Cataloguing Performance

Cataloguing Performance

Since it was founded in 2004, Performa has been dedicated to exploring the critical role that live performance has played in the history of art. Since launching New York’s first biennial dedicated to the medium in 2005, the organisation has become known not merely for its identity as a commissioning and producing body, but also for its role in shaping and expanding contemporary understandings of it. This work has been led by art historian, critic and curator, RoseLee Goldberg, whose unique approach to the role of Founding Director and Curator of Performa has initiated expanding knowledge and understanding of this important area of cultural history.

To celebrate the impact of this influential institution, Whitechapel Gallery, London, has opened its doors to the first exhibition tracing the company’s history, which involves screening footage of over 20 selected commissions that debuted as part of the biennial. Delving into Performa’s archive, the show includes some of the most significant works from the past decade and tracks the influence that Goldberg and her team have had on the development of the craft over the past 12 years. Known for a hands-on approach, which involves developing and researching pieces in tandem with artists, insights are provided into both the productions themselves and their construction. The display also raises questions concerning how such events are catalogued and then experienced by audiences retrospectively.

Seen for the first time outside New York, the documentary recordings screened in Commissions from Performa’s Archives present pieces by influential choreographers, such as Yvonne Rainer, whose RoS Indexical enacts a reworking of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Isaac Julien and Russell Maliphant’s Cast No Shadow, in which the two collaborated to stage questions about the African diaspora and migration, is also on display. Ragnar Kjartansson’s innovative piece Bliss, a 12-hour long recital of the final aria of Mozart’s 1786 opera The Marriage of Figaro is being screened and is accompanied by another video portraying a darkly comic self-portrait of the Scandinavian artistic duo Elmgreen and Dragset. Looking at the growth in awareness and appreciation of live performance that has taken place over the last few years, the exhibition compellingly illuminates the unerring contemporary relevance of this art form in the here and now.

Commissions from Performa’s Archive runs until 4 March at Whitechapel Gallery, London. To find out more click here. 

Celia Graham-Dixon

1. Elmgreen & Dragset Happy Days in the Art World 2011 A Performa 11 Commission Performance view Courtesy of Performa Photo: Paula Court.