“Aperto” is a flash Art “virtual” exhibition curated to highlight the art being shown in a particular region; geographical or conceptual. It will soon be available for viewing on Flash Art’s new Web Site.It has often been said that the strengh of a performance lies in the fact that it never really is: it constantly becomes and, as soon as it happens, inmediately disappears. This characteristic has always been seen as an opposition or even resistance to the ideas of representation and reproduction which, against all odds, still seem to dominate the field of visual art.
Therefore every time we are faced with the volatile uniqueness of a performance, we also end up asking ourselves how this action can be shown in the static environment of an exhibition, without becoming a forgotten prop or a simple documentation. A question frequently asked is whether or not a performanceactually needs the physical presence or the artist: pioneers like Chris Burden, Vito Acconci, Mariana Abramovic or Paul McCarthy seem to have found answers to these questions, translating their physical presence into architectures, installations, films or sculptures, which function as complete and autonomous works of art, while still retaining the traces of an stressing the performative element inscribed in each object.
The notion of the performative seems to be central to these previous examples and still informs the work of some of the most interesting artists active today. But what exactly does performative describe? Is it simply a material manifestation of performance that tries to link the fracture between life and the art object object, or is it an invitation to reconstruct actions and activities that happened at an earlier stage in the production of an art work? By dealing with the disappearing quality of performance andits materialization in an unlike frame, Jennifer Bornstein articulates a very singular scheme in this discussion. In Projector Stand #3 , Bornstein, who has been strongly influenced by the performance art scene of Southem-California, does not only present photos and films documentating a performance that took place in the past, but also tries to extend the space of the photos into the present and continue it within the gallery, using visitors as accomplices. Bleachers were built into the space and a projectionist was hired to inhabit the gallery for the duration of the piece: the bleachers functioned as an arena for showing films, in conjunction with the set of photos that portrayed the artist interactinf with strangers around Los Angeles. The very basic, physical interactions among the viewers- sitting next to each other and asking the projectionist to screen films- echoed the physical interactions that were captured bye the photos on te walls. Ultimately, the disposition of the bleachers transformed the gallery into a stage, forcing the visitors to become both performers and objects of observation.
A unique way of dealing with the questions of the performative has also been formulated by German artist Andreas Slominski, whose work deals with the relationshio between actions, objects, and the complex set of values composing our oral history. For several years Slominski has been rendering performance in which absurd stories function as points of origin: his actions are seldom visible, happening in spaces where absurdity and reality are mingled.While an object usually remains as a trace of the performance, Slominski’s irrational actions also trigger an unequaled way of story telling: his performances have often become legendary and have been told almost like fairy tales by the visitors of the exhibitions . One very famous example is the bicycle tire Slominski put around a street lamp for the Skulptur Projekte exhibition in Münster.
Germany, 1997. The artist asked to have a large street light pulled from the ground by a crane in order to put a tire around it from the bottom, rather than pubilling it over the top. The performance was unannounced but witnessed by many critzens who passed by on their way to work. Eventually the action became the talk of the town and several citizens complained about the waste of money,projecting a new meaning and tensions onto the performance, while keeping it alive in the realm of the imaginary.
Another piece created to bridgethe gap between objects and action is the installation I can conceived by the British- German group Gob Squad. Asked to create an installation in a gallery, the group found itself confronted with the task of producing a piece capable of contributing to the commercial aspects of the exhibition space. The installation consisted of six TV screens with the members of God Squad offering to perform various actions, saying “I can cook a meal for 6 people,” I can walk your dog”, “I can tell a funny story or even “I can fall in love with you”. Each ofter has its particular price so that the monitors look , at first glance, like they’re broadcasting The Home Shopping Ntework, with Flashy letters saying “ Buy Now” , “ Special Offer” or “Back In Stock”. A toll-free number to order the items is shown at the bottom and next to the screens a real phone and price list can be found. A direct line connects the audience with an operator who takes the order and discusses when and where the performance should be delivered and what the method of payment should be. The unique way in which Gob Squad approached the situation, crtitically responding to the invitation work in a commercial setting, makes I Can a convincing contribution to the discussion of active performance and the art object .
Since the mid 90s the two Scandinavian artist Ingar Dragset and Michael Elmgreen have questioned the social and economic conditions in which art takes place.Their work includes installations, sculptures, and pure performances involving one or more people. For Manifiesta 3 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the artists proposed an enviroment that would take the from of a functioning commercial gallery. After a preliminary visit to Ljublana, the artists discovered that there were no young contemporary art spaces in the city and decided, to make the initiation of such a site their undertaking for the Biennale. They designed a gallery space and installed it inside the Moderna Galerija after forming a team of young local gallerists. The space itself a white cube, opens up on one side towards the museum space via a glass wall, through which the audience can watch the gallerists doing their work and the spectators visitingthe exhibition. This way the gallery becomes the space of a continiuos and almost involuntary performance, which also modifies the social and cultural sphere of the city.
Instauraçao is a term coined by Brazilian visual and performance artist Tunga and in fact derived from Helio Oiticica’s practices with dance and performance. Initially used to express the ambiguous area between installation and performance, an “instauration” does not define an aesthetic category but, as Oticica would put it, frames the space where “the work or art is born of a fleeting contact with matter”. The work of young Brazilian artist Laura Lima broaches similar inssues with actions in which bodies are marked by fetishism and transference, endless routines and psychotic repetitions carried out by actors and extras. In Brazilian contemporary performance, in fact, the artist’s body is seldom at the center of the action: Lima, like other Brazilian performance artists such as Cabelo And Tunga, uses other bodies to perform, thereby directing rather than acting.
Similary- but which different intentions- Carlos Amorales decenters his own body in the performance in order to break the authority of his presence. He does this by inventing an alter-ego – a wrestler named “Amorales” – who lives on in a name, wrestling mask and suit. But this set of objects not contain the performance: in fact the performance only exists when someone else wears the “Amorales” suit and mask and imbues them with their own experience. In the performance Amorales vs. Amorales, the artist works with three wrestlers, all wearing the “Amorales” mask and suit. After the discussion backstageconcering the latest trends in wrestling, the two older wrestlers opt for a more pure and traditional form or fighting, while the youngets is more open to the lastest innovations in wrestling techniques. A real ring is set uo and the fights start just as they would in a real arena, including an audience- here of course an art audience- and a referee. After setting up a basic scenario and an introductory story, Amorales follows the principle of improvisation for his choreography: the performance are free to develop the action according to their own desires and necessities, carrying out a battle which is against one’s rivals.
The re-performing of an older performance could be yet another way of visualizing the museum and the gallery spacde as an archive not only of objects but also less material manifestations of art. In their video Remake, the two Mexican artist Daniel Guzmán and Luis Felipe Ortega remade classic 70s performances by artists like Bruce Nauman and Paul McCarthy. These re-animations are only based on the knowledge Guzman and Ortega retrieved from books, reports, photos, and even oral descriptions. By revealing connection between the work of the tow young Mexican artists and their artistic role models, the actions in Remake are still talking about the specific condition of their original subjects while at the same time questioning notions of interpretation and authoship, making art that resembles a Do it Yourselves instruction manual or a music score. Like many other contemporary artists, Guzmán and Ortega are creating a new stage for performance : they no longer dwell in the chaotic environments that attract artists such as John Bock, Elke Krystufekor Tanja Bruguera. A new generation of artist are building a mental space in which the romantic centrality of the artist’s body has disappeared, leaving more room for us. As spectators we’e left to pick upthe debris and trances of their social interactions and recompose them into a work of art.
Jens Hoffmann is a curator based in Berlin.