By David LaGaccia
Flushing still holds the New York dream of immigrants passing through and establishing their lives in the city. It is an odd place where at the park is the Queens Museum, the magnificent Arthur Ashe tennis stadium, the Mets Citi Field, and remnants of the 1964 World’s Fair with the giant Unisphere in the shape of the Earth, and observation towers still standing after 52 years. Outside in the surrounding street corners is a panoply of cultures that include Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Sri Lankans, Malaysians, and Colombians and Salvadorans, all making up the community of one neighborhood in New York.
The Queens Museum is now hosting a new bi-monthly series devoted to live performance called LiVEART.US. Performance art has long had a larger international audience than in the United States, where it is more established as a fine art and discipline, so this gives New Yorkers the rare opportunity to see live art from both local and international artists at a museum setting.
The series is organized and curated by New York-based and globetrotting artist Hector Canonge. Although in recent years his work has moved more towards performance,”moving away from technology, being more focused on my body, but still working with materials,” he calls himself an interdisciplinary artist with academic training in new media arts, cinematography, and film studies, but said that performance art “informs” his work.
“Performance art comes in 2009,” he said, “when I started exploring the relation of the body with installation art and technology, so on the one hand there’s the technology, and on the other there was the installations I was creating with technology, and in one particular project called Schema Corporeal in 2009, I start with what people can define as performance art. I still didn’t believe it, I’m still not sure. I was like, performance art, what is that?”
Since then Canonge has become a prominent figure in the local and international performance community, participating in and organizing shows, festivals, launching PERFORMEANDO, a Hispancic and Latin centered performance series. His installation work was centered around technology and the body, and explored themes around what he calls “immigrant narratives”. While not exclusivly the focus of his work, he said he thinks it comes with his life experience.
“I don’t think I do it many times consciously, but I started exploring this idea of the immigrant experience because I have never felt as such,” said Canonge. “I was always from the place I was at the moment. For me it was interesting to explore that topic of migration, but of course you can say it relates to my own story. We’re all migrants anyway. One way or another we all come from different places, especially if you’re from New York. It’s about the human experience. Forget about the word migrant; it’s about the human experience, the human experience of displacement.”
Born in Argentina, Canonge considers New York home having grown up and spent some of what he called his “formative years” in New York City. He has traveled extensively since 2012 for what he said to “find myself and my connection to Latin America.“ Aside from a suitcase and a carryon, Canonge got rid of most of his possessions, “I had nothing. I got rid of everything, everything.” “My return to South America was entering the heart of the continent.” During this time he reconnected with family he hadn’t seen since he was a child, worked on projects, and even became a guest curator for the Centro Cultural Santa Cruz in Bolivia for nine months; he later went throughout Europe to work and travel, and briefly returned to the States in 2013, and traveled back to Europe, and finally came back to the United States in 2015.
“It was liberating at first, for many months I would say,” said Canonge. “Then there was the need again to feel at home, and this is home. New York is home. But I had to go through that process of getting out, uprooted and trying to find where do I stay.”
Much of the recent ITINERANT International Performance Art Festival and LiVEART.US at the museum was informed by Canonge’s need to connect and wanting to create a sense of community in performance.
“There is a need in me to have a sense of community, and this sense of community I can build it around what people would call, ‘curatorial enterprises,’” said Canonge. “For me it’s coming together and gathering artists around specific topics I want to explore.”
The series so far has embraced the term “live art” in presenting work that is not just performance art specifically, but has also included music and dance work as well. During the first show, artists like cellist Jacob Cohen played in the same show as Martha Wilson, South Korean performance artist Heeran Lee, and Irina Baldini, Dierck Roosen, and Erke Roosen who featured more dance-based work. Museums like MoMA often rely on star power to draw in crowds to sell performance, Marina Abramović, Tilda Swinton, Jay-Z, or any other celebrity looking to add artistic cachet to their brand, and an institution looking to make ticket sales off of it. Emphasizing “content and context”, the series picks artists that clash, contrasting the different styles, methods and practices of live art from different cultural backgrounds, as well as giving younger artists like Bobby English Jr an opportunity to present work in a museum setting with more established performers like Martha Wilson.
“It’s important to give various manifestations of live art especially in an institution that where the public are not necessarily going to be performance art buffs or fans, you may have people there that have never seen performance,” said Canonge. “So how do you introduce this discipline of performance art to audiences that are not familiar with it? It has to be done with care, and showing all of these manifestations, multi-facets of performance art. Everyone has their own style.”
Prerana Reddy, the director of public programs at the Queens Museum talked about some of the challenges in presenting performance work in a public institution while giving artists the opportunity to create work. Questions included what materials are restricted to use, like fire, figuring out ways on how to present work that isn’t necessarily family friendly, to practical challenges of providing a space that does not filter noise from other exhibitions.
“It’s a combination with me about what works with the space, what are the opportunities in terms of tying it to other exhibition content, and working with the curator and the artist to have as much freedom that they can get to experiment and create,” said Reddy. “For our museum, I think we’ve had a generally open attitude towards various performance mediums.”
The performance series at the Queens Museum has come out of a longstanding relationship with Canonge that dates back to 2004. After being represented in the Museum’s biennial, Canonge has worked on programs including CINEMAROSA, a LBGT film series beginning in 2005, TALKaCTIVE, an ongoing talk series where artists present their work, the Itinerant Performance Festival, which the museum played host to several events last year, and now LiVEART.US.
“My relation with the Queens Museum is it’s my home base,” said Canonge. “The Queens Museum was the first institution that featured my work at the biennial in 2004, as a new media artist they found me with a project called Ciudad Transmobile. They’ve nurtured me and I’ve nurtured my work there.”
“For us, I know how hard Hector works to develop these relationships,” said Reddy. “He’s not just at the Queens Museum, he’s curating series’ throughout the city, he has a lot of relationships with performance spaces and galleries, and just for me it’s a pleasure to able to give the museum space to someone who cares about building the arts community, especially for international artists and immigrant artists who sometimes need a helping hand in the beginning of their careers in New York.”
Performance art is a unique medium where artists from all around the globe participate in this thing called the performance art community while having what may not be a common language of speech or culture, but a common form of expression; performance does not need words to connect to another, using the language of the body regardless if you’re from the United States, Finland, China, Brazil, England or Mexico, all making up the community of one art form.
LiVEART.US continues this Saturday, April 16th from 4:30 PM to 7:30 PM at the Queens Museum with works by artists Lital Dotan (Israel), Joseph Ravens (United States), Kuldeep Singh (India), Nao Nishihara (Japan), Kledia Spiro (Albania), and Alejandro Chêllet (Mexico).