An Introduction To Any Size Mirror Is A Dictator

scan0019P1010620“Don’t be afraid: Before it was a bomb, the bomb was an idea.” – Flex Mentallo, Grant Morrison

Why write an introduction to an essay?

Well, there are several reasons. An introduction is usually reserved for longer works, and is used by dusty scholars to explain the reasoning for their edits, the methods of their translations, or putting the work in a context where it can best be understood. My reasoning falls in the later. This introduction is meant to expound further upon some of the ideas found in Any Size Mirror Is A Dictator, relating these ideas to more pragmatic examples, talking about how these ideas relate to a few personal anecdotes, as well as what these ideas may mean for other people, giving unfamiliar readers firmer ground to stand on before they get launched into space.

Well, other than saying I liked it, and was very grateful to experience and see a good portion of the opera at Momenta Art—the essay will focus less on “why this was good,” or, “why this is bad,” and more on how it works, why it works, the way it works, and why it is important… Everyone who has visited the opera have long since formed their opinions, and the rest who never saw it will never be able to form theirs, so this leaves me with a more interesting option of talking about the ideas of Any Size Mirror, what it speaks about performance, and what it means to culture in general.

Any Size Mirror Is A Dictator was presented as an opera, or more specifically what composer Brian McCorkle called “New” opera that found inspiration from figures like playwright Robert Wilson and composer Robert Ashley. I am not an expert on opera, or a musicologist on any level, and I can’t speak on how Mirror relates to contemporary ideas of opera—but I can say, as much as it is an opera, paradoxically it would be very unwise to look at it as such. Another way of putting it is that, the rules in which Mirror operated and were produced were very different from than let say, Mozart’s Don Giovanni. This wasn’t ‘traditional’ opera, this wasn’t ‘immersive’ opera, this wasn’t ‘immersive’ theater; this was an opera produced under the rules of performance art. I had seen and wrote about Panoply Performance Laboratory’s previous opera Nature Fetish two years prior, and I can say that that looked downright formal compared to anything Mirror had to offer. This was something new.

What do I mean by this, the “rules of performance art?” Well, Brian McCorkle composed the music, Esther Neff wrote the libretto, and Lindsey Drury created the choreography, these are all standard elements in the production of an opera, but—these were only the frameworks which the actual performance operated around and were not dictated by. These elements were rehearsed by the performers, but untimely it was the performance and choreography scores interpreted by the performers (the dictators, the rehersive cast, the recursive cast and the actions of the audience) that created the performance; on some occasions these scores were even created moments before that night’s performance. Another difference between opera and performance art is that, opera requires a degree of suspension of disbelief—you have to believe that the imagined character Papageno really exists in the world of The Magic Flute as a part of the medium’s aesthetic, yet he doesn’t exist, nor can he ever exist; performance as an art-form, on the other hand, is not creating an imagined reality— but reality itself through action or acts of being that were once imagined but are now created. When you see Kaia Gilje perform, there is no ambiguity of what is real or what is not real: she is really creating those acts in the gallery space without rehearsed marks to create the performance. So, in a sense, Mirror as an opera was being created much like how performance art is created—as it is being performed, with performers using the score, libretto and choreography as tools  (not requisites) to create each performance. It would be impossible to rehearse or recreate exactly as Any Size Mirror existed. It would be impossible to account for the many caprices of human action, reaction, and emotion that would constitute the entire opera’s performance in its seven week run. Because of this, in my essay, I interchange the words “performance” and “opera”, while meaning the same thing.

Paige Fredlund performing at the 2014 LUMEN Art Festival. Photo: David LaGaccia

Paige Fredlund performing at the 2014 LUMEN Art Festival. All performances are impossible to recreate. Photo: David LaGaccia

Any Size Mirror did not have anything that could be called a narrative (I’ll look further into this in my essay), rather the opera was driven by two themes, of which also happen to be the two ideas the make up the bedrock of any performance: construction and Agency. There are many ideas of construction found in the opera, whether it was more physical ideas like “dictator” Esther Neff’s construction of the performers’ wardrobes for the opera, to the performers’ construction of an “alphabet” using body movement, to the more conceptual ideas of identity construction and how we construct our roles in society. Instead of just symbolically representing these concepts through song and imagery, Mirror literalized these concepts through the unique means of expression that performance offers. In performance art the subject, the performer and the “art” itself are one in the same; during the course of a performance, a performer essentially constructs themselves as they are creating the performance: call this the ‘voice’ or ‘style’ or in dance ‘movement signature’— the aspect that is unique to that performers way of expression towards the creation of a particular action. Because of this, the opera became reflective of each performers’ personal lives—each of their own idiosyncrasies in movement, speech, actions, hesitations, emotions and ideas— contributing to the construction of the physical environment of each performance. Consequently, the opera took the theme of identity construction by physically (and conceptually) allowing the performers to construct themselves (their emotions, their action, their reactions) while they were constructing the opera from the bottom up, from the micro level of the performances and the environment, to the macro level of the overarching ideas and concepts of the opera itself. Both McCorkle and Neff have said that these themes were particularly influenced by the works of developmental psychologist, Jean Piaget. Songs with titles such as “Cognizing Self,” confirm this.

Agency, the other dominant theme needs a word or two. Agency in this context is the idea for the potential of an individual to enact in the world around them through action, or the doer or cause of an action, a la, “anger [noun-subject] can be used for motivation as an agent of change.” As mentioned earlier, performance art is unique as an art form or discipline where it asks you to engage with it in the reality it is created. If art is to act like a mirror reflecting human experience than performance art is a light—human experience manifest. A Performance occurs when a performer(s) moves with bodies, senses, passions, thoughts and objects to move the viewer through an aesthetic creation or action unique to that time and place; it’s the melding of imagination and reality to create images and ideas that were once floating in an artist’s head, that is, mental space, but are now experiential for all who engage it. Additionally, the performance can be contributed to by the Agency of the viewer. For better or for worse the viewer creates a social barrier assigning themselves the role of a spectator, where their actions or non-actions can provide additional aesthetic or metaphoric meaning to the performance. In a very key moment in Any Size Mirror, these social barriers were eliminated, and all who attended the opera were revealed to have Agency in the opera’s creation. Panoply Lab had been using these themes in their work for quite some time, including a month long tour of the East coast and Midwest with collective Future Death Toll called Relational March; the opera represented a logical crest to those ideas.

Lorene Bouboushian performing nothing outside Panoply Performance Laboratory. Photo: David LaGaccia

Lorene Bouboushian performing nothing in the middle of a sidewalk outside Panoply Performance Laboratory. Photo: David LaGaccia

It is tempting to fall in love with great ideas, but ideas are very much useless things unless you actually use them. Thought without action is just as dangerous as action without thought. You’re surrounded by ideas. The clothes that you wear, your computers, the books you read, the building you live in, the words you’re reading right now, everything in your life at one point started as another person’s idea. Idea, concept, reality— that’s how it works. If you can imagine it, you can create it in some shape or form, including yourself. Agency, like performance are great ideas, you can think about them as much as you like, but they require you to do something for them to be created. Performance art is not a conceptual idea: performance art is an act that must be lived. Agency, the potential of an individual to act in the world is not a conceptual idea: Agency is an act that must be lived.

I had always felt like a disempowered kid growing up; I was very lonely and felt like I “viewed” life, but could never enact in it. To me good things, fun things, and life events happened to other people; I guess that’s why I gravitated towards journalism, where the job is to observe and record. When I moved to New York out of college, without regular work I was essentially homeless for two and half years. Prospect Park in the morning, the Brooklyn Public Library (where I volunteered tutoring literacy) in the afternoon and performance art shows at night.

You are lucky if you can recall a decision that changed your life. One day I decided to write an article about Grace Exhibition Space for a Brooklyn based weekly newspaper, The Williamsburg Greenpoint News + Arts. I knew Jill McDermid and Erik Hokenson, the curators of the space from my brother, but I did not know who they were, what performance art was, or why they were interested in such acts as a woman, naked, crushing eggs with her body, or a man, bleeding after spending several hours chewing on stalks of sugar cane. What did they see? What moved them? My curiosity drove me. I moved slowly from spectator to performer in the gallery and in my world. Performance gave me confidence that I could contribute and was a part of something larger than myself.

Even at my lowest, I refused to let other “important” people define who I was or what I was capable of; I knew who I was and wanted to be, that’s all that mattered. At one point I got a freelance writing job reporting for Whitewall Magazine helping with their coverage of Miami Art Basel in 2012. On the press junket were other writers from publications such as Vogue and the Hollywood Reporter. We were given a personal tour of private collections that included large sculptures from Robert Rauschenberg, Joan Miró, original prints from Ana Mendieta’s Silueta series, and many more, personal collections that could easily pass for small museums. All the journalists talked about each others’ publications, even complimenting me and how much they liked the magazine I was writing for. Little did they know I was struggling to eat, and the nice black dress shoes I wore were borrowed from my brother. That was my business, not theirs. Later that night I would perform with Non Grata, an Estonian-based performance art group. But did the performance begin earlier that day foe me, I don’t know.

If you don’t like your life than go online or to your local mysticism shop, and buy a pack of tarot cards (or a pair of dice, or a Ouija board, or a Magic 8-Ball, it doesn’t matter). Open the deck, spread out the cards you like on the floor, be specific with what you want and live that life. Create your own story. Live your story. Create your own meaning in your life. If you’re a guy and really need to shake things up in your world, than shave your legs, put on some make-up and the finest women’s mod clothing, and then walk outside. It’s not that hard, and what’s the worst that can happen, eh?

10624790_10152801119764344_4139821948126871661_nIn a world, where I am reliably told daily, the current playing field for the imagination has us dancing in existential despair under the shadow of a falling nuclear bomb, while a combination of overpopulation and climate change has us scrambling for the last scraps of food and the last drops of water on a dying Earth. Racism persists. Human oppression runs rampant. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the only defense we have to save the world are reality TV stars and ironic t-shirts.

If that is your conception of what the future holds for us, and that is the world you want to build towards than you seriously have a shitty fucking imagination. Is that really the best you can come up with? Could it be that we’re moving towards these dystopian scenarios because that IS the only future we can imagine for ourselves? If so, then I’m going to have to disagree. Use your imagination to embolden your life and the lives of others. Stop disempowering yourself by believing in your own your limitations and third-rate pulp science fiction narratives, and come up with new ideas that can actually help people.

This is why I love performance. Any Size Mirror Is A Dictator was a very humanistic work; like a great performance, it can make your heart soar, it can make you laugh, it can make you cry, and in some odd way, I feel, redeems us. It forces us to acknowledge that yes, you are important, you can construct the environment and person who you want to be. You cannot see or engage with the work of Brian McCorkle and Esther Neff, and not come away a smarter person (or at least more clever at gatherings), and you cannot have a conversation with either of them and not come away a better person.


Esther Neff and Brian McCorkle performing at Bushwick Open Studios 2014 Photo: David LaGaccia

Performance is the most important, culturally relevant and thought provoking art form being practiced today. It’s a journey, it’s an experience. I can get so happy to see a great performance from Nyugen Smith or so thankful to see a great performance from Lopi LaRoe because I felt liked it enlarged my life by not just looking at a work from a distance, but actually experiencing something an artist wanted to express; I knew that it represented what was going on, what was being valued, what was not being valued, what that says about me, what that says about us, and what that says about culture in general. I’ve lost count at the amount of times I’ve interviewed an artist and they have said they were influenced and inspired to perform by seeing another artist’s performance. Performance art is an art form that changes lives; at least it has for me.


Performance In Process – Please Enter + Exit At Will   Photo: David LaGaccia

– David LaGaccia

Comic Book credits:

Flex Mentallo # 1 Grant Morrison Story, Frank Quietly Penciles

The Invisibles Vol. 1 #13 Grant Morrison Story, Jill Thompson Penciles




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
[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