Institute_Institut is the last piece in the Transformational Grammar of the Institutional Glorybowl trilogy, three works exploring relationships between institutions and embodied selves.


In December of 2008, PPL co-directors Esther Neff and Brian McCorkle began a process along “documentary” lines, using texts, ideas, and opinions explicitly written/stated by a de-hierarchized body of other humans as scores for attempts to directly perform/act out/embody epistemic currents. We began the trilogy with Schooled and Unschooled (Dixon Place and The West End Theater, 2008), followed in 2009 by Workforce/Forced Work (LMCC 14 Wall Street and chashama’s 42nd St. space, 2009).

By 2010, the research had swallowed us and the work became “operatic” in attempts to reconcile “sensible” institutional schemas with the all-consuming chaos and intersubjectivity of human engagement, participation, and construction, in and of institutions. Beginning to both formalize and destroy our own perspectives and methods (we currently maintain that these are simultaneous and inseparable intentions), for Institute_Institut we conducted a series of “Focus Workshops,” happening-type performances that were open to the public and used theater and movement therapy exercises to reenact emotional and psychological relationships between individuals and institutions. Interviews, in different forms, were also conducted with participants (off the street, invited, and as part of institutional and non-institutional gatherings).

Primary Focus Workshops were held at Surreal Estate in Bushwick, Judson Church in Greenwich Village (during the Anarchist Book Fair), Studio Maya in Prospect Heights, during FIGMENT on Governer’s Island, at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, and Force and Flow Studio in Crown Heights (and elsewhere). Moving through institutional constructs like “the theater industry” and organizations including schools, workplaces, hospitals, churches, government offices and stations (police), and of course our own “nation-state,” debating social institutions like marriage, kinship, religion, language, media, and pursuing “information about” many other areas of semantically tricky institutionality, we began to break down a matrix of considerations and communications which eventually resulted in the opera libretto and music. We then cast and rehearsed the opera over the course of 8 months. Public rehearsals and performances at BOB the Pavilion at Columbia University, during Superfront’s Public Summer at Industry City, LPAC, and incubation and a run of the opera (fully staged) at the cell concluded the project. PPL collaborators on this project included: Megan Cooper, Natasha Missick, Katie Johnston, Matthew Stephen Smith, Brian Rady, Hyatt Michaels, Michael Newton, Kristin Elliot, Ellen O’Meara, Adrian Owen, Andrew Whipple, Dave Ruder, Greg Loewer Jr. and Marie Weigl. Here is a video clip from documentation of that production:

Here is a video: 

Last year, Dave Ruder approached us about making a recording of this opera (operetta really). Thus began a process of individually recording each vocal and instrumental part. This took a few months. And then mixing took a few months. Finally, the recording is completed. You can listen to it by clicking:

SALLY: Jessica Jelliffe
MOMMY 1: Gelsey Bell
MOMMY 2: Lisa Clair
MOMMY 3: Brian McCorkle
GEORGE 1: Paul Pinto
GEORGE 2: Matthew Stephen Smith
GEORGE 3: Brian Rady
ANIMALS: Baxton Alexander, Jason Craig (documentary voiceover), Kristin Elliot, Ellen O’Meara, Esther Neff, Dave Ruder
GODBRAIN: Adrian Owen
VIOLIN: Daniella Fischetti
DRUMS: Cory Bracken

We are also participating in the launch party for this batch of Gold Bolus recordings! Join us next Saturday night, July 26 @ JACK. 


Celebrating the second batch of sonic realities being dispatched by the wee Brooklyn label Gold Bolus Recordings ( Featuring sets from four acts who’ve just put out new albums and one with an album on the way, as well as booze, and of course, tin foil. Admission $10 at the door. Performances by:

goldbolusposterellen o
Backed up by her horn section, Ellen O’Meara plays tunes from her just released synth pop instant classic, Sparrows and Doves

Why Lie?
Aliza Simons & Dave Ruder + some guests playing a wide range of songs from their freshly unveiled album Osoitos

Panoply Performance Laboratory
Two acts from Esther Neff & Brian McCorkle’s 2011 opera Institute_Institut, performed by a stable of the finest singers around

Woody Leslie
Premiering a live interpretation of his ambitious sonic and visual mapping of each state in the USA

Invisible Circle
Dave Kadden delivers heavy synth, voice, & oboe tunes from his record, coming this Fall

Thank you for reading, and for listening!!!!!

PPL during Bushwick Open Studios

PPL during Bushwick Open Studios


A few weeks ago, Li Cata brought over a bottle of wine and we discussed his questions about what is DIY, politics, aesthetics, etc.  Read the discussion on the Movement Research blog Critical Correspondence HERE!!

complextstaesofemotionexpressedbysemioticallyindeterminateindividuals copy


In a similar vein, PPL are looking forward to participating in the undergroundzero festival in July:

Saturday July 12
1:00pm – 8:00pm OUTSIDE ON THE STREET: The New Museum 235 Bowery

Sunday July 13
1:00pm – 8:00pm OUTSIDE ON THE STREET: ABC No Rio 156 Rivington

Monday July 14
4:00pm to 8:00pm OUTSIDE ON THE STREET: Clemente Soto Vélez Educational and Cultural Center 107 Suffolk

Tuesday July 15
4:00pm to 8:00pm OUTSIDE ON THE STREET: Abrons Arts Center 466 Grand St.

CENTER FOR MAROONED CITIZENS is a site-specific amateur psychiatry society that gathers information on individual selves by reducing formal methodologies (including tarot, cognitive therapy, self-help) to performative, arcane interactions. A booth-like “center” will be placed at four different locations in Lower Manhattan across four days, open to the general public.

Results will appear online as infographics and texts dealing with the problematics of information ecology, especially the division of living cultural and social systems into calculable components that can (supposedly) be used to plan for the future of the Lower East Side at large.

Created and performed by Panoply Performance Laboratory (Esther Neff and Brian McCorkle).

The undergroundzero festival is an international laboratory, cooperative, and platform for adventurous, independent, risk-taking artists in the fields of theatre, dance and live arts. It was founded in 2007 by Artistic Director Paul Bargetto and has been presented in numerous venues in New York City including Collective:Unconscious, Manhattan Children’s Theater, The Flea, Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center and the Living Theatre.




In ongoing dealings with performance art and its modes of production,  PPL release the Summer 2014 Open Call.



Can performance artists “emerge”? Are we looking to “establish” and “become visible?” (if so, what do we mean by this?) Are we trying to become famous? Is your cause an emergency? Do you need something? Do you have something you want seen? We coin a term, “EV” (“Emergency Visibility”) to describe, in general and in specificity, the ways in which live performance art problematizes these concerns and often subverts conceptual, economic, and other formal paradigms.

PERFORMANCY FORUM is a platform, it holds you up, but only so that you can be seen as part of an immediate situation by a living witnesses, who exist with you in the here and now. There is no visibility beyond the present tense, no life to the work beyond it’s liveness. There may be taken photographs or video. There may be post-performance discussion. But there will be only subjective schemas by which you may measure whether or not the performance you made became visible.

Please make proposals (ideally in debate with the above) for performances to occur on SATURDAY, JULY 19, 2014 at Panoply Performance Laboratory in Brooklyn, NY.


tech needs
links to past work

in an email to: PANOPLYLAB@GMAIL.COM

FIVE ARTISTS will be selected to create performance works for the evening at PPL.
Preference is given to artists who have not performed here before (NEW BLOOD).

Artists receive all donations from the door and free beer all night + a souvenir screenshot of the Facebook event page*


*Unfortunately we do not have funds to support travel to or housing in NYC, we are a studio space run by artists, not an institution.

This year, PPL and Drearysomebody, will conclude construction of a dance-opera called ‘Any Size Mirror is a Dictator‘ with a six-week installation and durational performances at Momenta Art, Sept 5-Oct 19, 2014. 

After much debate and consideration, we have decided to launch  HATCHFUND CAMPAIGN to bring in dollars and sense.  

An in-depth analysis of this small act, written in pseudo-political science jargon (as an act of writing-as-performance as part of her role of “recursive dictator” within the dance-opera) by Esther Neff, is below. 

The idea that there is an economic crisis in the arts at all hinges on the final and hegemonic establishment of a turn-of-the-century[1] conception of art: that it is a functional—moreover fungible—part and parcel of society.

As such, “the arts” undergo the same crises as “society,” crises which are caused and demonstrated by the increasing divide between rich and poor, by the prison industrial complex and by hyper-commercialization, privatization, and corporatization, et all. These crises do, oddly, bring artistic practices and their “value(s)” into much interesting and problematic question[2], spawning areas of art theory which, for example, return to essentialist humanist views in formal argument against perceptions of art as leisure, or formally confront economies as performative systems.

I am not here to argue for any specific relationship between “art” and “society” and I will not be using any symptomatic arguments for “the value” of art (I believe that “value” itself is both constructed and subjective). Instead, at the beginning of this expository recursion and introspective case study, I simply want to note that the establishment of this basic, fundamental theory of art’s fungibility, which underlies much of art theory today, is intrinsic on a doxic level, reinforced and demonstrated “scientifically” by the rise of experimental (scientifically moded) artmaking and the rise of the 501(c) 3 sector, as aligned with the tightening grip of post-consensual capitalism. As a paradigm (i.e. thoughts and ways of thinking which are constructed to be universal), this conception of a functional/fungible “role” for art in (an ecologic/economic) society, involves certain smaller, more concrete structures which model artmaking/art and our conceptions of what art is and who artists are:

1.)  Art being a functional/fungible part of society means that the artist is a worker, first and foremost. As such, the artist is subjected to the same valuation schemas for labor as any producer of forms of fungible goods and services. As entrepreneur, as worker, as producer of product. If the artist is not making money and not working as a worker in these ways, they are not a working (“professional”) artist and their artistic labor is not valuable.

2.)  This operates intrinsically with art’s subjection within, and consideration solely as, a set of objects, which are products, fungible within markets, as markets construct economies, which in turn construct culture, which in turn constructs art, which in turn is subject to markets (see: Jameson, in which culture itself is product). This cycle, many argue and feel, is not only economic, but ecological, an understanding of sustainability, a way of existing safely and freely. If art is not being bought and sold, it is not art as it does not functionally construct culture or participate in culture at all.

3.)  That it is the artist’s responsibility to operate functionally and fungibly within these paradigms, which ultimately serve as the only way to value their existences within a society dominated hegemonically (see Antonio Gramsci) by capitalism. If an artist cannot sell their art product, the art product is not valuable.

Figuring out how to actualize the third structure for artists and art dominates much of the dialogue about an “economic crises” for art; artists’ failure to fulfill such a critical component of the ultimate theory that art is a functional part of society burdens them with debt, guilt, humiliation, and fear of ostracization from this very society. Furthermore, any artist who doubts the intention of art to be fungible finds themselves relegated to the crazy camp of outsider artist, or just bad (invaluable) artist (i.e. not participant in society).[3]

On the other side of the same coin, arguments that art is valuable because it is transcendent, therapeutic, empathically stimulating, a part of human nature/essential, beautiful, that it allows for self expression, catalyzes catharsis, and raises consciousness, even that it is anti-capitalist and/or otherwise “politically relevant,” multiply and compound as they are developed and designed to insist why certain art (and programs which teach, fund, and otherwise support art) should be exchanged with money, and/or a lot of money. Thus, conceptions of the values of art are Totally formed by structures for capitalism-based valuation schemas.[4]

This is the point in roundtables about arts economies at which someone always says something reductivist (but “true”) basically stating that: Despite any objections to this vast paradigm (i.e. capitalism itself and its models for human existence), artists such as ourselves ARE, without a doubt, humans living in this society where all goods and services, including space (housing, land, essentially), food (less controlled but totally related with currency within urban areas, see land), health care (access to medicines and specialist members of society), water (see, housing, there are no more public drinking fountains and it is against city laws to open a fire hydrant) and all other resources are subject to currency-based capitalism. When we attempt to work for any reason other than capital gain, we soon find ourselves resourceless (homeless, hungry, sick, thirsty, naked, etc), not to mention deemed valueless as individuals. Capitalism is not a choice, its autopoetic many-headed modes perhaps dominate our very consciousnesses, (see Meszaros) perhaps especially in urban areas, and perhaps especially in New York City. The question we must ask ourselves thus becomes less about how to, futilely, as martyrs or nuns, resist fungibility and become ascetics (somehow) anesthetic to capitalism and more about how to functionally survive as participants, social animals, in society. Perhaps we can most agree: we would like to survive ethically, practically, with compassion and generosity, but we would also like to survive in society (with people, who are the sum, substance, subject, and source of all art as it is made by people), and so we seek ethical, practical, compassionate, and generous ways of dealing with some kind of monetization of art.

A sick hope remains, in me, that art itself will prove that some human agency and potential for something else is still possible (and maybe even help us act out what that something might be).

The first problem confronted, within ensuing, weakly hopeful little interventions within a functionalist (subsequently, capitalist) world, deals with the scale of any one project and its scope, first and foremost.

So what do we have, within our own techniques and methodologies that we can use to determine how to function? Free, or “poor” artworks, to borrow Grotowski’s term, are agit-prop, DIY, and do not require a lot of labor, abundant resources, or private space. These ways of working “poorly” are useful ways, in creating a dance-opera, to build set, costumes, props, and other elements of said opera. “Poorness” is a politics of aesthetics here, and a part of other ideological structures, like mutualism, and collaboration. In NYC, we have Materials for the Arts, dumpster diving, and opportunities to learn skills like sewing and carpentry to Do It ourselves. Many (myself included) also like hand-drawing, and the homemade, as purely pleasurable/aesthetic decisions. However, though these politics of aesthetics and action subvert dominant exchange models, they are also defined by their subversion, negatively reinforcing the very models they resist (this is a complicated idea, see Žižek for more on “negative reinforcement” and how modes designed in direct opposition to other modes serve to reinforce the dominance of that mode being opposed).

Also, the actual problem hits full force when low-level engagement of time and labor is detrimental to the work, which it often is when you’re doing it yourself: if the work is to be complex, detailed, and able to engage with multi-directional logics and somatics of contemporary human life, there are certain types of “poorness” which curtail and oppress the work, ultimately removing the necessity of its existence, at the very least dulling its impact (this is one of many ways in which poorness is oppressive across spheres, see a parallel in food wherein eating healthy requires time or money and cheap fast food is always unhealthy, functionally maintaining the dis-ease of those in poverty, and the entire paradigm, fossil fuels used in transportation and the whole of it, is ultimately the worst of all for health). In art, dis-ease happens in aspects of complexity, originality, virtuoso, and the ability of art and artmaking to “ease” and “dis-ease” existence in its own ways,[5] as the most detrimental poverty to these modes of artmaking is lack of time.

Case study, my collaborators and I have dealt with this problem by making work slowly, developing an opera over a few years so as to not take up too much of any one individual’s time at any given time, but it must take a lot of time regardless, in order to be both cheap yet be healthy and define health (of body, mind, planet[6]). In the end, time becomes more valuable than money, much time is spent, and time is still a tangible part of labor systems which demand that labor be compensated if the laborers are to survive (as one person only has so much time in which to labor).

Second, and very much interrelated with the above, emotional/political/ideological beliefs support the social aspects of a project of theater and/or dance, which involve more than one artist working together, often in larger teams. In addition to creating solidarity and better work with more heads put together, the need and desire to work collaboratively further links our practices into monetary economy; it is one thing for a single individual to separate the production of art from other modes of production, i.e. to work in another sector for money and to make art with this money (time as philanthropy, art as personal cause). When labor, however, is delegated, and groups of performers are asked to organize their lives so that they can work towards a larger-scale project (especially if the core of the project is the vision of a central dictating choreographer, director, composer, or the like) free labor becomes slavery else artists are paid fairly.

These first two problems have only one ethical response for a maker/generative artist such as myself (and I have attended so many panels to this effect, Lindsey Drury, the choreographer of this case study even founded a task force to deal with Rights for dancers, especially women dancers): performers must be respected, they must have reasonable hours, they must have healthcare, they must be paid for their time. There is nothing else (no “opportunity,” no “learning experience,” no “we’re all in this together”) that can be traded performers for their time that is worth as much as money (performers who each generate their own work as makers in their own right and face these problems when they do so, we all perform for each other, all need to be paid).

How to raise money to pay artists is the secondmost point on which most artists and cultural advocates are stuck. I might imagine a world in which institutions and generative artists provide the essentials, such as housing and food, in exchange for art, but this exists only in our imagination; institutions and “generative artists” are, of course, largely crippled themselves by the same structures outlined above.

Moreover, the absolute necessity of paying performers comes into conflict with another two problems when we start asking where we are going to get this payment money: Since this case-study is a dance-opera, the obvious answer seems to be ticket sales. Looking closely into this model however, we bear witness to a closure of access to art; if this is the way, then our art becomes a luxury product that is VERY expensive to buy if we rely solely on ticket sales to reimburse performers for their labor. I mean to say, that if the income from our product being purchased is directly correlated with the worth of the labor performed, only the wealthy could buy it, since we put a lot of time into it. A direct production model for art either decreases the quality of the work (it becomes fast, cheap, and unconsidered, see above) or limits access to individuals and groups living in poverty (for example, most of our friends and fellow arts community members). Not only does the sheer number of people who are subsequently barred from education, health care, and other necessities increase every day (as these things become luxuries), the number and kinds of people who are expected/able to pay us for our labor diminish and homogenize. Personally, I have absolutely no desire to make art for the wealthy only. Nor do I want to make art that is deemed valuable enough to buy only be extremely privileged sectors of a society. Against this last sentence, arguments that artists have always had benefactors bear some weight, and perhaps I/we would gratefully accept such support if such an angel appeared, a miracle.

More likely sticking around, is this problem of access and the position of art and who pays for it, a problem that leads us into the larger problem of free market economies in general. Another symptomatic problem of this larger problem of the free market is that when artists rely on supply-and-demand alone, the amount of supply (product) that is deemed valuable is limited. This may seem fine, maybe one can argue that the world doesn’t need that much art and that those artists who can’t become pop (on the level of Lady Gaga say, who can afford to pay her backup dancers fairly) should not make art at all. This argument about the free market and its effects on the art itself has always been a problem for “the avant-garde;” the complaint being that work that precedes (in time, supposedly) a demand for itself is unlikely to become popular on a large-enough level to support itself through its own sale alone. Also, not all art will ever be intended for a mass audience, and not all art is even recognizable as culture/a part of society before it constructs culture and society itself via its own existence. The free market has also always been a problem for community-based art, which serves those making it and those benefiting from the locality, energy, and other elements of its making, often not from any product. Another related consideration to be underlined out of the assumptive text above is that art is not only about the product of art, artmaking itself can be a “valuable” process that individuals should be able and allowed to participate in, across social strata and beyond any economic viability of their products.

Models attempting to resolve (make sustainable a solution to) these problems that work within capitalism include (across problems): lobbying/proposal writing/activism for government funding for art (actual funding of which there becomes less and less), philanthropy (i.e. asking those with money to pay for the making of the work), reversion to sale of objects and object-based work, and the artists working outside of the arts sector to fund the art.

Back to the “case study.”


PPL, the collective of which I am co-director with Brian McCorkle, is a loose and project-based team of poor artists making “avant garde” “performance art” “opera.” Driven by McCorkle’s and my “ethics and values,” PPL usually pursues few of these resolution-of-economic-problems models[7], relying instead on finding a balance between “poor” politics of aesthetics, conviction/martyrdom, small-group (duo) performances, making work in institutions and for higher-class artists that can pay us, and working day jobs in arts education. However, this project that we are making now, a dance-opera called Any Size Mirror is a Dictator, functions, and seeks to function in a very socially-dramaturgical manner. It is, in its own autopoetically insane way, forcing us to be “fungible,” as it evolves to inaccurately and psychopathically “reflect” the society it constructs and is constructed by. We have created reflective performance structures that we do not control, after many months of working towards this idea. As a project intentionally and systemically put-into-repetition, Any Size Mirror is a Dictator actually has no ethics, it seeks to become what it can see in the mirror, and sometimes it sees us seeing it: starving, angry, fools, enslaved to our own ideological romances with art history (before post-consensual capitalism), our own desires to be important and valuable in non-capital-based ways, and our own inability to truly function without being fungible. Simultaneously, our 3-year process of exhaustive reflectivity tells us, if we want to truly make ART, as art defines itself, and refuses to be defined by any dictatorship, even one formed, silently, of concept (“politics,” “society,” “mental health”), simulacra (currency=gold, culture=market) and values (the value of a human being, the value of a situation/experience, beliefs in rightness, beliefs in quality, beliefs and desires conflating and inflating), we must give the project what it wants, and see where we can go, NOT argue for the empiric value of something that we think we understand.

It is here, strangely torn between the very concrete empty savings account and the silver-lined clouds of civilization’s collapse, that crowd-funding (stupid name) becomes our best (i.e. most ethical, supported by the beliefs and suppositions espoused here) option. It has become important to us, and to this project, solely this project.

This may seem silly, but hear me out…Crowd-funding first deals with the immediate problem: it allows us a way to pay performers during and directly related to their processes of artmaking. Parallel, time becomes money, at least in an almost fair way (depending on how much money we can raise). Crowd-funding is also deemed our most ethical option because it allows the performances of the work to be free (i.e. we ask only for payment for the labor of the employed performers), and so people of all classes can experience the “product.” This freeness usually (has in the past) results in a high demand for our “product(ions),” audiences grow large (though not mass) and remain diverse (in many different ways). The freeness and availability of our work in product(ion) form then, is our second ideological consideration. Complicit with us in this freeness scheme, is Momenta Art, the gallery where we will hold this project’s six-week installation and durational performances. It is worth noting, in response to those who might suggest we relocate our demands to be paid, that Momenta is a not-for-profit space. Momenta disseminates and exhibits artworks and artworking that is certainly not meant for mass consumption, processes and art which often hold forms that are difficult to monetize (i.e. performance, social arts practices, documentation of community projects as visual art, meetings and panels, etc). We would like to support their organization as much as they support ours, we engage with Momenta on a mutualistic level, not as their employees. If you would prefer to support Momenta, please do so! Relatedly, Crowd-funding usually relies on small donations, not large chunks of money from wealthy patrons alone. This allows classes, communities, and cultural subsectors to work together to fund art, and allows individuals and groups throughout various “strata” to decide what art they want to support.

Crowd-funding is a form of free-market demand modelling, which attempts to trade the value of our product for your money, but actually it fails to model this alone, because your donations may also be driven by your love for one of the performers, or by a reciprocal relationship within our local arts community. In some ways, the crowd does not care if the product is “valuable,” and it may even use other evaluation schemas than those directly constructed by capitalism (if indeed there are any[8]). Finally, crowd-funding allows audience members to our work and supporters of us as people to perform their own agency, using whatever justifications they hold dear, perhaps using beliefs that there is value to art that is made grassroots, by people rather than by companies. Perhaps we can even believe that live events are valuable, that face-to-face relationships and shared situations are valuable towards cultural and social being-together, valuable enough to deserve money, which is the highest form of value, within economically-dominated post-consensual capitalism.

Click HERE to visit our Hatchfund Campaign

As an after-note, let it be noted that, we have chosen Hatchfund carefully. Maintaining the pressures of a time-sensitive campaign via requirement of a minimum earning, Hatchfund does not take the funds from unsuccessful campaigns, they distribute these funds as matches to other projects. They also take NO cut of artist income, rather inviting donors to pay for their administrative labor costs. Even further, they operate interpersonally, working closely with artists and paying close attention to each project they accept; you have to apply to Hatchfund, they choose based on experientially-developed conceptions of a reasonable budget, fundraising plan, and possibility of the project being completed. All donations are tax-deductible, and you will not have to pay for a ticket to experience the final work.[9]


[1] 21st

[2] Questions which, perhaps inform performative turning and actually bode quite well for the health of art as a self-defining way of becoming…questions such as, is there such a thing as universality? (towards deciding if something can be universally valuable, see the euro), what is the nature of nature? (towards determining if we are really all going to die at our own hands), and so on. This is a pretty great time for art and for philosophy, and for relationships between these (now global, finally diasporous and conflictual, performance especially becomes a way of thinking about existence, far beyond what is variously defined as “art.”)

[3] I’m not saying that functionality is the opposite of “art for art’s sake” (this, in many ways, is a great argument for the monetary value of an art object/product) I am saying that art is forced to function, before it is even deemed art, as a fungible thing/functions as a valuable thing.

[4] The implications of this forced relationship is evident within art criticism art history, academic spheres, and intellectualism at large, which have experienced the same subjections and capitulatory shifts as art and artmaking communities.

[5] Performance may deal in content, to follow the analogy, with foods such as carrots and hamburgers, but performing as actual acts is analogous to forming different human relationships with health as a concept.

[6] A jolt of embarrassment hit me as I wrote these three words like that. I am just coming to realize that this type of embarrassment means that I am being what may be perceived as uncool, uncouth, (fucking hippie!) “insensible,” just like the “woman,” “poor person,” “mentally ill person” that I am, etc. Maybe I should write towards this type of embarrassment…

[7] We do apply for some grants, but we rarely get them, we have difficulty participating in market-driven institutions, various and complicated particular situations here…

[8] Of course there are! Didn’t your momma love you when you were a baby?

[9] As per all crowd-funding campaigns, we are also offering “perks” in exchange for your money, which I guess is in case the art isn’t enough on its own, but more probably designed to assuage the artist’s deep fear that the art isn’t enough.


A report on the panel discussion “WHO CAN WRITE ABOUT PERFORMANCE ART?” presented by PERFORMA Institute and NYU Steinhardt at Judson Church, 04/24/2014.

PROGRAM via e-flux announcements.

“Why Dance in the Art World?,” presented by The Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt at Judson Memorial Church on September 17, 2012. Photo © Paula Court

“Why Dance in the Art World?,” presented by The Performa Institute and NYU Steinhardt at Judson Memorial Church on September 17, 2012. Photo © Paula Court

This is a written response to a panel discussion. I will understand the panel as a public performance, problematically attempting to identify the assumptions, intentions, concerns, and theoretical positions of the panelist-performers and then to judge success or failure in their realizations, complications, and expressions of these. Subjective judgment will be used to declare the panel’s cultural relevance and value, and to show where the panel is without cultural relevance and value, each at my own discretion. Throughout this critical explication, judgment, and process of (e)valuation, my own theories and opinions will inevitably emerge, combining my embodied experience as a witness with my synthesizing thought processes as performed during and after the performance of the panel. I will also write in a style that parodies abstract “art language” as it exists in dialogue with philosophy, social theory, and other formal systemizations of nooespheres (1).

Adrienne Edwards introduces the event, speaking about the history of and “substantial contribution to the field” made by PERFORMA the institute and by PERFORMA the rest of it. Edwards reads the panelist bios and then turns the microphone over to panel moderator/panel participant RoseLee Goldberg, the founder of PERFORMA. Goldberg first notes the anniversary of PERFORMA and re-describes the institution’s venerable history of similar panel discussions, further mediating and assigning value to the situation and context. She draws attention to importance of Judson Church, making a gesture of open, raised hands to the vaulted ceiling of the space and the stained-glass apostles basking in the 6pm light. Goldberg then asks for a show of hands, saying she needs to get a sense of who she is talking to: who is an art historian? How many critics in the audience? Writers? Anthropologists? Theater, dance, film, or music practitioners? Most of the hands remain down, as she does not ask who is a “performance artist,” or who is a “babysitter,” and I recognize a majority of individuals who might identify as both of these. The attempt to identify the individuals present is no doubt an attempt to be inclusive and to recognize the performance situation. However, the neglect of performance artists specifically attests the opinion that (as many fellow attendees of the panel later contest) “performance art” is more of a critical category or movement like Feminism or Abstract Expressionism (primarily to be defined by critics, art historians, and curators not by artists), rather than as its own discipline or set of concerns (see the end of this piece of writing for more on this). After this interactive show-of-hands game, Goldberg leans forward against the podium to perform a narrative about her own background, epistemic evolution, and intellectual subjectivity. Goldberg moves and speaks with a cool grace, her speech patterns and vocabulary are direct and bent on universalization, the language of a politician. In rhetorical content, she is similarly level, serving up what I perceive as four “meta-concerns” for the panel as a whole: context, situationality, subjectivity, and framing processes, as such. (These words are somewhat arbitrary but I use them to draw a shaky line around what I see as the most general clusters of frames, ideologies, and perspectives put forth by the panel as a performance.)

Construction-Destruction-Construction, 1967 Performers: Al Hansen, Jon Hendricks, Taylor Mead, Ralph Ortiz, Lil Picard, Jean Touche, and Viva C-D-C took place at Judson Church on October 20, 1967, and at The Factory in November 1967.

Construction-Destruction-Construction, 1967
Performers: Al Hansen, Jon Hendricks, Taylor Mead, Ralph Ortiz, Lil Picard, Jean Touche, and Viva
C-D-C took place at Judson Church on October 20, 1967, and at The Factory in November 1967.

Golberg provides instruction to the other panelists to continue to observe these four meta-concerns as governing frames for the panel: she asks them to note context in terms of her own book and the live PERFORMA festival (a context including history and dialectic locale of the institute, NYU Steinhardt–which is hardly mentioned at all and I’m not sure who is the representative party from this institution–and Judson Church), indicates to the panelists what the panelists will do and how they will do it with regards to microphones and podium (by which site will interact with performance actions) and instructs the panelists to provide their own background narrative so that specific subjectivies can be known by the audience (by which their subjectivities will be made transparent).


Throughout each of their initial presentations, the panelists will lay out different types of contexts, using contextualizing and historicizing matter like texts, witnessed performances, historical facts, and documentation and using definitions of contexts as functional, (and thus valuable) dialectic components (2). The contexts of History, they agree, are empiric though subjective, ephemeral yet dialogic, inclusive yet exclusive. The differences between journalism, art historical writing, theoretical writing, and criticism are noted as contexts for subjectivities, mediating conditions (the pressures of working for a newspaper, for example), and processes alike. Contexts such as “academia” and “the art world” are seen as objective systems which simultaneously produce art and are produced by art.

The artworld (Danto, Becker, Dickie) and academia (public and private institutional research divided into fields of study and discourse) are the only two contexts named “contexts” as such, though the panelists complicate these as a matter of interesting point during their individual presentations. Economic and political contexts are loosely identified as parameters for differences and identities. Claire Bishop and Adrian Heathfield keep their panelist presentations trained within leftist dialectics but their more contemporary eyes on philosophy (i.e. formal logics in conflicting dialogue with social and political processes, Hegelian problems with agency and universalism) are somewhat obscured by the ways in which the panel’s meta-concerns are heavily maintenanced/mediated, and ultimately excluded by the way in which PERFORMA’s authority is asserted via the panel’s active forms and self-contextualizations.

Throughout the panel presentations and following discussion, disciplinary context is of utmost amicable concern: the panelists discuss how theater, dance, and art are all skill-based traditions as well as institutions, economies, dialectics, and valuation schemas. They agree that interdisciplinary skills, multiculturalism, hybridity, general conflictuality, and intellectual catholicism are useful and are to be valued. However, “knowledge” is only tangentially problematized as such, left standing even as differing historicizing agendas emerge. I am forced to assume that this word, “knowledge,” is functioning in a semantic code for “universal” processes for thinking (processes, which separated from that which is thought about, are sometimes considered the threshold of possibility for such a thing as “universal” anything).

Contextuality, as an overarching concern, navigates the panel’s improvisatory dialogue following the initial individual presentations by the panelists too. It provides easy navigation via its discursive appropriation and synthesizing aims, easy first because there is extensive writing within the dialectics co-constructed by global academy and the global artworld debating “distinct formative genealogies” (Adrian Heathfield) and secondly because well-defined competing genealogies as performable tensions are ideal dramatic conflicts for a performance, such as a panel. Third, and verging on an almost teleological absurdity, “context” as an idea has been most formalized by linguistic fields as a way of dealing with relationships between language and social affect. This allows the performance of the dialogue itself and the discourse rehearsed by the performance of that dialogue, to operate in agreement. This agreement is, in fact, is one functional (Platonian) definition of “a dialectic.” (3)

PERFORMA '13 opening party. Photo from GuestofaGuest. (I was there performing in a piece by but I didn't take a photo--author)

PERFORMA ’13 opening party. Photo from GuestofaGuest. (I was there but craps I didn’t take a photo–author ;-)


This meta-concern is partially subsumed by context in general but demands that attention be drawn to it as a way of “dealing with it.” I might better entitle this framing concern “acts of situational recognition and coordination,” in attempts to separate this concern from contextuality.

Attention is drawn to the site and situation as a kind of moral act, a Brechtian (Brecht is mentioned three times during this panel) self-reflexivity that trades transparency for authorization, and values embodiment as a performed attempt to consciously perform construction of context rather than capitulate to an “existing” monolithic context (such as “academia”).

Despite the urgency of this concern, this panel maintained an autopoetic, dialectic constructivity as a dramaturgical design, making any formative “inclusion of the other” problematic if not impossible (as such acts of recognition serve to further position the recognizers in opposition/separation from “otherness,” i.e. otherness is defined by “not otherness”), and the colonial structure of the panel, as a form, remains unreformed by mere recognition. I reiterate; performance structures for this panel are not adjusted in any conclusory accordance with any political or social ideology regarding the site or its situation; the structure used operates in accordance with dominant/traditional/default academic panel formats of 2014. The arrangement of the audience in relationship to the panels is theatrical, the panelists sit behind a table on a stage in front of a sea of front-facing audience members in rows of folding chairs. Panelist blocking (as in the bodies of the panelists performing mise en scene) involves each panelist rising from their seat behind the table and moving to a podium downstage right. The panelist then has 13 minutes to present something that they feel relates to the purpose and intention of the panel (which is “writing about performance art” and “who can do it” see framing text in the program and this list of meta-frames). After this presentation of self and substance, panelists return to their seats as Goldberg picks out one element from their presentation to summarize and essentially add to the following collective, improvised, discussion. It is stated, by most of the panelists, that site (geographically in the city, in the country, in the world) and situation (the panel as a panel and as a form for a panel) can be considered a part of context and that all of this is somehow important without being presently formative/instructive/applicable/actionable. Only Adrian Heathfield notes that his position as an “exemplary authority,” standing on a dais in front of a disempowered, silent audience, is uncomfortable and should be considered.


Photo from Hrag Vartanian's instagram account of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses.

Photo from Hrag Vartanian’s instagram account of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses.

Hrag Vartanian’s process is also self-reflexive as suggested by the conflux between frameworks valuing inclusion of context, site/situationality, subjectivity, and process as meta-concerns. As a journalist, Vartanian explains, he is concerned with performing witnessing, and acts of performance documentation and dissemination. His concerns cause him to consider his own presence and subjectivities. As an example, Vartanian tells of a performance that he disliked while it was being performed, finding that some time later and in a different place, he felt the piece in a new and powerful way. Here, he is discussing an experience of subjectivity, a translating and using of one’s own emotional and psychological experience into writing. The writing self here is neither an objective nor a funhouse mirror, the writing self is an agent capable of engaging with time and space, in the same ways that a performer does when entering a performance situation. Witnessing becomes a form of presence, and not just during a performance, but throughout a process of intending and then performing writing or, sometimes, in Vartanian’s case, photographing and posting online. Noting Vartanian’s engagement with the internet also as a mode of performance, strong interest is sparked by relationships between his ideas and Philp Auslander’s much-cited article “The Performativity of Performance Documentation” (PAJ 84, 2006) in which the difference between “documentary” and “theatrical” photography is posed as an ideological intention (but whose?). Auslander writes that he is “suggesting that performance documents are not analogous to constatives, but to performatives: in other words, the act of documenting an event as a performance is what constitutes it as such. Documentation does not simply gener- ate image/statements that describe an autonomous performance and state that it occurred: it produces an event as a performance and, as Frazer Ward suggests, the performer as “artist.” Here, the intentions of the photographer as productive/generative acts is hinted (perhaps it is the photographer who holds an idealogical intention about the operation of the photograph? But to what extent does the photographer design/act out their production of the event as a performance and produce the definition of the artist as artist other than via the eventual inclusion or exclusion of that photograph in public record?) and Vartanian’s interest in his own “writing up,” ”photographing” and “uploading” bring this ongoing chain of debate surrounding documentation of performance into a more complex and contemporary place.

John Rockwell begins by (situationally) drawing attention to the different forms of notes and the divide between himself and Vartanian, who improvise their presentations from notes, and the through-written readings of texts by Heathfield and Bishop. His subjective perspective, he says, is “cheerfully barbaric” and self-proclaimed as “somewhat anti-intellectual.” He encourages young writers to attend a lot of performance art and reiterates the need for a broad education for writers about performance art. Near the end of his statement, Rockwell notices that he has been making a rhetorical separation between “us” and “them” regarding Western thinking and artworlds. His recognition of this expands in some moments of self-consciousness as he discusses his familiarity with Western art and white artists, problematically conflating groups and identities, devolving into a flippant tone. There is some complicit laughter in the audience, rewarding Rockwell’s frankness. He poses frankness, irony, straight-talk, and common language against academic and artworld dialectics to an extent, but perhaps accidentally aligns what he perceives as a “normativity” (white, male, cis, straight, Western?) with the former. This alignment is a paradigm which Rockwell would no doubt dispute, but in his attempts to locate his own subjectivity he finds its reinforcement.

Each of the panelists give background on themselves, describing their initial interest in performance art, linking their projects to individual artists, institutions, time periods, and geographic locations. The individual artists include Jonah Bokaer (Bishop), Tcheh Hsieh (Heathfield), time periods include the 1980’s and 1960’s, geographic locations are London, New York, Sydney. Two of the panelists are professors, one is a critic, one is a blogger, and one describes herself as a “curator, art historian.” Subjective perspectives, if they can be defined at all, might be defined as “Western,” “Feminist,” “Pedagogical,” “American,” “South African,” “British” and so on.


Claire Bishop begins her presentation by noting that the business of a panel performer is to attack and re-frame the panel’s framing. This process of debating the frame as a frame for the panel itself is re-introduced as a recommended procedure by Adrian Heathfield. In both of their spoken texts (they are reading partially-memorized papers), shifting frames are expertly outlined as they pass by, words have a rhythmic sensibility that make for pleasurable listening. In the best of lecture situations, the listener can follow the logic of both the framing process and see/understand that which is being framed, while enjoying the words and voice (assonance, tonality, timbre, volume, emotional expression, etcetera). I am reminded of Vanessa Place’s definition of a “sobject” in Notes on

Small Stellated Dodecahedron

Small Stellated Dodecahedron

Conceptualisms which locates the subject/object “existing in an ongoing procedural loop, self-eclipsed by degrees.” In the performances of both Bishop and Heathfield, their virtuoso in performing these procedural, self-eclipsing loops of thought and language is breathtaking. Bishop ties processes of dialecticization to performance writing, knitting the act of defining disciplines to art history trajectories, tying modes of production to skilling and de-skilling dialectics, etc (see types of contexts, above). The dialectic (a mathematics) emerges as a shimmering tetrahedron.


The presentations of the panel performers serve to complicate the initial meta-concerns for the event, following a dialogic (4) process which seeks to contribute co-constructive layers of insight. Heathfield’s text seemed most successful to me with regards to this intention, as he posed the performance artist as a practical philosopher and as a writer who opens up the space between politics and philosophy, describing how writing about performance, writing in performance i.e. performance text, performance as writing, and the performance of writing embodies active investigation into relevant problematics. This idea at first seemed unexciting contextually (i.e. linguistically), as his conceptual metaphors of “opening up spaces” and of “filling holes” as well as an intertwined personal narrative about the 1980’s seemed to bent towards that impossible omega point where all of reality is understood and all problems solved (see Goldberg, see Modernism and Plato’s Cave) or at least a project of “successful failure,” as formal yet impossible attempt towards such a thing (object and/or arrayed objects of knowledge). Yet when Heathfield begins to number out the schemas and dialectics via which performance has its own frame, he began to pose problematics as processes, aligning himself with what I feel are exactly the modes being realized by practicing performance artists. These are my notes that I wrote as he spoke verbatim, it is a list of the ideas he feels that performance art and writing about performance as well as writing using performance as its core metaphor and theoretical form (I hope this is what he was saying) co-construct:

Psychotherapy. “Holes in structures of constantive knowing.” Politics of visibility, voice, and access, altern bodies (Feminism, queer and post-colonial theory). Phenomenology, affect theory, generative frames, the sensate, embodiment. Relation, social and aesthetic theory, activism, “trouble economics” and “identitarianism,” collaborative writing, power paradigms, ways of thinking and being.

Zefrey Throwell, Ocularpation Wall Street, 2011.

Zefrey Throwell, Ocularpation Wall Street, 2011.

Hrag Vartanian’s perspective overlapped with Heathfield’s despite their very different lexicon and “contexts.” First, Vartanian spoke directly of artists and their acts, mentioning Zefrey Throwell’s public actions just before OCCUPY officially began on September 17, 2011, the collective institutional critique project Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival, (see photo below and statement of bias) and several other works, pointing to the ways in which performance art projects relate with other fields and spheres of research, scholarship, theory, and analysis, existing in and as writing. He also brought up the internet rather slyly, speaking plainly about how images via Instagram and Facebook are “writings” about the witness’ experience and role within the performance situation. He put forth the idea that these image-based forms work well to understand work that deals in and with the present and presentness. Vartanian and Heathfield agreed that writing as a practice is a “troubling of identity,” and that the performance of the writer must be considered when that writer is writing in relationship with performance art (see: subjectivity).

The panelists all spoke with a certain advocacy for performance art. Bishop cited the recent Guardian article by Jonathan Jones dismissing performance art at large as silly cultural banality. “A need for more thoughtful, persuasive criticism which can also call a spade a spade” she said. Goldberg, Vartanian, and Rockwell agree that artists should be taken more seriously, young writers don’t read enough and aren’t any good, plugs for funding PERFORMA and for the institutions with which the panelists work are made.

Documentation image, Chris Burden "Shoot" (1971)

Documentation image, Chris Burden “Shoot” (1971)

In the discussion following the individual presentations, additional problems and questions are raised, the primary discussion is about processes of art historical writing regarding performances which have passed. Can a performance be written about by a writer who wasn’t present during the live performance? At first, I didn’t understand why this question should take up so much time, but it does seem to be one of the cruxes of one of the most intensive conflicts surrounding performance art:

Brought up and turned into a lively discussion by Claire Bishop and RoseLee Goldberg, these two seemed to argue with a certain heat for the primacy of an art-historical context and for a writer to know about the history of performance art, towards contextualizing a performance art work (or artist) within art history. By primacy of context, I mean that for them, art history is a context which defines performance art. Generally, I mean a closure of definitions of Performance Art (capital letters) into that performance work which is written about. (i.e. only performance art that is written about is actually performance art, see Auslander again making the similar argument about photography of performance). Running beneath this argument which is not quite an argument (Adrian Heathfield attempts to indicate the diversity of contexts for performance art but speaks with such indirect language that the points fall to the side of the conversation) is what I see as a simple and banal attempt to own performance art, for PERFORMA and Claire Bishop, as institiutions and as individuals represented by RoseLee Golberg and by the body of the theorist herself (respectively), to use the panel to authorize their definitive perspectives and knowledges about performance art. This is to be expected, and is, perhaps, obligatory. I have, however, been looking for a way to describe in this piece of writing, the vicious antagonism of performance artists in the audience of this panel towards this panel, and the antagonism of performance artists working in New York City (and perhaps beyond) towards PERFORMA and institutions and the art world and academia at large.

This antagonism between performance artists and specifically PERFORMA is aggravated during this panel event when Goldberg attempts to skip over the audience question-and-answer section expected by the format of the panel. Perhaps she hoped to avoid a public confrontation. Unfortunately, the questions that were asked, after the panelists themselves protested that the panel should include an open Q and A, turned out to be so uninteresting and confused that I don’t care to write about them. Another moment was an inaudible (unamplified) statement from someone named Anna in the audience, prompted by Goldberg.

In writing now, I can’t neglect the discussions had by working performance artists about this panel after its performance, as many expressed frustrations that exceed contained, formal, dialectic disagreement with the meta-contexts I have superimposed on the experience. I am tempted to throw many complaints out as forms of “sour grapes,” levied by careerist artists demanding attention and recognition in the form of writing by academics and artworld authorities. These complaints range from the simple “but why doesn’t PERFORMA actually curate performance artists?” (see “communitarian vagueness” below, who is a performance artist and who gets to say they are one?) through legitimate demands for access to artmarkets and inclusion art history (as aligned with Goldberg own concerns). In regards to these frustrations, it may be interesting to note that only Hrag Vartanian has performed witness to and performed within the thriving, throbbing, International subculture of performance art with which the writer of this essay is most familiar. At least, he is the only one who has written about it. For those who may not know, there is a “community” of some formality, involving Rapid Pulse in Chicago, MPA-B in Berlin, and festivals across most major cities in the world (and many in smaller towns and rural areas besides) operating throughout DIY spaces, independent galleries, public spaces, and organizations with varying degrees (and often total lack) of artworld and/or academic engagement. From the Venice Biennale through Anaze Izquierdo’s organization in her apartment in Lima, artists who self-define as primarily performance artists are producing work within this convergent-yet-separate performance art community, artists ranging from the very established (such as Mobius, like Ron Athey, Marilyn Arsem, Vest and Page, Guillermo Gomez-Pena) to those who perform primarily on the street (Matthew Silver, Kalan Sherrard, in NYC alone). Writing abounds as well. In fact, the very evening after this panel discussion, a performance art journal called INCIDENT was launching in Brooklyn at Grace Exhibition Space, involving Sandrine Schaefer who founded The Present Tense in Boston, and Eames Armstrong who founded Peri0d in Washington, DC, two women who are also performance artists as well as curators of performance art and writers about performance art.

"Longtable" performative, participatory panel on Body Art organized by Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics and the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival (BIPAF) artists. Pictured clockwise (at the table): Shawn Chua Ming Ren, Erik Hokanson, Christen Clifford, Joseph Ravens, Jill McDermid,  Ron Athey, Kris Grey/Justin Credible, Geraldo Mercado, Mari Novotny-Jones.

“Longtable” performative, participatory panel on Body Art organized by Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics and the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival (BIPAF) artists. Pictured clockwise (at the table): Shawn Chua Ming Ren, Erik Hokanson, Christen Clifford, Joseph Ravens, Jill McDermid, Ron Athey, Kris Grey/Justin Credible, Geraldo Mercado, Mari Novotny-Jones. (Back row): Lital Dotan, Rae Goodwin, Eyal Perry, Gete Berhe, participant, the author.

Many performance artists attended this panel to see if the fact that there is a performance art renaissance (both in artmaking practices and in writing) happening worldwide is still only visible to these panelists (except for Vartanian, again) when it surfaces in idiotic stunts like Marina Abramovic and Jay-Z’s music video, and the bum-rush of celebrities driving in their stakes, or if this renaissance of performance art, as such, is the very work that concerns Goldberg when she says she is “mostly concerned with the knowledge, the history, the fabulous history which has actually been left out of art history for the past 100 years and more.” In assumption that performance artists/performance art organizers and institutions like PERFORMA are both working towards, as Grace Exhibition Space puts it “the glorification of performance art,” It is unclear as to why the practices of currently working performance artists are often not deemed valuable enough to write about, to curate and support financially, yes, but more importantly why these practices themselves are not deemed relevant enough to impact dialectics discussing performance art and the forms in which these dialectics are developed (formally, ideologically, constructively).

Instead of feeling these frustrations myself however, this panel assured me that performance art practices (however defined, and across definitions) have the potential (as Adrian Heathfield indicated) to co-construct theorizations within larger debates about hegemony, Otherness, universality, intentionality, agency, contingency, and identity, precisely because they haven’t yet “surfaced.” The extent to which these practices choose to relate with philosophical, political, and other formal spheres can still be negotiated by the artists and their corroborators; practices can also be “common,” populist, non-lingual/non-dialectical, outsider, defined via their very problematic (non)existences (5) during a period of totally consumptive hegemony and multiple metabolisms of cultural imperialism.

I am relieved that there seems to be no danger of performance art being encompassed by, or even “accurately” defined and determined by legitimized writing about performance art. Performance art is—when most successful—not possible to include in art history, it can’t be reviewed or criticized after the fact, you have to be there and experience it if you want to write respectfully about it (in my opinion). Oral and written tradition can be passed down through time (this is one of the reasons that a “performance art community” might be said to exist), but no authority can be more relevant than that of the witness and the artist themselves. Because performance art splits and hides, relating itself formally with the very aspects of its own otherness, recursively responding within already-slippery disciplines like social arts practices, street art, political action, and practices of the daily, writing itself must be flexible in form and mode in order to relate effectively with it. Because performance often doesn’t begin and end, often is not a “piece” or “work” that can be described or discussed as such, writing in relationship with it must be cognized as a performance process too. Because authorship is often convoluted, modes of production resisting the knowledge-sourcing and influencing tactics of public and private financing must be sought by both performance art and its writing. Further, because language struggles to dramatize, narrativize, commodify, and dialecticize as performance dissolves into its own theorization, writing must be expanded conceptually to include many forms of index, trace, ephemerality, image-making, description, reflection, and reaction. When performance art and writing (language) merge, they have the potential to reify a “performanceworld” that—perhaps in forced transgression— supersedes “artworlds” entirely in terms of adaptability, self-cognition, and ability to relate directly to states of in-situ human being. Core meta-concerns like context, site-specificity/situationality, subjectivity, and constantly performed re-evaluation of framings and processes, process itself as a focus, are the domains of performance art itself, an emergent, conceptual skilling that is highly developed both somatically and intellectually.

Finally, I find it hard to believe that an art historian or other academic writer will soon venture any deeper than the most well-lit areas of the performance art world (described briefly above) which is presently somewhat invisible (they call that “marginalized” though if it is intentionally performed, it is more like resistance) due to its sites, its location within certain classes and lifestyles. It is also likely that more and more performance artists will be recognized and canonized as they grow older, and that as performance artists, currently increasing in numbers, lose some of their numbers to dialectic nets and a salting and saving for later consumption, the thinning of these competitive, capitalist artists will allow other artists—those left to swim free and invisible—to breed more potent and resilient forms of performance that actually operate within social and political oceans.

This panel is, in my opinion, only tangentially related to anything relevant to writing and performance art, as actual human processes. The tangent is that which keeps the word “art” tagging along after the word “performance.” It is also the tangent which encourages universities to sell MFAs in performance art. Perhaps the next panel will ask, do performance artists want those who “can” (i.e. are authorized) write about performance art to do so? Do performance artists care if these panelists decide that they are welcome to write about their own practices, even as many already do? Do any writers, who are legitimate writers, care about performance art? Do “legitimate” terms of engagement set by writers rather than by performance artists automatically disallow subsequent writing to “accurately” write the importance, value, and significance of performance art as a hybrid sphere of conceptualization and action? Does writing about performance art actually un-define performance art as such, and the performance artist as such?

It seems that this panel performed its constructed aims well, appealing to many individuals across specializations in its cohesive presentation of current institutional, artworld, academic, journalistic, and art market concerns regarding writing about performance art and who does it. The form of the panel could have better supported a multiplicity of its panelists’ concerns, better used non-dominant forms of logic and sense-making, been more inclusive, it could have been more queer, more of color, it could have involved at least one performance artist, it could have been somewhere else, it could have been a baseball game. As it was, it reinforced contemporary reconciliation between art and capitalism, generated its own authority, and maintained its meta-concerns, venerably fulfilling its own expectations and purpose as “a performance.”

–Esther Neff

There is a video of this panel, I have not re-watched it before writing this response (this response is written from my notes and memory, as I prefer to write about performance art). Here is the video if you want to hear the exact words said, you can’t see much:


(1)   It would be too complicated in this writing to fully acknowledge the extent to which this approach to writing criticism is problematic. Let me briefly note that further inquiry into processes for interpreting intentions, assignments of relevancies and values as absolute products of the same hegemonics producing this panel, and modernist ideas of the performance as a total object, are required. Your reading of this piece of writing should be deeply suspicious and critical, I aim to be hyper-didactic as a mode of absurdity/parody. For more about the term and concept “noosphere,” which is defined in analogy with the earth’s atmosphere as a “sphere of human thought” comprising energies, emotions, etc, see: Vladimir Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin. Let me also note that I am biased, very much so, and personally involved in some of what I discuss in this piece of writing.

(2)   function, operation, and affect are the three problems which make English a difficult language for writing about performance art, and are the very problems of conceptualization/cognition about action—conceptually at large—that very lovely mud into which “the performative turn” has slowly been grinding itself.

(3)   Dialectics, like art itself, are primarily bent towards self-definition and self-construction, modeling themselves directly within and on capitalist schemas for knowledge, sense, and mattering as commodity, sum, and substance. Dialectics are can thus be seen as primarily bent towards usability of language as an evaluative, meaningful, interpretive and universalist schema rather than as a set of acts which perform evaluation, analysis, and complication, and allow for multiple performative constructions of meaning, interpretations, and schematizations.

(4)   Dialogics are simply logics based in a formalized dialogue between works, in in the literary theory of Mikhail Bakhtin, who was most simply stating that we do not speak—or write—in a vacuum, but rather in relationship with all that has been and will be spoken and written. Bakhtin also argues for polysemy/polyvocality, feeding his writings dialogically into later theory by Julia Kristeva surrounding “intertextuality” and multiplicities of meanings and references. See Richard Sennett’s Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation (2010) for a sociological perspective on the distinctions between dialectic (i.e. as proposed by Hegel, claims exemplified by Plato’s Republic, as attempts to resolve meanings of statements) and dialogic processes (facilitating interface between multiple intentions and views).

NOTE: Dialectics and dialogics are similar in that they describe patterns of codes for compound thoughts which can’t be written out in full each time (books would just keep getting longer and longer, instead of simply saying “Hegel’s dialectics” I would have to try to explain it all again in my own words…this would be great, excepts for that little thing known as “time,” and our own mortality).

(5)   This can of worms is so full of worms as it may be perceived as the single largest source of worms in the world today. To use the texts of others as openers of this can, see Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s Can The Subaltern Speak, and plethoras of texts by post-Marxist scholars like Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau, and Slavoj Zizek, each as they discuss the abstract “existence” of views, bodies, thoughts, meanings, and other elements of existence “outside” and/or “inside” hegemonies.

Photos by Edward G. Sharp except where: Steve and Cassie Kemple (Cincinnati), and David LaGaccia (Kingston, NY)

Most of these photos are by Edward Sharp and David Griess, Lexington photos by Rae Goodwin. More images and video on and on Facebook


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