Liveblogging performance art is a little like tweeting a dentist appointment. You go in with some anxiety about the experience, and in the case of the former, you wonder how you will be able to capture all of what you are experiencing but also remain in the moment and engaged even though your mind can wander, distracted by noises, conversations, your own thoughts, and interruptions. When you’re liveblogging you can’t look away, not even if the performer cuts their hand (happened last time and she needed 20 stitches), or pulls out a hypodermic to inject some clear liquid into their cheek (happened this time, thanks Zhennesse). It is an imperfect thing, liveblogging, but I will say it is an exhilarating way to experience performance art.
Equipped with laptops, SLR cameras, and our mobile phones (good for picture taking and tweeting), I attended the two-night Maximum Perception Performance Festival with Kyle Chayka, who was my official co-pilot on Friday night, and Daniel Larkin, who took over on Saturday, and proceeded to liveblog for approximately 12 hours in two shifts. We were anchored on the side of the main performance space and comforted by white wine spritzers and a wi-fi connections.
The performances on Friday were dominated by ambient performances that were not concerned with singular actions but repetitive ones that emitted a general mood or feeling. Whether it was Joe Nanashe grinding of a live microphone or video camera — thankfully he offered the audience ear plugs — or Akiko Ichikawa’s soothing lotion-filled work where a number of people joined and then parted after sharing some friction, the actions were not jolts of activity but continuous actions that you absorbed.
Even Man Bartlett, who is better known for his 24-hour endurance pieces, chose to use the time it took to eat a Hungry Man TV dinner to pace his performance over the backdrop of US President Barack Obama’s Arizona speech. He appeared to need the time-based action of eating a meal to pace himself and signal when the performance was over. Bartlett’s performance, titled “#HamSkull,” was like Dirk Adams’s “Target Audience” work the following night, in that it felt somewhat didactic but frustrated any type of conventional learning. In the place of a more straightforward lesson both works offered you a sense of confusion, even absurdity, though certainly not at the level of chaos Orion Maxted cultimated with “Banana,” which grouped everyone and everything into the center of the gallery and then proceeded to circle them with sisal. Maxted seemed more concerned with creating a momentary upheaval in the room, while Bartlett and Adams appeared more interested in reassuring us with nebulous ideas that refused clarification.
I always enjoy performance pieces that evoke universal emotions using a minimal language. In that way Sindy Butz’s “Zero” and Rafael Sanchez’s “Algiers Point Spectacle Number One” were the most powerful for their simplicity. Butz tapped the austerity of Butoh dance theater to express anguish. White-faced, Butz chewed on a bouquet of roses before spitting them up as she moved slowly around the center of the stage. It was heavy-handed symbolism but it worked rather well since the velvety flowers were like a flash of color against the black and white scene. It had the flash of manga but the pace of ritual. My only complaint with Butz’s work was that I question whether what she was performing a type of theater rather than performance art. I do see a distinction, and in the case of the latter there’s a self-consciousness of the real that functions beyond the imagined, into the mythic and emerges out of the visual arts tradition. I’m not convinced Butz’s work fits the bill. On the other hand, Sanchez was squarely in the realm of performance art. His piece was sensual and exciting as he did a reverse striptease and proceeded to go go dance for the audience until a shadowy figure emerged from the crowd to shoot him a number of times with a bb gun. The action was jarring and I was shocked to see blood dripping from underneath his disco-ball helmet. Even though the blood was staged (though that wasn’t apparent at first), it made a strong visual impact, which accompanied by the thump of the dance music and the shock of violence reminded me of the volatile world of underground dance parties and pre-gentrification nightlife, not to mention the cultural dynamics of America’s inner cities.
In terms of a visual feast, Anya Liftig’s “243 Eggs: 20 Years of My Period” and AABier’s “It’s Personal” were deep and rich. They each carefully choreographed their piece to construct ephemeral worlds for the audience. It was curious to me that each of the works felt very personal for the performers — more so than the others — and occasionally lapsed into a type of internal emotional dialogue that shut me out while seducing me to remain engaged through my eyes. In the same way I enjoyed the visual splendor of Bru Jø GLDN $ecurity’s “GLDN Shower w/ Bru Jø & Yassy Goldie” piece for the image of a black hooded golden Buddha set on fire with a golden-headed Yoda head in his lap — it was one of the most memorable moments from both nights.
Rob Andrews, on the other hand, pushed the limits of performance in an unexpected way in “Blood Draw.” He was carried into the gallery on a gurney and dressed in his well-known minotaur persona. The seemingly sedated Andrews, who was chained up, had his blood drawn by a nurse in a woolen cap, and his blood was auctioned to the crowd by another man whose face was painted gold.
After the auctioneer and the nurse departed the scene, there was confusion among the audience and fellow Hyperallergic blogger Daniel Larkin walked into the center of the gallery with a few other spectators trying to figure out if they should help free the blue-headed minotaur. I felt uncomfortable with the way Daniel transgressed what I instinctively thought was the role of the liveblogger. Even though I believe in engaged criticism and arts journalism, I wondered if he went too far and I mentioned it to him, which became a big discussion about our own roles during the event. Afterwards, Andrews shared his thought about the “transgression” with me via email:
Daniel’s reaction was fertile, potent, important. I tried to create a structure that an audience recognized — a system that they have some familiarity with and then let the structure collapse. My sense is that Daniel felt he was in a position to renegotiate what was “real” — which is where I think the art lives in this kind of work: when the frame collapses.
I did feel the frame collapse during Andrews’s piece, more so than in the other works, it was jarring and it was the only time I felt truly confused by what I was seeing and questioned myself as an audience member.
Holly Farout and Sarah H. Paulson’s “Thank god for the one who pushed ‘I hope I wait for the hug’,” which was performed with Katurah Hutcheson, did something similar but with a different approach. There is always something about Farout & Paulson’s works that drills itself into my body without leaving any obvious traces. Experiencing their work is like breathing a light gas that fills your lungs and leaves you lightheaded. It isn’t always about what they do on stage, but how they do it. In their latest performance, they lay quietly with an ethereal gaze as a very emotional and erratic Hutcheson rocked back and forth and rearranged objects. They — and Hutcheson — didn’t engage with the audience directly, but they seemed to pass through us like passersby on a pilgrimage. I felt their numbness. Hutcheson’s turmoil didn’t disrupt the serenity of Farout and Paulson, and the pair were the ones obviously in control. It was very comforting.
This latest installment of the Maximum Perception Performance Festival, the third, was more professional than any of the previous incarnations. Over the years the festival has felt like a barometer of the neighborhood’s morphing face. Once a provincial laboratory of artistic ideas, Bushwick’s arts scene has become more outward looking — many of the performers were international artists — than ever before.
The following are images from each performance organized by night in the chronology they were originally scheduled to appear. The order of many of the performances on Saturday night were changed and you can consult the Part 2 liveblog for a record of those changes.
Joe Nanashe, “Grindcore”
Anya Liftig, “243 Eggs: 20 Years of My Period”
Hiroshi Shafer with Nijah Cunningham, “If You’re Happy, Then I’m Confused”
Zhenesse Staniec Heinemann, “Oralia , Shipment #2838 (Decrate January 14th, 2011)”
Akiko Ichikawa and Friends, “Alison Knowles’s Event Score No. 3″
Man Bartlett, “#HamSkull”
AABier, “It’s Personal”
Dirk Adams, “Target Audience”
Sindy Butz, “Zero”
Orion Maxted, “Banana”
Bru Jø GLDN $ecurity, “GLDN Shower w/ Bru Jø & Yassy Goldie”
Rafael Sanchez, “Algiers Point Spectacle Number One”
Faith Johnson, “The Alchemy of Moving Through”
Alice Volger, “Rebuilt Involuntary Vision”
Rob Andrews, “Blood Draw”
Holly Farout + Sarah H. Paulson with Katurah Hutcheson, “Thank god for the one who pushed ‘I hope I wait for the hug’”