An exquisitely curated line up of performers was brought out again last Friday at Grace Exhibition Space. The second installment of their month-long participation in the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival, Climate Change, Friday’s iteration “Action Poetry Facilitators,” brought together nine Asian artists, working both in New York and in their home countries that included Indonesia, Japan, Korea, China, and Hong Kong. The performers each utilized dance, movement, elements of spoken word or sound, in order to convey their disparate messages. While each performance was remarkably different, they shared elements and themes that ran throughout the entire evening.
The night kicked off right at 9:30, and did not end until well after 1 am but honestly, the way each performance led perfectly into the next made the time fly. After the momentum from last week’s performance by La Pocha Nostra, this week’s line up offered something entirely different, yet equally provocative, beautiful and satiating.
One of the most memorable moments of the evening came simply from the need to use the bathroom. Fortunately for me, I made it to the line right before the rush, toward the end of the first performance by W Christiawan. Methodical and elegant, the performance involving a sublte dance with an egg that dealt with balance and patience, as the artist pushed himself at the end towards physical pain and resulted in his crushing the egg, and wrapping his head with a black band in order to affix a taxidermied chicken atop his head.
Meanwhile, in the bathroom line, I eavesdropped on a couple of different conversations, all of which concerned the what was going on in the bathroom. “Have you been yet?” and “What do you think??” and “I couldn’t even pee!” were a few of the choice comments I overheard. For his performance, artist Yuenjie Maru stood in the corner of the sole bathroom of the space, naked except for his tighty whities, face covered by a mirror, holding soap and tissue for the user. Maru’s performance created one of the more unnerving and awkward situations, urinating in front of a stranger, and completely obliterated the line between public and private space.
Apart from the bathroom performance, the rest of the night’s performances dealt with similar themes of identity and cross-sections of cultural identity, often touching upon the blending of Western with Eastern culture. Arai Shin-Ichi’s performance, “I like America,” directly related to his own personal experiences of growing up in post-war Japan’s inundation of pop culture and consumer products. Utilizing Jackson Pollock-esque techniques, Shin-Ichi smothered the floor with American products like ketchup, mayonnaise, chocolate sauce, and coke. After splatter painting the floor, the artist proceeded to disrobe and slip, slide and almost swim in the pungent mélange of ingredients, which, blended together, appeared to be a thick sludge-like substance. Immediately following, Mimi Fadmi (Indonesia), donned in orange shorts and top and a black plastic bag over her head (reminiscent of an abu ghraib prisoner), crawled on all fours and systematically popped white balloons with a kitchen knife while blasting Nirvana’s “Rape Me.”
About halfway through the night I caught up with Esther Neff, one of the main organizers of this year’s BIPAF. We talked about the cohesiveness of the group, and she explained how the artists had the opportunity to live and work in close quarters for a week before the event, giving them a chance to interact, learn and adapt their performances as they were influenced and inspired by one another’s pieces. The prevalence of the east/west confrontation in many of the artists’ work came with another theme of lacking a voice, censorship, or feeling numbness to the world around. Physical strain and pressure, a historically common convention of performance art, too was utilized again and again. Dylan Christiawan for example, conducted a grueling performance using a putty-like substance that he swung around only to finally plaster his face with. He at last ripped through the mould, thereby enabling himself to truly breath.
At least three of the performers utilized printed materials, such as newspaper (Gim Gwang Cheol), books (Kyeong Hwa), and art history journals (Shin-Ichi). Tearing, eating and literally smothering the written words in their performances can be interpreted in a multitude of ways, but the overarching sentiment seemed to be frustration and feeling unheard or somewhat silenced. Hwa’s performance, for example, was a harmonious mise en place, where she tranquilly read and drank red wine while listening to classical music. Although seemingly peaceful, the performance shifted as she became alarmed, running across the stage, looking for someone to hold on to. As her only source of communication, she typed on a blank word document projected on the wall: “Silence is my word. I am dumb.”
The final performance was a collaboration between Miao Jiaxin and Heeran Lee. Jiaxin, dressed as the perfect modern-day businessman, walks into the space and proceeded to put on a haz-mat suit, face mask and goggles. Without words or music, he cut an actually hole into the ceiling. His partner in crime, Lee, then joined him on the stage and used a leaf blower to inflate a giant balloon filled with money on top of the recumbent Jiaxin. As it grew too large to handle, the balloon popped, littering the ground with dollar bills. As if nothing had even happened, the two wordlessly gather the money and stash it in the newly cut hole in the ceiling. As far as I know, the money is still up there.
A true sign of a well-executed performance is sensing a lack of predetermination or over-practice. On Friday every single performance felt truly raw, unique, and was an absolute thrill to watch. I left Grace Space with a mind full of questions and a belly full of beer, and I cannot wait to see what they have in store for this next Friday!
Friday’s event at Grace Exhibition Space was part of the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival. Taking place across 11 spaces in Brooklyn and involving over 150 artists from all over the world, BIPAF is posited as a form of “constructive institutional critique” by its artist-organizers, as demonstration against the increasing capitallization of performance art, as a self-analysis of the current performance art resurgence and index of the discipline, and as an attempt to relationally construct new economic and social contexts for performance art.
*Writer’s note: I would like to give special acknowledgement to Jill McDermid Hokanson of Grace Exhibition Space for her masterful curation and production of this event, which was noted enough initially in this review. Without Jill’s continual hard work and dedication this performance series with such stellar international performing artists would not have been possible. Thank you Jill for consistantly bringing world-class talent to Bushwick!