clearly have rape issues.” I just said, “Yes I do. I hope everyone here has rape issues.” And then I said, “I just want to tell you,” and held up that piece of paper, “you don’t seem like you’ve been raped. I’m just giving you feedback. You seem like you are making fun of it and of getting H.I.V. so you might want to go take some acting classes.” Everyone was just silent. Then Sherry looked at the audience and said, “Look at you guys, you’re white, you’re young, you’re Williamsburg hipsters, you’re probably all her friends and you are perpetuating bad art—this is a waste of time. You don’t need to make this: you need Sherapy and I’ll be at my table all night,” and I left. Then I got my megaphone and they wouldn’t let me back in so I shoved the megaphone in the door and said: “Free Sherapy for you Rebecca, all night!” They couldn’t see me but they could hear my voice. Finally Ben Pryor, the curator of the festival, stood up and said, “Ann Liv what are you doing!?” Sherry just said, “What are you doing?” and we had this whole public dialogue—the audience heard the whole thing. He didn’t say anything, he was just white as a ghost—he was terrified. He had been sleeping because he was exhausted and had seen the show before. He was mortified and I could tell he was thinking, “I’ve supported Sherry and now she’s turning on me—this is not happening!” I was saying that I was ashamed to be in a festival that was booking things like this. He just said, “She’s young,” which I said was even more reason for me to stand up and say “What are you doing?” Finally he came out to the lobby and the show inside continued while we talked outside, but he was still really silent. When people were leaving I kept selling my stuff and this woman came up out of the show crying and said, “Thank you so much. I’m a rape victim and that was a horrible show for me.”
I believe in audiences reacting—it is a privilege and a responsibility to be an audience member and I will not be a complacent audience member. Many other people came up to me to say what I did was amazing and that the show sucked. Then Ben came up later and said, “I think it’s fine for you to stand up and leave but don’t come back!”
Deep in my heart I felt what she was doing was wrong, and when you feel that you have to speak up. I remember when I was in the fourth grade we had a very mean English teacher and one of my friends had trouble reading. The teacher humiliated my friend in front of the class, saying, “You can’t read,” making her feel terrible. I remember sitting there and thinking: “I’m so afraid of this teacher but what she is doing is wrong,” and I remember standing up and saying “You can’t treat someone like that. We’re in the fourth grade!” I got in so much trouble.
Earnest: And when you went back you directed the attention toward the curator and institution.
Young: Exactly. That was the best part. So basically he said there was no money, but that doesn’t matter. If you need to make something you make it, and there needs to be a voice and vision, and that nonsense had neither and it is my responsibility as an artist and as a human being to say something. And do not tell me that I broke the rules because they aren’t my rules. I asked him again why he booked it and he said “economic reasons.” “Can you be more specific?” “I don’t want to have an empty theater for three days. And the work excites me.” Rebecca told the curator that if I was in the building she was going to cancel her last performance and I said, “Good. She should cancel it because it’s horrible.” Michael wanted me to go home and rest, and reluctantly I did. I found out later she wanted me “expelled.”
Earnest: One thing that struck me is that the narrative that echoed across the Internet was that you assaulted this artist and that it is “wrong” that you were allowed to interrupt someone else’s performance. One commentator published an essay saying that everyone who aligns themselves with you or supports your work is “so deeply subsumed in hypocrisy and doublespeak so as to no longer recognize reality.” I think the shocking part is how no one defended her, or said, “shut the fuck up Ann Liv”—not even the curator who booked her; everyone just sat there. How do you see the difference between targeting the artist and the curator?
Young: Well I targeted both the artist and the curator as well as the audience, and it is important to me to address all three. People want others to feel that I have physically attacked people because they need a reason to exile me.
Earnest: Considering this sounds exactly like what Sherry always does, why do you think people keep inviting you around to keep doing things?
Young: I think Ben genuinely believes in the work. This is also very much the contemporary dance scene that I don’t really feel I’m a part of. American Realness is a contemporary dance festival, and contemporary dance is a dead art form. These people want to put a fence around their little festival and their little shows and say, “You can’t touch this.” And the reason they want to do that is because they know it’s dying. Maybe they don’t even know it consciously. How else can you take Rebecca Patek saying: “Bolt the doors!”? If you are making live performance it will be live. If you don’t want people to respond, make a movie. What about the people who used to throw tomatoes? Patek needs to be stronger. If she is going to make a show about rape then let’s talk about rape, but she wasn’t interested in that. She certainly wasn’t interested in feedback, which I knew from the moment I was handed that paper. Why do I keep being asked back? Because my work is challenging and you can’t deny that.
Earnest: It seems like your work incorporates the rumor mill aspects—where suddenly you have someone at N.Y.U. who has never seen your work talking about “that time you threw a brick at someone’s head.” Your reputation precedes you and that is part of your performances. However, there is the criticism that you could have responded at the end of the show.
Be my guest: come into my show and challenge me. In every single show I’ve done people have stood up, screamed at me, kicked me, attacked me with a fish, told me I should die. I understand that when you are working with difficult topics this is going to happen.
“I just didn’t expect it to be real.”
A throw-away line in David Velasco’s comments on Ann Liv Young’s recent actions struck me: “I admire transgression and provocation, but not for their own sakes.” Somehow this cuts to the heart of the matter: we “admire” transgression that suits us without wanting to accept the full scope of its consequences. His condemnation “for their own sakes” is precisely a rejection of the inherent unruliness of performance art that is being systematically removed by its canonization and museumification. (What argument can be made for the now iconic attacks of Vito Acconci, or the Catalysis of Adrian Piper, if not as transgressions and provocations for their own sakes, i.e. as art?)
The debate has largely become about whether or not Rebecca Patek was victimized by Ann Liv Young, but that question is misguided. From my understanding, Patek’s performance was supposed to provoke, and because her aesthetic choices confuse irony and authenticity, and blur the boundary between audience and performer (for instance, distributing a flyer soliciting feedback) she opened the door for Ann Liv Young, or anyone, to engage. The problem is that engagement didn’t come in the ways she or the institution would have liked, which signifies a failure on the part of Patek, and the festival, in framing the piece. This is not about the disruption being nice or mean, right or wrong, but is actually a question of form and intention at the foundation of performance art. By doing a live performance as such Patek implicitly extended an invitation, which is not the same as a gallery goer defacing a painting, as some have falsely equated. It seems to me that performance art—as distinct from dance or theater—is about engaging the dynamic between a group of bodies watching another, and that is always about power: if you are not navigating it, and assuming the potential reality of it, then it is best to not position your work in a performance art context. Arguing that this incident significantly differs from Ann Liv Young’s other interventions is disingenuous—Young’s power comes from the fact that her terror always arrives in response to an invitation.
I don’t want to live in a toxic environment where no one is given space free of violent confrontation. I also don’t want to live in a world where no one is held accountable for their own actions, ideas, or aesthetics. When critic Andy Horwitz says that “Every curator, institution and artist who aligns themselves with Ms. Young is complicit in her violence,” he isn’t wrong, but he misses the point. Young shows us exactly how we are all already complicit in a system of exploitation which is not easy to disentangle, where moralistic finger pointing becomes literally pointless. She is forcing a certain type of accountability, which I believe in, even though it is done through tactics I abhor. Let’s examine the desire many have expressed for her to be “punished” for what she did at American Realness, and their rage that Ben Pryor did not assume his position of institutional power as “curator,” bending her over his knee for a public spanking, or “expelling” her from the festival. What is shocking is that no one stood up to defend Patek; blaming Pryor is an empty accusation that only aims to dismiss the audience members’ individual obligations as human beings. It reveals a deeply internalized desire for the ultimate safety of an institution while purporting to “admire” transgression, or, rather, transgression at the proper remove, in photographs decades after the fact.
On Maria Hassabi’s PREMIERE presented by The Kitchen and Performa, NYC , 2013
A dance of a million première
The ephemeral nature of dance is one of its great pleasures. Every moment is special,
never to be repeated the same way, no matter how many times a dance is performed. It’s
impossible to see everything; one way to grasp dance is not to grasp at it, to be willing to
let it run its course. When dance is slowed down so that its forms and images linger,
though, viewers can immerse themselves in the continuity of the movement; there is time to
become part of the dance, to inhabit it.
When the big doors opened from the Kitchen’s lobby, we were confronted by the five
performers of “Premiere,” in glaring light, facing us. The risers had been moved to the
opposite side of the theatre, and we had to walk across the dance floor, around the
dancers, who were grouped more or less in the center, to get to our seats. The dancers
remained still, expressionless. It was as though we had interrupted their performance, and
now they were waiting for us to settle in order to continue. People moved purposefully past
them, caught in unfamiliar territory, onstage and among the performers.
Once we were seated, we were looking at the dancers’ backs—they still faced out toward
the lobby. Hassabi and Andros Zins-Browne reclined next to Biba Bell and Hristoula
Harakas, who stood; Robert Steijn lay next to them on the other side. Each wore a simple
costume of matching jeans and shirts in different colors, with black shoes. Vast banks of
lights of many shapes and sizes bordered the stage, illuminating the audience as well as
the dancers. And then we waited. It was minutes before anyone onstage moved.
Gradually, Bell and Harakas began making minute adjustments to their stances—turning
out a leg, allowing a foot to extend jerkily along the black floor—pausing just long enough
between movements that we wondered if there would be any more. Little by little, all of the
performers made incremental shifts in posture. It was quiet in the theatre. All we could hear
was the light scraping of a shoe now and then.
Ten minutes passed before we saw part of someone’s face, as Harakas, in her vivid
magenta outfit, turned slightly to the side. The effect of this was revelatory, and a relief.
Without faces to ground us in the human, the work up until that point, though mesmerizing,
was alienating; we wanted to connect. After twenty minutes, sound emerged from stage
right: a faint crackling. Taking in the group as a whole was difficult; the dancers often
moved at different times, and the eye naturally wanted to alight on just one, to indulge in
the painstaking progress. Focussing on one dancer—Harakas as she inched into a wide,
straight-legged fourth position; Hassabi reaching awkwardly behind her on the floor,
contorting her body—made everyone else onstage disappear, and when you looked back
at the others they’d somehow changed positions dramatically; their shifts had been
imperceptible in one’s peripheral vision.
When the attention eventually drifted to another dancer, it was like the beginning of an
entirely new piece; it was a dance made of a million premières, and every time someone
maneuvered from crouching to standing, or changed direction, it was presented with the
solemnity and the elegance of a major event. Hassabi and her collaborators augmented
this lean momentousness subtly. Alex Waterman’s sound design—the crackling, then a
metallic rustling with pings, and later a barely audible melody—came and went with large
gaps in between, so that even in its austerity it was a welcome enrichment of the
atmosphere. The lighting (by Zack Tinkelman and Hassabi) produced a lot of heat—it
wasn’t long before sweat stains bloomed on the performers’ shirts—and dimmed and
brightened sporadically, exaggeratedly, releasing the tension that had built up in the
“Premiere” was really five dances going on simultaneously. The performers never
appeared to look at one another, and they never touched. But merely the proximity of two
bodies, even when they are striking the most casual postures, can carry a thrill, or the
possibility of one: Hassabi, reclining, stretched out her arm, her hand squeaking along the
floor, and came within an inch or two of Zins-Browne’s foot. When any chance of contact
vanished, the moment had a tinge of sadness, even though the two performers occupied
different universes, and their near-encounter was, you felt, purely happenstance. Later,
she stood in his shadow—taking refuge, we’d like to think—until the two moved on once
again. In the absence of interaction, or emotion, we latched on to expressions: Hassabi’s
suspicious, almost pained; Steijn’s matter-of-fact; Bell’s intense, wide-eyed; Zins-
Browne’s open, kind; Harakas’s like a Vermeer girl, holding a secret.
(The audience brought its own character to the dance. In the stillness of the theatre, little
dramas stood out: the man and woman who suffered through a fit of the giggles, a middle-
aged couple in the third row who clearly wanted to be elsewhere. We were, of course,
trapped; leaving in the middle of the show would have involved crossing the performance
space while the dance was going on.)
As the dance became more protracted—its silences more ominous, the slowness more
agonizing—formal arrangements (a diagonal, a semicircle, a cross) coalesced as if by
magic, then melted away. In time, the dancers began to venture farther from the center—
Harakas got right up next to the back wall, Hassabi lay on her back far downstage—but
never moved beyond the gray wreath of footprints that we had left when we entered the
theatre. After seventy-five minutes, the performers were arranged in a line, some on the
ground, some standing, looking at us—the exact formation, in other words, that they’d
been in when we entered the theatre, but rotated a hundred and eighty degrees.
Minutes passed. The lights blazed. The crackling came and went. Then each dancer
shifted slightly, and the lights went out. When the lights came back up, the dancers hadn’t
moved. We filed past them as we’d done earlier in the evening, out through the big doors.
If you stopped and looked back, it seemed possible that the dance—the same one, but
always new—might begin again, with its different facing, and be repeated over and over,
BY ANDREW BOYNTON
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tonginic1 hour ago
This sounds all nice. But Is that piece for the audience not better placed within the white
cube or at least off the theater space? That one sees the show rather as a installation. Not
having the pressure to wait till the end. I mean i guess I would not have the patience.
I would like to compare it with watching the film “24h psycho” by douglas gordon. (slowed
down film streched to 24h)
Adam Linder, Cult to the Built on What, 2013
For you I put this dress on / for you I put the stress on / act like you know me / act act like you know me…
Adam Linder raps in a husky voice under the rhythm of immersive electronic music. I am fascinated, mesmerized , entertained. For this somewhat cryptically titled rapography Cult to the Built on What, the Berlin-based Australian choreographer reskills as a rapper, becoming the star of the night; the audience follows his script of staged and pre-recorded rap, timidly responding ‘oo -ooh ooh’ to his ‘ee-eeh eeh’.
Body in Linder’s performance submits to the knowledge of classical ballet, even if incorporating the gestures of popular dance. Formally trained at The Royal Ballet School in London, Linder experiments with meanings and connotations connected to house music, and borrows from New York ball culture of the 1980s. Re-skilling appears to become a method of bringing into dance the considerations of gender as well as elements of marginalized forms of dance. ‘Cult to the Built’ on What closely corresponds to the modes of expression currently prevalent in the mutant and cross-dressing hip-hop scene of New York, only to mention the names such as Le1f or Mykki Blanco. The latter sings in long hair wig and black leather-chain pants:
Get in line nigga <…> / Maybe she born with it, maybe it was Maybelline / All white Blanco give your heathen ass a christening / Niggas so greasy in the daylight, he glistening / “Oh this fag can rap” yeah they saying that they listening.
Associations like these make dance feel fresh and progressive; nevertheless, one wonders why dance needs to become take on a mask to feel this way. Adapting identities as well as the moves, Linder dresses in a uniform of today, wearing black Nike trainers with the surfaces in neon orange, black glossy sports t-shirt and black loose track pants (the outfit varied each scheduled performance, however, remained consistent in style).
This body follows the music, which breaks and repeats itself, employing cut-up techniques reminiscent of Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999), which Linder references in his rap lyrics. Film incorporating found video footage from British nightclubs resonates with ‘Cult to the Built on What’ not only in its topics of interest but also its editing and, thus, its style. The dance is spliced together, responding to Linder’s rap tracks, repeated and slowed down, filtering in and out to create a uniform spectacle of today.
The dance of the hypnotically rotating lectern crowns and finishes the performance. In utter darkness, amongst red, yellow, blue and purple spotlights, a tall, untreated wood structure mechanically moves in accordance with the rap music. This is one of the most fascinating moments of the event, when an object becomes an animated character, an active agent of the performance. The scenography is no doubt a contribution by the visual artist Shahryar Nashat who has collaborated with Linder on the finishing of the piece. Nashat’s addition to ‘Cult to the Built on What’, a tall semi-oval light wood lectern based on six feet, grounds the performance within the discourse of the visual arts through questions of display and staging. The lectern becomes a framing structure for Linder’s performance, accommodating the lingering gaze of the viewer.
As much as the lectern is now a performer, during the other stages of the night this same lectern functions as a prop, an object drawing attention to, and emphasizing, the space. Linder moves the lectern throughout the space, redefining its existence and performer’s relationship to it. The shift from object to the actor reminds us of the bottles that become alive in Tamara Henderson’s 16 mm film Sloshed Ballot and Anonymous Loan, recently shown at dOCUMENTA (13). Here the bottle behaves as the lectern, landing into the shot, seemingly with no help of the human hand or will.
Language / medium
‘Cult to the Built on What’ further echoes Shahryar Nashat’s work in its play on translations and correspondences: be it those of medium, language or material. It does not seem to demand its own defined present, is deferential, signaling content elsewhere, or generating it but not possessing it. Linder´s piece in many ways transposes the mascot of the work Not the Stuff of Stone that Nashat produces in 2011. Not the Stuff of Stone is a grey plaster, pigment and steel bench constructed to look as if it was sculpted from marble, which draws our attention to the nuanced relationship between idea and its modes of expression.
This particular interest in transferal, or re-skilling, reflects Linder´s engagement in current critical debate on the developments within artistic practice. The word re-skilling that Linder employs in the description of ‘Cult to the Built on What’ was recently brought into much wider use by Claire Bishop who discusses political and economical implications of the term in her article Unhappy days in the art world?: De-skilling Theater, Re-skilling Performance . Here Bishop explains re-skilling as the bringing to bear of one set of competencies on those of the newly elected discipline. Linder’s attempts to master the elected discipline of a rapper and this precise use of words suggest his awareness of the text and the creative response towards it.
To end with
It all felt like observing a masquerade of contemporaneity – fascinating, spectacular and maybe rather naïve, infused by colour and enveloping sound. As Steven ten Thije tells us in his article Reading (through) the mask: Philosophical Reflections on the Masquerade, masquerade is something to ‘enter’, whether acquiring such attributes as masks or not, in Nike shoes or not, in order to unify the rational and irrational in life, to defend ourselves ‘from the tragic aspect of the tension between magical instinct and discursive logic.’ ‘Cult to the Built on What’ also combines these dichotomies, fusing ballet with street culture, high art with vernacular vocabulary, thus, proposing suggestions on what dance and performance can be. Linder demonstrates that apart from aesthetic issues dance can be a platform for discussing the state of art and everyday life of today.
Adam Linder’s ‘Cult to the Built on What’ took place on September 1, 2013 at Uferstudios (Berlin) as part of Ausufern festival
Concept & Performance: Adam Linder. Stage: Shahryar Nashat, Adam Linder. Music, Composition: Brendan Dougherty. Light: Dennis Döscher. Production: Andrea Niederbuchner.