"Fluids," 1967, Allan Kaprow.
Art knows its task is immense, and can easily pander to sensationalism, often with immense prioritization of shock value. There is certainly a difference between shock to the order of a perceptual shift to afford an illumination to which one might otherwise be blind, and conversely, shock for the gratification of shock itself, and the hope that that’s enough, which is no better than the delusion it is trying to negate because it leads nowhere—a false promise of more.
The spaces where art can fit are myriad, and as such, they face an overwhelming task of being other in the face or profusion. It can (1) use the Pop modality to subvert its otherness, unfolding to reveal its breadth for all willing receivers who will hang around long enough for it to show its hand. Or, it can (2) use the flashy surface upon which things are presented as two-dimensional plane, much like advertising and entertainment (the pervasive visual stimuli at this time) in order to pander to the contemporary sensibility. Or, (3) it can rebel altogether, resisting that which is en masse and present itself as diametrically opposite or outside as possible.
Option three runs the risk of inaccessibility and its apparent absurdism offers its form as a ready transmission of contentlessness, which, when used improperly—manifests in art that is mimetic of art that it doesn’t understand, therefore resembling good art that few can access, but offering nothing in return should one try. Option two’s inherent flatness is characteristically limiting. As a form, it simply cannot have depth, therefore never substantial enough to progress; to hold weight or content; to unfold in a way that art must. It neither harms nor helps art significantly, but sits peripheral to it. It simply resembles art and serves as a paper bridge over art’s deep ravines, surely to be blown away at the first gale. Option one is ideal, utilizing the subversion of the age to sneak the truth into a network of complacent lies. Post-Postmodernism’s means of imbuing “truth” with magic—the white lie of art in contrast to the black lies with which media is rife; illusion pointing to substance rather than illusion which houses a void of content into which one might escape and effectively lose oneself. Art, conversely, is where the self traceable
Sometimes popular opinion does reflect a positive consensus, and in case of Marina Abramovic, her work is so superb, both sensational and wrought with all of the power of her war torn past, that not even her status as an art star is enough to detract from its power. The world made her performance pop, and her an industry darling of sorts, but the content transcends the steamroller of glossy magazine sheen. She stood in a pile of rotting cow bones at the Biennale, cleaning them whilst singing Yugoslav folk music (“Balkan Baroque” (1997)); she has forgone food, sleep, movement; combed her hair until her scalp bled (“Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful” (1975)); and walked the wall of China to say a bittersweet goodbye (the “Great Wall Walk” (1988/2008)). She is the living apotheosis of the immersion of life and art. Her work, so utterly human, touches one in the way that only art can, as well in the way that only a person can. There is otherness, and there is empathy.
"Balkan Baroque," 1997, Marina Abramovic.
This issue of mass culture in relation to commodities specifically post-Industrial Revolution (especially now, in the age of media and internet growth) is an issue of freedom wherein one thinks oneself entirely at liberty to engage in the exchange of commodities, as society is structured that such exchanges are integral not only to functions within society, but to the structure of society as a whole. The social fiber is woven in exchange of goods and services, built from sheer volume of these occurrences overlapping, interweaving; dangerous in our illusion of separateness within this misread of basic albeit powerful formative function of daily life leads to this “mass delusion.” The only liberation is afforded by the autonomy of art, and its utter negation to the game of mass delusion. It does not numb, it awakens, offering an alternative to the mindless escapism.
In this camp charged for serving as a holding environment for mindlessness, a voluntary subjugation and suspension of the self to something that is other (appealing, indeed, as an escapism) but in the form of pop culture is much lesser than the self because its function is solely suppression of the ego, whereas art’s function is not contingent upon a debasement or suppression in order to gain or maintain control. It is more—it aggrandizes, and it frees. It functions autonomously, separate from the individual ego from which it spawned, serving now as a mirror of and member in reality, contributing to the dialogue.
Now, as art inherently requires embodiment of some sort in order to accomplish these tasks, the content, however, is geared towards disembodiment. Everything needs a body, even a soul, spirit, or in a less esoteric sense: a breath needs lungs to transform air into a life force.
One might float through rote actions with the illusion of multi-tasking (a debasement of quality to the poor, cheap replacement: quantity). Simultaneity in the real world (as opposed to a represented one) is an illusion. One can not actually multitask in the sense of doing several things concurrently—each element is a ball juggled: when one is gripped, the others are up in the air. This relies on a balance of attention and its systematic shift from one thing to the next, rapid enough to support the sense of multiple continuities, each whole;—whereas in reality each is only partially attended to. Just as the tree falls noiselessly in a forest without ears, a task left unattended might be something, or nothing, but it certainly reanimated with attentiveness, thus imbuing it with life and regenerating the sense that it was always living. Events feel concurrent, but are really linearly experienced. In this sense, with superficial (i.e. purely superficial, ping-pong attentive) experience, we are not layered but rather sorely divided. The things which one consumes in bits only is denigrating and, in turn, packaging all of experience into snack food.
The television bequeaths to vision shows for the watching, but these preferences are formulated first in boardrooms where decisions are created to place instances of entertainment into slots in accordance with projected appeal and juxtaposition amongst its contemporaries. It is then advertised to that bent—if you like this, you will love this. It’s on right after; we’ll make it easy for you. Also we’ll remind you throughout your other program, and others you might like as well. Then, built slowly upon rather emboldened, albeit cleanly veiled attempts at subtlety, one forms an opinion that is not at all their own but rather a consensus fed to them, using mostly external preference at which their own taste is at most a kernel.
One need not give one’s full attention to any of the myriad things that rally for primacy in one’s consciousness at once. Most things are now made to suit to the illusion of simultaneity: cultural snack food. They do not require undivided attention, nor, I imagine, would they want it, for it would reveal their tastelessness. One can snack on air infused corn starch hydrogenated and dyed deli counter bright packaged snack whilst half watching T.V., devoting another menial fraction of attention to checking various annals of social media, or even, in an older model, pop popcorn mindlessly into a strategically agape maw—in the darkness no less—whilst watching a film. These foods do not, however, lend themselves to a fully embodied experience. One does not go to a soda factory to sip and swirl in specifically shaped plastic cups, discussing overtones and undertones and relative flatness, smokiness, cherry bark undertones; nor do the French notoriously linger for hours over many-coursed meals of Orville’s finest, replete with palette cleansers, and complimentary savory and sweet spirit. Things that are meant to fill a moment and the senses call one to lend oneself to that time, and the stimuli in it. One does with great food and drink as one should with great art, theater, music, dance, and so forth.
"At One Moment Opening Six Holes," 1955, Murakami Saburo. A Gutai Performance.
Time-based art, another term for the subset of performance, is, in part, responding to this lack of presence for which experience now begs. Pop is okay with division, but Art is not, for it, itself, is utterly present—presence, as it were, is inextricable from it as a medium. Theater, to compare, goes about this task in a very different way, via a discipline of punctuated acts whose form contains variables imbued with meaning. There is pleasure in seeing the compliances to and deviations within the form; whereas fine art performance wants to set itself apart. It sees the structure as a limitation, a weakness or crutch. Art needs only itself, not a context (the statement of Happenings). It endeavored this by not embodying a form into which one can step (as a surrogate body, as a replacement of the self), by being free or sold as an entrance to an experience rather than as entertainment. It operates within time differently, and traditionally does away with theatrical framework.
Other mechanisms of deviation from the sheen of the superficial manifest in the utilization of a bit of contradictory grit. “Deskilling,” it is termed, is sourced in part in the use of “non-dancers”in 1950s dance art pieces, and intentional use of unskill as opposed to incidental lack thereof. This intended through the ’50s and ’60s in various forms of anti-mimetic art. Rather than seeking the aesthetic of refinement (found in assembly line products and in the glint of the eyes of American Idealism, a glimmer amongst picket fences and children one of each gender, a dog, some roses, a shiny Cadillac), art chose to do unrefined well, and through the discovery of what this very ambiguous goal meant, a lot of exploratory work led to inherently good as well as bad products. Alongside these inclinations, the attempt at homogenization of society’s strata worked to prioritize equal opportunity. Among decades upon centuries of cumulative unrest, the case of Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) forced America to reformulate much of the given means of living. Society a whole, was uneasy, hyperconscious of inclusivity and exclusivity, and in political/social action to either integrate or dis- (regardless of which) both the thing and its negation were heavily charged. This of course caused un-quantifiable ripples throughout the fabric of American culture, but one subsequent reaction was an overcorrected political correctness, an over-acceptance (not of race, but of skill, of opportunity, therefore homogenizing education and in turn, engendering a culture in which to be specialness is abhorrent. It is at once celebrated and hated, but as a whole, society grew allergic to a highly trained artist, skilled in rendering. There was still room in theater for those with voice training, and in dance, for one who knew a pirouette, but in art—skill fell out of favor, for this reason amongst others.
This, coupled with such rapid progression from one idea or thing to the next in an age of hyper production and dissemination, was it afforded the opportunity to fully bloom, mature, and post maturation, recoil in the way of an aging leaf after its green buxom youth and flash of autumnal vibrancy, its last breath inhaled to spiral inwards on its own mortal coil. It is, by this means that something must age, examination and understanding subsequent to its having lived. Specialization signified not a figurehead of the masses, something to stand behind, but a deviation from the back, a black sheep. Thoreau in Walden would here find characterization not as a romantic recluse seeking deeper truths, but rather more cynically a hermit—likely labeled as crazy or otherwise under influence.
With this aversion to artisanry, of course comes those who know not the reason, appropriating its most basic appendages to make a Frankensteinian monster, neither dead or alive, certainly unattractive, and dangerous only to art whose name it usurps, tarnishing its greater cousin with tarnishing superficial verisimilitude. There is deskilled art that is good, and there is art that is unskilled, which uses this antithetic nature as an excuse to be lazy and ignorant. Because the work is, as previously outlined, situational and rather unfortunately largely inaccessible (whether due to an internalized pressure to be such to combat the assertive access purported by media, or due to a simple and tragic lack of critical discourse around the movement), the bad and good are too easily conflated.
Alongside artisanry lies the question of labor (again, more due to an allergy of the factory and a fear of the fate of the bourgeois than simple laziness). One, especially an artist, does not want to make someone else’s product; the very mechanism of the culture industry and capitalism (to which art is averse, to which it offers itself as a remedy). A fine line is ridden in which good performance is almost always laborious in some sense therefore it can’t avoid it all entirely. It requires intent, planning, some function of skill, and knowledge—the realization of which takes work.
Much larger-scaled non-performance art is indeed outsourced. Jeff Koons has a factory that runs at all hours, and his employees have health benefits. He is a business, and he is running an art company. He has responded to the climate of the age in which he works by deskilling himself, and sing a hybridization of 21st-century capitalist ventures (i.e. outsourcing, mass production, refinement, plasticity), and the old art model of workshops. He is hyper skilling, subverting non art factory to art, and at the apotheosis: he has hired classically trained artists (many from the New York Academy) with the oil painting skills handed down by a tradition of Rembrandt-lovers employed to serve as artisans. His response to product culture was to make himself a brand and his fabricators artists of the past, a double bitterness, or in the least, hyper-contemporary, it appears—with both the obsolescence of past art and dissatisfaction with the present.
"TV Bra for Living Sculpture," 1969, Nam June Paik with classical cellist Charlotte Moorman.
What is called for is engagement in reception, production, and presentation. No party is unaccountable in life, nor certainly in art. The artist must have intent and exercise it well, however that may manifest; the audience must engage, take things in more deeply. One need only glance at the foot of an older woman—toes overlapping, angled drastically inward—to know that she spent much time in heels. Our bodies and our sensibilities reflect the lives that we live with or in them. With so much stimulation, of course we have had to become a bit numb. Our skin is thicker, our hearing muffled, and our vision blurred. Media gets louder, brighter, quicker, more profuse, more simple and bold, and the mind’s eye is wearing sunglasses. To meet this, art either heightens itself differently, or it curls inwards on itself, becoming subtler, more buried in its own layers. It is the greatest gift to unfold, but how often is it unfolded? How many people will notice the Invisible Man, as he blends into the environment? It is a tall but rewarding order that art presents, asking to open or altogether remove the armor for a spell, in order to expose one’s pores to the sensitive material of art. It gets one through the smallest points of entry, through that which we would love to think of as solid and impenetrable: our skin. It is the barrier where the self meets the world. Porosity of body and of spirit, however, need not be exploited; we must be penetrated by great art, by good things, in order to remain engaged with the world. To remain closed is to grow septic, cold. Titillating offerings of entertainment and promises of small satisfactions brush their lips against our fingertips and knuckles with the suaveness of a dauphin and the unabashedness of a jester. Art breathes, and to feel its breath, we must breathe it. No pecked kisses in a realm where only shared lungs will suffice. This age is perhaps further deviated from that than others, but certainly more captive in the illusion that what we engage in daily bearing any resemblance to that. We are the autonomy we ask of art, but to reap its rewards we must sacrifice this safety for a moment, negating a condition of our reality in order to ascertain the otherness, which lies outside of our norm. This age does not prime us for receptiveness, but it does at once promise too a certain level of culture in which Fine Arts are commonplace. We are told we are receivers of great art, but are characteristically unprimed for its reception. This hurdle is a surmountable one, but unless one is aware of its presence, one cannot possibly clear it in stride. We live primarily on the surface, as we are conditioned to, but if the lack of depth is unacknowledged, a pervasiveness of content extends only a millimeter, so that an ocean may as well be a pond; a pond just as well a puddle. Sadly, the many of the myriad manifestations of contemporary art read easily as cold or inaccessible, so one who does not already know of the depths achievable might never attempt to gain access. This is in part a symptom of art’s autonomy. As objects established themselves as substantive without needing a narrative within necessarily, or a reliance on similar surrounding objects in order for the situation in which it is presented to have an aura—they became individualized in a new way. They can stand alone, and with the adaptation of l’art pour l’art, art not only didn’t need anything other, it eschewed it. But the rest of society is embedded in this otherness, and thus, outside of the realm of art’s own culture industry, one feels as though left out in the cold. It refuses to pander to disinterest, fearing relegation to entertainment. Performances, more historically characterized as entertainment than, say, history painting, are dismissed as weird or applauded as sensationally so (in the context of art). History catches up, inherently after the fact, and always via memory, or sensory-filtered transcription—neither of which is objective or fixed—embracing the work after its time, as concisely built an aura (Benjamin) around the work, energy of laudatory chatter, of exchanged hands and in writing as well. Art needs to be seen, and it needs to be talked about. Words will never be what it is—they are not images, in the symbolic sense, and they operate not within time; they will never convey or describe its otherness, but they can point to each instance of it. A painter once said to me that the greatest insult to his work would not be a negative remark, but rather an instance in which the work were disregarded entirely. The characteristic of bad is at least antithetically charged, it carries with it some weight, it generates energy around the thing to which it is attributed, but nullity is a void in which neither things nor non-things can survive. Performance art, especially, suffers a deficit in discourse. It is around the monument of the new that Art Historians have yet to establish a substantive culture in academic discourse. There are works, indeed, a la Claire Bishop (Art Historian) and Roselee Goldberg (Performa founder), among a small but growing set of others who have all contributed significant writings on contemporary art, performance especially, therefore elevating the discussion. The deficit, however, lies in all aspects of culture, as consensus must be built over time and from all angles. Curators need to write, not only to contribute to historical discourse, but to make an immediate entry point, forging a connection between the viewer and artist within the art context—in wall text, catalogs, press releases, monographs, arts publications, and so on. Performance or Time-Based art needs to share this with other, more traditional forms of Fine Art, heightening the connective importance of writing from not only artist to art to viewer but between the arts themselves. This must occur in order for the two to exist on the same plane.
"Untitled 2002," Rirkrit Tiravanija, mixed media (Image courtesy the artist and Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery). Perhaps this is nostalgia speaking, but something is missing in experience as tactility decreases. Where the notion of a thing's thingness, as it were, was once shelved, is now represented by a digital display promising its presence. Even music album releases carry a different anticipation now that they are less often “dropped”, as it were, than they are “released.” The shift in terms carries a certain weight loss, a shedding of gravity. The ceremonious moment at which new meets the old or extant in the world is no longer an additional presence of a thing that drops with a thud, but rather like a flock of birds, released from a rooftop. One is intentionally let to fall, and with an expected resounding thump and a reverberation of floor boards, sits in space, commands notice momentarily, sustained attention requiring further inspection. If interest unfolds it, it unfolds, and becomes an irrefutable presence. There is no future in which this matter has not existed in this form. Forever more, it will have been. The other, however, with a grand thrust, allows a nearly weightless thing to leave, to carry itself into the ether. It is not gone, but easily lost, and in no time, it will be a dot on the horizon. The sky is immense, and now—media is immense; the world, and there is much in it. Things float; they are not grounded often, for the sky had much more space than the ground; virtual reality more than the real. Perhaps this is part of what art is addressing in diminishing or even eliminating its object hood. Perhaps it is trying to imbue this new state of decreased tactility with meaning anew by creating new experiences that have internal weight, without using an external one. Early performance commodified, if anything, its documentation, or objects from the events. Flux work is usually presented as a set of instructions or a flux kit; much work of the '60s and '70s is owned/presented in museums as photographs or videos. But as time proceeded, so did thought on it, and with changing ideas on creation and reception, new means of presentation thusly followed suit. All of the changes can be located in the notion of where a work's artness is. If the art is purely ephemeral, a sale of a photo is not a sale of the work itself but rather a secondary fiscally endowed apprehension of its memorabilia. The trouble lies in calling a thing anything other than what it is, and this memorabilia is primarily outside of the work itself—it parallels the art in ghostly fashion, a phantom memory, but calling this the art itself and operating under this delusion is a devaluation of the original work and furthermore its form. This simulacra mimics a form (the original) whose character is built upon the reaction to concretely earthly objects, as expressed by contemporary performance artist Tino Sehgal:
For the last two or three hundred years in human society we have been very focused on the earth. We have been transforming the materials of the earth, and the museum has developed over the last two or three hundred years a temple of objects made from the earth. I'm the guy who comes in and says, 'I'm bored with that. I don't think that it's that interesting, and it's not sustainable.' Inside this temple of objects, I refocus attention to human relations.
The previously decried flattening of form and, with it, meaning, is addressed in Walter Benjamin's seminal essay, “A Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936) (the latter phrase also translated from German as “Technical Reproducibility”) as diminishing the works’ aura by stripping it of its authenticity, located in it's initial context, its “here and now.” Though he was writing on drawing reproduced by lithographs, and the subsequent intervention of photography in the work of image-making, and then film, it was in the lattermost that he caught with the modern sensibility of mediated experience. The actor is no longer performing for an audience (or less so, rather), but for a camera, a cold, hard apparatus whose job it is to catch everything for subsequent collage into hopeful transmission of someone's intent.
It is by way of this sidestepped storytelling that we know much of experience; by learning the world through filmic eyes, one with Benjamin's sensibility might fear, the danger is in experience stripped of the authenticity of original form. The object prior to reproduction has a weight whereas its second, third, fourth—are feathers; so how does one combat a pervasive form whose very nature is that it is infinitely reproducible. It has no original form, in essence. The raw footage is raw material; the acting too is production of matter to later be worked upon—though each of these elements undoubtedly has a world within, in the world of the film in which it lives, it is only a part. And so we know the world--through pandered, filtered, collaged, and delivered performances that present a very specific filmic brand of humanness.
"Kiss," 2006, Tino Sehgal, Fourth Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art.
Good art comes from the most human part of ourselves, and if connected to, helps us find our way to this internal space—it makes us more human; as Adorno wrote: It “knows us better than we know ourselves.” In the age of mass production and often inherent reproducibility of form, art has met this in a myriad ways. On one extreme end of the spectrum lies the previously quoted Tino Sehgal, whose performances are as located in their moment-hood as he can manage them to be. They are not advertised, documented, explained, released, or punctuated in any way superfluous to the most basic demands of the form. They embody the demands of the context they create for themselves, being work created to live within an institution, in an instance.
Even the sale of Sehgal’s work, disseminated officially in small editions, is conducted verbally in a notarized explanation of the work and the conditions within which it is exclusively to treated in the future, including a similarly paperless existence in future transfers of ownership, as well as in presentation—the message is a resounding: no objects. It is not in objects that Sehgal located his art, and he shall not be caught providing a false vessel for one’s object inclined projections. A misunderstood location of meaning in a thing incidentally related to the time and space in which the art, for him, occurred, would be a goliath step away from his intent, and while one can't control entirely how something it received once it is beyond one's self, one might still endeavor a hermetically sealed product—quite a feat for a non-object.
This purism whispers a similar language as that which mumbled in reverently Byzantine cadence around the Middle Ages surrounding Iconoclastic contention. The contention was with any image of God, who was believed to have been beyond imagehood. Image was of man, and therefore any depiction of the deity is an inherent lessening of His potential form. He is the unrepresentable (spare in His word). In some cases, for an image to be considered sanctified, it needed to have reproduced itself, magically (via divine creation, this freeing it from human limitations production and imperfection). To step away from the image of god and into the camp of representation alone, art is feeling this contention with images of things or Sehgal’s “earthly objects” being insufficiently capable of getting something more, getting the brand of authenticity transmissible to the Modern sensibility. It needs to be more than a thing. Performance, in a pure sense, is without object—it is an experience, a living idea, and can locate itself in any number of creatively commodified and tolerably re-presentable forms.
Marina Abramovic first eschewed the notion of reperformed artistic work, but has since popularly embraced it with much gusto, as with work inherently contextual—to Abramovic, the reanimation of her work is, in her eyes, the new. It is the direction in which things are pushing, and once she realized that this is not that which art is pushing against but rather assuming and moving further towards, she took it under her wing, building to her 2010 MoMA retrospective in which she simultaneously presented old works in the galleries in all forms—reanimated by performers she trained herself; in film, photographs, and sometimes, as in the case of her otherwise highly personal and presumably undocumented work, “The Great Walk,” represented in the form of wall text. In the atrium, she carried the weight of her work in strong, stoic silence, sitting the duration of of exhibition during museum hours, across from whomever wanted to sit and share her gaze. Her work was represented aloft (in the fifth floor exhibition space) as she was presenting new work below on the functional ground-level (at least in equivalence, as the first floor on which art is viewable at the museum). Perhaps this act, too, was how she reconciled the deviations of from the originals that played three floors above—by embodying an ultimate authenticity at, essentially, the door, as if to say: “There is that, upstairs, I stand behind that, and here are the forms in which it can exist for you to apprehend now, but the primacy here is the dialectic between you and I, nearer the very soil, now, in this moment, and then this moment is gone. This is where it’s at—but there, upstairs, other things are there too.”
Still in the dawn of performance art’s indoctrination into institutional context and, by proxy, eased into the realm of palatable to which society’s critical taste buds are primed, curators face a handful of new challenges in what is already a demanding task. There is less fiscal support, and for performance arts (generally speaking: with the inclusion of theater, dance, etc.) funding is harder to come by. Unlike most two- and three-dimensional Fine Art, support for live arts is more project based than a general slew of drops in the bucket. For a painter, a grant might mean money for supplies, or for the studio, or simply to live off of and have time and mental space to work on a body of artwork without the burden of an external, tangential income source. For performance, however, grants and other similarly structured economic resources are more project specific. In addition, it takes more time, generally-speaking, to create, involving multiple collaborations, a complex of mechanics, logistics. Of course these latter elements are entirely specific to the level of production demands, but almost certainly, a work involving a person, interacting with or presenting for other people, is more laborious, costly, and timely to produce as well as more to sustain than art objects.
Work that is situationally more challenging is understandably less supportable by the preexisting framework, at once needing it all the more. It can often not be left alone in a room on a pedestal in a spotlight with a guarded door and a note of explanation and emboldened, italicized, and validating entitlement. It stands alone, however, outside of traditional objecthood, outside of traditional grounds of saleability, outside of popular discourse. It floats: inherently timely, using time as part of its matter, but somehow outside of it—with a different life span than that of the mummified, fetishized objects in which he have previously located meaning. But because it eschews these traditions, it needs the framework it sets for itself in order for it to come into being. Work that is performed or created in a museum or gallery necessitates a symbiotic relationship with its contextual vessel. There are more demands (usually) for presentation: specific lighting, at times seating or viewing room in the least. The work uses the space as a part of itself and therefore the curator, and by proxy, the institution is responsible not only for the presentation of the work but in the very formation of it. It is the curator’s task to help the artist realize their vision in this instance in which the work is integral to the institution and it is not punctuated or concrete—it is not deliverable by men in back braces and stocking caps. It delivers itself into being as the same time that it already is. Its formation and existence and demise are simultaneous, as swiftly connected as the slipping of moments into one another’s consciousness.
In perhaps less esoteric terms, the curator must deal with performance work as a thing but also as a vision of a thing, a vision for which they are in part responsible. They are tasked with a very human endeavor of connecting with the artist, their plan, their hopes, their ideal, and using this deep understanding of what the work is imagined to be, and then use the institutional resources to imagine it into reality. So many things must be considered in bringing the piece to life; at times very specific demands: a basin of chocolate to submerge oneself in; a series of elevated working but spare living chambers with a ladder latticed with the blades of knives, upturned; or a trained set of people whom must be nourished and given rest. Ideally, a curator would deal with performance in respect to how the work wants to convey itself, and present it as such.
Performance curators are strapped for time. They are often actively involved in the realization of the piece—whereas, say, in an exhibition of paintings, one might visit the studio of the artist, look at the works finished and planned, discuss the scale of the show and the space for works, set a tentative number of pieces to be shown, dates to check in, plan logistics of shipping and framing, and so forth, and most of their work is done in the office, while the artist makes the work. Each side plans or prepares respectively. This is not, in any way, to diminish the immensely difficult task of duration, which is always in one way or another a huge task and worthy of great respect. There is always much to be done. The intent, here, is to highlight the differences in presenting works of significantly different forms in light of the relative newness of performance curation. All parties are still growing accustomed to it—the “it”, meanwhile, remains plastic itself, ever shifting. It requires a double adaptation in that it doesn’t stay still, it can’t—for there is no stasis in the living.
The game is not a race, and perhaps when dues are paid, when slowly more writing unfolds and enters the discourse, and the public has had the time to adjust to this new form moving its categorization from “new” to considering the thing as a form in and of itself, as opposed to its status. People will learn how to integrate performance into their consciousness. If it continues to be relevant and new, people will develop over time a system for commodifying it more cleanly; presenting it in museums and galleries, and the more this is done, the more it might be simplified in a palatable, more digestible form at which point those outside of the art context might find necessary entry to it. It need not be inaccessible for inaccessibility is a symptom of the larger context. For better, and granted, for worse, it will become more pop, and the living art will shift to something new.
Life’s answer to newness is birth, the cycle of life. We must die to our notions to expand them, and we must die to art in order to take it in—a momentary annihilation of the ego that will make it grander yet. It must always be alive, whether it is a living painting, or a performance with a rabbit, or a digital installation—all forms can be imbued with aliveness. This is the magic. It needs only to unfold to reveal itself as something more, and that more is that which is real—something we recognize in it as something we know of in ourselves, and the thing that makes us human. Art, in this sense, has the capacity to make us feel more self aware of the deepest kernel of humanity within it gives us a humanity we were likely not aware to have been missing, art’s déjà vu.