Photo Essays

Images from the Third Week of the Brooklyn Int’l Performance Art Festival #NSFW

by Hrag Vartanian on July 23, 2013

Children playing with an open fire hydrant as performance art fans congregate outside Grace Exhibition Space for the Friday, July 19th program, featuring Ron Athey and others. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Children playing with an open fire hydrant as performance art fans congregate outside Grace Exhibition Space in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for the Friday, July 19th program, featuring Ron Athey and others. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

The third week of Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival (BIPAF) was a giant celebration of such diverse styles that it was often hard to believe that it was all unified under the category of performance art. From the freeform (read chaotic) experiment at Gowanus Ballroom, where having no curator meant that performers could choose their time slot and claim any spot somewhere on the two floors, to Goodbye Blue Monday’s 10-minute performance marathon, and Grace Exhibition Space’s concentration on intense body art, this was a week of extremes.

Hilary Sand (NYC)

Gowanus Ballroom (Sunday, July 14) — Sand crocheted her outfit during the whole six hour event at Gowanus. Keeping to herself, she worked fast and it felt like she became a butterfly in reverse.

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Felix Morelo (NYC)

Gowanus Ballroom (Sunday, July 14) — Decked out in an American flag and an abstract soft helmet, Morelo filled the floor of the space with his characteristic chalk faces, and wandered the space in costume.

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Matthew Silver (NYC)

Gowanus Ballroom (Sunday, July 14) — Imagine Pee-wee Herman had a nightmare that told a story much less coherent than his classic 1980s children’s show, well, that would be Silver’s performance in a tp’d school bus shell. But was it fun? Yes. Did it disturb me a little? Also, yes.

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Sherry Alberti/CocoonNYC (NYC)

Gowanus Ballroom (Sunday, July 14) — I’m going to be honest … I have no idea what happened during this performance.

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Sophia Cleary’s “God Bless Group or .gif dance” (NYC)

Gowanus Ballroom (Sunday, July 14) — A spaced out “rehearsal,” Cleary’s piece combined music and a group of amateurs attempting to capture the right moment, which she did with her camera set up nearby. It felt steeped in 1980s Americana, with its ideal of youthful fun and stylized hipness, and the piece immediately captured everyone’s attention whenever it began.

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Dhira Rauch (NYC)

Gowanus Ballroom (Sunday, July 14) — Part painting performance and part popcorn eating spectacle, Rauch’s work was carefully considered but hard to concentrate on in the clutter of a space where numerous performances and points of interest emerged every few minutes.

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Ivy Castellanos (NYC)

Gowanus Ballroom (Sunday, July 14) — Castellanos built a strange suit of garbage bags, masking tape, and board. It seemed to spring from the mind of an sci-fi anime illustrator.

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Maria Hupfield (NYC)

Gowanus Ballroom (Sunday, July 14) — Waving a gold reflective blanket about, my time-lapse photographs of Hupfield’s work give a sense of the scope of movements in her piece.

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Katya Grokhovsky (NYC)

Gowanus Ballroom (Sunday, July 14) — Playing a piano draped in a cloth is rather mysterious looking thing … and this is proof.

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Rob Andrews (NYC)

Gowanus Ballroom (Sunday, July 14) — Conjuring up a spiritual frenzy, Andrews was accompanied by a group of performers and worshippers who joined him in his artistic ritual. A strange form hung above and Andrews eventually lay at the center of the space in a symbolic end to the erratic energy swirling about. It felt like a strong communal experience but one that would’ve benefited from more isolation from the visual clutter all around.

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Whitney Hunter and Andre M. Zachary (NYC)

Gowanus Ballroom (Sunday, July 14) — In what felt like a meditation on relationships, Hunter and Zachary tied themselves to one another and dressed and undressed in a dance choreographed with an eye towards tensions in a relationship and its awkward moments of transition. Visually mesmerizing, the work expanded and contracted in the space like a living and breathing organism.

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Rae Goodwin and Thomas Albrecht (NYC)

Goodbye Blue Mondays (Monday, July 15) — A beautiful commentary on relationships, Goodwin and Albrecht slowly took steps towards each other as they ate stones from the ground during each step. They walked past one other after a sweet interlude that allowed you to feel them join emotionally, if only briefly, and then walk away to retrieve the “bitter” stones afterwards.

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Erik Hokanson (NYC)

Goodbye Blue Mondays (Monday, July 15) — It was the Monday after the Zimmerman/Martin court case verdict, and the issue of racial injustice in America was on everyone’s mind. Hokanson, who is best known as one of the proprietors of Grace Exhibition Space, tried out a new work that involved him relaying awkward stories about race, and interacting with the audience in what could’ve proved to be racially charged ways (“Didn’t you help me carry something a few days ago,” he said to one black man sitting at the bar, imitating the stereotype of a white man who couldn’t tell black people apart. “No,” the man drily replied.). He ended the piece throwing bags of Skittles, a symbol of the injustice towards Trayvon Martin, into the audience.

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Dovrat Meron (Berlin)

Goodbye Blue Mondays (Monday, July 15) — When one performer never arrived, the emcee asked if anyone wanted to perform, and Meron offered to conjure up an impromptu work on the spot. It was intriguing to watch her sketch out an idea live in front of an audience.

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David Moscovich (NYC)

Goodbye Blue Mondays (Monday, July 15) — Inspired by the birthdays of Walt Whitman and John Cage (which I didn’t understand since they were no where near July), Moscovich performed a piece that fixated on his last name and its lineage. Repeating it endlessly, he flashed himself with his smartphone throughout the work.

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Benjamin Lundberg (NYC)

Goodbye Blue Mondays (Monday, July 15) — Another work that responded to the George Zimmerman verdict, Lundberg ate Skittles on stage shirtless and then proceeded to get dressed and discuss his own experience as a Latino and how he often passed into different categories of race and ethnicity. He used his performance like a podium and asked the audience to amplify his message as a human mic.

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Lorelei Ramirez (NYC)

Goodbye Blue Mondays (Monday, July 15) — A strong performer, Ramirez combined her performance with elements of stand-up that never fully went into the realm of comedy but instead pulled back many times to make it feel more introspective and probing. Her staging of an imaginary radio show at “work” was a surprising, if risky, success. Her humor and concentration made her look like a pro.

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Raquel du Toit (NYC)

Goodbye Blue Mondays (Monday, July 15) — Raquel du Toit washed a linoleum floor using a cow’s liver. It was simple, a little gross, and curious to watch.

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Katya Grokhovsky (NYC)

Goodbye Blue Mondays (Monday, July 15) — Grokhovsky had condensed what is normally an eight-hour performance into a 10-minute work. Draped in a pink fabric and a hot pink wig, she sang a song about love while eating a lemon whole. It was a commentary on love and its sourly unpleasant realities. The tune, which sticks in your head, accompanied by the absurd figure on stage, gave the performance a sweet and naive air. You want her to fall in love, but you sense the sour bite of her lemon each time.

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Peter Dobill, “Incisum” with Rafael Sanchez and Andrew Hurst (NYC)

Grace Exhibition Space (Friday, July 19) — Seated in a tableau while the audience arrived, Sanchez eventually began to whip Dobill, who was cutting himself on the chest. Eventually Dobill succumbed to what must have been exhaustion, certainly not helped by the heat in the space, and collapsed to the floor. I’d describe the performance’s “frame” as tribal futurism.

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Outdoor performance by W Christiawan (Indonesia)

Grace Exhibition Space (Friday, July 19) — When guests at Grace were asked to leave the building because there would be a performance at a local fire hydrant many people were perplexed. Outside, in a parking lot near a fire hydrant that was turned on for the neighborhood kids, W Christiawan poured hot wax on his head and then walked into the spray of water shooting into the street like a makeshift urban waterfall. It was a simple poetic gesture that connected the program to life outside the gallery space, and the children seemed more than happy to share their play time with the gaggle of peculiar art people all around.

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Ron Athey, “Incorruptible Flesh: ‘Messianic Remains’” (2013) (London/USA)

Grace Exhibition Space (Friday, July 19) — Steeped in the language of religion and ritual, Athey’s two-part performance, his fourth in his Incorruptible Flesh series, began with a crowded gathering around his body, where guests were invited to caress his skin (anywhere except his face where hooks, attached to a bar, were tugging around his eyes). Athey lay on the metal bed with an aluminum baseball bat lodged in his ass and his testicles seemingly enlarged. When I stepped back from the scene, it was hard not to see the art audience as pilgrims to some holy site, jostling for a position closer to a saint or deity.

In the second part of the work, Athey and crew walked around a spotlight in pseudo-Egyptian garb as a voice recited spiritual sounding texts. When the performance was done, I felt like I had witness something from a modern day cult worship ceremony.

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La Congelada de Uva, “Time Goes by and I Cannot Forget You: ‘Between Menopause and Old Age’” (2013) (Mexico)

Grace Exhibition Space (Friday, July 19) — Her performance mimicked a fashion show with a runway and catchy pop tunes, but Rocio Boliver’s performance had a sinister side under the playful gloss of pop culture and its dysmorphia. Unlike other performances that focus on representations of ideal white women, Boliver expanded the discussion to include idealized images of women in East Asian media, which is often a sugary sweet notion of femalehood bathed in adolescent innocence. Boliver had punctured her body with plastic sticks that she later pulled out with fishing line affixed to the stage. She ended the evening by shattering a large mirror that dominated the back of the scene. It was a bloody crescendo … though did I mention she masturbated on stage with a rabbit vibrator?

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The Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival continues until July 28, 2013.

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  • http://firstproofprints.com/ J Redmann

    There’s certainly something about artistic performance pieces that causes the clothes to fly off, I wonder why that is. Do you think performance artists feel a sense of liberation in nudity or would it have more to do with self created clothes like we see from Peter, Katya, and Ivy?

    • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

      I think it has to do with the vocabulary of the body. In performance art the decision to be clothed is a conscious one. I think there is also a sense of “tabula rasa” or blank page with the nude form. At that point anything you add to it is more consciously considered.

      I should mention the Friday night performances at Grace, which are portrayed here, were part of a special program devoted to body art, which tends to grapple with how to push the human body to various extremes.

      • http://firstproofprints.com/ J Redmann

        That’s interesting, in dance the dancers will use tonal or neutral colored tights. I’ve found that helps me stay focused on the movements of the dance instead of getting lost in the details of the body (after all who doesn’t like looking at someone in great shape).

        Maybe it’s a personal flaw, but I feel like anytime I see someone doing something out of the ordinary (like a naked body in a room full of clothed people) I find myself looking at body hair, or stretch marks, muscle tone, weird tan lines, hidden tattoos, birthmarks, do they smell etc. in that instant you can learn a dozen secrets about their private life.

        • http://hragv.com Hrag Vartanian

          I agree, but isn’t that like being able to see someone’s style in a painting? Like their wrist control, etc?

          • http://firstproofprints.com/ J Redmann

            I think it’s like finding a bug in a Pollock, it’s totally not what he wants you to see but there it is. It may or may not add; but it does take your attention away from the work and now I’m thinking about this fly and that at some point this painting was on the floor of a barn and I’m looking for more ‘stuff’ because it adds this extra layer of context to the artwork. Physical body details in performance art do tell us more about the artist; are they self conscious about their appearance as it pertains to the viewer are these details relevant? If your body is covered in tattoos am I supposed to notice them or not?

            Does being naked is giving more to the performance or is there another motive?

            Marina did a piece where she stood naked in a doorway. And that makes you really aware of her body and occupation of space and your own relationships as it pertains to crossing this threshold or being a room with someone nude. But she sat fully clothed for the artist is present. As much as a naked body may be a blank slate, being naked can be a very powerful statement too.

          • http://firstproofprints.com/ J Redmann

            Here’s an example: Matthew Silver, he puts on a really engaging performance and seems to keep a captive audience. But every time I have seen him he’s always got on cross trainers. I’ve seen him wear robes, speedos, one-sies, beard, no beard. But those cross trainers and socks are there like clockwork.

            And it just fascinates me because for the life of me I can never think of an instance where you would see someone basically naked wearing some bo jacksons. The entire time all I’m doing is watching his feet. And I’ll miss most of the performance.

  • Rob Andrews

    As ever, Hrag, thank you for covering this work. I appreciate your tone in this piece. It feels respectful.

    I’ve had such a powerful slush of thought surrounding all of this work happening at once: yes there is a feeling of community – but there is a feeling of imminence too. After ten years, and working alongside and in collaboration so many of these artists, I can say truly, that we have nothing to gain (materially). So this work deserves(?) to be considered. Coded differently.

    We are operating outside of a commercial context, and the air inside that messy clusterfuck at the Ballroom was charged with something I feel so rarely in my life: curiosity. Fear. Sex – and not Sex sold cheap. Sex as question. Action as question. Funk. And I mean this: beyond the usual meh. I felt something muscular and musky (bookending my work: during I saw void (and raging limits) there. I spent my after performance glow-walk weaving in and out of work that made me think:

    We’re making sausage, and it stinks. But I’d rather be on a sausage diet than eat sanitized food from sanitized trays off of sanitized tables on wheels in white rooms with fluorescent light and docents and IV’s.

    Beuys lied, and we line up to sing: holy holy heretic.

    In Brooklyn, men and women use their bodies to tell stories. We are the work. We are the change. We are the art. World. Void. World. Void. Art. Story. Fire. Art. World. Void.

  • johnwallis42

    If I throw shit in people’s faces is it art?

    What about if I do it having thought about it a lot and after constructing a narrative?

    Is that different from just hurling poo at random people?

    Who’s bias are we seeking?

  • gwvanderleun

    What a vast collection of deeply unattractive social parasites this festival brings together.

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