In one of the most infamous cases of performance art, Chris Burden had himself shot in the left arm by his assistant. For the morbidly curious, the two-minute clip can be found on YouTube, but be warned—the gunshot is anti-climatic. Immediacy is the element that makes live performances unique, and this element is almost always lost on video.
So what happens when artists make performance pieces with the direct intention of recording them? What happens when the basic association of performance with temporality is broken? Seven artists explore the implications related to documenting their performance art in the exhibition “One Minute More,” currently on view at The Kitchen.
The gallery felt eerily haunted by the ghosts of past performances, especially since no other visitors were present in this out-of-the-way, experimental performance space in Chelsea. Dominating much of the floor area is Aki Sasamoto’s (SoA ’07) “Secrets of My Mother’s Child,” in which secondhand objects like gloves and clothing pins are arranged in enigmatic patterns on the ground. Sasamoto performed in the space on two prior occasions, but the only documentation of the events is a mysterious charcoal drawing scrawled on a wall. When asked, an assistant at the gallery said that she did not know many details of the performance. But perhaps that is not the point.
Nonetheless, the same question is unavoidable when viewing another piece, “Photographs with an Audience,” by Clifford Owens. The series of photographs preserve a performance in which Owens divided audience members into groups, according to commands and questions that are undisclosed to gallery visitors. The same enigma surrounds each image. In many, audience members acknowledge the camera with bemused grins, as if possessing a secret. The result is a collection of images one feels alienated from because of their inaccessibility.
Judging from these pieces, performance art loses the electricity caused by its brevity when artists mummify it into videos and photographs. The more successful pieces are those that manage to incorporate something new through the act of recording it, such as Oliver Lutz’s “The Behavioral Subject (A Mental Model),” in which the artist maniacally flits around a claustrophobic room, playing with various props to form cryptic narratives. By filming in awkward camera angles and cutting scenes abruptly, Lutz creates a predatory atmosphere through this added degree of artistic control that a live performance would not provide.
It is not surprising, then, that the most interesting piece is the one that is not a recapitulation of a passing event, but one about continuous interaction with its viewers. Jamie Isenstein’s (SoA ’04) “Untitled (Curtain)” consists of a simple curtain in a corner of the gallery, which looks nondescript until closer inspection. Depending on the day on which it is visited, the curtain either partially obscures a pair of shoes at the bottom, or has a sign that reads “Back Soon.” Allowing the viewer to create his or her own experience through the element of chance, Isenstein’s piece is like a performance that never ends.