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.

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. http://uima.uiowa.edu/lilpicard/performance-at-judson-church/

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 materials/materializations such as 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 (see 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/Marxist 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, steers navigation of the panel’s improvisatory dialogue following the initial individual presentations by the panelists. Contextuality provides easy steerage 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” is an idea has been most formalized by linguistic fields as a way of dealing with relationships between language and social affect, allowing 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, 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) http://13.performa-arts.org/event/opening-night

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 its 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. http://instagram.com/p/nlyxjJlsfq/

Photo from Hrag Vartanian’s instagram account of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. http://instagram.com/p/nlyxjJlsfq/

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 mentioned 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. http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2012/01/courtesy_of_zef.php

Zefrey Throwell, Ocularpation Wall Street, 2011. http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2012/01/courtesy_of_zef.php

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 in footnotes) 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 other institutions and towards 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, like me?” (see “communitarian vagueness” below: who is a performance artist and who gets to say they are one?) through ideologically-driven demands for inclusivity in art history and access to artmarkets (demands aligned with Goldberg own concerns). In regards to these frustrations and demands, 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 as idiotic stunts such as  Marina Abramovic and Jay-Z’s music video and in 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 metabolization 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.

    • Anyone who wants to!
      Rachel I just saw that you reblogged this, thanks 🙂 Hope to see you in person one day soon and experience your work, let me know if you are ever in NYC 🙂

      • awww ace, thanks – sending love across the pond. I haven’t been updating much – just finished an MA but check out my company http://www.littlewolfparade.com and we are always up for hosting artists here in uk too. xxx

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