Present Tense, 9 years

Each time July 29th rolls around the Present Tense gets a year older. Next year we will celebrate 10 years of the Present Tense, I can’t believe that nearly a decade has already passed. Late summer always brings a time of reflection on where Present Tense has been and where its going, this year I found myself thinking a lot about gallery SoToDo and the Performance Art Congress. While the Congress and SoToDo (which was a floating gallery) never officially worked with the Present Tense in an organizational capacity, it was the source of many of the artists we’ve connect with and shown over the years. While I was thinking about it a few weeks ago, I was surprised to find that SoToDo’s website was still up, despite it being inactive since 2009. On it, I found a wonderfully written statement from Theordor Di Ricco, the organizer of SoToDo.

Past, Present, Future; What is Performance Art
by Theodor di Ricco

Lecture
11. Sept. 2009
project space LAB39 in Mullae Artist’s Village, Seoul, South Korea

Walking into a room, removing a rubber ball from a pocket and bouncing it on the floor is performance art if the performance artist declares it to be such. Sitting in a lecture hall and watching someone dressed in yellow maneuver themselves to a seat can be considered performance art if the observer declares it to be such. Performance Art does not have a beginning or an end. It happens. Whether it is takes place as spoken word, as a manifestation, an individual action, or even as a foolish activity, it has always occurred because of the need to communicate information on how to live. Art is a vehicle of communication.
Human beings have learned to be creative and social in order to survive. At the dawn of civilization, the first art works were sculptured from stone and painted on cave walls to communicate lessons learned or deeds accomplished. As societies developed, those who controlled the access of information were the ones favored. In order to preserve their power, they subsequently developed a Machiavellian power structure to organize and control the community.

In every society there are fools, shamans, sages and artists who are set apart from the society in general. They are either crazy, have super-human abilities, are wise or creative. To deal with them, the society creates a micro system which mirrors the general Machiavellian structure. Within this tightly controlled micro-system, they are placed at the center and the rest of the community occasionally surrounds.
Within this group it is the artist sets an example how to live (make art). The artist is at the center and is able to see everyone.  This advantage allows the artist to act as a pressure valve within the society, expressing concepts and ideas together with actions and deeds that balance the spectrum of society’s common consciousness,

The alternative life style represented by the artist is tolerated and respected to a certain degree. Because if the quality of life within the society at whole diminishes, some within the community seek alternatives. The artist acts as a catalyst for change. However, for this privilege, the artist is trapped by the community’s focus and must manipulate each side in order to remain in the center (or alive).

The role of the community is to be shown how to live (make art).  The community is content to follow the example of the artist, and is freed from the responsibility of having to live (make art) for themselves. Their role is simply to experience.
The micro-Machiavellian structure is in place for the preservation of society and demonstrates a collective discipline on the part of the artist and the community in order to prevent a state in which everyone is living (making art) for themselves, or in short, a state of anarchy.

Once again, in order to survive humans are creative and social, Art is a means of communication As societies developed, those who have access of information found themselves in control. This lead to a Machiavellian power structure. Mirroring this structure, a micro-version is set-up within where the artists is placed.

Remaining in the center and acting as a pressure valve within the society an example of this is in the beginning of the 20th century. The Futurist and Dadaist, caught in the middle of economic and political extremes created by rapid Industrialization and the First World War, responded by creating time based environments mirroring the chaos of everyday life.

Many art historians define this two groups as the origin of performance art. I could continue mentioning groups or names of artists throughout the last century however people have always been using time as a media of commutation. It is therefore irrelevant to speak of a history of performance art, to drop names as to who was the first to do it and where it first appeared. What is important is to find the thread that links one’s cultural history to time-based events in contemporary life.

Even though Performance Art has always existed, it is only recently been named. The word Performance Art originated from the visual as well as the sound artists’ mouths when asked in the Seventies what they were doing. Later the word was used by art historians when labeling a generation of artists that was moving away from expressing their world in stagnate medium in sculpture, painting and music and consciously used the element of time as a media of artistic expression.

Since the end of the Second World War, virtual consciousness has evolved tremendously. The telephone and television had moved humans much closer to experiencing events simultaneously. Today, the internet is increasingly the vehicle of communication incorporating the two as well as being global and instantaneous.

During the last decades, artists have strengthened their international network respective to the developments of information technology. They also have moved closer to creating art simultaneously. Perhaps performance art is one of the first art forms that appeared in various cities around the world at the same time some forty years ago.

In the sixties, there were Happenings, Sit-Ins, group demonstrations where people came together to manifested a collective statement or common consciousness,

The seventies, Fluxus, in which an object or act is used and manipulated, thus giving it a new meaning. It developed from the concept debated during the period that everyone is an artist in the infrastructure of society; from the gardener, to the craftsmen, the dentist to the politician. It is particular to note, that it is at this time the word Performance Art was deemed proper to use when describing this new and controversial art form.

In the Eighties, artists continued expanding their networks locally as well as globally. The Performance Art began to incorporate the elements of dance, theater, video and music. New genres within performance art were created. An awareness of the body within time and space became Body Art Also, Endurance performance art where the artist explores the limits of the human body and Survival in which the body is physically mutilated became relevant statements with the context of performance art.

In the Nineties, Ritual based performance happened, in which the artist instigates a process, however abstract to impress the experience. Ultimate Mass demonstrations took place where people congregated at a site for a brief period and collectively performed one act. Thus the act of mobilizing had become the statement in itself. Theater, dance and music were increasingly incorporating some of the elements of Performance art and Live Art was created.

In the Naughts or the last decade, artists, having being taught by those who are relevant to the art of performance, have mastered the technique of video and sound and readily included others people in their performance.

Taking a closer look at the history of performance art, similarities in european history, can be drawn to predict it’s future in the upcoming decades. Between circa. 1835 and 1865 the secret police of Austria, Russian and Germany worked together to control the threat of revolution, which that had already occurred in France fifty years earlier. This period is referred to as Biedermeier.

A parallel has recently occurred during the thirty year neo-liberalism period between 1980 and 2010. This economic strategy where the market will control itself and therefore did not need government regulation was in response to the totalitarian communism of the Soviet Union and China.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the neo-liberalism which had already been exported to South America, ruled over the conversion of the former communist countries and China. The shock of political change disorientated many and allowed for a rapid installation of this laissez-faire economic plan. Dissent was labeled as acts against the state and dealt with accordingly. Then came 9-11 and terrorism.

This threat was not limited to the borders of any particular country. Though terrorist acts are site specific, security is global. This provided the impetus within developed countries to install their own neo-liberalism policies. As with the Cold War and now the threat of terrorism, fear is firmly installed and governments implement laws that erode civil rights.

As with the Biedermeier period, in the last thirty years people retreated into our their own four walls due to shock of a neo-liberalism and the threat of terror. When the artists band together to express an alternative consciousness, they are romantic not knowing how or whether there actions might someday justify their means.

Many understand that in order to change society one must also work from within. The current outlet for free speech is through the internet. With the dawn of Web 2.0, there are not three, nine or thirty-six television channels and a separate telephone line, there is only one cable. Both are replaced by the computer monitor, whether it is on a desk or hanging on the wall. Our social networks have become, in part, virtual. We are free to choose what we experience. Art via the monitor will develop within this parameter and performance art is it’s artistic media. Because the ephemeral quality of performance art is it’s means and has been turned into a commodity by those who create it. The future of performance art lies in the action of marketing this commodity via the internet.

There is much debate about what are the elements of performance art. What is most essential is that the method of communicating a message be honest and authentic. Repetition of another person’s work for entertainment purposes is not performance art. There is also much debate about the public’s response to performance art. Performance art does not warrent approval. The public is not required to applaud to show respect. They role is to experience.

A singular performance art action where there is no public and no documentation thereof betrays the necessity to communicate a message. Others can debate differently. However, this debate can be compared to the sound of one had clapping. It is endless and only relevant to those who try to answer it.

It seems nowadays to question the artist’s message and purpose is to betray common sense. As with every action, it has a political, spiritual and an eastectic statement. The can of dog food one buys at the market or the clothes one choses to put on in the morning is a message about oneself and how one interprets the society in which one lives. It seems to reason that if an artist uses the action and calls it art, that their message should be relevant and the concept clear. The need to communicate information to people on how to live (make art) is the purpose of the performance artist.

 

The winds of a silent revolution are taking place, the political and economic structures of the last three decades are changing. The world is moving away from neo-liberalism capitalism towards a socialist democracy. Currently there are more socialist countries than before the Cold War. The last Keynesian period of social democracy between ca. 1930 to 1960 brought the world modern art. This upcoming period will unleash a flurry of contemporary art and performance art is well positioned to be the art form of the 21st century.
Therefore, it is also extremely important that festivals and congresses centered around performance art happen. They bring together artists who differ in their distinct geographical and cultural temperaments, thus ensuring a constant influx of new ideas. They also provide an time based environment where the artists and the public can explore current contemporary means of artistic expression, communicate, pool ideas together and strengthening the bridges that link them further. The benefit of this exchange, whether artistic or personal, is a highly motivating factor for all those who participate. In the case of life following art, this collective artistic happening of performance artists is a service to themselves and to the society at whole.
The concept of performance art has been debated and has continued to evolve. It is the pinnacle of contemporary art simply because it is time based. It is the performance artist who first defines the moment, which is later interpreted in other artistic medium of sculpture, painting, theater, film, dance or music. Performance art is the act of making art on site at the moment. Yet, even though everyone is allowed to make art, only a few dare to do so.

So, To Do.

 

As I began working on this blog post, I noticed that the SoToDo website had disappeared. I can only hope this is temporary, as it houses a wonderful archive including an epic list of every artist that’s performed at the Congress dating back to 1987. For now, we’ll just have to view the site via the Wayback Machine.

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If a tree falls, does it make a sound? – Adam Rose and Ian Deleón

Adam Rose
“Walk to Milwaukee”

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In May 2013, I walked to Milwaukee, WI, from Chicago, IL. I walked an approximate 115 miles in 4 and a half days through northern Illinois and southeastern Wisconsin. I documented the walk using disposable film cameras.
I had the idea for the performance while driving through Indiana. The midwest is often regarded as flyover country, and I wanted to do the opposite and instead experience the scale of the midwest by walking through it. The train ride back from Milwaukee to Chicago took an hour and a half.

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Adam Rose is the Artistic Director of Antibody Corporation, a mission based organization specializing in mind/body integration. His performances incorporate both movement and originally composed music.
Since 2009, he has presented performances in both Dance and Performance Art contexts throughout Chicago, IL, where Antibody is based, and nationally in Brooklyn, NY; Rosslyn, VA; Philadelphia, PA; Cambridge, MA; New Orleans, LA; Detroit, MI; Akron, OH; Columbus, OH; and Waterloo, IA.

Ian Deleón
“A picture of the [past, present, &] future”

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In October of 2013, I visited the archipelago of Puerto Rico for my second time. There was an afternoon, in which I would be alone for several hours, so I decided to walk the 15 minutes from where I was staying in Cataño, to the nearby Bacardí distillery. A good amount of my work recently has been a response to Bacardí’s ad campaigns, especially regarding the “Cuba Libre”, which depicts the U.S. occupation of Cuba at the turn of the 20th century as a benevolent and liberating act. I entered the Bacardí complex knowing that I would do something. After my first complimentary cocktail, I decided to try the infamous “Cuba Libre” right from the source–it was gross [see Image 1]. Leaving the gated complex, I noticed how different the architecture and landscaping was within this rum-bottling oasis, a marked difference from the surrounding neighborhood of Cataño. I find a pair of gloves left on the freshly cut grass and display them in a visual homage to Max Klinger.

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A few hundred feet away from the gates, a row of palm trees lines the road leading to La Esperanza (Hope) park–former holding site for the unassembled monstrous statue of Christopher Columbus designed by sculptor Zurab Tsereteli. A headless palm, with a soft, rotting trunk catches my eye–something I have never seen in person. As I investigate the surface tension with my foot, I am reminded of a quote I had recently read from the novel 1984: “Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”
Thinking of Puerto Rico’s ongoing colonial relationship with the U.S., I decided to make this short performance.

Ian Deleón (b. 1987, Miami, 2nd generation Cuban/Brazilian)

“My current body of work may be best understood in terms of its allegorical relationship to archaeology, in which the meticulous uncovering, analyzing and restructuring of ‘media fossils’ allows me to better understand and critique the particular popular culture from which I have emerged. This deconstruction of images, sounds and text (strengthened by a background in film and video editing), provides an opportunity to re-examine mass media output through a variety of critical lenses, such as the post-colonial, feminist, Marxist, cyborg, and post-modern theories.” – Ian Deleón

If a tree falls, does it make a sound? – E.Aaron Ross and Samuel Glidden

E.Aaron Ross
“204 Hits Illuminating, Exhausting”

This piece follows a previous piece of a similar format where I find a tool that seems out of place in its environment and use it to make a performance and sculpture in the environment it was found in.

While the last piece was an urban tool in a rural setting, for this new piece, “204 Hits Illuminating, Exhausting”, I wanted the reverse. I purchased an ax from the Swap-O-Rama on Chicago’s South Side, and located a group of cement pillars only a few blocks away at an abandoned factory. In the pitch black and silent night, I swung the ax into the pillar until I was too physically exhausted to continue. The sound of the ax hitting the pillar created a sharp and metallic echo, triggering a pair of audio sensitive flashes to fire, illuminating the scene for a brief moment for two video cameras and one still camera.

With each swing, dust and cement filled the air before audibly sprinkling the ground. Towards the end of my performance (approximately 8 minutes), the battery life of the flashes also became exhausted, firing less frequently (sometimes only every few hits or out of sync with the hit, allowing sparks from the ax to be visible). Eventually, the flashes stopped firing all together, and I myself stopped soon after from physical exhaustion.

This work produced a 2 channel video installation, 23 photos from the still camera connected to flash (when the two fired in succession to create a lit image), and a 3 piece photo installation using 1 photo of the performance, 1 photo of the pillar after the performance, and the ax itself mounted in a light box.

“204 Hits Illuminating, Exhausting” seeks to embody a fruitless anger and masculinity that I find repulsive, but intrinsic in myself. This work is an exercise in futility and aggression and its necessary expression.
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E. Aaron Ross is a 29 year old single white man living in Chicago. He grew up in the Western Suburbs,skateboarding and playing music in punk and hardcore bands, before attending the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he graduate with one B.F.A. in Moving Image (video/ film/ studio art), and a second B.F.A. in Graphic Design. He is the product of a blue-collar conservative father from the South-ern United States, and a workaholic single mother from Indiana.

Samuel Glidden
“Digging Graves/Buried Dreams”

It is snowing and I walk for a while down side streets until I reach a dead end and climb over some clusters of rocks and end up on a beach next to a wooded area I have never seen before. I blindfold myself and walk down the beach, recording whatever was in front of me. I reach the woods and wander into it, cutting my hands and face on branches and thorns. As time passes it begins to snow harder and I am overwhelmed with fear of the cold and the fact that I couldn’t see anything around me. I could feel the snow and wind hitting my right side so I walked against it, figuring it was coming from the ocean. I eventually feel nothing around me so I take my blindfold off and am on the same beach I began on and walked home. I was lost in the woods, blindfolded, for about an hour.
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” I am a native of Massachusetts and spent most of my formative years in Springfield, MA. When I was 18 years old I moved east and have been residing in Beverly, MA for the past two years, studying at Montserrat College of Art with a concentration in Book Arts.” -Sam Glidden

If a tree falls, does it make a sound? – Hanna M. Owens and Joseph Gordon Connelly

We are pleased to begin our 2014 series of thematic posts with, If a Tree Falls, Does it Make a Sound? (artist accounts from actions that had no witnesses.)  Over the next few months, The Present Tense features works that explore private action and challenge the role of audience.  

 

Hanna M. Owens
“Love Letters” project

Recently I came across a video on YouTube, a film from 2005 by the Iraqi filmmaker Saad Salman, and was suddenly struck with a sense of responsibility. Salman’s film is entitled Lettre d’amour à la fille du président G.W Bush, introducing me to a man with a message: a poet named Haitham Adam Jobbo Jubra’eel. He reads his poetry in the hopes that his love letter will be delivered to [one of] the daughter[s] of George W. Bush. The filmmaker then questions his motivation, Jubra’eel affirms the sincerity of his gesture, and the filming wraps up. I immediately felt obliged to deliver this message. As an effort in translation and internet outreach, I translated and re-subtitled the film, now in Arabic, French, and English, and have been attempting to deliver it, across multiple digital platforms, to both Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush.

Born in rural Vermont, Hanna M. Owens is thoroughly Baltimore and currently Chicago with pit-stops in Calais, Dakar, and West Virginia. Her work has been exhibited and performed in spaces including the MCA (Chicago), Little Berlin Gallery (Philadelphia), Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland Art Place, Maryland Institute College of Art, Towson University (MD), and Floristree Gallery (Baltimore) among others. Her face and body appear in films echoing all across the internet and she regularly broadcasts herself on cam4 under the handle madbushswag (tip if you like what you see + tip to see more of what you like / just send positive energy). She is currently completely her thesis as an MFA student at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Joseph Gordon Connelly
“Fissure Fix”

A repaired crack in a telephone pole. The crack was filled with wood putty and then gilded. The piece was installed in an industrial area on Cleveland’s southeast side. No identification was left with the piece.

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Joseph Gordon Connelly was born in Columbus, OH. He has a BS in Dance/InterArts & Technology. He received an MFA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He taught studio courses in Time
Art, Performance, Installations, and Artist Video. In addition to his solo work, he is part of the art collaboration team Gordon & Gordon Art. He has produced work in the US, Germany, Israel, Russia, and Slovenia.

Accumulation and the precious object

I feel lucky and grateful to have participated in Accumulation a second time. During the first phase, which happened in 2009 at the MEME space, my participation was less than frequent. As I began rummaging through my studio for possible object participants in phase two, I reflected on my actions from Phase 1.  I quickly realized that I relied heavily (almost entirely) on interacting and performing with objects brought to the space by the other artists. As someone who uses mostly objects that have some sort of sentimental value or emotional connection, Accumulation had given me an ultimatum: risk having your important objects destroyed or use objects that have little or no emotional connection to your work. During Phase 1, I did not have the courage to accept that kind of challenge.

ACCUMULATION (Phase 2) Philip Fryer 02.07.14 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

What I didn’t realize was happening, was a parallel between my hesitance to bring meaningful objects to the table and the very reason many galleries had declined to show Accumulation over the years. The uncertainty of the performances, the preciousness of the physical materials caused hesitation. I simultaneously felt frustration and understanding about these things. Five years after the first phase, Accumulation found a home for Phase 2 in the 808 gallery at BU, thanks to Lynne Cooney. Lynne’s willingness to bring unpredictability into her space allowed me to push myself out of my comfort zone and choose to bring objects to Phase 2 that I wouldn’t have brought to the first.

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This is a single I came across in my dad’s record collection. It has the name “Hughes” written in messy black letters and has smudges of white paint on both sides. To anyone else, it might just look like a ruined Mary Hopkin single, but to me it holds the hallmark of my uncle Richard (Hughes). I grew up with Richard being around almost all the time, he was a house painter through the 80’s and 90’s and frequently came home covered with white primer paint which subsequently, covered many things within my home. This is the only thing I have left with that signature, a bittersweet momento of my favorite uncle who was more fun than anyone in the world, who is now legally blind and resides in a Quincy homeless shelter. I have few things in my possession that hold this much emotional value.

Shannon Cochrane during Phase 2

Needless to say, I felt neurotic about what would happen to it after my performance. My heart jumped when Shannon picked it up during her and Marcios second performance. A green apple, similar to the one pictured on the record, is cut in half and taped to it. I felt instant relief, but more than anything, instant gratude. Gratitude to Shannon and Marcio, who acknowledged and honored this object and brought it into a new light for me. And gratitude for a community that pushes its members into new territory. I can only hope that other artists included in Phase 2 shared similar experiences, and that Phase 3 won’t take another 5 years to come to light.

Sweat : Jake Myers

Don't Quit is an artist-made workout video featuring a string
of 1 minute exercise videos made by the following video artists:
 

EverythingIsTerrible (Commodore Gilgamesh)

Ben Russell

Prince Rama

E Aaron Ross

Jesse Avina

Jake Myers

Lara Unnerstall

Alyssa Lee Wilmot & George Alley

Stephanie Burke & Jeriah Hildwine

Meredith & Anna

Steven Frost

Theodore Darst & Anja Jamrozik

James Green

Aaron Orsini & Adam Rux

Mark Sansone

Alfredo Salazar-Caro

Chris Smith

Kiam Marcelo Junio

Aaron Straus

& Dechon Jones


Jake Myers grew up in the suburbs of Chicago playing sports,

working at an outlet mall and engaging in all of the mechanisms

of a spectacular hyper-competitive society. He was skeptical of 

this heteronormative upbringing but had no language or structure

to respond adeptly. Art school exposed Myers to people like Paulo

Freire, Guy Debord and various ways of critically responding to the

world. His work gratuitously merges art, athletics, heroics, existential

crisis, homoeroticism & heternomativity. 

 

Sweat: Aram Han

 

The word sweat is visceral which has strong connotations of physical work. As a material, sweat has a color and isn’t completely translucent, contrary to popular belief. I became fascinated with using sweat as a natural dye as well as to leave behind an evidence of labor and work.

 

 

Wanting to create an artifact of my own labor, I stitched in black rice into a white collar. After I was done, I steamed the collar with my sweat. The Sweaty Collar then became dirty with both the grayish purple and blue water from the rice and my sweat.

 

 

In 8 Hours of Sweat I collected my sweat for an hour per vial. I tried to catch each bead of sweat that came from my body. I see the volume of sweat as a new way of quantifying work. I stitched black rice into a white collar. After I was done, I steamed the collar with my sweat. The Sweaty Collar then became dirty with both the grayish purple and blue water from the rice and my sweat. These works revolve around the use of sweat in order to talk about labor.

 

 

Aram Han is an artist who uses sculpture, fiber, performance, video, and sound in order to investigate Sisyphean immigrant labor practices. She was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1986. At age 5, Aram and her family immigrated to Modesto, California. She holds her BA in Art and Latin American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. She received her Post- Baccalaureate Certificate in Fine Arts at the Maryland Institute of Art in May 2011. She is currently attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to receive her Master of Fine Arts in Fiber and Material Studies.