New York's Performa 09

Performa breaks into new territory:
The third biennial of visual art performance commissions new work to embrace art, music, dance, design, architecture and film

Performa 09 is the third biennial of new visual art performance, held in collaboration with 80 institutions, and featuring more than 150 international artists in about 110 events organised by 40 international curators—all in just three weeks.

That dizzying set of statistics is being overseen by director RoseLee Goldberg, who set up the non-profit arts organisation Performa in 2004 and has done much to bring performance art and its history to the fore, as much through her writings as through her teaching and curatorial work, turning the public eye on to such performance artists as Marina Abramovic and Laurie Anderson.

“The major difference for Performa 09 compared with previous biennials is that we’re commissioning from all disciplines, encompassing art, music, dance, poetry, fashion, architecture, film, television, design, food—it’s crossing all disciplines, and that is the big leap forward this year,” said Goldberg. Her major contribution this year is the “Performa Commissions” series, which forms the nerve centre of the biennial, alongside, for the first time, a “Performa Premieres” programme featuring six pieces never before seen in New York.

The 11 new commissions are by Guy Ben-Ner, Candice Breitz, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Omer Fast, Yeondoo Jung, Mike Kelley, Arto Lindsay, Wangechi Mutu, Christian Tomaszewski, Futurist Life Redux and Music for 16 Futurist Noise Intoners (a group of experimental musicians and composers).

South African video and installation artist Candice Breitz is presenting New York New York, 2009, her first live performance work. The piece features two casts, made up of identical twins performing on identical sets, spontaneously responding to scripts given to them on the spot. Unlike the performers, viewers will be able to take in both performances in real time.
Other highlights in this programme include Yeondoo Jung’s Cinemagician, 2009, at the Asia Society—a theatre piece, commissioned with the Yokohama Festival for Video and Social Technology, that looks at the relationship between magic and cinema—and Omer Fast’s first live performance piece, commissioned with the Artis Contemporary Israeli Art Fund, which looks at history and memory through the re-enaction of a childhood storytelling game.

The six artists chosen for the “Performa Premieres” programme are Keren Cytter, Tacita Dean, Alicia Framis, Loris Gréaud, William Kentridge and Joan Jonas. British artist Tacita Dean is presenting Craneway Event, 2009, at Danspace Project in the Bowery. This feature-length work shows the choreographer Merce Cunningham and his company in rehearsal in a deserted Ford motor factory in California, marking Cunningham’s last appearance on film before his death in July. South African artist William Kentridge is showing I Am Not Me, the Horse is Not Mine, 2009, a work related to his current opera-inprogress inspired by Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1928 satirical opera “The Nose”, and French artist Loris Gréaud is showing a video of a fireworks display in Abu Dhabi that he co-designed with Groupe F.

There are related events across the city involving architecture, design, dance, film, music and food. Berlin-based architecture collective An Architektur is creating a “living think-tank” about the future of architecture in New York, Spanish designer Marti Guixé is staging Mealing, a three-hour performance involving 200 people and “edible microsnacks”, and Jennifer Rubell stages Creation on the opening night of the biennial, with a series of food installations at X Initiative.

This article was published in The Art Newspaper, November 2009, p73. To see it in context, click on the PDF link below.

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