Fire And Prayer, Performance As Ritual in Miami

Sarah H. Paulson, with Samantha Gray and Travis Laplante, Fire in Fire: Prayers for the Ocean (2016). Miami Art Basel, Satellite Art Show 2.0, curated by Performance Is Alive.
Photo: Julio Tardaguila, Courtesy of Sarah H. Paulson

By Steven Butz

Nearing the end of the ever-frenzied 2016 Miami Basel art fair week, performance artist Sarah H. Paulson, accompanied by two other performers, Samantha Gray and composer Travis Laplante, created a three and a half hour event which, in essence, begged us to just stop. Stop the spending. Stop the Ubering. Stop the partying. Please.

Employing minimal staging and props, the most abundant of which were two very generous mounds of red and pink rose petals, one idea which couldn’t help but leap out, was “Stop and smell the roses”. This message, along with the work’s intended themes, could only reach a few audience members at a time in the small hotel room Paulson had adapted into another of her spare performance environments. There, incorporating one of her signature motifs of repetitive actions or activities, we see what takes on the definite appearance of a ceremony or more precisely, a ritual. The viewer can’t be sure what cultures or civilizations her rituals might be drawn from because there are no identifiable clues. It feels unfamiliar. Could they be religious in origin or cultural or sociopolitical? These repeated actions are uncomplicated, and overall quite simple. What remains constant in her more recent work, as she continued to do here, is the sense that what we are watching is not newly wrought, but ancient. That the gestures and actions Paulson enacts are ones she has carefully managed to unearth and recreate. Perhaps the artist herself is not fully understanding of their original meaning, but convinced of their validity and significance, she gives them new life and lets her audience parse out their meanings.

Sarah H. Paulson, with Samantha Gray and Travis Laplante, Fire in Fire: Prayers for the Ocean (2016). Miami Art Basel, Satellite Art Show 2.0, curated by Performance Is Alive.
Photo: Julio Tardaguila, Courtesy of Sarah H. Paulson

Paulson’s piece, titled “Fire in Fire: Prayers for the Ocean” was created at the invitation of Performance Is Alive at the Satellite Art Show 2.0. Though its mysterious ritualistic aspects adhere to her overall performative style, here she has chosen, partly given the venue and location or perhaps at the request of the presenters, to provide detailed program notes. These actively direct and focus her audience (many of whom are asked to briefly and individually participate) on the specific themes of this work.  It seems, as I recall, to differ from previous program notes, as rather too literally descriptive of her ideas, intentions and goals. The notes do perhaps help those entirely uninitiated with her work to watch with greater ease and certainly aids those too quickly passing through yet another art fair event to get the idea and take something away. The risk, however can be that such detailed program notes, narrow and prescribe the encounter by telling its audience members what they should be thinking about as they experience the performance. Once read, it can set unintended parameters around an individual’s interpretive encounter with the material and might undermine more elusive personal engagements. Rather than summarizing these programs notes, I have appended the four short paragraphs* at the end of this account.

Sarah H. Paulson, with Samantha Gray and Travis Laplante, Fire in Fire: Prayers for the Ocean (2016). Miami Art Basel, Satellite Art Show 2.0, curated by Performance Is Alive.
Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk, Courtesy of Sarah H. Paulson

Numerous, intermittent high points come with the repeated, brief participation of individual audience members in the ritual. They are called into the performance space and sit facing forward on a chair center stage reserved only for them. With outstretched palms, cleansed by Paulson with ocean water, these volunteers take on the role of willing supplicants, which concludes, after a few ceremonial aspects, with each given a small treasure of rose petals, resting on the moxa singed balsa wood square and wrapped in a square of white silk. It reminded me of a very small elegant hobo’s knapsack, missing only the little stick from which it would hang. There is a card tied to the small knotted silk parcel that instructs it to be taken to the ocean and that the rose petals be tossed into the waves. In effect, these volunteers cum performers are each asked to stop, in the midst of the tumult of the art fair’s hurry-it’s-your-last-chance-to-see-everything-day, to stop and become sacred messengers.

Another major component of the work was the performance of composer and saxophonist Travis Laplante, who is a respected artist in his own right and founder of the avant-garde saxophone quartet, Battle Trance. Laplante provides an ongoing improvisational accompaniment during the entire duration of the piece. In the time I spent at the performance, which was the last two and a half hours, the music was comprised of a broad and varied range of sounds, including suggestions of the urban commotion of Collins Avenue, right outside the hotel, to more frequent and wonderful descents into a long, lovely, foggy echoing of music emanating from a conch shell. Closing our eyes, we can imagine Laplante momentarily took one up to play, giving his sax a rest. In those moments, the nearby ocean became a full-throated presence in this little second floor hotel room.

Sarah H. Paulson, with Samantha Gray and Travis Laplante, Fire in Fire: Prayers for the Ocean (2016). Miami Art Basel, Satellite Art Show 2.0, curated by Performance Is Alive.
Photo: Julio Tardaguila, Courtesy of Sarah H. Paulson

When not interacting with an audience volunteer, which was Paulson’s major role, she, along with the other performer, were each kneeling in their respective mounds of rose petals and routinely scooping up armfuls and showering themselves with them. This action, one felt, could go on eternally, like the never-ending action of waves. Paulson and Gray were watery maidens in loving service, who never tired, never got distracted, and never doubted the significance of their task.

Sarah H. Paulson, The Reed Bed (2016). Grace Exhibition Space, Brooklyn, New York.
Photo: Rob Peyrebrune, Courtesy of Sarah H. Paulson

As in all of Paulson’s works, those conceived alone, such as this one and those conceived with sometimes collaborator, Holly Faurot, the audience is given permission to come and go during the always lengthy performances. As compared to her twelve hour performance of “The Reed Bed” at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn in June, 2016, “Fire in Fire” was held, as previously noted, at a modest three and a half hours. There is a concept of endurance which plays into these works, both for the performers, who must fulfill the required scope of the piece, and also for the audience members. There are many who opt for a more swift, fleeting encounter, while some choose to stay and stay. Rewards can be had either way, but I have found the greater the endurance, the greater the rewards.

That afternoon after the performance, I found myself on the beach, tossing my rose petals into the waves. There is no way knowing how many of the performance volunteers chose to fulfill this mission to the Atlantic, only two blocks from that small hotel room, and it will forever remain the actual unseen conclusion to the performance.

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*Program Notes from “Fire in Fire: Prayer for the Ocean” Dec. 4, 2016

Samantha Gray and Sarah H. Paulson bathe themselves in thousands of rose petals. Through their continuous immersion into piles of reds and pinks, accompanied by Travis Laplante’s masterful use of the saxophone to emit cascades of sound, each petal becomes a letter, a prayer, a love note, from the heart of the performer to the ocean.

Each year tons of people flock to Miami for Miami Art Week. It is a time of creativity, opulence, celebration, debauchery, activism, education, criticism, art, addiction, performance, traffic, waste, self-expression, business, music and more. It is a week that is full of both beauty and horror.

Fire in Fire” serves to remind viewers, the performers, and the artist alike, about the importance of place. The ocean is ceaseless, calling to us, singing, crashing, reaching, available, regardless of what stands on its shore, or is discarded into its waters. “Fire in Fire: Prayer for the Oceans” is but a breath, from the shore, in response to that constant call.

With the help of audience members, moxa (dried mugwort used in acupuncture) is burned through the center of silk handkerchiefs one after another. Rose petals are wrapped in the burnt handkerchiefs and given to individuals from the audience, with the agreement that they will release the petals into the ocean.

An Island of Light and Performance. The 2014 LUMEN Art festival

Photos and text by David LaGaccia

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Paige Fredlund (left) and Kaia Gilje (right) used the salt to create intricate patterns during their performance.

After spending last year at Lyons Pool, the 2014 LUMEN Arts Festival was back at the Atlantic Salt Company on Saturday, June 28th, gathering over 50 local and visiting visual artists, sound artists, and performance artists. The artists used the many large mounds of salt that were scattered throughout the event space to display video and new media work, as well as using them as inspiration for creating performances. The show was curated by Esther Neff and David C. Terry, and was organized by the Staten Island Arts. Previous curators have included Jill McDermid of Grace Exhibition Space, and Ginger Shulick Porcella, the current executive director of the San Diego Art Institute.

LUEMN, which has after five years has become an annual summer event in Staten Island, focuses on curating interactive video and performance work for the visiting public to engage and enjoy. The show is always a fun event, with a short ride across the New York harbor on the Staten Island Ferry and onto an island of lights and performance. A bussing system helped visitors get to the festival from the ferry, dropping them off at the shipping yard of the Atlantic Salt Company.

After being greeted at the gate, visitors were given a performative worksheet by artist Chloe Bass, and were led through a corridor and into the festival. The Corridor itself was lined with performance artists, light and video work, taking advantage of the dark and covered space, which then opened up to the venue’s larger area.

The performances at the festival ranged from roaming performances, to installation based performances, interventions, and even a puppet show, organized by Hiroshi Shafer. Many of the performers had a specific area they performed in the festival space, and because of this, many of the performers coordinated their performances around installations they built out of the venues unique feature, the salt mounds. Several of the roaming performers, including that by artist Germaul Barnes (collaborating with artist Whitney Hunter) and Geraldo Mercado, performed throughout the event space, gathering crowds while carrying out their performances. The show also attracted several unplanned performances and interventions, including one by Kalan Sherrard.

Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow was one of the performers who created her performance, “The Lost Tribe of Mount Madagascar”, based around an installation at the event’s salt mounds. As she describes it in her project’s description, “In ‘The Lost Tribe of Mount Madagascar’ a tribal woman appears by her ‘salt’ hillside with her harvest and prepares it for her stately visitors on Staten Island. Using natural elements from exotic places the artist hopes to create a multi-sensory experience of an exotic tropical place back in time of discovery.” The installation included lighting as well as recorded jungle sounds to create the installation she performed in.

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Artist Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow during her performance in her installation. Many of the performers based their performances around installations built out of the salt mounds.

It was hard to stop and appreciate all of the performances, because most of the performances occurred at the same time, and for those who attended later missed some of the earlier performances, but for the people who stopped to watch, they we’re rewarded with a night on the island with lights and performance.

For a complete list of participants, please look here, on the event’s official website.

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A scan of Chloe Bass’s performance worksheet that was handed out at the opening gate of the LUMEN Festival.

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Ivy Castellanos performing in the darkened corridor at the entrance of Atlantic Salt.

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Germaul Barnes performing as a part of Whitney Hunter’s ongoing project, the 1st AMERICAN SHAPIST HOUSE for the PRACTICE of PERFORMANCE/RITUAL.

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David Ian Griess of Future Death Toll at the beginning of his performance.

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Edward Sharp (front) and Elizabeth Lamb (back) performing as Future Death Toll in the festival.

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Sherry Aliberti (front) performing in Hiroshi Shafer’s puppet show.

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Rae Goodwin , a visiting assistant professor from the University of Kentucky’s College of Fine Arts, performing in-front of her installation.

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A back view Rae Goodwin’s installation at the festival. Chairs, books and other knickknacks were placed in the salt.

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Felix Morelo performing with a handmade headdress.

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Projections were set up across the festival space for visitors to interact with.

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A child playing in-front of one of the projections.

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A later view of Kaia Gilje and Paige Fredlund’s performance. Fireworks could be seen in the skyline at night.

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Vela Phelan’s performance installation. The string lighted up intermediately throughout the performance.

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Amery Kessler’s performance installation. Several large metal shipping containers were used during this performance. Performers stood behind sheets creating a silhouette between artist and viewer.

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Florence Poulain’s performance space at the festival. Many performers used shovels to shovel and displace the salt at a point during their performance.

THEORETICAL MIX – A historical overlook – JUMPING REMARKS on – “I”, ART and LIFE; THE EMERGENCE of PERFORMATIVE ART

THEORETICAL MIX – A historical overlook –JUMPING REMARKS on – “I”, ART and LIFE; THE EMERGENCE of PERFORMATIVE ART

by Dolanbay

Dolanbay, Untitled Act - Berlin 2011. Photo by Teena Lange

Dolanbay, Untitled Act – Berlin 2011. Photo by Teena Lange

“Purge the world of bourgeois sickness. ‘Intellectual’, professionals, commercialized culture PURGE the world of death art, imitation, artificial art, abstract art, illusionistic art, and mathematical art, PURGE THE WORLD OF “EUROPANISM”! PROMOTE A REVOLUTANARY FLOOD AND TIDE IN ART. Promote living art, anti art. Promote NON ART REALITY to be grasped by all people, not only critics, dilettantes and professionals. FUSE the cadres of cultural, social & political revolutionaries into united front & Action.” Fluxus Manifesto, 1963

George Maciunas has thrown the copies of the manifesto into the audience at the ‘Festum Fluxorum Fluxus’ in Düsseldorf, 1963. Joseph Beuys has retained a copy and some years later, in 1970, he has removed the “EUROPANISM” from the manifesto and wrote “AMERICANACA” instead. He has kept rest of the text as Maciunas’s original handwriting…

Fluxus has opposed to the whole belief in modernism, their oppositional acts was determined of the historically developed artistic flow in critique to objective life. Beuys and his followers’ endeavours was registered as healing of modernism and unification of Europe, which has mainly taken shape within the context of common subjectivity towards regaining of the national identity and the modernity with better democracy. However, Maciunas’ opposing of conventions and the concept of generality and Beuys’ concept -everyone is an artist, every being is a social being and a social sculpture, art is evolutionary and revolutionary potential to transform the society- had suggested further implications on the progressing of the flow towards performativity in coherent to the artistic interventions were originated within transformative potential of singularity.

Dolanbay, Untitled - London 2013. Photo by Teena Lange

Dolanbay, Untitled – London 2013. Photo by Teena Lange

The engagement in bridging the gap between art and life was earlier manifested by Italian Futurists and Russian Constructivists. However the inner frame of these manifestations was contextualized as the avant-garde invention of the new movements; offered new methods and approaches within the stylistic interconnections that have led to the various conventional art forms. Fluxus was not a movement for a new kind stylistic art, it has manifested as continuity of the universal flow, an extensive synonymic practice in art&life inherited from Dadaism, “Rationalism” and “Freudian Unconscious” which flowingly led to the search of an inner need, a non materialistic world that was noted as Surrealism.

While the First World War has left modernism dazed and confused, Dadaist act was an intellectualized response against the conventional values in art and culture and politics of the war. Dada has practiced anti-art methods in order to devastate the credibility of the conventional art and culture making. Continuously, Surrealism was born into a ruin of the modern life and its culture. It manifested that reality could not be understood through rationalism alone, but together with liberating and exploring the creative power of the unconscious mind, that was to reveal the unconscious and reconcile it with rational life.

The continuity of art&life practices has enabled artists to discover the reality of the world they live in and the self-realization within the world.  In our present time artists work in awareness of objective reality gained by interconnectivity of the ideas and experiences, which have taken shape towards the end of the 20th Century. Artists have developed diverse strategies in respond the cultural, social and political characteristics of the modernity, defined as  “western in its orientation, capitalist in its economic tendency, bourgeois in its overpowering class character, white in its racial complexion, and masculine in its dominant gender”[1]

Dolanbay, Untitled Singular Act - New York 2013. Photo by Teena Lange

Dolanbay, Untitled Singular Act – New York 2013. Photo by Teena Lange

Dadaists, Surrealists, Situationist International, Fluxus …together with the explosion of new approaches within the following decades, international art overcame the stylistic proliferation of the modernity. Artists have rejected any kind of formal uniformity and refused to accept any predetermined constrain in the use of media. In the absence of any conformity of style artwork has become to be evaluated not with technical skills but within the terms and artistic interventions; in condition that artwork was to be emerged within ‘subject’, ‘object’ and ‘mind’ interaction. And these elements had to be in correspondence during the course of the practice; forms were created through associations towards non-subjective representations.

Artistic interventions of art&life practices have been indispensable since Post-Impressionism, which was seen as the turning point from nature-bound reality. However, it has begun in the 50s, artistic intervention was treated as a subject matter. This new approach in art, primarily painting has overturned the aesthetics certainties of earlier modernist painting.  For the American critic Harold Rosenberg, “action painting indicated how painting became an arena in which to act for the artist. He continued, what was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.”[2] In Europe and America a new approach “For Greenberg these paintings represent experience and make it actual, for Rosenberg the revelation is contained in the act.”[3]

Dolanbay, Mıxed Media on Paper - MPA- Berlin 2014. Photo by Teena Lange

Dolanbay, Mıxed Media on Paper – MPA- Berlin 2014. Photo by Teena Lange

In reference to Socrates, if we do not understand ourselves we cannot understand the world and it is to be achieved by rational thought.

In reference to Descartes, knowledge can be gained rationally ‘without any sensory experience’ but truths can be attained by our intuition through a deductive process by breaking down the knowledge into elements.

For Kant, knowledge can be gained with the both, reason and experience.

The above complementary assumptions together with the artistic and the philosophical developments throughout and after the modern period have enabled contemporary artists into a journey of self-realization; it was not any longer as in the course of modernist dream of searching universal truth but in a reflexive journey that, the search is “I” within the space, time and mind continuum, which the search is “act” and it sets relations from “I” to life.

Here, in order to avoid confusions, we should differ the indications of the words act, acting, action in reference to the semiotic studies. The lectures given by John L. Austin, “How to do things with words” in 1955, was published by Harvard University in 1962. In his lectures, Austin differs the utterances as being “performative” and “constative”: A “performative” utterance is non-referential ‘act’ and not a ‘representation’, a state of being within the condition, in a process of performing something. A “constative” utterance is an assertion, preserves ambiguity and makes us believe something either true or false. The “constative” assertions take form of  ‘Acting’ which is mode of being in passivity; something that one becomes another, by moulding into characteristics of another so to represent the other. ‘Action’ manifests in the mode of acting, as doing something in correspondence to preliminary conditions. ‘Act’ can be understood in reference to Latin word ‘entelecheia’, which is a condition of actual power – energy and ‘intellectus’ that means of “correspondence of mind and reality”[4]. ‘Intellectus’ is derived of ‘intellect’, by means of someone’s own mind. Consequently, ‘act’ is manifestation of someone’s own mind power and the performance of the mind in correspondence to reality – energia!

Dolanbay, Untitled Singular Act - Stockholm 2014. Photo by Teena Lange

Dolanbay, Untitled Singular Act – Stockholm 2014. Photo by Teena Lange

Appropriating the term “constative” as a method for artistic practices, it has been central to the underlying principles of 20th century’s art and any other area of the creative industries. Within this historical journey, despite of the repetitive conventional and revising interventions, the progressive artists have always tackled on prerequisite of art and its essential connection to reality/life. In this manner the artists has discoursed on subjectivity and objectivity in the mode of perception and representation, which the effort has enable the historical flow towards the non-representational form of artistic interventions, which was termed as performativity.

Although the term has been widely pronounced in the field of ‘performance art’, in our time, it is to be understood as a mode of artistic intervention and a way of life in distinction to constative. The constative method in all the disciplines is passive mode of intervention via acting/action through art to life. The method results as a form of representation by imitating, modelling, describing, and story telling or an implication. That is to contemplate art production as the repetition of existing forms with in the world of generality as the subjective mode of assumption, suggestion or interpretation.

Dolanbay, Untitled Singular Act - Berlin 2013. Photo by Teena Lange

Dolanbay, Untitled Singular Act – Berlin 2013. Photo by Teena Lange

The performative on the other hand is not a representation. It does not interpret reality and it does not seek for an interpretation. It leaves out all the tenets of the constative. It is a walk of life, an active mode of artistic intervention. It is the manifestation of act -the performance of mind power – singularity indifference to generality in a form of energia that generates real effect in the world. It is activated within self-awareness, in full presence – a self within actual moment, in non-measurable significant time – timeless in the space… Act is not referential to knowledge and it does not seek for knowledge. It seeks for unknown and reveals unknown in a form of experience occurs throughout in a dramatic process, in an alienated situation, which is engendering transformative actual power that manifesting in the world.

At the age of globalisation, the new era in art has begun with “Performative”, which goes beyond post modernism.

This text is written in an act.

Dolanbay – 2011 Berlin

www.dolanbay.com
[1] Christopher L.C.E. Witcombe, Modernism and Politics, 1997, Department of Art History, Sweet Briar College, Virginia, USA

[2] The Tate Britain, gallery publication, London

[3] Pam Meecham and Julie Sheldon (2000) Modern Art: a Critical Introduction, Routledge, London

[4] Robert Cavalier, Department of Philosophy / Carnegie Mellon University, CAAE/80254/Heideger/SZHomePage.html