PERFORMANCE ART NEW YORK BIENNIAL
Performa 11, a performance art biennial to be held in New York from 1 to 21 November 2011, offers audiences a chance to witness some of the most innovative cross-disciplinary work by top international contemporary artists, including a few from the Asian region.
A number of acclaimed Asian artists have been commissioned for the biennale including Shoja Azari (Iranian), Shirin Neshat (Iranian), Tarek Atoui (Lebanese), Asli Çavuşoğlu (Turkish), Ming Wong (Singaporean) and Zhou Xiaohu (Chinese). Each has put together projects that include an amalgamation of multimedia art, installations, performance, theatre, music and films.
Performance and sound art from the Middle East
As part of their commissions for Performa 11, both Shirin Neshat and Tarek Atoui were asked to build on their extensive bodies of work to create live performances, explain organisers.
Shirin Neshat’s Overruled
Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat’s Overruled, a new multimedia performance piece that features live actors, musicians and projections, is based on two of her existing works, the projection installation Turbulent (1998) and The Word (2003).
According to NY Daily News, The Word features a group of men who interrogate an anonymous female character, “a Muslim woman,” for spreading “subversive words” and corrupting society. In response, the woman quotes lines written by the late Forugh Farrokhzad, a controversial female Iranian poet.
Turbulent features two screens, the article continues, each depicting a stage: one with a man facing an audience of only men and a second with a woman whose back is turned towards rows of empty seats. The man sings a traditional Persian song and the woman improvises using her voice, acting as a metaphor for the distinction between what society allows each gender to express.
For her new piece for Performa 11, Neshat plans to use the interrogative structure of The Word as well as the spatial separation that Turbulent employs to emphasise gender difference. Collaborators include the highly acclaimed artist and filmmaker, Shoja Azari, Suheir Hammad, a Palestinian-American poet, author and political activist, and Iranian musician Mohsen Namjoo, a vocalist, composer and a sitar player who was dubbed “the Bob Dylan of Iran” by The New York Times.
Neshat works primarily in photography, video installation and short films, and her creations typically deal with the alienation of women in repressive Muslim societies. Work by the artist was included in the 1995 Venice Biennial, 1995 and 1997 Istanbul Biennials and the 1996 Sydney Biennial, and has been featured in group and solo exhibitions across the United States, Europe, in South Africa, and Japan.
Speaking in an interview with Shadi Sheybani in Michigan Quarterly Review, Neshat points out that today much of contemporary art is cross-disciplinary. “Defined fields are vanishing as artists break the boundaries from one field to the next, borrowing from here and there to arrive at their visions,” she says.
Tarek Atoui’s Visiting Tarab
Lebanese electro-acoustic musician Tarek Atoui, along with another ten artists from New York, will bring audiences his piece Visiting Tarab, produced in collaboration with The Sharjah Art Foundation. “The word tarab … refers to an older repertoire, which is rooted in the pre-World War I musical practice of Egypt and the East-Mediterranean Arab world, and is directly associated with emotional evocation,” says the information on Atoui’s website.
Contemporary Asian art: Turkey, Singapore, China
Asli Çavuşoğlu, Ming Wong and Zhou Xiaohu have each taken a unique approach to their biennial commissions and their performances will see the involvement of professions as diverse as fortune-telling and teaching English.
Asli Çavuşoğlu tells fortunes
Turkey’s Asli Çavuşoğlu’s contribution to Performa 11 ushers in a revival of the age-old practice of fortune telling, as it was employed in the ancient civilisations of Assyria, Babylon and Greece. Entitled If the fortuneteller’s words dash against the facade, Çavuşoğlu explains that her project “is a free adaptation or interpretation of the … practice of ‘fortune telling through buildings’. … The fortune teller would interpret the general structure of the building including its columns, facade and the ornaments carved on it.”
Çavuşoğlu will invite three New Yorkers to interpret the future through three pre-selected buildings in New York City: Grand Central Station, Hearts Tower and the Aztec Theatre in Old Elks Lodge. She says,
The selected interpreters will be free to create the rules of the fortune telling through the use of (potentially disputable) sources and through the framework of their personal perspectives.
According to Istanbul-based Gallery NON, “Much of Çavuşoğlu’s work stems from experimental narrative exercises working around mechanisms of erasure, repetition, replication and narrative display.”
Ming Wong’s living filmstrip
Singaporean artist Ming Wong has put together a live multimedia performance of choreographed actions, drawing from his research of famous actresses in filmstrips dating back to the inception of cinema. Wong will invite 24 actors of different ages, ethnicities and nationalities to recreate a single frame of a living filmstrip.
According to the organisers, the project’s focus on film and cross-cultural identification is informed by Astoria, Queens, which has been the home to various film studios and multi-generational immigrant populations over the years.
Zhou Xiaohu’s Crazy English
Crazy English, a performance by Chinese artist Zhou Xiaohu, is built on an unconventional method of teaching English to Chinese people that was made popular by language teacher Li Yang. For the project, Xiaohu will invite Li Yang to New York City and ask him to teach English to New York residents using his Crazy English method.
The artist aims to explore the various concerns he has with Chinese social behaviour, particularly those people that misinterpret and mistranslate Western marketing concepts and tools.
Performa 11: Behind the scenes
Performa, a non-profit multidisciplinary arts organisation established by RoseLee Goldberg in 2004, is dedicated to exploring the role of live performance in the history of twentieth century art and encouraging new directions in performance in the twenty-first century. In 2005, the organisation launched its first biennial, Performa 05.
The 2011 edition of Performa is curated by Goldberg and a team of curators and producers, including Defne Ayas, Mark Beasley, Esa Nickle, Dougal Phillips, and Lana Wilson, and more than 25 curators from the Performa Consortium.
According to Goldberg, “Performa 11 will ignite New York City with energy and ideas, acting as a vital ‘think tank’ linking minds across the five boroughs and bringing audiences together for brilliant new performances in all disciplines.”
Performa 11 will be held at over 80 venues throughout New York City from November 1 to November 21, 2011.
- Political art at Sharjah Biennial in revolutionary times – ARTINFO.com – June 2011 – explores works in the mediums of film, visual art, music, video art, choreography and publishing
- “Angels in Combat”, contemporary Islamic art by Afruz Amighi – October 2010 – artist’s inspirations are drawn from the rich visual history of the Middle East and Iranian Revolution
- Artpartment a Hong Kong space for experimental art video – September 2010 – interesting piece that explains why different art media should all be part of the art scene
- Catch Palestinian Art in Venice – Islamic art in the spotlight or in a corner? – July 2009 – this post throws light on Palestinian art and explores whether Islamic art from Palestine has been marginalised
- Chinese urban art exhibition in London shows new art medium laser tagging – October 2008 – the exhibition showcases contemporary Chinese artwork that reflects social and economic transformation
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