“Performance Now”: Readings of Art in the 21st Century
On the evening of Sept. 11th, the day this article is published, prominent art historian and curator RoseLee Goldberg will introduce the new Zilkha exhibition “Performance Now” at 5:30 p.m. I checked out “Performance Now” over the weekend, and I can truthfully say that the talk and gallery are not to be missed. Goldberg’s central thesis—that the interaction of performance art and other mediums will form the primary artistic trends of the early 21st century—is articulated through a dizzying array of captivating pieces. Most are filmed performances that, even through the removal of digital video, address and subvert the boundaries between artist and spectators.
As soon as I walked into the gallery, I was faced with a projected recording of Allora and Calzadilla’s “Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy, No. 2.” It's a bit of a mouthful, but the film, of a pianist playing Beethoven from inside a moving piano, is hypnotic. Crowds of people have to get out of the way as the piano glides through them, and their astonishment is palpable. Two octaves are missing where the pianist has to fit through, but the rendition retains the iconic music’s beauty. I had a hard time moving on from this piece, but the rest of the exhibition proved to be just as enthralling.
The most humorous work on display was “Drawing Lesson 47,” a simulated dialogue between two different sides of South African artist William Kentridge’s personality. Through the magic of splitscreen editing, two Kentridges—one an esoteric creative type, the other a cerebral critic—sit across a table from one another and debate the merits of the creative’s art and process, cutting each other off in increasingly hostile and hilarious ways.
One particularly challenging installation is Omer Fast’s “Talk Show,” where actors listen to one man’s story before reinterpreting it and narrating it back to another actor. This game of dramatist telephone continues, the improvisations varying wildly in tone, and along the way the audience deduces that the original speaker was David Kaczynski, the brother of the Unabomber. The complicated emotions that the original material’s flexible handling produces in the audience instills in each viewer the ethical dilemmas of narrative representation.
Another highlight is Liz Magic Laser’s [’03] “I Feel Your Pain,” a brilliant statement, embedded in a romantic debacle, on the drama of American politics. A staged argument between a couple happens within a crowded movie theater, with their lines directly quoted from Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and other sources from the sphere of political bullshit. The argument is filmed and projected onto the screen; we see the couple move through the theater as the crowd gazes upward, past the camera, at the argument and at themselves.
But the biggest draw for the Wesleyan community should be Christian Jankowski’s “Rooftop Routine,” a projection of Hula-Hoopers set to catchy Asian pop music. On either side of the screen, there are Hula-Hoops. You are encouraged to use them. Need I say more? I had no shame hooping alone for the duration of the five-minute video, even though I dropped my hoop a couple of times.
These are only a few of the artworks on display; they’re not my “favorites,” but the ones I thought I could explain most effectively. Trust me when I say that all of the other ones will knock your socks off as well. Art lovers and folks looking for a fun, thought-provoking time should flock to Zilkha before the exhibit closes on Dec. 9.