Performa 15, the foremost biennial devoted to live performance, is now in its tenth year and has descended upon New York in all its curious glory. For three weeks in November galleries, theatres, and public spaces are transformed into arenas at the intersection of live and the visual arts. Performa Premieres, a subset initiative that shows live works never before seen in New York, has brought Los Angeles-based Erika Vogt for the fourth iteration of “Artist Theater Program” at Roulette, an unpretentious venue on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.
“Artist Theater Program” is an exercise in collaboration. Created through an informal working process between Vogt and a myriad of peers (the cast includes Math Bass, Shannon Ebner, Lauren Fisher, Dylan Mira, Silke Otto-Knapp, Adam Putnam, and Nora Slade), these artists have come together to produce a two-night run of their cumulatively lead practice. Here, individual styles and agendas create a collage of multi-disciplinary and somewhat disjointed acts that are woven together under the umbrella title of “Lava Plus Knives”.
Performed in the round, a theatre style that deliberately obscures the actor’s ability to engage the full audience simultaneously and equally. While the cast made use of the empty circle of flooring by moving rudimentary props (large cardboard boxes, rolling steel panels of paintings), manipulating objects and costumes to reflect light and shadows, dabbling in audience interaction, and speaking into hung microphones. As such, the dynamics of the group and the mechanics of the theatre unfolded artist-to-artist and artist-to-audience, evolving over the course of one hour and spanning a cacophony of 19 visual and auditory vignettes.
The social ideal of the “group” set forth by politicians and theorists can often resemble a sort of utopia. As the “Artist Theater Program” explores in their own creative process: how can the individual exist while maintaining the collective? This idea is delineated in Charles Aubin’s introductory curatorial text as idiorrythmy, a Greek term explored by Roland Barthes as a means through which one can explore “a productive way of living communally while at the same time preserving and respecting each individual’s rhythm”.
That said, the most eloquent performative acts appeared within the form of the disparate solos. Vogt’s “Now is Dead” is a durational and cathartic monologue where the personal meets the political, while Adam Putman’s sculptural “Interlude III (Dawn)” makes use of the architectural space in softer contemplative moments of light, shadow and sound. Math Bass ascends the metaphorical soapbox that is positioned centre-stage and recites a speech with the throaty cadence of a preacher, while later working with Lauren Fisher to assemble and reassemble the DIY stage props.
Throughout, “lava” and “knives” serve as intellectual and light visual cues for the performance, but are equally symbolic of the binary opposition surrounding the tensions in collaborative working and hierarchical structures. Both are destructive forces; however, collaboration is a natural occurrence that homogenises all within its path by the mercy of its non-discriminatory power; whereas hierarchy, a manufactured tool, is divisive and deliberate in its destruction.
Text by Devon Caranicas
Performa 15 takes place in New York until 22 November 2015