Art of Performance
Performance art is not for everyone. Even as symbolic movements, seeing the artist's body intimate acts of self-inflicted violence, humiliation, or sex are always challenging -- even for the willing observer. But one thing is certain: Since the 1960s the artist's body has functioned as a physical resistance to power. Since the body is such an important element of human identity, performance art can probe entrenched notions associated with individual dignity and freedom and call into question the legitimacy of our moral values, particularly in an age of oversimplification and hypocrisy. One engaging show dealing with performance art is "Patty Chang, Tracey Emin, Naomi Fisher, Paul McCarthy" at the Moore Building in the Design District. Curator Silvia Cubiña has brought together our contemporary performance artists sharing diverse visions of sex and violence.
The statement "I couldn't have sex with someone who didn't think I was a good artist" is enough for anyone to figure that British artist Emin is self-involved and loud. Her art and life read like a tabloid story -- a ready-made series of ongoing autobiographical episodes to feed the media's insatiable curiosity. Emin's work relies on self-exhortation and self-promotion. Yet to her credit, she plays the media game while becoming more and more of a cipher. Don't miss her cool short Sometimes the Dress is Worth More Money Than the Money, set against the musical background of Ennio Morricone.
Fisher is an upcoming Miami artist known for using her body as a prop for luscious photographs revealing engaging female situations in symbiosis with nature. Some people label her work feminist. I see Fisher's work as more complex and contradictory. One aspect that deserves more attention is her decadent vein toward fashion and gender attitudes. In addition to some photos, Cubiña presents a little room with Fisher's drawings. I am a fan of these, particularly her two Salome-like red and blue drawings (check out the "Kill" belt buckle). They are delicious.
Chang's performances expose far-fetched aspects of attraction and repulsion. Her In Love is a video-diptych of Chang with her parents in a face-to-face task of eating a raw onion. You can tell how tough the act is for the performers. Not easy to endure a slow mastication of the onion with its pungent oil (see them shedding tears), but more difficult is the mouth-to-mouth regurgitation.
The older and best known of the group is McCarthy, a veteran of cross-gender images and the grotesque. McCarthy's rough, "bad-taste" aesthetics mock consumerism and fake middle-class values, confronting viewers with a spectacle of moral collapse played out by the artist's alter egos. I was baffled by an early black-and-white video with sound, which in retrospect has a lot of John Cage in it. Stop by McCarthy's Pothead, a mixed media sculpture of bluish silicone rubber with enough political and historic acumen to make you think of recent events in our preemptive policies of terror containment.
Cubiña is coordinating the programming at the Moore Building, a handsome venue. To start she's inviting projects that fit the space's mission -- in art, media, performance, and music.
Talk about performance: Imagine being inside a dimly lit warehouse gallery space. Four sleek black rectangular lamps send light from the floor onto 3D photos hanging from the ceiling, which, in turn, refract a softer light all over -- acting as flat lanterns. There are also 3D photo clusters on the floor, and as you walk through them various people softly bump into you, perhaps initiating a casual exchange. They hint at their "sexy" presence using only elbows, shoulders, and legs -- doing what they have been instructed to do.
Inside a second room two giant SUVs, nose to nose, play from their speakers a mantralike loop of disconnected sentences, simultaneously uttered by men and women. Though it is hardly intelligible, you still try to discern a number of words. This room contains only one photo, on the wall. It shows a hat with a Magritte-like phrase underneath: "This is not a hat." (For puzzled enthusiasts, this photo holds the key idea behind the event.)
"come" was one of the most successful performances yet at the Dorsch Gallery, produced and conceived by Mark Koven, a Miami photographer and teacher who is finishing his graduate studies at the University of Miami. A one-night event, a living installation or a performance within a performance, "come" was as interactive and interdisciplinary as it could be, but most of all it was unpredictable: a microcosm of our daily interactions, invariably accompanied by those long strings of utterances we exchange in our sporadic interactions in a real -- and often hostile -- 3D world.
Arlene Berrie, a Miami artist originally from New York, unveiled her work at #831, a new house space close to the Museum of Contemporary Art. In this series Berrie brings popular heroes from the world of children, such as Bert, Ernie, Baby Bop, and Roo, but the artist places them in weird spaces against dramatic orange, blue, and green backgrounds.
As Eugenio Espinoza points out in his notes to the exhibit, Berrie borrows from Pop and Abstraction to render quasi-Expressionist works. Mostly one- or two-character marionette studies, these paintings have an immediate quality. The pulse is quick, the idea a fragment of a bigger whole. Alienated from their original environments, these TV-friendly characters seem perplexed and potentially malevolent. Berrie made me ponder how an innocent image can reveal so much gratification and frustration that it can also project libidinal and aggressive instincts.
My favorite piece in the show is a painting of Baby Bop amid a surreal greenish scene in which the artist skillfully juxtaposes child wistfulness with sexual desire, a childish fragment of an external world filled with love and hate.
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