Interview by Michael Bullock

Film still from ‘WOMAN MERGES W CAR, NO. 3’

courtesy of Jonathan William Turner

Published in Weekly Modern

For years performance art has been the troubled forgotten stepchild of the New York art world. The reasons were obvious galleries didn’t know how to sell it and museums couldn’t figure out how to show it. However for the last five years a handful of forces have quietly come together to change these notions setting the stage to make performance art the most celebrated form of the new decade. This shift has two major champions: Roselee Goldberg and Klaus Biesenbach.

Roselee Goldberg literary wrote the textbook on the subject, Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present. First published in 1979 and now in its third edition. In 2004 Goldberg went on to found PERFORMA, a non-profit multi-disciplinary arts organization for the "research, development, and presentation of 21st Century visual art performance". In 2005] Performa launched the first ever Performance Art Biennial, a three-week long international showcase of emerging and established artist. The Biennial transformed all of New York City into one giant stage and instantly filled a missing gap in the structure of the art world. From the start it was a run away success nearly doubling in size in 2007 and 2009.

Klaus Biesenbach became the director of PS1 in 2009 as well as the Chief Curator at Large for MoMA. Biesenbach quickly made his mark by making performance a focal point of his programming. In 2010 he organized the ground breaking retrospective of his long time friend performance artist Marina Abramović. Half a million people visited the Abramovic retrospective, “The Artist Is Present,” making it not just a success for performance art but one of the most well-attended shows in the history of the museum. Charlie Finch of Artnet wrote” It was the first exhibition of performance art to have an impact on the cultural world at large”. Biesenbach has used his post at PS1 to foster the next generation of Abramovic’s. One artist featured here went as far as to say that this very portfolio was a showcase of Klaus’s children.

Goldberg and Biesenbach’s influence have ushered in a new wave of talent that has brought performance art up to date while making it there own. There work has delighted curators, art lovers and even the general public thanks to a new level of on-line accessibility. Here Modern Weekly introduces the scene brightest new stars: Hanah Bin, Ryan McNamara, Yemenwed, Kalup Linzy, Laurel Nakadate and Liz Magic Laser. Each artist explain how they came to be performance artist, why they make what they make and why how they feel about performance arts epic renaissance.

Why were you drawn to performance art as a medium?

With performance you get a very immediate and gratifying connection to the audience. There is no screen or time delay dividing your work and the viewer, as there is in film and video. The immediacy creates an electric energy for us. We are also drawn to the inherent idea of experiencing something unique, which can never be exactly repeated.

Why do you think there is resurgence in performance art over the last five years?

It may be that artists feel a need to engage more directly with their audience now that entertainment has largely shifted to the internet. With this shift, audiences may also feel a greater desire to experience things first hand, with others in a physical space. It may also be a result of greater accessibility. With the internet, many great performances are available to view online, which were once trapped in a library’s video vault.

Your work merges many mediums besides video.

Yeah, our performances are often equal parts performer and object, as each of the paintings and sculptures within the performance has a role to play, and has a distinct presence among the performers. Paintings and sculptures are integral to our work as performers.

What are your intentions when you start a piece?

We are interested in entertaining our audience, while challenging them to experience something new. Our goal is to charm, delight and possibly even heal the viewer. After our first performance of Bedroom w TV and Woman Lays w Aide at Performa 09 in 179 Canal gallery, there was a real feeling of love and celebration in the air - almost like a wedding. We hope to create this type of celebratory mood with our work. It is somewhat unusual to feel this joyful emotion at art events in our experience.

Can you explain your epic video/performance Woman Merges w Car ?

It was about the evolving relationship between humans and technology. It was set in an abstract bathroom and involved three women performing a synchronized dance. One woman was merging with technology, another was merging with nature, and the third represented a balance between the two extremes. We were exploring questions of what is truly organic and what is understood to be synthetic. As in our previous work, we also explore mundane and repetitive domestic gestures, as we bring them out of the peripheral and into the realm of the sublime. The piece suggests an impending disappearance of the human body, as we collectively become more connected and reliant on technology for all facets of life.

Are you looking forward to that moment?

Definitely. However, we look forward to that just as much as we enjoy the present moment. We really believe that although the tools change, which inevitably changes the landscape of our realities both mental and physical- there is something that always remains the same. Not sure what it is exactly- but we think we might end where we began.

What is the difference between performance (entertainment), and performance art?

The difference seems to be increasingly blurred, however performance art has no explicit need or impetus to be entertaining. Performance art can be painfully boring, and there are no rules for its engagement with the audience.

YEMENWED is currently made up of:

Megha Barnabas, Tim Dewit, Joseph Fraoli, Busy Gangnes, Melissa Ip, Paul Kopkau, Shawn Maximo, Gloria Maximo, and Jonathan Turner

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