Performance Art is About What REMAINS
BY: DANIELLA LAGACCIA | FEATURED IMAGE COURTESY OF NIGEL ROLFE + LEAD IMAGE COURTESY OF DANIEL NEUMANN
This never happens in a Chelsea gallery. Fergus McCaffrey, a gallery specializing in post-war, Japanese art, is curating a show of performance art, an art form usually confined to the fringes of Brooklyn art scenes. The show is called REMAINS, and has 25 performances scheduled between six artists that will take place from July 6th through August 11th.
Featuring performances from Máiréad Delaney, Hee Ran Lee, Daniel Neumann, Clifford Owens, Nigel Rolfe, and Liping Ting, the show brings together a diverse group of artists in nationality, ethnicity, age, and style of work.
Fergus McCaffrey has represented performance in the past with the documentation and ephemera of Japanese Gutai and Hi-Red Center artists, but this will be the first time that the gallery will play host to live performance. Galleries and institutions are notoriously careful in the type of work that can be created in their spaces with the restricted use of materials like liquids and fire being common. Tif Robinette, exhibitions coordinator and curator of REMAINS, however stated that she was essentially given “carte blanche” in curating the show with little restrictions in what can be presented.
“There is going to be liquids, there is going to be sparks,” said Tif. “There’s always a certain risk when you have a live body in the space and an audience in the space; there’s unpredictability about that.”
“I think that’s been part of the reason why institutions and galleries that if they do represent any type of performance art, it’s very safe in the form of documentation of ephemera, or institutions tend to lean towards showing choreographed work,” she continued. “One thing about all of the work being made in this is that there is an element of a negation of rehearsal. Even if the artists have worked with specific materials in very similar veins of work, there’s always the possibility for innovation in the moment.“
Aside from established names like Marina Abramović, Carolee Schneemann, Joseph Beuys, or through institutions like Performa, performance art has primarily been viewed as an art form on the fringe and underground in the art world. Because of its underground roots and the nature of its ephemeral form, performance art often has anti-commercial sentiment, where the art and value is in the experience, not the material. Galleries then have a difficult time showing artists on the avant-garde when needing to sell work to meet the demands of the ledger.
In a preview of the show, the space was set up with the various materials set-up as installations by the artists waiting to be activated in a performance. Brooklyn regulars normally found drinking beer in dingy venues mingled with the white wall Chelsea crowd over cups of wine. In one corner, a string of 50 light bulbs hang from the ceiling and form a circle, a performance South Korean artist Hee Ran Lee has been developing since 2015.
The preview also featured a casual performance by Clifford Owens, a New York based artist who among other places, has presented work at the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA PS1, and the Walker Art Center.
Clifford begins by addressing the crowd, who has now formed a circle, and asks them, “Do you trust me?” With a show of hands, the crowd is divided across the room based on their trust of yes or no, leading each group separately into a back part of the gallery.
A large piece of paper lies in the center of the room with jars of Vaseline and coffee tins by the wall. The crowd was then asked to put on blindfolds that they were given as they entered the gallery space. You begin to hear the sound of people spitting, the smell of coffee fills the space, and tin cans could be heard being thrown across the room. The crowd is then asked to take off their blindfolds where they two men standing naked on opposite ends of the now coffee filled paper.
The crowd is then told to walk upstairs. This segment of Clifford’s performance made clear references to Yves Klein’s Anthropometries of the Blue Epoch (1960) where he had his assistants drag him across a Vaseline splotched paper, creating the impressions of the movement of his body. Afterwards, Clifford spread coffee grounds against the two pieces of paper marking the patterns of his movements.
Gutai has this in relation with performance where the body was often used in direct action with the material to create the work. The performance felt ironic being made in a commercial space, self-consciously making references to now famous artists and past performances and creating a finished work of art amounting to nothing more than Vaseline and coffee grounds on paper.