Thursday, November 08, 2007

Redo of Allan Kaprow’s "18 Happenings in 6 Parts (Re-doing)" @ PERFORMA 07, Deitch Studios, NYC

I caught the 8pm performance of Allan Kaprow’s “18 Happenings in 6 Parts (Re-doing)” at Deitch Studios in Long Island City last night. This redo of Kaprow’s seminal work was directed by André Lepecki and presented as a part of the PERFORMA07 Biennial of New Visual Art Performance.

According to the PERFORMA website:

18 Happenings in 6 Parts was first performed in the Fall of 1959, at the Reuben Gallery in New York City. After a few performances, it was never shown again. Today, it is considered one of the major turning points in the history of performance and visual arts. In 2006, a few weeks before his death, Kaprow authorized a re-doing of the piece based on the dozens of original pages of music and movement scores, notes, drawings, writings, and drafts he had created in the summer and fall of 1959. The re-doing was presented on the occasion of a major exhibition of Kaprow's work at Haus der Kunst, Munich, in the Fall of 2006.

I was excited to go see an attempt to resurrect a bit of performance art history. I have always felt a bit befuddled by the photos of this event and wasn’t too concerned about possible misrepresentation of the original. The program makes pains to clarify that this is not an attempt to display a relic of the past but more to find fresh inspiration from the idea and notes. This redo’s follows the series of redo of seminal performance works as reconceived by Marina Abramovich at the last PERFORMA biennial in 2006.

I get the sense there is a desire in both the performance historians and the remaining living artists of that era to claim their historic stake in the art history books with these redo’s. There also seems to be some audience education going on here. And of course it brings up the issue of liveness and documentation and their relationship for continued discussion.

I am fond of the redo idea. The redo’s shouldn’t be confused with the original nor do I believe a work like I saw last night really stands very profoundly on its own without the knowledge of its historical precedent. I believe there is something special to the liveness of a performance and documentation doesn’t capture it, it just creates something else. Getting to spend sometime with this living history is how performance is perhaps best retained.

Anyway, the walk to Dietch Studios last night allowed us to enjoy a magnificent nighttime view of the Manhattan cityscape. Once we found the space we were handed a page of program notes and instructions which told us where to sit and when. The staff made great pains to make sure cell phones were off and to be clear about the requirement to remain in the performance space for the duration of the performance. I liked that clarity and after entering, hearing the door close behind us and feeling shut in and committed to the event.

I was assigned room one for the first two sections, room two for sections three and four and then put back in room one for the last two sections. There were three rooms total and I decided to go where they asked me. Some folks sat were they liked, I don’t think it changed much.

There were three rooms along a hallway that had been created by wooden frames covered with see-through plastic sheeting. There were old fashion light bulbs lining the top edges of the walls that provided some illumination. It was a mostly a bright space. There were a few additional decorative elements and props used during the show.

The performances were mostly simple movements, choppy text blurbs, sound cacophonies and actions. They played games, showed some slides of some sort, and stood stiffly.

The most sensory impact came from the smells…there was a section when a performer lit and extinguished a number of matches and then sprayed some kind of bathroom cleaning foam on the section of plastic which put a sulfur and cleaner smell in the air. Later fresh squeezed orange juice aromas mixed with the smell of paint as one performer juiced and drank juice and two others painted a canvas.

I surprised how much the style and presence of the performers stood out in the piece. In general the performance was hyper-rational, calculated and stiff, for instance the performers moved around the space with artificially straight walks and only turned sharp 90-degree turns, and so the human qualities of the piece stood out. I wondered how this piece would have changed if instead of stylish young New Yorkers, a cast of country folk from Kentucky or a suburban family from Seattle had played out the actions.

The bell that marked the sections was the loudest and most disturbing thing.

I wondered if anyone who came had seen the original Happenings. I looked for old people in the crowd.

The events unfolded and there was a full 15-minute break twice between sections that created a lot of time for chatting.

I also was aware of being in a room with some of the piece but not the entire piece. I could hear and see bits of what went on elsewhere but the architecture isolated me.

In a section when text was read to me I found myself listening not so much for myself but for the performer’s sake like you might listen to a friend who is trying to get something off there chest. I found that shift interesting, though I don’t know what triggered it.

I find myself listing these fragments of my experience and leaving a bit of detail out, as that was my experience, partial. I left with a sense of ok-ness at the end, feeling satisfied and good but in no way moved. Perhaps the piece was too rational for that. I had some nice social interactions during the breaks with my friends and people I met there, which was defiantly a part of the experience.

I have no idea how you could have captured this performance in a photo.

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