Allison Wyper- One-to-One Fictional First Person Accounts Part II

The following performative text is an excerpt from a paper called “Always wanting you, but never having you: intimacy and desire in one-to-one performances by women,” in which I adopt an imaginary time traveling avatar self in order to witness the “intimacies” that I imagine generated in participatory performances that I have never seen.  Though fictional, this account is based on extensive research, and includes quotes taken from a paper by the artist, Helen Paris, called “Crossing wires/shifting boundaries in Vena Amoris” (Women & Performance12:2, 2002), as well as a review for Live Art U.K. The fiction is further informed by my personal praxis as a performance artist working in the one on one genre. Wendy the bartender is completely made up.
The performer’s instructions to the participant that I’ve quoted and indented in this passage are copied directly from Paris. Spelling and punctuation are original.  




Helen Paris, Vena Amoris (Toynbee Studios, London, 1999)


I’m sitting at the bar, nursing a beer and waiting.  I check my phone again, to be sure it’s on.  I dial my voicemail, to be sure I have service.  Again.  If I miss this call it’s all over, since they haven’t told me where this performance is supposed to take place.  They just said they’d call me at 17:40 and to be waiting in the bar in the lobby of the Toynbee Studios arts complex.  When I arrived and checked in at the front desk, they took my cell phone number and told me I’d get a call with instructions when the performance was about to begin.  Wendy, the bartender, glances toward me periodically, both to check to see if I need another beer, and to see if I’ve gotten the call yet.  People like me come and go, there’s a different single audience member every 20 minutes, but Wendy is always there.  In a way, I figure, she’s the real audience, and I’m part of a rotating cast of performers, performing for her.  Scene 1, waiting by the phone…



The phone rings.  I jump, startled, and nearly spill my beer.  Wendy chuckles softly and takes another order.  I pick up the phone and answer.  A woman’s voice, soft in my ear:


 “Hello.  The performance is about to begin if you’d just like to make your way to the theater…”


I enter an empty theater.  Red velvet seats and not a soul in them.  Onstage an empty spotlight.  Through the phone She tells me this is my light.  I climb a short flight of stairs and step into the pool.  I see a pack of cigarettes and a box of matches.  She invites me to smoke, if I wish.  I do.   I strike the match with pleasure, feeling like a character in an old movie.  Just as the thought occurs to me, the house lights fade, two side lights come on, and familiar music swells.  Doris Day, “Make Someone Happy.”  How very grand.  I smoke, searching beyond the bright stage lights to the shadowy seats beyond.  Is someone out there, watching me?  Even just a technician in the light booth…


The sound of applause is delicious,

It’s a thrill to have the world at your feet.

The praise of the crowd, it’s exciting,

But I’ve learned that’s not what makes a life complete…


Fame if you win it, comes and goes in a minute.

Where’s the real stuff in life to cling to?

Love is the answer.  Someone to love is the answer…


Make someone happy.

Make just one someone happy,

And you will be happy, too.



As the last strains of music fade, the house lights come up, and bright fluorescent work lights in the wings, exposing the grimy, messy reality of the theater.  Old set pieces, half-painted lumber, dust, the imperfections normally hidden by velvet and limelight.  My cell phone is still cradled next to my ear.  She instructs me to go through an offstage door marked Fire Room.



I step into a small, oak-paneled room, empty but for a white platform in the center of the space, on which sits a metal cylinder topped with a bulbous top.  It reminds me of a model of the Space Needle.  She tells me that this is a Van Der Graff generator.


“After I’ve finished speaking please could you turn off your phone.  I’d like you to approach the Van Der Graff and extend one of your hands toward the metal ball on the top very slowly, until your fingers are an inch or two from the surface.  As you move close enough, you will experience a spark of contact with your body’s own electrical current.  If you look closely you will be able to see this as well as feel it.  I have to go now; I’ll see you soon.”



I turn off my phone and reach for the metal.  I feel a gentle shock and see a faint blue spark reaching for me.  I saw one of these as a kid, I think.  At a science museum or fair. I remember reaching for it with fingers sticky from candy, Mom telling me not to touch or I’d get it dirty.  I hover my fingers just off the surface, a blue string of electricity dancing between me and the apparatus.  My hair stands on end.  On the platform there is note:

Egyptians believed that the third finger of the left hand follows the vena amoris, the vein of love that runs directly to the heart.  A direct “digital” blood flow.



I imagine this blue flame swimming up my inner arm and through my coronary arteries.  I shiver and pull my hand away. The note then instructs me to exit the room through a different door than the one I came in.  I step into a small, cold, fluorescent hallway.  A beautiful blonde woman in a black velvet gown greets me with a smile.  She punches a code into a door lock, and pushes the door open a crack. On the other side, I’m surprised and delighted to meet an exact twin of the blonde woman, in identical black velvet.  The first woman reaches toward me, places a crimson-tipped hand on the middle of my back, and gently I am pushed into a larger, more dimly lit space beyond.  As I cross the threshold, the twins lean in to one another, until their identical blonde heads rest together.  I catch the first whispering softly to the second:

“I’ve missed you.  I’ve been thinking of you.  I’ve so wanted to see you again. I wanted to say something to you.  I have to go now.  I’ll be thinking of you.  I’ll be waiting until we can be together again.  Goodbye.  Goodbye.”


They kiss on the lips and the door closes, separating them once again.  I giggle under my breath self-consciously, and examine this new space.  It’s some kind of dance studio, dim, heavily curtained with thick velvet.  At the far end of the studio there’s a tall mirror surrounded by naked light bulbs like an oversized dressing room vanity.  The blonde twin gestures for me to sit in a chair before the mirror.  Just then, a familiar voice, close, gentle, loving… from where I can’t tell…  It isn’t the blonde woman.  I look around for a speaker, electronic or human…

“I’m glad you came.

I didn’t know if I would recognize you.

I had a picture of you in my head.

Did you miss me?  I mean

Did you ever think of me?

Did you want to see me again?  I mean

Did I make any difference?”



I realize that She’s somewhere behind the mirror.  Is She watching me?  I squint, trying to see past the glare of the bright bulbs.  Then I give up and relax, staring at myself in the mirror.

“Did you want to say something to me?

Did you want to catch hold of something that you

thought you might have seen or at least thought you’d

caught a glimpse of and, at least, for a little while not

want to let it go?



She grows more and more breathless, urgent, desperate, her words piling on top of one another, a torrent of emotion…

Was I too late?

Did I say the right thing but at the wrong time?

And what I’m really asking, is do I get another chance

while everything is changing skin, legs, flesh, hair, head,

heart, chest?

Did I lose part of myself–the part where I recognize

myself but never had a chance to say goodbye?

…And did you need that tiny jolt of electricity just to

know you were alive?”


Silence.  Then a metallic click and my face, staring back at me through the surface of the mirror, becomes transparent, an orange glow behind it and another face—incredibly, another face!—melts out of the darkness, morphing with mine into a chimera.  She lights a cigarette, I smell the first puff.

“I’m glad you came

When will I see you again?

I’ll miss you

I miss you already





Then as quickly as she appears, the flame goes out and I’m left alone again with my reflection.  The blonde woman escorts me out of the studio and directs me back to the lobby.  Wendy is waiting at the bar.  I order a bourbon.

For more on this work, see the artist’s website at


About the Author

Allison Wyper is a Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary performance artist who creates intimate and one-on-one performances that challenge viewer-performer dynamics and the ethics of participation. Allison has been an Associate Artist of La Pocha Nostra since 2004, and a collaborator with Western Australia’s Hydra Poesis since 2011. Her work has been seen in museums, galleries, theaters, universities, and streets in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and Germany. Her writing has been published by Itch Dance Journal, Platform (U.K), Emergency Index, Whore Magazine and the Center for the Study of Women at the University of California, Los Angeles. More info at

Allison Wyper- One-to-One Fictional First Person Accounts Part I

The way that a performance piece is archived in the memory offers a piece to evolve long after it has been released by the artist.  What about pieces that one has never experienced first hand?  What happens when one allows a piece to culminate through their imagination?  Artist, Allison Wyper does just that in her  fictional first-person accounts in response to 3 one-to-one performances by women. Over the next 3 weeks, The Present Tense will be featuring these writing on our archive in 3 parts.  Enjoy!



The following first-person, performative text is an excerpt from a paper called “Always wanting you, but never having you: intimacy and desire in one-to-one performances by women,” in which I adopt an anxious, self-conscious dream body that can travel through time to experience, through a leap of imagination, the intimacy that I imagine in participatory performances that I have never, and will never, see. These accounts are fictional, but based in rigorous research, including (in this case) personal interviews with artist Julie Tolentino, and with choreographer David Roussève, who attended the performance I describe.
In addition to the performers’ accounts I rely on the accounts of viewer-participants, including critics who reviewed the works, and visitor accounts that the performers included in their own writings. In order to perform a close reading that teases out the precise natures of the diverse kinds of intimacies created by each piece, I rely on my imagination, and my own subjectivity as a theatre, dance, and performance artist, experienced in the one-to-one genre, who is grappling with her own desire for a moment of connection. My ephemerally bodied witness, reporting back through time and space, is a passionate, eager young performance artist, tired of sitting and watching. So when she heard about Julie Tolentino’s performance For You, she was the first to call for an appointment…



I. Julie Tolentino, For You (Participant, Inc., New York, NY, 2003)

The street is icy, with that acrid Lower East Side bite as I rush to make my 4:40 appointment. I called three weeks ago, leaving my name and number with a young gallery assistant. I never received a confirmation—hope she didn’t lose my reservation. I spot Participant, Inc., the site of Julie Tolentino’s For You, and rush inside out of the New York cold. A gallery attendant greets me and asks for my name. I give it to him, a little anxious. He nods–like a restaurant host but without the strained fake cheerfulness—and asks me to wait in the lobby area. I’m a few minutes early. The telephone rings and he leaves the room to retrieve it. Alone, I wait.


Glancing upward I see a plastic slitted curtain, the kind you see in butchers’ refrigerators, loosely lining the entry to an open gallery space. I can barely make out the people inside. Softly, I hear a song I think I know. A woman’s voice trills like a bird. Joni Mitchell, I think. It’s comforting, familiar. I hum along.


I turn toward the sunken “lobby,” a small gallery space to my right. At my feet is a projection of the performance in progress. Every now and again I see a dancer’s body in a loose, white jumpsuit or pajamas drift slightly into and out of the frame, shot, it seems, from above her head. I never see the audience. These glimpses of the performance taking place at this moment are tiny bits of information, meager as the appetizer I had at that trendy Soho restaurant last night. They whet my appetite, not that I wasn’t already excited to see this performance (just for me!) for the past three weeks, but I have no idea exactly how I’m going to be incorporated into the performance.


As I start to imagine myself in that white room, the attendant returns. He hands me a menu of song titles. My first act as a participant in this performance, he explains, is to choose a song for my piece. “Something special to you.” I scan the menu. I know about half of the offerings, and the others I’ve at least heard of. They’re mostly pop songs. Feeling very “New York” today, I select a personal sentimental favorite, Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” A cliché, maybe, but I’m curious how Tolentino will use it. Right after selecting it, I momentarily panic—was that a good choice? Will she be disappointed in me? What will it tell her about me that I didn’t choose something more obscure…?


I hear the murmur of voices and glance up again to the gallery. Tolentino and a middle-aged woman are saying good-bye. The woman pushes her way through the curtain, a private smile on her lips, eyes downcast. As she descends the short staircase, she notices me watching her, and quickly transforms, business-like, into her brusque public self. She nods to me (cat that ate the canary, I think, its as if she’s done something forbidden…), thanks the attendant, and looks at him expectantly. Is there something else to do? Is the performance over? Does she have another role to play? He invites her to leave a comment in the guestbook. The woman, a little disappointed, declines, puts on her wrap and leaves.


I look at the attendant. My turn? He asks me to wait a few minutes more, while they re-set the space. I take a seat and watch the video projection on the floor, where not much happens. I feel as though I’m waiting for a massage or something. It’s as if I’ve made an appointment for some luxurious treatment at a spa—a treat just for me. At the same time, though, I am still a little anxious, not knowing exactly what the artist expects of me.


At last I get the go-ahead. The attendant instructs me to enter and sit in the chair by the bed. There will be further instructions projected on the wall. “Those are for you.” I take the stairs quick and light, and pause just outside the plastic curtain. I draw a breath and push through the clear plastic strips that rattle gently back into place behind me, loosely sealing me in. The room is semi-private, permeable; all white, but not terribly bright; beautiful and spare. A projection on one wall (vague moving lights… headlights?) casts a thin, cool illumination. “THIS IS FOR YOU,” I read on the wall.


As I enter the room, Tolentino lies on a bed, swathed in white sheeting. A small lamp casts a pool of pinkish light her feet. Next to the bed, a plastic chair. I flash momentarily to a hospital scene, a sick ward, a maternity ward. I smell the plastic of the curtain, the chair. Quietly, respectfully, I take the seat next to the bed. The seat of care, I think.


She lies with her back to me. She does not speak. She lies still, breathes, occasionally shifts or moves a bit, never leaving the bed, subtle adjustments, as if she’s listening to me, for several minutes. Eventually…


She performs. And it is for me.


The sheets rustle softly. I sit back in my chair, hands in my lap. I imagine, absurdly, that if I sit back I am giving her more space, though she makes no move to approach me, or even look at me. I sit. I witness. I am quiet by her side. She rolls, shifts, reaches and retracts. Her movement is gentle.


She gets up out of bed, crosses the room, brushing her hair from her face. I let out a kept breath as she moves away, in a mixture of relief and disappointment. She gives her body a loose shake—to wake herself? To warm her muscles? To reacquaint herself with verticality? Her movement is gentle, loose, organic.


A new projection: “VIEWER: SOON, TIME TO MAKE A MOVE.” I sit up. Maybe I get to choose where to sit—how to view the dance. But not now; “SOON.” I relax, wait, watch.


She finds a spot in the corner, left of the projection, and slows down, releases her head so she gazes at the floor, arms loose at her sides, hidden in the very long sleeves of a white lab-coat-style pantsuit. She turns slowly, looking like a naughty child dressed in her mother’s shirt. But she is not a child. She is quiet. Waiting.




I do. Now I am seated on the side of the open floor, nothing between me and her but a few feet of space. She walks toward me, pauses, and begins a new dance. She dances hard. Head relaxed on her spine, her arms swoop and swoosh in big, long arcs, dipping into the floor, then whirling up and around. The kinetic force builds as she sinks and energizes into her movement, opening the room in front of me, charging the large white walls with her long, white-shrouded limbs. I’ve rarely been this close to these large movements when I wasn’t dancing as well. She smells of sweat and Ben Gay. I wonder how sore she is. I wonder how tired she is.


From a soft focus gaze, indirect mostly, but with flashes of directness, she reads me. She takes my temperature with her nearness. She listens for my breath, the squeaks of the chair as I shift, she sees me look for her eyes, she sees me smile, seeking her smile. She dances for me. She dances off me. She gifts me a dance. (Me, a total stranger.) She takes my hand.




She chooses a new place for me, on a different chair. Or perhaps we choose it together, but I admit I am following her lead. The dance is for me, but I still feel like a guest in her home. I sit along the opposite wall, next to a pinkish red theater light. She dances to music—my song, “Walk on the Wild Side.” She lowers her eyes. She dances a memory, I think, a private memory to a shared experience. We share the song, but she has her memories associated with it, and I have mine. We are two different people with different histories, but our histories are linked by this common referent.


She dances in the red light. I hesitate to describe the dance to you now, because, well, it’s private, between her and me. I am overwhelmed with emotion, watching her. My heart catches in my throat. I notice I’ve stopped breathing and gulp in air with a mixture of gasp and sob.


The song ends. We are quiet. I hear her breath, heavy, but steadying. The dance relaxes into an end as she releases it and meets my eyes. She takes me by the hand. We thank one another, and she escorts me to the plastic curtain. I seek her eyes, and we exchange brief, shy smiles. I slip, slowly, regretfully, through the plastic slits, back into that other world, where I will again be no one special. No one out there will dance just For Me.


(For more on this work, see Julie Tolentino’s website at



About the Author

Allison Wyper is a Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary performance artist who creates intimate and one-on-one performances that challenge viewer-performer dynamics and the ethics of participation. Allison has been an Associate Artist of La Pocha Nostra since 2004, and a collaborator with Western Australia’s Hydra Poesis since 2011. Her work has been seen in museums, galleries, theaters, universities, and streets in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and Germany. Her writing has been published by Itch Dance Journal, Platform (U.K), Emergency Index, Whore Magazine and the Center for the Study of Women at the University of California, Los Angeles. More info at

Joanna Tam: 3 years + 360 hours + 107,594 + …


A Written Account of

3 years + 360 hours + 107,594 + …

Joanna Tam



I wrote the following piece of writing as a reflection for my year-long actions almost a year ago. I told myself I would burn all the index cards and throw away the two broken printers, the used pens and the books. I only wanted the photographs, the text and my voice to be the evidence of my original work. Yet all the index cards, the printers, the pens and the books are still sitting in my studio …

November 13, 2013

[Note] 107,594 is the estimated number of Iraqi civilians who died from violence since the US-led invasion, as of October 29th 2010 (Source: Iraq Body Count). I want to embody the magnitude of this number by writing the information of the victims on index cards. I began this project on November 19th, 2010 at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn. From that day onwards, I had been writing the cards at home every day for an hour. I finished a year later. Go to my website to view the documentation of the original performance, 107,594.


Is one year too long or not long enough? I had been doing the writing an hour a day, every day, for more than a year. All right I skipped 12 days. So I did it for 360 days or 360 hours.

I started this year-long project about 2 years ago and finished last year on December 2nd. I don’t remember too well about what I was thinking when I was doing it anymore. The idea that my memory of this daily action is fading so much quicker than I expected haunts me.

When I first decided to do this project at the beginning I wanted to embody the magnitude of the destructions of the Iraq War. To me 107594 is a number too huge and too abstract to comprehend. It is a number that could only exist on computers. I thought by writing down the information of the Iraqi civilians who were killed in the war, I could somehow connect myself to this horrifying event that was so far away yet so real at the same time.

At the beginning the writing did help me understand the situation over there a bit more. When I saw a big block of victims died in the same location on the same day, I would look up the Internet to see if the incident was reported. I wanted to know more about what happened to them. However after couple of weeks, this project had soon transformed to one that addressed time and labor. This project had become a burden in my life. There were 2 days that I was running out of index cards to write on because they were on back order. I was thrilled that I had a legitimate excuse to not to do the writing.

Putting aside an hour a day for this project had become a duty to me more than an act to commemorate the Iraqi people. This project was neither about the war nor the Iraqi people anymore. It was more about me instead. It was about examining my physical and mental commitment in a durational work as an artist. At the end the only reason I still continued the writing was because I had gone too far already that I was not willing to quit. Yes that was the only motivation.

Sometimes I feel ashamed when I tell people about this project. I feel ashamed because I am using a topic that is so politically charged for my personal artistic development. If I wanted, I could easily exhibit all the cards by putting them on walls. They could easily fill up many huge rooms and I could make it an impressive project. If I wanted, I could also make a beautiful argument about the result of this work by connecting the cost of the war to the kind of time and labor that I have invested on this project, not to mention the amount of money that I have spent and its environmental implications.

But doing so would be dishonest and almost hypocritical. What I found out was that I actually did not care much about the people over there as much as I thought or as much as I wanted myself to be. What I cared the most was when I was able to finish all the writing. And this took me a year to find out …

December 27, 2012



Joanna Tam is a Boston-based visual artist. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including venues in York, UK; Istanbul, Turkey; Cusco, Peru; New York; Brooklyn; Boston among others. Joanna’s work has also been awarded Best Art Film at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival (2012), People’s Choice Award (Sub-Category) and Third Prize (Sub-Category) at the Prix de la Photographie, Paris (2009). She is the recipient of the Transitional Artist Residency Award at The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City and was the Artist-in-Residence at The Center for Photography at Woodstock in New York. Joanna holds an MFA degree from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / Tufts University and has participated in the IPA Istanbul Performance Workshop with Roi Vaara.

Encountering Déjà vu’ and the Performance Art Cliché: Shannon Cochrane and Márcio Carvalho’s “Untitled”

S+M_Photo by Daniel S. DeLuca-12

photo by Daniel S. DeLuca 2013

Encountering Déjà vu’ and the Performance Art Cliché:

Shannon Cochrane and Márcio Carvalho’s “Untitled”

by Sandrine Schaefer

Márcio Carvalho enters the space wearing a white t-shirt and white boxer shorts.  He stands on a plastic tarp that has been spread across the floor.  On top of the tarp is a collection of objects and materials familiar to the medium of performance art: a bucket of water, a roll of tape, a roll of string, a spool of ribbon, bread, raw meat, a bottle of syrup of some sort, a carton of eggs, and a bag of flour.

Carvalho engages in the following actions:

Action 1: Drink red syrup- allow it to pour out of mouth

Action 2: Gift Stones to the audience, one by one

Action 3: Connect audience physically using pink ribbon.

Action 4- Tape an X on floor

Action 5- Place Bucket on X

Action 6- Submerge head in bucket of water and emerge gasping for air

Action 7 – Wrap head with string

Action 8- Attach bread to head with the string

Action 9- Attach meat to head with the string

Action 10- Crack eggs on head

Action 11- Gaze at the audience

Action 12-Dump a bag of flour on body

Action 13- Leave performance space (designated by tarp)


Minutes later the objects are reset and Shannon Cochrane enters wearing a black t-shirt and black underwear.  As the red syrup trickles from her mouth and splatters on the floor, it becomes apparent that she will be engaging in the same series of actions with the same materials that we just witnessed.  This offers the opportunity to observe the subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences between the artists’ execution of each action.  This structure also requires the audience to contemplate ways in which different actions are read on different bodies and all of the cultural baggage that comes along with this notion.


Performance Art is a medium that often plays with the boundaries between artist and spectator.  This can result in creating confusion around the act of witnessing.  Audiences who are unfamiliar with performance art often rely on behaviors presented and preserved by mainstream entertainment.  Although performance art may operate with strategies that are similar to those utilized in the entertainment industry, foundations of the medium are rooted in moving beyond holding the audience’s attention alone and creating opportunities to inspire a deeper level of critical thought.  This tension around the etiquette of witnessing is echoed through the strategic role of documentation in “Untitled”. One audience member diligently takes a photo every 5 seconds, even if the performer is out of frame.  Another positions themselves only inches away from the artists’ face to get the “Money Shot”.  The experience of watching the performance being documented becomes a spectacle in itself.  These planted photographers set off a chain reaction throughout the audience.  People begin to follow their behavior, using their own cameras and phones to document what they are flagging as “important”.  Of coarse, this becomes frustrating.  The shear quantity of photographers overpower the piece, altering the context so that it is difficult to witness the piece in the way performance art is intended to be experienced; unfolding in real time and space.


S+M_Photo by Daniel S. DeLuca-26

photo by Daniel S. DeLuca 2013


While the treatment of documentation in “Untitled” acknowledges the confusion around the relationship between entertainment and performance art, the structure of the piece creates an interesting solution to the act of witnessing.   Carvalho and Cochrane invite a unique level of focus and analysis through the presentation of the same series of actions consecutively enacted by two different bodies.   While engaging in a sort of memory game, the audience observes Cochrane more critically. Not only had Carvalho set the precedent for each action, his part in the piece exists in the realm of the absurd.  Many of his actions ignited laughter among the audience that vanished when Cochrane executed the same actions.  When the audience is asked to reconcile what they had previously seen and to look again, to look closer, this invites a fundamental shift of paradigm.


The structure of “Untitled” presents an exaggeration of binaries. The differences in the artists’ perceived gender and race is not only enhanced by their choice to wear black and white, but also highlights an element of competition.  The performance ventures into the territory of “who did it better”.  As albumen and yolk fly through the air each time Cochrane slams an egg on her head, she becomes the clear winner in the sport of egg cracking.  Meanwhile, Carvalho takes home the gold for submerging his head in a bucket of water, burping and pounding his ear to release the water that has seeped in.  This impulse to view the piece as if it were some kind of competition seems absurd, but not far off.  The format of the international performance art festival can be likened to a kind of performance art Olympics.  Artists from all over the world come together to share their best work that will inevitably be compared to the other work presented in the festival even if the work is incomparable.  Each artist wears an invisible badge of honor for the place where they come from and are transformed into a representative of their country.  When you are communicating across language barriers and geographical borders, this is a way to establish networks and relationships with like-minded individuals.  However, like all formats, the performance art festival has its own set of pros and cons.


S+M_Photo by Daniel S. DeLuca-36

photo by Daniel S. DeLuca 2013


“Untitled” critiques this format, simultaneously offering potential for a dialogue around the growing interest in performance art in the mainstream.  As institutions gain interest in including performance art in their collections, the subject of reiterations and re-performances have become frequent topic of conversation and consideration.  Coupled with a rise in delegated performance, questions around the necessity for the artist’s own body to be present in a piece of performance art is a frequent topic of inquiry.  Many practitioners of performance would argue that without the artist’s presence it is not even their work, while some argue that the concept of the piece is primary and that the actions can be implemented by anyone who is able.    These conversations lead into the murky territory around ideas about authorship, technical skill, and attempting to locate a collective intention within the medium.


Performance art is a medium that has been relegated to the corners of society, perceived as half joke, half avant-garde.  We are just now seeing the US learning to speak its language in the mainstream.   A large part of performance art’s history has been rooted in activism, providing an alternative to making “Art” deemed suitable for the art market. This concept is at the core of performance art history and still encourages artists to take responsibility for writing and archiving their own histories.  Cochrane and Carvalho are well versed in this language, even beyond their individual art practices.  They have contributed efforts to evolve the medium through their curatorial work and discourse.  Working with the notion of the performance art cliché, each action in “Untitled,” is an action that is frequently used in performance art.  If anyone is going to define the clichés in the medium, I feel most comfortable with it being individuals with their credentials.  Although at first glance, “Untitled” may appear to be a performance art roast, it is offering something different.   To assess, to judge these actions, to create a consciousness around actions that have history and to identify them as cliché, is ultimately useful.  They are offering an experience that directly desensitizes these actions.  After seeing someone wrap their head in meat twice, does it still hold the same weight as it did the first time? This usage of time is an interesting one.  “Untitled” asks how long does it take for an action to become cliché?  How long does it take for an action to become irrelevant, or perhaps, even gain relevance?  Does it require decades or can this happen over the duration of mere minutes?  By archiving these loaded actions into their own bodies, Cochrane and Carvalho open up territory that supports dynamic contemplation around the history, present state, and future of performance art practices.






Remembering Peter Grzybowski

The Present Tense is saddened for the recent passing of artist and curator, Peter Grzybowski. A long time friend of The Present Tense,  we are grateful we had the opportunity to show his work at the Contaminate 3 Festival in 2008.  The following is a collection of memories from those who were touched by his presence and his work.


Peter Gryzbowski “Press” 2008 photo by Ben Smart

In the 21st century, many have surrendered to the inevitability of the hyper-documented life, a result of current technologies, but nothing can replace the experience of witnessing a live-art piece unfolding in the present moment.   To performance artists, art lives in real time and often times is believed to live in the body.  Consequently, when a body deteriorates the art dies with it.  The death of an artist working in experiential media can be devastating because it eliminates the possibility of ever experiencing their work in its totality again.

On August 29, 2013, artist and curator, Peter Gryzbowski passed away.  Like many, I learned of Peter’s passing through social media.  Discovering the death of a friend in this way seems impersonal, but it offers a collective experience of mourning that is strangely comforting.  We can see the magnitude of the expansive territory that a life can touch.  In the days after news of Peter’s passing spread throughout The Present Tense’s networks, it was amazing to see how many people in so many places throughout the world had been impacted by his work.   This tribute is an attempt to capture a morsel of Peter Gryzbowski’s impact on The Present Tense and the communities of artists with whom we are connected.  No video, no photo, no written account can capture his work, however, it feels crucial to try to compile something to honor Gryzbowski’s creative contribution.  This is also an admittedly selfish attempt.  Peter was a friend and teacher of sorts.  He showed my work when few believed it was mature enough.  As my own curatorial practice evolved, I had the opportunity to show Peter’s work as well.  He was a constant fixture in my career for a decade and I am grateful that I had the chance to experience his work and his friendship.

The following footage is from “Press,” a piece that Peter created at The Present Tense and TEST’s Contaminate 3 Festival in Boston in 2008.  The piece was minimal, cyclical and repetitive.  The principal action of the piece was captured both in real time and in video that illuminated the space through projection.  Peter engaged in the action of crumpling pieces of newspaper and throwing them on the ground.  The video played in reverse, making it appear as if the crumpled paper was magically floating back into Peter’s hand.  There were three bodies in the piece, the present self, the past self (video) and Peter’s shadow, an acknowledgement of the future self.   If my memory serves me, I remember being most excited by the moment when the accumulated paper on the ground matched the volume of paper in the video.  This visual collision offered a brief time where all three Peter’s could exist within the same moment.

Rest well, Peter.  Thank you for gifting me experiences for contemplation through your work and teaching me how to be a better artist.  I am forever grateful.

– Sandrine Schaefer

Peter Grzybowski “Press” 2008 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

This past summer, I was invited to participate in the SUPERNOVA festival in Rosslyn, Virginia. The festival circuit is an exciting one, a wonderful networking experience with both new faces and old ones. When I first caught a glimpse of the roster,  a particular old face jumped off the screen: Peter Gryzbowski. I first met Peter at the 14th International Performance Art Congress in Sacramento, California in 2006. His piece at that festival haunts me to this day. Peters presence during his performances was very powerful, and having seen and met him at a very early stage of my own performance practice, I learned quite a bit about the medium from him. Over the years I’ve felt more and more grateful for the impact he had on the genesis of my work. 

 Once I arrived in Rosslyn, I learned that Peter was unable to make it to the festival. Sad that I would not see him, I made a mental note to contact him and let him know I’ve been thinking of him. Later that day, I saw obsolete computer monitors, a favorite performance object for Peter, being loaded off a van and into the space I’d be performing in later in the festival. Once I learned that they were originally indented for Peter’s performance, I immediately felt connected to them. Eames Armstrong, the festivals curator, was kind enough to let me take one of them for my own performance. I wondered, what was Peter going to use these for? They were going to end up smashed up, weren’t they? 

I was excited to have an addition to my performance, but I was more excited to pay homage to an artist that I’ve always respected and looked up to. In the end, I chose both actions that are pertinent to my work as well as actions that were inspired by Peters work. I feel very grateful that I had this unique opportunity to connect with Peter and his practice, even if he wasn’t present for it. Peter will be greatly missed.

– Philip Fryer

Still from "WHAT NOW", Photo by Sandrine Schaefer

Still from “WHAT NOW”, Photo by Sandrine Schaefer


I met Peter in 2011 at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn.  His interest in my work as so genuine that we spent several hours talking about performance and art in general.  His passion for live action art was clear and enthusiastic especially when he described the projects he had been involved.  We kept connected even though many times we were in different continents doing separate things.  It was until last year that I had the opportunity to witness the strength of his performances and the details of their sociopolitical content.  The last time I saw him, and I believe it was the last time he performed, was in June this year at the same place where we met, Grace Exhibition Space.  He was in full command of his performance, and enjoying every minute of his delivery.  While buildings of the former Soviet era collapsed on the screen, he walked lively through light bulbs that rested on the floor, and much later while we crushed old television sets that had been covered with different flags.  That is the last image I have of a friend who knew how to listen and how to appreciate the liveness of art.

R.I.P. Peter, you are remembered.

– Hector Canonge



Hi Alien! where did you disappear … sounds like your last words to me? an’ of our anachronistic turn – the promise of a next round – a one again happy fight coming s…  ?I miss THE LAST MAN headlined on the seafront / a no sense postcard without you in “your meta final. touch” I picture out of the frame where to keep on hanging(…) la vie est un rêve et… then I say fucking hell* (en français dans le texte*) I could not imagine how much you are here, where only your laugh, your tenderness, and your strength, remain. My. Indian  September  summer  passenger / hush .  ???Hey! Peter “excuse my french” Hey, Peter, I am telling you good bye… and hey. Peter, I am telling you hey for very long

– Stefanie Seguin



Peter Grzybowski, 06.16.1954-08.29.2013

Peter Grzybowski was born in Krakow, Poland. Peter was a performance artist, multimedia artist and a painter. Since the eighties he completed a number of performances, individual and group shows, installations and multimedia works ?presented worldwide. In his latest work, he created performances and installations using video, audio, light and live action, synchronized by computer. His paintings are in USA, Canada, France, Germany and Poland. 


Taste: Hector Canonge

Hector Canonge " S U R " 2013 photo by Sandrine Schaefer

The room is filled with a light aroma that could be rose.  It is familiar yet unidentifiable.  A nude body is curled up on the ground beneath a sheet of plastic, the material sticking to different parts of the body.  Condensation can be seen on the plastic, showing that the body has been in this position for some time.  This visceral action was one of many enacted in Hector Canonge’s S U R.   The artist describes S U R as a series of actions that (re)capture, (re)frame, and (re)contextualize the work the artist created during his travels in Latin America in 2012.  He further explains that S U R is composed in five interrelated parts (Genesis, Fatherland, Heartland, Tropica, and Carnation) that blend into a narrative related to the artist’s life and familial history.  Canonge brought S U R to Boston, where his actions merged the contexts of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru with Mobius intimate exhibition space.

Hector Canonge " S U R " 2013 photo by Sandrine Schaefer

When the artist emerged from the plastic, he began to cycle through a series of actions that employed materials indigenous to Latin America.  He poured Mate tealeaves on the floor, the muted smell filling the space.  He poured refined sugar in a circle around his body while singing, his controlled exhalations oscillating between power and sounding as if he were out of breath.  He wore a heavy woolen sweater that he unraveled with his fingers, the smell of dust captured in the fibers traveling through the air.  As the piece unfolded, Canonge continued to build a visceral and sensorial installation through his chosen materials and focused movement and sound.  The gentle introductions of smells created a crescendo that led to one of the most dynamic actions in S U R.  Canonge revealed stalks of raw sugarcane that he broke into smaller pieces that were tied to his waist.  He proceeded to peel them with his teeth.  He then invited the audience one by one to experience the delight of tasting raw sugarcane.  With one side of the stalk in the participant’s mouth, the other in Canonge’s, the stalk sat between the two people, their heads at an intimate proximately.  Boston is known for having active audiences that are open to participate in live art pieces, however, this action was so intimate that I was surprised at how quickly the audience agreed to engage.  After more reflection, I believe that the eagerness to interact with Canonge was something that the artist intentionally built into the structure of the piece.  Not only did the deeply poetic actions create a familial feeling amongst the audience, Canonge’s consideration of faint smell created a curiosity around the materials he used.  By the time we were asked to participate, we were thoroughly intoxicated by the experience, making it impossible to refuse.


Hector Canonge excerpt from S U R 2013 from The Present Tense on Vimeo.

S U R opens a dialogue around a myriad of ideas.  The work clearly has political overtones, providing opportunity to consider the complex relationship that the US has with its Southern neighbors. Although Canonge is specific in creating an experience inspired by Latin and South America, S U R also tackles more general considerations around themes such as otherness, colonization, and how place informs constructions of identity.  The piece was loaded with complex content, yet maintained a sense of accessibility throughout.  As we experienced Canonge exhibit his vulnerability, we were open to engage with him, ask questions, and contemplate the evolving role of place in the 21st century.

– Sandrine Schaefer





Hector Canonge is an artist based in New York City where he studied Comparative Literature, Filmmaking, and Integrated Media Arts. His work incorporates the use of New-media technologies, physical environments, cinematic and performance art narratives. In his work he explores and treats issues related to construction of identity, gender roles, and the politics of migration. His performances mediate movement, endurance, and ritualistic processes as well as the interaction with the public. His visual arts projects and performance art work have been exhibited and presented in the United States, Latin America, Europe and Asia.



Taste: Sandrine Schaefer

The following footage is one of the first videos included in The Present Tense archives.  TPT Co-Founder, Sandrine Schaefer made this piece during her time studying at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts.  In the piece, titled, ” A Little Taste of Sweetness,” Sandrine serves homeade applesauce from hand picked apples to the audience.  She approaches each person asking the question, “May I?”  If the audience member says yes, Sandrine gives them a napkin and a spoon engraved with the phrase “A little taste of sweetness” from her body and drapes her clothing across the spectator’s lap as a ‘tablecloth’.  They are invited to eat a handful of applesauce from her hands.