This month marks Ulay’s return to New York as a performer after 30 years, with a site-specific installation and three-day performance at Kustera Projects Red Hook during Frieze Week. Curated by Mitra Khorasheh, Cutting Through the Clouds of Myth is the German artist’s one-time-only collaboration with the Slovenian multidisciplinary artist Jaša and promises “a series of actions, an intimate happening, an experiential installation, a language of communication,” as a release describes cryptically.
The pair is keeping the event shrouded in mystery. Ulay’s performance on May 7 is titled “Water Mark” and does have some connection to water, Ulay confirmed to Hyperallergic, emphasizing his ongoing focus on the element. (His website Earth Water Catalogue compiles water and water-related works by various artists.)
“The performance I will do now in New York is a secret,” Ulay said. “All I can say is that all I do is related to all I did.” Jaša, whose project UTTER / The violent necessity for the embodied presence of hope presented an immersive experience at last year’s Venice Biennale, only hints that the installation is a gesture to “act and react.
“Given the hostile language(s) that is polluting our environment, it is more than needed to inject the state of things with activism that is sourced in poetry,” he told Hyperallergic. “To team up with an artist as Ulay, to push the agenda even further, is as challenging as it is an act of responsibility towards the purity of art (as a form).
“A legion of us, poets with a power of gestures and persistence, do decisively contribute to the perception of definitions of now. Europe is in the midst of one of the biggest — or the biggest — identity crises, juggling human lives almost as a mere bureaucratic problem, and elections in the USA are bringing forward concepts of expression that remind us of the darkest parts of world history.”
Cutting Through the Clouds of Myth is one of Ulay’s first reengagements with performance after a battle with cancer. In January, the 71-year-old staged a new work, “Skeleton in the Closet,” at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam; it involved monitoring his body temperature. A month later, in front of an audience at USC Roski School of Art and Design, he painted the spines of a cactus and then scissored them off as a recorded poem by Anne Sexton played on repeat.
“At one point I got a sort of calling, an inner voice, to reenter performance art again,” Ulay told Hyperallergic. “I decided to jump back in. I realized that one does not stop being an artist, let alone a performance artist. I do think that performance art is the ne plus ultra of art, simply because the body is the medium par excellence.”
What has changed over time, however, is the fact that performance artists now have commercial gallery shows, just like their peers who work in other mediums. Ulay considers this a natural occurrence.
“Performance art was, for about 40 years, rejected, subverted by galleries and museums alike, and today it is accepted,” he said. “From rejected to accepted. And why? That is easy. Today it’s just become adopted to the regular cultural agenda.”
Jaša only offered that this forthcoming collaboration is grounded in each artist’s body of work, adding that the two are in different moments of life.
“As with any collaboration, this is a very delicate process that makes you question your ideas and options,” he said. “Performance can channel many meaningful moments that speak to the generalization of ‘I am,’ without getting stuck in the mere concept of the individual. I believe we both work from where we stand, and we do stand for what we work for and what we work on.
“What we will take out of this and how we will turn it into something inspiring, and how it will poke at more universal issues, is the thing that excites me the most,” he continued.
“What I love about the whole thing is the seriousness, the shared notion, that this is not a game. None of it is.”
ULAY & JAŠA: Cutting Through the Clouds of Myth will be on view at Kustera Projects Red Hook (57 Wolcott Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn) May 6–June 1. The three-day opening performance will take place on May 6, 7, and 8, from 6 to 10pm.
Hrag Vartanian contributed reporting to this article.