Fritz Haeg

Fritz Haeg working on the "Lenape Edible Estate: Manhattan" produced and presented by New York Restoration Project in partnership with Friends of the High Line, 2009.

1. Do you now or have you ever considered yourself a performance artist?

Sure! Plus anything else people might want to call me.

If so, when did you begin to identify yourself as a performance artist?

When I read it in the newspaper.

2. What was the first performance art you ever encountered in your life?  How did you respond?

Probably in school? I recall a project involving all of us licking candy off the body of a classmate during a group critique.  Developing an interest in architecture at a young age, my curiosities began to expand beyond the confines of that discipline by the time I reached my early 20’s. All of my friends were artists, actors, and performers, those were the people that I wanted to be with. I mostly took art classes during my last year of college in which some friends were experimenting with performative work.  I would also go to the drama department’s student plays. I was especially envious of  the “dramats.” When I had a flash of inspiration in my architecture work, it might take hours, days, weeks or months to express it. Even then it would only be in the form of drawings and models, representations of the ideas, never fully realized as actual experience. In the professional practice of architecture this process can take years, and when it is received by an audience you are not even there. Those dramats, on the other hand, could have a complete complex thought, act it out, and immediately receive a live response – all in an instant. There was something so alive and immediate about it that I was missing at my drafting table.  Architecture is slow, which can make it a satisfying pursuit to age into through a lifetime, but  it can also make it very removed from the moment. I suppose this is what I was missing most.

3. Do you make distinctions between performance art and other forms of performance?

I am not interested in pure forms. I am interested in the opposite of purity. Regarding the topic at hand: Can gardening be both architecture and performance?  Can a casual and conversational lecture be a performance with out being performative?  What is it called when we put on our warm-up clothes and get ready to move together as a group?

4. What makes a performance successful, in your opinion?

The most ambitious approach, the ultimate path of freedom, the essential truth of our moment, and the only direction worth pursuing, is to begin each endeavor with the assumption that it is ultimately doomed to fail. Then we ask ourselves “how amazing, ecstatic, alive, and revelatory was our failure?”

"Animal Drills" from Animal Estates 1.0: New York" commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art for the 2008 Whitney Biennial - as performed by Felicia Ballos (Wood Duck), Layla Childs (Big Brown Bat), Anna Sperber (Mason Bee), Levi Gonzales (Northern Flying Squirrel), Paige Gratland (beaver), Michael Helland (Bobcat), Jmy Leary (Eastern Tiger Salamander), Daniel Linehan (Opossum), Alex Escalante (Purple Martin), and Kayvon Pourazar (Barn Owl) on March 22nd, 2008.

5. Who is your ideal audience, or, rather, how do you construct your public?

If I am making a garden, the neighbors on the street might play the role of the impromptu, unsuspecting audience.  If I am organizing a workshop or conversation there is no audience, just curious and dedicated participants.  If I am making an urban animal home, the wildlife I may never see or interact with will be a very active audience.  If I am giving a talk, the audience is very clearly defined, somewhat passive, and typically self- selecting.  If I am making a book, the audience might have a very solitary and intimate experience with the work.  If I am making a website, the audience could be fleeting, distracted, lost, confused, or very focused, and maybe just seeking certain information.  If I am making a video, the audience might be together for a social experience in a public screening, or alone at their computer.  If I am making a parade, those in the parade might be an audience for the people that have come to watch them.

6. Have you found support in the art world, or other worlds, for the development and presentation of your work?

Yes, no, and sort of, but all of my best opportunities were those that I created for myself.

7. What did you study in school?

Architecture.

Did you have mentors?

Yes, but I never met most of them, and if I did, I received much more from their example than from any personal conversations we may have had. Ant Farm (Chip Lord), Mel Chin, Buckminster Fuller, Anna Halprin, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Gordon Matta-Clark, Helio Oticica, Yvonne Rainer, Andy Warhol, Meg Webster, and Andrea Zittel are those that immediately come to mind.

8. Who/what inspires your most recent body of work?

Fresh home-made local food and the daily routine of stretching, warming up, exercise, and especially the accompanying work-out clothes: stretchy, tight, comfortable, flowing, baggy, loose, casual, ready to move…that is all I want to wear.

9. How important is your body to your work?

It is becoming more important and interesting the older I get.  I never exercised or thought about what I ate when I was younger.  Now I’m vegan and my daily schedule is built around yoga class and swimming. They are very personal decisions about my own body, but also political and extremely social as soon as I step out my door. It’s about health, but for me it has more to do with pleasure, and of course it is inextricably related to my recent work with public food production and group movement.

What do you want the viewer to feel/think in relation to that body?

To begin to remember that they have one too.

10. Have you been encouraged by recent developments in public discourse around performance art?

Yes!

Discouraged?

Yes!

What is the worst development in recent years?

As everything accelerates, so does the rush to judge and evaluate. You could argue that the conventional forms of painting and sculpture are slow, and performance is fast, amplifying the urgency for quick judgment and dismissal.

11. What does your family think about your work?

When I moved to New York City from an Italian farmhouse in 1994, instead of returning to the sort of architecture office day jobs I had since high school, my father tried to convince me to get a day job as a waiter, and make art at night.  A few months ago he asked me with a puzzled and concerned look on his face, “so, are you a performance artist now?”

12. Is performance art a medium, like painting?

It depends on whether you want to curate it, sell it, organize it, study it, pursue it, understand it, or participate in it….

Clarence and Rudine Ridgely in front of their house and "Edible Estate #6: Baltimore, Maryland" commissioned by the Contemporary Museum Baltimore, 2008.

Video: Sundown Schooolhouse: Practicing Moving – Day #19
Visit fritzhaeg.com.

Posted in Architecture, Collaboration, Conceptual, Dance, Ecology, Everyday, Social Practice | Leave a comment

Giles Miller

Giles Miller

1.  Do you now or have you ever considered yourself a performance artist?

Only recently have I done a project that I considered “performance art.” It’s a project called “Hot Licks” in which I play saxophone over an audio collage of intros, outros and breakdowns of popular songs. The reason I feel like it qualifies as performance art is 1) I couldn’t think of any other way to categorize it and 2) it is a performance that was invented and structured out of my personal creative practice, rather than socially received modes of performance. I am a guy who likes to sit around at home and play along with recordings that i like on my saxophones or flutes — I pretend that I’m part of all sorts of legendary performances and jerk off about it!  Hot Licks attempts to convey that fantasy and that reality.  Other than that I just think of myself as a musician, actor, dancer, personality. I think performances are being enacted by everybody, all the time. i’m actually super reserved in person and very risk averse socially, which might be what draws me to performance art.

2. What was the first performance art you ever encountered in your life?

I turned thirteen years old living in downtown New Haven, CT in 1985. It was the golden age of hip hop culture and I was just outside hip hop’s epicenter in New York City. We were break dancing and popping at school and in the neighborhood. The music, the clothes, the style and the dance moves were all brand new and unformed. We saw signs about a break dance competition being held in a hockey rink across the street from our house, and were working on a routine and were going to enter but didn’t get it together in time. We went to the show anyways…we weren’t blown away by anything there, but the idea of competing against the various dance crews did sort of blow my mind, as I remember it. There were all these kids doing dances to the songs we danced to, we weren’t sure where they came from, but they were not from far away.  I remember wondering how we would size up on stage…my 11 year old brother and me and whoever we had in our crew at that point. Dancing remains my favorite performance act. What beats walking into a night club anonymously and then the right moment and the right song align, and you suddenly are commanding the dance floor and everyone on it who matters?

3. Do you make distinctions between performance art and other forms of performance, like music?

I do make a distinction, although its a bit messy. When someone does something not normally considered performative and calls it performance, it is apparently performance art.  But any willful transcendence of the social norms and codes of performance to achieve honest human communication/artistic expression also seems to qualify as performance.  But funny you mention music, because my ideal of being in a band is very close to my ideal of performance art. The ideal band produces a “sound” that synthesizes the talents, limitations and circumstances of a group of people that have found each other and “banded” together for whatever reason. Similarly, a performance artist invents a new mode of performance out of the circumstances of her lived reality, as well as to achieve some aim or claim some ground.

4. What makes a performance successful, in your opinion?

I am not sure that what makes a performance successful for the performer is always the same as what makes a performance successful for the audience member. So many things can contribute to success. Luck, talent and practice do help.

5. Who is your ideal audience?

I like to imagine that there are people anywhere and everywhere that might appreciate my work. I have tried playing saxophone on street corners. When I did it in New York, in a park on the lower eastside, a guy wanted me to play Body & Soul at a wake for his brother or something, but I didn’t really know Body & Soul that well so I refused, but he wanted to pay me money, and he ended up giving me a ride home to Brooklyn and giving me a long speech about how to live that I really didn’t appreciate. Performing is hard work!  Other times, girls have lifted up their skirts when I’m performing and showed me their underpants, that seemed pretty ideal!

6. Have you found support for the development and presentation of your work?

I have found support, but I have never looked for financial support from my art practice. For any short comings in my creative life, I fault myself first.

7.  Did you have a mentor?

I had a liberal arts education at an elite college, since I was a bit of a nerd in high school and my parents were willing to pay for it. I took several classes with the avant-garde saxophone virtuoso, composer and philosopher Anthony Braxton and his example influenced me a great deal.  But I’m not a great mentee, so I never had a real mentor.

8. What inspires your most recent body of work?

The band LA Fog was originally formed out of the frustration of being the sax player in so many bands, always being a periferal player. I thought there was a lot of interesting stuff happening in the horn section, and that by stripping away all the other parts of the band, I could explore my instrument better that way. Also I like playing rhythm and repetitive parts.

9. How important is your body to your work?

Sometimes my body is an amazing conduit and sometimes it is an awkward impediment to my purposes in performance. My body assures that I will present a spectacle of “me” along with whatever else I do.

10. Have you been encouraged by recent developments in public discourse around performance art?

It seems appropriate that performance art is gaining prominence recently.

11.What does your family think about your work?

My parents support everything I do as if they were hard-wired that way. Or am I hard-wired to please?

12. What is the relationship between performance art and other media?

Performance art should strive for transcendance, it should reach beyond media, like any other great art.
Posted in Art Band, California, Collage/mash-up, Dance, Los Angeles, Music | Leave a comment

Emily Mast

Emily Mast, Everything, Nothing, Something, Always (Walla!), 2009,
performance (Roski Gallery, Los Angeles) photo: Mackenzie Hoffman

1. Do you consider yourself a performance artist?

I don’t consider myself a performance artist per-say. I consider myself an artist who makes temporal experiences that might be referred to as performances. Although I create performances, I do not usually perform myself. When people ask me what kind of work I do, I tend to offer a different answer every time. Today I might say, “I create intentional ephemeral situations that often borrow from theater and dance to propose temporal moments using bodies, language and movement.” The term “performance” feels a little off to me because it seems to distance itself from authenticity. I’m currently very interested in the idea of one performing oneself: can you still be authentic if you’re playing yourself? This question is, of course, intertwined with our current fascination with reality TV, Facebook and Twitter.

2. What was the first instance of performance art you ever saw?

The first thing that comes to mind, and I’m not sure how to qualify this, is the circus. I must have been three or four years old. I remember the red lollipop I was eating and the ridged, metal bleachers we were sitting on. The clowns were performing and they were looking for a participant in the audience. I remember being seized by fear and clutching my seat until the clowns left the circus ring. It must have been the first live performance I ever witnessed and it terrified me. I think my work is often a way for me to cope with and understand that which confounds and scares me.

3. Do you make a distinction between performance art and other performance forms (dance, theater, music)?

For me, it all comes down to context. If you displace the circus, for example, and install it in an exhibition context, the ways we will then perceive the circus become completely relative to the context. These distinctions can be helpful to the audience, especially in terms of mental preparation, but they’re kind of a pain in the ass for me. In fact, I intentionally offer experiences that are hard to define, so my audience might not be able to fully grasp what they’re getting into, even if they’ve read a description or press release beforehand. What I do touches on theater, dance, choreography, spectacle, sculpture, literature, etc. – as so much art now does. What ties them all together is time and the fact that they stubbornly remain ephemeral. In the end, the moment is what really what matters to me, no matter what it’s called or how it is referred to.

Emily Mast, Everything, Nothing, Something, Always (Walla!), 2009,
performance (Performa, X-initiative, New York)
photo: Karl Haendel

4. What did you study in school?  Did you have mentors?

I initially studied art, creative writing and theater at a liberal arts college in New York state, and I recently got an MFA at USC. I met one of my mentors, the Berlin-based photographer John Schuetz, almost 15 years ago at a coffee shop in Saratoga Springs where I used to work. I overheard him describing one of my photographs to a friend. He had no idea who I was, he had just admired the work which was in a show down the street. He was in town doing an artist residency at Yaddo and we became very close friends and correspondents. I just spent a month at Yaddo myself and John and I are still in contact. I don’t think he’ll ever forgive me for dropping photography though. I also have immense affection and respect for Philippe Parreno who I assisted for three years in Paris years ago. He, on the other hand, always thought I should focus on writing. I don’t think anyone ever advised me to pursue performance. So while it’s wonderful to have someone to look up to, you ultimately just need to listen to yourself.

5. Who/what inspires your most recent body of work?

I’m currently working with instructions given to me by the French choreographer Jerome Bel for a performance at the Torrence Art Museum in which I will be performing myself. I am very interested in the real effects of fiction (such as instances of performers dying while performing death) and making fictions out of reality. I’m also very interested in vulnerability, fragility, imperfection and instances of lost control. I’ve been admiring (and scrutinizing) work by Tino Sehgal and Marina Abramovic (by default, perhaps, since they both just had big shows in New York) but also Simone Forti, Spaulding Gray, Guy de Cointet, Trisha Donnelly, Roman Ondak, David Levine and my collaborator and dear friend Hana van der Kolk. I’m developing an idea for a piece that will be based on Joan Brossa’s more theatrical poems. He’s a Catalan poet and playwright who died in 1998 and the majority of whose work has sadly not yet been translated into English. I’m also reading everything I can get my hands on by the Austrian writer Peter Handke. And I’m thinking a lot about Jacques Tati’s 1967 masterpiece “Playtime” and William Greaves’ 1968 film “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm”. And then there’s Franz Kafka’s last short story “Josephine the Singer, or the Mousefolk”. And I’ve been listening to (and screaming along with) Animal Collective. And meditating. And swimming outdoors. These have all been influential in my process lately.

6. Who is your audience/public?

For starters, they are often the subject matter and content of my work. They’re my supporters and my perpetrators. They’re my best friends and my biggest enemies. More generally, an audience is a collection of witnesses simultaneously acknowledging existence.

7. Where have you found support for the development and presentation of your work — art world, or outside?

I feel very privileged to have such wonderful (and wonderfully intelligent) friends and an incredibly supportive family. The art world currently seems willing to give me a chance too. However, more than anything, I need to have faith in myself to do what I do. You have to be brave to be an artist because the decision involves becoming who you are, as opposed to who others think you should be, and it can be a grand undertaking. Of course, time and space are vital as well. I am extremely protective of my alone-time.

Emily Mast & Evan Mast, Untitled (Smoke), 2009,
ephemeral installation
photo: Emily Mast

8. What does your family think about your work?

My brothers are both artists. They often work with each other and I have collaborated with my younger brother in the recent past. The three of us are very close and very invested in each other’s work. My parents are equally as invested, but they also tend to get exhausted by the intensity of my work. As a kid I always wanted to complicate things, and I still do. I want to understand and experience everything, not just accept it and take it for granted. I am not the most logical or straightforward person. I love to let things go to places of rampant impossibility, if at all possible. Understandably, this can be overwhelming at times.

9. Have you been encouraged by recent developments in public discourse around performance?

I’m excited that institutions like the Guggenheim and the MoMA are mounting shows comprised of predominantly of performative / ephemeral material and I’m convinced we are in the midst of an historical moment for performance. It’s thrilling to be witnessing and experiencing it while simultaneously taking part in it. I’m curious to see how such exhibitions will effect the ways we historicize performance art in the future, and frankly I’m grateful for all the problems, questions and challenges that have sprung up over the course of the past few years.

10. What are your criteria for determining the success of a performance?

I rarely think in terms as black and white as “success” and “failure” and prefer to think in terms of what worked and what didn’t. Besides, my response to this question constantly changes with time. I think I’m a selfish (or at least, a rather inwardly-focused) person, and I try to understand myself as a human being so that I can, in turn, better understand others. My work then becomes the avenue by which I am able to be generous. A community is often created in the mounting of each piece. It’s a collaborative effort in which we are all attempting to all arrive at a (hopefully meaningful) moment together in time. If I succeed in being generous and create human connections, then I suppose I could consider the work a success.

11. How does the body (of the viewer, performer, or you) figure into your work?

Uncertainty is the only certainty in my life. My work is a reflection on impermanence and the lack of staying power of anything — this seems to be the tragedy as well as the beauty of life. Isn’t it only fitting then that I would choose to work with something as essential, volatile, imperfect and uncontrollable as the body? A situation’s live-ness and human-ness are key to me. I personally don’t enjoy records of live-ness (i.e. video, images, objects, photos) as much as live-ness itself, nor do I believe they are satisfactory replacements. I love going to see dance, for example, and hearing the sound of bare feet squelching on the floor. I love to hear performers breathing. And I’m always looking to catch sight of something I wasn’t necessarily supposed to see. There’s something about witnessing “imperfection” that I find rather moving…and perfect. Other forms sometimes strike me as too easy to edit, to mold and to sculpt into perfection. There’s a real rawness to the body, and there’s so much at stake — the possibility of failure (whatever that is) or faltering is ever-present. Death scares me, in part, because it is a body-less state. I can only hope that in death we retain awareness.

Emily Mast’s website. Video: Everything, Nothing, Something, Always (Walla!) – Dress Rehearsal for Performa 09 from Emily Mast.

Posted in Collaboration, Conceptual, Dance, Durational, Ephemeral, Everyday, Experimental Theater, Humor, Los Angeles, Sculpture, Spectacle, Theater | Leave a comment

Julie Tolentino

“Honey” from Cry of Love by Julie Tolentino
Berlin: House of World Cultures, 2009. Photo by Gökhan Gültepe

1. When did you begin to identify as a performance artist?

I have never (quite) used this term – though double-dipped as (and quickly outgrew) my formal descriptor as professional post-modern dancer. Straddling NY and Europe in the 90’s and focused on the body, duration and one-to-one formats, I tended to align with “Live Art” – but that’s just apples and oranges – and country-sides, camaraderie and affinities at play.

2. What was the first instance of performance art you ever saw?

Several concurrent influences seem key: Poised for the Ailey school, I turned a corner in early days by the San Francisco Radical Faeries and leathermen, the Wallflower Order of the Dance Brigade and Fluxus exhibits and that led me to key exposure to Ana Mendieta– particularly her gallery performance of Body Tracks and the apt setting for Untitled (Rape Scene) piece. Once in NY, I trained with many including Amagatsu Ushio and Sankai Juku in the 80’s, just after their Seattle tragedy. Their tempo and focus changed my sense of time, space, process and instigated a re-shaping of my study of movement. In the same period, my world was torn open by work by influential NY friends/family: Dancenoise, Antony and Johanna + Black Lips at the Pyramid, actions of The Mary’s, Art Positive (ACT UP), Lawrence Steger; Nan Goldin, Cookie Mueller, Sharon Niesp, Ray Navarro, Lola Flash, Gran Fury, Felix Gonzales Torres’ candy piece and David Wojnarowicz’ live readings at St Marks Church and the seminal performances by Diamanda Galas – Plague Mass and Schrei X, performed in complete darkness at PS122 (or was it The Kitchen?) Others: Jarman, Beuys and Joan Jonas’s films, David Zambrano, Meg Stuart and Ishmael Houston Jones’ dancing; Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit, the Marina/Ulay period (only), Adrian Piper, the ABC No Rio days, then the awe inspiring body of work by Franko B as well as the very early days of Fura Del Baus, and other movement based performance groups shifted the thinking and reading of the body where I was able to make connections to work that expressed my (then considered) radical views around visibility and sexuality, El Salvadoran/Filipina mestiza heritage caught up in a deep class conflama. An Otherness began to take root and become part of my making/doing/etching process. I went on to produce, manage and perform with another generation of artists focussed on body, fluids, race, sex, auto-history, text (i.e. Ron Athey & David Rousseve), run the (infamous) Clit Club hosting a roster of queer performance weekly for twelve years, as well as work across performance borders as an artist, activist, dancer, director, collaborator and/or merely body (ha!) with numerous artists (including a few high-profile pop stars who, when it became popular apparently, likened themselves to “performance artists.” I got paid and paid these appearances no mind.) I didn’t begin to make solo performance til 1998. I’m slow.

3. Do you make a distinction between performance art and other performance forms (dance, theater, music)? Are these distinctions useful or burdensome for you?

We are all very into innovation (to save ourselves, I imagine) – and unfortunately very indebted to the words that go along with it. As it goes, the forms constantly merge and edges blur, conform, expand and conflate. I am excited when I experience growth of form and then see how it all hits walls or blows minds. With these convergences, I prefer a ‘lack of terminology’ to breathe life to new work – before it is captured into (what only works out to be marketing/self-promoting) terms (written all too well, too often). For me, it is either live or it is non-live. Everything else is the great unplugged, lo- or hi-fi, filmic, relational, pristinely 4th wall, or just the old-school multiplex of media, politics and performance scrambled to deliver it to its space in front of its audience. If it crosses borders, then it is (most likely) performatively doing its own thing. If it is hurting someone’s feelings or turning someone out, it is definitely performing a role. Another thought: I do appreciate to learn of where people ‘come’ from – and what evolutionary, influenced, collaborative or self-imposed risk taking paths they have taken to bring work to the table.

4. When do you consider your own performance work successful?

I’m constantly tweaking my descriptors, methods: a filmic poem, a scratchy labyrinth or a live collage event – so perhaps it is “working” when it is etching out mutated concepts on various levels like a collage might – for a live audience. I think it is working when its tempo can be oriented with a glance and can fall apart as quickly as it can be recovered. I reject certain formulas (i.e. aiming for a spectacle-kind-of-beautiful-ness, or wishful enlightened mystery and ewwww: repairative endings) and yet fall in and out of theatrical (un-)doings. You never know what might turn me (or anyone else for that matter) on. Success could be described as “when it feels on the edge, for both sides – yet solid in the center where the technical crew is.” In a recent performance, I made the choice to “not plan” the beginning of the piece. To “wing it” – or more accurately, use improvisation, the anxiety of a performance’s start and my unsure voice to orient and start a physically difficult performance of images and conditions around the making of a 50 min meditation on love. To be ok with not to knowing what to do, and start with a small tear (- a break in the fabric/skin, singed and toned by a small droplet of salty eyewater. Now that is love, alright.) Other criteria tends to have a positively masochistic flair: usually duration is involved, fear: unknown results, potential mishaps, back up plans with high hopes of not going there – but it always starts with something a little sharp. And most of the work offers to take on an edge of difficulty that I am not certain I can attain. A kind of vulnerability. (I may I outgrow that someday.) Or I admit that I want someone to trust me to lead us for our short time together. Or at least start that way. Or my work is successful when I am falling apart a little bit in front of you.

5. Who is your audience/public?

Anyone who wants to make their own mind up about what they are seeing. Enthusiasts and their nay-sayer friends. I admit that I do love my friends to be in my audience. And like Felix (G-T), I secretly tend to make my work for the one(s) I love.  On a similar audience vein, I naively wonder what it would be to come on-stage and perform a (final) simple, singular bow with rockstar lighting at somewhere like Dodger Stadium at night….. Now that is one spectacular way to finish one’s career – a naked wrinkled-up, time-beaten body bowing in front of a stadium full of people who have likely never seen your work.

6. What do you need to be able to make your work?

Time, more time. So follows patience. (And, of course, dinero.) Other: Feedback/dialogue relationships with other artists. Travelling (anywhere). Fabricators. Conservators i.e. plastic surgeons and on-call hardcore bodywork.

A True Story About Two People by Julie Tolentino
Berlin: House of World Cultures, 2007.  Photo: Debra Levine

7. Did you have mentors?

A. What can I say? I am guided by the dead, the Lost.  B. My secret mentor is LaRibot. During a London residency, she gave me a piece of studio advice that has forever changed me – involving a paper bag, an apple, a knife and a bottle of whiskey. C. I admire the talent and energy of Wu Tsang. Also have Karen O and Kyp Malone envy. All: voice, body, politics fully charged.

8. Who/what inspires your most recent body of work?

Pigpen (aka Stosh Fila), Felix G-T (always), Yoshitomo Nara, portraiture, desert life (and its dry, opportunistic environs), aquatic bodywork, science magazines, drum lines in the Brooklyn/Bronx marching band, a hidden wound, longing, aging, wigs, a fucking great newish band from AZ whose short songs are now potentially the soundtrack to my entire new body of work, Derek Jarman and shiny things-jeepneys, mirrors, broken glass. Also: honey.

9. How does the body (of the viewer, performer, or you) figure into your work?

Here I am sensing a shift. I am diving into the powerful on-stage dynamic with Pigpen. Secondly, I have a great desire to make a simple movement piece for a group and perform on a regular little stage with lights and some kind of costume. You know, old school recital. Maybe even provide sweet popcorn. I have a lot to learn to make this happen. But I want to try. Perhaps this can sever dually as an audition post?

10. Have you been encouraged by recent developments in public discourse around performance?

In general, I prefer more action, less talk. I hate to feel held hostage in a talk. But I do want to choose to sit in audiences where we hear what each other sees. I like to meet artists who like to talk about their work post-show. I don’t want artists to host these talks unless they really want to. I don’t care for over-intellectualized pre-performance talks. I love juicy anecdotal opera talks that help me see work, an artist or a process/context. i don’t like to be handheld. I appreciate it when I am the only one who doesn’t know what is going on – and can say so in public and be brought inside. I love to sit close up. I am drawn to very opinionated audience members, curators, programmers. I dream of live weekly Skype’d video chat programming of thematic artist studies led by everyone in Forced Entertainment, slightly drunken, on Sunday afternoons. (Maybe Big Art Group or My Barbarian would lead one too?)

11. What does your family think about your work?

When I was very young, I was in a musical performance in which, I was shot with a handgun and killed on stage. My (extremely special) sister bolted up instantly and screamed a wretched pitch from the audience, shrieking til someone could calm her. this, I think, is exactly how my family feels about my work. Perhaps they don’t exactly know where I am coming from (context) but sense something ‘real’ in the action. In the meantime, speaking of realness, my Filipino grandmother only notices how I “and the gays are always showing (our) bodies and ‘business’ in public.” I just received an Arts Matters grant to travel for the first time to the Philippines – so I will likely be able to expand on this answer …

12. How does the written word (poetry, mystical writings) inform your concept of performance?

It’s a quiet personal necessity/crutch/gift and over time, I find that the texts continually extend the borders of meaning and shoot holes in my creative limitations; cues me to multiplicitious-ness and the true ability to communicate beyond common sentence structure; examines a meta-narrative; allows for color in my or a receiver’s potentially black and white texture palate. It is dimensional, extends beyond the body, becomes another body. Reading, absorption (and the lack of), wards against art/culture-comb-overs. Kicking with/for/against words create revolutions. From Hilton Als, to Cixous, Whitman, live Eileen Myles, song lyrics and even Calle’s particular use of image and written repetition in Exquisite Pain, I am forever renewed and sloughed off at once. I, like everyone, am changed by congregations of words, and change history with each reading. Hiding words within costume, sets, inscribing texts in ink into skin, using Chinese Medicine point texts as terrain – all same – like a street-wise, personalized, globe-trotting graffiti’d repertoire. Like dropping ashes of loved ones in voids that are meaningful – as tribute to being the alive, messy, memory laden sexy beasts that we are…Words are spice and lend themselves to complex tones, surprises, and deep-throated lingering after-thoughts. (Demanding – the way I like it.)

“The Duet” from Cry of Love by Julie Tolentino with Pigpen
Berlin: House of World Cultures 2009.
Photo: Fransiska Pierwoss

Julie Tolentino’s website.

Posted in Blood, Body Art, Collaboration, Durational, Endurance, Feminist, Live Art, New York, Queer, Violence | 1 Comment

Notes on Guillermo Gómez-Peña

Museum of Fetishized Identities, 1999-2002

Excerpt from “El Corrido Del Eterno Retorno” by Guillermo Gómez-Peña:

Mi trabajo artistico en el accidentado terreno del performance comenzó a cobrar forma, sentido y peso de mi nueva condición de “emigrante indeseable.” Los gabachos me pusieron extraños apodos como greaser, wetback, beaner y meskin. Decsonocía sus connotaciones. La siniestra policía losangelina me imprimío a golpes mi nueva identidad. Hice flota. La colaboracíon artística para mí fue un acto de supervivencia elemental. Porque el dolor y la solded cultural se sienten menos en flota. El racismo también. El performance fue mi salvación; mi manera muy personal de responder, de luchar, de militar, de afirmarme, de delinearme un espacio de libertad y diginidad en medio de la desolación cultural anglosajona; de crearme una comunidad de almas afines. Mi communidad era, y lo sigue siendo, una tribu de outcasts, marginados, nómados, desterrados, pochos e híbridos. Los llamo cariñosamente “los vatos intersticiales.”

from El Mexterminator, Antroplogía inversa de un performancero postmexicano, edited by Josefina Alcázar, 2002

Posted in 1980s, 1990s, Border Art, California, Collaboration, Costumes, Identity Art, Los Angeles, Political, Video, Violence | Leave a comment

Jade Gordon

Jade Gordon as Tamora, Queen of the Goths, in My Barbarian's "Mountain Peoples," International Prize for Performance, Dro, Italy 2007

1.  When did you begin to identify yourself as a performance artist?

I haven’t studied art in a formal context but I’ve been working as 1/3 of a performance art group (My Barbarian) for about 10 years. I still have trouble saying “performance artist” when people ask me what I do. I guess what you’re asking is not what I tell other people but how think of myself, so my answer is “I’m a performer who does performance art.” But I’m also a performer who teaches and sings and, in certain social situations, tries to project a sparkling personality, a character. I have my moon in Gemini which gives me a bit of a split personality. Also, I’ve been told by my astrologer that Virgo is a “server” sign… I think that performing can be a service in the same way waiting tables is. Maybe that’s why I have trouble calling myself a performance artist. The artist doesn’t necessarily care to serve the public. The actor needs to to feel validated and important: being liked = being good. And the teacher/performer gets respect and admiration through her service. The reason I feel more comfortable saying that I am a performer is because I actually am more comfortable performing than performance-arting. Early on in my theater career I did a solo show about a megalomaniacal performance artist and I remember people asking me after the shows if I was a performance artist. I would say, “Oh my god, no! I’m just an actress trying to get cast in a movie!” It was always about the distance I created between my real self and the character I was playing. Today, as an individual performing as part of a three person collective, my work is about examining this controlled/created space. Sometimes real-Jade seeps through the cracks a bit but the protective shield of the character remains. It’s probably why I still have terrible stage fright after 15 years of performing in front of people. This is a difficult question. I’m confused about it. Who am I?!

2. What was the first performance art you ever encountered in your life?

I have a few early “performance art memories.” The first one I can remember was with my mom and step dad and we were in Downtown LA. It was an outdoor concert type of deal. I was about 7 or 8. I remember getting dressed for it. I had a green silky “disco skirt” and a fuchsia Chinese blouse. I thought I looked cool. The performance was loud, it hurt my ears. The man onstage was wearing nothing but a loincloth and was running around screaming. I liked it, I think.  Next one I can think of involves Barbies and an ’80s lady with crazy hair doing something weird with the Barbies, hanging them upside down, putting blood on them. That bothered me because I liked Barbie.  My most vivid memory was when I saw Ron Athey for the first time at Club Fuck in the early ’90s. I was still a teenager and with my boyfriend at the time who was 12 years older than me. He was part of Vaginal Davis‘ performance, playing one of her adoring boys. He got whipped cream sucked off his toes during the show. I was really stoned and dressed inappropriately for the goth club, white cowboy shirt with embroidered flowers. I obviously didn’t know where I was going. I had weird style back then. I think everybody did. Anyway, I was stoned and alone in the crowd and all of a sudden Ron, in a long brown monk robe, was stabbing a small bald woman named Pigpen’s head with long metal surgical spears and blood was gushing out like a geyser. The room began to spin and I kept trying to back up toward the bar for support but it seemed to keep getting farther and farther away. The next thing I remember I was lying on the sticky floor surrounded by kids in black clothes and eyeliner. Everyone was looking down at me asking what I was on. I said “nothing” (even though I was stoned) and that I needed to find my boyfriend who was in the show. Later when I did find him he said, “Did you hear? Somebody passed out during the show!” I was embarrassed. Years later I read Roselee Goldberg‘s book and she mentioned that “several people” had fainted during this particular performance.

Jade Gordon in My Barbarian's "Retro-Active Self-Appropriation," SFMOMA, San Francisco 2010

3. Do you make distinctions between performance art and theater?

This question seems to come up a lot and no, I don’t really think it’s that important. I think distinctions are for people who don’t particularly like interdisciplinarity. A lot of what makes experimental theater experimental comes from the same impulse as performance art. I think it’s about context and who the audience is and what you want to do to them or get from them.

4. What makes a performance successful?

Success for me as doer or watcher can be different things. As a doer, I’d say: audience reaction, questions raised during the performance, humor, uncomfortable moments, flashes of brilliance, spontaneity, recognition or virtuosity. As a watcher, success or failure is determined by feelings/thoughts such as: Did it make me think? Did it make me jealous? Did it make me laugh? Cry?  Want to leave?  Want to scream?  Want to kill the person onstage? And then there are the performances that you can only read about or see pictures of. Usually I’m drawn to things I can relate to or nicely photographed or videotaped performances that are clever or sexy or pretty or funny or have good costumes and makeup.

5. Who is your ideal audience?

I love performing for friends.

6. Have you found support in the art world, the theater world or other worlds?

Mostly art world, but we seem to be getting a lot of invitations from theater festivals lately.

7.  Do you have mentors?

My undergraduate degree is in theater and I will be going back for an MA in Applied Theater this fall. My mentors have included a man who taught me how to improvise who currently directs for Cirque Du Soleil (Stefan Haves), another who taught me to juggle and stilt walk, who was an extra in Xanadu (Roy Johns).  Also a hippie USC professor who specializes in Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed (Brent Blair). My favorite artists are women: Kate Bush, Rebecca Horn, Valie Export, Joan Jonas, Madeline Kahn, Eleanor Antin and Ann Magnuson.

8. Who/what inspires your most recent body of work?

All of the above plus collaboration and current events.

9. How important is your body to your work?

I use my face and my voice and my body to communicate stories and ideas and characters. I like to make my body look ridiculous and I don’t necessarily care if the audience sees it as something to admire or not. Sometimes it’s an ugly clown face or a mannequin for a sparkly costume. I can be scary but I never want to be bloody unless it’s fake blood and even that is a bit disturbing.

10. Have you been encouraged by recent developments in public discourse around performance art?

I’m glad Marina Abramovic is the King of Performance Art, it’s like the best Virginia Slims ad ever. James Franco is cute and I think it’s great that Hollywood is invading the art world. I’ve noticed that certain institutions and museums are beginning to recognize that performance art should be part of their exhibition programming. It’s just frustrating that it’s usually included as the entertainment for some big event designed to fundraise or as a way to draw attention to some other visual artist’s work.

11. What does your family think about your work?

No one has any idea what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years.

12. Is performance art just another medium, like painting, or is it possible that it is beyond media?

I like to think of the performer as the psychic medium of mediums.

Jade Gordon in My Barbarian videos.

My Barbarian, Post-Living Ante-Action Theater, Galleria Civica Di Arte Contemporaneo, Trento, Italy 2008

Posted in Actor, Applied Theater, Art Band, California, Clowning, Costumes, Experimental Theater, Feminist, Los Angeles, Theater | Leave a comment

Sonya Robbins

Sonya Robbins of robbinschilds in "Layla and Sonya Go Camping," 2009

1. Do you consider yourself a performance artist?

For the past few years I’ve cycled through a range of terminology. I used to refer to myself as a ‘choreographer’ which then evolved into a ‘movement artist’ and in the last year or so I’ve been throwing ‘performance artist’ into the mix. My creative partner (Layla Childs) and I are never quite sure how to identify as our work utilizes many different forms. I guess our latest term is that we’re ‘trans genre’, we’ve been enjoying that one quite a bit.

2. What was the first performance art you ever encountered in your life?

Easy. My first glimpse of ‘performance art’ was in the film Legal Eagles when Daryl Hannah (who played an edgy downtown performance artist) did a show for Robert Redford. Her performance had projections, disjointed confusing text, fire and sinister/sexy movements. I was 12 at the time and I thought it was amazing.

3. Do you make distinctions between performance art and other forms of performance?

This is a timely question since what used to be a more direct way to distinguish one from another—namely what venue you were going to—is no longer a sure fire prediction as to what is presented. More and more I’m seeing what I would have considered ‘performance art’ in traditional dance spaces and ‘dance’ in galleries, etc. So I guess the above indicates that I do make distinctions as I’m watching something, although I’d say it’s more of an automatic, habitual process rather than something I think is important to do as a viewer. In fact thinking about this from the perspective of a ‘viewer’ I might argue that for me I have a richer experience of watching when I don’t assign a label (dance, performance art, theater) to what I’m looking at. However there’s another aspect to this, which is the conversation the artist has with a presenter. In that scenario I think that we (robbinschilds) try to be clear about whether or not we are intending to present a ‘dance piece’ which for us might require a more specific type of presentation (I’m thinking both technically but also how the work is promoted) or a durational piece which has no precise beginning-middle-end and which we imagine people dropping in and out of over the course of the exploration.

4. What makes a performance successful?

Hard to say exactly as this is constantly changing! It seems these days that it’s the things I almost hate that end up staying with me the longest. I like it when I’m still mulling over a performance days later. I do consistently appreciate a clear structure. Since we’re talking about time based work, the sequencing of ‘events’ feels important. I want to find meaning or sense in the order of the live events, and when the structure accumulates in a way that registers it’s incredibly satisfying. When that doesn’t happen for me, I go into the void of randomness. Where I’m wondering “why do I need to be watching any of this?” And that’s a dark, depressing void.

5. How do you construct your public?

Well, since we generally agree to most of the opportunities that come our way I’d say our public is constructed in a somewhat mish mash way. I think we’ve been seen in visual art institutions as often as we’ve been seen in theaters. Each of those environments brings a different crowd. The audience in a museum comes to our work with less context which can be liberating but there’s also less commitment to seeing a performance through. Our dance audience is comprised of peers, friends and colleagues. So I imagine those folks see our performances as part of a trajectory, both a personal robbinschilds trajectory but also they are framing it in relation to other current dance work.

6. Have you found support in the art world, the theater world, dance world, or other worlds, for the development and presentation of your work?

Mainly yes. Since our work spans a few genres I feel very fortunate to have had invitations to make things for different types of spaces. And the worlds I think we occupy are dance and visual art and then more recently film (we’ve not had much experience working within the theater world). There are projects that Layla and I make that we know can only work in a traditional dance space. And then there are the ideas that translate better in a gallery. Generally speaking the curators and artistic directors who occupy these worlds get the span of our focus and are open to talking about our projects from that perspective. Now if you expand the definition of ‘support’ to include criticism, in that case I don’t think we feel that our projects have been equally supported by these worlds. In our experience it has been hard to have our whole projects reviewed by dance critics, who tend to focus primarily on the movement element only and disregard the other elements at play. Certainly our more probing criticism has come from visual art critics who are less concerned about what ballet school we might have attended when we were 12. That sounds pretty catty but oh well!

robbinchilds / A.L. Steiner, C.L.U.E., 2007

7. What did you study in school? Did you have mentors?

I went to Bard College in the early to mid 90’s and graduated with a degree in Dance. At that point the school was super small and the Dance department was still housed in this funky building in the woods. They’ve got a fancy new Frank Gehry building now. The dance department at Bard was unusual in that you were awarded a BA in composition not dance technique. So although you had to take technique classes daily you were also required to choreograph a finished work each semester. I was kind of obsessed with all of my teachers at the time, but if I had to single out one it would be the amazing Susan Osberg. Susan would make the craziest 39 count phrases that went on and on which she could never remember or reverse to the other side. She also would have us do long experiential improvisations out in the woods (I’m thinking in particular of her leading us on a now legendary two hour slow motion walk through this river and waterfall that was on campus).

8. Who/what inspires your most recent body of work?

The most recent finished work that we presented, ‘Sonya and Layla Go Camping,’ began out of a physical limitation that Layla was dealing with due to a surgery at the time. So in a way that whole project was based on being physically but also a bit creatively blocked. Because we’re a duo much of our inspiration is generated by our endless, and I mean ENDLESS conversations. Talking and story telling have become a major part of our practice. About mid-way through the making of that project we saw Jacques Rivette’s 1974 film ‘Celine and Julie go boating’ which in French (…vont en bateau) is a double entendre for getting caught up in a story that someone is telling you. We were smitten, and we ended up citing elements of that film in our performance. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention ‘Seinfeld’ here as another source of inspiration. It’s definitely a clear example of generating a project, a joke, a story out of nothing.

9. How important is your body to your work?

Honestly this ebbs and flows depending on what we’re working on. Over the last few years we’ve moved away from creating dense movement based choreography. That’s not to say the body isn’t important, but rather that the body in our work is most of the time shown either ‘rehearsing’ a movement or walking a pathway. I do sometimes miss the days of working on elaborate dance phrases, and who knows maybe someday we’ll get back to that. But for now the body in our work is presented in a more pedestrian (actually we use the term ‘extra-pedestrian’) state.

10. Have you been encouraged by recent developments in public discourse around performance art?

Overall I think it’s encouraging to see the public’s growing awareness about performance art. It would be disingenuous to say otherwise as I think robbinschilds has received many opportunities due to the increase in interest and the effect it has had on museum programming. There are, no surprise, issues of tokenism that come up when a particular medium is suddenly super trendy. And sometimes, at least in our experience, the same curators who were initially very excited about the idea of live performance happening at their institutions become less enthusiastic when it comes to dealing with the actual logistical needs. So that can feel discouraging from an art maker perspective. And we could have a whole other conversation about the economics of programming performance in visual art institutions, there’s plenty to be discouraged about in that arena! But stepping away from an art maker perspective, overall I think the increased awareness of performance is a good thing. I loved that the Abramovic show was such a hot topic these last few months. I was glad that it generated so much dialogue—even vomit! And because of all that buzz I’m still parsing through my own thoughts about her retrospective, about the chair piece, about the success/failure of re-performing old work, about the public response to nudity.

11. What does your family think about your work?

Ha, that’s a good question! Once, when she was in her 90’s I showed my grandmother a video of an early piece I had made and her only comment was “Martha Graham must be rolling over in her grave”. The rest of my family is very enthusiastic about what we’re doing though, very proud. I would say that some projects generate more specific discussion with my parents than others, but that’s probably true with anyone. My brother is a London based conceptual sculptor and he’s definitely my toughest family critic. He’s pretty forthright, which is kind of refreshing.

12. Is performance art a medium?

Well, it’s hard to think of it as just one medium right? I mean since it tends to incorporate so many forms. I think performance art is slippery in that it can’t easily be named, labeled, pinned down. There’s no easy “if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck it must be…” performance art rule. And because of that so many things could potentially fit under the umbrella of performance art. I wish I had a tidy response to this question but the more I mull it over the more labyrinthine my thoughts!

robbinschilds, Seriously Heavy (i hurt myself hurting you), 2006

Posted in Collaboration, Conceptual, Dance, Durational, Everyday, Humor, New York, Video | Leave a comment