Wednesday, June 28, 2006

William Wegman Early Videos

Instead of discovering new trends in performative styles on YouTube, I seem to get attracted by the old avantgarde (why does this expression sound so nice?). And so, instead of a shaky home video of a new, unknown artist, here is a shaky video for all those that, like me, enjoy the snobism of exploring once explored territory. William Wegman became really famous not because he was good, but because his dog, Man Ray, was good. And Wegman had the good idea of showing him. And giving him the concepts any good curator provides an artist with. Wegman, of course, made (and continues to do so) a significant amount of other interesting semi-conceptual work (if we can have semi-conductors, can't we have semi-conceptualists?). But a significant part of it shows he knows his A-Bs in market-related works. Publicity is one of his main focuses. Ironic, indeed - and as we know, irony acknowledges its subject's presence and importance. And isn't using trademarking a dog just a brilliant move? I mean this honestly, with just a tiny little bit of irony.
See the first of the videos: choreography, drama, manipulation, humanity, self-consciousness (or lack thereof), individuality, contact, hidden agendas, thought. All this can clearly be found in here. It could pretty much be considered a contemporary piece. Some qualities make it dated. Which is interesting - since we accept it just as well, and enjoy it, and find it quite appealing and strong. So what makes it old? What is it about 70's conceptual art that makes it at once incredibly up-to-date and plainly dated? On one hand, many conceptual works are now being brought back to the scene. On the other, this repositioning has a certain distance that gives it (?) we seem to require.

Wegman also has a (even) lighter side to him: these videos are sometimes closer to what we know as Saturday Night Live humor than to what we think of as video art. Man Ray rocks once again...


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Anne Wenzel: the reference game

I just can't stop thinking of references when I look at Anne Wenzel's work. Is this proof of lack of originality, or of a feel for Zeitgeist, or of knowing how to play with what she sees? Or is it just an obsession of mine...?

Functional Confusions remind me of a work I saw once in Paris (was it by Jeff Koons?) - a pillow made of glass. And of surrealist games.

Here> Arcimbolodo, Dali from the Slave Market... (this is a landscape from sauerkraut and saussage combined with a plastic reindeer)

Yves Klein, as well as some contemporary Japanese art, very happy-like, and a slightly punkish Sarah Lucas kind of thing (also Paul McCarthy - this is butter cream...)
Oh, and notice the dimensions of the last two works : the deer installation is 41cm x 23cm, and this last one is also a model of an exhibition. I find it gives the work a specific lightness that a 1:1 scale wouldn't necessarily have.

And this? Any ideas?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Tim Crouch - "An Oak Tree"

If you want to know what Tim Crouch's An Oak Tree is about, and what it is like, first read his own description. You can also read the great reviews, although it might not be necessary after the first text. If you want to go deeper, there is a work called An Oak Tree, by Michael Craig-Martin, which inspired the piece. Now, join me.

This is not about hypnotism. Contrary to what Tim Crouch suggested after the show, I don't think a spectator is ever in a state of semi-hypnosis.
And this is not about hypnotism anyway. Although it might seem so - since it's all about the idea of believing in a world that isn't real. For the spectators, this means that we need to imagine most of the story. We get little fragments, bits and pieces, interpreted in a very "minimalist" way. The rest is our job. And that's fine, since we get lots of hints and aides in this imaginative work.
On the other hand, for the invited actor (every night a new one, and who doesn't know anything about the show) who simply follows instructions, believing in a world that isn't real means being manipulated. Doing things just because you are told to do so. How will you deal with it? And who are you when doing them? Are you the person that's trying to obey, are you some sort of an instant character, or are you yourself that decides to be someone else?
All this appears on stage in Tim Crouch's new piece. It is a true gem, a balanced, daring performance that left me fascinated by the mechanisms of belief and obedience. The story is a sad one, one of those tragedies that bring about the relief of melancholy. But we know it's just a story. We are being reminded time and again that this is all fake. Jumping in and out of the role, and insisting that the second actor not interpret (he simply doesn't get a chance to really go for it), Tim Crouch makes sure this doesn't become a psychological drama. One could even think the drama is taken away through all these theater and manipulative tricks and halts. But exactly the opposite happens: because it's so apparently dry and distant, we have breathing space. And we are forced to make the distance and imagine it all ourselves. Can you be any more distanced than having actors not act? Actually, you can, and Tim Crouch was - in his first play for adults, My Arm (before that he only made theater for children). And I think he went too far. In My Arm, the different roles were played by objects brought by the spectators. And since they were randomly chosen, they really had nothing to tell us. And it made little difference if we were watching, or just listening - the objects were sadly disposable. This time, though, everything changes. For suddenly, Tim Crouch, the master of objectification, has a challenge: a human being. And this human being on stage looks incredibly powerful and attractive because of the very fact of being one of us. And no matter how submitted he becomes, his presence is never disposable. The game between obedience and liberty is very subtle (little to do with gameshow situations). It has to do with orders, with subordinating oneself for the sake of something that is beyond you. And this is a little disturbing. We feel that Tim Crouch is using the actor, that although he doesn't ridicule him, he could, and this very possibility is discomforting.

The first night I saw it, the invited actress (the gender of the actor is indifferent to the play) was Cathy Nadan from Forced Entertainment. It was an unbelievable show. And although Tim insisted that no show is better or worse because of the actor, that they are simply different, I had a different impression. The next day I went to see the show again, this time with Teatro Praga's André C. Teodosio. He is a very good actor and it went fine. But it also confirmed what I'd suspected: that previous night was something special. You see, you have a show where it's all about instant reactions - reading from a text, repeating what you are told, making the actions you are told to... and you have an actress that has been doing exactly this (well, not only) for some 20 years. Maybe that's why she simply didn't let him manipulate too much - she gained a very delicate, and yet powerful, autonomy. It looked as if the role had been written for her: the perfect amount of an "amateur" attitude, just the right touch of pure theater interpretation, and above all, going with the flow as if this were the most natural of all things that can possibly happen on stage. Because of that, the strange feeling that it's a one man show after all went away, leaving us with what one of the best things the stage can offer: a true performance, where people do things and react and make us wonder how come we never see anything that pretty.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Marcin Maciejowski, Emmigrant, oil on canvas (2006)

found at this great Polish blog about art, where you can discover some excellent contemporary works by artists both Polish and foreign.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Here, have some Bill Henson.

If there were only darkness in the darkness, we would never look into it, would we?

Objective criticism

A judge is not allowed to take a case if he knows personally the one he judges. Shouldn't it be the same in art criticism?
But then, how would criticism be possible, if the critic is everybody's (quasi) friend? And, after all, social life is, many would say, crucial to the art world.
If this is the case, the reviewer should clearly state his relation to the reviewed (e.g., degree of intimacy, number of conversations in the last week, month, year, common friends, social events both attended, etc.). I mean this quite seriously. This would also allow the reviewer to write more objectively, without worrying about the pain of hurting the ones we care about (and whatever you say, a bad review can hurt). It would make things clear: everyone knows about us, so I simply can't promote you. I can advise you, help you, work with you. I can listen to your explanations (which is already a great advantage you have). But this is where it stops.
And if it doesn't, if you resist everything but the temptation to "help" your friends, at least things are a little clearer for the public that is not in.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Jerôme Bel by Pichet Klunchun by Jerôme Bel

Pichet Klunchun and Myself, a performance directed by Jerôme Bel, at the Alkantara Festival in Lisbon

Is it really that simple? Dancer X meets dancer Y, asks dancer Y some questions, dancer Y demonstrates, than vice versa, dancer Y interrogates dancer X... and you have a show?
Jerôme Bel, the master of entertaining conceptual performance (that some still call dance), seems to like simple formats: dance to (pop) music (The Show Must Go On), discover the body (Jérôme Bel), explain what you do (Isabel Torres). This time, the idea is of a meeting. Two people from different cultures, unknown to each other, meet. They sit down and ask each other questions about who they are and what they do and why they do what they do.
For some time, it might seem like a TV program. Pichet Klunchun, a Thai traditional dancer, tells his story and his art, he explains the basics of his work, and translates the complex vocabulary of Khon, an incredibly formal dance theater. Just a few elements distinguish this from a talk show: the attitude of Bel - respectful and purposefuly ignorant (the only element on stage besides two chairs is Bel's laptop), some very carefuly prepared answers and actions. Bel asks well. Almost as if by chance, the topic becomes death. Klunchun's incredibly slow and formal dance entry, showing one of the ways they represent death in Khon, is one of the shows most touching moments.
Another is the Thai's reaction to Bel's presentation of how he dies on stage. Because - you guessed it - the roles switch and now it is up to Bel to show the power of his art. Klunchun asks apparently innocent questions, Bel gives apparently silly answers. Klunchun is suprized, but accepts them and appreciates them. And somehow convinces us, through this strong, deep reaction, than there is more to Bel's provocative on-stage attitude (he openly admits he provokes the public, because they'll pay for the ticket anyway) than just provocation.
It is a beautiful meeting. There isn't a sign of interpretation, it all looks fresh and honest, nearly genuine. The show-and-tell format allows us to feel comfortable, as if the show went on and off, giving us plenty of room to think or just be comfortable. Of course, that is also the idea behind talk shows and circus: show a little, talk a little, don't make it too hard on the audience. But that is something I can live with. I much prefer this to actually trying to make it too hard on the audience which is so often the case. We are simple people, we see the show once, we don't know you and are unsure if we want to know you - don't scare us away too fast, please.
If there is something I found less convincing, it was the manipulative and somehow stereotypical way of seeing this meeting. Here is what I mean. Klunchun is Thai and dances a traditional Thai dance. But he says himself that he has lived in the West for many years and studied Western dance. And, although he claims he "didn't understand it", from his questions one could deduct he simply didn't understand a single thing, or lived isolated from the world. They are questions of a traditional Thai dancer, but I'm not sure such a dancer actually exists, let alone in that theater. It seemed more like Bel needed a somewhat naive, innocent character, asking the simple questions, so he could explain what he did. And that's a pity, because it would be quite fine if Klunchun simply admitted he will ask some questions from the traditional Thai point of view, as apparently he became interested in this perspective once again (in real life, that is).

Another question, which has been bothering me in several other performances, is the convention of "first time meeting". Why should we accept it, if we are to assume they are being honest? Isn't this cheating, as in, not admitting that you're not being genuine, you are reproducing something? But what alternatives are there?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Cláudia Dias - performing on this side

This is me. I am here. On my side. Giving you and idea of what my side is. Presenting it as well as I can, with what I have around me. I am no painter, my life is not filled with oil paint, or watercolor. Or clay, for that matter. It is filled with toothpaste and cigarettes and matches. This is what I know, and this is what you know. It is our shared vocabulary.
So I build my stories with our common vocabulary. I tell you about what I know best, about the things I specialize in - my town, it's places, it's memories.

This is pretty much a summary of Cláudia Dias' Guided Tour, a performance shown during the Alkantara Festival. A beautiful performance. One filled with the unpretensious poetry of storytelling. And this is the storytelling I most crave: one absolutely devoid of any trace of interpretation, of dramatization, of anything not belonging to the person that's in front of me on the stage. When Cláudia Dias says I am here, on this side. For you, of course, it is that side, but for me it is this side, we know she speaks about the part of the city (across the river) she lives in and will go on to talk about. But she is also talking about where she is at that very moment - on the stage. And the only thing that's different between her and us seems to be this little word: that.
Which is exactly why she seems so close: she knows the distance. She doesn't pretend it's not there, but doesn't make a great fuss out of it. She simply moves, paints with her household appliances, and makes her painting, for us, the onlookers, the curious tourists, the ever unsatisfied voyeurs.

Friday, June 09, 2006


impressions on Dani Lima's performance «Estratégia no 1: entre» at the Alkantara Festival

How close is too close? Say we're alone, just me, the spectator, and a performer. Say she holds my hand. Say she speaks gently behind my ear. Say she walks me through her world. Say she makes me share who I am. Is this too close? Is it too close to be a performance? Too close to be good? Too close for what? To keep the distance? To judge?
Is it too close if I let her? Of course, at first, I resist, feeling manipulated, cheated, as if I were the one making a performance for the performer. But it's not the case. My participation is only necessary to make me feel there is actually something between us. A relation. A shared experience. A picture. A recorded sound, a discovered paper or cell phone. A broken tooth.

entre is a performance. It is a performance in that it is a meeting of two people. One of them knows more than the other. One of them is a guide. The other is the guest. S-he walks through this ever-unexpected space. Accompanied. Walking into the one that guides.

entre comes as close to an encounter as one gets. You touch, but above all - you are touched. I'm glad they replaced the original title, which was Please, Choose. It is not so much about chosing, as it is about entering. Or about being chosen, about being touched. You are manipulated, laid on the ground, put into corners, on a chair, in a closet. You are being manipulated into believing there is an actual world. This is the actual world. And there is proof: this is the perfomer's real photo. This was really her grandmother. This was her real love story. This is her real smile in reaction to your answer.This, here, is a real living space you will visit. With real people saying hello, as I listen to some beautiful, melancoly music on the earphones (I chose the walk to be accompanied by music). Melancoly. The feeling accompanies me, haunts me, doesn't let go. As if I were visiting some other life, some potential life... Yes, memories of a potential life. With it's potential distances, gestures, smiles and beings. One being, that is. One person. That somehow evades me, that has a schedule, a hidden agenda. That is a performer, after all. But what do I care, as long as there is something else to discover. As long as I am being enchanted, as a spectator should always be. Does this mean I'm passive? I suppose that depends on me. Not being exactly of the passive type, I answer, I refuse a thing or two, I inquire. I act as if. As if I weren't really a spectator, as if I actually had a choice, as if I weren't manipulated into something that will not allow me to judge, to see clearly. And that's fine with her: she answers, reacts, smiles, laughs. She is a person. And that's why she is in control. And why I trust her. Until, all of a sudden, she's gone.
And that is so eerily alike to how it happens, when a person goes.
Thank You, Dani.

PS.: One thing bothered me. This is an elitist performance. It requires the knowledge and acceptance of a set of conventions. Contrary to what it might seem, anything doesn't go. More than that: you have to accept what happens, or very little actually will happen. Also, these rules go beyond the most basic, like sitting or respecting the performer. It simply doesn't seem to allow the freedom it claims to give. Especially in the parts that have more to do with the performer herself executing things. And that is a pity - as if the meeting were sometimes interrupted by fairly formal exercices, things that have more to do with the old-style hermetic performance art style than with the open and magical world that is being open. On the other hand, the festival director Mark Deputter told me in the original version (he saw the premiere in Brasil just a short while ago) there was even more of that. Hopefuly, they will keep cleaning it, focusing on the discovery of the relation with the spectator. And I hope this spectator will some day be me again.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Zbig Rybczynski's Tango (1982)

I've already written about Zbig Rybczynski. Now through this great Portuguese blog about animation, I found Rybczynski's Oscar-winning Tango.

Monday, June 05, 2006

"Who's Afraid of Representation": a concept of flesh and bones

Look at the history of performance art. Was it all in vain? All this suffering, the blood and the desperation, all for nothing? For an Art that is part of history now, that we look upon with a melancoly smile, like when you hear a child ask something silly? In Who's Afraid of Representation (shown at the Alkantara Festival), Lina Saneh and Rabih Mroué seem to look at it more like when you hear a child ask something impossible. "When we suffer, is it because we were bad?" "But what sense does it make?" And finally, our favorite: "But why?"
Saneh and Mroué seem to have decided: because of something.
This time, the history of performance art has to do with one thing: Lebanon.
In this version, the "historic" performances (of the likes of Gina Pane, Marina Abramović, Chris Burden) are put in the context of the horrible, painful history of contemporary Lebanon. Almost as if it all made sense. As if it were inscribed somewhere, justifying something, coming from somewhere further than art's, or the perfomer's, belly. Mroué and Saneh need this. They need to explain, to comprehend, to gasp the sense, some sense, in the history they know.
Is it true? The answer is neither yes or no: it's representation. It's somebody telling you something the way it could make sense. Because it has to make sense - otherwise it simply isn't worth telling. Or waking up.
I suppose Who's Afraid of Representation left many people unsatisfied. It is a simple scheme, easily understood, and dramaturgically modest.
I liked it. Because in its pure and simple game that linked a true story of a Lebanese man who went too far to the history of body art, it made me ask the naive questions.
Questioning conceptual art is good. Especially, when you're able to give these concepts another life. Fill them with new blood.
And here is one for the specialists: How does a concept handle a history? As Hegel might have said, history handles it, over and over again. It doesn't need to handle history.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

San Francisco in Jell-O

Elizabeth Hickok, San Francisco in Jell-O, C-Prints (2004)

Why, o why, am I so shallow
As to like the art in Jell-O
As to find the playful pretty
And misjudge silly for witty?

Jan Lauwers' "Isabella's Room" at the Alkantara Festival

Isabella's Room by Jan Lauwers and the Needcompany is a performance combining theater, dance and music (as in: musical, singing...).

Here is a story of a surface. Telling the story of a surface might just be the most difficult thing. When you're on the surface of the stage.
Here is a story where the word "lie" comes back in all the forms, as all its synonyms.
Here is a theater play that is an excuse to tell a story about Lauwers' father. Here is a life of an imagined woman that is an excuse for a theater play. Here is a play that's and excuse for a performance. A performance that's an excuse for a dance piece. A dance piece that's an excuse for a musical.
A musical. In the most common of worlds, that would be the right description, combining all the genres in an entertaining suite. Somehow, this is not enough. And somehow, this isn't necessarily a good sign.
It all starts with an excellent prologue. Excellent, because honest. Lauwers goes to the front of the stage and while the spectators are still entering, starts telling the story of how the play came about, and who plays who, introducing all the performers very casually.
And I would love it all to stay that way. Which it doesn't, because then begins the play. With all the problems a theatrical distance may bring, with all the longdiscourses that the self-centered artists got us used to (the text is also by Lauwers), with the tricks and licks of contemporary theater (suddenly changing subjects, rhythms, levels of performance, juxtaposing various languages and references...). What's my problem with that? Here is an example: For a very long time the confusion between the dead and the live is just confusion. But since anything goes, the characters lose the name of action. Which makes them at the same time surprizing and difficult to believe, and thus completely unsurprizing.
Lauwers himself stays onstage, oscillating between the roles of author and actor, sometimes reminding me of the productions of Tadeusz Kantor, the Polish director that continued directing his actors during some performances. But this is more modern, more slick, clean, and...distant.
In the best moments, it reminds me of some more jazzy and theater-wild version of Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark. Only Lauwers avoids Hollywood stories at all costs. His plot swirls and jumps and stretches to the very limits, creating a contemporary, personal ritual.
The memories brought on stage are more and more violent, the world seems increasingly corrupt and difficult to handle, death leaves nothing behind, neither does bitterness. Still, they dance and sing. And move on. Slowly. I suppose a ritual should be slow, but that's one reason I rarely attend rituals. This is not my time.
Everything is an excuse for everything. A beautiful, stylish excuse. Like in some jazz jam session that struggles for heterogeneity. But where does the jazz go once it's all set and fixed?
"I think you're just confused. You think too much and then your imagination runs wild." - Isabella's Room.

ps: See other reviews here. (damn, am I the only one who isn't extatic about it?)

Friday, June 02, 2006

Read More (English)

Although we all agree that art is not just visual art, it is sometimes difficult to get off the paved track of pictures. And so, anything from music through performing arts through literature seems to vanish in the haze. As if it were a different matter.
LibraryThing, as you might have guessed, is a project that has to do with reading. It is as simple as a good idea can get: share what you read. Share it with others, but also - share it with yourself. By creating a virtual library of your own books, you enter the realm of infinite connections and marvelous adventures. Well, you get the picture. You organize your books, tag them, describe them, and, above all, see what you've been missing. You can see who else owns these titles and what else they own, and thus start jumping from one tree to another... Of course, you can rate them and compare your ratings with others. Of course, if you don't like the Web 2.0 idea of communication network, you can have a private library and forget all the rest. And what's really pretty, and I mean real nice, is that you just type a tiny bit of info, and the rest is filled in automatically through one of the nearly 50 libraries its connected to worldwide(among them, the Library of Congress). If you can't find it - you can always import it, say, scanning the image and putting in the data.
I see one downside: language. Having books in several languages, I find it difficult to share and follow only the books printed in English. There has been a surge in French books (thanks to some positive internet press in France), but all this is just painfully slow. Once again, it somehow feels as if the world was English, and the rest was an appendix (one Polish library, none in Portuguese...). Then again, if the rest of the world simply doesn't make all these great sites... Then again, if they did, how would I know about it? (see the geographical location of LibraryThing users here.
This is a very young initiative (started less than a year ago). It has relatively few books on art. We could start changing that.
Signing up is just unbelievably easy. Just write your username and a password, and you're in. My mini-test-catalogue is here. If you want to catalog over 200 books, it costs $10 (for a year) or $25 (lifetime). Methinks: yay.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Alkantara Festival

Yay! Great stuff is coming to town! The Alkantara Festival brings together theater, dance and performance in a well-curated blend. Starting off will be Jan Lauwers, and then all sorts of brilliant people, including the likes of Jerôme Bel and Forced Entertainment, or, on a more local but no less talented level, Jõao Fiadeiro and Patrícia Portela.

I will be seeing a significant part of the shows, so expect reviews. If you're Portuguese, you can also read more extensive and erudite reviews at O Melhor Anjo.

Who are you?

Publishing almost daily on the net is very strange. I only get an echo very rarely through the comments or sometimes e-mails. Some people quote me or link to me. But other than that, I really have no idea. It's like some sort of a strange anonymous community, whose scope and identity seem nearly random. This particular project, this blog, has personal objectives. But it exists in public space. And yet, other than the daily statistics (and a few cents I earn every week from your encouragement), this public space seems almost transparent. And I want more. So back to you:

1. What brought you here?
2. What did you like?
3. What could be better?
4. What do you like?
5. What do you dislike?
6. What is the first image/event you remember from childhood?
7. What is the best thing/work you've seen, live or on the net, in the last month?
8. What should you be doing now?
9. What is your eye color?
10. What other place have you ever considered living in?
11. What other questions?


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