7 Minutes in Heaven at PULSAR on FRI, 2/12

By Laura Blüer

This Friday, February 12, 2016 marks the inaugural evening of performances at PULSAR, a new venue in Brooklyn for body-based art, which will be holding events every month out of the black box space at Catland Books in Bushwick.

PULSAR was conceptualized by collaborators Tif Robinette (aka AGROFEMME) and Ian Deleón, who felt that Brooklyn is in need of more spaces that regularly host performance art. That is to say that Robinette and Deleón are acutely aware that as with any art community, fresh spaces and ambitious curatorial initiatives greatly aid in performance artists’ production of new works and in the birth of new collaborations and connections. In a conversation with Deleón, we discussed his and Robinette’s vision for PULSAR as one that prioritizes pushing artists’ comfort zones by instigating curated collaborations and the merging of artists and audiences of the various distinct genres of embodied art that comprise the medium of performance.

Deleón emphasized his and Robinette’s vision to proactively curate performance events by provoking collaborations between artists who may have never met each other and who perhaps view their work as being of a completely different discipline. Deleón pointed out that artists who self-identify as dancers, performers, or stage actors all employ varying degrees of complementary aesthetic, technical, thematic, and conceptual aspects in their work, yet there seems to be little traceable overlap between these rich spheres in their live manifestations or in those who attend them. The curators hope to inspire a more sustained dialogue between the abundant micro communities of performance in New York City by creating this innovative trans-disciplinary forum and by encouraging artists to create within a different framework than that which they may be accustomed to.

Deleón remarked that one weakness of the Brooklyn performance art community, in spite of its prolificness, is that so much incredible work is produced every day and there are few ongoing archival initiatives, except on a more individual basis (such as on artists’ own websites) and in the case of platforms like Hyperallergic, for example, which is one of the few that covers some Brooklyn performance events. Even so, the vast majority of writing on local performance art is Manhattan-centric. Further, most does not delve as deeply as it could into critical analyses of the work. Or, it fixates on artists’ intent rather than the lasting effect of performance and the political and aesthetic implications of action art within the context it was presented. While there is certainly no formula for writing about performance art, there is a general consensus that artists, curators, and audience should all be paying more attention to the nuances of curatorial lineups and the work itself. Ideally, there would be much more commentary and critique generated about performance art, attempts on multiple levels to understand the origins of a given piece and to interpret it through a myriad of lenses. An approach to writing about, analyzing, and documenting performance in this way is more productive in the long run for both artists and the medium—rather than the popular style of blog posts, articles, and reviews that are rooted in self-promotion, marketing, or spectacle itself. One way that Deleón and Robinette hope to maintain fire from the sparks of pivotal live moments at PULSAR is to push for documentation, interactive analysis, and ephemeral dialogues in the aftermath of each event. They hope that by prompting these continuous post-performance reflections, artists will receive more feedback, which in turn leads to growth in their work.

This Friday’s performance lineup is INCENDIARY, featuring 7-minute pieces by Ayana Evans, Édgar J Ulloa Luján, Erik HokansonGeraldo Mercado, Jessi T Walsh, Jill McDermid, Joiri Minaya, Panoply Lab. The details about the venue, time and entrance are below. See you at PULSAR to inaugurate a progressive experiment in performance art!

Friday, February 12, 2016
8 pm
987 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11206
Morgan Ave L train
$10 @ door
RSVP on Facebook



This weekend in performance art

Get ready for an autumn weekend packed with performance art in New York! Grace Exhibition Space and The Sphinx Returns (curated by Whitney V. Hunter) will host Social Health Performance Club organized by Ian Deleón and Zachary Fabri this Friday from 9-11pm. Saturday at Panoply Performance Lab is CASINGS and TREATMENTS, curated by René Kladzyk as part of No Wave Performance Task Force starting at 8pm. Sunday from 4-6 is the first conversation—called “Resistance / Persistence”— in the series TALKaCTIVE: perfomance art conversation series, organized by Hector Canonge. See below for details on these events. See you there!

—Laura Blüer


Friday, September 25th
Social Health Performance Club

Grace Exhibition Space & Gallery

This Friday, 9/25, we meet again at Grace Exhibition Space and Gallery for a special programming event in The Sphinx Returns at GES. Organized by Ian Deleón and Zachary Fabri, this iteration of SOCIAL HEALTH PERFORMANCE CLUB will feature live performances by Zachary Fabri, Rafael Sanchez, Geraldo MercadoJoiri Minaya, and Heeran LeeSocial Health Performance Club gathers as a collective of artists to produce events, exhibitions, and other public art projects. The Club itself is framed as a performance, gathering together as action, understanding social relationships as artistic processes.

RSVP on Facebook
Entry by donation
Grace Exhibition Space
840 Broadway, 2nd Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11206


Saturday, September 26th
Panoply Performance Laboratory

“CASINGS AND TREATMENTS,” the second of a two-part performance event series curated by René Kladzyk as part of No Wave Performance Task Force, centers its inquiry around how the masculinized body is housed and modified in the performance of gender identity. Through interrogating masculinity in its material manifestations via human bodies, a group of performance artists will enact gender construction as process, co-constitutive relation, and ephemeral ideation. Behold, artist IVY CASTELLANOS completes actioned tasks exploring the masculine gendered body, while VINCENT TILEY investigates restraint, control, and desire operationalized through the gaze, the skin functioning as artifice and sensual site of action, as Vincent hovers “rather motionless in a suit that is also a painting that is also a hammock that is also a sex swing.” ANDY KUNCL engages with movement, sensory stimulation, and inanimate/animate constructive interaction in collaboration with a posse of movers, COLBY CANNON plays with protection, power, and muscle growth, while STUDIO ROSSI BRODY enacts a crime-scene investigation TV show in “Man Forensics,” operating as social scientists, comedians, and erotic provocateurs.

Image via Studio Rossi Brody: http://studiorossibrody.tumblr.com

RSVP on Facebook

104 Meserole Street (between Manhattan and Leonard)
Brooklyn, NY 11206

Sunday, September 27th
TALKaCTIVE: perfomance art conversation series
“Resistance / Persistence”

Hosted at the Queens Museum, Unisphere Gallery
2:00 – 4:00 PM

Participating artists: Thomas Albrecht, Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Rory Golden, LuLu LoLo, and Nyugen Smith.
Mediator / Critic: Harley Spiller, Deputy Director of Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc.

TALKaCTIVE: performance art conversation series is a new program that fosters dialogue and exchange among Live Action Art practitioners, encourages commentary about Performance Art, and prompts reflection about performative processes, methodologies, and styles. Every session is organized around a relevant topic in Performance Art, and the presentation of works by a group of selected artists who share their work, discuss their approach to Live Art, and engage in open conversation with critics, curators, and attending audience. The monthly series consists of a presentation, panel, and open Q&A session where participating artists screen documentation of their work, a curator or critic contextualizes the works presented, and a moderator mediates the exchange of information and resources. TALKaCTIVE is an independent initiative created and organized by artist Hector Canonge. Hosted at the Queens Museum, the monthly series is free of charge and open to the general public.

Image: Chun Hua Catherine Dong

Queens Museum
New York City Building Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Perimeter Rd, Queens, NY 11368

Coming up at ABC NO RIO | Affect Surgery: A One Night Exhibition of Performance Art

AFFECT SURGERY will occur this Thursday, July 16 at ABC No Rio. Artists Tif Robinette (aka. AGROFEMME), Uniska Wahala Kano, Jodie Lynkeechow, Rudi Salpietra, and Naked Roots Conducive will present new performance works with regards to the social body and performative operations. The venue, founded in 1980 and renowned for its “Punk Matinee” series—among other anarchist and community initiatives—is a site that encourages works dealing with issues that resonate in the Lower East Side, a neighborhood still haunted by gentrification’s constant outward push. Curated by Esther Neff of Panoply Performance Laboratory, the exhibition includes works that respond to the question, “Can we use performance art to research empathic strategies for resistance and solidarity?”

ABC No Rio is located at 156 Rivington St, Nueva York 10002
The show starts at 7:30pm, and more details can be found here on facebook.

— laura blüer

Making a Voice Heard and a Body Count

By David LaGaccia

Whitney Hunter performing Body Count: Counting the Dead #101

Whitney V. Hunter performing Body Count: Counting the Dead. #101 at New York City’s Union Square Park. Photo by David LaGaccia.

UPDATE 9/23/2014:  Editor’s Note: Hyperallergic and the Body Count Collective (BCC) have issued the following joint statement:

“Based on new information, the Hyperallergic article (Would You Ignore 101 Chalk Outlines of a Black Male Body) may have misconstrued some aspects of the overall Body Count project (as a whole). This in turn caused the reaction by Body Count Collective (BCC) — calling into question the motivations behind the article. However, this will be addressed soon. As both, Hyperallergic and BCC, have agreed to a reconciliation in the form of a forthcoming interview that will address — among other pertinent topics — the issues and challenges that arise when writing about a charged political performance and its reception by the public.”


Editor’s Note: The following statement produced by Whitney V. Hunter and Preach R Sun refers to an article posted on August 25th, on the website, Hyperallergic.com. It expresses their views and opinions on working with their staff on the production of that article. The editorial decision to include the statement is meant to help inform previous readers of this performance by telling the whole story, as well as keeping a website honest in its reportage of sensitive events.

“BCC (Body Count Collective) strongly objects and denounces Hyperallergic’s coverage of the Body Count project. We found the article, ‘Would You Ignore 101 Outlines of a Black Male Body’ (written by Hyperallergic contributor Daniel Larkin), to be an egregiously lazy and one-sided, misrepresentation of our collaborative effort. As such, it is our belief that Hyperallergic, by choosing to publish the article and keep it posted on their site – despite our numerous complaints, has exhibited a wanton and flagrant disregard towards the project and most importantly our collective voice. Their actions have threatened to compromise and diminish the integrity of the project. Despite Mr. Larkin’s asseveration, of his (and Hyperallergic’s) devoted desire and commitment to honestly represent marginalized artistic voices, our experience has been quite the contrary. And, in light of his Larkin’s comments regarding Hyperallergic’s ability to “make artist’s careers”, it is now quite evident to us that Hyperallergic’s ultimate goal and or agenda had nothing whatsoever to do with honoring and representing our true voice – quite the opposite, in fact. We believe Hyperallergic’s sole purpose was to exploit our voice, In order to, hastily capitalize on a trending topic – the outrage, in Ferguson, Mo., over the execution of, yet another, unarmed black man (by police) as addressed by black artist. The irony here is that Mr. Larkin’s article (praised and endorsed by Hyperallergic’s Editor-in-chief Hrag Vartanian), ultimately answers its own question, regarding the value of Black life, by showing that not only, are we not worth seeing, but our voices are not worth being heard.”

At 12 P.M on Saturday, August 23rd, Whitney V. Hunter began to make his voice heard and body count. He knew he wanted it to be at New York City’s Union Square, but he didn’t anticipate the crowded farmers market. Vendors lined the park and a couple hundred New Yorkers and tourists passed through the sidewalk carrying groceries, dogs on leashes, babies in their strollers. The manager of the market said that this wasn’t the right time to do this, and threatened to call the police if he didn’t stop. But he had planned this. Michael Brown had been shot and killed by a police officer two weeks prior, and he had seen the reactions from the protesters, the police, and the media. He had something he wanted to say. This was his first performance in the public. It was the perfect time to do this.

“It was vulnerable, most of my performances are very vulnerable, but in particular this because I knew that I’m dealing with a lot of strangers and people who don’t have any idea of why I would do something like this,” said Hunter after his performance. “It’s a horribly vulnerable place to subject myself to.”

Hunter’s performance, titled Body Count: Counting the Dead. #101, was a performance in collaboration with fellow artist and close friend, Preach R Sun (who performed later that day in Ferguson, MO) as a means of activism against the shooting of Michael Brown, as well as the continued violence against African Americans and people of color: “The piece is a performance protest with the intention of drawing consciousness and drawing attention to the misuse and abuse of power, power structures, particularly as they affect men of color, black men in particular,” he said.

Starting at noon, Hunter performed for two hours outlining his body across the park using chalk much like a chalk outline of a murder scene. Each was numbered, and represented as Hunter has stated, African American men like Sean Bell (2006 in Queens, New York), and Trayvon Martin (2012 in Sandford, Florida), names that have been written in the paper and faded into dust— just like the chalk he outlined himself with as both of their deaths resulted in the acquittal of the men responsible for the shooting. He did this 101 times.

At the times the crowd swelled around Hunter as he performed at Union Square. Photo by David LaGaccia.

At the times the crowd swelled around Hunter as he performed at Union Square. Photo by David LaGaccia.

The outlines were drawn in the middle of a crowded market where people would invariably walk over them, either by not noticing them or unavoidably stepping on them. His use of chalk emphasized the ephemerality of the performance, considering how easily it could be washed away; this ensured the physical erasure of the performance, as well as the symbolic “erasure” of the outlined bodies, speaking on how the controversial shootings have passed in the public conscience.

“We [with Preach R Sun] want to bring awareness to these issues and hope that there won’t be more to come, but are not ignorant to the fact that there will probably more to come,” said Hunter.


Hunter during the performance lied down in the form of a “body” representing many African American’s and men of color who have been killed. Photo by David LaGaccia

Hunter occasionally wrote a phrase such as “My body counts” above an outline, while also talking to the crowd saying “I’m getting my PH.D, why am I doing this?” Many people stopped to take pictures with their camera phones, and still more passed through the market to continue shopping. Comments ranged from ‘It must be performance art’, ‘Why is he doing this?’ ‘What does it mean?’, and from stonewalled silence to fervent discussions over the recent shooting in Ferguson. The performance ended with Hunter crawling back over the train of his outlined bodies, from 101 to 1, resting, and embracing a woman, Lisa Lewis, who was considered by Hunter and Sun as “a key element” in the collaboration, an was present throughout the performance.


Hunter embracing friend Lisa Lewis at the end of his performance. Lewis helped organize the the performances that day. Hunter has been performing since 2009. This was his first performance in the public. Photo by David LaGaccia.

Whitney V. Hunter’s segments were shot by David Ian Griess, and Preach R Sun’s segments were provided by Brandon Paul. The video was edited by Griess.

Halfway across the country, where the St. Louis Arch marks the gateway to the west, Preach R Sun began his part of the collaboration in his performance protest called Counting the Dead at 4 P.M. Central Time. The landscape of the skyscrapers of New York City changed into the memorial of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO; however, the message and issues were the same. In a video provided by Brandon Paul, a bystander at the performance, Sun is shown dressed in a orange prison jumpsuit, with an American flag handkerchief used as a blindfold and wearing a mock bullet target on his chest. Sun, walked up to the memorial, and began chanting the dead: “One dead, two dead, three dead, four dead, five dead, six dead…they’re not stopping till we’re all in the ground. In 2012 alone, 313 black men were shot down by police.”

The crowd began shouting names of other men who have been killed. “They want us to be peaceful,” yelled Sun. “They want us to go to sleep, they want us to be quiet…they don’t want us to be angry.” Sun ended the performance by taking off his blindfold and prison suit, and offering solidarity to those protesting at Ferguson, as well as to other parts of the world.

Preach R Sun, Counting the Dead

The beginning of Preach R Sun’s performance, Counting the Dead. He shouted: “One dead, two dead, three dead, four dead, five dead, six dead…they’re not stopping till we’re all in the ground.” Photo by Abdul Aziz.

Sun said he knew he had wanted to go to Ferguson to make a performance, and the idea of a collaboration with Hunter came about after the two shared a conversation. Lisa Lewis, a close friend of two artists, also had a significant hand in the organization of the project by helping coordinate and fund the collaboration. “I was very nervous about the fragility of the situation on what was going on,” said Sun, his voice still hoarse from his performance. “I didn’t know the environment, the terrain. I knew I wanted to do something.” He said he chose to perform at the Michael Brown memorial for its symbolic significance, and that he wanted himself to be seen as apart from the protesters.

“I wasn’t just trying to be a protester in that moment, I wanted to create something significant,” said Sun.” “ It’s [his performance] activism, but I know I’m performing. I revisited an action I’ve done at a Harlem police station a couple of summers ago because of the death of Trayvon Martin.”

Sun, who has lived in Missouri, has stated that the shooting of Michael Brown is a familiar occurrence, and speaking from personal experience, saying that the relations between law enforcement and minorities in Missouri have always been confrontational:

“This is not new,” he said. “I remember as kids we were playing with toy guns, and police pulled guns on us and told us to lay [sic] down on the street. They’re either killing you or putting you in prison—something’s wrong.”

Sun who has done public performances since 2010, calls himself a performance activist, and has done many performances in both exhibitions and media such as his ongoing ONE MAN project, as well as public interventions in the Museum of Modern Art, and in front the New York Stock Exchange. His work often deals with the exploration the social responsibility of art by interrogating issues including race, economic systems and political structures.

“For me it’s about this sort of experience that I’m very clear on creating something from, and for me I create from the black experience, because that’s what I know,” he said. “The black experience has its own perspective, its own inside way of seeing the world. I will put it out there that this is my experience, I’m speaking from a black perspective, because whether you say that or not, it’s already there, I look at that in performance art in general. You are making work about you for you.”

‘You can build up things, you can do certain things that cause people to inevitably to get, even if they don’t understand exactly what they’re seeing. It might have an impact that they don’t really realize that might invoke something inside of them that is there— that they might not even be aware of, something that’s ancient. So that’s even with me in creating some of the work. There’s a lot of times I’m like— let’s just go here, because maybe I am tapping into when I’m open like that, that’s ancient.’

The ending of Sun's performance had him asking for solidarity, not just in Ferguson, but worldwide. Photo by Abdul Aziz.

The ending of Sun’s performance had him asking for solidarity, not just in Ferguson, but worldwide. Photo by Abdul Aziz.

Hunter and Sun have known each other since meeting in 1993 through friends in the dance program at Howard University in Washington D.C. Since then the two have shared countless social and artistic ideas, influencing each others’ work, and becoming more like family than friends, more like brothers than collaborating artists.

“He is a true inspiration to me, and from the last week or so, we’ve been talking back and forth about what the artist’s responsibly is in terms of speaking out any social injustices,” said Hunter. “We’ve decided that the artist has a responsibility, the artists has a voice, and perhaps instead of looking to the political activists, that sometimes we can possibly look towards the artist activist that are actively making statements through their art about injustices, and about any range of societal problems.”

“I do believe that art does have a function other than aesthetics. The value in the art is in the function in it. How can that stimulate social change to dismantle the structures and attack the institutions that support these structures?”, said Sun.

The two distinguish between being a protester standing in a picket line and being an artist, who could create work, using aesthetics and symbolism that speaks on social issues, but nonetheless could come together and form something new.

“We are saying that the two are clearly synonymous. We’re challenging people to say that there are possibilities here,” said Sun.

“I have in the last few years – in saying I’m not just creating art for art’s sake,” said Hunter. “My work stands for something, I stand for something. All of my performance art work directly addresses that.”

Performance in the nature of the form demands a degree of involvement by viewers to create the art, and the actions or inaction of others can bring context or influence the work. By using performance as a form of activism, or a form of protest, than the engagement of the viewer could go beyond the involvement of the “performance” and become cognizant and engaged with the social issues that the performance addresses. It’s a way of seeing or understanding these issues through action, imagery and metaphor to spur a greater action or involvement with the world around them.

A particular issue brought up by both artists was the idea of the issues facing African Americans, or black Americans is the idea of being ignored or becoming “invisible” to the public. Making an argument against the idea of trying to be “color-blind”, they argued people need to see how they look in order to see the real issues of poverty, incarceration, and police brutality facing many Americans of color.

“I think in America there is a particular state of apathy at the moment. To think we’re in this ‘safe zone’ this false zone of safety in a way that as long that it doesn’t impact our immediate space, then it doesn’t matter. I have to be in the space to see what people do, to see if people care. There is a passivity—and I’m not pointing fingers. Part of the reason I’m doing this is to point the finger at myself and say, ‘Am I passive, am I apathetic? Do I care?’ I have to ask myself as an artist that says do they make work that is dealing with social injustices or identity politics? I have look myself in the mirror and say, ‘How much do you care what’s happening outside your own circle of interests, or circle of friends?”

“It feels like we always have to prove our right to exist,” said Sun. “We are struggling with this idea of invisibility.” Sun referred to the shooting in Ferguson, and said, “This is us, we could have already been dead.”

Officer Darren Wilson has yet to be formally charged for the death of Michael Brown, and if he does stand trial, the verdict will be announced and the events thereafter will unfold and pass, but issues of racism will persist unless addressed by people of social role or color. Performance as both an artistic medium and discipline that through interaction and intervention can bring awareness to the greater social issues that we face. It is neither a medium circumscribed for politicians, or activists, or artists, rather a medium that lets our voice be heard. Now is the perfect time to do this.

OPEN CALL: Incen*Diario (DEADLINE May 4)

Girón Center for Arts & Tactics invites you to submit live performance art proposals and completed works of video-performance for the second iteration of the INCEN•DIARIO performance series.

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS: Sunday, May 4th @ Midnight
Exhibition will take place on Thursday, May 22nd at Panoply Performance Lab (104 Meserole Street, Brooklyn, NY).

Haga click aqui para ver la convocatoria en español.

INCEN•DIARIO is an ongoing, traveling event series of live performance and video-performance. The curation process includes an open call and select commissioned works. INCEN•DIARIO exists as an opportunity to showcase artists who are working with radical ideas and creating revolutionary performance art.

This instance of INCEN•DIARIO will continue in the spirit of the first. We seek work that directly or abstractly addresses political issues, injustices, gender roles, historical incidents with lasting effects, current events, class warfare, and so on. This time, we are calling specifically for pieces that incorporate elements of fitness, stamina, repetition, and endurance as a means to communicate labour and physical struggle as a gateway to the fantastic.

We will select for the exhibition:

– 4 Works of video-performance art will be selected (maximum length is 15 minutes)
– 3 Live performances of 15–20 minutes each, maximum
– 1 Live durational performance piece that will begin at 8:00pm and run for the entire length of the show (about 4 hours)

To submit a completed work of video-performance or a live performance proposal please see the details below. Deadline for submissions is SUNDAY MAY 4th @ MIDNIGHT. Please email all submission materials to Giron [dot] NYC [at] gmail [dot] com

1) Artist’s Name + website (if applicable)
2) Artist’s country of origin
3) Short description of the work/performance proposal, and its relation to the show’s theme (250 words max)
4) Short bio (250 words max) PLUS any additional credits (collaborators, funding, etc)
5) For videos: URL to the video, plus date of completion
6) Duration of performance or video work (live performances: 15-20 min MAX, or 4-hour durational piece, videos: 15 minutes MAX).
7) For performance proposals: Photographs or documentation of the piece if you’ve done it before (if this is the first time, please send a longer, more detailed proposal)
8) For performance proposals: required materials & limiting factors (ie fire/water/smoke)

El trabajo es la más hermosa alegría de la vida. Y la luz, la mañana, el sueño y la verdad echaban a andar al mismo tiempo. Labour is the most beautiful happiness in life. And light, morning, a dream, and the truth began to walk at the same time.
—Manuel Cofiño López (Cuban Revolutionary writer, Havana 1979)

This event is co-sponsored by Girón Center for Arts & Tactics, Panoply Performance Lab, and INCIDENT Magazine.

INCIDENT IS LIVE!!! Launch Party Recap

SADAF Photo: Laura Blüer/

Last night INCIDENT launched its first issue at Grace Exhibition Space. After 4 months of hard work and a totally INSANE week leading up to making the site live, we celebrated over rum punch cocktails and franzia. SADAF played a mesmerizing set & a great time was had by all. Thanks for stopping by & we’ll see you next time! Submissions are being accepted on a rolling basis for our blog and ISSUE #2!!

INCIDENT Editor-in-Chief David LaGaccia

David & Post Performance Editor Jill McDermid

Kayvon Edson is a bad performance artist, but should he go to prison?

First of all I don’t believe Kayvon Edson should go to prison, although he certainly will serve time. I think much will be made of his history of mental illness, although I don’t think that should prevent anyone from taking his action seriously. If Edson wants this action to be viewed as performance art, here comes a review of it as performance art. 

Kayvon Edson is not a good performance artist. The reason why his action seems more like a plea for attention than a well plotted work of art is because that is pretty much all it is. Obviously, he chose a provocative action at a provocative place at a provocative time. That’s all he did. His piece did not go out of its way to give cause for reflection on the roots, ideologies, and methods of terrorism, let alone the effect terrorism has on its victims or urban and national life at large. His piece did not make a cohesive statement about the spectacle of terrorism, the surveillance state, or media collusion in those phenomena. On the contrary, his action constitutes a plea to be a part of a spectacle. For what egotistical purpose is beyond me, but I can’t imagine a convincing reason for his action other than that desire. 

Edson's attempted meme. 

Edson’s attempted meme.

The personal context of his action came to light almost instantly. He is an art student who made sexualized memes about the Marathon bombers. He is a drag queen that felt some connection with these two also-ran Jihadists. Between the memes and the use of glitter in his backpack, it seems like he is trying to say something about a connection between kitsch and terrorism, something about the banality of violent spectacles perhaps? Unfortunately, he’s not a very articulate artist. In fact, he’s so inarticulate I wonder if he’s saying anything at all. 

I suppose the mess Edson has made says more about performance art becoming kitsch than anything else. Performance art is a decorative ornament for pundits, academics, galleries and museums. It feigns more exaggerated emotion than a SVU marathon. Performance art reigns over unpracticed and ignorant art students like Edson, promising easy tropes and cliche gestures toward significance. Could it be the most intimate of artforms is beginning to resemble its opposite: the agreeable, cheaply made items for mass consumption that define kitsch? Of course, the masses are indifferent to performance art when they’re not hating it. So, maybe it’s kitsch for a particular set of people considering grad school. 

To be fair to Edson, his action is not a terrible idea for a performance. When broken down into its formal components, it becomes clear why his execution of the piece is so unsatisfying and what a successful execution may look like. I see three major components to his piece: the revelation of the contents of the backpack, the costume, and the spoken statement.

The contents of the backpack really could have been anything. An ant farm, dumpster bagels, a mirror (like, held up to society, man). Anything. With the contents of the backpack he had the opportunity to present ambiguous imagery, make a political point, or a personal declaration. The contents could’ve been a symbolic object whose meaning would be dissected in the next coupe of weeks. The contents could’ve provided an explicit expression to let us know what exactly he’s attempting to communicate. The use of glitter is just lack of imagination. Glitter is used in protests often enough. A few years back some Oklaholma environmentalists got arrested for causing a panic with glitter because people thought it was anthrax. At least that terror hoax brought into focus larger concerns about a culture of fear, the use of the law to impede freedom of speech, etc. I think the use of glitter as the backpack’s contents here fails to make any such statement and, given the theatrically inclined as opposed to politically motivated context of the rest of the piece, the glitter fails to connect the action to protest culture at large. 

In 2013, Earth First members dropped a Hunger Games styled banner in the rotunda of Oklahoma City's Devon Tower. They put too much glitter on the sign, which fell off and was confused with anthrax. Two activists were charged with Terrorism Hoax, which carries a 10 year sentence.

In 2013, Earth First members dropped a Hunger Games styled banner in the rotunda of Oklahoma City’s Devon Tower. They put too much glitter on the sign, which fell off and was confused for anthrax. Two activists were charged with Terrorism Hoax, which carries a 10 year sentence.

The costume is startling. Grainy footage of it dashed across the news is even more startling. It’s gaudy, attention grabbing, and pretty creepy. However, these qualities befit a media stunt and are not really a clue to the significance of the action. He could’ve worn anything, as what he chose doesn’t add or detract from the piece.  Edson was screaming “Boston strong.” An ironic appropriation of a slogan used to create solidarity after the traumatic events last year. The simplest interpretation of his utterance conveys a very simple point: How united is a city if that unity is based on fear? Isn’t there a better way of communicating this shallow sentiment that doesn’t risk prison time? Maybe his use of “Boston strong” has complexities I’m missing. 

So, breaking down the piece, it seems Edson doesn’t have a lot to communicate. There are some well worn political cliches, but they aren’t very well communicated and almost seem like an afterthought to his true desire: for us to know his name. 

Of course, there is plenty of “terroristic” performance art worth getting arrested for, not all of it political, but none of it half-baked.

Caption: Chris Burden shooting an airplane.

Chris Burden shooting an airplane.

In 1974, Chris Burden shot a revolver from the ground at a passenger airplane leaving the LAX airport for his piece 747. This action earned him a visit from the FBI. There doesn’t seem to be any explicitly political intent in the action. As a meditation on the nature of danger, violent fantasy, and irrational, nightmarish fear it makes for a compelling piece. Formally, it plays on disjunctions of scale and consequence. In the documentation he appears larger than the plane, as all objects on the ground do when compared to an object in the sky. We all know the actual size of the plane and the people on it. We are aware of the impossibility of him hitting the plane and of his bullets having an effect on the plane if it were hit. Even if Burden’s threat is empty, a threat is being made on the airplane and its passengers. An act of violence wherein the perpetrator is removed by distance from the carnage he creates. 747 seems prescient of drone warfare, framing its core logic while refusing to make an explicit judgment. A lo-fi inauguration of invisible warfare. And that’s just one interpretation. It is a simple, minimal action that continues to raise questions and spur engagement. Edson should take notes.  

Performance artists interested in taking up crime and terror as subjects or methods should also take lessons from recent Russian superstars Pussy Riot and Voina. For them, performance is merely a tool to denigrate oppressive power and they’ve been successful in achieving this end. These groups have put international heat under a tyrannical regime, got talk of anti-capitalism in press from The Washington Post to Pitchfork, and continually reveal the dismal contradictions of Russia’s economy. They’re also good artists. Content, form, documentation, and media fallout are all anchored to serve a concrete, militant statement in their work. Their actions take the best strategies of provocative art from Dada and Otto Muehl to punk and protest movements and put them to novel, powerful use in a contemporary context.

Just because Kayvon Edson is not a good performance artist does not mean he should not be defended. How actions like his are prosecuted will set precedents for how future, better actions by other artists will be judicially received. Even if you do not pity Edson, understand the severity of the legal consequences in his case may set the stage for prosecution of greater artists in the future, artists whose quality of work and commitment to their vision may put them on par with Chris Burden, Pussy Riot, and Voina.  We need to defend performance art from both bad artists and the law so we can set the stage for powerful and substantive performance art to take place.

— Marzio Milesi