Mette Ingvartsen, 69 positions, ps1, NYC
Anne Sofie Madsen and Lukáš Hofmann / Saliva: Retrospective, image: Johana Posova, National Gallery, Prague, 2016
Do You Think We Can Get Through This? by Lukas von der Gracht and Jaana-Kristiina Alakoski, Paris, 2016
Nxjerr Ate, New Noveta, Costumes by Xenab Lone Jamil, Sound collaboration with Vindicatrix, Forde, Geneva.
By Gia Kourlas
Meg Stuart and Dana Michel
Two contemporary dancers confront the complications of the performing body.
There aren’t many stars in contemporary dance, but Meg Stuart is one: she shines bright. An American who made her name in Europe more than two decades ago—she now splits her time between Brussels and Berlin—Stuart explores the tension between dance and theater with an exquisite nonchalance. Using movement as her base, she is an excavator of sensations. But right on her heels is the young Montreal-based Dana Michel, who is cementing herself as a fiercely powerful voice with her raw and rich explorations of identity.
Signs of Affection (2010) focuses on the hands, which Stuart shakes in front of her face while Greg Fox performs a vigorous drum solo. Planted on one spot of the stage, she rubs her hands together, claps on occasion, and wags her head until her body vibrates uncontrollably. In I take it back (2007), the context is the end of a relationship. After a series of poses, in which Stuart hugs herself from behind or runs the tip of her elbow down the inside of the opposite arm, she delivers lines that start out with “You know when I said . . .” and conclude with “I take it back.” It goes like this: “You know when I said I can’t live without you? I take it back.”
Both pieces have elegance, though neither particularly sparkles. The pace of the evening is problematic—pauses, both between and within pieces, have an unwelcome eternal quality—but the second half of the program is stronger. XXX for Arlene and Colleagues (1995) was created as a response to the dance critic Arlene Croce’s 1994 New Yorker article “Discussing the Undiscussable,” which explained her refusal to review Bill T. Jones’s Still/Here and how that production related to the trend of “victim art.” Jones’s work dealt with the terminally ill.
Stuart was outraged. Croce’s provocative essay is one of her finest, one that made a healthy challenge to the prevailing, politically correct downtown orthodoxy—at least in my view. Yet Stuart’s response is interesting, too; she darts around the stage and performs manic, repetitive gestures before assuming a stationary pose facing the audience. As Serge Gainsbourg’s “Je t’aime . . . moi non plus” plays, Stuart taps her foot and wiggles her hips; incredibly, she freezes, or paralyzes, half of her face.
Just as mesmerizing is All songs have been exhausted (2013), in which she approaches her body as a living archive of memories, dances, influences, and fantasies. The stage, lit by Gilles Roosen, is dusky and dark, creating a velvety backdrop for Stuart’s quicksilver gestures. She touches her throat and caresses the air with her fingers, both birdlike and delicate. As part of the score, William S. Burroughs talks about how, in a dream, the important thing is “to see your hands.”
With her loose white top and mop of blond hair, Stuart has an otherworldly glow. Her shadow, more animal than human, looms largely behind her as she becomes more skittish. She takes off her shirt and dons a long wig that grazes the floor before she stretches onto the stage, face down like a creature in the wild. It’s affecting, but hardly as searing as Michel’s Mercurial George (2016).
Performed at Abrons’s more intimate Experimental Theater, Mercurial George is an excavation of identity in which Michel embodies a character who appears to be homeless. Seeing it right after Stuart’s solos is revealing: Michel seems to move from her subconscious as she explores the notion of marginalization. She occupies a liminal state—is this a dream or is it real?—that requires the viewer to pay close attention. Michel’s visceral, character-based explorations, a rare blend of exacting and strange, give nothing away. She doesn’t sell herself, and she’s not desperate to please. I see Dave Chappelle and Charlie Chaplin when I watch her move; she is that precise and dexterous.
At American Realness in 2014, Michel presented Yellow Towel, a spellbinding, disconcerting look at race and stereotypes through the trigger of a yellow towel, an object the black dancer used to wear on her head as a child as a way to emulate her blond classmates. In Mercurial George, seemingly a companion piece to Yellow Towel, Michel is even more intense in the way she distances herself from her audience and becomes absorbed by her surroundings.
Wearing a pair of white tights and sneakers (purposely too big) with a shorn head (later, she dons a dreadlocked wig), she slithers across a darkened stage strewn with debris—bags, a ball of dough, a faux fur coat. She crawls inside bags, which no doubt double as shelter, and pulls out objects, including ginger root and miniature cups and saucers. During this private ritual, there’s no self-awareness; she performs as if the audience isn’t there. The only instance we meet her gaze is with an image on a mask depicting her own face, which she wears on her forehead like a crown. As she continues her tasks, those eyes on the mask—her eyes—lock onto ours.
Yet we are integral to the theatrical experience: As Michel uses her body to physicalize the precarious mental state of her character, we do what we aren’t allowed to do in public. We stare. This is the unbalanced person you look away from in discomfort, the person you assume is too far gone to be helped. All the while, Michel holds nothing back in this crystallization of solitude. It’s achingly brutal.
Michel picks a piece of invisible lint from her tights and flicks it away. She mutters under her breath. She doesn’t make direct eye contact. Her body stutters, then stops. She pushes on. As dazed as she is shuffling from one prop to the next—stabbing at a bag of white rice with a barbecue fork so that it showers over the stage like snow, or stumbling through the space in a faux fur coat—she is also durable. She has wit.
Exploring the unstable body isn’t new in dance, but it has rarely felt quite this real. Unlike Stuart, Michel gets to the very essence of vulnerability with a brand of presence so intense that you forget you’re watching a performance. Suddenly, the body is as agile as the mind.
Gia Kourlas was the dance editor of Time Out New York from 1995 to 2015. Since 2000, she has regularly contributed to The New York Times, where she writes dance reviews, news items, essays, and features. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Dance Magazine, Dance Now, and Vogue.
By Francesca Gavin
Donna Huanca brings art to life through body paint
Activated by naked bodies draped with latex, ripped body stockings, and slathers of paint, the American artist brings a metamorphosing exhibition to London
So much of what you do is figurative. What first drew you to the human body?
Donna Huanca: A lot of my works, in the beginning, were all related to clothing because I was nomadic. It was always about bundling up and carrying everything you own and have on your body. A lot of it was binding and hiding the body, and protection of the body. Slowly it started to disrobe and become about the skin. A blank canvas. When I’m painting on somebody, I’m having a conversation with them and then they lead the painting. Also, there’s something about knowing that it’s not permanent. Knowing that it’s going to dissipate and change as a performance is starting that allows me to be free with the painting on the body. I want to give them whatever they need to achieve that focus because it’s all about this really intense focus; it’s shutting everybody else off.
Sound is a huge element in the show.
Donna Huanca: The first piece is a solo stage that is essentially a vibrational floor that I wanted it to be almost inaudible and it is really heavy bass. Because of the acoustics of the space, it’s amplified. I design the sound to be very sub-lingual. There are these chaos pads which I used to use – I come from music, I was a drummer – you don’t need to know anything to play them, it’s all touch-based. The instrument in the back is triggered by your movement and infrared sensors. It was based on the idea of theremin and improvisation. I wanted to create the sound piece to be a very sensitive guide. The closer you get to it, the louder and the more bass-y it gets. If you walk around the perimeter you get a hint of sound. It’s supposed to be a responsive piece for the audience but also there are the two performers who will be at the back.
You’ve got latex, paint, skin, glass, a lot of translucence. What do you like about that materiality?
Donna Huanca: I feel like every time I make a new work, I collect; they’re materials that I’m comfortable with and so they continue on to the next piece. Materials like skin, latex and things that goes into the body, like bondage stuff and anal stuff. A lot of the materials that are used on the body are meant to heal, so turmeric, clay, and coffee. The transparent materials are a false protection. They can go behind a lot of the latex and the materials are meant to house the body, sort of protect the body if they want to be hidden in a way.
Over time the show is very much activated – it’s almost metamorphosing. What did you like about the durational thing?
Donna Huanca: I really think that art is dead. I’m really bored just seeing something that’s the past. Very few things stay alive and in the end, it’s paintings that I find can still really move me. Maybe I’m cynical or overwhelmed, can’t sit still to pay attention or care about a lot of things – that’s why I wanted to use live models because it’s intriguing to me. There’s a sense of freedom in letting go. There are materials that keep going and are morphed into new works but they also alternately are just discarded at some point. I’m not attached to the way that things are, it all comes together in this alignment and it just dissipates.
In Italy, one of the parliament members requested an official inquiry into the programme of the fantastic Terni festival because of the Holzinger and Riebeek’s work.
The mantra used is something that we, who work in the arts, know all too well: “The public money should not be used for…”
This time, it was “pornography”.
By Samara Davis
Rebecca Patek is a New York–based performance artist and choreographer whose work combines elements from dance, comedy, and the visual arts to create often uncomfortable theater and performance situations that involve instances of satire and violence. As part of MoMA PS1’s latest iteration of “Greater New York,” Patek was invited to perform a new work for an upcoming Sunday Session, titled “The Cringe: Performance and Anxiety,” along with the artist Ieva Misevičiūtė, who will also be presenting on October 18, 2015. Here, Patek discusses the precarious development of her new piece.
Sex with consenting adults is something the art world can handle. I’ve been to MoMA and I’ve seen mainstream porn repurposed as art—cutouts from magazines and so forth. To me, that could be considered more offensive than what I wanted to do, which was actual, real sex but in a way that tears down porn, that makes it awkward and uncomfortable but also maybe pleasurable. It wouldn’t be functioning as glossy and glamorous—I wanted to undercut that version of pornography.
In the end, MoMA HQ rejected most of my ideas. Slowly all the elements in the piece had to be stripped away and I realized all I had left was a panel talk. So I made a documentary about the three months of making the piece, which is what I’ll show.
I understood that the staff being involved was a no-no, but I still wanted to use the museum logo in the edited porn videos I ended up making. The dome itself also just seemed so good for porn, especially with the gray carpeting and lighting. And I think a table with water and mics would be a funny setting for a shoot. Since the whole thing was going to be set up as a scene for something else, with the final product being a video that could be uploaded to other sites, it wasn’t actually a performance; it was just a shoot. The audience would have been voyeurs and there would have been close-ups projected onto the dome walls. Of course, I didn’t expect the museum to say yes to everything. It was just my fantasy idea. But what I didn’t realize was that this piece would become so much about the institution. I never planned to make a performance about PS1’s rules—that was never my intent.
There are so many unknown factors in performance, especially when you’re commissioning a work that’s never been seen before. The museum didn’t really know what I was going to do, and so there was a fear both of the unknown and of bodies. I made the people at the museum anxious, from the beginning, I think, just because most of the work entering a museum has been made already. So it was the not knowing in addition to the fact that I had proposed something sexual. Oh, and also that it could fail—that it could be both bad in quality and offensive at the same time.
Maybe they should just disown the dome—it’s already outside the museum, anyway. Maybe they should just let it be a place where things happen that we don’t have control over.
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.