by Autumn Hays
Considered to be one of the most renowned performance artists, Ron Athey began his works in the 80s. They are notorious for including aspects of S&M culture and it’s relation to the AIDS crisis. Athey’s iconic pieces focus on a wide range of subjects including sexuality, religiosity, trauma, gay identity, loss, illness and ritualism. Raised with the expectation that he would become a Pentecostal minister, and after running away to L.A. and coming of age in the milieu of the punk rock underground, Athey’s work grew out of a complex performativity that still informs his art practice today. In 2013 Ron’s first book dedicated to his work was published entitled Pleading in the Blood: The Art and Performance of Ron Athey, edited by Dominic Johnson. The book includes writings by peers and scholars such as Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Antony Hegarty, Robert Wilson, Lydia Lunch, Bruce LaBruce, Amelia Jones, Jennifer Doyle, Homi K. Bhabha and others. At the start of February, Chicago was host a legendary performance artist, Ron Athey visited Chicago. I was lucky enough to attend his performances, lectures and snag him for an interview. Here are some excerpts from our discussion.
AH: How it feels to be back in Chicago?
RA: I think I had more pre-anxiety about coming here, memories of staying here with Lawrence Steger and doing things with him. I was shocked and went into the shivers from the cold when got off the plane, not wearing long underwear. It’s not like London is warm, it’s moderate and miserable there. Where as here needing many layers, I dig it.
AH: Tell us about he last time you were here and the last performance you did.
RA: I had to look at my own notes, I was here twice in ’99 doing Solar Anus so at Hot House and at Chris Kellner’s gallery Hook Torture and I hadn’t realized I haven’t been here since then.
AH: Yeah it’s been a while
RA:Yeah, I mean climates change. Randolph Street Gallery closed and all those places I would have went back to.
AH: I’ve actually been through the Randolph street archives and have seen videos of your work there and you really could feel its loss once it was gone here. I am interested as you are here working with Defibrillator a newer performance space what are the correlation and difference between these kinds of spaces in this new kind of art climate?
RA: I think it just takes energy to make things happen. It’s not really that the climate is any different. A lot of spaces with the same history as Randolph Street that go back to NEA funded times, but really even before that these are artist run spaces and they don’t, move with the times. So there was this gap and it takes someone high energy like Joseph (Ravens) to get people to work together. I mean even for these pieces I am doing this week and that he realized that Defibrillator itself would be a crunch and he found the right place off site, this is another way of working the art space because the space is so important. Some pieces I feel like I don’t want to be in a place that shows work, like you know this site specific thing becomes a more neutral space than that black box or white wall hygiene kind of space.
AH: Your work is very versatile where you can perform in a lot of different kinds of spaces. I mean you can do that black box theater, the white-walled gallery, you can do performance art spaces or even S&M clubs so you have a versatility in where you can perform and also a little bit in your performativity, you engage various kinds of performance. What’s the difference in working in these spaces? Is there a benefit to being flexible?
RA: Well, I wish I could still perform in clubs still, but I did evolve out of that scene. That allowed me to workshop before even any idea of funding to make the gig possible came up. For some pieces I think I might be precious about it being there. I tend, since I started doing the self-obliterations, I like being in with the audience. For the most controlling side of me, a perfect black box with the floors freshly painted and super duper lights, because you’re not fighting the white wall sucking the light out from one minimal light that happens to be shining. It’s a more controlled situation and I do work in lighting illusions and those sorts of things. So that’s if I’m being precious but it’s not necessarily the best feeling, the way I feel interactive with the audience or the space. But I think to get away from those white gallery walls I did start staging pieces in the middle of the room so that the people are the frontdrop and backdrop. You know I don’t come out of this tradition of thinking of live art as an extension of gallery, my work doesn’t come from there, I fully understand work that does but I’m not so keen on this… of course I love the perfect image, the perfect photograph but that’s not the work. I’m always concerned with how many cameramen are in there. I thought we were watching a work.
AH: Especially nowadays with camera phones it’s interesting to have that camera lens constantly there.
RA: I think you have to think about what you are not experiencing while looking for that shot and also, do you care about the work, or are you just documenting your own life?
AH: So we touched on your definitions of live art and performance art. There are always different definitions. What are your thoughts on that?
RA: I think you get this polarization. This is the gallery school, and this is the theater school, but actually my background was through the Pentecostal church, particularly woman evangelists who did illustrated sermons starting in the 20s with Amy Semple McPherson, who built Angelus Temple in Echo Park and later Miss Velma (Jaggers) who built the jeweled altar from the Book of Revelations and who would appear as the whore of Babylon swinging in on a crescent moon using all the 70s technology, like the echo box, strobe lights and fog machines. So, performance art is this other type of sacred theater without the belief system in it. In abstract terms I might still use a thing like the audience is the witness, and its not about second guessing what their boundaries are, what they will experience, what they come in the door with. It’s impossible to know. It’s a mix of things, which is what it should be. Also it’s about what mode you are in. It’s obviously not acting, so it’s just full of these triggers to go into, not an altered state where you look like your fitting or asleep but some heightened state. I like art that rides a line between art and not art at all.
AH: I was wondering if you could tell us more about your book, “Pleading in the Blood”, and your process of making it.
RA: To start out with the book, you have to open archives that you didn’t even know existed. And here is where I have to give some kudos to social media. I am very linked in to people in LA, people from the late 70s and early 80s Goth and Punk scenes. So I was able to come up with materials, confirm dates, and stories through there, and then track down the photographers. All I ever had was the newspaper, the tabloids, the rough printed images, Xeroxed and scanned, you know that kind of thing. And then I started getting closer to the source of the original image. It felt like I was perusing someone from a David Lynch movie, you’re in a hotel room with seven 5by7s in a brief case. So you track that down and try to flesh out some of those stories, which is a harder period for me to flesh out. And working with Dominic Johnson who is a young academic at Queen Mary University, London. He was clear about what heavy academics who we liked in common, but I was clear that I didn’t want it to be one of those artist books with three academic essays in it and lots of pictures so that no one ever, except for people in school, ever read the writing because its inaccessible outside the bubble. I wanted to give it a testimonial voice not just an academic one.
AH: Do you have any advice for younger artists attempting to learn the craft of making performance art?
RA: The key element of making work is immersion. Rather than doing research as a strong guide, let it be something you soak up. There is nothing sane about making performance art.
Defibrillator, Hook Torture, and Mana Contemporary pooled their efforts to showcase Ron in Chicago this month. Each night was filled with a wide mix of viewers, from pierced punks and goths, old school Chicago underground, art students, and art academics, many eager to see Ron’s work in person. He performed two works on two separate nights, “Incorruptible Flesh: Messianic Remains” and “Sebastian” featuring Jon John and Sage Charles.
Messianic Remains is part of Athey’s Incorruptible Flesh series. The series started in 96’ and references the dark reality of living with AIDS. Athey talks about the piece saying it stems from “still living but not living bodies”. 10 years later in Glasgow, Athey did a solo individual piece, 6 hours long. The third part focused on the Mythological. Now this 4th and final chapter, was performed in Chicago at Mana Contemporary on January 31st. The work reveled in a religious grandiosity and explored Ron Athey’s body as a post-AIDS entity: a survivor. The work also looks at Athey’s own bodies ageing, and seems to shake hands with notions of death. The choreography is inspired by Kenneth Anger’s short film, Lucifer Rising.
The audience came in on to Ron laying down on ladder sitting on two wooden sawhorses with a baseball bat, swollen glands, and his head latched to a series of hooks in a crown of thorns style lining, his head connected to the wall. Though the preparations for this performance were not part of the audiences’ viewing, many felt the preparations, though unseen, were a large part of the work. Clear gloves were handed out and the audience dipped their hands in a pale Vaseline before taking turns touching Athey’s body as he laid on display. The offering of his flesh was both a gift and an obligation as viewers chose to experience the tension and pain up close. Ron than rises for a mythical, almost Egyptian dressing ceremony and moves to a new part of the gallery where he begins to read text from Our Lady of the Flowers, Jean Genet, specifically “Divine’s Funeral.”
The very next day Ron Athey, Jon John and Sage Charles preformed “Sebastian.” While interviewing Ron I had asked him about Working with Jon John and Sage.
“We have this great chemistry where we trust each other, we don’t have to plot out everything. You’re going to do what you need to do with the goal of making this action happen. Easy directions within a choreographed frame. What is Sebastian? I don’t know. I think that’s where live work can be surprising. If you know what you want to prove rather than explore something you’re just strong-arming a result. The potential of live experience is so beyond that outlined vision that I’m doing. It took me a long time to understand that.”
In this work Athey is taking on the role of St. Sebastian, a saint that has also become a homoerotic icon. The event starts with Sage and Jon John making their way through the crowd in a procession towards Ron, who is already hung up on a ladder, tied with red rope. As Sage drums, Jon John climbs a second ladder to meet Athey and begins piercing him with arrows. Ron begins to scream and chant in performance’s best ritualistic shamanism. Jon John then fills the role of St Irene and begins to heal Athey, spreading lotion on Athey’s body, eventually removing the arrows and as Athey bleeds he helps him depose down from ladder and onto a table where they cover him in a white cloth. For the final and perhaps most touching part of the performance, one that had echoes of the NEA controversy, Jon John cuts sections of cloth-covered in Athey’s blood and places them in tiny frames handing them to random audience members.
Ron Athey’s work certainly isn’t for the squeamish, but despite the inclusion of blood and body modification I didn’t find the shock value of the work to be any kind of crutch or sympathetic tool. Rather is was a means of performativity that outwardly engaged Athey’s body as a gay, post-AIDS, religicized, performative body. When looking at his work, the dense symbolism and actions, the controversy and the intense metaphoric value, I feel like ending this with one of my favorite quotes from my interview with Ron Athey that I feel addresses his work, process, and in a way the very practice of performance art.
“I’m actually at this place in performance art where I think everything is just an entry point. You can say this is about your mother, this is about this accident, this is about AIDS, but it’s actually not what it’s about. You don’t know what it’s about till you do it live, that’s why it’s live work. I have to bring something to life to make work. There has to be uncertain things within the framework of the piece that allow it to go as it will.”
This week: San Francisco checks in with dance legend Anna Halprin!!!
Anna Halprin (b. 1920) is a pioneering dancer and choreographer of the post-modern dance movement. She founded the San Francisco Dancer’s Workshop in 1955 as a center for movement training, artistic experimentation, and public participatory events open to the local community. Halprin has created 150 full-length dance theater works and is the recipient of numerous awards including the 1997 Samuel H. Scripps Award for Lifetime Achievement in Modern Dance from the American Dance Festival. Her students include Meredith Monk, Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti, Ruth Emmerson, Sally Gross, and many others.
Live Benefit Auction Event: March 9, 6-8:30 pm
Robert Rauschenberg Project Space
455 West 19th St, New York
Printed Matter, Inc, the New York-based non-profit organization committed to the dissemination and appreciation of publications made by artists, will host a Benefit Auction and Selling Exhibition at the Rauschenberg Foundation Project Space to help mitigate damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
As a result of the storm, Printed Matter experienced six feet of flooding to its basement storage and lost upwards of 9,000 books, hundreds of artworks and equipment. Printed Matter’s Archive, which has been collected since the organization’s founding in 1976 and serves as an important record of its history and the field of artists books as a whole, was also severely damaged. Moreover, the damage sustained by Sandy has made it clear that Printed Matter needs to undertake an urgent capacity-building effort to establish a durable foundation for its mission and services into the future.
This is the first fundraising initiative of this scale to be undertaken by the organization in many years, and will feature more than 120 works generously donated from artists and supporters of Printed Matter.
The Sandy Relief Benefit for Printed Matter will be held at the Rauschenberg Project Space in Chelsea and will run from February 28 through March 9th. The Benefit has two components: a selling exhibition of rare historical publications and other donated works and an Auction of donated artworks.
A special preview and reception will be held February 28th, 6-8 pm, to mark the unveiling of all 120 works and to thank the participating artists and donors. The opening will feature a solo performance by cellist Julia Kent (Antony and the Johnsons), followed by a shared DJ set from Lizzi Bougatsos (Gang Gang Dance) & Kyp Malone (TV on the Radio). The event is free and open to the public.
All works will then be available for viewing at the Rauschenberg Project Space March 1 – March 9, gallery hours.
All Selling Exhibition works may be purchased during this period and Auction works will be available for bidding online. Bids can be made at www.paddle8.com/auctions/printedmatter.
A live Benefit Auction Event will take place March 9, 6-8:30 pm with approximately 20 selected works to be auctioned in a live format. Bidding on these works will commence at 7pm sharp, while silent bids can be made on all other Auction works. Note, highest online bids will be transferred to the room. For absentee bidding of works, please contact Keith Gray (Printed Matter) at 212 925 0325 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The evening will feature a performance by Alex Waterman on solo cello with electronics. Admission is $150 and tickets may be pre-purchased here. There will be only limited capacity.
Highlighted auction works include an oversize ektacolor photograph from Richard Prince, a woven canvas piece from Tauba Auerbach, an acrylic and newsprint work from Rirkrit Tiravanija, a large-scale Canopy painting from Fredrik Værslev, a rare dye transfer print from Zoe Leonard, a light box by Alfredo Jaar, a book painting by Paul Chan, a carbon on paper work from Frances Stark, a seven-panel plexi-work with spraypainted newsprint from Kerstin Brätsch, a C-print from Hans Haacke, a firefly drawing from Philippe Parreno, a mixed-media NASA wall-piece from Tom Sachs, a unique print from Rachel Harrison, a vintage xerox poem from Carl Andre, an encyclopedia set of hand-made books from Josh Smith, a photograph from Klara Liden, a table-top sculpture from Carol Bove, Ed Ruscha’s Rooftops Portfolio, as well as original works on canvas and linen by Cecily Brown, Cheyney Thompson, Dan Colen, Adam McEwen, RH Quaytman, and many others.
These Auction works can be previewed at: www.paddle8.com/auctions/printedmatter
In addition to auction works, a vitrine-based exhibition of rare books, artworks and ephemera are available for viewing and purchase. This material includes some truly remarkable items from the personal collection of Robert Rauschenberg, donated by theRobert Rauschenberg Foundation in memory of the late Printed Matter Board Member, bookseller and publisher, John McWhinnie. Among the works available are books and artworks from Marcel Duchamp, Willem de Kooning, Alfred Steiglitz,Joseph Beuys, Brigid Berlin (Polk), as well as a Claes Oldenburg sculpture, a rare William Burroughs manuscript, and the Anthology Film Archive Portfolio (1982). Additional artists’ books have been generously donated by the Sol LeWitt Estate. Works include pristine copies of Autobiography (1980), Four Basic Kinds of Straight Lines (1969), Incomplete Open Cubes (1974), and others. Three Star Books have kindly donated a deluxe set of their Maurizio Cattelan book edition. These works can be viewed and purchased at the space. For inquiries about available works please contact Printed Matter’s Associate Director Max Schumann at 212 925 0325 or email@example.com.
Co-chairs Ethan Wagner & Thea Westreich Wagner and Phil Aarons & Shelley Fox Aarons have guided the event, and Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services has generously lent its expertise and assisted in the production of the auction.
In anticipation of the event Printed Matter Executive Director James Jenkin said:
“Not only are we hopeful that this event will help us to put Sandy firmly behind us, it is incredibly special for us. To have so many artists and friends associated with our organization over its 36 years come forward and support us in this effort has been truly humbling.“
Auction includes work by:
Michele Abeles, Ricci Albenda, Carl Andre, Cory Arcangel, Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Tauba Auerbach, Trisha Baga, John Baldessari, Sebastian Black, Mark Borthwick, Carol Bove, Kerstin Brätsch, Sascha Braunig, Olaf Breuning, Cecily Brown, Sophie Calle, Robin Cameron, Sean Joseph Patrick Carney, Nathan Carter, Paul Chan, Dan Colen, David Kennedy Cutler, Liz Deschenes, Mark Dion, Shannon Ebner, Edie Fake, Matias Faldbakken, Dan Graham, Robert Greene, Hans Haacke, Marc Handelman, Rachel Harrison, Jesse Hlebo, Carsten Höller, David Horvitz, Marc Hundley, Alfredo Jaar, Chris Johanson, Terence Koh, Joseph Kosuth, Louise Lawler, Pierre Le Hors, Leigh Ledare, Zoe Leonard, Sam Lewitt, Klara Liden, Peter Liversidge, Charles Long, Mary Lum, Noah Lyon, McDermott & McGough, Adam McEwen, Ryan McNamara, Christian Marclay, Ari Marcopoulos, Gordon Matta-Clark, Wes Mills, Jonathan Monk, Rick Myers, Laurel Nakadate, Olaf Nicolai, Adam O’Reilly, Philippe Parreno, Jack Pierson, Richard Prince, RH Quaytman, Eileen Quinlan, Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Ed Ruscha, Tom Sachs, David Sandlin, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Cindy Sherman, Josh Smith, Keith Smith, Buzz Spector, Frances Stark, Emily Sundblad, Andrew Sutherland, Peter Sutherland, Sarah Sze, Panayiotis Terzis, Cheyney Thompson, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Nicola Tyson, Penelope Umbrico, Fredrik Værslev, Visitor, Danh Vo, Dan Walsh and Ofer Wolberger.
This post initiates what I hope will be a series of posts made in response to the question: “What can be done with dance?”. The question is taken from the book, “How to Do Things with Dance: Performing Change in Postwar America” by Rebekah J Kowal. In the book Kowal suggests that the political potential of choreography to enact real societal change exists as much on the street as it does on the stage. I won’t go into too much detail about the book, as I will be posting an interview with Kowal shortly, but I would like to linger a little while on this question of doing. Following Kowal’s lead I would like to consider the potential of dance as extending beyond the “power of embodied action”. Let us take for granted, just for now, this particular kind of power in bringing about experiential or social change in order to consider other aspects of dance. Like poetry, dance is a way of making graspable what might otherwise elude us. It is a way of capturing the wordless sensations that arise in the body at any given moment.
While I may be inclined, from time to time, to believe that what constitutes the world is nothing more than a series of words, names really, I am also quick to point to the pleasure of unknowable sensations or passions. This is what dance does. It gives us access and makes available that which we feel but do not know. Choreography, in this vein, is a way of working with newly acquired bodily knowledge. In this way, dance is perhaps more grounded than poetry, in that what is being expressed is rooted in the architecture of the body. This of course only leads us to more questions: What is the relationship between the architecture of the body and the space in which it moves? and in the context of my initial inquiry, how might dance help us re-imagine this relationship?
Very often, when speaking about performance, we speak of the space of the event. That rather fluid relationship between the invisible boundaries of the performance arena and the bodies that occupy it. This is the basis for many conversations concerning theater, dance, and other body-based performance practices. Conceptions of space, as they attempt to describe a kind of container, allow for the conceptualizing of bodily volumes. They allow us to speak of the mobility of bodies as it pertains to the environment in which they move. While there is certainly a value in thinking of the relationship between the body and space as one of volume to container, it is also problematic in that it most often privileges an unrealistic idealized body.
Space as it exists conceptually promotes an occupation of itself by a certain kind of body. A body that is best represented by the athletic body. While this may not be the image of interest for most performers the image of the idealized body has a particularly strong hold socially and is continually circulated through the design and conceptualization of space. Day to day routines are policed by the proportions of the spaces in which they take place. Door frames, floor tiles, counter tops, the boundaries of our movements are dictated by standardized measurements. Proportions that are more often than not disproportionate to the bodies that they contains. So internalized are these dimensions that they are manifested non-consciously in the very way that we imagine space around us. To overcome these biases and to allow for other or differently abled bodies is to reconceptualize the relationship of the body to space.
The dancing body is not immune to these prejudices but dance as a practice of acquiring new insight, new knowledge, allows us to use the body to think around our internalized prejudices. The dancing body, for example, does not occupy space so much as facilitates a collaboration between space and the body, it pushes itself against the space that envelops it and in turn that space pushes itself against the body. The body leans against the wall and the wall leans away. Weight is distributed, balanced and shared. The dance is made in collaboration with its environment. It is in this spirit of collaboration, that we begin to find the seedlings of a new way of identifying the performance space. With this dynamic relationship in mind the dancer imagines space as the limbs of another dancer, the back of a chair, the side of the body, an immobile leg, a sleeping hand. The imagination then elaborates and the process of choreography itself becomes about finding ways to express two sets of information, the choreographers and the dancers, and in so doing the hierarchy of values that determine the acceptability of bodies has begun to disintegrate in the wake of collaboration. We have used dance as a practice and a metaphor to circumvent internalized prejudices and to imagine new ways of being in space. I am reminded here of Cornel West’s description of Percy Shelly’s poet.
“He is talking about all human beings who decide to muster their imagination and empathy to conceive of a better world, given the social misery and suffering of this world.”
Perhaps, this is what we can do with dance.
- Anthony Romero
February 1, 2012 · Print This Article
Many of these discussions about hybridity seem to center on the borders of identity: those places we feel something might end so that another substance, or self can begin. Language is essential in the communication of those boundaries; it enables a consensual agreement. The very act of naming, for instance, differentiates one body from another. I am curious about how language is embodied and how an artist invested in movement-as communication might explore that position. I thought I could interview performance artist, Justin Cabrillos. He is particularly focused on how the body and language relate: what seemed like an additional progression from my last discussion with Vanessa Place. Drawing on elements of dance, performance art, poetry, and sound art, explores an inefficient use of breath, the valleys of nonsense and physical exertion. Cabrillos was an IN>TIME Incubation Series artist-in-residence at the Chicago Cultural Center, and a 2011 LinkUP Artist at Links Hall. He recently collaborated with Every House Has a Door in a performance for artCENA in Rio De Janeiro. He is the recipient of a Greenhouse grant from the Chicago Dancemaker’s Forum.
Caroline Picard: I’m interested in how you integrate language and the body: there is something about this process that makes a lot of sense to me, in so far as both the body and language are mechanistic. In your performances, you seem to embody the two at once, calling attention to the ways in which the body gives life/animates language. At the same time, I feel like you also illustrate a kind of twitch or glitch in both, as they merge — is there some way that you could talk about this?
CP: What is the function of breath in your work?
GUEST POST BY MARISSA PEREL
In this guest post, Marissa Perel talks with artist Justin Cabrillos about his studio practice and his recent performance of Following Dance at the MCA Chicago. Cabrillos will also be performing at: remixed/reimagined 2011 at the MCA Chicago Performance Benefit on Thursday, June 23, 2011, at 6 pm.
Marissa Perel: Tell me about your process for the Following Dance performance you did at the MCA as part of the Without You I’m Nothing: Interactions at the MCA.
Justin Cabrillos: I wanted to make a response to Vito Acconci because my work is largely inspired by his endurance pieces in the 1960-70’s. For this performance, I studied his Following Piece, where he followed around strangers in the city for minutes or days until they disappeared from his view. I combined techniques for following museum visitors by imitating their movements while I performed on his sculpture, Bridge Chairs for Sex and Gender.
I considered Acconci’s movements retroactively as a form of dance in Following Dance. It’s a triangulation of his voyeurism, how he moves his body motivated by that voyeurism, and the bodies of the people who lead him through space. I became interested in a public choreography.
MP: How did you take this public performance art piece and make into a dance?
JC: I started observing people in the museum in October before my performance in January. I’d go into the MCA and watch the public in museum mode. I studied how people hold themselves when they go to see art down to how they hold their weight or shift their gaze. It was a kind of movement analysis that informed how I would build the dance. I sought to embody how people interacted with the art. Or more to embody the relationship between the viewer, the objects and the space between them.
Because of the nature of the work in the Without You I’m Nothing Exhibition, viewers are moving more than they normally would, and I saw that as an opportunity for movement analysis. I also paid attention to people who didn’t choose to interact with the work, their stillness became a source of choreography for me.
Once I was performing, the ladders of the Bridge Chair enabled me to have a bird’s-eye-view of what people were doing. I could look through the Andrea Zittel piece, A-Z Cellular Compartment Units and see kids taking off their shoes and crawling around, so I’d take off my shoes and crawl around. The ladder really facilitated the voyeurism for the piece.
MP: Vito would love that!
JC: I know! I developed a system to call attention more to the viewers than to myself. If someone was directly looking at me, I wouldn’t follow that person, but the person could see who I was following. It’s like when you’re in a dance class, watching the teacher’s movements and trying to follow as best you can. In this case, the public is the teacher. The goal is not so much to parody to make fun of the viewer, but to reveal something about the viewers to one another, and to create a consciousness of the relationship between the viewer and the space of the museum.
MP: How is this experience different than your experience of stage-based performance?
JC: I had to think of a different way to structure the performance. Because it wasn’t about everyone being part of my time, but about the time people were spending in the exhibition. It was like a game where I had to be hyper observant of the audience. On stage you’re rarely aware of audience members as individuals. In this piece, I had to anticipate how people would respond to my actions. It required me to simultaneously observe and perform the audience. That was a lot of information for me to contain in my body! I felt like I was possessed, inhabited by the other bodies in the room.
MP: I find that to be a compelling aspect of your work in general, how you embody your research, whether it’s historical data, responses to sites or in this case, how you are embodying a relationship between art and the audience. It seems like you have to empty yourself of your own contents in order to become a vessel for the subjects of your performances. How do you make space for this, literally in your body and conceptually?
JC: When I was on a residency with Every House Has A Door, I had the opportunity to meet Netherlands-based choreographer, Meg Stuart. Once in a critique she said, “The body is not yours.” I think it’s important to let go of your body and see what happens. This can be liberating because you can see what your body is capable of.
By the end of my performances at the MCA, I could pan across the audience and string 6 different movement combinations together from the people I observed because I was totally invested in their vocabulary. My interests are now much more activated around the space of what I’m seeing in relationship to where I am in the moment.
MP: How long were you performing Following Dance?
JC: For two hours a day over the course of 6 days. I also performed for First Friday, artsmart [an event sponsored by the MCA’s Women’s Board], and I will be performing it again for the MCA benefit.
MP: This is definitely enough experience for you to perfect the art of “observational vocabulary,” how do you keep it fresh?
JC: A lot of people talk about the conceptualism behind performance art of the 1970’s, but what I appreciate is the childlike wonder about it. One thing that’s different about this piece from my other work is that it’s light. There’s an almost childlike sense of humor about it.
During the First Friday show, I noticed a man texting on his cell phone, so I started to act like I was texting . Everyone that was watching us noticed what I did and started laughing. Another day, I noticed a woman lying inside the Convertible Clam sculpture [also made by Acconci]. I laid down in the other half of the shell and slowly copied her movements. It took her a long time to figure out what I was doing.
People seem to be of two minds when they figure me out, they either revel in the attention and play with it, or they run away. Kids are endlessly stimulating because they are always moving and they are also willing to play the game.
MP: What is it like for you to leave that way of performing and return to your studio?
JC: Even when I have physically left the space of the MCA, I’m not sure if my experience leaves me -it’s never completely over. As artists, we’re constantly living with the material of our work. I sleep and eat my material, and I try to pay attention to how my daily life is affected by the focus of my work, how my intention is shaped or directed by my interests. I work very hard to make ephemeral art, and I often ask why I am doing this. I don’t have an answer,but I think the intimacy that I get to share with the audience, based on my intimacy with the material is one of the reasons I make ephemeral art. So, it’s about sharing and extending that intimacy with the audience.
For more information on Justin Cabrillos, visit his website here.
Marissa Perel is a performance artist, writer and independent curator currently working in Chicago, IL.