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Re: [xmca] Why Is Performance Art

I guess I think the answer is that artistic concepts are really just like other concepts. And that to me suggests three things: 
a) There are probably artistic preconcepts, including "complexes" and "syncretic heaps". Naturally, I feel that the former, being objective, are much closer to artistic concepts than the latter which are based on subjective whims,
b) The true artistic concept cannot be transferred from one head to another any more than a scientific concept can, but that does not mean it cannot be shared. Naturally, I feel the more objective an artistic structure of feeling (a concept or preconcept) is, the easier it is to share and make it conceptual but....
c) I cannot say (any longer) that one mode of sharing (painting, writing, performance) is more preconceptual than another, because all modes of sharing are simply affordances for meaning and meanings can be detached from modes by the use of language. Naturally, I feel a preference for language. But that is only because human languages are neutral; they are capable of expressing any human meaning, given time enough and space (though of course some languages have evolved to be more economical with some meanings than others, just as humans usually develop ontogenetically to be more economical in their first language than their second). 
(Kate Hers [Bak Geumyeong], who is a performance artist now living in Berlin who used to be based here in Seoul, expressed this very well in a painting she did using Korean Hanggeul to encode a message in English lexicogrammar, and then English letters to encode the same message in Korean lexicogrammar. Although most of her stuff is pretty grim, this one was interestingly universal: any writing system can be used to express any human sound, more or less...and the same is also true of meaning.)
That very neutrality, that very mutability, makes it possible for language to digest and also to regurgitate meanings from other modes, including performance. Before Sunday, I thought that performance is not a very economical mode of art for the meanings that I was interested in (I guess because I think it has to distinguish itself from drama through a process of destroying context and story much as abstract expressionist painting has sought to destroy content and referentiality). But now I think it is merely a mode that I am not good at, and about which I would like to know more. 
Sixteen years ago, Shu Yang and I had a joint exhibition with the German painter Wolfgang in der Wiesche at Jiaotong University. It was Shu Yang's idea; he was working on a book about urban development, and all of our work was urban themed in one way or another (I remember I did a painting of downtown Xi'an overrun by marauding sloth bears and sloth bears overthrown by stolen man-hole covers, but nobody got the joke). 
At the exit of the exhibition we had a very long primed canvas and a set of brushes, and exhibition goers were invited to continue the exhibition on their way out. The male male engineering students painted flowers and grass, and the girls from the education department added small rabbits and birds. Then the fine arts students arrived and painted OVER the flowers and grass and rabbits and birds--in BLACK. Wolfgang was fit to be tied: ("Ve know--aggressif painting is possible. But VHY???? Zis ve don't know and zis you don't tell us.") In some ways, I think Shu Yang is still trying to find out what was under that black paint. Alas, aggressive art is always possible. 
Seong Neungyeong, the Korean performance artist with the pingpong balls, didn't just masturbate. In fact that part of the performance didn't really come off very well, because his anatomy wouldn't fully cooperate, so he kind of played with himself for a while and then bellowed "I masturbate, therefore I am". When he finally put away the unreliable protuberance, I almost expected him to stop existing. 
He opened and closed a large plastic umbrella, he recited a poem of nonsense syllables, numbers and Korean street slang, he burned a fan, he fed people peppermint candies, he draped a large curtain over the audience, he blew a pingpong ball onto a silk handkerchief, and at one point he actually forgot what he was supposed to do next.  
The failure of his memory was even less surprising than the failure of his other organ. After all, his performance was a random chain; there wasn't any way in which each part of the performance determined or even led to the next part, there was no development and no cumulation of any kind. It was only a syncretic heap of performances; a string of actions linked by a single actor.
Shu Yang's performance, on the other hand, was really a good example of func-metho-dva-stym. It was an exercise in reconstructing the formation of signs, phylogenetically and sociogenetically as well as ontogenetically and microgenetically. He used red as a mere mark and then invited ONE person to interpret it. That person interpreted it in a way that made us see it as a sign, then added another sign. The resulting "chain" of signs was really a conversation, no different in principle from what we do here on xmca. 
It was only when the performance ended (despite the disruption of Seong Neungyeong) that we saw there really was a clear and unforgettable concept, running, like a red thread, through all of the signs: they all had something to do with the unbearableness of suffering and the shareability that makes it bearable after all.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

--- On Tue, 11/30/10, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Why Is Performance Art
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Tuesday, November 30, 2010, 8:31 PM

I wonder after reading your note, David, about how you are playing the
ambiguity of your subject line. Are we supposed to parse it two different
ways and think about the ensuing aesthetic contradictions and what they give
rise to?

There are so many branches to take!? Was the performance of the 60 year old
ping pong masturbator art? Does, perhaps, all action, having a performance
aspect to it, also include an artistic constituent? Or is there something
special about the incredible performance that Shu Yi done that makes that
performance art, but not everyday action, or not the 60 year olds
performance? Or was the 60 year old's first set of actions not art, but a
prelude to reappearance in a new context, later,
which was part of an artistic performance at a larger scale? All the
possibilities seems interesting.

On Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 8:47 PM, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>wrote:

> In Vygotsky's "Psychology of Art", the object of inquiry is what Vygotsky
> calls the "aesthetic reaction" (remember, this is his ticket to a psychology
> department dominated by the arch-reactologist Konstantin Kornilov). And the
> unit of analysis is something called the "aesthetic contradiction", a place
> where two contradictory social emotions are somehow played against each
> other until they cancel each other out.
> Unfortunately, he interprets this contradiction in ways that set form
> against real material and ideal content, rather the way that a lot of
> language teachers set "focus on form" against "focus on meaning" and "focus
> on fluency", or "assessment" against "teaching" against "learning".So
> Michelangelo carves hard marble (real material) into soft, responsive flesh
> (form) and produces a Pieta (content); a flat canvas (material) is
> painted so that it looks three dimensional (form) and produces a Veronese's
> "Wedding at Cana".
> That's all very well (well, actually it's pretty superficial!) for marble
> and paint, but it doesn't work so well with words. Vygotsky never really
> manages to establish what in a LITERARY work is material, what is form
> ("inner form", or perhaps sense) and what is content ("outer form", or
> perhaps signification).
> In "The Odyssey" we are given hexameters as "outer form", and then the
> feeling of what happens in the story as "inner form", while the events
> themselves are content. In his analysis of "Gentle Breath", we are given the
> "lightness" of the actual breathing of the readers (measured by a
> reactological apparatus from Kornilov's laboratory) as the material, the
> ordering of events (or perhaps their "lightness" and "gentleness") as form
> and their supposed "real" temporal order (or perhaps their sordidness) as
> content.
> It doesn't work at all with drama. With "Hamlet" Vygotsky abandons the
> opposition of material, form, and content. Hamlet opposes living breathing
> characters to each other (Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius), and even the hero to
> himself. "Hamlet kills the king" vs. "Hamlet does not kill the king" becomes
> the driving aesthetic contradiction, and not some imagined opposition of
> "inner" and "outer" form.
> The uniqueness of Hamlet as a play is then explainable by Shakespeare's
> novel (in both senses of the word) dramatization of self-directed
> ("egocentric") speech; two conflicting emotional lines of development are
> placed in tension, and only allowed to intersect and transform each other at
> the very end.
> This "dialogic emotion" unit of analysis yields a good reading of
> literature. Raymond Williams points out that in Gaskell's "industrial"
> novels (Mary Barton and North and South) there is a "structure of feeling"
> defined by fear on the one hand and sympathy on the other, and that what is
> really unique about her books (as opposed to Charlotte Bronte's "Shirley" or
> Charles Dickens' "Hard Times") is that they are just as decisively biased
> towards sympathy as Bronte and Dickens were towards fear.
> But I think it is NOT a good reading of "Hamlet" as performance; it doesn't
> tell us why Hamlet on stage is so different from Hamlet on screen. With
> performance there is really a very different kind of aesthetic
> contradiction, one that is, after all, related to the material.
> On Sunday, Shu Yang, who is now a fairly well known performance artist in
> Beijing, gave a performance here in Seoul. To tell you the truth, I went
> reluctantly and only because Shu Yang and I went to art school together
> sixteen years ago; I have always found performance art too decontextualized
> and narrowly corporeal to be interesting, like sculpture, but without any
> good marble or paint without canvas.
> There was a lot of that! A guy in his sixties shooting ping pong balls at
> the audience with  a slingshot, taking off his clothes, doing a workout, and
> eventually masturbating (there was a five-year-old child in the audience).
> A young woman dressed in other people's hair daubing her body with paint and
> then shaving off all their hair and her own, etc, etc, etc. Body, body,
> body. A striptease with coy footnotes and sly references.
> It wasn't quite as bad as the last time Shu Yang was here, and he presented
> a video which included a "performance' by a friend of his who hired a
> prostitute to have his child, have it aborted, and then fed the fetus to a
> dog. (Even Shu Yang couldn't bear to watch it.) But it was pretty awful.
> Then Shu Yang did a performance which I have often heard him describe but
> never actually seen. He just got up from the front row, where he was sitting
> next to me and walked up on stage, putting down a map of Seoul that he'd
> picked up at tourist information and drawing a single red line from the
> corner of his mouth to his chin with a cheap lipstick. ("I like to use
> the little things and sometimes big effect.")
> He invited somebody from the audience to come up and (in halting, and
> poorly translated English) invited the somebody to circle where he lived on
> the map of Seoul. He was then asked to tell a story or recount an experience
> that the red line on Shu Yang's face reminded him of (a broken tooth, it
> was), and to leave another mark somewhere else on Shu Yang's face.
> That mark then inspired somebody else to come up and tell a story and leave
> another mark (a bloody nose). This went on and on, with each person telling
> a story about the last mark and then leaving a new mark on Shu Yang for the
> next person to interpret. Some of the stories we heard were banale ("a
> pimple burst"). Others were horrifying ("My little girl's gums began to
> bleed and I was sure it was Dengue fever").
> A deaf woman got up and could not say anything about the performance, but
> put lipstick on and kissed Shu Yang's white shirt, and this brought on a
> whole thread of erotic reminiscences that was far sexier than anything we'd
> actually seen, but also rather terrifying (most of the stories had something
> to do with blood).
> Finally the old sling-shot-and-ping-pong-ball masturbator got up and began
> to complain (I think he was mad because Shu Yang had not participated very
> well in his own performance). He turned on Shu Yang and asked why he was
> doing this (I think that in itself showed how brilliant his performance was;
> nobody would have asked this question of any of the other performances).
> Shu Yang replied that he was doing it because he wanted to listen. So then
> the guy asked what would happen if nobody wanted to talk. He replied that
> then he would simply stop, as he would in an ordinary conversation. So then
> the guy became rather aggressive and accused Shu Yang of wanting to hear
> people's secrets. Shu Yang said, no, that he wanted to hear stories, just as
> you would in an ordinary conversation (or a good thread on xmca).
> Now, if that were ALL there was to the performance, then we would have to
> say it was a quite typical example of preconceptual thinking: a chain
> complex, like those described in Chapter Five, and like those shown in
> Paula's video
> http://vimeo.com/10689139
> But at the end, Shu Yang made a very short speech in his halting English,
> and it was translated into even more halting and awkward Korean:
> "Red is good color back in China. But it is also blood color, and it is
> flag color and it is revolution and it is earthquake, Sichuan earthquake. So
> many bloody stories. And today we hear other stories, bloody stories."
> Then he got down and used his face and body to PRINT the marks on the map,
> and finally smeared the marks all over his face, so that he looked like a
> Xi'an opera singer. And that was the end of the performance.
> Why is this performance art? Vygotsky says that it is not the case that
> individual bodies create individual minds and that individual minds then
> create individual emotions and when these are socialized they become art.
> It's much truer to say the exactly the opposite: there is a body of emotion
> which is already objective, already social, already cultural. And it's those
> emotions, and those alone, which the artist has to incarnate and individuate
> and in so doing reconceptualize. That's the peculiar "aesthetic
> contradiction" we find in performance art, or at least in performance ART.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> PS: Andy, do you know:
> Luqueer, F.L. (1967) Hegel as Educator. AMS Press: New York.
> dk
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