The Life of Performance Arts

What Happened; or, Finishing Live

by Rebecca Schneider

The essay begins:

When you get a pebble in your boot—flesh, stone, and leather rub, irritating each other into and out of comfort. This essay is like that. In 2012, I stumbled over a minor comment made on April 19 at the conference “Making Time: Art Across Gallery, Screen, and Stage” at the Arts Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, curated by Shannon Jackson and Julia Bryan-Wilson. The comment was made by Sabine Breitweiser, who at that time was the chief curator of media and performance art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA). Speaking of “acquiring actions” when “collecting” performance, Breitweiser said, almost as an aside during the question and answer session after her talk: “If live artworks are collected correctly, I believe they can acquire a patina over time.” The comment puzzled me, and I scribbled it down for memory’s sake with a question mark at the lead. What could it mean?

My difficulty was surely disciplinary. In a blog posting circulated in advance of the same conference, Malik Gaines, who was also an invited speaker, had written:

Visual art and performance are in a classic bad relationship. Art stays for the sex, the good times, the feeling of being alive. But art will belittle performance in public, will call it late at night but won’t let it stay over, doesn’t really believe what performance does is valuable. Art’s esteemed family only barely tolerates the relationship. Performance stays with its more powerful partner for the money, for the stature, the trips to Europe, for feeling like it belongs to something, for fear of having to go back to that old senile boyfriend, the Theater. How else can it support itself? But performance never feels like it really belongs in art’s world. It’s always using the wrong fork at dinner.

Indeed, as a scholar of performance studies trained in a history of actions that include mime, theater, dance, and other historical forms more “theatrical” and less “object art,” I felt like an awkward guest at the dinner table in relationship to Breitweiser’s comment. I looked up “patina” in various dictionaries, but it only turned up the meaning I anticipated. Patina is

  1. A thin coating or layer; an incrustation on the surface of metal or stone, usually as a result of an extended period of weathering or burial; a green or bluish-green film produced naturally or artificially by oxidation on the surface of bronze and copper, consisting mainly of basic copper sulphate …
  2. A gloss or sheen or finish; that on wooden furniture produced by age and polishing …
  3. An acquired accretion of an abstract quality; a superficial impression or appearance.

None of these definitions works simply or seamlessly with the immediate definition of performance art as typically featuring “live presentation.” Though definitions vary quite wildly across dictionaries—some describe performance art as essentially “collaborative,” others as “solo,” some say “theatrical,” some refer to its “fine art context”—they almost all use the word “live.” And though synonyms for “patina” like “distressing” or “weathering” might appeal to tragedians or expressionists (anyone might agree that a live performance of King Lear would employ weathering and distressing), “oxidation” is less quick to comply with disciplinary orientations tuned to dance or theater. And yet, Andy Warhol’s Oxidation Paintings might seem closer kin to live performance than the average “bluish-green film” on the skin of a local monument. Warhol’s Oxidation Paintings, or piss paintings as they are commonly known, might be read as something of a theatrical parody, making base bodily fluid the agent of oxidation. Still, might one not easily argue that patination may be standard “senile boyfriend” theater as usual? That is, the crusty monument model might resemble the standard American theater to the degree that such theater often trots out productions so encased in layers of accrued acting convention that they can barely strut and fret (spread by the deadly MFA model of training in the United States and the tendency of the professional theater to produce nothing but replicant white and male playwriting). But if this is the case, why would we desire patination for performance-based art in general?

To make a long story short, I scrapped the paper I had carried with me to the conference, and, in the wake of Breitweiser’s comment, I began to track a new set of thoughts, live, as it were. I wanted to try to respond to the notion of a patinal live, but I knew the fork I would take would be different, and I wondered, as well, what or who exactly was being served by thinking of patination as desirable. The essay that follows tracks thoughts that, like thought, do not always track in a linear fashion but overlap, change direction, cross paths, interrupt each other, get swept under, and tend toward general promiscuity. My hope is not that one thought might align with another, or one discipline with another, for in that parallelism nothing can amount to encounter. Rather, I hope that the thoughts collected here might swerve, jump, bend—we could say dance—not under protective cover of singular disciplinary orientation, but open to weathering, on the move. Continue reading …

This essay asks what happens to live performance over time: Can it develop a patina, as claimed by at least one major art curator? Are intervals between or among performances part of a work itself, like skin or film that grows in the cracks of a work? Or is performance itself a kind of patination process? In short, can liveness be finished?

rcschnei_photo__thumbnailREBECCA SCHNEIDER is Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies at Brown University. She is the author of The Explicit Body in Performance (l997); Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment (2011), and Theatre & History (2014) and editor and author of many anthologies, essays, journal special issues, and book series.

The Lived Experience of the Aesthetic

The Non-time of Lived Experience: The Problem of Color in Hélio Oiticica’s Early Works

by André Lepecki

The essay begins:

This essay aims to analyze the theoretical-conceptual production of one of the most influential Brazilian artists of the second half of the twentieth century, Hélio Oiticica. It is an effort in hermeneutics as well as an effort to follow Gilles Deleuze’s advice in The Logic of Sensation that we must listen “closely . . . to what painters have to say.” In the case of Oiticica, it is less a matter of listening than of reading attentively, seriously, closely, and theoretically the hundreds of pages of his copious, meticulous, rigorous, highly informed, and deeply original working notes, published essays, and articles—which were written as intensely and consistently as his “proper” artistic work was being created until his early death at the age of 42, in 1980. Thus, this essay takes seriously Brazilian critic Luciano Figueiredo’s assertion that “everything that Oiticica wrote is therefore an integral part of the body of his oeuvre.” Reading that integral part of his oeuvre, it becomes clear that much of what Oiticica wrote is aimed at an astoundingly rich production of concepts—particularly during the crucial period from 1959 to 1965, when he moved from his Metaesquemas (series of medium-size gouache on cardboard paintings usually featuring small monochrome squares or rectangles created between 1958 and 1959) to the definitely participatory tridimensional devices he called Parangolés (precarious capes and banners made out of multicolored fabric, canvas, plastic bags, string, and so on, and that had to be animated by the wearers’ action and dances, particularly samba). Contrary to the quite modernist partition that Deleuze and Félix Guattari perform in What Is Philosophy, when they distinguish art from philosophy by stating that the former is dedicated to the creation of “percepts and affects” while the latter is dedicated to the creation of “concepts,” my aim is to insist on the extraordinary philosophical production of concepts by Oiticica during the first half of the 1960s. I agree with art historian and curator Catherine David when she affirms that Oiticica’s oeuvre, including his theoretical-critical production, constitutes a “permanent inscription of a radically critical thought and action within Brazilian culture and modern art.” And I follow Brazilian psychoanalyst and art critic Tania Rivera’s recent statement, in the introduction to her book Hélio Oiticica e a Arquitetura do Sujeito (Hélio Oiticica and the architecture of the subject, 2012), that the urgent task for art history today “is to think with Hélio. . . . He was a tremendous thinker: theoretician, critic, poet.” It is then toward Oiticica’s thought-in-action, his “actioning” of thought through the problematic field brought about by art and its matters, and most particularly by the time that artworks produce in their complex relations to social and political matters, that this essay, perhaps too obsessively, turns. My aim is to contribute to a theory of temporality in experimental twentieth-century art by explaining and also expanding some of Oiticica’s key concepts, starting with the intriguing concept of “color-time.” Therefore, for more detailed descriptions and/or images of Oiticica’s works, I must refer the reader to other sources. Good quality images of most of his oeuvre can be easily found online; the Projecto Hélio Oiticica website provides facsimiles of the vast majority of Oiticica’s handwritten notes and typed texts, all cataloged and indexed; and, finally, several excellent catalogs of his work are available, as well as recent English translations of his texts. Particularly beautiful is the exhibition catalog The Body of Color, where reproductions of all the works invoked in this essay can be found. Even though those sources provide but weak representations of the works, they do give a general idea of what Oiticica was after in art, life, theory, and politics.31SJvH10VfL._BO1,204,203,200_

As already mentioned, in the following pages, I will pay particular attention to Oiticica’s experiments with, and theorizations of, color and time conducted between 1959 and 1965. Oiticica’s critique of time departed from his expressed desire to investigate what he called “the problem of color and the sense of color-time.” Indeed, the development of the concept of “color-time” is the key problematic informing Oiticica’s theoretical and artistic works throughout the whole year of 1960. It informed the compositional mode of several of his sculptures and installation works until the mid 1960s—including his Spatial Reliefs (1959), Penetrables (1959–63), and Bólide (1963–80).

I am particularly interested in understanding how Oiticica’s formulation of such an improbable entity, “color-time,” led this visual artist, emerging from the concrete and neo-concrete traditions strongly in place in Brazil in the late 1950s and early 1960s, to start experimenting with dance by late 1964. I understand Oiticica’s theoretical-aesthetic-kinetic experiments as political acts that open up alternative dimensions for experiencing matters of art and matters of life. They are the logical outcome of his initial intuition that a critique of the experience of art, and a transformation of art from the purely aesthetic into the vitally social, must start with a deep critique and a deep refusal of certain notions of majoritarian and normative time. This foundational refusal constitutes the first condition of possibility to let color and actions, now joined into a new aesthetic entity provisionally called “color-time,” precipitate a richer, more complex, conception of life and of art—one where it is time itself that must, above all, as Oiticica once said, be “undone.” As we will see, the binding between color and time, and the subsequent association of both to the notion of action, are essential steps toward: (1) a total reconceptualization of the notion of time; and (2) the “discovery” (Oiticica’s expression) in 1964 of the highly participatory and dance-oriented Parangolés. By 1965, the Parangolés and nontheatrical dance would for Oiticica become privileged conduits towards a renewed link between corporeality and action, time and matter, color and rhythm, politics and aesthetics. Continue reading …

This essay analyzes the approach of Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica (1937–80) to what he called “the problem of color.” Oiticica’s conceptual-aesthetic pursuits between 1959–65 offered a renewed onto-political conceptualization of notions of time, particularly of the “liveness” of inert matters and of the “thingness” of participation. His notion of “vivência estética” (the lived experience of the aesthetic) bridged supposed gaps between performance and objecthood while offering a redefinition of what constitutes political action and what constitutes artistic matter.

ANDRÉ LEPECKI is Associate Professor in Performance Studies at New York University, an independent curator, and an essayist. He is the editor of several anthologies on dance and performance theory and author of Exhausting Dance: Performance and the Politics of Movement (2006) and Singularities: Dance in the Age of Performance (2016), both published by Routledge.

Exit If You Can: The Resistance Art of Nelbia Romero

Archives, Performance, and Resistance in Uruguayan Art Under Dictatorship

by Andrea Giunta

The essay begins:

Between October and November of 1983, the installation Sal-si-puedes (Exit if you can) by artist Nelbia Romero, was shown at the Galería del Notariado in Montevideo. At one point in the pathway through the gallery space, broken mannequins lay splattered in red paint. This image visually replicated what everyday reality condensed into a complex amalgam of experiences that had slowly been accumulating from the time of the coup d’état on June 27, 1973, and throughout the years of the Uruguayan civil-military dictatorship from then until 1985. This coup was no spectacular, sudden, and violent experience like the one a few months later in Chile, with the bombing of the Moneda Palace, soccer stadiums filled with prisoners, and the detentions and urban murders. In the Uruguayan case it was a pact or form of defection of the democratic powers that resulted in the establishment of a military system whose repressive forms were consolidated through the prison system, torture, death, disappearances, censorship, and exile; mechanisms that gradually accumulated and increased.


Carlos Etchegoyen, performance photograph projected in Sal-si-puedes

Carlos Etchegoyen, performance photograph projected in Sal-si-puedes

Romero’s Sal-si-puedes made reference to Salsipuedes, the historical name of the encounter that took place in 1831 between the then recently established military forces of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay and the indigenous groups of the area. The name Sal-si-puedes does the work of literalizing the idea of entrapment and confinement that resulted in the massacre that in turn consolidated the extermination of indigenous people in Uruguay. Romero’s installation consisted of a series of expressions in several different media. Various objects were organized in a walkthrough; a musical score was composed especially for the piece; photographs of a dance performance about the different episodes of the violent encounter were used as the basis for a projection of slides inside the installation; and a small folder of quotes from historical documents was made available to installation viewers. Along with its complex materiality, which required the spectator to reconstruct meaning from a diversity of sonic, visual, and written archives, as well as from an experience of her own body, the theme of the installation—as well as the moment in which it was created—is relevant. Sal-si-puedes took up a violent episode that was constitutive of the state’s formation, actualized under the conditions of censorship and violence imposed by the dictatorship.

The installation combined a series of social, political, and aesthetic plots. On the one hand, it proposed a reading of a past massacre in a contemporary repressive context. On the other hand, it aimed to stage the subjectivities conditioned by the climate of censorship through a complex, interdisciplinary web. The reception and interpretation of the piece must therefore be understood in the repressive context of the dictatorship. Testimonies from Romero’s contemporaries evidence a use of opaque and complicit codes, means of expression that remain inconspicuous to the castrating gaze of the dictatorship and allow us to imagine microsocieties of meaning and dialogue from which reading communities were formed. I think of these collectives as part of the intellectual and artistic networks that sought to articulate dissident messages and activities in relation to repressive state control during the years of the dictatorship. In addition to these networks and messages, in this essay, I’m also interested in addressing the historicist effect of Romero’s installation, into which archival documents were incorporated as a way of bringing unresolved aspects of the past into the present. In no way, of course, do I intend to resolve them, but I aim, precisely, to point out their latency and unrest. Taken together, the disparate parts of Sal-si-puedes is a package of experiences that appeals at the same time to the body and to the different senses with which the documents of the past are interwoven in contemporary thought and experience. Continue reading …

This essay analyzes the 1983 installation Sal-si-puedes by Uruguayan artist Nelbia Romero, and its status as an act of resistance, in light of the dictatorship then in power in her country.

IntroOnlineFig1ANDREA GIUNTA is an art historian, curator, and writer specializing in Latin American art and modern and contemporary art from the post-WWII era to the present. She received her PhD from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she is currently Professor of Latin American Art. She is Principal Researcher at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council.