Published on April 2nd, 2005

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Contemporary Performance Art

From 02-04-2005 until 05-06-2005

“The performance is a distillation of a real life event; the act of photographing it distils it even further”.
Lisa Kahane, interview with Alice Maude Roxby, 2003, in: Art, Lies and Videotape: Exposing Performance, Tate Liverpool, 2003.

Recent years have seen renewed interest in performance art. New publications appear about old works, and young artists are making new performances. Despite the considerable interest, there are few people who have succeeded in giving a satisfactory definition of performance art. The simplest and most direct definition emerged last year during the discussion ‘Live Culture’ (organized by the Tate Modern) and the exhibition ‘Art, Lies and Videotape: Exposing Performance’ (presented by the Tate Liverpool): ‘Performance art has a live element in it, and there is human presence in the space at a certain moment or for a set period.’ But can an interactive installation, which is dependent on the presence of the viewers, be called a performance? Or, if there is a stage set-up and people are present, although not for specific moment or period, do we call that an interactive installation or theatre or performance art?

One thing emerges clearly from the above definition: performance art is a temporary medium. Although the closed nature and immobility of an exhibition space seems diametrically opposed to this, performance artists increasingly make use of such static space. Many performance artists seem to want to leave something behind, to make something which reflects or documents their performance. Previously they chiefly used photography, film or video to do this. These media were employed to be able to analyze their own acts, to promote the performance, or to place it in an historical context. Within the visual arts the recording increasingly often appears to be as important, or even more important than the performance itself. In some cases the performance even takes place without the presence of an audience, and only the outcome, the residue, is to be seen.


Contemporary performance art shows various performances in which the concepts and strategies from classic performance art can be found. At the same time, the search for other approaches and new methods is central. In the exhibition section of Resonance, attention is focused on contemporary artists who take the human body as the point of departure for presenting their performance concepts. For them, the body is the instrument par excellence for experiencing, investigating and representing ‘human being’ and life. The value of these works, which is sometimes difficult to express in words, touches the viewer at both the mental and physical level.

The thread which runs through the exhibition is the manner of documentation. The importance of photography and video has often been cited in relation to performance. In place of the immediate presence of an audience, the artist only shows the public what he or she wants them to see. The crucial moments are hereby lifted out and intensified. Without any distractions, the artist directs the viewer’s gaze where he wants to have it. The communal experience of live performance is traded for individual experience. Thus, the exhibition also focuses on the question of to what degree, within the visual arts, the live element can still be seen as characteristic of performance art.

In the live program of Resonance it is precisely the communal experience of live performance that is central. Although the idealism and the emancipatory element has disappeared from performance art, it appears that this form can count on powerful, renewed interest. What does contemporary performance look like, how does it differ from its archaic predecessors from the 1960s and 1970s, and how do the artists try to gain the interest and attention of an audience, who like the artists themselves are familiar with the history of performance art?
The performances will take place at various locations: the Netherlands Media Art Institute, Club 11 and Paradiso. They will be recorded, edited and included in the exhibition as new works. With this, the live section obviously is seeking connections with the performance installations exhibited. After the close of the exhibition the performances will be published as a DVD.

Artists in the exhibition

You’ve known it for a long time already: you can be me, smell like me, write like me, send my e-mails… I am your alter ego, you can use me for anything you want.
But me?
Who will I be?
Could I be you?
Shall we exchange identities?

Please be my alter ego.
Let me teach you the pleasure of giving yourself away.
Join the club.
Be in the show.
David Still

With the work Connotations – Performances Images 1994-1998 Hayley Newman (UK, 1969) investigates the role of documentation in performance. The work consists of twenty scripted performances which were realized and recorded within one week. The work is however presented as a collection of performances from a four-year period. The dates, locations, photographers and context, as these are sketched in the accompanying texts, are all fictional. The actions were merely presented to be photographed, but not under the circumstances or at the places as described. The images which Newman chose reflect the ambiguity that arises in documenting performances, or the essence of performances.

The document which remains stands in for the performance: as a witness to the event, the camera vouches for its authenticity, and the photograph reflects and replaces the performance. The texts with dates, locations, duration and descriptions of the events are forensic links for translating the ideas from the live performance into a non-live situation. Newman here poses questions about the integrity and authenticity of performance and the performer. At the same time she connects contemporary performances and those from the early days of performance art. Although she chiefly refers to the formal language of performance art, she also remains focused on the commonplace.

In her work L.A. Raeven (NL, 1971) analyzes how in Western culture identity is connected with marketing and exploitation of ‘life styles’, and what negative effects the norms of perfection imposed by advertising and the fashion industry can have. The artists also try to translate the live setting, as it is seen in the video, into the exhibition space. In the space where the video Wild Zone 1 is being shown, a strange smelling body odor is circulated, based on the odor of the women themselves.

In Wild Zone 1 (2001) L.A. Raeven manifests herself as two thin women who appear somewhat bored. They take a sip of wine or a bit of water, and together eat some nondescript dish. Now and then they say something in a sing-song Limburg dialect; for the most part, they stare at the camera. Garbage that is generated during the course of the performance just gets tossed away around them. The video installation of the performance provoked strong reactions within the art world, and outside it. The discussion centered primarily around the question of to what degree the artists themselves should be seen as victims or exploiters. This bypasses the presumption that the body is misused in our spectacle-society. The video assures that the performance has a longer life span. In this way the artists test how long you can have images circulate before they are normalized and ignored.

Since the early 1990s Francesca da Rimini (AU) has been investigating the anarchist potential of e-mail relations, virtual communities and new narrative structures. In the period 1994-1997 she lived online from Adelaide, Australia. In order to participate in the life of the northern hemisphere she reversed her biological rhythms. Her new life was given shape by means of various online personas. Da Rimini uses internet as a extension of the body. This raises other questions about performance, in which the physical body is replaced by virtual extensions.

Forever ghost (2005) has been assembled especially for this exhibition as a document of an internet life. Gashgirl, the friendly hypertext farmer’s daughter changes in the shortest time into a cyberbitch who goes in search of perverse erotic relations with kindred spirits online. GhostGirl doll yoko began her life as a voice that ascended from the historic pool with dead girls in Kyoto. Originating in an e-mail correspondence, the small ghost transforms herself into a series of poems, an illustrated website ‘the dollspace’, and a handmade dollzine liquid_nation is born from the classic traditions of the sibyl and the female oracle. liquid_nation interprets oracles and seeks to influence political and military decisions. The internet performances are framed by videos that describe the research and the way the characters were arrived at.

Sterling Ruby (DE/USA, 1972) uses everyday reality as the setting for his performance videos. Ruby’s work raises questions about social environments and actions, and particularly their connotations. It occupies a middle ground between being visually fluid, continually in motion, and performance. Although it is unclear whether the artist himself appears in his work, the passion and, at the same time, the simplicity that is expressed in the actions makes this question irrelevant. He mixes elements from popular culture, art history, psychology and politics into an obsessive vision. His video Transient (2004) visualizes interjacent places as metaphors for the border regions of the human mind. Man collects, marks his territory, attaches symbolic meaning to objects, and expresses sexual impulses. These are basic acts that are characteristic for the whole of society. Through continual movement, Sterling Ruby creates a sense of disorientation around his actions, so that the banality disturbs and one is aware of their transitoriness.

Yaël Davids (IL, 1972) disentangles the paradoxical relationship between the presence of the human body and the absence of the subject. Her work consists largely of ‘lifeless decors’ that only become finished when they are occupied. These decors are comprised of everyday objects such as a mirror, table, cupboard, mattress or chair. When visitors take their places in, on or under these objects, they begin to be part of them, and the objects change into artworks. The human body always plays an important role in this. In her videos Davids explores the boundaries of the body yet further, to discover how far it can go, what it can go through. She defies the body, shows it in vulnerable situations and places restrictions on it. Ball (2003) is a performance loop of nine minutes in which young children are imprisoned in a large ball, and try to stand up. Because of the size of the ball, however, it continues to roll through the space.

Franko B. (IT, 1960) sees his body as a painter’s canvas and as an ‘unmediated site for representation of the sacred, the beautiful, the untouchable, the unspeakable and for the pain, the love, the hate, the loss, the power and the fears of the human condition.’ In various media, in performance, installations, photography and video, Franko B. reduces his body to the most carnal, profound and fundamental state. In a manner that is impartial, vulnerable and seductive, he confronts his audience with the essential. Franko B provokes the audience to look at the condition of beauty in a new way; together with his investigation into the essence of suffering he creates honest and arresting encounters. His work My Heart is Broken (2003) is to be seen in the exhibition. In it he mixes parts from various performances with everyday images that he comes across and that inspire him to making his performances. This associative mix of images clarifies the themes of his performances.

Recorded performance in the collection of the Netherlands Media Art Institute and De Appel

In order to illustrate the diversity within performance recordings, a selection of works from the collection of the Netherlands Media Art Institute and De Appel are being shown together. They range from mischievously layered constructions – for instance, Vito Acconci’s Home Movies (1971) – to the aggressive dialogues with the camera woman (Wies Smals) of Charlemagne Palestine in Where it’s coming from (1977). Early in performance art, in addition to film the less expensive medium of video was already being employed to record performances. The difference between the two media is to be seen in the film and video versions of Incision (1978) by Abramovic/Ulay. On the one hand, the art world wanted to promote the new art form, as happened with Maastricht Performance (1976) by Ben d’Armagnac. On the other, artists used the documentation as an aid in looking back over their own performances and possibly developing them further. Discours mou et mat (1975) by Gina Pane is an example of the latter. Arnulf Rainer went still further. In Slow Motion (1975) he selected certain parts from his video record that he felt were important, and only then showed the tape. Some artists – for instance Lydia Schouten’s Lone Ranger Lost in the Jungle of Erotic Desire (1982) – did their best performances without an audience, and only later showed the video record at another location. The intimacy and the personal character were thereby carried to a peak. Another example of this is The Revealing Myself Tapes (1977) by Judith Barry. Lastly, the sets that had been used during the performances carried out live were exhibited again as installations in which now the audience themselves could walk around. Nan Hoover’s work Light Composition (1987) is a beautiful example of this. More than twenty years after the live performance such installations are still regularly being exhibited.

Also on view: Moniek Toebosch, Joyful Anticipation (1978); Boegel & Holtappels, Atmung 2 (1976); Allan Kaprow, Unknown II (1974).


Concept: David Still
Exhibition: Annet Dekker
Live performances: Dominique Busch
Design: Floor Koomen
Print: ssp, Amsterdam

Special thanks to:
Mondriaan Foundation, VSB fonds, BeamSystems, SMCS, Paradiso

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