Essays

Sketches from a Carnivalesque Weekend of Brooklyn Performance Art

The authors along for the ride. Charon sometimes uses a swing in lieu of a boat.
The authors along for the ride. Charon sometimes uses a swing in lieu of a boat.

The pageant that is Performa’s biennial ode to live performance is anchored in the Renaissance this time around, presenting works in the tenor of that period’s affection for all things processional, triumphal, and allegorical. French artist Pauline Curnier Jardin presented an encomium to eccentric artists such as Giuseppe Arcimboldo, ceramicist Bernard Palissy, and the writer François Rabelais, through a sequence of singing tableaux vivants; in collaboration with American ballet dancer David Hallberg, Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli contributed a piece that paid tribute to the genesis of ballet in Italy’s royal courts; and Brazilian artist Laura Lima gave chickens a technicolor makeover and sent them to a carnival ball. Tribute has been duly given to all things pomp and circumstance.

Meanwhile, a different kind of paean to the carnivalesque transpires in New York City, outside RoseLee Goldberg’s curatorial reach. On a recent weekend, with Brooklyn-based artist Miao Jiaxin as our own personal Charon, we crossed the rivers Styx and Acheron to experience the trippy underbelly of New York’s immersive performance art milieu. Who better to be our guide than an artist who has been known to eat his own eyebrows on a sandwich, have his mom lug him around in a suitcase across Shanghai, and offer nearly free accommodations to wayfarers willing to be imprisoned in a domestic jail cell?

performa1We tagged along with Miao to Grace Exhibition Space for performances curated by Whitney V. Hunter in a seasonal series titled The Sphinx Returns, where art is considered as a myth-making act, and to “High Performance,” an immersive performance put on by the Estonian collective Non Grata and Brooklyn-based Wild Torus that took place at Last Frontier. The new art space (and the work studio of Norwegian artist Sol Kjøk) is housed in a 100-year-old industrial building in Greenpoint, and while there, we’re pretty sure we experienced mythology itself in real time.

Herewith, some field notes from the passage.

performa3In a multifaceted performance that entailed a series of dialogues, visual exchanges, and giftings, Karen Moscovitch and Marianna Olinger taught us that sometimes the best kind of relationship therapy is to pull a Love Actually and hash it out with handheld signs and a little hand-cranked music.

performa5Jon Konkol schooled us in anger management. It is, apparently, best carried out by ingesting and regurgitating a flight of common table condiments, while maniacally muttering faux Teutonic syllables to your lover and baby.

performa8Playing silent sentinel to the #poor, #undocumented, and #narcotraffickers from within a shrine (out of which he would ferociously break free a little later), Édgar Javier Ulloa Luján channeled the Mexican folk Saint Jesús Malverde to explore #myth and the media’s normalization of #violence.

performa2In a feat of ritualistic calisthenics that investigated survival and female empowerment, Kledia Spiro convinced us that there is a very clear, totemic connection between weightlifting melons, folk dance, and Freudian and Piagetian behavioral concepts.

performa7Tif Robinette brought an imposing, momentary hush over the revelries at Last Frontier with a durational performance that explored the nature of desire, femininity, and ritual — all while priming us in the consequences of burning the candle at both ends.

performa6Non Grata showed us how to save our bacon, as an anonymous naked woman made the rounds masked as a pig, while nursing a sustained flame.

BKPerformance7And they proved once and for all that if you must walk the plank, it’s always best to do so masked and bare breasted, while tap dancing the grapevine.

Text by Grace-Yvette Gemmell
Illustrations by Erica Cassill
Passage by Miao Jiaxin

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