James Trainor

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PERFORMA05

PERFORMA05

For 17 days in November PERFORMA05 was a flash flood of 60 events spread out over dozens of venues with little institutional backing and a tiny budget.

frieze, Issue 97, Mar 2006

For 17 days in November PERFORMA- 05, billed by its organizer RoseLee Goldberg as New York’s first performance art biennial, was a flash flood of 60 events spread out over dozens of venues with little institutional backing and a tiny budget. Like New York’s Bang on a Can festival of alternative music or the downtown Fringe theatre festival it was a marathon grab-bag of events held in venues that included galleries, bars, nightclubs, cinemas, museums and Central Park. Some events were specially commissioned or facilitated by PERFORMA05 while others were simply given a boost by its cross-marketing umbrella.

One evening’s fare provided a representative core-sample: at the non-profit Artists Space, the Berlin-based performance art ‘hardcore karaoke’ duo Discoteca Flaming Star (Cristina Gómez Barrio and Wolfgang Mayer) floated an arrangement of ‘Lili Marlene’ as a three-chord Kinks tune performed in Arabic. Later, dressed in Jack Smith/Ottoman pasha/Donna Summer drag, Mayer sang a slowly peeled-away, nerve-jangling deconstructed version of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. ‘That’s love’ Mayer remarked in conclusion to a stunned audience.

A quick cab ride over to Leo Koenig found the Austrian collective Gelatin ceremoniously boarding their plywood Tantamounter 24/7, a giant wooden ‘U-boat’ where they were sealed off from the outside world for a week, supplied with heaps of arts and crafts junk. Operating their contraption like a rattletrap copying machine, the group invited visitors to trust them enough to insert personal objects into a slot. After a short wait, the object reappeared accompanied by a hastily assembled, woebegone replica (in one case an Ipod popped back out with its quizzical doppelganger – a plushy toy made of foam, masking tape, and an old Super 8 film reel). Speeding down to the filled-to-the-rafters Slipper Club on the Lower East Side one could take in Francis Alys’ high concept burlesque show, Rehearsal II, which paired a soprano running through a difficult passage of Franz Schubert lieder with a local stripper artist, whose hour-long stop-and-start, on-and-off dance of dishabille was synchronized with that of the singer and her pianist in a teasingly repetitive study of practicing one’s chosen craft.

Through it all, Marina Abramovic’s week-long occupation of the Guggenheim Museum rotunda for her series ‘7 Easy Pieces’ could be counted on as the day’s corrective and saving grace. Reprising performance art’s ‘greatest hits’ from Bruce Nauman’s Body Pressure (1974) to Joseph Beuys’ How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965), Abramovic’s daily seven-hour long recreations, beginning at sundown and ending at midnight, were the centre of gravity for many people that week who would come and watch and leave and sometimes come back hours later. In many ways, Abramovic’s gruelling experiment – testing whether ephemeral works of landmark performance art are lost to us, locked into their original contexts and accessible only via documentation and description as historical events, or, like dance or music, are open to continual reinterpretation – was an anchoring touchstone for Performa’s own concerns.

PERFORMA05 indicated that performance art is not only alive and kicking and that there is an audience hungry for it, but that it need not be relegated to after-the-fact documentation appreciated second-hand in gallery settings. Nor need it be a rare or rarefied experience. Uneven and polyglot as it was, PERFORMA05 gave a genuine sense that sometimes you just have to show up in person. Or as Abramovic implored during her version of Vito Acconci’s onanistic Seedbed (1972), her disembodied voice emanating from the floorboards beneath rapt visitors’ feet, ‘I’m here for you … don’t go’

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