Sunday, February 19, 2012

Making Time at Human Resources: Simon Leung

Coinciding with the annual meeting of the College Art Association in Los Angeles, The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is hosting the offsite working session "Making Time at Human Resources" on February 22, 2012. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by UCI professor and artist Simon Leung.

I have been thinking about the time/frame bracket of "the performative" with the general proposition that it defies the usual spatial and temporal brackets that is put around "a piece"--be it a dance performance or am event, or a "work of art." Last fall, I posted a note on Facebook called "Protest is a Performative" which was spurred by the controversy that surrounded Rainer's letter of protest against the MOCA Gala as directed by Marina Abramovic. Here is an excerpt: Ultimately, this is the most interesting gap in the discussions for me: In the first-hand or rhetorical accounts (pro or con) I have read thus far, there has been no mention of how this "performance" might have been altered by the letter. I am speaking of the most basic hermeneutic principle--Heisenberg's insight that the act of observing alters whatever "reality" is being observed. Rainer had no delusion of being able to "change" anything at the gala, but she framed something for public attention, for the community of artists of which she is a member. I doubt the performers, the guests, Abramovic, MOCA, everyone discussing this, would have thought about this event the same way otherwise, certainly not to this scale. Protest is a performative. Did Abramovic change anything or emphasize anything differently because of the letter? For example, did it influence "the rules of conduct" which is so prescriptive of how the guests are to behave? [Question to performers: When did you learn of these rules for the guests? Did you learn of these rules at the beginning of your collaboration with Abramovic or were they made know to you after the letter made this a controversy? If before, when/how was this emphasized?] Another aspect I might want to ruminate on is the gusto (in your word, "guts") with which she "called out the censure and directly pointed her finger at its perpetrator" who "denied the possibility of male nudity at the event." I am in agreement with you on MOCA's phobic response to male nudity, but did Rainer's letter goad or encourage Abramovic in this "gutsy" display? Was this a tone she would have taken without the letter? Would she have made this remark at all without the letter? And what does Abramovic's compliance with MOCA's wishes say about the meaning of her work or how male nudity is exactly the point where she is willing to compromise her vision and censor her work? I don't know if these are answerable questions. I am not making any cause/effect claims or speculations, merely that I doubt we would be talking about, for example, issues of art worker's relationship to institutions in quite the same way without the performative gesture of protest. The moment of the performative did not begin or end with the gala event. Rainer's letter is what has expanded it. This is perhaps why some of us see the value of “the performative” beyond the categorical boundaries of “performance art.” 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Simon, Your post reminds me of some work that a Berkeley grad in Performance Studies is doing on the role of artists' writing as a transformative and reciprocally challenging practice within 60s/70s cross disciplinary art making and beyond. Her name is Kate Mattingly, and you'll meet her if you come up to Berkeley in April.