Interviews

Printing the Performative Object

by Alicia Eler on March 18, 2014

NS Collage of a selection stills from our performance series: Pictured From upper left to right: Amanda Yates, Meg Wolfe and Anna B. Scott, Prumsodun Ok, Nacho Nava, Nick Duran and Jmy James Kidd, Amanda Furches, Jahanna Blunt, Rafa Esparza and Nathan Bockelman. All graphic design images by Tanya Rubbak. All images courtesy of Native Strategies.

Collage of stills from Native Strategies’ performance series. From upper left to right: Amanda Yates, Meg Wolfe and Anna B. Scott, Prumsodun Ok, Nacho Nava, Nick Duran and Jmy James Kidd, Amanda Furches, Jahanna Blunt, Rafa Esparza and Nathan Bockelman (all images courtesy Native Strategies)

LOS ANGELES — I got lost on the freeways and streets en route to Brian Getnick’s Highland Park studio space, which is also the home of the blue theater and artist residency PAM. When I arrived, exhausted from the many wrong turns, Brian and I ascended the stairs to his second-floor studio, which is located above an active Evangelical church, and took a right. A beam of light streamed in through a palm-tree-patterned sheet that hung over a window behind the stage. Had the performance just begun, or had it been happening all along?

Outside of his own performance art practice, which fluidly intersects with his life, Getnick and artist/designer Tanya Rubbak collaboratively publish the LA-based performance art journal Native Strategies. Launched in 2011 with Zemula Barr and Molly Sullivan, Native Strategies is on a five-year plan: it will run for as many years, with the goal of biannually printing 10 issues and eventually producing one book. The published word is coupled with the performative word as well: each issue coincides with a themed performance series.

Native Strategies is filled with essays, interviews, and documentation of performance in and around Los Angeles. With three issues out in the world, and now approaching the fourth, it’s one of those publications you want to hold in your hand, in order to treasure its objecthood. It’s best experienced as a gift offered and received.

*   *   *

‘Native Strategies’ scheme, designed by Tanya Rubbak (click to enlarge)

Designed by Tanya Rubbak (click to enlarge)

Alicia Eler: What inspired you to start Native Strategies?

Brian Getnick: To make up for lost time. I started Native Strategies in 2011 to tease out the ideas of performance artists and place them next to each other on the pages of a journal. I was curious what would happen if they could see that their ideas were in dialogue with artists outside of their immediate communities, and that the ways they were working were popping up out of LA’s ground, pointing to a mini zeitgeist, if you will. But I realized pretty quickly that you can’t force a community to recognize itself. Getting artists whose work is in dialogue with each other to share the same physical space is a work in progress. Also, I was curious about what could be gleaned about LA through gathering the experiences and research of artists whose work is essentially about the contact between their bodies and this city.

AE: Tell me a bit about your dedication to the print object. Why? And do you feel like you’re joining a group of other LA print publications such as East of Borneo, Insert Blanc Press, X-TRA, Llano Del Rio, and others listed here

BG: Making a printed journal was reflexive in the beginning. I thought it should be a gift that can be given back to the artists we work with; it should sit on a shelf looking like a chapter for an eventual book, which I had in mind from the beginning. Now we’re shifting to having a more comprehensive online presence, but we’re not losing sight of the object. The printed journal has, frankly, worked for us, getting shows, entering into archives. We were recently collected by MoMA. Handing someone a well-designed object opens doors.

Aside from the practical effects, working on the publication with my collaborator Tanya Rubbak has become an expansive dialogue about design, documentation, and the body. Tanya and I operate from the belief that it’s all live work; it all belongs to performance. Form and content are getting blurrier and blurrier for us.

And yes, we feel a kinship to many of the publications you mentioned. I would add Geoff Tuck’s Notes on Looking project and Carol Cheh’s ongoing blog Another Righteous Transfer, and her radio dialogues on KCHUNG.

AE: How do you determine the theme or collective thematic idea for each issue?

BG: The organizing structure has been about ways of working, strategies, as opposed to topics or themes. Curating, for us, has to be about looking at what’s being made right now and asking questions about that fact. The last thing we want to do is make a claim that artists should be responding to this or that idea. We try to make it more like an invitation. Native can’t possibly gather all the artists working in LA, but we can manage 10 issues, 10 ways of working in LA now. I have to say, I like Native‘s five-year trajectory as a statement about surrendering to the fact that it’s not a complete history; it’s a project that will live for only so long. Like us.

Samula White and Johanna Kozma with tattoo artist Clay Gibson, from ‘Native Strategies #3: Rituals and Congregations’ at Human Resources (photo by Carol Cheh)

Samuel White and Johanna Kozma with tattoo artist Clay Gibson, from ‘Native Strategies #3: Rituals and Congregations’ at Human Resources (photo by Carol Cheh) (click to enlarge)

AE: Performance art is an odd genre in that it exists only in the moment, but is typically then documented through photography or video. It seems like it would be hard to really take an audience into the essays and interviews unless they experienced the original performance. How does this translate into a magazine format? 

BG: We respond all the time to artwork we didn’t see in person. Much of the art I know about, including performance art, was gleaned from what I read and saw in some very grainy photographs. I won’t say that I had the same experience as the people who saw it, but I did experience what I read bodily. I really don’t believe in hyperprivileging the quality of liveness in performance. Let me say that a different way: it’s the privileging I object to, not the liveness. That privileging, that mystifying of the event of performance, is an attempt at closing an ontological noose around a field that is in its infancy. Instead, we see performance art as an arena of invitation — a field of hyperinclusiveness.

AE: For issue #4, you’re working on what you call a “live archive,” which you mentioned in issue #2. This is a curious paradox, as it implies something that’s both one time only and permanent, safe, stored away. Can you talk about the tension produced by a “live archive” and how that works in relation to Native Strategies‘ purpose? 

BG: The notion of a live archive was first suggested by Tanya as describing the performativity of responding through design to performing bodies. The live archive is our position that performance art as a field encompasses performances that are temporally longer than the body entering and leaving a room. There is an event to the generation of a document. It is physically performed, and its reception in the eyes and hands of a reader simply occurs later than what one might conventionally think of as action and reception within other live art forms. In other words, creating documents happens in real time, and there is a hyperconsciousness of that fact that you can see expressed in Tanya’s design aesthetic. We’re approaching the redesign of the website this way as well — all 10 issues are being worked on simultaneously, the HTML coding and design of the site evolving alongside and interpenetrating the information we gather from interviewing artists, images, and critical writing. We expect the new site to be up this spring.

Designed by Tanya Rubbak

Designed by Tanya Rubbak

It’s important for us to position Native‘s capacity as an archive not as a postscript. We aren’t collecting for an inevitable end; we’re a part of this scene, we’re trying to trigger this scene, to move it outward, too.

Native Strategies can be purchased via email, by contacting nativestrategiesla [at] gmail [dot] com, or in LA at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Otherwild, and Skylight Books

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