Tuesday, March 17, 2009
How to show performance on the internet?
The new Performa site is attractive and frustrating at the same time. The fragments of the Performa07 New York biennal are great, they give us an insight into the feel of the festival that was doomed to be famous (and to some extent, doomed to fail to meet the incredibly high expectations).
(My favorite of the excerpts is Stage Matrix 1 by Markus Schinwald and Oleg Soulimenko, which seems like a deliciously elegant and disciplined play with space and contingency. The picture above is from that performance.)
The thing I find frustrating about Performa's site is the way the videos are displayed - one can only move forward (by pressing the space tab), there are no other controls, no notion of what is there in store for us...
Yes, this might come close to the experience of watching a performance. But doesn't it seem a little silly? Isn't it moving us back to the sort of hierarchy the internet has been freeing us from? It does make sense in the historic context of performance, where the utmost respect for the work is frequently an unspoken condition of appreciating the work, and often flirts with the sanctification of the aesthetic. And although there have been exceptions, it won't be an exaggeration to say performance art audiences are usually surprizingly well-behaved and develop a tolerance for time-stretching experiences...
However, the internet has developed a set of rules of its own. One of them is a certain predictability of content. And a non-linear approach to video-watching. The possibility of scrolling forward, or checking several things at the same time, is today as "natural" as reading a book and listening to music, or being able to read the last page of a novel first. The sort of proposal Performa makes goes against this. And gives stage to a difficult exercice of disciplined watching - with no pauses, no repeats, no selection. Take it or leave it.
It is an interesting exercise to perform (pardon the pun).
And yet, in practical terms, doesn't it limit the actual audience of the performances (virtual, and later, real) to the viewers already accustomed to be the well-behaved time-stretched spectators of contemporary art?
The step from live performance to showcasing it on the internet is huge and very tricky. It requires feeling the dynamics of the "aesthetic experience of the net", and that is still a very fresh ground. The trick is, if one of the greatest motors of performance art has been the idea of the avantgarde, entering a new platform will eventually (and once again) have to mean redefining what this idea(l) means.
ps.: For more info on the Performa 2009 biennal and many other events happening now in NY, see their blog here.