Well, not so much late as delinquent in my posting about Moving Theater's Impermanent Collection, performed at the Whitney in mid-December as part of Whitney Live. The multipart work, comprising video, live performance, and music--and a hefty playlist it was, including Steve Reich, Kaija Saariaho, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Iannis Xenakis, performed by members of ICE--was a string of narratives engaging, as MT notes in their artist statement, the notion of "performance" within the context of a museum. The piece addressed questions like, "How does a permanent collection influence and contain the fundamental instability of live art?," "How do we perceive the art subject (a performer, for example) differently than the art object (a painting, for example)?," and "How does performance re-map space and guide the experience of being in a museum?"
All questions of great significance, considering the relationship of live performance and performance art to the museum--think of Joseph Beuys's How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, originally performed at the Galerie Alfred Schmela, Düsseldorf in 1965, and then (re)performed by Marina Abramovic as part of Seven Easy Pieces at the Guggenheim in 2005: in Beuys's performance, the audience was outside the walls of the museum, looking in through windows; in Abramovic's the museum became part of the performance, the blaring title RUSSIA!, for instance, announcing another concurrent, slightly more permanent exhibition, working as a backdrop to all of the seven not-so-easy nights.
Each choreorapher/dancer in Impermanent Collection chose a work from the museum's permanent collection that "resonated" with her or him and then developed solo or ensemble pieces from that resonance--sometimes a bit surreal, as in Marion Ramirez's piece inspired by Lucas Samaras’s Small Chair 5, which, she said, "barked" at her; sometimes a graceful reenactment, as in Natalie Thomas's re-vision of Edward Hopper's Woman in the Sun. The most effective, and affective, piece was by far that of the sad clown--and, of course, being as captivated as I was, I wrote too little down to recall it with anything resembling specificity by now. Which, if my failing memory serves me, is appropriate, as the piece was an homage to a painting that was currently not on exhibit itself.
Even as each individual performance explicitly referenced these pieces from the museum's collection, they also implicitly referenced other performances, a trick not only of the memory ensconced within the walls of the Whitney, but of my own memory. Ramirez's chatter remembered for me Jérôme Bel's recent Pichet Klunchun and myself, for instance, and the entire project was strangely akin to Sophie Calle's contribution Ghosts to MoMA's 1991 show "Dislocations," in which she, as Peggy Phelan writes in "The Ontology of Performance," "asked curators, guards, and restorers to describe paintings that were on loan from the permanent collection" and in doing so, she "demonstrate[d] the performativity of all seeing."
Yet Impermanent Collection was not so much ghosted as ubiquitous. Perhaps it was the fact that the performers were not limited by the stage but constantly moved through and outside the Lower Gallery (which was so packed with an audience that I almost feel like I should admit to having only seen half the performance--the top half); perhaps it was the camera flashes like starlight from tourists looking in through the massive windows; perhaps it was simply the exuberance the company always seems to display. The most astounding part of the production was how these diverse individual works held together, and, indeed depended on each other for their own success. While maybe one or two of the short pieces could become longer works in themselves, the juxtaposition between them all would be sorely missed. And what became a rather affective annoyance in Ramirez's piece might not work so well if not tempered by the quiet beauty of Thomas's.
Which brings up my final and somewhat tangential point. We are accustomed to performances that illicit in us happiness, sadness, grief, pain, whatever. Yet when a performance, say, annoys us, we consider--or, to be fair, I consider--it too often to be a less successful performance. Why is it that a performance that annoys us might not intentionally do so? Why might annoyance or irritation not be affective qualities in themselves? Or even banality? I ask this in part because of Gia Kourlas's unfavorable review of Impermanent Collection in the New York Times. I usually don't read reviews until after I've seen a show, but a friend sent me Kourlas's, and I have to admit to attending the performance with a bit of hesitation. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by how much I enjoyed the show--and while I could see the flaws Kourlas detailed, they, for me, became an integral part of the performance's success. That's the thing, I guess, about impermanence--it changes a little bit for each person experiencing it.
[Image: Moving Theater, Impermanent Collection , Photo: Brock Labrenz/An Films]