Look, Ma, I’m a performance artist!
Gosh, you’d almost make me out to be a philistine, an unsophisticated yahoo, a rube who thinks that 50 Shades of Grey – not that I’ve read it – is great literature, that a poem isn’t a poem unless it rhymes, and that the Rockefeller Center kick-chorus is the height of terpsichorean achievement.
But whenever I read about a piece of performance art, my inner Mike Huckabee zooms in and says WTF. (Not that, golly gee, Mike Huckabee would actually say or think WTF.)
I mean, I’m a discerning reader of literary fiction, a regular museum goer (okay, sometimes it’s just for the gift shop), a patron of the theater, an intellectual snob par excellence who enjoys both performance and art.
But put ‘em together and I feel pretty much the same way I did when I first read about Chris Burden getting crucified on the back of a VW Beetle, and about Karen Finley doing whatever it is she did with a cucumber. Which is to ask myself (after saying WTF) how something that seems to my naïve self to lack coherence, beauty and rigor can be classified as art.
I get why it’s classified as performance. Mostly.
I don’t think that Marina Abramovic’s MoMA piece of 2010 would have felt like much of a performance, either.
The Artist is Present," [was] a 736-hour and 30-minute static, silent piece, in which she sat immobile in the museum's atrium, while spectators were invited to take turns sitting opposite her. A support group for the "sitters," "Sitting with Marina," was established on Facebook. The performance attracted celebrities such as Björk and James Franco. (Source: Wikipedia)
Not that performance art is all VW crucifixion, non-salad use of a cucumber, or 736 minute dumb show.
As I was reminded when I read an article by Lauren Collins in a recent New Yorker about performance artist Tino Seghal.
When MoMA was holding its Abramovic silence is golden extravaganza in 2010, the Guggenhaim was holding its own with “This Progress,” for which Sehgal:
… filled the rotunda of the Guggenheim with a corps of “interpreters” - children, teen-agers, baby boomers, octogenarians – who, according to a set of rules devised by Sehgal, engaged each visitor in a conversation, delivering him to progressively older interlocutors as he spiralled up the museum.
Another of his works, “This Is So Contemporary” was composed of museum guards chanting “’Ooooh. This is so contemporary!”
Okay, I didn’t come up with these ideas. Sehgal is no doubt a genius, while I’m merely high-IQ. And it might actually have been fun to participate in/observe them. But is it art?
Sehgal is a purist, by the way, and doesn’t like his works to leave any trail: no photos, videos, or wall text.
You definitely have to be there.
So if you’re in London, and care to buzz the Tate Modern, “These Associations” is, errr, playing.
At any given moment the piece requires seventy interpreters [who must be capable of conversation that is both “profound” and “measured”: no show-boating upstagers need apply] – some civilians, some professional dancers, who will engage, over the next three months, each of the museum’s estimated million visitors who take them up on the offer.
This strikes me as a tad smug, pretentious and asshole-ly, but here I am again revealing my latent philistinism.
Since a collector can’t exactly buy a Sehgal to hang over his mantle, since souvenirs of Sehgal’s works don’t end up in the museum gift shops that I favor – no calendars, no mugs, no puzzles, posters, or pencils – you may wonder how Sehgal makes any money, after he gets paid for the initial installation.
The answer is: he licenses re-enactments. Which doesn’t come cheap. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars here. So he does not, of course, sell many. (Most art collectors probably wouldn’t want seventy interpreters, no matter how profound and measured, hanging around the old manse.)
Well, despite my historic antipathy to performance art, I’ve decided to give it a bit of a whirl.
As I’m just starting out, I’ll offer my pieces for free.
But here’s what I’m thinking:
HaHa: Profound and measured individuals, some of whom should probably be kids, lay down in a formation such that the head of one person rests on the belly of the next person. The more participants the better. The first person in the formation says “Ha.” Number two says, “Ha, ha.” Number three says “Ha, ha, ha”, and so on. The goal of this installation is to get through the entire formation without anyone breaking out into “outright, prolonged laughter.”*
Telephone: Profound and measured individuals, which can include museum patrons capable of demonstrating measured profundity, assemble in a line. The first person whispers something in the ear of the second, who repeats it to the third, etc. This is another more the merrier installation. When the last person in line hears the whisper, he/she repeats it out loud. The first person in line announces what the real first sentence was.
Frozen tag: Does not require individuals to be profound or measured. Players – can easily include museum patrons – assemble and reveal their names. The person whose name contains the largest number of letters that are also contained in the name “Tino Seghal” is “It.” Players scatter throughout the gallery. “It” gives chase, and when he/she catches and tags someone, that person must remain frozen in place until tagged by another player. Game continues until the museum closes for the day, or until “It” has had it.
Truly, I think that I’m on to something.
Does anyone know the e-mail address for Björk or James Franco?
I really do feel some performance artistry coming on.
*Phrase borrowed from Herb Gardner’s A Thousand Clowns.