Chakras and Homebrews at Performa 11

During my visit to New York, I had the opportunity to check out a few events from the Performa 11 biennial. I had a great experience, too years ago, and wanted to check out the final weekend. My time this year was quite limited, but I did have a chance to attend a few events.

The artistic highlight of my brief visit was a piece by Mika Rottenberg and Jon Kessler called SEVEN, which took place at Nicole Klagbrun Project in Chelsea. It was described as “a chakra sauna channeling chromatic body fluids from New York to Cradle of Humankind in Africa.” There are seven chakras, which correspond to areas of the bodies and states of being in Hindu and Buddhist traditions (you can look up tons of information on this if you’re curious), with an addition of colors of the spectrum in some recent practices, particularly in Western societies. The installation consisted of a full scale urban spa, with exercise area, working sauna and a lab with a bizarre combination of equipment and a technician who appeared to be running the show:

At the same time, the installation featured a video from an arid landscape in Africa. It is the combination of both the live installation and the video that becomes interesting. In the video, a succession of people in the African landscape extract cylindrical cores of mud from the parched ground. These are given to a local man in a small hut, which he then places into a bizarre looking contraption. When he turns it on, the core suddenly appears in the local lab in a similar looking piece of equipment. These are then placed in the sauna. Meanwhile, in New York, people take turns on an exercise bike, which both powers the sauna and helps the participant work up a sweat as they take turns moving from the bike to the sauna. The participants are assigned colors from the chakras/spectrum in succession, and their perspiration from the sauna generates a vial of “chakra juice” of that color, which is then collected.

This process repeats slowly for each of chakras, with the participants in Africa bringing the mud to the machine and the local participants generating the colored vials in the sauna. The synchronization between the installation, live performance and video is very well done, and does give the illusion that these events are happening together in real time through some process we don’t quite understand.

When all seven chakras are filled, the set is then sent back through the device to its counterpart in Africa in the video. At this point, the video completely takes over and we see the purpose of this ritual. If anything, the conclusion was perhaps the least convincing part of the piece, as it seemed a bit forced compared to the surrealism and illusion created by the synchronizing the video and live performance. But overall, it was a strong piece and I’m glad I made the trip over to the west side to see it.

Back at the Performa Hub in SOHO, I spent some time at the brew pub, where a variety of beers from local homebrewers were on tap.

I particularly liked a couple of spicy brews featuring chili, but there were also some great seasonal beers with pumpkin and cinnamon. In addition to the beer itself, it was an opportunity to interact with artists, the brewers and other visitors. Attending art events in New York can sometimes be a lonely affair, so it was a nice change of pace. In my haste to get to the next event, I misplaced my list of the beers (along with my copy of the Occupied Wall Street Journal I picked up earlier in Zuccotti Park), so I don’t have exact info to share with readers. If I find something online, I will update.

Overall, I did not get to see as much as I did in 2009, and it did not have the same abstract/modernist/future-retro vibe that it did two years ago, but overall it was a good experience and a good start to my week in New York.

Performa 09: Composition for Cello and Brooklyn Queens Expressway

Another piece from Performa: A Ballad of Accounting 2009: Composition for Cello and Brooklyn Queens Expressway, a composition by Alex Waterman with a 16-millimeter film by Elizabeth Wendelbo. I was quite interested to see this piece, given that it combines experimental music, art and highways, three of our interests here at CatSynth!

Waterman lived near the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, or BQE, and was inspired by the sounds of the highway as well as its history. It was part of Robert Moses’ master design for the city’s highways, and winds its way through a narrow corridor in densely packed areas of eastern Brooklyn and Queens. (See this article for more info.) Waterman often walked under the highway, listening to sounds and in particular the harmonics. The piece includes live cello performances near and under the highway, with microphones in the resonant chamber of the cello, as a way of modifying and eradicating the noise of the highway, as if “the cello was eating the highway.”

The video opens along the BQE, along the side, underneath, and riding on the surface, interspersed with images of Waterman carrying or playing his cello near the elevated structures. The music featured long notes set against filtered highway noises. There were lots of drones, often featuring noisy timbres or harmonics, but sometimes more familiar minor tonalities. The visuals included architectural close-ups of the elevated structures – hardly considered among the more picturesque in the city, but still quite interesting. I noticed exit signs for Metropolitan Avenue appearing a few times. One moment that particularly got my attention was a forlorn drainpipe. One could imagine the metallic resonances here, and indeed the sound became more electronic, reminding me a bit of early Xenakis. I also heard sounds that reminded me of more modern granular synthesis. There were also sharp departures from the drones, with very pointed “crackling sounds”, appropriate as the video began to feature rain and water dripping from the pipe.

There is a permanent installation of the piece near Calistoga, CA. I am curious to see it sometime after I return home.

Performa 09: In Order of Appearance

This past weekend, I attended several exhibits and performances from the Performa 09 biennial.

On Saturday evening, I saw the New York premier of In Order of Appearance by Youri Dirkx and Aurélien Froment. The piece began with a spare, white on white stage, which was gradually populated by Dirkx with various geometric objects.

I was quite taken with the silence, which in its way became musical (I have long had a musical appreciation of silence in art). It also allowed me to concentrate on the objects themselves, their shapes, colors and perspectives, and the dramatic gestures Dirkx used to manipulate them. The main objects were a cube, rectangular prism, ball (sphere) and cylinder, all in white to match the walls. Sometimes they were stacked, at other moments placed side by side. There were also miniature versions of these same objects, in a dark gray shade. Beyond these were a variety of shapes, clothing and architectural elements, some in bright primary colors, which gave the impression of a modernist/minimalist gallery in a museum.

I really liked seeing this work, with its minimal take on motion and geometry. The spare stage and the silence made it quite arresting to watch. And like a museum, I could switch my attention from one simple object to another on my own terms.

The piece ended with full complement of objects on stage:

I came to this performance without any context, so I pretty much experienced it as described above. It was only afterwards that I reviewed the notes, and found this excerpt quite matched my own perceptions:

“In Order of Appearance” questions ways of presenting an artwork. The presentation takes place amidst architecture made of paper, modelled on the white cube of the museum. This draft version of the gallery space is used here as an operating table, an abstract playground where objects and artworks are transformed in one way and then another, exploring their identity and functions. The piece explores the different viewpoints that one has of objects according to their context of exposition.