re.act.feminism – performancekunst der 1960er und 70er jahre heute

Still dark, before 6am, lying in bed, the clouded sky lighting the city and me already with coffee and reading, and then light turned out, I thought about this exhibition at Akademie der Künste and what I might write and knew I would forget how to start and so what I wanted to say.

I’ll start with the pieces I found most engaging, intelligent and… well perhaps to say most art isn’t art but polemic, a clever one-liner, an auto-biography or therapy, simply uninteresting, a gimmick even, so what compels me to think again on a piece and perhaps smile even at the subtlety and acuity that makes one remark yet from this cascade days of thought?

Three, I think, though perhaps to recount as I write, pieces affected me like this, though one remains more clear. Sanja Iveković’s Triangle places her on her balcony, a book, glass of whiskey maybe looking as if she’s masturbating, with three other photographs documenting her surrounds. The building across the road, a man standing on the roof, police on the street in front of the apartment, forming a triumvirate relationship as Tito passes in his motorcade. Then a restaging, almost two decades later, her balcony now part of the room it led off, she older, no man standing on the building roof opposite, less police and the EU members replacing Tito.

I was reminded of Zizek, whom I can no longer speak of favourably, with his crypto-fascist adoration and decidedly asinine homo- and trans-phobia, or more rather reminded of the art from these cities in the late 80s and early 90s which seemed so forthright and admirable, not lost in the self-referential mediocrity of American gallery culture and its international clones.

But I keep thinking of her sitting on her balcony and forcing an individuality and humanness into the anonymous spectacle of history.

Two other artists place their own bodies in the world in a somewhat similar manner, Martha Wilson in her photo-series, A Portfolio of Models in which she dons the accoutrements of Goddess, Housewife, Working Girl, Professional, Lesbian, others, finishing with the Earth-Mother, in pilgrim clothes, each one accompanied by a knowingly sardonic paragraph on their lives and intelligence. Closer to Sanja Iveković’s work somehow, Ewa Partum’s Samoidentyfikacja photographs of her naked in city streets, black and white, part of the minor everyday cityscape yet displaced.

Between these three I found something in feminist performance art that was missing or negated in much of the rest. Admittedly it is a vast exhibition, with hours of video content, and easily needing the free return visit the entrance ticket provides, and admittedly also thinking some of the artists’ other work is far more compelling, especially once it moved beyond the oppressive hegemony of second wave feminism.

Which I might talk about a little. Besides some well-known artists, Orlan whom I have a long-standing fondness for despite thinking she is perhaps the Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst of feminist performance art, Colette who washes over me with so much cute baroque glamour yet is perhaps the epitome of New York contentless idolatry, and Yoko Ono whom I simply can’t stand and have never found to be as interesting as I’m supposed to believe… besides this trio, there is much that simply baffles me with the question, why even bother? It’s not interesting, or if taken from a feminist political stance, contributing to either of those words.

And then there is Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz.

I feel somewhat excluded from feminism, because by its evolution it has come to be an exclusionary movement. To watch endless works by white, middle-class American women about domesticity, heteronormativity, marriage, has nothing to do with my life. Yet as a woman – and I use this generalisation in the broadest possible and most contingent sense because certainly we need something inclusive – there is an imperative for feminism to continue and for me to say, I am this because of these continuing and unaddressed inequalities.

There is a direct line in Lacy’s work to separatists like Dworkin, Daly, Raymond, Greer, to rigidly-defined roles for women, man-hating, essentialism… what I think of as a fascism of the body. And like all fascisms there is an obsession with autocrats, wherein these writers and artists are the self-appointed designates, with effectively replacing one social system with another equally repressive. More to the point, the language of revolution, distinctly Mao-ist, of smashing the patriarchy, destroying gender, of rage and anger as the primary tools of liberation, begs the question of who in all this will get hurt?

In Lacy’s work, which deals with rape and violence against women, somehow the appropriate target of feminism becomes showgirls, pornography, sex workers, a situation that remains unchanged today, thirty years later for a still highly influential strand of feminism that seeks to legislate these women out of existence and towards the exact same violence these activists purportedly oppose. This without ever entering into discussion with the objects of their politic to inquire as to what these women might really want.

Again, I find myself excluded by white, middle-class American women whose domestic political feminist agenda has been exported to a rather gullible international audience, an agenda which leaves scant room for queerness, trans* identities, any other form of living and finding recognition than highly rigid and prescriptive radical feminist lesbian separatism. That Valerie Solanas is quoted from her S.C.U.M. manifesto, “…destroy the male sex.”, both without irony and without a highly necessary accompanying criticism of this particular movement is unequivocally feminism’s moment of utter failure.

So I return to thinking of Sanja Iveković quiet sitting on the balcony, acting like she’s getting herself off under the binocular gaze of a distant rooftop observer, the later knock on her apartment door ordering that she and the sundry objects must vacate the balcony, a small private act, little more than juvenile defiance like ringing a doorbell then running away, yet this triangle, documented, outlived Tito. I wonder what in this is feminist, what also it proposes about human rights, wonder too how much more I can find that might include me as the subject of this.

becky, jodi and john

Not that I’ve seen much dance this year but come December, this will still be one of the highlights of the year. I really like watching showings, often more than the real work itself buried under the detritus of staging. To have John Jasperse explain the makeshift ledge at the back of the stage (in the theatre where it will be performed in a couple of weeks, it’s the cyclorama pit), that he will be wearing a portable smoke machine so he gently smolders, that a radio-controlled car will bring the props on and off, but for now he’ll just announce that, and call for when the video should start and stop, all this, and just a bare room plus tv and a couple of chairs … this nakedness of a performance can capture and transfix me.

Becky, Jodi and John should have had another title but Chrysa Parkinson, who only appears infrequently in a skype video call couldn’t swing the schedule, so John ended up as far from New York as possible where there is still some kind of contemporary dance. Chrysa says she wants to embrace shame, and do everything that makes her feel ashamed. Jodi says she won’t do any of that post-modern roll over the foot stuff, especially on her left leg in a long list of “don’ts” (she does). John gets told by a curator he is too formal, and wonders while standing naked in front of us, if she really meant, “too old”.

They all should have retired at least a decade ago, and certainly to hold aspirations to be making art for another thirty years … herein lies the heart of this piece. Four New York dancers who have known each other for nearly twenty years, who are obviously very dear friends, spread across the globe, and for a month together in Melbourne. We don’t see old dancers, even NDT3 is a novelty act in this context and maybe in Europe the average age for a dancer is mid-thirties, but here, to be over thirty and still wanting something that dancing can give, and – more pertinently as this is how worth is measured – to still be performing, is not so common, and makes conceiving dance a thorny proposition.

Almost ten years ago Becky, Phillip Adams, Lucy Guerin returned from New York to make dance here. Melbourne’s dance is hugely influenced by New York, as became readily apparent in the last few weeks when both John and Jodi taught class at Chunky Move. To see this trio perform together, is in part to see this, as it lives in their bodies. It’s also something like reading someone’s letters, or eavesdropping, it’s the life that surrounds this movement that is on display.

I really want to rave about this work, even though it’s unfinished, it was only a studio showing, there was no music. It is magic to watch them move together, to obviously enjoy being together and to know each other so well it is no longer three separate people. And yes they dance, and entangle themselves around each other, get a little slappy and breathe hard. And they take their clothes off. Well, Jodi doesn’t, she doesn’t like showing her arms. (And Becky has the superhero power of Disappointment).

What more can you do in the face an endlessly deadly climate that sees no value in the arts, and has scant interest in seeing artists develop over their entire lifetime than to make a work such as this. Becky Jodi and John is considered, poignant, beautiful and makes stars of all of them.

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the end of dance writing

Around the time I was thinking about i want your dance, I stumbled across this excellent article on ImPulsTanz by Elizabeth Zimmer, the former dance editor at The Village Voice. (As an aside, I spent much of that afternoon reading the entire features archives on ImPulsTanz; I’m such a sucker for well-written essays on dance.)

She dissects her hopelessness with the dance scene in New York that for people living in Australia is gut-wrenchingly familiar. The death of serious, intellectual coverage of the arts in the mainstream media of English speaking countries is almost tedious to watch, better perhaps to put it out of its misery than maintain the pretense.

The legitimacy of an artist’s performance and consequently their reputation however, is inextricable from column inches obtained in the press, a press that will only review work that has received presentation funding from whatever arts organisations, in turn having a not inconsequential influence on gaining subsequent funding. All round, it’s unhealthy for the people making art.

It’s frustrating then that artists here seem so categorically glacial in their adoption of technology that could make this issue more-or-less background noise. As much as I abhor MySpace, it’s really not that arcane to set up, or WordPress, or … yes, as Elizabeth says, PodCasts. The lack of engagement from artists in what they are doing as a consumable entertainment product – yes that sounds dirty, get over it – is baffling. The model ever since I was a student making work was email+jpg flier, print some A6 fliers if you have the money, and word-of-mouth. Little has changed in eight years, and really, when it’s so easy to participate in the endless swirl of new media, a media that primarily is about communication, there’s not much excuse.

And lets not forget blogs. There are some people, like Alison at Theatre Notes, who I think are singularly responsible for my not reading the papers anymore – and check out her Arts Blog Primer. But artists writing about their work, especially in the performing arts, and doubly so in dance – it’s like the map of the world connected to the internet, and while Europe and the first world blazes with light, everywhere else is black.

It was not Elizabeth’s intention to paint a facile death-of-print account, though death-of-dance is something that still looms large. Certainly if more artists here attended to and were responsible for their own appearance in a media that has long ceased to be passive and one-way, I would feel more confident that it wasn’t all a grave-digging exersise.

And someone should be running courses – free courses – for artists to learn how to use this stuff. It’s actually really easy. (I think I just volunteered myself, no?)

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something about who?

Miriam Rivera a couple of years ago upset a bunch of straight blokes, then rode the reality-tv thing all the way to Australian Big Brother. My, she certainly was popular back then. Normally when any former star experiences a “news-worthy” event, for example Britney shaving her head, print, television and the internet groan and sweat under the pressure of a billion giddy news flashes.

Miriam received a total lack of attention when she was attacked with a hammer and thrown out of her fourth floor apartment a couple of weeks ago. Her arms and legs were broken and she has a severe head injury from the hammer. I don’t normally blog stuff that would really belong in Who or New Idea, but … Along with Dana International I think she is largely responsible for the current popularity and acceptance of transsexuals in the mainstream media, as evinced by the number of shows around with transsexual storylines.

Possibly her other life as Victoria, a rather well-known tranny porn star, and the insinuations she was done over by a trick gone wrong make it all i-ain’t-gonna-touch-that, and there’s probably enough sex-change trannypocalypse stories in the media now with what’s going on in Largo, Florida.

saturday tranny blogging

Back to what supernaut is really famous for (no, not this, or this, can’t you people clean up your smutty minds?), which is all things tranny, and having got up super-early on a Saturday, walked for an hour, did ballet, ate till I look pregnant, passed out in a food-induced coma, it’s time for tranny adventures on the internet.

Harisu’s getting married! I’ve blogged about her probably enough to seem like a stalker, but she also wants to adopt four children. Her partner is rapper Micky Jung.

刘炫怡 Liú Xùanyí from 广西 Guangxi, most recently famous for wearing lots of condoms is all over youtube, either posing for photoshoots, or getting interviewed on 哈虎网 haahoo.

Still strangling the internet bandwidth, more video. Helen and Betty of (en)gender were on Dr.Keith this week. Helen’s blog is one of my favourite, of what I guess you could call gender blogs, and I’ve been really moved by reading the excerpts from her new book, She’s Not the Man I Married. The interview (part 1 and part 2), is a funny – and sometimes scary – intimate look at two people who intellectually remind me of Judith Butler in the preface to Gender Trouble, in that cool New York way, and yet when living it, it’s not always so easy. But to see two people clearly in love who are making compromises so as to not lose that, is something very special.

三元里 san yuan li in new york

Ou Ning of Alternative Archive, who does spend more time in airports than me, and possibly the person mostly likely to receive morning reminder calls as to what city he is in is off to New York to screen 三元里 San Yuan Li at People’s Architecture on July 18th. You can also download the booklet accompanying the film from their site.

3×3: A Perspective on China
S[CR]EE[N]ING CHINA Documentaries from China

Tuesday, 07/18/2006, 6:30–8:30pm (RSVP)

A monthly lecture series that creates a platform for a broadened understanding of current Chinese architectural and urban practice. The nine part series will bring together Chinese and internationally recognized scholars, artists, and architects to examine the unique contradictions and challenges posed by China’s rapid urbanization and growth.

San Yuan Li is a case study of a typical village-amid-the-city phenomenon in the process of the urbanization of Guangzhou. The crew penetrates San Yuan Li Village as “City Flaneur,” rethinking back into the depth of its history, the confrontation and reconciliation between the process of modernization, and the patriarchal clan system, as well as the rural community system in Guangdong. The bizarre architectures and views of humanity have been captured into this black and white cine-poem. The documentary was commissioned by the Z.O.U. (Zone of Urgency), 50th Venice Biennale (2003).

— People’s Architecture

art art art … art

Continuing my attempt to delete all the bookmarks in my temp folder about stuff-i-wanted-to-blog-about, there’s been some art in the last couple of weeks I went, “ooooo!!!” about.

Tara Donovan‘s show in New York, with plastic cups undulating like the fresh detritus of a snow storm, and an interview too.

The photographs of Rita Nowak from one of my read-whenever-there’s-a-new-post, uncoy.com | la vie viennoise, on at extraterritorial in Vienna. This one struck me though I don’t really think alot of her photography, but the process of recreating – in this case – Romantic paintings (Anne-Louis Girodet de Roucy-Triosson‘s The Burial of Atala) in new works is what I was doing in extermination and hell with Francesco Goya and Gustav Doré, and also in the stuff I’m making now.

David Levinthal, who’s on at Stellar Somerset Gallery, and does nasty things with toy soldiers. Kinda reminded me of the Chapman Brothers hell. All-round creepy Nazi-Barbie blow-up doll sex-porn toy stuff from my favourite we-make-money-not-art.

straight outta canton

I’m sure I had a post with the same title as this some time… but well, I can’t find it, so blah. I’m not up to blogging much right now, with a bunch of funding and residency applications due next week, a couple of DVDs to finish debugging and burn, miscellaneous stuff like getting Typhus jabs, and chewing on anti-Malaria tablets that have a side-effect of psychosis … and just how the fuck am I supposed to identify that my psychosis is now prescription-induced instead of the normal daily miasma?

Anyway, back to Art, and Guangzhou artist Cao Fei is in New York, opening her solo show at Lombard-Freid Projects and The Notorious MSG were there too … straight outta canton crazy motherfucker named cao fei …

Hip Hop New York was the third installment of a project that, along with the video and photo project COSPlayers, has come to represent the young Guangzhou-based artist’s critical output. In Guangzhou, two years ago, she first shot construction workers and crossing guards on the city streets dancing to a simple Chinese hip hop tune. In Fukuoka, last September, she filmed Chinese immigrants dancing to a mix of Japanese hip hop and traditional rhythms. The resulting videos, in which the movements of these (Chinese) everypeople are paired with cutting-edge beats and spliced into sequences that Hans Ulrich Obrist has called evocative of “the early days of MTV” scream out for simple interpretation, and many critics and curators have responded in to the call. To some, they speak to the vicissitudes of a society undergoing rapid and drastic economic change. To others, they point to the absurdities created by the expansive influence of hegemonic American (née African) pop-cultural influence in lands previously outside its grasp. One wall text, at the Mori Art Museum high above Tokyo last summer, even argued for the works as proof of Chinese people’s fundamental Chineseness: The dancers in the videos attempt to get down, only to find that they inadvertently move to the inherited rhythms of traditional taijiquan.

— Alternate Archive

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performance art is the new painting

The New York Times has a large article on Performa 05, the visual art performance biennale in New York, going on now. Amongst the fantastic line-up of artists are old performance films from Coum Transmissions, the very early work of Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV superstar Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, and Brock Labrenz performing an installation/performance piece of William Forsythe.

Performa 05’s diagram highlights the current vitality of New York’s alternative spaces. Artists Space, for example, is mounting an ambitious, nearly nightly five-week program of performance and film events, beginning on Nov. 17, that is so comprehensive that it will include an air guitar contest. Considerably more compressed is “24-Hour Incidental,” a series of performances at the Swiss Institute that begins at noon tomorrow and ends at noon on Sunday, and promises an appearance by Yoko Ono, one of performance art’s royalty. The biennial’s most hair-raising program may transpire at Participant, whose intrepid director, Lia Gangitano, has organized four crowded evenings, starting Nov. 15. The bill will cover the club, queer, punk and body art subsets of performance art, with personalities like Vaginal Davis, Ron Athey, Lovett/Codagnone, and the band My Barbarian. Luther Price, working with Katherine Finneran, will stage a live film/video/slide installation. This Sunday will bring a screening of “Coum Transmissions,” two recently rediscovered performance videos by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge from the mid-70’s, before he became a founding member of the industrial rock bands Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV.

— New York Times

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all of china at the kennedy centre

There’s a fairly huge mega-company type cultural celebration of China going on at the moment at both the Kennedy Centre in New York and in Boston. It looks like they flew over every single artist, musician and dancer, and every company from every town in the whole country. It’d be pretty funny if they all decided to defect en masse, but there’s no cheap DVDs, the dictator’s soporific of choice, in America. It’s just as well I’m not in Guangzhou now, I’d be really bored because everyone I know is on the other side of the Pacific.

Anyway, the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra just performed in Boston, and the National Ballet of China, who get a big write-up in the Washington Post is in New York next week. The other big one amidst all the culture is the three contemporary dance companies, Beijing Modern Dance, Guangdong Modern Dance, and CCDC from Hong Kong, all under the direction of Willy Tsao.

It’s almost the same programme which I had almost nothing good to say about in May, with the inclusion of Liu Qi’s Cloud Gate Dance Theatre Tai Qi, calligraphy rip-off which I didn’t heard much good about either. So the result is disappointment. I’ve seen the stuff these companies are doing which kicks ass, and the crap they are touring is just abysmal.

Being reductionist, I could say it’s the result of arts administrators and cultural politicians driving a semi-trailer over the artists. It’sr a weakness for cultural stereotypes and clichés that means the only thing people know about contemporary dance in Taiwan is the turgid Cloud Gate. If you want to see amazing Chinese contemporary dancers, go see this show, but is you want to see amazing Chinese art, the curatorial genius of 麻将 Mahjong still is far beyond the other China art background noise.

The New York Times has a big article on The Festival of China, which is great except for the title. Don’t editors think that art and China might not need some asinine title with puerile wordplay on the Cultural Revolution?