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.

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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

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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. 

 

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: Sarah Hill

“The performance I’m Fine is deeply concerned with moving the audience into a state of feeling, through anger on the part of the performer. In this way I view my practice as cathartically dialogical. When I say catharsis I mean: To purge. An emotional cleansing and sweating that can be experienced as therapeutic but never therapy. In other words, a strong laxative, that allows one to shit out what is no longer necessary. This extreme change in emotion (on the part of the performer) is where the audience could potentially become activated by his or her own catharsis. I’m Fine as been performed at Grace Exhibition Space, and Lumen Festival in New York as well as Hillyer Art Space in DC. ”

I’m Fine Le Lieu, centre en art actuel, Québec, Canada, Documentation by Patrick Dubé from Sarah Hill on Vimeo.

“Gender confusion is a small price to pay for social progress. I define social progress as the visible presence of transgendered bodies in my work. I am aware that others may not read my body as transgendered when viewing my videos or performances. However, this is how I choose to define my body and gender. People can learn to work around my definitions of gender because I have spent my life working around others’ definitions. I have the right and ability to exercise complete control over my flesh. It’s mine. I live here. I don’t rent. I am not borrowing it. My body belongs to me and I am going to do with it what I choose until I die. My work becomes the performance of reclaiming psychological space.”

 

 

Sarah Hill received her B.A. from Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa and recently received an MFA from the Museum School in partnership with Tufts University. Sarah has studied with Black Market International, Festival of live Art in Glasgow, Scotland. Sarah has also performed at Mobius, Proof Gallery, and Grace Exhibition Space in New York. She has worked on projects with William Pope. L (Cusp) and Roderick Buchanan (Swim). Sarah was a graduate and post graduate teaching fellow for the performance department as well as a graduate fellow for the Artist Resource Center. She will be showing with Anthony Greaney, Boston and Le Lieu, Center en art Acuel, Canada in the spring of 2013. In July, she was featured in a blog about performance art on Philly.com.

 

 

Taste and Sweat: Rachelle Beaudoin

The work included in the Sweat Series addresses the process of perspiration, physical effort, and anxiety.  Over the next few months the work  we will feature uses the body’s natural process of secretion to  challenge perceptions of the body and the infinite ways in which we can be present in our skin.

 

The Present Tense became familiar with the work of Rachelle Beaudoin in 2008 when we screened footage from her project “Cheer Shorts” as part of the Contaminate 3 Festival.  The following piece “Way to Go!” fits both into The Present Tense’s Series on “Taste” and “Sweat.”  We have chosen to feature this piece between the two series.  Enjoy!

 

 

“I often use humor and sarcasm as an entry point into issues of gender, power and
class. I have been investigating the conflation of “hotness” and empowerment, most
recently through pieces that focus on physical fitness and working out. These works are
introspective performances as I explore the pressures and contradictions I face while
inhabiting the space of popular culture. Way to Go! is a performance for video in which I
do as many pushups as I can while eating a bite of cake with each pushup. The cycle
of indulging, feeling guilty and working out is compressed into one action.”- Rachelle Beaudoin

 

 

Rachelle Beaudoin is an artist who uses video, wearables, and performance to explore
feminine iconography and identity within popular culture. She attended the College of
the Holy Cross and holds a Master’s degree in Digital+Media from Rhode Island School
of Design. She has exhibited at Intimacy: Across Digital and Visceral Performance
Goldsmiths London UK, the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi Finland, Low Lives 3
and Itinerant Festival of International Performance Art, Queens NY. Rachelle was an
artist-in-residence at Anderson Ranch, Snowmass CO this past spring.

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

 

 

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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.

 

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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.