How Performa 15 Will Re-Discover the Renaissance

Pauline Curnier Jardin, still from The Lady Weather Speakerine in Keys To Our Heart (2012), photo courtesy of the artist and PSM Gallery, Berlin

Pauline Curnier Jardin, still from The Lady Weather Speakerine in Keys To Our Heart (2012).
Photo courtesy of the artist and PSM Gallery, Berlin

By David LaGaccia

Reaching back in time to the Renaissance, Performa 15, the latest edition of the performance focused biennial, begins this Sunday, November 1st showcasing work from new and established artists in the world of performance while interpreting some its earlier perfromative roots.

The month long event will continue until November 22nd, and features over 30 artists who will present work in galleries and sites around New York City including Franceco Vezzoli and David Hallberg, Robin Rhode, Paula Curnier Jardin, Ilija Šoškić, Jérôme Bel, Volmir Cordeiro, and many more. The biennial is curated by Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg, as well as Mark Beasley, Adrianne Edwards, and Charles Aubin. Performances will be held at 35 participating galleries and spaces including WhiteBox, Pioneer Works, St. Bart’s Church, BAM Fisher, the Jewish Museum, White Columns, Performa Hub, and Times Square.

Performa 15’s theme is the Renaissance, which seems broad and remote from contemporary culture, artistic practices and aesthetics in live performance. In a time when streaming media, video projection and the internet are being used as tools in producing performance, it’s hard to relate to a 600 year old — largely European cultural movement that focused on the re-discovery of classical text. The Renaissance, however, could also be a means of “re-discovering” live performance’s own classical history and its significance in a contemporary setting. In an interview with French Culture, associate curator Charles Aubin stated that they chose this theme because it is a way to start conversations between artists to create work, and to make the argument that visual artists have always been involved in the creation of live works.

Erika Vogt, Artist Theater Program, 2014 - courtesy of the artist and Curtis R Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 2

Erika Vogt, Artist Theater Program (2014).
Photo courtesy of the artist and Curtis R Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 2

“Last year when we were in planning stage of the upcoming biennial, as a stimulus, RoseLee came up with the idea of jumping back in time and looking at the Renaissance, in order to insist on the fact that visual artists have always been involved in staging live works, be they public ceremonies, pageants, or urban processions,” he said. “In fact, these Renaissance artists were wholly immersed in political affairs, and these events functioned as political stages, where allegories and tableaux vivants depicted mythological themes, but actually served as commentary on current affairs.”

In her book Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present, Goldberg describes the role of artists during the Renaissance as “creator and director of public spectacles, fantastic triumphal parades that often required the construction of elaborate temporary architecture, or allegorical events that utilized the multi-media abilities attributed to Renaissance Man.” Goldberg cites works by Polidoro da Caravaggio, Leonardo de Vinci’s pageant Paradiso (1490), and Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s L’Inondazione (1638) as examples of live performance during the Renaissance.

Robin Rhode, still from Piano Chair (2011), photo courtesy of the artist and Lehman Maupin Gallery

Robin Rhode, still from Piano Chair (2011).
Photo courtesy of the artist and Lehman Maupin Gallery

It will be interesting to see how such a range of contemporary artists will interpret and develop work based on the Renaissance. The opening night’s main performance is a collaboration between Italian artist Franceco Vezzoli and dancer David Hallberg in a work titled Fortuna Desperata. Being held at St. Bart’s Church, the work is described as “the birth of ballet”, and according to the event’s description, “the performance revives and translates ballet’s beginnings and the period’s pageantry for a contemporary audience, bringing the past into dialogue with the present.”

Paula Curnier Jardin in her commissioned work, The Resurrection Plot, will explore the pageantry associated with Renaissance performance. Held at Pioneer Works on November 4th, 5th and 6th, the performance will being descibed as “a series of singing tableaux vivants“. In an interview with French Culture she states that, “My performance will tell the story of 4 grotesque characters, first dressed up as kinds of ‘occultist -land-dealers’ but very quickly ending up in only their underwear, playing in a magical puddle where one large tongue wearing a jacket made of shells is singing for them.” According to the event’s description, the work will pay homage to painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, ceramicist Bernard Palissy, and writer François Rabelais.

Ilija Šoškić of the former Yugoslavia, whose work has been in performance, installation and video art, will perform Maximum Energy – Minimum Time at WhiteBox on Saturday, November 21st. As stated on the biennial’s website, the performance will commemorate the suicide of Russian Soviet poet Vladimir MayakovskyŠoškić will re-perform parts of his past works from Conversation, Controversy, and Maximum Energy – Minimum Time as a part of this performance.


Ilija Šoškić, Maximum Energy – Minimum Time (1975).
Photo courtesy of the artist and WhiteBox

The biennial will also feature several out-door performances, including work from artist Brazillian artist Eleonora Fabião who will be performing a series of actions called Things That Must Be Done Series. According to the release, the performances will be set around Wall Street in lower Manhattan and will feature actions that act as “meditations on verticality, possibility, instability, and vulnerability in capitalist societies.” Fabião will be accompanied by several collaborators including Viniciús Arneiro, Sebastián Calderón Bentin, Frances Cooper, Pablo Assumpção B. Costa, Liz Heard, Irene Hultman, Bettina Knaup , André Lepecki, Felipe Ribeiro and Cecilia Roos.

Painter Oscar Murillo, whose work includes participatory installations such as a functioning chocolate factory at David Zwirner, will also “take up residence” for a week (November 16th through the 22nd) at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. He will use participatory installations to talk about labor exploitation, emerging economies, and outsourced industry.

Edgar Arceneaux, A Time To Break Silence, 2013, digital video still - Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Gallery

Edgar Arceneaux, digital video still from A Time To Break Silence (2013).
Photo courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Gallery

Along with commissioned and curated performance works, Performa will also feature several artist talks with artists such as Jérôme Bel, Ryan Gander, Heather Phillipson, Ulla von Brandenburg, and more.The biennial will also include artist classes for those interested in a more hands-on performance experience. Edgar Arceneaux will host a class about the development of his Performa work, Until, Until, Until…, and Wyatt Kahn will host a puppet making class based on his commissioned performance, Work.

Performa was founded by RoseLee Goldberg in 2004 where it “fosters learning, critical discourse, and deeper engagement in performance by directly supporting its scholarly investigation.” The arts organization states that is focuses on “performance”, a word that can defined within a large range of live performance disciplines such as opera, dance, theater, music, and performance art. Performa began its biennial in 2005 with Performa 5 as a means to showcase performance as an important artistic medium; this will be the sixth edition of the biennial and the tenth year of its existence.

For a complete listing of artists, times and events participating in Performa 15, please refer to the biennial’s website.