Opinion

Artist Who Sparked Yvonne Rainer Letter to MOCA Speaks Out

Sara Wookey performing "Trio A" at VIVA! Performance Festival in Montreal. (photo by Guy L'Heureux, via theperformanceclub.org)

We now know the identity of the artist who initially wrote Yvonne Rainer to complain of the conditions of the Marina Abramović performance during the LA MOCA gala.

In a letter titled “Open Letter to Artists” published by the Performance Club, performer Sara Wookey explains her motivation for initially auditioning for the controversial Abramović work:

“I auditioned because I wanted to participate in the project of an artist whose work I have followed with interest for many years and because it was affiliated with MOCA, an institution that I have a connection with as a Los Angeles-based artist.”

She explains that she is going public because she wants to:

” … add my voice to the discourse around this event as an artist who was critical of the experience and decided to walk away, a voice which I feel has been absent thus far in the LA Times and New York Times coverage.”

Right, because those newspapers are the only sources of dialogue about art but I’ll ignore that part. Wookey hopes that by being up front about her identity and the details she will:

” … prompt a shift of thinking of cultural workers to consider, when either accepting or rejecting work of any kind, the short- and long-term impact of our personal choices on the entire field.”

She goes into more detail about the performance and emphasizes that she was expected to ignore any potential physical or verbal harassment while performing and sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement “stating that if I spoke to anyone about what happened in the audition I was liable for being sued by Bounce Events, Marketing, Inc., the event’s producer, for a sum of $1 million dollars plus attorney fees.”

She goes into more detail about her contract [emphasis mine]:

“I was to be paid $150. During the audition, there was no mention of safeguards, signs, or signals for performers in distress, and when I asked about what protection would be provided I was told it could not be guaranteed. What I experienced as an auditionee for this work was extremely problematic, exploitative, and potentially abusive.”

The payment is part of the big issue for Wookey, which it should be, and she points out that in Europe and Canada that amount would be embarassing.

And now the rallying cry:

“The time has come for artists in Los Angeles and elsewhere to unite, organize, and work toward changing the degenerate discrepancies between the wealthy and powerful funders of art and the artists, mainly poor, who are at its service and are expected to provide so-called avant-garde, prescient content or ‘entertainment,’ as is increasingly the case — what is nonetheless merchandise in the service of money.”

This certainly isn’t the first signs of grumbling from the hoi polloi of the art world to organize in order to avoid exploitation. Wookey has some good points but I personally don’t think Canada’s CARFAC (Canadian Artists Representation/Le Front Des Artistes Canadiens) — which is cited by the performer — is a good solution. CARFAC also prohibits individuals from taking photos of art works in museums and comedy troops from creating satire based on established movie scenes and other published material. It does seem odd that a major institution and artist like MOCA and Abramović would only be paying performers $150 for a major fundraising event. Yes, someone may be willing to do it for that price — and many did — but that doesn’t mean it is acceptable and we should look the other way. We have a minimum wage for almost all workers in America, except performance artists it seems.

Also, nevermind that the Abramović work turned out the be dull and pedestrian judging by the pictures and the stories, but if it ignites some probing into some serious issues in the art world that in the era of OWS may required some rethinking then it may all be worth it.

Read the whole letter here.

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