I was astonished to receive an invitation announcing live performances by seminal performance artists, Linda Mary Montano and Martha Wilson in conjunction with GAPAF. Both Montano and Wilson have presented performances around the world since the 1970's. They shared the roster with both seasoned and new performance art practitioners. As the evening grew closer, the artist roster grew. Ultimately, I witnessed nearly 5 hours of performance art from 9 performers! The following day Preach R. Sun led a street action as a continuation of the festival. Overall the programming was truly inspiring.
After a weekend of viewing historic performances, I was reminded of the incredible significance and influence of the curator. The Great American Performance Art Festival is a wonderful example of artists curating artists. It provides an audience and space for performance art- a medium that scarcely receives funding. Of course, GAPAF is not the only festival of its kind (thank goodness!). Rapid Pulse in Chicago is currently in its final days of an equally compelling group of performers and events.
For this week's post, Jill McDermid-Hokanson provides further insight into curating performance art in America. All too often the efforts of curators are overlooked, so I am pleased to share our conversation with you. Enjoy! -Quinn
JILL McDERMID-HOKANSON: Grace Exhibition Space has featured many international artists since we began in 2006. At that time I was surprised at the lack of Performance Art in New York City, specifically Manhattan. I was living on 37th Street and had just come from Graduate School in Iowa at The University of Iowa under the tutelage of Hans Breder who was the teacher of Ana Mendieta.
If Iowa (!) was hip to performance art, certainly Manhattan! But when I attempted to show my performance art at Dixon Place or when I organized Performance Art events in various spaces in Williamsburg, Brooklyn the reaction was, ‘We know this is Art, but it is too weird for us, please leave’.
I had seen a loft for rent, for two years, in a building where my friend had a studio space, I rented the second floor for International Performance Art.
Performance Art in the USA was dead, and Marilyn Arsem (Boston) and I am sure Martha Wilson (NYC) can support the reasons why – basically, artists who were political in the 1980’s were questioned about their validity as Artists (as if: Artists that do not represent the status quo are not Artists). Yes, I was aware of the decision by the Congress to stop funding artists, but I think I was a bit naive as to how deep that went.
I started The Great American Performance Art Festival to use whatever leverage we have to put a focus on the regional artists who are making performance art and do not have another venue for their work.
JM: I believe that Grace Exhibition Space has a reputation of showing mostly international artists.
Performance Art in the USA was killed & blackmailed in the 1980's under the Reagan administration and the Christian right saying that any work that presents a naked female body in public is heretical.
I saw the Karen Finley piece that they referenced as heretical and it was a beautiful, wonderful and thoughtful performance. She was naked at the end when discussing how female cows go to slaughter. She didn’t create slander, she said it as it was, and her performance was lovely . . . why draw attention to what she was saying if not to reference what she was referencing? Anyway, the larger picture of what she was trying to say got obfuscated by the fact that two minutes of a two hour performance was her covering her naked body in glitter. The meaning behind her action was never said. All funding was lost. End of Performance Art, and end to all spaces that present performance art. Gone.
I was aware of this loss, but unaware of its exact relation to performance art, so I started Grace Exhibition Space with Melissa Lockwood, in 2006 to show the healing aspects of this art form that was absent in NYC.
There are 1000’s of underground pieces all the time that may offend the right or the left, but we are supposed to have the right to say it.
Wait, did I answer you’re your question? That’s why we started Grace Exhibition Space, and the Great American Performance Art Festival – this Festival is to put back into focus people from the USA making political, body-based works, especially by artists based in the tri-state, NY-CT-NJ region, so that people realize this is not just a foreign thing, there are people here using this as an immediate connection to convey their work.
QD: You have wanted to pursue this concept for a few years right?
JM: Yes. It seemed as is if Grace Exhibition Space was known as the place for foreign, non-USA artists. I wanted to change that image and let people know, with whatever leverage we have, and whatever language people are speaking that people in the US are making performance work too.
QD: What is it like coordinating events with both international and local artists?
JM: It is easy with international artists mainly because we have communication between email and Facebook. It can even be easier working with an international artist than with artists 10 min away.
QD: How do you find such a wide range of performance art practitioners?
JM: We are a very strong community of Performance Artists. We are an international community of people making ourselves very vulnerable in front of others. Performance artists, by contrast, are very shy people, communicating without words yet through visceral imagery. I believe this is what makes us international. Our works are done without words – but rather by actions which are understood without words or language, by actions that all humanity can relate to.
QD: What led you to bring the artists together for this past weekend's GAPAF?
JM: I had a meeting in February with Whitney V Hunter, Leili Huzaibah, Esther Neff, Lital Dotan, Hector Canonge – whomever I thought was a local NYC organizer of Performance Art and asked them to suggest who they thought we should feature.
QD: What upcoming GAPAF events or performers are you most excited about?
JM: Well… really? Are you asking me really, well . . .really?
And I answer you- really! Really! I am excited about everyone!
Everyone who is willing to take the risk to present themselves so vulnerably, whether they have been doing this for 10-20 years, like me, Linda Mary Montano or Martha Wilson or people who are newer like Peter Dobill, Rob Andrews, Esther Neff, Nyugen Smith, Whitney V. Hunter, Tsedaye Makonnen, Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Ayana Evans, Uniska Wahala Kano, etc. or someone who is totally new – it doesn’t matter.
We are equal – I was once in my first performance, as all the great performance artists. We all started at one time, we are all starting at one time. It is an ever beginning. The end is the beginning - is the end - is the beginning. We are are all the beginning.
We just strive for the glorification of performance art, and the glorification of all!