Per­form­ing En­durance: Art and Pol­i­tics since 1960

THE (Times Higher Education) - - BOOKS - Roberta Mock is pro­fes­sor of per­for­mance stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Ply­mouth and chair of the The­atre and Per­for­mance Re­search As­so­ci­a­tion (TaPRA).

By Lara Shal­son Cam­bridge Univer­sity Press 224pp, £75.00

ISBN 9781108426459 Pub­lished 18 Oc­to­ber 2018

The con­cept of “en­durance” has two dis­tinct mean­ings. To en­dure, in a tran­si­tive sense, means tol­er­at­ing or putting up with some­one or some­thing. In­tran­si­tively, it in­volves sim­ply ex­ist­ing or sur­viv­ing – that is, the sheer per­sis­tence of a body over time. While Lara Shal­son’s mod­el­ling of per­for­mance em­braces both senses, she demon­strates that en­durance and tem­po­ral du­ra­tion are by no means syn­ony­mous, as is so of­ten as­sumed in dis­cus­sions of per­for­mance art. A per­for­mance of en­durance may take place over a rel­a­tively long pe­riod: think of Te­hch­ing Hsieh and Linda Mon­tano’s Art/Life One Year Per­for­mance 1983‑1984, dur­ing which they were tied to­gether by an eight-foot rope for an en­tire year, with an agree­ment never to touch each other. Like­wise, it may not. Here, think of Chris Bur­den’s art ac­tion Shoot (1971), which was seem­ingly over in a blink.

Shal­son pro­poses that en­durance is a form of per­for­mance in which a par­tic­i­pant phys­i­cally com­mits to, and then sees through, a plan lead­ing to out­comes that can­not be fully de­ter­mined in ad­vance. In the case of Shoot, Bur­den asked a friend to shoot him in such a way that the bul­let would graze the skin of his arm. The plan also in­cluded the wit­ness­ing of this act by a small in­vited au­di­ence as well as its doc­u­men­ta­tion. What could not be fore­seen was pre­cisely how the shooter would be­have, where the bul­let would go, how the au­di­ence would re­spond (and per­haps in­ter­vene) or the qual­ity of the doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence. Shoot ex­em­pli­fies how per­for­mances of en­durance are both done and un­der­gone. Un­like con­cep­tual art, they must ex­tend beyond po­ten­tial into the ma­te­rial, con­se­quen­tial ef­fects of wil­ful en­gage­ment in a spe­cific ac­tion or set of ac­tions. They are lived through. Shal­son’s the­o­ri­sa­tion of en­dur- ance, and its de­lin­eation as per­for­mance struc­ture, is taut and pre­cise, en­abling gen­er­a­tive read­ings of per­for­mance events as am­biva­lent, dis­com­fort­ing and yet deeply eth­i­cal in the way that they force artists and spec­ta­tors alike to ne­go­ti­ate in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tions and po­lit­i­cally charged power struc­tures.

Most of the per­for­mances that Shal­son dis­cusses are canon­i­cal, or “paradig­matic”, art events. She cites a friend who de­scribed

Their per­for­mance of en­durance was to re­main at the lunch counter, ig­nor­ing racist abuse with dig­nity un­til served or forcibly ejected

Ma­rina Abramović’s Seven Easy Pieces (2005) as the kind of im­age that burns, col­lec­tively, into our reti­nas. To a large ex­tent, this is be­cause these works tend to cir­cu­late through icono­graphic pho­to­graphs that dis­til an ex­pe­ri­ence (or, more ac­cu­rately, a range of si­mul­ta­ne­ous ex­pe­ri­ences) into a sin­gu­lar im­age. These per­for­mances en­dure through and as doc­u­men­ta­tion. But the one that res­onated most with me, at this his­tor­i­cal mo­ment, was nei­ther con­ceived nor framed as art.

It is rep­re­sented by a photo of four black men sit­ting at a “whites only” lunch counter in Greens­boro, North Carolina, in 1960. Their per­for­mance of en­durance was to re­main and re­turn there, day after day, ig­nor­ing racist abuse with dig­nity un­til ei­ther served or forcibly ejected. Build­ing on an anal­y­sis of Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (1964) and Abramović’s Rhythm 0 (1974), Shal­son ex­plains how, by em­body­ing a plan, these protesters de­manded recog­ni­tion as au­tho­rial sub­jects through per­for­mances that made ev­i­dent the lim­its of in­di­vid­ual con­trol. Over­all, her ar­gu­ment is el­e­gant and far­reach­ing, al­though it would have per­haps been en­riched if these sit-ins had more ex­plic­itly in­formed her read­ings of per­for­mance art in sub­se­quent chap­ters.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.