Tori Wrånes, Yes Nix © Paula Court, courtesy of Performa

Tori Wrånes, “Yes Nix” (2013) (all photos © Paula Court, courtesy Performa)

Audience members for Tori Wrånes’s “Yes Nix” performance had to sidestep the artist, who was lying on the floor at the entrance to SIR Stage 37, as they walked in. Her feet were tied in rope, which was strung up to a running track in the ceiling. It was the most confrontational part of the 30-some-minute performance, an otherwise structured and slick series of gestures — a sort of operetta without words.

The artist suspended

A site-specific work for Performa 13’s “Pavilion Without Walls – Norway” feature, “Yes Nix” took place in a room that looked like a nightclub or fashion runway, with two sets of chairs facing each other and colorful lights blasting into a smoke-machine haze. The piece unfolded in four movements. Music began to play as the mechanical rope system slowly dragged Wrånes, who was singing, across the floor, then suspended her above the audience. Her skirt turned out to be a jacket and her shirt, pants, topped off by shoes on her hands: an odd, surrealist touch added to the drama of her upside-down suspension.

The lights dimmed to black, and performers on bicycles began to ride along the aisles surrounding the audience. The room was illuminated only by single headlights on each bike. They sang together, creating alternately dissonant and harmonious chords. At one point, over a dozen bikers circled the space, enveloping the seated audience as if in the midst of a New York City intersection. It was the most transcendent moment of the night, the precarity of so many riders in such a small and darkened space adding emotion to their singing.

As they stopped riding, a glowing bag descended from the ceiling, from which each performer took a recorder. Some sang and others played a flurry of notes as they walked in formation, a sort of zombie slow crawl, out the front door of the space.

Wrånes appeared again, this time suspended horizontally, belly down. As she sang, the pulley system brought her to a microphone, while a single, powerful light shaft illuminated her from the front. It was a live staging of the special effect you often see in music videos and commercials, as if the the power of that light swept Wrånes horizontal.

As other critics have pointed out, many of the works in Performa 13 were not interested in breaking us our default position as spectators, and are perhaps better understood as theater. Performa’s website describes “Yes Nix” as a “visual concert”; indeed, besides the bicycle passage, it’s difficult to point to anything in it that would not function just as well were it called a concert, play, or even music video.

Tori Wrånes, “Yes Nix”

That isn’t to say the work shouldn’t be enjoyed as such: the high production values, musicianship, and staging made for a haunting series of moments. Wrånes constructs, if just for a few moments, a fantastical setting. The simplicity and confidence of the scores, and the lack of references to anything outside the set itself, make it universally accessible.

Tori Wrånes’s “Yes Nix” took place November 22 and 23 at SIR Stage 37 (508 West 37th Street, Midtown West, Manhattan) as part of Performa 13.

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Ryan Wong

Ryan Lee Wong is an arts writer based in Brooklyn. He has worked at the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Chinese in America, where he was assistant curator.