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While not the most exacting analysis of Marxism, performance artist Ivo Dimchev’s interactive P Project offered a cordial, gender-fluid, and energetically participatory opening night welcome to the Karl Marx Festival: On Your Marx, at the NYU Skirball Center.
Entry to P Project was free, though donations were accepted (“from each according to his ability,” as Marx wrote). Dimchev’s most radical concept was that he would pay audience members to perform. A Bulgarian whose work tours regularly on the European and American festival circuits, he appeared in what seemed to be just a dancer’s belt, with buttocks bared, wearing women’s shoes, heavy makeup, and a flesh-toned male breastplate. The stage was likewise bare, with the exception of laptops on three tables with chairs, plus one electric piano keyboard.
After the initial chatter, audience members were invited to participate and, in many ways, determine the content of the rest of the show. For each section, he invited two people onstage to write whatever they wanted on the laptops; the two texts were streamed to him via Skype as he improvised a song out of them and accompanied himself on the keyboard. In all but the first section, he also chose one or two people to perform a specified simple action for the duration of the five-minute impromptu song, though for two sections the instruction was to do whatever they liked.
The directed actions progressed from the mildly humiliating (dancing alone in front of a large audience of strangers) to nude performers simulating “fucking.” Volunteers were so eager to perform that they vaulted over the lip of the stage and appeared willing to do anything he asked. Dimchev gave one audience member a cashbox with $1000 to pay the writers and performers. (The writers were paid, as usual, less than the performers. Dimchev repeated several times, “It’s not about the money.”) In the final round, two writers were chosen to draft critiques, one positive, one negative. By this time, the cash was gone and audience donations, collected on the spot, were paid to the critics.
The crazed alacrity of the young audience was morbidly fascinating. I suspected that many were students in NYU’s various performance programs, and that many had found online videos of other presentations of P Project and knew what to expect, which made me wonder all the more about their fever to participate — perhaps the uninhibited young crowd was conditioned by the boundless sharing on social media.
To his credit, Dimchev discloses the pay disparity and speaks with commendable candor. Highlighting the funding mechanisms for performance sheds some light on that labor market and its commodity fetishism, and to an extent on the bigger picture of cultural production.
Among the other events in On Your Marx are dance by Luciana Achugar, a Brooklyn-based choreographer from Uruguay; a talk by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek; and a choral performance of the Communist Manifesto, which concludes the festival. The festival flyer includes “Book Marx,” a heavy-duty reading list with Marx, Marcuse, Adorno, Virno, among others, to catch up on your Marx between shows. With corporate neofascism triumphing in the U.S. and around the world, On Your Marx is a good opportunity to revisit an ideology that focuses on the welfare of workers and society as a whole and promotes equality and a sense of community.
Karl Marx Festival: On Your Marx continues at the NYU Skirball Center (566 LaGuardia Place, Manhattan) through October 28. See website for the lineup.