The Performance Art Curator Whose Days Seem Longer Than Ours
I was very happy to be the first interviewee for Cristina Sanchez-Kozyreva’s new publication Curtain, the magazine for Art Curator Grid, about my work (and exercise habits…!)
Read the full interview here
Performance art costs a lot to produce – but can it make money, too?
Seeking After the Fully Grown Dancer *deep within* (2016–2018), Paul Maheke. A version of this performance will be staged at the 58th Venice Biennale. Photo: Sandino Scheidegger
In anticipation of the live programme at this years Venice Biennale, I wrote a short article for Apollo Magazine on the economics of performance art. Find it here (requires free subscription).
The Political Economies of Art
Panel Discussion at Art Basel Hong Kong
28th March 2019
I was invited for the second time to work with the team at Art Basel Hong Kong to develop and chair a panel discussion.
How does activism fit into the art market, and what forms can activism take within the market space? This discussion explores modes of politically engaged practice and engagement in art.
The speakers were Basel Abbas Artist, New York; Pedro Barbosa Collector, São Paulo; Corrado Gugliotta Founder, Laveronica Arte Contemporanea, Modica; Tayeba Begum Lipi Visual Artist, Dhaka; Kacey Wong Visual Artist, Hong Kong
Nicola Singh : Sweet Spot
Workplace Foundation, invited me to write about artist Nicola Singh’s work for the 3-Phase project – a collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Eastside Projects, Birmingham and Workplace Foundation Gateshead which explores a new model for working in partnership to support the development of early career artists’ work over a sustain period of time.
This is my text:
A small text hangs on the wall. It is not the first thing I notice in the exhibition space; in fact, it is almost the last – tucked, as it is, quietly in the corner. But the voice it adds is crucial. So, in telling you about Nicola Singh’s exhibition at Workplace, Gateshead, I will start with it.
Through the text she twists and turns, manoeuvring me, as she speaks of him, to herself about him, of herself. I am not addressed directly, yet I hear her voice and I am pulled in. Pulled in, in fact, to the spaces between body, action and response. This is a strange, erotic, yet cold space. She speaks of him inside her, of her disappointment, of her experience of her own body, of memories of older encounters, with him, perhaps, with herself, with others. Encounters not always invited or welcome – she makes them public and I recognise her experience. Touch always makes a mark.
Turning around, I look back at the three squares of silicone hanging behind me, within [her] reach (2018).
Before the exhibition, Singh used the gallery as a studio. Here, she lay on the floor with the silicon pieces on top of her. This is a private moment with no one else present, but I imagine her touching, rubbing, tracing, massaging her body with the powdered pigment on her fingers; the shifts and warps of the material coinciding with her movement as it picks up these residues.
Pigment on semi-translucent silicone. This is painting of sorts. Yet it is perhaps best understood not in relation to its painterly composition or its representational ability, but for how it registers the process of its own creation. The plane of the silicone canvas records the event of its making. Though the performance cannot be seen, it nevertheless leaves a trace and the resulting work cannot be understood without the action, even as imagined.
Hanging as sculpture in the space, these three paintings now persist both as objects pointing back to the moment of their creation and away from themselves, out toward the wider world. They hang in a line, taut from wires in the ceiling. Silicone, wholly artificial, has become a material imbued with the memory of Singh’s body. Standing now in front of the work, my hip bone is to her hip bone, my crotch to her crotch. I am not seeing her body represented but rather as embodied. Again, I inhabit the inevitable gaps between intention and action, telling and hearing.
The private made public, and the space in between those two, weaves its way through Singh’s work. Performance is a process that not only exposes the private, but enacts the trajectory between the two. Here, at Workplace, text conjures performance layered upon performance. “Me on me,” she says. These are the ways that she acts on and is acted upon in the world. Working alone and speaking to herself, Singh’s materials are utilised as recording devices; manifold agencies with varying degrees of opacity and unknown consequences.
Before, for Sweet Spot (2017) at Jerwood Space, London, Singh worked with other women artists – Kate Sweeney, Deborah Bower, Tess Denman-Cleaver and Naomi Garriock. She offered the group a text, space, and time; inviting an exploration of the physical and representational limits of the body to find something beyond demonstrable action and form. Working in pairs, they moved and they described their partner’s movements in real time: “you are,” “you are,” “you are”.
Next, 14 meters of fabric were laid on the floor, dressmakers chalk supplied. Each drew around their own body, a seemingly simple act that in fact requires physically dexterity and complex decision making. Batiqued and dyed, the fabric was later installed in the gallery space along with an audio recording of the text piece with which they had begun. In a further step, the installation then became a space for live performance. Elements of the workshop experience were translated into a capella vocal performance performed live by Singh and artists Harriet Plewis and Jenny Moore as a public event. An audio of this performance was then incorporated into the installation. Making is accumulative: text became workshop, became movement, became painting, became architecture, became performance, became sound… For Singh, such gestures are a way of both making and a context for sharing and generating. It is a means of gathering and communing, of bringing others together to facilitate conversation and a way of remaking the art world as a network of ideas to be shared. An ethics and politics, a practice of contributing.
We speak of the third part of this project, Pushing attention (2018), to be held at Eastside Projects, Birmingham, and now in gestation. Once again, Singh will return to a multi-vocal practice by sharing the space with three other women artists – Kate Sweeney, Phyllis Christopher and Janina Sabaliauskaite – each interested in bodies and the potential of the erotica. Into the gallery, she will bring elements of a work made collectively during a private workshop undertaken in a house without the owner present. A selection of photographs will be produced as large-scale screen-prints and suspended in the space. Over the duration of the exhibition, Singh will spend time in the gallery, gradually reproducing the images as a woven tapestries. This gesture will itself be framed by two live performances, one at the beginning, one at end, marking the transformation that will have taken place; each action simultaneously cyclical, self-referential, and generative.
Through the language of composition and choreography, of sound unfixed and reverberating in space, Bricks and mortar, paper, silicone, paint, charcoal, photography, light, words and architectures each make their own impact in her work because each is a physical demonstration of an interaction. Singh works through these materials. Rather than aestheticised objects, these are things with which to generate interactions and feelings, to be built upon in order to use, or to reach an understanding of, a women’s voice or body. Singh is the maker of the occasion.
Not long into our conversation she says to me “I want these objects to be desperate”. It takes me a long time to understand what she means by that. Desperation as in ‘I am desperate for a cigarette.’ ‘I am desperate to see you.’ Not a hopeless desperation but a craving, a wanting, a need, and an action to be fulfilled.
A Selective Guide to the V&A’s
South Asian Collection
As part of my role as Curator for Delfina Foundation’s Collecting as Practice programme, I co-edited this compendium of artistic responses to the V&As South Asian Collection which came out of artist Avani Tanya’s time as artist-in-residence at the collection and Delfina.
I contributed an introductory text in the form of an incomplete glossary – which introduces, unpacks, and deliberates some key terms to the notion of collecting and to museums; grounding them in relation to the V&A’s South Asian collection and Avani Tanya’s practice. Through this, I offers a series of provocations and frameworks to accompany the subsequent chapters of the book, in which a number of creative practitioners share their personal interpretations, responses, and connections to objects in the collection.
It has been published online here .
Alice Anderson : Nuhé
Witnessing at Art Brussels
19th - 22nd April 2018
The artist Alice Anderson invited me to respond to her solo booth with La Patinoire Royale-Galerie Valérie Bach at Art Brussels. Entitled Nuhé, the work is a durational performance that lasted the entire length of the fair. Rather than a precis of her practice or a review of the piece as such, I proposed a ‘witnessing’ of the performance – that is, a written account of being with the piece and an attempt to transfer some of its ideas into word – that has now become part of the documentation of the work.
This is the text:
Booth D13, Art Brussels, Tour and Taxi, Brussels
There is no roof to the booth, so I can see the mechanics of the building it has been constructed within – exposed ducts and lighting tracts snake above, the is visible brickwork and windows look out.
The booth itself is a three-walled square, open to the audience from one side only. It is approximately 20 square meters of space in total but I am not allowed to enter.
Seven poles around 2 meters high are placed in a circle around the booth, each is approximately 20 cm in diameter. Three have been encased completely in copper wire. Neatly finished in the thin metal, they resemble large drill bits, totemic elements of machinery. Their surfaces are mostly smooth, giving then a shiny metallic casing, but also criss-crossed in places for matt effect, nevertheless weaved perfectly.
North South East West. A performer works individually at the other four poles.
The internal core of these four pillars show themselves to be tree trunks or thick branches, knotted and patinated. Immediately I understand that they will be worked upon until they too are completely covered. The four performers each hold a spool of copper-coloured thread. They pass the fine wire around the trunks, passing it around the back, to the front, and between their hands in a rotation. One stands on a box, reaching high to the top of her pole. Another creates a full body motion from his action, his arms stretching wide and his torso rolling through as he circulates around. Though they are bound in a common task, each performer works solipsistically, alone, creating their own rhythm and motion, using their own technique and pace.
Through the temperature of their movement I can sense how long each has been performing – the speed with which they work seems to be inversely proportional to their absorption in their task; at the beginning, the heat each generates is fierce, their labour is clear and self-conscious; as they become absorbed in the practice, they cool, the force of the gesture slows, conserving energy, and yet, become more focused, as if the trick of time is to absorb the body into the work, transforming the task into a process of automation and meditation.
Their action is ritualistic, seemingly unaware of its audience and context – of the flow of people walking past, stopping, watching, whether for a moment or some time. The performers are engrossed in their action. I am incidental. They don’t perform for me, instead they work intently, intensely, automatically so that I can sense the transience of my own viewing. They were here before I arrived, they will remain after I leave.
North South East West. Ritual extends from the largest-scale social and political processes to the most intimate aspects of our self-experience. It is a process of transformation, a rite that transforms from one state into another. Here, it changes not only the wood into metal, but performer into material – gradually they change from being the makers of the work into the work itself – copper, wood and body all acted with, and upon, in a performative circuit.
Nuhé. The orientation of the poles points to something outside the fair to which the performers are attuned. A nuhé is a Colombian Kogi temple from the Sierra Nevada. The construction of a nuhé is the physical architectural expression of the community – a gathering place that is both spiritual and political. A site of gathering. A temple, a cosmic observatory. The nuhé is both the structure within which the transformation takes place and the portal through which is possible to see the spiritual.
I think again about how the fair contains the work. Like in a casino or shopping mall, time and light are rarely allowed into this space. It is self-contained and immersive. Here, standing still, I am afforded time to configure myself in relation to this space. The strangeness of the constructed box, containing a different kind of ritual, small in the volume of the building. How the building sits on the site, warm in the unusually fierce heat of the April sun. The building in the site, the city. the cosmos…
Nuhé. This is a performance related both to the theatre of the fair and tethered to a ritual from far outside of this place. I am simply its witness and I must decide how long to stay, where to stand, and how to connect it to the larger space the booth next door, from the cafe the other side, from the fair itself… to the ancient ritual that exists elsewhere.
Performers memorialising the structural elements of the work through their motion, and working in parallel with one another, morph to the knowable tree branches into totems of the unknowable and intangible.
I am witnessing both a vanishing and a making act – the natural wood is bound, it is gradually, ritualistically disappeared, petrified in copper. Such an act creates new space. Mummifying and building, a task that is both primitive and wholly contemporary. Copper was the first mineral material used by mankind – mailable and ductile. Its power lies in its conductive mutability, it transfers electricity and heat.
Here, copper is the material that records, the material of memory itself. Pulled thin, into tread-like wire, it becomes a material to weave and with which to create a physical structure connected to the ground it sits on as much as the clouds above.
North South East West. Copper totems capture and distribute the vital energies of the four poles.
Through the ritual of disappearance, I witness the making of new meaning, invented by the materials themselves.
Nuhé. The nuhé works with two verbs, to see and to seize: “you will see what exists and you will seize what of that suits you.“
The Evolving Collector
Panel Discussion at Art Basel Hong Kong
28th March 2018
I was invited to chair a panel dissusion at Art Basel Hong Kong entitled “The Evolving Collector: When Collecting is just the Beginning”.
Through a consideration of collecting as a point of departure, this conversation hopes to chart what is becoming an expanded and creative practice by bringing together a group of individuals who have each taken a path that has somewhat diverged from the traditional notion of what a collector is and does.
The speakers were: Joumana Asseily, Founder, Marfa Projects, Beirut; Rudy Tseng, Independent Curator and Art Collector, Taipei; Daisuke Miyatsu, Salary-man Collector; Tokyo Luba Michailova, Founder, Izolyatsia, Donetsk; and Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Founder, The Collection of Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin.