“Even when description was foregrounded as the sole purpose of writing, its bond with the subject that is speaking about, perceiving, or acting upon the described object has been more rather than less insistently narrated. It is due to the participating of the viewing subject that any description, therefore, melts into the narration of the process that makes it possible.” Mieke Bal[i]
In The Architecture of Art Writing, Mieke Bal engages with a single work of art – Louise Bourgeoi’s Spider – in order to articulate a different mode of engagement with art as a theoretical object, reflecting upon the presence, form and intent of writing. In an attempt to re-enact the moment of viewing- her first encounter with the work itself – she engages in an exercise of description that is, in its specific architecture, doomed to be a failure of representation, but at the same time, it makes visible several embedded narratives and memories of and within the piece. In this exercise of tracing, we begin to feel rather than see the piece; the visual outlining is somewhat diluted by the specificity of a language loaded with affect, but through her gaze, we begin to notice the traces left behind by the words.
This month’s Performance Map, returning from a brief winter hiatus, takes its cue from Bal’s ambition that through description and constitution, something might become more palatable, its marginal aspects more present. In doing so, I chose to engage with the female gaze, attempting to describe and locate the range of feminine and, at times, feminist perspectives inundating the public sphere at a time when the patriarchy of cultural giant might be in danger of overshadowing- from Robert Wilson to John Cage, from Robert Lepage to Duchamp. Perhaps in this tentative cartography, a set of relationships might start to form; relationships to image making and event, to the role of affect in the making of culture, to a celebration of the female gaze outside of any aggressive politics of difference, but within the remit of a making visible.
Speaking of aesthetic investigations, Sanja Ivekovic’s first UK retrospective, Unknown Heroine , occupying two distinct galleries, South London Gallery and Calvert 22, investigates the politics of cultural memory and identity in the problematic post-socialist landscape of a disintegrated Yugoslavian Republic after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Navigating the conceptual and the performative, Ivekovic’s work follows a distinct narrative, starting with identity politics forged by the rise of new media, part of a generation of performance artists of the seventies and eighties investigating female identity, to an examination of gender roles, collective memory and political paradoxes. From her earliest works such as Sweet Violence, a video-based investigation into the impact of mediatised culture within the Yugoslavian political experiment of socialist free market economics known as the Third Way, that engages with constructed reality and the politics of authenticity, to her series Women’s House (Sunglasses) that charts her relationship a feminist activism through organisations such as Elektra, Autonomous Cultural Centre and Centre for Women War Victims, the artist’s career is testament to a generation of female artists engaging with the patriarchy of power structures and gender denominations, as well as a critique of the social mechanics of post ’89 Europe.
Alongside Unknown Heroine, South London Gallery are presenting the work of duo Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz in Toxic Play in Two Acts ; their video works Toxic and Salomania, contextualised within their own performance and installation practice, engage with dominant historical narratives in an attempt to reconstitute the normative. Collaborations include choreographer and dancer Yvonne Rainer and artist Wu Tsang. He installation will also be showcased as part of Tate Modern’s two day event, Charming For the Revolution: A Congress for Gender Talents and Wilderness. This congress investigating questions of contemporary sexuality and gender politics presents itself as an experiment in radicality that, taking its cue from Kathy Acker’s work, seeks to open up processes of liberation and social justice. The programme sees a collaboration between Wu Tsand and Kelela and Ashland Mines titled Breakdown, as well as contributions from gender variant cultural producer Del LaGrace Volcano. Socially engaged practitioner Suzanne Lacy also returns at Tate Tanks with Silver Action , an examination of current political discourse via an exploration of histories of British female activists and their challenges. In light of the current challenges faced by such institutions, there’s a real questioning of what constitutes social engagement and political critique in the context of an institution whose programme is inherently tied to corporate and political agendas.
As part of Southbank’s season of music and performance, The Rest is Noise and Paris Sunday, writer and essayist Jacqueline Rose will be giving a lecture on The Unfinished Project of Modernism, engaging, in typical fashion, with literature through the lens of psychoanalysis and politics. Think Proust, the political aesthetics of twentieth century Paris and an exploration of questions of identity and residues of cultural memory in literature. And as part of Barbican’s centre major exhibition The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns, pianist Eliza McCarthy will be performing and re-intepreting a range of pieces by John Cage. Investigating musical discovery by accessing a poetics of the open work, McCarthy, whose collaborations include Heiner Goebbels and Judith Weir, will navigate between the illustrative and the affective. As part of the same season of work, Margert Leng Tan will interpret Cage’s 1944 piece Four Walls, composed as a dance play in two acts alongside Cage’s partner, Merce Cunningham.
This year’s In Between Time Festival returns to Bristol with an impressive array of work by female artists; together they not only constitute a vast terrain of socially and politically engaged work, but also demonstrate a keen interest in the aesthetics of affect and the eventness of performance. The festival’s own Helen Cole returns with We See Fireworks, a growing archive of memories of performances whispered in the darkness, awaiting a new encounter, whilst German performance maker Sylvia Rimat’s If You Decide to Stay… If You Decide to Stay investigates the process of decision – making in a performative lecture informed by interviews with scientists. Her 2011 Spill performance I Guess if the Stage Exploded explored memory and presence in a similar engagement between artistic strategies and scientific investigation. Tied together by their interest in remembrance and presence, both Cole and Rimat’s works constitute events marked by the power of the encounter and the vested interest of the gaze.
Nic Green’s Fatherland, also part of this year’s IBT, also engages with an archaeological process, carving both her own memories of her encounter with her Scottish father at the age of sixteen, as well as the relationship between archetypes, locality and identity. Her work always holds a tender, moving and deeply affective relationship with the earth, its mythologies and life cycles, its memories and identity. Her recent piece for IBT’s Up the Nature, Slowlo, investigated consciousness and its relationship to the natural in a ritual of re-enactment. Fatherland is no doubt, a mediation on our relationship to place and people. Similarly, Zierle&Carter’s Living Room Opera: Between Lands and Longings also engages with questions of belonging and identity. The artist duo weave the poetics of personal reflections with visuality, engaging with the language of opera as a site for excavations of displacement and constitutions of home. Kate McIntosh’s Worktable provides sound with more central position in the architecture of a piece. Taking place in shipping containers, this outdoor installation examines the process of object falling apart, and coming back together, relying on the soundscape of these actions and their interaction with the environment to constitute spontaneous and meditative narratives.
The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein’s How to Become a Cupcake juxtaposes pleasure and panic, abject and seduction in a play with the female body and its fetishisation. Navigating the pop with surreal humour, and flirting with controversy and entertainment, Holstein’s work is embodied, outrageous and extravagantly provocative, tackling feminist politics head on. You can also find her dancing in rollerskates and bathing in tomatoes for Splat! coming to the Barbican for this Aprils’ Spill Festival.
Holstein will also be collaborating with performance artist Julia Bardsley as part of (Re) Fresh in Queen Mary’s Peopling the Palace Festival , that sees intergenerational commissions and dialogues taking their inspiration “from questions of age and wage”. Bardsley, with her penchant for constructing visual and sonic landscapes that have as currency sensation, immersion and the extreme, together with Holstein’s slippery and devious feminism will no doubt make an excellent combination of weird and wonderful. Other collaborations also include artist and activist Sheree Rose and Martin O’Brien, Bette Bourne with Paul Shaw as well as Tim Etchells with getinthebackofthevan’s Hester Chillingworth. Gerladine Pilgrim will also showcase Handbag, a work initially commissioned by and presented at BAC’s Grand Hall that engages with the politics of celebration (and handbags). Her work is concerned with the politics of space, and she brings theatrical paradigms to site specific installations, exploring the architecture and narrativity of sites, and the enactment and recall of built up memories.
Last but certainly not least, Ovalhouse’ s Counterculture 50 season , celebrating the history of the theatre’s experimental practices, brings together work by a range of artists mixing the popular with the political in explorations of taboos, sexuality, gender and identity. Mars.tarrab bring Thatcher and Madonna together in The Lady’s Not Walking Like an Egyptian, and Carissa Hope Lynch directs Sour Lips, a poetic exploration of gay Damascan blogger Amina Arraf’s kidnapping and its aftermath that fuses the authentic with the fictional. Emma Adam’s Freakoid also investigates queer love through the characterful mash-up of a vacuum cleaner and the inevitable biobot hoover baby.
[i] Bal, Mieke. Louise Bourgeois’ Spider: The Architecture of Art Writing. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001. Print.