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Bushwick Open Studios emerges from the art that always exists in Bushwick, the graffiti and public art, the installations both intentional and indeterminate, out of the garages of artist-run spaces and artist studios, the independent galleries, the pop-up shows and rooftop parties, and so on and so forth, and because of this, BOS in 2011 is still a de-hierarchized and completely free festival of everything from advertising students showing the logos they’ve designed and drinking PBR through  very well known art world personalities and artists sitting casually around their studios and spaces.  (emergence below)

We wandered all over, interested primarily in collaborations and performance, from NORTE MAAR to see the collaborative drawings and hear about the remaining Rooftop Dances that need to be attended!, through the studio of Meghan Keane, where we met the founders of Pillow Culture, artists coming together to make pillows based on U.S. pillow patents, until it was time to go to Grace Space, home to all performance as gory, glorious, and grim (needed another “g” world, mean that as a good thing) as performance can be. Marni Kotak had us write advice to her as an expecting mother, while cradling, nursing, and punishing dolls/stuffed animals, all bearing screenprinted photos of her own face at various ages, Quinn Dukes wore a large basket collar filled with flour as she dealt with boots and shoes full of coal, extracting lumps of coal from the tips of the shoes and sometimes pounding on them with a shoe heel, transferring water from a bowl, from boot to boot, kneeling in more flour behind a little can full of coals and fire, which she extinguished with a glob of water-flour dough, all tasks performed with concentration:

Anya Liftig entered in a black suit with black gloves on her feet, undressed, and performed the deceptively simple action of becoming a raw chicken, or comparing herself to a raw chicken, or playing with chickens (see, it’s just actually very complicated and somehow terribly “right” and descriptions only mess live performance up, I shouldn’t even be writing this post attempting to describe performances at all) but it definitely shook the audience up in a wide range of ways, from full laughter to gasps, and etc. One of the reasons I’m such a huge fan of Anya’s work is that it’s really theatrical, but I’m not sure what that means either…

Rebecca Jampol performed with a notepad, pen, chair, and a bucket of water, chewing and spitting out notes, writing them, at two points speaking out loud, and finally dunking her head in the bucket of water, followed by Meghan Van Alstyne, who rubbed salt on the lips of audience members, whispering into their ears, poured the sack of salt over her head, and then stuck syringes into her chest around her breastbone. She then fell allowed herself to fall backwards into the salt.

You really had to be there! I wish you had been there. While at Grace Space, we also had the opportunity to meet Vandana Jain and hear about her collaboration with Nina Morrison…here’s a recent Brooklyn Rail article about Grace Space and its history, founders, “aesthetic,” etc.

I’d go on and on but walking around Bushwick without consuming anything but beer all day has kind of worn me out…

After the Conference of Works at University of the Streets this past weekend I feel the need to write some kind of “assessment,” so here it is.  During the Conference, Ben Spatz (Urban Research Theater) used this term, “assessment” in his discussion of technique and transmission/education, as did Dave Thrasher in his discussion of his situational, interactive project, and I think it’s a very interesting word/concept in terms of live performance. Yes, much has been made of performance’s “liveness,” its transient, temporary state and the impossibility of concrete or “scientific” assessment.  Having dissipated several days ago now, how can this Conference of Works, which included around 60 participants (most of us played multiple roles of participant/audience/performer/presenter) over the course of the two days and amassed a multiplicity of concepts and concerns, be assessed? How can its effect be charted or analyzed?

Many artists over the course of the weekend (especially those who hope for socio-political operation in some way) said that they can’t assess how their work is operating, how it’s taken by an audience, assess whether or not it’s been “effective,” and if their choices in terms of Mode, Method, and Medium have been the “right” ones.  Carrie Dashow expressed a desire for documentation and review after a participatory process, notarizing material forms as Yesiree The Notary for the Conference attendees that swore to their self-assigned artistic identities.  Towards additional permanence, Amapola Prada makes haunting videos of her staged actions, which allow the works to travel internationally and last beyond the sunny Lima days on which they are shot. Other artists participating in the Conference expressed a rejection of assessing their work and practices at all, choosing to “feel through” audiences and their reactions in order to determine if and how performance modes are effective. Chance and Melanie of The Nerve Tank said they sometimes measure the success of their work by “walk outs,” knowing that it’s literally affective when individuals can’t handle it in some way. The project Nate Hill shared often produces active responses of offense, as his website selling milk gargled by “pretty white girls” rubs salt into more than one exposed cultural wound.

But do reactions to our work control our practical experiments in the “scientific” sense, or assist any direct cause-and-effect assessment? “Science,” they say, relies on an index, something left behind where there was once the thing, while offense, or amusement, or trains of thought, quickly dissolve into life itself and can’t be indexed at all, other than by the individual to which they belong.   How can we follow through on the research aspects of our practices and put performance research towards the development of our modes and methods?  During the course of the Conference, we experienced Martín Lanz Landázuri, William Bilwa Costa, and dancers researching resonance, embodying the concept and examining  how resonance can be used in performance and performed as such.  We also experienced part 2 of Handan Ozbilgin’s 3-part Maids project,  which jumps off from the “research” text of Jean Genet’s Maids, Hyatt Michael’s  Syb’L Vane piece, drawn from The Picture of Dorian Gray, and  Hector Canonge‘s Immigrant 101, a performance-context lecture on immigration, incorporating found research images and statistics. The idea of “scientific” exploration, research, and “problems” (especially in Lindsey Drury’s intense, improvisational and site-specific dance work and Angela Washko‘s performance in which she attempted to disrupt two men building cardboard boxes), and the place where these intersect with participation and collaboration kept coming up, at times fusing into related concerns, and other times breaking apart into concrete statements about reasons for working in a certain way.

Several artists expressed during the conference that they consider the analysis and assessment of our work, and the choices we make during the process of creating work, a completely subjective task, which can’t be performed in a scientific or even articulable manner, as no unified or communicable, objective analysis or set of decision-making criteria can be constructed.  On this note but in a different key, J.J. Lind of Immediate Medium spoke during the Sunday round-table about how his collaborators, coming from varying mediums, backgrounds, and fields, working immediately and in the moment together, can build a stronger aesthetic and conduct powerful experiments. This idea perhaps suggests that collaboration is inherently a form of constant analysis that negates the need for formal assessment. Collaboration across disciplines seems to provide an anodyne in this way to the “problem” of subjective analysis, as multiple artists can walk away from a collaborative with something subjective learned or explored, or they can create a kind of “meme-plexic” index, that pools subjective responses outside of the individual selves involved. Jason Andrew, founder of NORTE MAAR for Collaborative Projects in the Arts has found that co-creation between artists from different disciplines produces new modes of expression and experiment, as have experimental music ensemble thingNY’s Paul Pinto and Gelsey Bell. With collaborative and participatory processes in mind, I believe that the inherent “subjectivity” of an analytic process does not make such a process of assessment or analysis less useful; “subjective” sometimes becomes a buzz-word that means we don’t have to talk about it in public, but perhaps it means that when something is seen as subjective, we simply must perceive it in a different way, through the convergence  of a wide range of subjective perspectives.  Perhaps we need to collaborate on experimenting with analysis itself.  In my mind, this was the task of the Conference, to get a multiplicity of subjectivities out of a private sphere and into an analytic public one.  In the organization of the conference, the attempt to combine a number of subjective perspectives and analyses wasn’t about getting closer to “objectivity” by finding the similarities/common denominators between subjective perceptions, rather it was about gathering and being able to see more than one perception at a time, gathering perceptions outside one’s own, and considering them as a range of assessments.  Perhaps one could also say that this goal (of seeing more than one subjective perspective) is one of the primary operations of performance arts, performance research, and the subsequent experimentation that these modes catalyze.

I can only say for certain that the experience overall with this conference, for me, was consuming, overwhelming, at times confusing, and powerfully moving, and that the plethora of subjective goals, assessments, tasks, and conclusions took me closer to knowing how to research, through my own practice, the multi-dimensional reality that we all experience from such difference angles. I am incredibly grateful to all who participated, for their generosity, articulation, expression, communication, recognition, organization.  Thank you to those I mentioned here, and to the many others who came, participated, performed, perceived, and practiced (esp. Paul Pierog, who was the only person other than Brian and I who attended the entire conference, both days, first to last).  I hope we do it all again soon!