Introduction | The Way We Perform Now
In the 1990s, art that came to be known as "relational aesthetics," made an appearance. The term was coined by Nicolas Bourriaud in his 1998 book of the same name. Relational artists changed the definition of performance by aiming at interaction with the audience and favored participative activities.
Contemporary performance has gravitated markedly towards becoming an interdisciplinary medium that combines input from the visual arts, theatre, dance, music, video, poetry and film. In a narrow understanding, "performance" used to denote the ephemeral activity performed by the artist in the presence of an audience. Rather than acting "in role" and pretending to be someone else, the performer represented his or her own person, treating him or herself as the medium for the creation of an artwork.
Contemporary artistic practice, however, makes such a definition obsolete: a performance can be live or mediated through another medium such as a camera; it can take place without the artist being present and it can engage the viewer. As the term "performance" has become prevalent as a term that refers to specific artistic presentations rather than to an artistic trend, it is difficult to pigeonhole it or pin it down to an unequivocal definition. Indeed, since performance is a means of breaking down limitations and conventions constraining artistic activity, by definition – it is anti-definition.
In recent years, in the discourse on the definitions that apply to the new performative practices, the term "post-performance" has emerged, which distinguishes the tradition of performance art in its historic sense from its contemporary manifestations. Performance art explores the boundaries of the performer’s corporeality, activities including objects, and a host of rituals that involve both the artist and the audience employing the medium of the artist’s body – the focal point of the activities. In turn, post-performance comprises a much wider scope of expression, including the important notion of a "delegated performance," thus hiring non-professionals or specialists in other fields to undertake the job of being present and performing at a particular time and in a particular place on behalf of the artist, and following his or her instructions.’1 Frequently, in a given context, the audience itself or random individuals or groups take on the role of the performer. 2
In issue 4 of Obieg, we examine the medium of the performance in the context of new technologies and the transformations that have taken place in artistic practice inspired by the presentation of living art in gallery space. We want to take a closer look at the changes occurring in the traditional format of the art exhibition, which has now taken a back seat in favor of other, hybrid art forms that combine visual and performing arts with literature and music. We are interested in the altered role of the spectator, who more and more frequently becomes the performer and active participant in the event. We also take on board the issue of the body and the work involved in the participation in performative exhibitions within a framework extending over a period of time.
We have titled the issue The Way We Perform Now, inspired by the text of that name by the American researcher Shannon Jackson,3 to provide a starting point for redirecting the focus of attention from meta-theoretical reflections on performance and performativity to the sheer effort of constructing notions that stem directly from contemporary artistic practices. Jackson points out that the demand to "perform" is an invasively familiar exhortation prevalent in the 21st century. She also draws attention to the somewhat uneasy paradoxes that affect the mutual relationship between the migration of the theater, choreography and visual arts and which also apply not only to the competence of the viewers but also to the competence and technical skills of the artists themselves. Jackson asks directly why is it that "bad theater" is often, in the final analysis, accepted as "good art," whereas "good theater" is perceived as "bad art."4
Significantly, the text by Shannon Jackson takes the form of a sui generis manifesto and "live" analysis – making the piece itself a performative gesture, which rather than avail itself of the existing discourse, reshapes it in the course of its delivery. The current issue of Obieg has similar objectives. Most importantly, however, it has come into being as a form of program manifesto that outlines the framework of the performance program at the Zamek Ujazdowski Centre for Contemporary Art as well as defining the key topics that we want to examine more closely in the near future.
The issue has been structured around two main themes. The first of these stems from research into the local history of the Zamek Ujazdowski Centre for Contemporary Art and its related wealth of tradition of experiments at the interface of the visual arts and the theater. The issue features texts on the activities of the Academy of Movement, one of the most important experimental theaters in Poland, which inaugurated the tradition of a "performing institution" at the Ujazdowski Castle. We will also cover various aspects of the performative exhibition and the practices involved in transforming the external surroundings of the institution, on this occasion including interventions by such outstanding artists as Jenny Holzer, Lawrence Weiner and Tadashi Kawamata, whose works appear in the park next to the Castle and on the façade of the building.
The second theme concerns the performative turn within the visual arts worldwide, and the consequences of this phenomenon for art institutions as well as for artistic and curatorial praxis. Our analysis is focused on the broadly understood "performer’s body," treated not only individually but also as a collective subject or indeed social phenomenon in the case of developing countries. "Performing oneself," digital afterlife, the phenomenon of oral literature, the choreography of the institution, performing animals and resistance performance are just some of the topics that we will touch upon in this issue.
Some of the texts approach the performative turn with critical detachment, arrived at after we have become accustomed to the presence of performance and experimental choreography in museums. In a sense, the initial wave of enthusiasm that erupted when the performative turn first arrived on the art scene has now somewhat subsided;5 this makes possible the verification of some current ideas. Above all, however, new questions and issues have emerged, such as the work of the performer within the exhibition, the links between the interest in ephemerality and the ubiquity of nonmaterial affective work in neoliberal societies, together with the changes in perception and experiencing of time occasioned by the pervasiveness of new technologies.
In his analysis, Rudi Laermans goes back to the 1960s in order to show when the long-term collaboration between visual and performing arts began, and also to explain why the experimental choreography that originated in the Judson Dance Theater circles created the potential for the interpretation of dance in similar categories as those applying to an art exhibition. Taking a close look at Polish choreography, Joanna Leśnierowska wants to put local traditions on the map – including the activities of the Academy of Movement – and she formulates questions which are vital for today’s local artistic scene: will the wave of the performative turn allow choreography to become autonomous? Is the interest in performance and dance in the context of museum space no more than a passing fad? In turn, Claire Bishop somewhat mischievously attempts to link the timing of the arrival on the market of the iPhone with the appearance of the first choreographic exhibitions. In her view, the migration of performing arts to gallery spaces is a direct consequence of the process of change that has, as a result of new technologies, affected both the white cube and the black box. In her text that doubles up as a manifesto, Zofia Krawiec reveals how Instagram has become her tool-of-choice for combining performance-based praxis with activities that are borderline literary. Adopting a different perspective, David Maroto traces the origin of the performative tradition back to oral literature. Describing the practices of such artists as David Antin, Benjamin Seror and Alex Cecchetti, he demonstrates how a spoken performance can become a tool for writing a literary text. We also talk to Laura Lima and ask her why she is so determined to evade the label of "performance" in relation to her art.
These are just some of the topics taken on board by the authors whose texts we are publishing here at the end of June. Gradually, in the following weeks we will be expanding the issue with material prepared by participants including Shannon Jackson, Dulcie Abrahams Altass, Claire Tancons, Christina Fornaciari, Ewa Tatar and artists as Helga Wretman, who will provide an on-camera performance dedicated to Obieg.
Read the issue – and join us during the last weekend of June (29 June – 2 July) for the performance of The Way We Perform Now [Performans teraz], a live promotion of the current issue of Obieg. The participants can join in the rave party with the choreographers, walk backwards through the park, and visit a very unusual shoe shop. The participants will include: Alex Cecchetti, Jean-Pascal Flavien, Frédéric Gies, Mathias Ringgenberg, Marysia Stokłosa, Marta Ziółek and the Tancereczki (dancers). You can find the detailed program of events at: www.u-jazdowski.pl
Translated from the Polish by Anda MacBride
Agnieszka Sosnowska is a researcher and curator at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. She teaches in the Institute of Polish Culture (University of Warsaw), where she defended her PhD dissertation. She’s interested in art practices at the intersection of visual and performing arts, as well as modern theories of theater, performativity, and ephemerality. Selected curatorial work includes A Room and a Half an exhibition by Laura Lima at the Ujazdowski Castle CCA, the Let’s Dance exhibition and performance project in the Art Station Foundation by Grażyna Kulczyk, Poznań (co-curated with Joanna Leśnierowska and Tomasz Plata, 2015); Vanishing Point exhibition in Ausstellungsraum Klingental, Basel (2014); the Polish-Swiss exhibition project Learning from Warsaw (co-curated with Nele Dechmann and Nico Ruffo, 2014) in Museum Baerengasse, Zurich.
Joanna Zielińska is a curator and contemporary performance researcher. She is interested in transdisciplinary artistic practice at the crossover between visual arts, theater, and literature. In her practice, she explores different formats in visual arts such as staged exhibition, the artist's novel or publication. She is the Chief of Performance Department at Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw. She was a chief curator at the Centre for Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor – Cricoteka in Kraków. She is the former Program Director at Znaki Czasu Centre of Contemporary Art (CoCA) in Toruń, Poland. Currently, she is working on a long-term project on artist novels in collaboration with David Maroto called The Book Lovers. The central question of this research is how a literary genre such as the novel becomes a medium in the visual arts.
*Cover photo: Mathias Ringgenberg, Greatest Hits. Photo: Mathilde Agius. Courtesy of the artists
1 C. Bishop, http://www.academia.edu/3052704/Delegated_Performance_Outsourcing_Authenticity [accessed: 16 June 2017).
2 Cf. M. Canet, M. De Brugerolle and C. Wood, Talking About: From Performance to Post-performance, in: Mousse 44, 2014, pp. 162-171.
3 Cf. Dance Research Journal, vol. 46, no. 3, December 2014, pp. 53-61. The text has also been reprinted in the current issue of Obieg [July 2017].
5 Cf, inter alia, A Theatre without a Theatre, MACBA, 2007; Move: Choreographing You, Hayward Gallery, 2010; Boris Charmatz, If Tate Modern was Musée de la danse?, Tate Modern, 2015 (the best known edition); Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Work/Travail/Arbeid, WIELS, 2015; Tino Sehgal, Carte Blanche, Palais de Tokyo, 2016; Anne Imhof, Angst, Kunsthalle Basel, 2016.