Wearing Personalities, Expanding Emotional Territories — In Conversation with Martha Wilson

By Angeli Sion

Editor’s Note: This interview will also appear in our print edition this May.

Martha Wilson is a New York-based pioneering feminist artist, and founder of Franklin Furnace Archive. On April 1, 2016, I interviewed her at the Furnace. At moments interviewer becomes interviewee, as they begin to unpack issues of identity, forms of relation, and emotional ethics towards affecting change through the lens of transformation. The philosopher Spinoza derives an ethics from an ontology to maximize our being, from what enables, whether that is joy or sadness. An inter-generational dialogue has begun. This is the first in a series of texts researching the transformation of the body.

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Martha Wilson, Breast Forms Permutated (1972), black and white gelatin silver print by artist, 20 x 14 inches.
Courtesy of the artist and P.P.O.W Gallery.

Angeli: Having encountered your work around various points in time in different contexts, I was most interested in talking to you about the transformation of the body, and what that could mean in your practice. I’m thinking of your most early embodied performative acts and photo/text works before moving to New York in 1974, if you could start there. How did it start?

Martha: How did this start? …  Art school environment. I was technically not in the art school. My boyfriend was in the art school. I was technically in the university across the street. But the art school environment was full of visiting artists who were conceptual artists of the day, Richard Serra, Lawrence Weiner, Joseph Beuys, and Vito Acconci. They were coming through and doing projects with students, so we not only got to see what the end results looked like, but how you got to the end results.

It was pretty cold stuff. Not related to what was going on in the real world. Except for Vito. Vito was using his own sexuality as his own art medium, and was, you know, masturbating under a platform, following people in the street, or waiting at the bottom of the stairs with a pipe to bash whoever came in.

These were works that took sexuality as a subject, so that opened the door to me to take my sexuality as a subject, and my body is female. So I was coming from the embodied female perspective, and he was coming from the embodied male perspective.

Now in those early days, I didn’t know the term “feminism.” I didn’t know what that was. It was never used. The art school environment was male-dominated and hostile basically towards women. (laughs)

I think I tell this story about my mentor, who taught painting in college and then went to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and became a professor— he told my boyfriend, Richards, “You have to come up here. It’s the coolest art school in North America.”

So I said, “I wanted to be an artist too.”

And he said, “Women don’t make it in the art world.”

A: Oh, no—

M: Which sounds bad, but what it did was made me mad. It made me angry. Made me want to prove him an asshole.

So I started doing performances and asking my boyfriend to document them.

Also… let’s see, we went on the rocks twice, I think— Richards, my boyfriend, and I, went on the rocks a couple times, during the 5 years we were together. I was living in Halifax. At a certain point, when we broke up, I realized that I didn’t have any friends of my own. He was like the prow of the ship. He would go through society and make friends, and I would follow along behind and have friends that were first made by him.

So when we broke up I figured out, “Oh, I don’t really have a personality. I don’t know who I am, even.” The pieces were experiments to find out who was in there. And transforming my body physically was an effort to get to a different emotional place, a place I’d never been before. To look around in that new place, and feel it out. Find out what it’s like.

Dressing in drag was a voyage from female, from the person that I am, to male, and then that person trying to become female. It was an emotional voyage that goes out and kind of comes back, but not to the same place.

But then of course you’re always — we are all performing all the time. Vito Acconci recommended Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), through which I understood that we are all performing all the time.

That actually freed up a lot of emotional space to understand that everyone is performing all the time. It’s something that can be crafted, understood and used.

A: In this essay “Martha Wilson: Not Taking It at Face Value” (2001), Jayne Wark is talking about your Posturing Drag (1972), where you pose as a man posing as a woman. She quotes you as saying, “Form determines feeling. So that if I pose in a role, I can experience a foreign emotion.”

So it seems a lot of this was coming from an impulse to try to get to know yourself—

M: Yes. (nods)

A: — or, navigate a positionality. Was that the impulse to transform?

M: Yes, very much so. Well, I think where your question is coming from— let me ask you the question: are you asking if transformation is a permanent condition or state? That you’re changed and then you’re in this new sphere…

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Martha Wilson, Posturing: Drag (1972/1996), color photograph and text, 10 x 8 inches.
Photo: Doug Waterman. Courtesy of the artist and P.P.O.W Gallery.

A: I think it’s a process. I see the relationship between appearance and identity. Where does the emotional voyage take place? Is it through changing your appearance? Is it after having changed your appearance? Is it after the work is out there for an audience?

M: You know, there’s something about performance itself. In high school, I was elected president of the Girls’ Day students at a Quaker preparatory school in Pennsylvania. And I had to give a speech to the students. And I held a clipboard against my waist so that my hand wouldn’t shake. I was so… nervous about performing: standing up and emoting in front of people. I had to have some tool, some way to keep myself from just falling apart. Performance itself is transformative because it’s an emotional process that you are going through.

Right now I am performing as a competent artist for you and for the magazine. I could also perform as a goof ball. Or as a bitch.

And those performances take you, the observer, and me, the performer, through different mental states.

So some of the performances operate from the premise that if I change my physical environment or appearance, I can then affect the emotional landscape. Others look at the emotional landscape and try to use it somehow to effect change.

I didn’t even understand that it was art in a certain way. It was more of my kind of psychology experiment to see what would happen if I composed my features into the mirror, or if I composed my features into the camera to see which set of features looked more genuinely miserable, or whatever it was that I was trying to achieve.

A: Did you mean for it to be art? Necessarily, at first?

M: I was documenting it. I kept asking my boyfriend and friends to document it. But there was a long lead-up period during which time I didn’t feel confident enough to call myself an artist. And then when I talked to Jerry [Gerald] Ferguson, my mentor, he said that thing about women not making it in the art world.

A: So maybe you already answered this, but I was wondering at what point does transformation happen for you?

M: Well, there’s an interesting phenomenon that goes along with putting on the wig if I’m turning myself into Barbara Bush. You put on the hose, you put on the heels, you put on the suit, you put on the jewelry. Then you put on the wig. When you put on the wig, then you can step out of your own body and go into the bitch body that is Barbara Bush. And it’s the wig! I don’t know what it is. I think it’s because our face, you know, the face, is the prow of the ship, the thing that moves through space, and tells the world who you are, that when you alter the face, when you alter the head, you are able to believe yourself better. You’re able to let yourself go into that new person, that new personality.

A: Which is interesting because some of the earlier works are referred to as self-portraits. Do you see all of them as self-portraiture? At what point does it stop becoming self-portraiture?

M: (pause) Because I’m trying to escape from my body at the same time I’m having these pictures taken… I don’t know the answer to that question. Let’s leave that one on the side and come back to it.

A: Okay, I’m going to backtrack a bit. I was reading about Transformance: Claudia (1973), the collaboration with Jacki Apple, after Lucy Lippard curated both of your works into the group exhibit c. 7,500 (1973-74), in which both works, Lucy observed, fell into a section of work dealing with transformation primarily of the self. Could you tell me a bit about Transformance: Claudia?

M: Lucy put me in this show and I found out there were other women in the world who were doing work like what I was doing. I was living in Halifax and I came to New York to talk to Jacki, and we discovered that we were both… well, by this point Lucy had used the term feminist so that I understood that I was a feminist artist. And Jacki was a completely relaxed and unabashed feminist artist. She was a few years older than me and had been living in New York all her life.

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Jacki Apple, notecard submission for exhibit c. 7,500 (1973-74) curated by Lucy Lippard, scan of page from Martha Wilson Sourcebook: 40 Years of Reconsidering Performance, Feminism, Alternative Spaces (2011).
Courtesy of the artist and P.P.O.W Gallery.

We decided to invent a character who would exist in the space between us, and take the character out to lunch where she would be comfortable. We named her Claudia. We took her to the Plaza Hotel. Jacki invited her friends to be there too. So we were a gang of women, about 7 or 8 of us, and one man who paid for the limo. (Because we needed the limo.) And what I was experiencing was anxiety. I thought that we were going to be discovered, I was going to be outed, and the whole thing was going to crash and burn because we were not the confident, wealthy and privileged women whom we were pretending to be.

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Jacki Apple and Martha Wilson, Transformance: Claudia (1973).
Photo: Photographer unknown. Courtesy of P.P.O.W Gallery.

Jacki was the opposite. She was completely happy and relaxed, enjoying having lunch at the Plaza Hotel Palm Court. We hired two photographers to circle the table and take pictures of us, and we instructed the photographers to agree with whatever the tables around us would say. In other words, if someone said, “Oh, is that Vogue magazine having lunch?” then the photographer would say, “Yes!”

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Jacki Apple and Martha Wilson, Transformance: Claudia (1973).
Photo: Photographer unknown. Courtesy of the artist and P.P.O.W Gallery.

It ends up being a composite portrait of not only us, but the people surrounding us. I couldn’t move my neck because I was afraid of being discovered, so I was like this (pulls shoulders forward and down, neck stiff).

Uptown we were taken as being who we claimed we were, successful, well-dressed, and articulate women, having lunch together for some reason we didn’t know. And then we got into the limo, down to Soho, into 420 West Broadway, which was the belly button of the art world at the time. Leo Castelli Gallery, Sonnabend Gallery, and John Weber Gallery were in the building.

We went into Sonnabend Gallery and started taking pictures, which was not allowed in a commercial gallery. But we were not taking pictures of their art on the walls, we were taking pictures of ourselves.

They were skeptical right away. They threw us out.

In a commercial gallery situation, we were seen as weirdos, impostors, not something good, something that should be ejected.

A: Which brings me to fantasy. Fantasy implies hopes, wants, fears, and needs, often extreme ends of desire. What role does fantasy play in your work?

M: Desire is the operative word. Desire to be someone else, or experience someone else’s personality or interior landscape with the overall goal of change. The story of gripping the clipboard so I wouldn’t be visibly shaking in front of my school mates contrasts the present because now I can perform in public. I still have to prepare but once you have survived performance, then you can do it, then you do it again, then you have survived it twice, and it becomes a cumulative skill set.

A: I often think about dreaming as an act of creativity. How would your work enter into a politics of dreaming, if so, if at all? How does dreaming implicate identity?

M: Do you write down your dreams?

A: I used to.

M: Oh, you no longer write down your dreams? I write them down faithfully if I can remember them. I don’t know why. I don’t necessarily go back and try to analyze them, but I like to capture them. Now that we’re having this discussion, last night I was dodging live gunfire. Wasn’t particularly dangerous, but it was live gunfire. I had to move out of the way.

A: What, gunfire? How come?

M: Not sure. Let’s see if I can dredge that dream up— how were you thinking of dreaming?

A: I was thinking about dreaming as a space that allows for you to try on something else, and when does that thing become appealing, and when and if that ever loses appeal.

M: I was figuring out how to use my personality as a medium, and how to change it. I was not a happy girl at that time. I’m a lot more happier person today than I was.

A: Out of all the personalities you’ve tried on, was there a particular one that told you something about yourself?

M: I liked the bitchiest ones because I’m not the bitch that I am impersonating, so then I get to have it both ways. I get to act like a horrible bitch, and then step back from it and be a regular person again. But I get to go there again and find out what it’s like to be a horrible bitch. (laughs)

A: Was there an emotional state associated with that?

M: Uncaring. Barbara Bush is, I believe, the brains of the Bush family. She must have been a complex figure of motherhood, because her sons turned out so… so…

A: It’s almost unspeakable! So we’re talking about experiencing a wide range of emotions, yes?

 

M: Yes, and there’s an element of liberation. Maybe everyone’s afraid of our worst impulses. The demons are loose, but they’re loose in a controlled, alternative universe where you can be Barbara Bush.

A: That seems to deal with taboo perhaps, like the earlier work.

M: Taboo, yes. Two things made me grow up to not understand where social boundaries are supposed to be. One of them was being born an outsider, being born a Quaker, and the other one was my father who, well, we don’t know what happened. He crossed lines. Consequently, I didn’t know where the lines were supposed to be because my behavior just went over that line, which means there is no line, which is a horrible emotional place to live in. But, it means that I can do work that other people wouldn’t do. They would come up to the line, and they would stop. But I don’t. I just keep going. So it ends up being a liberating feature in my work rather than a determining one.

A: Right, because then you’ve easily learned where the threshold is, and where to cross it.

M: Yes, yes, you know, I don’t have any sense that I’m crossing it. There’s no trigger that says, “No, the line is here. You shouldn’t go over that line.” I just wander on.

A: It seems then it’s not about crossing it or not crossing it, but about just being in that territory of emotions.

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Martha Wilson, “I’m Going to Die” (2014), 42 x 24 inches, in a pine coffin-shaped frame.
Photo and makeup: Bill Westmoreland. Courtesy of the artist and P.P.O.W Gallery.

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Martha Wilson, “Bear in Mind/Bare in Hind” (2014), 48 x 96 inches.
Photo and makeup: Bill Westmoreland. Courtesy of the artist and P.P.O.W Gallery.

That also makes me wonder about the later photo/text works at your most recent solo show at P.P.O.W Gallery, Mona/Marcel/Marge (2015). There seems to be more of an outward looking eye and playful social engagement with historical figures, and dialogue with your younger self. For me, there was an awareness that was less introspective, but one that looked towards the future, and backwards from the future with acceptance and humor.

I’m going to die (2014) for example stages your open coffin viewing, with your skeleton painted onto your skin, complete with a tee that says “I’m going to die” (which was also on sale at the gallery in S, M, L, and XL).  While this could be seen as either the opening or closing work of the exhibition, adjacent works like Bear in mind/Bare in hind (2014) proffer the same total effect of black and white make-up but this time to costume you and your behind as a panda. Maybe you’re looking sideways as you’re becoming Catherine Deneuve in the photo and composite Makeover (2015)—

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Martha Wilson, Makeover (2015), 16 x 44 inches.
Photo and composite: Kathy Grove. Courtesy of the artist and P.P.O.W Gallery.

In Lucy Lippard’s essay “Making Up: Role Playing and Transformation in Women’s Art” (1975), she takes note of your work as going through archetypes of women as an “expansion of self.”

Do you ever feel like these personalities become a part of you? Or is it a self you try on that you then discard?

M: Using the different archetypes to go into different corners and find out what’s in there… When I do my old-lady exercises in the morning on the floor, part of it is expanding your chest cavity and throwing your shoulders back. I lie on a cylinder-shaped roller so that I can get that kind of expansion, and feel what it’s like to have a muscular capacious feeling in my body.

So the thing is, it’s not permanent. It would be great if this transformation work that we’re doing is a one-time event, but it’s not like that at all. You become aware of the fact that you are afraid that everyone is going to throw tomatoes at you and until it becomes an unconscious thing, you have to consciously put yourself in that body position in order to get into the mental state you want to be in.

A: Do you step out of these personalities?

M: Yes, you remember them and then you have a library of altered personas. No drugs either!

A: Has this affected the way in which people have related to you outside of your work?

M: People come up to me on the street more. You become a public figure somehow. The inside of your brain has been shown in your work, so people feel like they know you.

A: I see. And how has inhabiting, for example, the uncaring, bitch personality of Nancy Reagan affected how other people perceive you in life?

M: Regan was elected twice, and I performed as Nancy Reagan at The Kitchen on election night when he was being re-elected. People spat on me. Somebody came over and said, “THIS is not funny!” because I had been invested with the personality of Nancy Reagan. The avant-garde art world was pretty unhappy that Reagan was re-elected, so they took it out on the surrogate Nancy Reagan.

A: You were very believable then.

M: Or very useful. To have there to spit on.

People are not as detached from their emotional landscapes as you might think.

A: It brings up how transformation in live performance and transformation in the photo/text works can be quite different. The former in this case seems to have been the more volatile one.

M: Indeed. It’s scarier to do live performance. You can do over photo/texts works. If Michelle [Obama] didn’t have the right expression, I could have hired the same make-up artist and the same photographer and gone back in the studio and done it again. In live performance, you don’t have the do-over.

A: What’s really interesting is that now that I have been listening to you talk about all the personalities, it seems like it is a third person—

M: Yes—

A: There’s Claudia, Michelle—

M: (laughs) I very often refer to myself as in the third person when I’m talking about Barbara.

Barbara is a bitch and she’s not going to smile. Just so you understand, that when I’m Barbara, she’s not going to smile.

And then people ask, “Do you always refer to yourself in the third person?”

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Martha Wilson, Mirror Mirror (2014), 21 x 26 inches.
Photo: left, Richards Jarden, 1973, and, right, Michael Katchen, 2014, with the same mirror. Courtesy of the artist and P.P.O.W Gallery.

I do because it separates Martha from Barbara, or whoever that character is. It gives me a tool to know that I am not all the way into Barbara. I still have one foot sticking out.

A: It’s a really interesting in-between place. Kind of like the classic Richard Schechner idea, it’s “not-me and not-not-me.”

M: I didn’t know I agreed with Richard Schechner!

A: And Gertrude. Earlier, I was looking at an excerpt of Gertrude Stein from 1914 that you selected in the publication Martha Wilson Sourcebook: 40 Years of Reconsidering Performance, Feminism, Alternative Spaces (2011). You selected the passage about roast beef, which is really talking about feeling evoking a quality of sand. It’s always re-positioning how we relate to objects and feelings, calling the status quo into question. I know your university and teaching background had been in literature. From the way you talk about the personalities and emotional territories, I feel the process of writing subjectivity may not be so different from how you perform it in your artistic practice.

Or maybe it’s just that we always carry the same fascinations through our mediums.

M: You came very prepared.

A: (laughs) Any last words?

M: I would like the readers to know that you came here with your notes on napkins. And the copy of the Sourcebook is dog-eared. It’s very reassuring. We still have a long way to go with this work, and it is yet to be finished.

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Live Art’s New Home at the Queens Museum

Front view of the Queens Museum.Photo: © David Sundberg/Esto

Front view of the Queens Museum.
Photo: © David Sundberg/Esto

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?”

Artist and curator Hector Canonge.Photo: Courtesy of Hector Canonge

Artist and LiVEART.US curator Hector Canonge.
Photo: Courtesy of Hector Canonge

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.

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Artist Kuldeep Singh from India, who will be performing this Saturday in LiVEART.US’s next event.
Photo: Courtesy of Hector Canonge

“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.

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Artist, curator and gallerist Joseph Ravens who will be performing at the next event has become an established figure in the international performance art community.
Photo: Courtesy of Hector Canonge

“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.”

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Artist Kledia Spiro who will be performing this Saturday.
Photo: Courtesy of Hector Canonge

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.”

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Japanese artist Nao Nishihara who will perform this Saturday at the Queens Museum.
Photo: Courtesy of Hector Canonge

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).

INCIDENT Magazine Spring Performance Preview

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Cover of our first print edition featuring artist Heeran Lee.
Photo and design by David LaGaccia

By David LaGaccia

Like all things created, INCIDENT Magazine started as a concept that grew into a conversation and was shared as an idea between friends. Patience, however, is necessary when handling a project this ambitious, so the idea lay dormant for about a year after its conception. Time passed, events passed—the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival closed out the summer in 2013, and eventually schedules began to clear up in the winter…

As an aside, there are two principles worth considering when making any decision: 1. There is never going to be a perfect time to do anything, but finding the “right” time is crucial. 2. Thought without action is just as dangerous as action without thought.

…and so work on the project officially began in January 2014, and in four months’ time, the concept became a reality.

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Interior of our first print edition featuring the essay SITE by Poppy Jackson.
Photo: David LaGaccia

It’s been two years since then. After two years of hard work, and several months of receiving feedback on test printings, INCIDENT Magazine is producing its first print edition for publication later this May.

A lot goes into planning a print edition. Everything from paper stock, color, design, font, length, photo caption placement and the simple demand for a print magazine has gone into consideration. We aim to give the kind of quality the art form deserves and the kind of quality readers desire. And there is a desire for a print edition; when the second printing was distributed at a local Brooklyn show, all copies were taken in a matter of hours.

We’re now accepting essay and documentation submissions to be considered for publication with a hard deadline of Sunday May 8th. Refer to our Facebook event for further details, and our submissions page for exact details on how to submit.

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Interior of the second edition featuring the essay Even the palms, dem bow by Joiri Minaya and Ian Deleón. The issue was distributed publicly on February 12 during PULSAR’s first event, 7 Minutes in Heaven at Catland Books in Brooklyn, New York.
Photo: David LaGccia. Magazine design: Laura Blüer

Along with the print edition, in the following weeks you’ll read excerpts from Estonian artist Al Paldrok’s new book of the performance art collective, Non Grata; an interview with Martha Wilson, a legendary artist and supporter in the performance art community; social ethics and boundaries in performance; an artist who literately sold all of his belongings and traveled to find his cultural identity; monthly podcasts featuring conversations with a spectrum of performance art thinkers in the community; a personal essay of an a artist who left their home country to escape censorship and find expression in the United States; the female body, and how it relates to nature, myth, and performance; music, and expanding the idea of what is live performance, and more.

I hope you enjoy the stories as they are told, and I hope you share your stories with us in the near future…

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Martha Wilson speaking at Pratt Institute in November 2015.
Photo: David LaGaccia

As a preview of what’s to come, the following is an excerpt of an interview conducted by performance artist Angeli with Martha Wilson, a performance art pioneer and founder of the Franklin Furnace arts foundation. The interview will be published in its entirety in the coming weeks.

Angeli Sion: Having encountered your work around various points in time in different contexts, I was most interested in talking to you about the transformation of the body, and what that could mean in your practice. I’m thinking of your most early embodied performative acts and photo/text works before moving to New York in 1974, if you could start there. How did it start?

Martha Wilson: How did this start? …  Art school environment. I was technically not in the art school. My boyfriend was in the art school. I was technically in the university across the street. But the art school environment was full of visiting artists who were conceptual artists of the day, Richard Serra, Lawrence Weiner, Joseph Beuys, and Vito Acconci. They were coming through and doing projects with students, so we not only got to see what the end results looked like, but how you got to the end results.

It was pretty cold stuff. Not related to what was going on in the real world. Except for Vito. Vito was using his own sexuality as his own art medium, and was, you know, masturbating under a platform, following people in the street, or waiting at the bottom of the stairs with a pipe to bash whoever came in.

These were works that took sexuality as a subject, so that opened the door to me to take my sexuality as a subject, and my body is female. So I was coming from the embodied female perspective, and he was coming from the embodied male perspective.

Now in those early days, I didn’t know the term ‘feminism.’ I didn’t know what that was. It was never used. The art school environment was male-dominated and hostile basically towards women. (Laughs)

I think I tell this story about my mentor, who taught painting in college and then went to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and became a professor— he told my boyfriend, Richards, “You have to come up here. It’s the coolest art school in North America.’

So I said, ‘I wanted to be an artist too.’

And he said, ‘Women don’t make it in the art world.’ “

Franklin Furnace Announces Performance MFA Details, 2015-16 Fund Recipients

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Martha Wilson, founder of Franklin Furnace.
Photo: Peter Tannenbaum

By David LaGaccia

dlagaccia@gmail.com

Martha Wilson and Franklin Furnace celebrated its 40th season Monday night with announcements and details on the new Performance + Performance Studies (P+PS) MFA program at Pratt, as well as announcing the recipients of its 2015-2016 Franklin Furnace Fund. The well attended event was held at the Pratt Film/Video Department, a new facility at 550 Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn that opened this past summer.

After the opening reception of food and wine, the crowd was asked to move to the department’s screaming room. There, the 96 seat theater was full with attendees and were greeted by Tracie Morris, a professor of the newly created Performance + Performance Studies program at Pratt Institute.

Morris addressed the crowd talking about the new two-year MFA program being offered at Pratt, emphasizing its focus in both theory and practice. A letter written by Morris was passed to the crowd, giving further details about program: “As a terminal degree designed to be completed in only two years,” wrote Morris, “the MFA is a great choice for students who want to be competitive as performers and/or as teachers at all levels (including higher education) without the longer haul of a PhD program.”

“The Program’s core courses include seminars and workshops in both performance theory and practice, and students will learn to use writing as a key component of their critical/creative work…Core courses will consist of classes in community-based practices and cross-cultural performance, workshops with artists-in-residence, and internships.”

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Tracie Morris, a professor in Pratt’s Humanities & Media Studies department, gave new details for the Performance + Performance Studies MFA program.
Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Morris also announced in the letter several of the electives that will be offered in the program, including Special topics in Performance Studies: Speech Act Theory, Contact Improvisation for the Performance, Graduate Aesthetics, Special Topics in Form and Theory, Introduction to Acting, Contact Improvisation, and Voice and Performance.

Franklin Furnace’s reception marked its transition to its new permanent home at Pratt Institute, where the performance art centered arts organization is moving its operations. Martha Wilson went into detail about Franklin Furnace’s involvement with Pratt in a 2014 interview with Jarret Earnest of the Brooklyn Rail discussing how it will function as a part of its campus.

Wilson stated that the idea to move to a larger institution began in 2012 when discussing plans for the organization’s long term future. Taking a cue from what Rhizome has done with the New Museum, Wilson said she wanted Franklin Furnace “to ‘nest’ in the arms of a larger educational edifice.”

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Martha Wilson addressing the crowd during its reception at the Pratt Film/Video Department.
Photo: David LaGaccia

“We’ve reached an agreement: In the simplest terms,” she said. “Franklin Furnace will be housed at Pratt, but we will each continue to be governed by our own boards of directors. One example of collaboration: each year we give grants to the weirdest of the weird through the Franklin Furnace Fund; those selected recipients could be guest lecturers in classrooms of Pratt.”

Pratt will also digitize Franklin Furnace’s archive, which includes press releases, announcements, flyers, posters, and video as a means to preserve documentation. “Through collaboration with Pratt’s School of Library and Information Science we will be able to cook up ambitious projects to document and preserve ephemeral art practice for the long term,” said Wilson.

The night was also an opportunity to announce the organization’s 2015-2016 Franklin Furnace Fund recipients, each of whom were called to the front of the theater to discuss and present their work. The Fund, which was celebrating its 30th anniversary, awarded 14 artists and collaborations $64,000 in grants.

The full list of recipients includes Jeremiah Barber (San Francisco, CA), Maya Ciarrocchi and Kris Grey (New York, NY), Allana Clarke (Union, NJ), Melanie Crean, Shaun Leonardo, and Sable Elyse Smith (Brooklyn, NY), Tamar Ettun (Brooklyn, NY), Victoria Keddie and Scott Kiernan (Brooklyn, NY), Yve Laris Cohen (Brooklyn, NY), Shaun Leonardo (Brooklyn, NY), Leila Nadir and Cary Peppermint (Brooklyn, NY), Sheryl Oring (Greensboro, NC), Jacqueline Tarry (Brooklyn, NY), Mirland Terlonge (Brooklyn, NY), Justin Randolph Thompson (Florence, Italy), and Tori Wrånes (Brooklyn, NY).

Feed it or Feed Yourself exerpt from Mirland Terlonge on Vimeo.

2015-2016 Franklin Furnace Fund recipient Mirland Terlonge presented her work, including an exert from her 2015 performance, Feed it or Feed Yourself.