Video in Progress 3: Fields of the Performative

by Metka Zupanič and Vesna Bukovec

The subject of this third edition of the Video in Progress exhibition project is performance for video. Among the competition works, we selected forty-seven videos by forty-three artists and art groups. By way of various formal and conceptual approaches, these videos represent a heterogeneous interpretation of performance in relation to moving pictures within contemporary visual art; from classical performance in front of a gallery audience to the exhibitionist and voyeuristic presentation of the body as an aesthetic object, absurd actions, exploration of identity, social and political roles, subjective perspectives, narratives, as well as the generation of the atmosphere of a film or documentary…

From Performance to Video-performance

In their 1990s performances, body artists dealt with their own body as material. They explored the possibility of body expansion into a hybrid entity, transformed with the assistance of medicine and technology. The entire weight of the actual physical presence of the objectivised body of the performer interacted with the spectator in the gallery. A good decade later, artists have retreated from these extreme positions to a safer exploration of an individual’s alienation in a contemporary technology-conditioned world; in their research, they return to the origins of performing an action in front of the camera developed, for example, by Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman and Martha Rosler back in the 1960s and 70s. In performance for video, the tension, weight and serious characteristics of body artist performances before an audience are somehow lost, and self-irony, humour and narrativity come to the fore. The screen membrane becomes a filter which relieves the excesses of physical vicinity and limits the spectator’s sensual experience to audio-visual perception. To the artist, the eye of the camera becomes the only spectator, a silent and rigid witness of their performance. Nevertheless, these artists generally don’t perceive the video-performance as a mere video recording of a performance, which is performed in seclusion in front of a camera, rather than before an audience. By allowing editing, video technology affects the perception of a video form as a mere document of an event. Performance for video becomes video-performance. Thus the video – and not performance – becomes the work of art. In video-performance, the artist has complete control over the viewer’s perspective. The use of framing, the length and order of sequences, a moving or static camera, music or narration in off, together with other elements of film language, exert a strong impact upon the message and – in particular – the aesthetics of the final work of art. We could say that video-performance redefines a contemporary artist who – due to a number of digital tools and online access to web-bases, communication tools and social networks (YouTube, Vimeo, MySpace, Facebook, Skype…) – doesn’t even have to leave the computer or camera.

Exhibitionist Body

Some works from our selection have in part preserved the tradition of classical performance in front of an audience; indeed, two of them are actually recordings of a performance in a gallery. Nevertheless, in addition to the obvious documentary value, the form of video has added to both of them a new dimension of meaning. Sexy MF by the Volante group is a recording of the audience’s close encounter with naked performers who, in the role of transsexuals, try to seduce individuals from the audience. With the same attention the video deals with the audience as well as protagonists, and by way of editing and framing allows us to experience the event in a completely different way than that of our actual presence in the gallery. In his video Artist Flying at Incredible Speed, Jonas Zagorskas presents a recording of a performance of flying simulation that the artist – dressed in the costume of a superhero and with the help of stage props – performs in front of an enthusiastic gallery audience. The point of transformation from documentary to video-performance is the frame where the background – the gallery wall – is replaced by an animation of a star-covered sky, and the absurd action is for a moment transposed into an illusion of moving pictures.

In the video Illusion for Movements which flirts with dance, the Lemeh42 duo, by way of close-ups, explore the stage presence of the body. But the close-ups isolate parts of the body, thereby endowing them with their own entity, a perspective which is impossible for a spectator sitting in a theatre. Chatarra is a video by Ignacio Martín in which Bárbara Bañuelos indulges in a dialogue – a dance discourse – with the mechanical arm of a dredger at a dump site. Also in this case, the unusual set design and film aesthetics of recordings provide a completely different view from that of watching the dance performance live on stage. In her performance Again, Ljiljana Mihaljević addresses the pain of human mutual interaction. By way of precisely framed close-ups of words which are being stamped on the performer’s body by the protagonists, as well as the purity of a white and black picture, it raises the reading of rough movements and text to an equal level. Both videos by Maria Petschnig deal with the body as a material in a body-artistic manner. Once again, the framing is the element which significantly affects the perception of this work. In the Kip Masker video, we see the torso in a series of different unusual clothing and poses so that it functions as a statue. The Pareidolia video presents a series of night scenes through a window where a body is the only illuminated element. The framing is designed so that in addition to the window, we also see a part of the building, and thereby comprehend that it is all about an exhibitionist displaying a different body to an unknown audience in the street and neighbouring buildings.

Burden of Identity

The sixteen videos from this section address the contemporary issue of the individual’s search for identity from various perspectives. Seven artists – each in their own way – deal with the sexual orientation and the social role of gender. In a poetic manner, Chris Dupuis talks about his personal experience of dressing as a woman (The Bathroom Project). In a Rose is a Rose, with the help of a rose, Evelin Stermitz addresses the perception of beauty that tradition attributes and expects from the gentler sex. In the video Size 36, Clara Games deals with the ideals of female beauty by showing women with different figures trying to put on the same combination of clothes of the size worn by supermodels. In Two Vermons to Save the Whole Wide World and Little Old You – a specific form of ironic video-sermon, which is regularly published on her website – Sheila Bishop critically addresses the socially expected and predictable roles that men and women should play in courting. In Soyunma-Undressing, Nilbar Güreş, in a symbolic way, illustrates the situation of Muslim women in the western world where they are victims of religious and national discrimination. Their true identity is hidden beneath the weight of a many-layer headscarf. In her video-performance Heritage, Silvia Giambrone deals with the mechanisms of desire in their historical and social conditionality through an attempt to seduce with lead lashes. Gendering, by Mauro Romito, shows a man and a woman dancing in traditional costume in a desolate land; apparently the traditional role of gender is questioned by the fact that both dancers wear skirts.

In the videos You’re Gonna Go Bald and Family Conversation1, Joshua and Zachary Sandler deal with the difficulties of growing up and the burden of facing a family tragedy. In the first video, a simple question transforms a loving hair-cutting gesture into a violent fight, whilst in the second video, family members in front of a background of burning flames sincerely apologise to one another. Gastòn Ramìrez Feltrìn’s No se olvida el silencio, addresses the issue of memory of a social tragedy, a military massacre of student demonstrators in Mexico in 1968. His statement against the government in an attempt to erase this memory is the symbolic outlining of a protagonist lying on the sidewalk. When she gets up, she leaves a trace which identifies the position of the corpse.

Francis Hunger’s critique of the social system is by way of the simple declarative gesture of holding up a board to the cars driving by. Dressed in a business suit the performer’s placard exclaims that Capitalism must win. In a humorous way, this stoic statement, together with the existence of capitalism, become questionable when the performer gets tired, drops the board and leaves the frame. The search for identity and facing one’s own past is the subject of The Second Man by Željko Jančić Zec; this aesthetic black and white video portrays an anxious man who collides with himself on a staircase.

Three works directly address the topic of language and explore various methods of communication. In the performance Different, Zoran Poposki illustrates the influence of a society full of prejudices as to the image of an individual. The performer is, beyond recognition, covered with projections of words that express mainstream society’s view of those who live at its margins. The video Repeat After Me by Marianne Holm Hansen shows two persons in parallel who alternately repeat basic foreign language phrases lifted from a tourist guidebook and thus generate an impossible dialogue. In his video Quiet, Attila Urban uses two parallel pictures in a dialogue, which, with the help of universal gestures, form a peculiar narration.

Absurd Action

Fifteen videos present various absurd actions undertaken by the artists with all seriousness and commitment. In Healing Revised, Giuseppe Di Bella tries to recompose a broken bottle, while in Music for Crows multimedia artist Marek Brandt organises a concert for crows in the city park. Elena Bellantoni (Life Jacket) and Ljupcho Temelkovski (Travelator) – each in their own way – deal with an escalator; Peter Simon, meanwhile, is looking for a light switch in a dark room (Existenz 1a). The performer in the video Zephyr by the G.R.A.M. group gesticulates a weather forecast in front of an empty background. Nuno Rodrigues de Sousa carries an abstract painted canvas around town until he finds the matching part of the facade to put the painting on; it perfectly melts into the surroundings (Fake Walls). In the video entitled Surround me, and cover me protect me and caress me with that special simple love, the artist Gerwin Luijendijk does various physical exercises which rather than increasing muscle mass serve the protagonist’s vanity. Set in an empty room and with the help of a sunset poster and romantic music from a laptop, Luijendijk dreams away his fantasy in an atmospheric video entitled I forget the time when I’m with you. In his third work, Plants, the artist tries to establish close contact with houseplants. Intervallo, a video by Eugenio Percossi, shows a series of frozen recordings of his bored self lounging in pyjamas on a sofa. Ever changing poses and new pyjamas reveal that the artist is actually eagerly engaged in the act of non-work. In the second video – Self-Portrait/Zapping – we see Percosi lying in the bed switching TV channels. The fact he switches the channels is only illustrated by a change in the room’s illumination and sound. Our view is actually a view from the other side of the screen of Percosi’s television. In Untitled (spring fever / pilgrimage) Jacob Galle invests a lot of energy in such a dull household routine as hanging laundry, which he does at the top of a mountain. In his second video Untitled (cubicle), Galle sets an urban scenery behind his garden and when he cultivates the crops he seems to be doing this in the middle of a town. In the video Cotton Clouds, Atilla Urban wants to fly so desperately that he constructs a weird and uncomfortable device in his garage with which he later on, in a studio in front of a background featuring clouds, tries to attain the impossible. In his second video Waterish, Željko Jančić Zec by a form of object theatre explores situations which interrupt the natural course of things as well as their physical and psychological effects.

Visual Narration

Narrative and storytelling remains a key element of the majority of artists; sometimes in a completely documentary way and at other times in harmony with personal narration typical of home video. In many original ways, the artist explores aesthetic, social and political structures, thus the videos are in a number of ways close to film or documentary aesthetics. What they all have in common is that they conjure up a special atmosphere for the spectator.

The Tent video from the Hazard series by the 4! group from Poland is composed of two parallel videos where on the left we watch two girls running carefree through a birch forest, whilst on the right there is a static scene of a tent in a clearing which at one moment catches fire and then peacefully burns. The suspension we feel upon watching the video is triggered by a scene at the beginning where the two girls get into the tent and close the zipper. In the video A Rewinding Journey by Aldo Gianotti and Viktor Schaider we watch a lost alien who wanders around the planet trying to find his place beneath the sun, whilst everything around him travels in the opposite direction. A Love Story by Aldo Gianotti and Stefano Giuriati is about two Italian carabinieri who embark on a byways tour by tandem bicycle; after illegally crossing the border they end up in the arms of two girls on a beach.

In Code, Isidora Ilić, explores – by way of language – the relationship between man and an abandoned place. The historic building becomes the place only upon the presence of a man and his use of language. In a melancholic video Mohenjo-Daro, Luisa Mizzoni and Emilio Corti deal with the ontological question of death which transcends the physical body. In Guide, Wojtek Ziemilski walks through a Portuguese city narrating – in the manner of a tourist guide – stories about places. When we listen more attentively, we realise he’s not telling stories about the place we see but about a place far away in Poland embedded somewhere in the memory of the cameraman.

Outside, by Sergio Cruz catches the images of people in the streets of Beijing and merely records their everyday unconscious »performances«. In Exotica, the artist, in a similar way, records a group of people from the Mozambican capital of Maputo, who live with dance and music. Spontaneous socialising, singing and dancing become a unique »performance« in the presence of a camera. In the conceptual video Walking, Michał Brzeziński explores the relations between camera, body and nature. During a brisk walk through the forest, the artist renounces visual control over the recorded image: his eye does not look through the camera’s viewfinder. In this case, the video no longer saves the artist’s impression but his physical impulses, and thus the camera itself becomes a constituent element of the video-performance.

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