101. RoseLee Goldberg, Performance Now: Live Art for the 21st Century
In a way, it makes no sense for me to be reading another book on performance by RoseLee Goldberg. Am I not risking getting only one narrow opinion on performance by relying on one author? Has no one else written on performance? And yet, she is an important expert on the field, and Performance Now wasn’t cheap, and it took Amazon forever to get a copy to me, so why not make use of it? That said, if anyone reading this has other ideas about books on performance art, please leave a comment on this post and let me know what they are.
This new book “charts the development of live visual art across six continents in the years since the new millennium” (7). It’s a survey, then, but a geographical one, rather than a chronological one. “It shows how performance, so integral to the history of art in the 20th century but largely ignored by art museums and academia,” she continues, “has, in the opening years of the 21st century, become one of the most highly visible art forms in museums as well as at biennials and art fairs around the globe” (7). That dissemination activity, along with the development of performance art departments at museums, dedicated performance spaces, and graduate work in performance studies, has resulted in “a revisionist art history of the last hundred years” being written (7). No doubt she considers her earlier writing on performance part of that revisionist history. But Goldberg goes further:
performance art is now being inserted into the timeline of a broad range of cultural studies, including theatre and dance history, film, video and architecture, with equal parts theory and analysis. These new areas of study are shifting understandings of “the live” as a significant visual art form, emphasizing, among other facts: the ways in which performance allows for the layering of ideas and commentary, to reflect the multi-tasking ethos of our times; how it incorporates fast-paced new technologies that are available to most; and its potential for reaching ever broader audiences as a result of the interactive engagement and communal viewing experience that are in this work’s very nature. (7)
There appears to be little room in Goldberg’s version of performance, it seems, for private performance (that is, performance that is not directed explicitly or directly at an audience), or performance that eschews technology and multi-tasking. Perhaps such work is outside of the mainstream of performance, or perhaps Goldberg simply doesn’t find it interesting and so leaves it out of consideration. I’m not sure.
Goldberg now turns to summarizing the book’s contents. Its first chapter, she writes, “focuses on the work of visual artists whose powerful performances are integral to their overall oeuvre,” particularly those “whose material since the 1970s has consistently used performance as one of the many media for expressing complex content, about both society and the functioning of art and museums within it, giving as much weight to the stylistic signature of the work to its subjects” (8). That chapter also looks at the influence of live performance on video and film, “in such a way as to make these media inseparable” (9). Video art, in particular, “has a great deal to do with the structure and evolution of artists’ performance, particularly in terms of close-up focus on the body, spatial configurations and durational non-narrative material” (9). “Attention to these elements,” she continues, “can reveal a kind of filmic ‘solidification’ of performance, where work begins as performance yet ends up as film” (9). She’s clearly not talking about video documentation alone; she discusses the way that, through editing, “the artist-director heightens the dramatic juxtaposition of assembled objects, bodies and music, and further articulates the separate parts of the performance, creating a visual assemblage unlike anything seen in traditional films” (9). In these “films”—for some reason, Goldberg doesn’t refer to them as videos, although they are probably made with video technology and intended to circulate in the ways video art circulates—“performers, not actors, are one element among many, to be rearranged in the editing process as needed” (9). Such work requires “a combination of expertise and sensibilities” derived from film, visual art, and live performance (9).
Next, Goldberg discusses the connection between performance and online forms of communication. She suggests that “performance is especially suited to communicating cultural differences,” and that it “does so across language barriers and geographic borders” (9). Moreover, she continues, [g]iven the inherent narratives implied by live performance—because every individual body tells a story—it is also surprisingly accessible,” and for artists from all over the world performance “serves as a passport to the international art arena that would be somewhat more elusive for an artist working in painting or sculpture” (9-10). I wonder if that’s true, but nevertheless that is the contention of the book’s second chapter, which explains “the ways in which its use of the body, local rituals and customs, music, costumes and objects, give the work an eloquence and insistent relevance that makes it possible to transfer ideas and sensibilities far beyond the place of origin” (10). The reference to “local rituals and customs” in that sentence makes me wonder how transparent performance might be to audiences outside of the context of its production, and whether performance is really that different in global reach than other forms of visual art.
Goldberg’s third chapter “looks at the ways in which artists working amid day to day turmoil use the multi-layered nature of performance to record shifting political templates” (10). That’s an awkward sentence—why not talk about political engagement instead of “templates”?—but it’s clear that chapter will look at work that emerges from countries “where war has been a continuous backdrop for many decades” (10). Her fourth chapter will look at contemporary dance, and her fifth chapter explores “why performance art is not theatre” (11). “Until recently,” she writes,
there has been very little interest shown between practitioners from each side in the other’s work. For artists who view performance through a visual lens, and playwrights and directors for whom the text might be the first point of departure, the crossover has been minimal. In the last few years, however, visual artists have been using the stage as a means of focusing their audiences frontally on works designed for the proscenium, while theatre artists are using the blank slate of the “white cube” in a museum or gallery to deconstruct the elements of theatre. (11)
I find that suggestion interesting, since Goldberg’s earlier book points out the way that, for twentieth-century avant gardes, theatre was an essential part of performance art, and that performance artists early in that century often used text. So too, for that matter, did the performance artists who became well-known in the 1980s, like Spalding Gray. Nevertheless, Goldberg suggests that “each side is finally taking note of the other, while the dividing line of text keeps the two separated in parallel but distinct worlds” (11). Since text is a big part of my work, I wonder whether Goldberg would consider it to be performance at all. I don’t know.
Goldberg’s sixth chapter looks at the relationship between architecture and performance. Apparently, contemporary architects consider “the meticulous methods of architecture—building spaces for people to move through, act upon, and act within”—are “essentially methods of performance” (11). “Considering how spaces are felt and how participants within their parameters are transformed into performers,” she continues, “this expanded awareness of the theatre of constructed spaces is shaping both education and sensibilities in architecture today” (11). “‘Architecture as performance,’” Goldberg writes, “has grown as a theoretical discourse as much as a practical application” (11). That chapter will also look at “the urban activism that has emerged alongside the idea of architecture as performance, showing a broad range of investigative experimentation by individual architects and collectives” (11). From Goldberg’s summary, that chapter would seem to be pretty far from my concerns.
Performance Now is a book, of course, which means it must compress “time and layers of information into a single publication” (11). In other words, it relies on photographs of performance. “Are these images best considered as a storyboard for a documentary film, each a window into a visual world of live performance?” Goldberg asks. “Or should they be viewed as one might a shard of pottery from another civilization; a starting point in a much longer trail?” (11). She notes that photographs themselves are art works, mediated and recorded by a photographer who is capturing the work of performance, and that “in the process produces a genre of photography unlike any other” (11). Those photographs, she insists, are not just documentation: “Rather, the photographs in this book are to be read, detail for detail, for colour, composition, rhythm and content, as one would the elements of a painting or sculpture” (11). Those photographs, she continues, tell us “something about the complicated context in which each performance was made, they are essential references in contemporary art history” (11).
“As a platform for the examined life, from multiple viewpoints and in many registers, performance draws filmmakers as well as playwrights, choreographers, composers, architects and designers into its avant-garde realm,” Goldberg concludes. “It offers a license for untrammelled invention, and its study necessarily encompasses a plurality of histories, and an understanding of where these intersect” (11). The intersections that Goldberg explores in this book, she continues, are those “between performance art and film, between art and theatre, between dance in the dance world and dance in the art world, between architecture as building and architecture as experience” (11). “Overall, the material offers readings of a vastly and rapidly changing society,” she argues. “With each visual clue and accompanying caption, an artist can be sen to render a fragment of the humanism we seek, their insights and sensibilities making us more alert to our endlessly shifting world” (11). Of course, words like “humanism” and “sensibilities” suggest that Goldberg might be a rather old-fashioned critic, which may suggest the need to find other sources on performance art.
Chapter one, “Performance as Visual Art,” begins with a description of Marina Abramović’s “memorial for the wounded city” of New York after 9/11, The House with the Ocean View. “A work of meditation and direct engagement with the public, it provided a quiet gathering place for viewers from ten in the morning to midnight for twelve days,” Goldberg writes (13). The peacefulness and elegance of the rooms Abramović inhabited was somewhat undercut, it seems, by the fact that she could only reach the platform where she lived “by step ladders with rungs made of butcher’s knives” (13). Which way were the cutting surfaces of the blades facing? Up or down? The text doesn’t say. The photographs that accompany Goldberg’s later discussion of this work, though, do explain that yes, in fact, the blades point upwards, and I don’t understand how Abramović was able to move from one performance space to another without leaving a trail of blood (no such trail is visible in the photograph). The purpose of the performance, according to Abramović, was “to find a rigorous way of living, of purification, to change the attitude of people who came to see me” (qtd. in Goldberg 39). “[F]or long stretches of time during the performance,” Abramović “sat and looked directly at people, making eye contact and creating a web of empathy between strangers” (39). “The House with the Ocean View was a summation of Abramović’s work as both visual artist and performance artist,” Goldberg writes, noting that her use of eye contact with her audiences “anchored each viewer in place, establishing the physical presence of the artist as the focal point linking the work’s various parts and reinforcing ideas about the audience as participant and as witness” (14).
More importantly, along with other performances that took place at the beginning of the decade—including Vanessa Beecroft’s VB 42 Intrepid (2000), Shirin Neshat’s Logic of the Birds (2001), or Catherine Sullivan’s Five Economies (Big Hunt/Little Hunt) (2003)—The House with the Ocean View
marked a turning point for performance art. Rich in content and complex in iconography, these works were also irresistible to look at. Loaded with meaning, the material was as sophisticated and aesthetically exhilarating as the best artwork being made in the 2000s in film, photography and video installation. (14)
A number of artists, including Steve McQueen, Gillian Wearing, Stan Douglas, and William Kentridge, Goldberg continues, “made work that in scale and imagery, as well as structure and pacing, looked a lot like live performance transposed to film” (14). “Projected life size or larger onto long walls in a gallery or museum, many of these films were shot amid intricately constructed sets or on locations where the action was made up of visually compelling tableaus and mostly wordless performances,” she continues (14). This work—and Goldberg provides another lists of artists, including Isaac Julien, Paul McCarthy, and Douglas Gordon—“provided a landscape of never-before-seen imagery that had been constructed as a sequence of live, non-narrative scenes that would become a delirium of unexpected pictures in the process of transposing them from one medium to another” (14). While these works “could be ‘read’ as film, they could also be viewed as stylized performances” (14). As Pierre Huyghe suggested, film was just a way of making his performances “solid” (14).
“The performances and performance-films of these artists are some of the finest examples of the highly mediated artwork of the first decade of the 21st century,” Goldberg writes. “Visually seductive, their cinematic surfaces were produced by state-of-the-art camerawork and editing,” but because of their “focus on figuration and composition, their aesthetics had more to do with a late-20th-century history of visual art and artists’ performance than with the history of cinema” (14). So Goldberg is using “film” in a strange sense: I doubt film was the technology used, and that word does not refer to cinema either. The camerawork in these videos (I’m guessing that’s what they are), she continues, “seemed to be framing and following the bodies of performers precisely in order to make expansive, elegantly composed cinematic landscapes rather than to create character or narrative” (14). (Goldberg seems to be unaware of the history of experimental or avant-garde cinema, some of which does what she is describing.) The “all-encompassing pictorial effect” of these works is part of the explanation for its appeal to audiences (14). These installations were large, and their size “allowed viewers to take in expansive projections stretching over many feet, while the process of watching, whether standing, seated, lying down or walking across a space from one gallery to the next, became integral to the experience of the work itself” (14-15).
This form of watching, she continues, “made for a new kind of self-conscious viewing among gallery-goers; they shared an active engagement with the work and with each other, collectively witnessing an event but participating in it too” (15). I wonder if that’s true—or at least whether it’s any truer than other forms of projected artwork—but apparently Goldberg is no longer talking about filmed performance exclusively, as her example of Abramović’s The House with the Ocean View suggests: viewers “might settle in for hours to feel the full duration of time inside their own minds and bodies as specified by the artist, as with Abramović’s House” (15). Alternatively, viewers “might move from space to space in various parts of a building, as in Francesco Vezzoli’s Right You Are (If You Think You Are), 2007, which took place simultaneously throughout the Guggenheim Museum, in the ground-floor rotunda, on the spiralling ramps, and also in the below-ground auditorium” (15).Other examples of durational work—not necessarily performance—of the time included Olafur Eliasson’s 2003 The Weather Project, “an elaborate construction in the vast Turbine Hall at Tate Modern,” where “hundreds of people came daily to watch the progress of a giant circle of orange light mimicking the arc of the sun in its diurnal trek across the sky,” which is a description of an installation work rather than a performance (16). Another example Goldberg suggests sounds more like social practice than performance to me (and perhaps she would argue that I’m parsing definitions too finely): Carsten Höller’s 2006 Test Sight, also at Tate Modern, in which “audiences donned crash helmets and protective elbow and knee pads to fall feet-first through a curling metal tube-like sculpture that dropped the viewer very rapidly from a second-floor landing into the Turbine Hall below” (16). Those people weren’t viewers; they were participants. I wonder whether Goldberg’s definition of performance isn’t too broad, and whether it isn’t capturing art forms that properly belong in other categories.
Museums, Goldberg notes, were changing in the first decade of the twenty-first century, to appeal to “a generation of viewers expecting cultural experience to be as fast-paced and as easily accessible as the smartphones and computers that animated their lives day to day” (16). Of course, Abramović’s The House with the Ocean View, or The Artist is Present (2010), aren’t fast-paced works, and they demand commitment from their viewers (or even participants). In addition, as performance events became held more regularly, a repertoire and “reference bank of material” was constructed, which could generate “comparative study and critique” (16). By the turn of the century, performance “had become widely accepted as standard museum fare,” and curators and art historians began to “find a language for describing performance that would change the conversation about live art and its role in contemporary art in the most profound ways” (16).
As the history of performance “became exhibition material,” “reconstructions of past performances” became “a genre all its own” (17). Such re-performances, “executed with sensitivity and appreciable awareness of the paradox of re-performing material that had intentionally been performed only once or twice when originally conceived, provided a means to revisit and invoke the political and cultural ethos of the times in which they were made” (17). So Abramović re-performed works by Joseph Beuys in 2005, and Allan Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in Six Parts was re-performed in Munich and New York in 2009. “Articulating the history of performance became a priority in art museums, which in turn raised questions of preservation and conservation,” and methods were devised “for recording and notating artists’ living wills in terms of how they would wish such projects to be maintained and re-performed in the future” (17). In addition, other material about performance—photographs, collages, drawings, videos, films, and even paintings—“were acknowledged for what they were,” and in some museums they were “reassigned to the performance art departments” (17).
In addition, the decade “saw an accumulation of entirely new possibilities for performance by visual artists, both conceptually and aesthetically” (17). She cites work by Abramović, Kentridge, Sullivan, Matthew Barney, Jesper Just, Vezzoli, Beecroft, Francis Alÿs, Huyghe, Tino Sehgal, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, John Bock, and Zhang Huan as introducing “a level of expertise and command of material that was increasingly sophisticated and polished” (17). “Production values and a keen awareness of the relationship of performer to audience became integral to material that was simultaneously expanding in scope and ambition,” she continues (17).“These highly produced, beautifully rendered productions raised the bar of expectation for a medium that had long been considered outside the reach of critical assessment and peripheral to the main business of art,” she writes, citing Elmgreen and Dragset’s 2005 Drama Queens and Matthew Barney’s 2010 KHU, Act Two of Ancient Evenings as examples (17). “Performance artists were now expected to make objects that could hold up to ongoing scrutiny over time,” she writes, suggesting both that the punk aesthetic was dead, along with any sense of performance as a DIY activity, and that performance was not focused on objects as well as actions (17). “With this new work that was increasingly dense with content, and demanded close attention on the part of viewers,” Goldberg argues,
the argument that performance was difficult to incorporate into contemporary art history or into the collection of a museum because of its ephemeral nature became irrelevant. The more prolonged the time spent with a work, the more evident its conceptual complexity, the easier it became to accept performance as critical to an artist’s overall oeuvre, and to the overall discussion of contemporary art. Performance was seen to be a nuanced artistic practice capable of simultaneously conveying layers of meaning in intensely visual and visceral ways. It was finally accepted as integral to museum programming and a precedent was set for a new generation of artists who would be entirely comfortable with creating live art expressly for the museum context. (17)
I could be wrong, but I don’t read those words as neutral description; rather, I think Goldberg considers this inclusion of performance within museums as a good thing, as a long-delayed acceptance of the form, and I wonder what happened to the old notion (dating back to the 1970s) that performance could be a critique of the institutions of art. It’s out of date, I suppose.
The photographic documentation of performances provided by the rest of the chapter includes Beecroft’s 2005 work VB 55, in which “one hundred women stood in tight formation inside the glass box that is Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin,” inviting an audience outside the building “to stare and wonder at the women,” who were nude except for “flesh-coloured nylon leggings” and a coating of almond oil (18). The women, she writes, “are at once inanimate mannequins and Aphrodites, girls-next-door and Barbies lined up against a giant display case. Their nudity is transformed into a kind of art-historical catwalk, drawing on painting, sculpture and pop cultural references from antiquity to Titian to contemporary culture” (18). The performance was carefully documented in video and photography, “for future exhibition, archiving, and sale” (18). Goldberg concludes that “VB 55 is an exercise in the aesthetics of ‘product,’ creating material for visual and cultural consumption and daring its audience to stare for an extended period of time at the living goods on display” as a way of playing with “the boundaries of empowerment and abjection” (18).
A very different example is Barney’s 2010 KHU, the second act of a longer work, River of Fundament, loosely based on Norman Mailer’s 1983 novella. Each act, Goldberg wries, “tackles a different stage of the soul’s transformation from death to rebirth, in accordance with Mailer’s contemporary retelling of Egyptian mythology” (21) In the performance, “assembly-line machinists” working “at an abandoned glue factory” “turn steel sheets into working viols” which “are played in a mournful aria before blues singer Belita Woods belts out incantations from the Egyptian Book of the Dead” (21). Afterwards, a “small audience, packed on to a barge that floats down the Rouge and Detroit Rivers, stumbles upon a crime-scene investigation. As four towboats loaded with musicians circle the barge, the cadaver of the Chrysler from REN, a previous act that took place in Los Angeles, is pulled from the river” (21). After the sun sets, the audience watches as “the car’s body is cut into pieces that are melted into liquid, to be incorporated into a future chapter” (21).
Ryan McNamara’s 2013 MEEM: A Story Ballet About the Internet “is a performance of seventeen choreographed tableaus that play inside a theatre’s auditorium, corridors, music pit, stage and stair wells in homage to the boundless momentum of free, open and immediate sharing of information online” (22). The “highly mediated dances overlap each other, sending the audience’s attention in all directions as stage hands wheel each viewer’s seat on specially devised ‘people movers’ to different ‘staging areas’ throughout the theatre” (22). Those “people movers” and the lack of control of the viewers over their position suggests not freedom but its opposite, and I wonder if the performance is perhaps more critical of the internet than Goldberg allows.
Paul McCarthy’s 2003 Piccadilly Circus is about the war on terror; it features a “volatile, slapstick encounter between caricatures of George W. Bush, Osama Bin Laden and multiple iterations of the Queen Mother” in “an irreverent nod to the violence of impending war” (23). The performers, wearing styrofoam heads, “destroy their own bodily integrity and that of their fellow players, punching, hacking and tearing away at their foam heads, force-feeding and struggling against each other in a frenzied scene that might be mistaken for a manic children’s television show” (23). It is, Goldberg states, a “powerful political critique” that “explores power and grandiosity via the exaggerated colours and gestures of Hollywood-style make-believe” (23). A similar performance (or video) is John Bock’s 2002 Boxer, a two-minute video about boxing that captures “the collision of comedy and violence” of that sport (27). “Clad in clownish ensembles with food stuffed appendages, Bock and his opponent throw punches with increasing frenzy until they are entirely undone, smashing heads that spill cauliflower into the ring and spatter red cabbage across the walls,” Goldberg writes (27). The work references Dada and classic Hollywood performers, including Buster Keaton and the Marx brothers, and its “visually arresting sets reveal the theatricality in painting, sculpture and film, as media combine deliciously in his complete version of the ‘total artwork’” (27).
Another response to the war on terror, or at least to 9/11, is Shirin Neshat’s 2001 Logic of the Birds, which Goldberg discusses in detail in Performance Art (that’s where I got the idea that it’s a response to 9/11 ). Here, she describes that work as an adaptation of “the poetry of 12th-century Persian mystic Farid ud-Din into a contemporary dreamscape of painted hills and valleys, weaving an arduous and surreal narrative as ‘thirty birds in search of a leader risk life and limb, traverse fire, flood and drought’” (24). The performance is preceded (I think) by a “triptych of exquisite films” in which “thirty chador-clad performers,” situated on the edge of a lake, “‘walk off’ the screens onto the stage in a remarkable melding of live performance and projection” (24). “Inhabiting the space between fantasy and reality, here and there, then and now” Goldberg writes, “the production wordlessly communicates how, in the protagonists’ longing for direction, all are leaders and all are followers” (24). “Performance,” she concludes, “offers Neshat a chance to immerse viewers in the complex politics of her visual and intellectual content” (24).
Roman Ondák’s 2007 Measuring the Universe “takes its audience as subject and object” by recording “[t]racings of each visitors height” as well as “their names and the day’s date” in black magic marker on the gallery walls (25). “Unfolding across the length of the exhibition, the lines progressively clutter the gallery, overlapping and rendering each other illegible,” Goldberg writes. “Each measure, anonymous and uniform, serves as a placeholder for the thousands of individuals who visit, such that they fill the room across time and space. Nobody who enters ever leaves” (25). Here’s my question: why is that a performance rather than a work of relational aesthetics or social practice? Is there a distinction between those practices? I think there is, but that distinction is erased here. Why is that? Who did the measuring and the recording? The viewers themselves? It’s not clear. I would have to do more research, I suppose, to get a sense of what happens in this work.
Adam Pendleton’s 2007 The Revival “fused the disjunctive genres of Southern-style religious revival and avant-garde spoken poetry” (28). “Centred on a podium in the role of ‘preacher’ and flanked by two bandstands on which a thirty-person gospel choir is divided,” Pendleton “delivers a secular revival with ecstatic religious fervour,” with the words he speaks derived not from the Bible but from experimental writing—his own along with texts by Larry Kramer, Leslie Scalapino, John Ashbery, Jesse Jackson and Howard Barker” (28). (Jesse Jackson the politician and experimental writing? Really?) “With ‘testimonials’ from Liam Gillick and Jena Osman,” she continues, “the whole was underscored by the original music and performance of jazz composer Jason Moran” (28). It was, perhaps surprisingly, Pendleton’s first performance work.
Another work of filmed performance is Ryan Trecartin’s 2004 A Family Finds Entertainment, a “camp epic” which “chronicles the story of a manic teenager named Skippy,” played by Trecartin himself, “and his absurdist and existential struggle to come out to his family and friends, hiding himself in a literal closet” (29). “Drawing complex and obscure references from philosophy and popular culture,” Goldberg writes, “the delirious 40-minute film weaves hyperactive narrative threads that interrupt and cross each other, disorienting the viewer with bursts of visual effect and animation” (29). The work’s “desperate melodrama,” which is “punctuated by clownish violence,” is, Goldberg contends, a portrait “of a generation both validated and hopelessly damaged by media bombardment, unable to escape its constant self-reference” (29).
Robin Rhode’s 2008 Promenade is a series of 36 photographs documenting (I think) performances in which Rhode creates wall drawings which “become make-believe objects: a bicycle that the artist pretends to mount, a grand piano that he pretends to play” (30). “The total work is captured in serial photographs and stop-motion videos before being painted over again,” Goldberg writes. “Promenade was performed on an interior wall in a gallery in Turin as part of a body of work that would become the visual component for a concert of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition the following year” (30). The drawings appear and disappear magically from Rhode’s hand—that must be in the video documentation, or the live performance, because the photographs could not show that happening—and “[t]he impression is of an artist who is both master of and subject to his own creative process,” Golberg concludes (30).
K.62 and K.85, a pair of performances by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Ari Benjamin Meyers, presents “a series of diverging and then converging experiences” for audiences who are also, it seems, participants in the work. At a ticket booth outside a theatre, visitors are asked to choose between two tickets. “Those with tickets reading ‘K.62’ are shown to a Lower East Side theatre where films are screened and fictional production assistants on walkie-talkies track the locations of persons referred to as ‘K’s,” Goldberg writes (31). (Why would production assistants be wandering around a film screening? What films are screened?) “Those with ‘K.85’ tickets are led on a scripted journey around lower Manhattan, stopping at scenes from Martin Scorcese’s film After Hours, and finally trickling into the large theatre through an onstage door until all are accounted for,” she continues (31). “Each audience is the other’s show, unaware of the separate journeys they will take,” Goldberg concludes (31), but I don’t understand how the people in the theatre are the audience of those who are on the site-specific walking tour of lower Manhattan, nor how (until the very end) those inside the theatre are even aware of the group taking that tour. Something is missing from this description.
Candice Breitz’s 2009 New York, New York is a live version of “the fast-paced videos for which she is known” (32). “Working with four sets of identical twins,” Goldberg writes, “Breitz created two casts of actors (each from a pair of twins), and in intensive character development sessions asked each pair to work on a single fictional character” (32). The resulting improvised performances explore “sameness, difference, and the fragile condition of individuality, creating on set”—doesn’t Goldberg mean “on stage”?—“an ambiguous ‘scripted life’—another powerful theme in Breitz’s oeuvre” (32). A very different project is Cory Arcangel’s 2008 Bruce Springsteen “Born to Run” Glockenspiel Addendum, in which Arcangel performed the glockenspiel along with “all but the three songs that already feature the instrument” on Springsteen’s “canonical 1975 album” (33). “This audacious play with the popular is central to Arcangel’s body of work,” Goldberg writes, “where celebrity, pop music, and allusions to video games and the internet are brought together to recombine wholly familiar scenes and render them new” (33).
Pipilotti Rist’s 2005 Homo Sapiens Sapiens is a video installation (again, I’m wondering about Goldberg’s definition of performance art) which “invites viewers to lie on bright oval beds and look up at kaleidoscopic projections—soft scenes of nature and open skies. A woman floats through the images, splitting and twisting as though directed by external forces” (33). Where’s the performance here? Is it in the action viewers make by lying on the beds? In that case, might this not be described as a work of relational aesthetics or social practice? I don’t understand how performance gets to define other art practices. Another work Goldberg considers to be performance but which is clearly an example of relational aesthetics is Carsten Höller’s 2005 Mirror Carousel, “a functional, large-scale, interactive carousel with surfaces lined with mirrors, inviting visitors to a slow-turning ride that is equal parts opulence and whimsy” in which (on which?) they “watch themselves see and experience, reflecting their presence and collaboration back at themselves and others in the room” (36). Yet another work that seems to belong to relational aesthetics rather than performance (or as much as performance) is Paweł Althamer’s 2009 Common Task, in which “150 of the artist’s friends and neighbours” are transplanted “from their community in Warsaw to locations across the world, exploring transience, otherness and what it means to belong to a place or nationality” (37). Participants wore “gold spacesuits that draw visual allusions to science fiction,” and are transported “in a golden Boeing 737 of Althamer’s design,” and they participate “in social actions and interactive performances in Brasilia, Brussels, Mali and Oxford that recontextualize daily life in terms of the unexpected” (37). This is, obviously, art star territory: I’ve never met an artist who could afford to lease (and paint) an airliner to fly people around the world. But it seems that Goldberg is only interested in performance that has extraordinary financial backing. Low-budget work is excluded here. That’s unfortunate, because the only performance work I’ve ever seen has clearly been made with few resources and little money.
Laurie Simmons’s 2005 The Music of Regret is a 40-minute video, shot on 35mm film (perhaps it was presented in that format as well). “A mini-musical presented in three acts,” the work is “an extension of Laurie Simmons’ canonical photographic work, where dolls, collectors’ miniatures and children’s toys become the unlikely protagonists of desperate domestic scenes recalling the family life and catalogue images of the 1960s” (34). In The Music of Regret, those props are expanded “to human proportions, presenting life-sized puppets and dummies . . . that share in very human expressions of family conflict, lost romance and longing to be noticed” (34). Another video work is Rineke Dijkstra’s 2009 I See a Woman Crying, in which “nine British schoolchildren” were “filmed in front of Picasso’s 1937 painting Weeping Woman” (41). The children describe the painting, which is never shown on-screen, making “simple observations that grow into imaginative, descriptive and emotional insights into the life of the work and the woman pictured therein” (40). That work sounds wonderful, but how is it performance rather than video art? I am getting more and more confused by Goldberg’s sense of what is considered to be performance. I don’t understand how Yang Fudong’s 2007 five-part film, Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, is performance, either. It “references the Seven Sages—intellectuals from the Wei and Jin Dynasties represented often in traditional Chinese art”—in “a series of tableaus where the figures . . . commune with nature and each other, stripping away their identities and scholarly attributes to transform themselves across the film’s parts into rowdy drunks, naturalists and humble farmers, eventually being transported through time to modern-day Shanghai” (42). How is this an example of performance and not video?
Nathalie Djurberg’s 2007 Untitled (Working Title Kids and Dogs) is another film that Goldberg describes as a “live work” (45). It’s a 33-minute-long “claymation odyssey” which depicts “a violent war between a group of grenade-throwing children and a pack of pedigree dogs” (45). Eventually the wounded end up in hospital, where they are treated by doctors and nurses. All the characters, it seems, are animated. How can a work of animation be considered live performance? Similarly, how is Pierre Huyghe’s 2003 Streamside Day, a 26-minute film in which “[a] parade, songs, speeches, costumes and decorations are organized and form a backdrop to the experience of wilderness” (46) an example of performance. “Part-documentary, part-fantasy, the film contrasts what was and what is, and how our society and culture have transformed nature, putting model homes in its place,” Goldberg writes (46). This sounds interesting enough, but again, how is a film or video performance? I have the same question about Guy Ben-Ner’s 2007 Stealing Beauty (the first thing Goldberg includes in this book that I’ve actually seen). It’s an 18-minute video in which Ben-Ner lives in an IKEA. With his wife and daughters, Ben-Nur “boldly inhabits a display ‘bathroom,’ ‘kitchen’ and ‘bedroom’ (each with price tags still attached to the objects for sale), acting out everyday interactions in the rooms of a generic house” (47). Ben-Ner made the video without permission from IKEA, and “was immediately shut down the moment authorities discovered the impromptu performance,” and everyone involved was asked to leave the store (47). It’s very funny—I remember the work well—but it was identified as video art, as I recall, rather than performance. I would describe Christian Marclay’s 2010 The Clock as video as well: it’s a 24-hour film that “presents a variety of time pieces—from wristwatches to clock towers to digital displays—that show the incremental progression of time” (49). It seems to be a collage video, in which those time pieces were taken from other films, but the description is not clear. I’m sure it’s fabulous, but how is it performance? Is this a book about performance or about contemporary time-based art practices? Another video work is Christian Jankowski’s 2007 Rooftop Routine, an homage to Trisha Brown’s 1973 work Roof Piece, but featuring Jankowski’s neighbour Suat Ling Chua hula-hooping on the roof of her building (54). Again, interesting, maybe, but live? No.
Elaine Sturtevant’s 2009 Spinoza in Las Vegas, in contrast, is a “theatre piece”—again, I’m confused about what’s being captured under the term “performance” in this book—that “presents the unlikely adventures of 17th-century Dutch rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza as a character radically displaced in the postmodern landscape of today” (35). That landscape is Las Vegas, where hotels “fantastically simulate places and environments from the pyramids in Luxor to Classical Rome” (35). Sturtevant plays the role of Spinoza in the work, which Goldberg contends is a comment “on the nature of authorship, questioning the truth of reality and the invention of its replica” (35).
I’m not sure I understand Puppets, a 2006 work by Philippe Parreno and Rirkrit Tiravanija. According to Goldberg, it consists of “[a] group of five puppets representing Philippe Parreno, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Pierre Huyghe, Liam Gillick and Hans Ulrich Obrist” as they “prepare to watch a film featuring each puppet figure in a panel discussion on a new book by Obrist entitled Interviews, supposedly published a year earlier” (40). The puppets apparently have a conversation, but is that conversation live or do they watch the film or is the installation, pictured in an accompanying photograph, the entire work? The last possibility seems unlikely, because Goldberg states that “Parreno’s alter-ego was also his own argumentative interlocutor, while Tiravanija’s stand-in served as a demonstration of ‘how individuals can be active contributors to their own media culture, rather than mere consumers of it,’” both of which suggest that the puppets do something. But in what context? Where did the puppeteers operate the puppets? I don’t get it.
It’s easy to see why Korakrit Arunanondchai’s 2017 Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 4 would be considered a performance: it’s live art. The work “creates a haunting, mangled sci-fi forest growing within a white-walled gallery space” in which “[h]umanoid figures, naked except for body paint, move through the apocalyptic debris in primal contorted motions, light glowing from their mouths” in a scene reminiscent “of carnal, alien ritual” (44). Similarly, the 2008 work Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy No. 1 is live: a classical pianist, sitting in a hole cut into the bottom of a grand piano, plays the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony while moving the piano around a gallery space. “Nudging viewers out of the path of the piano as she creates an immersive setting for sound and concept,” Goldberg writes, “[t]he result is a structurally incomplete version of the ode—the hole in the piano renders two octaves inoperative—that fundamentally transforms both the player/instrument dynamic and the signature melody, disrupting the famous anthem and its overriding metaphors” (39). And Nick Cave’s HEARD NY (2013) is obviously live performance: dancers wear Cave’s “dazzling costumes,” which represent horses, and disrupt New York’s Grand Central Station, “inserting international, cross-cultural politics and histories in a visually joyous, fantastical interruption of public space” (48). The audience for HEARD NY, I suppose, was the bemused commuters who witnessed the event—unless people were invited, in which I’m not sure “interruption” would be the right word to use to describe its occupation of public space.
Eddie Peake’s 2013 Endymion is a dance piece in which the dancers “speak through movement with a physical vocabulary that addresses our most basic universal instincts and sentiments,” Goldberg writes (52). “Fully painted in either black or gold, the nude performers recall statues from antiquity,” and as they gradually entwine around each other during the hour-long performance, their “distinct colours blend, all becoming burnished versions of their former selves, less like sculptures or abstractions as the veneer of perfection strips away” (52). Liam Gillick’s 2008 Three Perspectives and a Short Scenario / Mirrored Image: A “Volvo” Bar is an eight-act play about the loss of car manufacturing in Birmingham since the 1970s (53). Another theatrical work is Francesco Vezzoli’s 2007 Right You Are (If You Think You Are), a restaging of a play by Luigi Pirandello whose cast was made up of celebrities (including Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, and Natalie Portman) who gossip about an absent female character who obsesses them (53). I have a hard time believing that Vezzoli managed to get those celebrities to perform in the Guggenheim at the same time, and the accompanying photograph suggests that the work is, indeed, on video rather than live. That’s okay, but again I’m confused by Goldberg’s definition of performance. Jacolby Satterwhite’s 2012 six-channel video installation, Reifying Desire 6, is also included here as an example of live art (56).
I’m not at all confused about why Kelly Nipper’s 2004 Floyd on the Floor is included here as an example of live art. It’s a “choreographic investigation of disaster” that “uses prognostication patterns of weather systems and shifts in barometric pressure to direct the movement of eight masked dancers” (56). Similarly, Ragnar Kjartansson’s 2011 Bliss repeats “the 2-minute climax of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro for an uninterrupted 12 hours,” an epic performance that “was a mesmerizing feat of vocal strength, with audience members welcome to come and go over the course of its endless, euphoric repetition” (57). Brody Condon’s 2009 Case “is a 6-hour rehearsal-like reading of the classic cyberpunk novel Neuromancer by William Gibson” using live performers and “Bauhaus-inspired sculptural props,” along with a Gamelan ensemble (58). “The piece is an examination of role-playing, performance and identity,” Goldberg asserts (58). William Kentridge’s 2009 I am not me, the horse is not mine, which Goldberg describes as “[p]art-installation, part-animation and part-theatrical lecture,” is “a live video and projection performance” made in preparation for Kentridge’s production of Shostakovich’s opera The Nose, based on the Gogol story (59). On the other hand, Philippe Parreno’s 2014 How Can We Tell the Dancers From The Dance is an installation: “a circular white dance platform” with a soundtrack “of dancers’ footsteps, breathing and jumping—recordings of five Merce Cunningham choreographies” (60). “[A] thick curved wall moves in slow motion around its perimeter,” Goldberg continues, “bringing an architectural element into the choreographic conversation” (60). Yes, Parreno’s work refers to performance, but no, it isn’t performance in and of itself. And Doug Aitken’s 2007 large-scale film installation Sleepwalkers is an installation documenting the activities of five workers—“a bicycle messenger, a postal worker, a businessman, an electrician and an office worker”—as they wake up and travel across New York at night (61). It was projected on the interior facade of the Museum of Modern Art, and according to Goldberg, the relationship “between viewer and physical exhibition space . . . produces overlapping relationships between the environment and the material of the work itself” (61). Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s 2008 Where is Where? is a 55-minute film that “examines how individual and collective pasts shape lives in the present” (65). It weaves together “two interconnected realities that consider the consequences of past actions,” liked by the murder by two Arab boys of their French friend during the Algerian war in the 1950s (65).
Mike Kelley’s 2009 Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #32 is a live performance of his film Day is Done, “an intentionally absurd take on the tropes of American education” (63). Maurizio Cattelan’s 1999 Untitled (Picasso) involves an actor wearing a metre-high mask of Picasso’s head along with the kind of sweater and sandals the artist often wore, and mingling among visitors at the Museum of Modern Art, thus commenting “on the museum’s role in creating art world icons” (64). In Jesper Just’s 2005 True Love is Yet to Come an actor struggles with ghost-like figures of men projected around him in a work that “explores suffocating gender roles and intergenerational romance” (64). Joan Jonas’s 2009 Reading Dante II brings together video and performance (66), and Cast No Shadow, a 2007 live performance event by Isaac Julien and Russell Maliphant, blends film projection and dance performance (Julien is a filmmaker, Maliphant a choreographer) (68). But Olafur Eliasson’s magnificent 2003 installation The Weather Project is just that: an installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in which the space “was transformed into an artificial sky, representing the transitional time of sunrise or sunset” (69). Why Goldberg considers that installation to be an example of live performance is not clear to me.
After reading Goldberg’s introduction and first chapter, I found myself wondering about her definition of performance. She seems to be arguing that it must have a big budget, that it must have an audience, and that the term “performance” includes film, video, relational or social art, and installation as well as live art. I was frustrated. It’s a beautiful book—each page features large colour photographs of the works Goldberg is discussing—and she clearly is an expert on contemporary art. But her definition of performance is simply too broad. Moreover, I was seeing very little that had anything to do with walking, or site-specific performance more broadly, and I was wondering whether something as simple as walking could ever fit her definition of performance as something frenetic and multi-layered. It’s a long book, too, and time is short. Is it worth carrying on with this text, I wondered, or should I be turning to something else?
I decided to quickly skim the book’s second chapter, “World Citizenship: Performance as a Global Language.” In that chapter’s introduction, Goldberg argues that “performance art has become a viable medium for reaching across national borders and language barriers” (71). “As artists working in painting or sculpture may find it difficult to enter the international art conversation from locations further afield of major art institutions, performance-based art has proved itself to be surprisingly accessible across regions and cultures,” she writes. “‘Figurative’ in its rendering of a panorama of world cultures, and ‘real’ in its tendency towards the literal, it stands outside of art theory or institutional critique and distances itself from the ‘Western’ model” (71). As a result, performance has the ability “to transport audiences back in time and place to the worlds from which these artists came” (71). Of course, her first chapter featured artists from all over, although the work under discussion tended to have been presented in New York (which seems to be the world’s art capital, still). This chapter, she suggests, will feature artists from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, China, Egypt, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa, each of whom “use performance to articulate complex viewpoints and value systems specific to their countries of birth, where various ethnicities, dialects, gender and class hierarchies converge in a complicated kaleidoscope of culture and social mores” (72). I’m curious about how performance, which can be abstruse and difficult to understand, can articulate all of that. In addition, this global performance work expresses “an individual, autobiographical identity comprised of many parts,” which might “be recognized and shared easily with others,” or “might be a combination of source material and experiences particular to the artist” (72). In addition, “much of this work is made without consideration of public exhibition in countries that until recently had no gallery system to speak of” (72). For that reason, performance “is a medium of choice for artists working outside the mainstream of the art marketplace. These artists may communicate out of necessity and belief within their immediate communities, yet in doing so are also enable[d] to gain attention in the larger international art world,” through presentations at biennials and fairs which provide “art world outsiders both a way out and a way in” (72).
Goldberg goes on to discuss important performance artists from South Africa, India and Bangladesh, China, Russia, Argentina, and Mexico. “Though responding to political turmoil,” she writes, “much of this work is not overtly political. Such art actions are in themselves radical departures from conventional painting or sculpture” (75). “For many artists living and working outside of the limited European modernist traditions,” Goldberg continues, “making art is a part of life. Its ceremonies and rituals, power systems and linguistic histories provide rich sources that the artists are entirely comfortable mining for their own creativity” (75). In addition, “the physical experience of growing up in geographically and culturally distinctive settings translates into movement and music, clothing and adornment, storytelling and vocalization in ways that can themselves be infinitely performative” (75). The performance that results “speaks of deeply human concerns, and does so with a level of experimentation that can keep the viewer enthralled, watchful and surprised” (75).
At this point, Goldberg begins her examination of specific works of performance. The first work she discusses, Tania Bruguera’s 2008 Tatlin’s Whisper #5, was presented in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, making me wonder why it was chosen for this chapter rather than the previous one. Where is Bruguera from? Brazil? It’s not clear. In any case, in the work, two mounted policemen perform crowd control, “corralling, and separating spectators,” displaying “the mechanisms of authority” and “implying the nascent violence in tightly managed political regimes” (76). Perhaps it’s the overt political content that led Goldberg to include this work in this chapter? But can’t work by North Americans or Europeans also be political? I don’t understand.
South African artist Nandipha Mntambo’s 2009 Inkunzi Emnyama is, Goldberg tells us, “a photographic work in which Mntambo bows in repetition of the final gestures of a bullfight” while wearing “the costume of a toreador” and “with a cow hide wrapped around her waist as formal tails” (77). “Mntambo is both hunter and hunted, cow and bull, man and woman, revelling in the machismo of the male-dominated Spanish sport,” she continues (77). But, again, how is this photographic work performative? Am I missing something? Similarly, Ming Wong’s 2004 Whodunnit? is a film that reworks Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap, using English actors from a variety of immigrant backgrounds who “perform their soap opera in heavy but shifting accents on a multi-cultural battleground” and thereby “raise the separate question of the identity of the individual” (78). Dora García’s 2013 Die Klau Mich Show was a weekly TV talk show that was broadcast in Kassel, Germany, as part of Documenta 13 (79). Our Lady of Velankanni, a 2003 collaboration between Indian artist Pushpamala N. and British photographer Clare Arni, is “a series of performance photographs that recreate South Indian female archetypes from across the region’s iconic art history and visual culture” (81). Seen at Secunderabagh, a 2013 work by New Delhi’s Raqs Media Collective,” features performers in front of a projected nineteenth-century staged photograph of the aftermath of “a violent rebellion against the British East Indian Company” in order to “respond to the image—its manipulation, the reality of violence and colonialism around it and the complexities of conveying truth through medium” (80). I understand how that work is performance; it has live performers. But Goldberg’s definition of performance is still confusing me. Could she be confusing the vague and modish adjective “performative” with the concrete noun “performance”? I’m not sure.
Similarly, Chinese artist Liu Bolin’s photographs of himself camouflaged against store shelves are marvellous, but they are photographs rather than live performances (82). Fast Food, a 2008 photograph by South African twins Hasan and Husain Essop, is a photograph, not a performance (84). Mumbai-based Shilpa Gupta’s 2009 Don’t See Don’t Hear Don’t Speak is an installation of large-scale photographs (86). Puerto-Rican artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz’s 2004 A. Listens is a video about a young, agoraphobic Londoner who describes her superhuman hearing ability (93). Hong-Kai Wang’s 2011 Music While We Work, presented at the Venice Biennale, is a video installation about “five retired sugar factory workers and their wives” whom Wang invited “to return to the century-old plant in Huwei, Taiwan,” where the men once worked (97). “Trained by a composer in using microphones and recording devices,” Goldberg writes, “the couples move across the space, documenting the industrial noises of the factory and its surroundings” (97). The video, it seems, documents that process of documentation. Jeremy Deller’s 2001 The Battle of Orgreave (an injury to one is an injury to all) is typically considered an example of relational aesthetics. It is a re-enactment of a confrontation between striking workers and police at the coking plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire, and apparently that re-enactment was documented on video and presented as an installation (100). Hito Steyerl’s 2014 Liquidity Inc. is a video installation (101), as is Subodh Gupta’s 2013 Spirit Eaters (102) and Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s 2008 Two Planets: Manet’s Le Déjeuneur sur l’herbe and Thai Farmers, which Goldberg describes as a “performative video” rather than performance (my hunch was right) (104).
There are live works included in this chapter, however. It seems that Bangladeshi artist Mahbubur Rahan’s 2005 Transformation, based on a story by Syed Shamus Haq, is a live work in which the artist wears “a horned headdress and a mask made of jute,” a “suffocating costume” that “transforms him into a beast of labour” who “moves, swims and lumbers, barely able to see,” a struggle that, Goldberg writes, reflects the way “so many in India continue to suffer the social and economic consequences of a colonial past” (86). Where the audience is in Rahan’s performance, though, isn’t clear to me, and it’s possible that it is presented on video rather than live, given its location (a beach). Russian artist Elena Kovylina’s 2010 Would You Like a Cup of Coffee? is a performance before an audience, “a radical tea party . . . where the artist adopts the role of aggressive social critic in a performance that harkens to past and present political dissent in Russia” (87). At the climax of the performance (which, since it involves audience participation, could also be considered social practice or relational aesthetics), Kovylina sets fire to the tablecloth, “destroying the classed ritual and its artefacts in an ironic moment of protest” (87). South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga’s 2011 Ilulwane, “a haunting, synchronized swimming ceremony,” was performed live in a swimming pool and then repeated at a beach in Cape Town (89). Argentinian artist Amalia Pica’s 2013 A∩B∩C involves dancers creating patterns which recall Venn diagrams, which were prohibited by the Argentinian military dictatorship of the 1970s and 1980s because “the teaching of intersection . . . might encourage collaboration and dissent” (89). Mexican artist Carlos Amorales 2007 Spider Galaxy is a combination of sculptural installation that suggests “the negative space in a spider’s web” and a dance performance (90). St. Petersburg-based collective Chto Delat’s 2008 Perestroika Songspiel is a play (91), which makes me wonder why it’s been included here, while in Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s 2008 Voz Alta people tell stories about their connection to the 1968 student massacre in Mexico City while searchlights “point to local landmarks and government buildings” (92). The event was broadcast live on radio, “a phantom voice over Mexico City that reminded its inhabitants of those lost” (92). This powerful event seems to be an example of relational aesthetics, though, rather than performance. Wael Shawky’s three-year project Dictums 10:120 (2011-2013), performed at the Sharjah Bienniel, involves 32 men chanting and clapping, but instead of traditional spiritual lyrics, they chant fragments of talks held at the Biennial (95).
Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, a 2013 “live installation” by Chinese artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, was, Goldberg writes, “deeply disturbing and rightfully controversial” (96). The work involved “eight caged pit bulls trapped in cage-like mechanical treadmills. Paired to face each other, inches apart, in ferocious attack mode, this cruel event was for the artists a symbolic reference to the repression experienced and expressed by many Chinese artists of the period,” Goldberg states, noting that video documentation of the work “sparked considerable public objection for its abuse of animals” (96). Brazilian artist Marepe’s 2005 Vermelho-Amarelo-Azul-Verde is a dance performance in which the dancers’ costumes, filled with multicoloured balloons, create “transient, sculptural forms” (99). South African artist Kendell Geers’s 2012 Ritual Resist is a live performance in which a naked man and a naked woman lean against a mirror placed between them. “Neither sees the other, but each stares at their own reflection,” Goldberg writes, and as the performance continues, “sweat looses the ability to keep the object aloft, and balance wavers in a compromised and precarious action where failure is a constant possibility” (106). Geers, Goldberg continues, has “a longstanding interest in the spectatorship of impending disaster,” which “is both metaphorically and viscerally represented in this aesthetically charged work” (106). Nicholas Hlobo’s 2008 work Ungamqhawuli is definitely a performance, in which the artist is “[s]trapped into a cot” and uses “a pully to lift himself off the floor into the air,” after which he “lies still, and sometimes falls asleep” (107). “The suspended figure can be seen as a grown-up child or as an adult longing to be a well-behaved child again,” Goldberg suggests (107). Zhang Huan’s 2003 Buddhist Relics is a performance critical of the Chinese government’s “infamously negligent response” to the SARS outbreak in China (108), and Sanford Biggers’s 2007 THE SOMETHIN’ SUITE “was a psychologically disorienting, cross-cultural variety show” that “interrogated the formation of stereotypes and confronted the implications and legacy of blackface in music, culture and industry (perhaps our Prime Minister should have travelled to New York to see it).
I have to say that I don’t understand Golden + Senneby’s 2010 work The Decapitation of Money, Walk in Marly Forest with Angus Cameron at all, but it involves (in part) taking a group of people for a walk—which would locate it within relational aesthetics rather than performance, I think, but never mind: I’ve complained enough about Goldberg’s overly broad definition of performance. According to Goldberg, “[t]he transformation of money from physical capital into abstracted value is explored in a walking tour of the Marly forest near Versailles,” followed by a gallery exhibition that refers to “George Bataille’s secret society,” which met in the 1940s “to celebrate the murder of King Louis XVI” (83). A copy of Bataille’s 1949 essay “La Part Maudite,” which discusses “economies of excess,” is displayed in that exhibition, and a video lecture in an adjacent space explains the connection between that essay and the Euro (83). I don’t understand the connections the artists are making between currency and royalty, between a forest and money. A Walk to Pikes Peak, a 2012 work by Harrell Fletcher and Eric Steen, is a socially engaged project: a three-day hike during which participants “trekked from Colorado Springs to Pikes Peak,” a summit in the Rocky Mountains (85). “Preparing a short lesson on the area—whether an oral history, personal memory or scientific presentation—each participant becomes an artist, educator and student, considering the geography not only as land but as a deeply personal, constantly evolving marker for the individuals who experience it,” Goldberg writes (85). I really like the idea of this work, although why it is included in this chapter, rather than the first chapter, though, is unclear. Nikhil Chopra’s 2009 Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX was a five-day performance in which the artist travels every day to Ellis Island and draws large charcoal drawings of Manhattan, which Chopra hangs in the lobby of the New Museum every night while performing “domestic rituals in an anachronistic investigation of evolution, voyeurism and perception in urban life” (90). The place of the audience in this work is unclear; they are clearly present at or outside the New Museum, but do they follow him to Ellis Island, or is that part of the performance relatively private? The accompanying photograph shows Chopra in Victorian costume drawing while a woman with a stroller walks past.
Theaster Gates’s work is represented here by Stony Island Arts Bank, which began in 2012. Gates, Goldberg writes, “combines the machinations of city government and housing authorities with art world economics to reanimate and transform blocks of neglected houses and storefronts on the South Side of Chicago,” work that would seem to belong to social aesthetics rather than performance, although Goldberg states that “intimate theatre performances” are involved, and that Gates is a “singer, poet, playwright and performer” (94). “Together, these elements combine into a powerful and rigorous aesthetic whole,” she concludes (94). Perhaps Gates’s work is unclassifiable. Similarly, Rirkrit Tiravanija’s project The Land, which began in 1998, is “an exercise in community-building, discourse and social engagement” that properly belongs in the category of relational aesthetics or social practice than to performance (105).
Zhu Ming’s 2008 14 O’clock, July 27th is a continuation of the artist’s “bubble series” (103). In this work, “over a dozen individuals occupy an enormous clear bubble perched in the fog-covered high altitudes of Sichuan” (103). “Geographically removed from artificial influence or any semblance of civilization, the mesmerizing orb is foreign to its surroundings,” Goldberg writes. “The individuals within it, naked as they rest, create an unobtrusive communal space, also a metaphor for suffocation and isolation” (103). The work is presented to audiences in still photographs, however—not surprising, given where the bubble was situated.
Goldberg’s third chapter, “Radical Action: on Performance and Politics,” looks at the connection between protest movements and performance. The focus of her introduction is primarily “artists living in regions where upheaval is chronic and war is the ongoing backdrop to their lives,” artists for whom “creating an aesthetic out of a constant state of anxiety is both a necessity and relief” (112). She writes about Walid Raad’s artistic response to the civil wars in Lebanon, and about artists in Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Kazahkstan, Bangladesh, and Mexico (112). “While many of the artworks discussed in this chapter come to be known in the international art world through video installations,” she writes, “the liveness at the heart of the original dramas power through the limitations of any fixed screen” (113). The performances might have lasted for days and the video might be a five or six minute edited version, but Goldberg argues that live performance and video “are inextricable, for the form and content of the film-to-be is embedded in the premises of such live performances, with their abstract experimental approach to narrative, frequent focus on architecture and bodies, and staging as sculpture or installation” (113). “The film itself becomes a kind of shard,” she writes: “evidence of a step-by-step process, with each step along the way being aesthetically and conceptually whole” (113). “The final film installation, edited and sized for projection in a gallery, and not for release in a cinema, would be entirely different were it the product of even the most experimental filmmaker,” she concludes, leaving me to ask how it would be different, and what (if anything) in Goldberg’s terms distinguishes video art from performance (113).
“The shared experience of live performance adds a dimension to contemporary art that has been growing steadily over the past several decades,” Goldberg writes, although of course she has just acknowledged that the work is not quite live performance (114). “Audiences now desire close proximity to artists and their working process, and the corollary is that artists get to watch audiences in the act of viewing” (114)—but not, of course, if the work is presented on video in an art gallery, unless the artist is present after the work is installed. Artists who work outside of galleries—those who want “to communicate pressing issues in under-served neighbourhoods”—find ways to connect “to community through aesthetic means” (114). William Pope L., for example, “gathers people around him in a host of provocative actions to measure the social and political strains of being black in America” (114). His 2005 work The Black Factory “took place in a large truck decked out as a mobile exhibition and performance space,” Goldberg writes. “Moving from Memphis to Missouri, it picked up followers en route who were asked to contribute symbols of blackness to the on-the-go collection” (114). Is that performance or relational aesthetics? Similarly, Goldberg discusses Theaster Gates and his “social practice” in this paragraph, along with Rick Lowe’s Project Row Houses in Houston, another example of social practice, and Mark Bradford’s Art + Practice in Los Angeles (114). Goldberg’s definition of performance is (metaphorically) imperalistic: it invades other art forms and claims them for itself. For instance, Goldberg discusses the work of Ai Weiwei (not all of which is performance) and of LGBT artists as examples of “ethically driven artwork” that “comes from a sense of urgency to change the minds of people who consider themselves to be far removed from issues of race, class or gender, and to give public support to those suffering under the weight of such disregard” (115-16). Such work is important; I would never argue that it is not. But is it all performance? Again, Goldberg’s definition seems to be too broad—or else I’m missing something fundamental about her argument.
Not surprisingly, the examples Goldberg presents in this chapter reflect that broad definition of performance. For instance, she includes William Pope L.’s 2013 Pull! as an example of performance. In the work, she writes, “[t]he artist invites members of the public to pull a 10-ton GMC step van for 40 km (25 miles) over a period of three days from the east to the west side of Cleveland” (119). “This gruelling mobile performance,” she continues, “reflects on the collaborative nature of labour and the potential of citywide community performance to instigate new social relations” (119). Her description clearly suggests that Pull! is a work of relational aesthetics or social practice, so why is it considered performance here?
Anri Sala’s 2003 Dammi i Colori is a video that documents a project in which “blank, decrepit buildings” in the city of Tirana, Albania, were “coated . . . with technicolour paint” (121). In the film, the city’s then-mayor Edi Rama (who is also an artist) “mediates on poverty, community and what it means to project utopia onto crumbling walls” (121). I’m sure that work is fascinating, but it’s not performance; it’s a video. Erbossyn Meldibekov’s 2000 My Brother, My Enemy is a photograph (123). Sigalit Landau’s 2000 Barbed Hula is a video (125). In Emily Jacir’s 2006 Material for a Film (Performance), the artist “enters a shooting range and fires at one thousand white, blank books, later assembling them as a minimalist installation” as a eulogy for Wael Zwaiter, “a Palestinian translator assassinated in 1972 by Israeli operatives” (128). The performance at the shooting range must have been private—how could an audience follow here there—and the means through which it was documented is not clear; it seems that the installation is what was presented to audiences. Lida Abdul’s 2006 video What We Saw Upon Awakening and 2005 video White House are videos of site-specific performances (130). Aman Mojadidi’s 2009 Payback is video documentation of a site-specific performance in which the artist, dressed in as a police officer and at a fake roadblock in Kabul, paying drivers $2 each—“the average cost of a police bribe,” according to Goldberg—instead of demanding it (134). Yael Bartana’s And Europe Will be Stunned (2007-2011) is a “dramatic three-part film installation” (139). Phil Collins’s They Shoot Horses, from 2004, is a seven-hour video documenting a dance marathon in Ramallah (141). Carlos Motta’s 2015 Patriots, Citizens, Lovers. . . is a video installation of interviews with Ukrainian LGTBI and queer people (142). Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2017 Carne y Arena is a “visceral hybrid of installation, virtual reality (VR) and re-enactment centred on the edge of the United States-Mexico border” (143). Audiences participate in the work—they remove their shoes in a run-down holding cell before putting on VR goggles to view the work, and some visitors “kneel reflexively, the environment simulating the traumatic, haunting experience immigrants face daily” (143). Rashaad Newsome’s 2009 Shade Compositions might be performance, but it might also be relational aesthetics, depending on where the 25 women who constitute its make-shift orchestra came from (147). Ai Weiwei’s S.A.C.R.E.D. (2011-2013) is “a harrowing, visceral installation depicting his eighty-one-day incarceration in solitary confinement” (148). Santiago Sierra’s 2009 Sumision involves the artist hiring unemployed labourers in a town bordering the United States to dig the word “SUMISION” into the ground (155). I don’t think there would have been an audience at this site-specific performance, and it seems to have been documented with photographs taken from a helicopter.
But some of the works she includes in this chapter are obviously live performance. Walid Raad’s 2011 Scratching on Things I Could Disavow, for instance, “is a series of 1-hour presentations comprising a powerpoint lecture reporting facts and figures about changing art world economics in the Middle East, and a guided tour through an installation of Raad’s artworks” (120). Emily Roysdon’s 2008 Work, Why Why not groups performers in a circle, “then as a dancing line or a family portrait—arrangements that audiences can easily identify,” and Roysdon addresses her audiences directly, “asking individuals to respond to key actions” (124). Shirin Neshat’s 2011 OverRuled is “a live performance based on an earlier video by the artist,” using “the same set and cast of characters as the former,” but expanding “the theme of censorship and interrogation of a poet to incorporate the political turmoil of the Green Movement, and the trials and imprisonment of artists and intelligentsia that had occurred just two years later” by staging “an Islamic court of theocratic law” (126). Rabih Mroué’s 2013 lecture-performance The Pixelated Revolution Performance is a live event with projected material (127). Derrick Adams’s 2015 Pablow Fanque’s Circus Royal/SIDESHOW is “a 4-hour variety show of musical interludes, jugglers, readings from writers such as James Baldwin and songs from Erykah Badu” (131).
Tehching Hsieh’s One Year Performance, which dates all the way back to 1978-1984 (a date that makes me wonder why it’s been included in a book about 21st-century performance) “was a series of five durational performances, each lasting one year,” in which Hsieh “spent one year locked in a cage, another punching a time clock hourly, the next never going indoors, another tied to someone else without ever touching them, and the last without making art, seeing art, reading or speaking about art or setting foot in a museum or gallery” (133). Given the duration of these works, they must have been private actions (how could an audience be there all day, every day, for a year?). In 2009, an exhibition of these performances was installed at the Museum of Modern Art. Wu Tsang’s 2011 Damelo Todo is a 20-minute film with an accompanying performance; according to Goldberg “[t]he film and performance are interchangeable: film provides an extravagant backdrop to performance, while performance generates material for film” (135). Pussy Riot’s 2012 Punk Prayer involved the artists seizing “the sanctuary of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour with a full-blown rendering of their protest song Punk Prayer—Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” that led to the arrest and imprisonment of three members of the group (136). Coco Fusco’s 2006 to 2008 A Room of One’s Own: Women and Power in the New America is (I think) a series of lecture-performances intended “[t]o shed light on the art of interrogation” (137). Omer Fast’s 2009 Talk Show is “a mock-up TV talk show set before an audience” that uses “the game of ‘telephone’ as its underlying structure” (138). Cassils’s Becoming an Image Performance Still No. 8 (2013) is part of an ongoing series of performances that pits the artist “against a mass of clay . . . which they beat as though in a boxing match” (144). The performance is staged in a dark room and is only lit by a photographer’s flash; the audience sees “brief, fleeting glimpses of the clay’s evolution” (144). Cassils shapes “both the sculpture and themselves—alluding to the fluidity of bodies and the violence enacted against transgender individuals” (144). Juliana Huxtable’s 2015 There Are Certain Facts That Cannot Be Disputed is a live, three-act performance, a “gripping, poetic epic” about “the potential of the virtual as a radically inclusive archive while confronting its ephemerality” (145). Martin Creed’s 2009 Work No. 1020 is a 70-minute dance performance with interruptions to talk about the work’s meaning (146). Teresa Margolles’s 2009 What Else Could We Talk About? is an installation of large, cloth banners that had been used “to mop up the remains at sites of gunfights and murder in Culiacán, Mexico, a city rife with drug trafficking” in which relatives of the dead intermittently mop the floors, “using water containing traces from the crime scenes, including the blood of victims” (151). Terry Adkins’s Sacred Order of the Twilight Brothers from 2013 is a live performance on invented musical instruments—5.5 metre horns the artists calls Akrhaphones (154).
There are walking performances included in this chapter. Francis Alÿs’s The Green Line is either a video of a walking performance (with an audience), or a relatively private walking performance documented on video—but one without an audience, or at least an unmediated audience, because it is site specific. The work found audiences through the video documentation, which was included in an exhibition called Sometimes Doing Something Poetic Can Become Political, and Sometimes Doing Something Political Can Become Poetic, which included the video, drawings and maps of the Green Line, and video interviews with people who responded to Alÿs’s walk through Jerusalem (133). Regina José Galindo’s ¿Quién Puede Borrar Las Huellas?, from 2003, is video documentation of a site-specific performance in Guatemala City, in which the artist soaked her feet in a basin of animal blood and then left bloody footprints on a walk from the Court of Constitutionality to the National Palace (149). That seems to have been a relatively private performance, in that the only people to have seen it would be passersby and police and soldiers guarding those buildings. Site-specific performances like those of Galindo or Alÿs need to be thought of differently from other forms of performance because it’s possible they may not have an unmediated audience. Not considering site-specific performance as a separate category is a weakness in this book’s account of contemporary performance.
I skimmed the book’s fourth chapter, “Dance After Choreography,” as quickly as I could. The chapter begins by suggesting that dance in the late 1990s “could be called ‘conceptual dance,’ both for its rigorous intellectual underpinnings and for the ways in which talking about dance while dancing created a form of lecture in performance as well as deconstructing dance itself” (157). The dancers’ bodies were “‘material,’” Goldberg writes, and “the venue, whether black box or proscenium, was ‘space.’ Watching dance was as much a thought-process as it was a visual or visceral pleasure” (157). Dance in the late 1990s also referred to avant-garde dance of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly the Judson Dance Theater and Grand Union in New York. (157). Those groups worked “with the ‘democratic body’ as a plain-spoken instrument for questioning the nature of dance and its place in the politicized society of the times,” and their work was interdisciplinary, involving collaborations with artists in other disciplines, “including sculpture, film, poetry and music” (157).
From here, Goldberg turns to developments in Europe. French choreographers in the 1990s “studied, reimagined and reconstructed” that revolution in dance (158). In Germany, “Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal was producing vivid dance theatre at an extraordinary pace, creating material that expanded and deepened Bausch’s view of dance as an agglomeration of political geographies and literary and musical references” (158). In Belgium, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker “impeccably combined highly conceptual and physical worlds, bringing text, film footage, music and architecture into her rigorous, methodical and emotional investigations of the rhythms and rituals of dance” (158). Dance festivals across Europe created venues for the work of these choreographers and others (158-59). By the early 2000s, “[a]n inventive new generation of French choreographers, trained in classical and contemporary dance but also, surprisingly, in biology, philosophy, and literature, emerged” (159). Influenced by French philosophers (Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Rancière), “they shaped a philosophical and poetic sounding board for dance concepts that reflected the physical and mental acuity essential to their medium. By 2005 Jérôme Bel, Xavier Le Roy and Boris Charmatz had emerged as a triumvirate of exceptional thinkers about dance, its history and its execution” (159). All three “shared a commitment to speaking directly to audiences, and having them empathize with both the thinking and doing of the performers in their midst” (159).
“In the United States,” Goldberg writes, “the turn of the century brought a new wave of dance in the form of polemical choreographic visions that were the work of strong individuals, some quite maverick in their approach to constructing dance in the vanguard downtown venues of New York,” including Sarah Michelson, Maria Hassabi, Trajal Harrell, Miguel Gutierrez, Ralph Lemon, Tere O’Connor and Faye Driscoll, who “made performances that were distinguished by idiosyncratic personal styles and vocabularies of movement” and by their “strongly articulated subject matter” (160). Their choreography drew on the work of Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Yvonne Ranier, and Steve Paxton, “the ABC of every young choreographer’s career, and essential frame of reference for modern dancers in the United States” (160). Unlike dance in Europe, which benefitted from state support, dance in New York received little public support and relied on non-profit venues (161). “Since 2010,” Goldberg continues, “several of these spaces have begun to produce analytically probing and context-setting programmes” (161). Dance was also included in performance art programmes in art museums, leading to commissions and performance exhibitions (including at the Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina), supporting “the perennially under-served dance community” and archiving its work (161).
The individual works that Goldberg discusses reflect the choreographers she considers to be important, and unlike her discussions of other forms of performance, the dance she considers is live rather than on film or video, or suggested by an installation. These works include Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s 2011 reworking of her 1982 Fase, Four Movement to the Music of Steve Reich at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate Modern in London (162); Trajal Harrell’s 2012 Antigone Sr./Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, which combined “dance and street styles, runway walking, spoken word and song” (163); Faye Driscoll’s 2010 There is so much mad in me, which considered “the ‘feedback loop’ between performers and audience” (165); and Maria Hassabi’s 2013 PREMIERE, in which five dancers “took an entire hour to rotate their positions almost imperceptibly, ending in the same place as where they began” (166). Goldberg also touches on Jérôme Bel’s 2013 Disabled Theater, in which a group of actors between the ages of 18 and 51 “react freely to a series of tasks proposed by the artist” and then present the work “in three different venues, offering a different reading for dance in each” (170). I’d like to know more: what venues? what tasks? why actors and not dancers? She also considers Tere O’Connor’s 2013 BLEED, “the culimation of a two-year project involving three earlier works,” with “a cast of eleven dancers and ‘ghosts’ of the earlier movement phrases” that functions not just as a conclusion, but also as a beginning (171). Pablo Bronstein’s 2007 Plaza Minuet is intended to be performed “in four different public plazas around Lower Manhattan, making visceral to passers-by the spatial design of each architectural setting” (173). That work is clearly site-specific and I’m curious about how the sites selected informed it.
In Anne Imhof’s 2017 Faust, 14 performers (some trained dancers, others artists, singers, or actors) “fall, lie, bunch up in a heap or hoist themselves onto pedestals set in the walls of the dramatically scaled building of Venice’s German Pavilion” (174). Cheap Lecture (2009) is a duet between dancer Jonathan Burrows and musician Matteo Fargion, one of a series in which they “combine their droll delivery in rhythmic, musically shaped phrases about dance and music, composition and space, audience and performer” (175). Boris Charmatz’s 2014 Musée de la dance: Enfant “calls on viewers to consider the dancer’s body as a container for the history of dance, its forms and techniques, and to recognize that muscle memory is shaped by endless quotation from 20th-century choreography,” and at the same time, it uses children as performers (177). Xavier Le Roy’s 2012 Retrospective “was a milestone in being the first dance installation in a museum to use the term ‘retrospective’—more typical for an artist than for a choreographer” (180). Keith Hennessy’s 2009 Crotch (all the Joseph Beuys references in the world cannot heal the pain, confusion, regret, cruelty, betrayal, or trauma . . .) is “[i]ntentionally chaotic,” and its “motifs include poems read from torn notepaper, a manic lecture on German philosophy and dance, an athletic solo from a performer wearing a Halloween mask and an extended vignette of Hennessy weeping” (182). Miguel Gutierrez’s 2012 And Lose the Name of Action “crafts a landscape of paranormal and hallucinatory movement, inspired in part by the artist’s experience of his father undergoing operations to manage blood clots in the brain” (183). La Ribot’s Panoramix (1999-2003) is a retrospective of her “Distinguished Pieces,” “short performances of several minutes each, using ‘readymades’—bed sheets, folding chairs, a coat—as triggers for her expansive and quirky movements” (185). According to Goldberg, “La Ribot brings a dancer’s body-awareness and stage presence to the Fluxus artists’ fascination with chance and indeterminacy” (185). Pina Bausch’s 2006 Vollmond is both mellow and acrobatic: “[a] dark pool of water holds centre stage, through which dancers race creating dramatic arcs of spray as pouring rain drenches their unstoppable motion,” creating an “exhilarating spectacle of human energy mixed with nature’s essence” that “maintains the vivid symbolism for which Bausch’s classic dance theatre is known” (192). Sarah Michelson’s 2012 Devotion Study #1—The American Dancer seems to be a site-specific work: in it, the fourth floor of the Whitney Museum in New York “was covered with a blueprint of the original floor plan,” while the geometry of architect Marcel Breuer’s “cut-out window onto Madison Avenue provided a sharp counterpoint to a large green neon portrait of Michelson hanging on the opposite wall, as if overseeing the action” (195). In the work, six dancers, “relentlessly stepping backwards in circles for almost 90 minutes, fill the space with their precision movements, while Michelson designs and directs all the other parts—sound, lighting and costumes—and provides a live voiceover, in conversation with playwright Richard Maxwell, about history, religion and devotion to dance” (195)
At the same time, some of the dance work she considers here are site-specific and only available to audiences through film or video. Such works include Ralph Lemon’s 2010 Untitled, a work that explores “a close friendship and collaboration between the artist and Little Yazoo resident Walter Carter” (168); and Elad Lassry’s 2012 Untitled (Presence), which “treats performance as a mediated experience, presenting ten dancers from the American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet as if witnessed through a screen” by using “framing devices that recall a lens’ aperture and treating reality as pictorial space,” showing the dancers “cut off and composed, in detail and in full” (172). Noémie Lafrance’s 2006 Agora II is a work of relational aesthetics, “a vast social experiment offering a narrative about the evolving community of Williamsburg” in Brooklyn (184). The work “joined over seventy-five performers with thousands of viewers,” and its audience, “who have been tasked with learning dance movements before their arrival, are instructed to play a ‘choreographed game’ of collective actions”—including, according to the photograph included in the book, riding bicycles on a large pool that had been abandoned for 20 years (184). Video artist (or filmmaker) Tacita Dean’s 2009 film Craneway Event “follows avant-garde choreographer Merce Cunningham and his company as they rehearse a new piece—one of his last—in an abandoned Ford factory. . . . Observing both the company and the late choreographer himself, the film is a soft, breathtaking meditation on movement and an icon’s process” (190).
Because I’ve written plays (and even had one produced), I really couldn’t skip Goldberg’s fifth chapter, “Off Stage: New Theatre.” “In the mid-2000s,” she begins, “several productions that had all the markings of theatre—a script, actors, and a director—began to be shown in museums and galleries, deconstructed so that all traditional ‘theatre’ elements, including backstage, might be exposed and exhibited” (197). “At the same time, several visual artists were taking to the stage,” she continues. “These artists made use of proscenium, curtains and wings, and took into account the fact that audience members would be seated in rows, viewing the work frontally” (197). According to Goldberg, “seeing the two forms’ ‘trade tools,’ as it were, shifting contexts and expectations, served above all to underline their differences. Theatre performed by trained actors and directors proved quite distinct from performance by vidual artists in just about every aspect of expertise, vision and intent” (197).
“The extent to which the differences between these types of performance serve to define them,” Goldberg writes,
goes a long way towards illuminating the nature of performance art, the more paradoxical of the two. A visual art performance is most often the vision of a single artist, responsible for every element of the work. The artist is director, playwright, performer and lighting, costume and set designer rolled into one. The work rarely contains text or spoken word, often has no narrative arc, and is not required to ‘make sense’ in the way that theatre productions are frequently expected to resolve character relationships and plot by a play’s end. More abstract than literal, performance by visual artists draws on the trajectory of art history, and its references are frequently to the aesthetic sensibilities of the times and to other artists. Such work is often highly personal; the artist might even be described as “performing the self,” their personal signature being very much the essence of the work. (197-98)
Of course, theatre artists also make performance, and performance work often does involve text, as the examples of performance Goldberg includes in Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present suggest.
Goldberg’s description of theatre is incomplete—it ignores the existence of devised work entirely—but it’s more or less accurate:
Theatre more often than not begins with a script—with spoken lines and stage directions for the actors—including descriptions of the time and location of each scene change. It is made by a team effort of professionals, each with distinct functions—playwright, director, actor, producer, dramaturge, set designer, costume designer, lighting designer—and, because it involves many parts, typically takes longer to realize than does performance by a single visual artist. By the time a theatre production premiers, the highly personal vision of the playwright may be many times removed. Even so, the performers, who are the most visible manifestation of the entire enterprise, are reassured by the team effort and the clear demands of their profession. Their activity is acting, and they work to perfect the techniques of their métier, providing, with each play, a seamless rendering of the combined values and ideas of themselves, the playwright and the director. (198)
Okay: most (but not all) theatre productions look more or less like that. Performance, on the other hand, is very different:
The professionalism expected of the theatre actor—modulated voice, precise enunciation, solid stage presence and capability of projecting into large theatrical halls—becomes somewhat irrelevant in the visual art world, which disregards the accepted standards of theatrical etiquette and design. Actors predominantly work on the basis that an audience will pay attention to their deliver, comprehend the meaning of their words, and grasp the significance from start to finish of a tale well told. In the art world, the performer communicates very differently with his or her audience. In this context, the work is assembled in the manner of a collage or drawing, layered with image, sound or words combining eventually, if not at first, to suggest meaning. Without expecting to take away anything conclusive, art audiences have a greater role in completing the work for themselves, whether in the process of viewing or just as often, afterwards. (198)
But not all theatre—and not the site-specific work I’ve been involved in—is about tales well told; not all of it is based solely on text; not all of it eschews layers of text, image, and sound. An artificial line is being drawn here between performance work by visual artists, and performance work by theatre artists, and Goldberg’s suggestion that all theatre artists construct plays is not correct.
From here, Goldberg looks back to the history avant-garde performance in the 1970s in New York (although I’m sure performance happened elsewhere, too). “The freedom to create a performance with the immediacy of the lone artist working in a studio” was central to that community of performance (198). “Performers could play themselves, were encouraged to take off in any number of untried directions and to pursue ideas about the body as an object in space and time,” she continues. “This flexibility and experimentation with a broad range of materials, crossing new music with dance, film and conceptual art, would come to influence many emerging playwrights and directors in Europe” (198). Not just in Europe, either. Now Goldberg’s account of the distinction between performance art and theatre is beginning to make more sense to me. European playwrights and directors, she continues, “recognized in this way of working the promise of a self-directed theatre, and material that probed and deconstructed the essence of their chosen medium when reduced to its basic elements” (198). In the United States, “directors and performers, including Meredith Monk, Robert Wilson, Elizabeth LeCompte, Richard Foreman, Laurie Anderson, Spalding Gray, Eric Bogosian and Karen Finlay . . . were understood to represent a new kind of performance that could exist on the boundary between visual art and theatre” (198). In Europe, young directors (who were also influenced by avant-garde theatre) “took the freely idiosyncratic and inventive styles of the Americans’ highly personalized performance-theatre as license to create works of their own that stood outside of theatre history” (198). In fact, theatre directors and producers all over the world, including Robert Lepage and Forced Entertainment, “created a landscape of intensely visual theatre and distinctive performance styles that were highly imaginative in their mixing of politics, literature, history and music” (198). This work, Goldberg states, “was sometimes described under the heading ‘post-dramatic theatre’ for the ways in which traditional expectations were disrupted or abandoned entirely as conservative and oppressive to the imagination” (198).
Goldberg suggests that “Berlin-based Christoph Schlingensief’s career provides a prime example of a personality-driven thinker moving reflexively across disciplines,” from acting to directing film and theatre and opera, to hosting TV talk shows and entering politics, to working as a visual artist (198). “Taking elements from each discipline as needed, Schlingensief articulated the shifting cultural and political sands in a Berlin emerging rapidly from its isolation as a divided city, as well as a personal worldview that was as existentially complex as it was surreal” (198). His productions were “part vaudeville, part punk concert,” and they “disturbed audiences with their chaotic, satirical and hysterical renderings” (199). Schlingensief’s references included Luis Buñuel, 1970s German cinema, Joseph Beuys, and Richard Wagner (199). His “manic and unstoppable energy took final shape in his most ambitious project,” Goldberg writes: “an ‘Opera Village’ in Burkina Faso” (199). “This,” she continues,
was an artistic space for cultural encounters and exchange, to which he applied the fierce humanism at the heart of his brazen and provocative drive. A school, a hospital, an opera house and a community would live on there after his death in 2010 from cancer at age forty-nine. Honoured with a posthumous “retrospective” in the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennial the following year, Schlingensief would win the Golden Lion award for best national pavilion—recognition from the art world that lent a new perspective on his earlier material. (199)
Between 1992 and 2016, theatre director Frank Castorf, another Berliner, “turned his incisive focus on theatre itself, creating volatile productions that would set the stage throughout the 1990s for an extraordinarily inventive and violently radical generation of theatre directors” (199). Castorf’s work “included brash deconstructions of classical plays and literature as well as wildly provocative 5-hour staged rampages involving nudity, drunkenness, thrown food, bad jokes and screaming at the audience” (199). For Castorf, theatre “was a thought-carrier for powerful, expressionistic content—politics, philosophy, poetry—as well as an irresistible spectacle through which to evoke the day-to-day” (199). Castorf, whose influences include Brecht and Heiner Müller, “introduced his own obsession with crossing theatre and cinema, producing a hybrid that he believed could not be achieved by one or the other medium alone” (199). His “marathon productions with their varied directorial approaches, opinionated cast of regular actors, and frenetic play on the margins between rock and roll, popular culture and visual art . . . were a call for a theatre of meaning—proud advertisements for the power of the art of the stage to get under peoples’ skin and to change their minds” (199-200).
“Such boisterous combinations,” Goldberg writes, “were particular to post-unification Berlin theatre, where politics and art, East and West, capitalism and old-style communism, and the visible discrepancies between these—on people’s faces, in their clothing and on disintegrating building facades—were an inescapable part of everyday reality” (200). In France, on the other hand, “performances by Philippe Quesne or Gisèle Vienne conjured a very different mindscape” (200). Their works were “sophisticated reimaginings of the day-to-day, of history and philosophy, and of society with a futuristic lean” (200). Quesne, who studied visual art and graphic design, “works across a spectrum of disciplines and exhibition spaces from galleries to urban parks,” and “who writes and directs his own plays,” creates “subtle theatrical works of few words that offer rich commentary on society nevertheless” (200). His sets create experiences “of unexpected wonder,” and “[h]is close studies of human beings in an imaginatively reconfigured daily life are just as often presented under dance as under theatre banners, as though the distinction between the two did not apply here or, rather, suggesting that concentrating on narratives of bodies moving in space can be understood as a melding of both” (200). Vienne’s work is also seen as dance and theatre (200). “Working with professional dancers and trained actors,” Vienne “considers each as an object in space to be moved, with dancers playing out the underlying rhythm of a work and actors signalling its psychological threads” (200). Mixing live actors and life-sized puppets, “Vienne’s uncanny ceremonies are designed to have each part—image, sound, bodies, text—pull at the seams between dream and reality” (200).
In the United States, or at least in New York, there were different developments. “On the one hand, a do-it-yourself aesthetic was the hallmark of several collectives,” such as Big Art Group and Hoi Polloi, whose rough, chaotic, and intimate productions “had a found-object quality” that “had as much to do with the economics of maintaining a theatre company amid the rising values of downtown real estate as with the ethos and preoccupations of a generation inured to spectacle” (200). Some of their work was presented in lofts in old industrial buildings outside of Manhattan (200). “Another group of downtown playwrights and directors were analytical in their approach to parsing the elements of theatre—words, bodies, audience—and used as their springboard seminal figures of the 1970s and ’80s avant-garde such as Richard Foreman . . . and Elizabeth LeCompte and the Wooster Group” (200-01). These groups, including playwrights Richard Maxwell and Young Jean Lee, “produced highly original material that by the end of the first decade of the 2000s constituted a new kind of downtown theatre: sparse, intellectual, unfettered by media or staging devices, yet clever in its transparent questioning of the ‘thing itself’—theatre” (201). Some of these theatre companies created scripts collectively; some did so through interviews, but they all focused “on transforming a textual artwork into a theatrical one” (201), which really isn’t all that surprising for theatre, I have to say. “Not surprisingly, this stripped-down approach to theatre and its conceptual guide rails appealed to artists and art critics who took note of its similarities to the theory of ‘relational aesthetics’ that made connections between viewer, object, surrounding space and the combination of these, suggesting a kind of multi-dimensional theatre of the self,” Goldberg writes, citing Richard Maxwell’s 2012 Untitled at the Whitney Museum of American Art as an example of “just such an amalgamation of ideas” (201):
Presented in a large floor-through gallery in the museum as part of a week-long residency, it made all aspects of the creative process visible, showcasing the mechanisms of theatre, its silences and stillnesses, as well as the coming and going of visitors. . . . Maxwell and his theatre company rehearsed his new play from 11 a.m until 6 p.m. daily, with a lunch break from 2 until 2.45 p.m. The ideal viewer, Maxwell said, would stay for an entire day. (201)
In contrast, Paul Chan’s 2007 production of Waiting for Godot was produced in the streets of New Orleans, still scarred by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:
The magnitude of Chan’s achievement lies in the visual artist’s expansive approach to relating a play about interminable waiting and desolation to a community’s catastrophic desolation and interminable waiting for relief and repair. Using the comforting traditions of New Orleans—a gumbo dinner, a marching band—Chan had viewers follow signage nailed to several posts along the way, marked “A Country Road. A Tree. Evening” (the opening words setting the scene in Samuel Beckett’s script) to a street corner in the Lower Ninth Ward. Seamlessly transitioning from life into Beckett’s play, the two-act tragicomedy seemed to have been written on the spot. . . . Perhaps it is only in the hands of a visual artist that such a work could have unfolded with so much space to insert personal imaginings, and with so many doors left ajar for viewers to step onto the borderless stage and become one of the dramatis personae themselves. (201)
Maybe, although let’s not forget Beckett’s incredible achievement in writing that play: even a production in a community hall might generate similar effects.
“Using the stage as exhibition space, or the theatre and its textual and narrative traditions as materials to manipulate at will is the prerogative of the visual artist,” Goldberg writes (201), a statement that completely ignores the fact that theatre artists can and do the same things—something that her examples have already demonstrated. “It is expected of these artists to experiment and surprise, to work without the safety net of tradition, and to take that step with the intention of venturing into untried territories, forcing fresh responses to the unfamiliar upon themselves,” she continues (201), leaving me to wonder whether she thinks theatre artists are expected to bore and stick to tradition and evoke stale responses. “Such work is approached with the same care and sophistication that an artist might apply in other media, but above all with an exact understanding of their reason for choosing one medium over another,” she concludes (201). Wow. Visual artists good; theatre artists bad. What a thing to say.
As with the other chapters in this book, Goldberg now moves on to brief discussions of individual productions and/or works. For instance, Elevator Repair Service’s 2006 Gatz was a six-hour performance of The Great Gatsby, “which included every work of the 1925 text” (203). “The production invited the audience to imagine the action as if they were reading it themselves, with the cast of thirteen actors in a shabby office of a mysterious small business, instead of opulent 1920s Long Island,” Goldberg writes, suggesting that in the production suggests that “the book and its language are transforming are transforming the actors” (203). I find the shift to past tense interesting here; Goldberg has used present tense when talking about performance by visual artists, but in discussing this theatre production she uses past tense. Why? Is she suggesting that performance lives on in an eternal present while theatre is consigned to the past?
Hoi Polloi’s 2012 All Hands was “a play about the eccentric characters, rituals and codes in the world of secret societies” in which, as “the performance becomes more abstract, the absurdist and theatrical qualities of the secret world offer reflection on the world of experimental theatre itself” (204). In Radiohole’s 2006 Fluke, “the small ensemble of four performed Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick with their eyes closed, and fish-like eyes painted on the back of their eyelids,” in a production that created “an elaborate sensory overload of enigmatic riffs on Moby-Dick, including gurgling sounds of the deep ocean and quick light changes” (206). Grace Notes: Reflections for Now, a 2016 performance by writer, photographer and filmmaker Carrie Mae Weems, “follows” (note Goldberg’s shift to present tense when talking about the work of a visual artist) “a woman who, like a modern Antigone, must grapple with her brothers’ deaths and with those who deny them a proper burial, all the while maintaining a sense of self through unspeakable challenge” (208). The work uses “street dance, opera and spoken word,” as well as documentary video (208). Rashid Johnson’s 2013 Dutchman reimagined a 1964 play by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones as he was known in the early 1960s). “A political allegory that wanders into the surreal, its presentation in the steam rooms of an old bathhouse instigates a journey through physical sensations and emotional atmospheres for actors and audiences alike,” Goldberg writes. “The extreme conditions disrupt the narrative flow of the play—a tense confrontation between a black man and a white woman on a subway train that continually teeters on violence—so that the drama unfolds in fits and starts, and explodes at a point when the unbearable heat and horrific end of the play coincide” (209).
Gisèle Vienne’s 2013 The Pyre explores the “frantic, dystopian exploration of the tension between narration and abstraction” through a performance in which “a woman jolts in contorted, unsettling motions, the stage around her dark except for curved walls that form a tunnel of flashing light,” until a young boy joins her, responding to her movements (210). The pair “appear trapped in the pulsating, otherworldly tunnel, confined as they struggle against reality and their predetermined narrative fate” (210). Simon Fujiwara’s 2011 The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a “richly detailed narrative set on a revolving stage” in which “Fujiwara’s childhood, family history, and life as an artist and human being are mined to create a series of engaging episodes that simultaneously sample excerpts from political and cultural history,” thereby questioning “our notions of historical and collective memory” and examining that memory’s malleability (213). Gob Squad’s 2010 Western Society is a recreation of “an obscure, homemade YouTube video of a family gathering” (214). According to Goldberg, “[a] moveable screen splits actors and live audience as the action is live-streamed to a second set of viewers,” and the actors “use the family scene to discuss their own personal, difficult relationships as the play simultaneously satirizes, mocks and expands the domestic space” (214). David Levine’s 2012 Habit brought together durational performance and theatre: Levine’s “voyeuristic 90-minute play was performed by three actors continuously for 8 hours a day over one week” in “the cavernous space of the former Essex Street Market” in New York “in a four-walled, fully furnished and functional American ranch house . . . where audience members could peer through open windows or move around as they pleased” (215). Richard Maxwell’s 2006 The End of Reality “stages a series of conversations between security guards who rarely interact, and who deliver long speeches that elicit feelings of apathy and despair” (218). Every once in a while, “comically clunky fight scenes between the guards and criminals” interrupt those monologues, highlighting “the banality of violence and ordinary disaffection in everyday American life” (218).
Frank Castorf’s 2004 Meine Schneekönigin “dismantles Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, throwing players together on a set that involves storms of fake snow, broken mirrors and roaming Nazi soldiers among other violently cast debris,” Goldberg writes. “In this 3-hour adaptation, Castorf draws form his arsenal of theatrical disturbances . . . including ‘flying potato salad, inserted theoretical texts, urinating in a zinc bucket, booming music, film projections, hysterical family life, nude madness, improvised speeches and plenty of slapstick’” (221). The Quiet Volume, a 2010 collaboration between Ant Hampton and Tim Etchells, “is a play set in a library that exploits the tension common to any such setting—a combination of silence and concentration within which different people’s experience of reading unfold” (223). It’s also a site-specific work, since the 2010 production was staged in the reading room of the Universitätbibliothek der Humboldt in Berlin. In contrast, Luciano Chessa’s 2009 Music for 16 Futurist Noise Intoners was a concert of 16 reconstructed intonarumori, “crank-operated instruments originally designed by avant-garde musician Luigi and destroyed in the early 20th century” (222). How is this an example of theatre? I do not understand the categories Goldberg is using, although I’m certain that I’ve said that already.
Philippe Quesne’s 2010 La Mélancholie des Dragons is about six heavy-metal musicians stranded in a car in the middle of a snowy forest “deciding on how to construct an amusement part there with the help of an elderly woman” (226). “Throughout this surreal adventure,” Goldberg writes, “Quesne mixes dream and reality, music and language, in a visually arresting style, stemming from his work as a visual artist, to contrast atmospheres of mystery and magic with moments of mundanity and awkwardness” (226). Greek theatre director Dimitris Papaioannou, who was trained as a painted, “makes large-scale spectacles with an obsessive attention to visual detail, paying close attention to the seduction and presence of the human body, its gestures and its emotional potential” (227). In his 2009 Nowhere, 26 performers “move, measure and mark out a large mechanical structure of pulleys and levers on the stage using their bodies, pitting themselves against a highly complex machine of considerable dimensions and technical capabilities,” and in his 2012 Primal Matter, he “performs with a nude male dancer in sequences that explore relationships between the primitive and the modern, identity and otherness” (227).In Il Tempo Del Postino (2009), Hans Ulrich Obrist and Philippe Parreno gave visual artists 15 minutes “to present a piece in any medium besides film or video,” resulting in diverse performances that included a cattle auction, “opera singers moving through the aisles singing Madame Butterfly,” and “a live orchestra playing back any sound made in the crowd” (229). The event, Goldberg writes, produces “a radical, spontaneous reimaginging of the presentation and reception of visual arts” (229). Maybe that’s true, but what’s its connection to theatre? Why include it here, in this chapter? The Book of Ice was a 2011 concert by Paul Dennis Miller, better known as DJ Spooky, based on his experiences during a trip to the Antarctic (232). I’m sure it was interesting, but why is it included in a chapter ostensibly on the relationship between theatre and performance? On the other hand, the presence of The Wooster Group’s 2000 play TO YOU, THE BIRDIE! (Phèdre) needs no explanation. It’s a reimagining of Racine’s classical French play using “video production and technological installation to dramatize the cultural reproduction of the past” (231). Neither is it difficult to understand why Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s 2008 retelling of Romeo and Juliet is included in this chapter. It uses “nearly verbatim language transcribed from phone interviews with either people, who were asked to recount the play in their own words,” thereby extending the play’s authorship “into the outside world” (231). Johannesburg-born Nelisiwe Xaba’s 2011 They Look at Me and That’s All They Think is based on the biography of Sarah Baartman, “a South African Khoi who became known as the ‘Hottentot Venus’ when exhibited in London and France in the 1810s” (234). Paul Chan’s 2007 production of Waiting for Godot sounds amazing, and its use of social practice suggests that it was a hybrid between theatre and relational aesthetics (235).
Not all of the projects Goldberg discusses in this chapter are live. Robert Wilson’s 2004 Steve Buscemi, Actor, is a video portrait (211). Claire Fontaine’s 2011 Situations (the work of a Paris-based feminist collective named Clare Fontaine rather than a single artist) is a video that “instructs viewers in how to behave in a street fight” (217). Liz Magic Laser’s 2011 I Feel Your Pain is a “mixed-media performance” which “restaged America’s recent political contests as a romantic drama” by using “a variety of agit-prop theatre tactics, particularly the Russian constructivist idea of a ‘living newspaper’” to examine “how emotion is used to establish authenticity on America’s political stage” (225). The performance was staged in a movie theatre, and “took place simultaneously in the midst of the audience and on the cinema’s screen” (225). “As the actors perform,” Goldberg continues, “live film from two cinematographers in the audience is projected onto the screen as a continuous feed, with Laser acting as a real-time editor, seated at monitors in the projection booth choosing camera angles for the audience to see” (225). Christoph Schlingensief’s “opera village” in Burkina Faso (233) would seem to be neither theatre nor performance, but an example of social practice or relational aesthetics, and his The Animatograph was an installation work, “a claustrophobic rotating carousel of technical and sculptural debris,” which was controversial because it was covered in images that included swastikas and Hitler- and Stalin-themed pornography (233).
The works included in Goldberg’s sixth chapter, “Performing Architecture,” appear to be either installation works, examples of relational aesthetics, or performances, although Studio Miessen’s Performa 09 Hub (2009) was clearly architectural, and functioned as the biennial’s office, bookshop, lounge, performance and screening area, and as “a small, tiered amphitheatre” (256); and Tobias Putrih’s 2006 Design studio for MUDAM was a “sculptural environment-as-studio for education and public workshops within the MUDAM museum” which could be reconfigured by its users. How these are performance, though, isn’t clear to me. If people in a space interact with it, does that make the work—the space—a performance? Maybe it does. I don’t know. I certainly see the performative element in ReActor House, a 2016 work by Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley, “a precarious home that balances on a 4.5-metre (15 ft) concrete pillar, allowing the house to rotate 360 degrees and tilt depending on the whereabouts of the two inhabitants” (264). Mike Nelson’s 408 Tonnes of Imperfect Geometry (2012) sets “individually cast pieces of concrete” on a wooden floor, “deliberately confronting the load-bearing capacity of the infrastructure” (265). Adjacent to it is the production workshop, separated from visitors by a glass wall. “They are thus given access to the elegant and precarious balance of design, engineering, emotion and movement—all persistent elements of architecture,” Goldberg states.
The more obviously installation work includes Raumlabor’s 2013 Monuments, which seems to have been a mobile, site-specific installation (242); Michael Beutler’s 2006 Yellow Escalator, a staircase that cannot be climbed (246); Diller Scofido + Renfro’s 2002 Blur, an “ephemeral building . . . made of artificial cloud” (247); Sophie Calle’s 2011 Room, a “staged installation-memoir” in the Lowell Hotel in New York (250); Renata Lucas’s 2012 Kunst-Werke (255); Ernesto Neto’s 2009 anthropodino (257); and Los Carpinteros’ 2007 Show Room, a reconstruction of “the explosion of a brick wall” (259). Some of these are related to architecture as a theme, but does that make them performances? The relational aesthetics or social practice work—again, which includes architecture as a theme—includes Thomas Hirschhorn’s 2000 Gramsci Monument, 2001 Bataille Monument, and 2013 Gramsci Monument, all three of which were built by community members and became “makeshift playgrounds, offering public programming, jobs and an information hub to the community” (243); Ann Hamilton’s 2012 the event of a thread, an “oversized playground in Park Avenue Armory’s vast Drill Hall” which featured “more than forty giant swings and a billowing white curtain” (244); and Laura Lima’s 2015 Gala Chickens, which was both an installation (a full-sized chicken coop) and social practice (it “culminated in an event that involved viewers selecting from sixty Renaissance costumes that they wore over their clothes” ).
On the other hand, there are performances included here for reasons that aren’t clear. Yve Laris Cohen’s 2015 performance Fine chronicles “the failed execution of an unrealized piece” (245); I’m not sure why it’s in this chapter and not elsewhere in the book, unless that project was architectural. It’s also not clear how Arto Lindsay’s 2009 Somewhere I Read, which involves 50 dancers wearing identical coats synchronously parading in Times Square, is anything other than a site-specific performance, or how it’s related to architecture (other than through its location) (254). Other performances, though, do relate (in different ways) to architecture. Gerard & Kelly’s site-specific dance performances at the Glass House in Connecticut and the Schindler House in California were phenomenological explorations of “the emotional states of home” set in and around those modernist structures (251). In Gelitin’s 2005 Tantamounter 24/7, the four-person collective lived inside “a makeshift plywood contraption” for seven days and made “life-sized replicas of personal objects that viewers were invited to submit through a large hatch in the outer wall” (252). Bryony Roberts’s 2015 We Know How to Order was a site-specific performance that “disrupted a modernist space,” the plaza at Chicago’s Federal Center, designed by Mies van der Rohe. Andrés Jaque’s 2011 IKEA Disobedients was a “makeshift domestic environment” made of “purposefully mis-assembled IKEA furnishings” in which people “were invited to perform their alternative household routines” (262).
So I’m not sure what to make of Goldberg’s Performance Now. It operates according to a broad definition of performance—one that is, as I’ve stated repeatedly in this summary, too broad. Perhaps my definition(s) are too narrow; perhaps an installation that invites visitors to interact with it is performative. In that case, though, wouldn’t such a work be an example of social practice or relational aesthetics? And would that mean that the Henry Moore sculpture outside the Art Gallery of Ontario is a performance, because people like sitting on it? Am I wrong in expecting a book about performance to focus on, well, performance, rather than the rather vague adjective, “performative”? Maybe I am. In any case, after a while, I started to wonder whether a more accurate title for this book might’ve been Contemporary Art I Like, Some of Which is Performance. It is a beautifully produced book, though, and it does present a survey of performance art (among other things) since 2000. But for a book subtitled Live Art for the 21st Century, there’s a lot of art included here that isn’t “live.”
Was it useful for my purposes? Not really—mostly because it doesn’t consider site-specific performance to be separate from other forms of performance, or consider its unique characteristics, such as the fact that it may not have a direct audience. In fact, some site-specific performances Goldberg includes—Regina José Galindo’s ¿Quién Puede Borrar Las Huellas?, for example—aren’t identified as such. I probably need to move away from this kind of general survey and read something focused on site-specific performance; that might be a way to explore the relationship between performance and walking art. But, hey, I stuck with this one, right to the end—even though that might’ve been the wrong decision, I do like to finish what I start.
Goldberg, RoseLee. Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present, third edition, Thames & Hudson, 2011.
———. Performance Now: Live Art for the 21st Century. Thames & Hudson, 2018.