It is with great pleasure that we jump back into one of the founding components of this site, the Artist Feature! Multi-media artist, Trevor Amery, joined the #AliveAtSatellite programming during Miami Art Week at Satellite Art Show. His performance initiated with the cross-country journey from California (where he is completing his MFA at UC San Diego) to Miami Beach, Florida. In our interview we discuss the importance of community within Amery's practice and he recalls the terrifying capsize experience while performing Baidarka. - Quinn Dukes
You may have noticed a new name for the Performance Is Alive correspondence team when we published "ARTISTS IN HOPE: A SOFT POLITICAL DISSENT" by Polina Riabova. I first met Riabova at one of Fritz Donnelly's infamous performance events at BIZARRE Bushwick. We spoke casually about the Brooklyn performance community as live performers slung chocolate sauce all over themselves, the venue and anyone in their path (you know, normal performance stuff.) Months later we picked up our conversation at Grace Exhibition Space where Riabova expressed an interest in writing about performance. Intrigued by her poetic approach and fresh immersion into performance art, I found Riabova to be an apt addition to the site. In our interview, Riabova explains her relationship to writing, immigration and highlights a few standout performance pieces. - Quinn Dukes
Over the past 6 years, I've witnessed the ebb and flow New York's performance art community. Many performance artists who presented work in 2010 have left the discipline entirely due to high living costs and low (to no) performance honorariums. Fortunately, several performance artists have evolved their practice and successfully developed their careers through exhibitions, grants and awards. Multi-media artist, NYUGEN SMITH (NJ), is one such example and has established himself as a staple within the New York performance community.
Smith was the first performance artist to cross my invisible "this-is-a-safe-distance-from-a-messy-performer" boundary. Adorned in a white wig and blue petticoat, Smith gnawed on sugar cane inches away from my face. Cane juice dripped freely while puffs of white baby powder flew around Vaudeville Park (Brooklyn, NY). The layered scent of cane juice and baby powder paired with Smith's unwavering gaze diluted the performer/viewer "stage." This experience changed my approach toward viewing. I'll never forget it!
In our latest Artist Feature, Smith discusses intercepting boundaries while exploring the role of performer and viewer as director. Enjoy! - Quinn Dukes
QUINN DUKES: Can you talk about your practice as a multimedia artist? Does one medium influence the other?
NYUGEN SMITH: For me, working with various media allows for more opportunities to play. As ideas are generated, I go to the medium that I feel will allow me to communicate most effectively at that moment, for that particular project. I often speak about this fluidity in terms of spoken language-sometimes one needs to use another language to get closest to saying what needs to be said. It also comes from the the need to be able to make at any moment.
One medium does influence the other in my practice. On a subconscious level, choices and actions are primarily made and cannot be separated from the sum of my experiences. On a conscious level, what is learned from, experienced, through one medium is intentionally utilized during the creative process. I ask myself, for example, how does what I know about lighting for on camera video performance inform lighting choices for live action? What have I learned from collage that can be useful in drawing and performance?
QD: Do you often use your sculptural and/or collage objects within your performances?
NS: Yes, I often include and use some of my sculptural objects in my performances. I often find that they reveal new meaning when activated in thin this way.
QD: You are in the final stages of your MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, how has your work evolved from this experience?
NS: So much can be said about the impact of my MFA studies at SAIC on the evolution of my practice. I definitely read a whole lot more. Assigned readings have led me to writers, thinkers, artists and others who have interesting things to say and ask important questions.
QD: Who are some of these authors?
NS: Authors such as Fred Moten, Malidoma Patrice Somé, André Schwarz-Bart, Robert Farris Thompson, Claudia Rankine, and Walter Benjamin, have been impactful.
I read slowly, so teaching full-time in a high school and maintaining an active studio practice often left me with little time to read a lot. Since I began grad school, I slowed down on the amount of objects I have produced. The amount of reading and writing required for my courses naturally shifted me to spending more time with my head in the books than in the studio. The amount of performance work I have done has increased significantly during this period. It was a welcomed transition and I truly enjoyed it. Certain texts caused me to think about my work on other levels and also strengthened my ability to speak about my work within other contexts. My professors, studio mentors and classmates have also been inspirational and influential to my practice through their formal and informal critiques, suggested readings, art practices, and their writings.
QD: What led to an increase in performance?
NS: Being a part of Social Health Performance Club has played a significant role in increasing the visibility of my Performance work and has subsequently led to more requests and opportunities. During this time of study- being in my head more, has definitely strengthened the way I have developed in this art form.
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago nominated me for the 2016 Leonore Annenberg Fellowship and I was one of nine artists to receive this national award. The fellowship will provide me with support to make my transition to working on my art full-time.
QD: So, this is why you decided to leave your teaching position?
NS: Yes. It was my dream, as with many artists, to be able to rise each day and tend to the business of their art practice. So, to honor this gift, to give it all that it requires of me, to make the most of this opportunity, stepping out of the classroom was necessary.
QD: Your performance at Gallery Sensei (NYC) in May 2016, relied heavily on audience participation and audience member as performer. Can you discuss your intentions for participation in this particular work?
NS: I'm glad to know that "audience member as performer" was evident. I am interested in developing some ideas where I am not a participant, but the director. The work at Gallery Sensei, was the second work where I experimented with "directing" as performance. The first was a work titled, iambic pentameter, made during an edition of Tif Robinette and Ian Deleón's PULSAR in Brooklyn, NY. That work was developed after reading Fred Moten's Resistance of the Object: Aunt Hester's Scream and reflecting on "(b)etween looking, being looked at, spectacle and spectatorship, enjoyment and being enjoyed..." This Moten text was shared with my by my studio mentor, Steffani Jemison after conversation and review of a previous performance. So, with this Moten text and directing - all swirling in my head, I developed the work presented at PULSAR and Gallery Sensei.
My intentions for the participation were manifold. I am interested in what happens when an audience member - who volunteers to participate - is given a task to perform without any verbal or written instructions. I am directing the action involved in the task, however, essentially the volunteer cum performer can essentially take it in another direction if she/he chooses and. This can potentially shift the work dramatically and that becomes part of the permanent record of the piece.
It's also about memory. How does the audience participation affect how I remember the work and how it is remembered by the audience?
In the beginning of the performance I had them place a rope around themselves in the back room and drew everyone in very close- with me in the center before I blew the conch shell and drank a glass of wine. How did this action of bringing the group together in the beginning so closely affect their willingness to participate and empathize with those who volunteered during the rest of the performance?
QD: Your last performance was void of any verbal communication yet incredibly directive. Has this method of guidance ever led to audience misinterpretation?
NS: I'm not sure if there was any misinterpretation by the audience. I don't know how to measure this. There have been times when the participant did not understand my direction in the performance and did something other than what I intended for them to do. One thing that I have always stressed with my students is that there is always a way to use whatever it is that doesn't go as planned. Sometimes they can be used immediately and other times, just save them because they can be useful later. So, as these moments occur during the performance, I allow them to inform how the works develop. For example, during the performance at Gallery Sensei, the artist Ayana Evans volunteered to participate. I gave her the task of twirling an umbrella while holding it over her head. I intended to have three volunteers seated on the bench, but when I signaled to her (by licking my finger and drawing an invisible X) to sit on the bench, she stood on it. It immediately reminded me of something else I wanted to experiment with, a choir as part of a performance. So I signaled to the other volunteer to stand on the bench also and I began to conduct the two person choir. It was totally unexpected and was a beautiful transition to the part of the performance that followed.
QD: Where does your interest in a performative choir stem from?
NS: I just love the way the voice can move the mind, body and spirit. In my life I have spent a significant amount of time in Spiritual Baptist Churches in Trinidad, Catholic and Black and churches of different faiths the U. S. So I have experienced the performative act of using the voice for most of my life. I am interested in what voices working together can produce.
QD: Your recent writings are like stream of consciousness word mappings tying together tangents of learned and lived histories. What is your intent with the performance writings?
NS: In relation to my writings about my performances, then yes, I do look at these writings as a poetic written extension of the performances. In regards to my writing related to my photographs, social media posts, I see this writing as poetry. This is another way that my Grad program has had an impact on my work. Writing is central to our program. The poetics not only of language but in all that I make as an artist is important to me. I have had the honor and privilege of studying with, learning from, reading and collaborating with some brilliant artists/writers such as Sandrine Schaefer, Cheryl Pope, Julian Gato, Alissa Chanin in the last two years and this has had a huge impact on my writing style. For the majority of visiting artists in my MFA program including Glenn Ligon, Eileen Myles, Yvonne Rainer, Allejandro Sesarco, Lynn Tillman, writing is their medium or included as an important part of their practice. From 1994-2001, I wrote, recorded and performed spoken word poetry and rap music. So even before I devoted myself to the visual arts, writing poetry was a part of me.
So much can be said by not saying much at all. When writing creatively, I think about using words sparingly. Language can be used to include and exclude. To open and to close. I think about opening my writing. Leaving room for breathing in what is being said, what is being implied, and what can be derived from the sum of absence and presence in my writing.
QD: Do you have performance art mentors?
NS: I don't have any performance art mentors per se. However, some people and institutions that have had an impact on my performance work recently are, Grace Exhibition Space (I've learned so much from the extensive list of brilliant artists who have made and continue to make performances here and are part of GES' projects), Hector Canonge, Sandrine Schaefer, Ian Deleón and Tif Robinette, Cheryl Pope, Clifford Owens, yon Tande, Steffani Jemison, Denenge Akpem, and Marilyn Arsem. There are others who I don't know personally and have never had a conversation with, but research their work to learn.
QD: What do you think about the contemporary performance art community in Brooklyn versus Chicago?
NS: I don't know the performance art community in Chicago. Since I have only spent a relatively short time there, I have not had the opportunity to truly become a part of that community there. There are some wonderful artists there that I know who are making great performance work. I've been in exhibitions with and have begun having conversations about working with performance artists from Chicago in the future.
The community in Brooklyn is one that has encouraged and supported my growth as an artist who also works in performance. I have found that the community is thriving, growing and despite lack of critical reviews, limited inclusion in the programming and conversation surrounding performance at major institutions in NYC, the work continues. Thanks to platforms such as Performance is Alive, Incident magazine, PULSAR's Trouble Performing Podcast, Grace Exhibition Space, LiVEART.US (at the Queens Museum), artists who make performances in Brooklyn and surround area have spaces for to make work, have conversation, critical dialog, and build community.
QD: What is next for you? Any upcoming exhibitions or performances to note?
NS: A couple upcoming projects are confirmed:
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
MFA Thesis exhibition
thru July 31st
Sullivan Galleries, 33 S. State St., 7th floor
Yet to be titled Solo exhibition at
Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University
Tuesday, September 6th – Friday, October 14th
400 S. Orange Ave
South Orange NJ.
October, Art in Odd Places 2016: RACE.
Think High a Collaborative work with Thomas Powers
More info to come: http://www.artinoddplaces.org/
Updates can be accessed on my website: http://www.nyugensmith.com/#!exhibits/yxir1
ABOUT nyugen smith
Drawing heavily on his West Indian heritage, Nyugen is committed to raising the consciousness of past and present political struggles through his practice which consists of sculpture, installation, video and performance. He is influenced by the conflation of African cultural practices and the residue of European colonial rule in the region. Responding to the legacy of this particular environment, Nyugen’s work considers imperialist practices of oppression, violence and ideological misnomers. While exposing audiences to concealed narratives that distort reality, he destabilizes constructed frameworks from which this conversation is often held.
Following Emily Oliveira’s performance, I spoke with fellow audience member and feminist artist powerhouse, Katya Grokhovsky about Oliveira’s piece. We mutually agreed on its success. The following day, a VERY heated online Facebook discussion began between several audience members about Oliveira’s work. Albeit somewhat difficult for me to negate individual names here - I have decided that since the online post/conversation was initiated with some anonymity (and has thus since been deleted) – I will keep individual names out of this post. But I will say, that the dissatisfaction and frustration toward Oliveira’s work stemmed mostly from male audience members. Several prominent performance art leaders within the Brooklyn community were polarized on the work. I thought to myself, WHOA! – I can’t believe I am reading such drastically different critiques on a work that I deemed so successful! Oliveira’s performance hit several nerves. So much so that a divide grew between Brooklyn’s intimate performance art community. Which, in my mind, really means something. Yes, critical dialog in performance art is much needed and the only thing missing in this discussion was the perspective of the artist. So... I reached out to Oliveira and offered an opportunity for her to discuss her intentions and respond to the FB critique. Since Performance Is Alive is devoted to sharing the words of the artist - I am delighted to share Emily Oliveira’s voice with you here. - QUINN DUKES
Similar to "Segregation", Martiel's arresting performance at Pinta Miami offered viewers an opportunity to deeply contemplate personal and political freedom both as an individual and within a community at large. As a former pupil of Tania Bruguera, his performance philosophy should come as no surprise but I find Martiel exceedingly daring - willing to acknowledge and face consequence. This is no easy feat within commercial performance relationships. Following his Miami performance (Dictadura), I reached out to Martiel to learn more about his pre-performance preparations and post-performance insights. I am honored to share our conversation with you as a part of this week's Artist Feature. -Quinn Dukes
QUINN DUKES: What led you to create Dictadura?
CARLOS MARTIEL: At first, when I was invited to make a performance work for PINTA in Miami, I wanted to do a project that had a relationship with Cuba, given the number of Cuban exiles who are in this context, most of whom were fleeing Cuba from the current political regime. During the research process for the project, however, I decided to include a larger number of countries in Latin America that have also had some form of dictatorial regime just like the case of Cuba. But unlike Cuba, the vast majority were supported by the School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. In the United States, many people have no idea about the history of Latin America, or the macabre role the United States played in inflicting pain to the Latin American family, with its foreign policy of transforming Latin American military apparatuses into one of torturers, murderers and dictators. It was because of this that I created the project. I remained still, retained by the neck to a steel collar bolted to the base of a flagpole, forced to stare at the alternating flags of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, where dictatorial regimes have had support in some form by the School of the Americas. Each flag was placed for an hour and in historic chronological order, just as if the dictatorships were happening in real time.
QD: How did you prepare for the durational aspect of the piece?
CM: I really don’t have particular rituals for the preparation of my work. Usually I try to spend an hour alone, before making my performances, but it's not something I can always do. I believe that no preparation is sufficient to deal with the types of works I engage with, the challenge is actually at the time the work is presented in real time and the strategies that you develop internally as the work is happening, for example, careful breathing to avoid discomfort, uneasiness or tingling so that I stay focused.
QD: Stillness and duration are commonly core elements to your performances. What draws you to these two methods?
CM: I grew up in a society that lives on the edge in many respects, an island surrounded by water, people who endure a lot of financial hardships and even complete lack of basic needs, but must continue to live one way or another and not give up. This has influenced much of the durational aspect of my work. I have also studied and I am very familiar with African cultures and rituals of initiation, where one has to test the physical and psychological limits of the initiates. I believe that we should approach as much as possible to our limits, because only from there life can be seen through different eyes, and perhaps felt with a different kind of skin.
QD: Where there any challenges to performing in the context of an art fair?
CM: This was my first time participating in a fair doing a performance. It is a difficult experience because some people involved in organizing such events do not understand the nature or dimensions of a performance. For example, they wanted to reduce the performance which was suppose to last 21 hours, divided into seven days, only to three days for economic reasons ... I did not allow that to occur. If one wants to keep an initial idea and be consistent with what one is proposing, you have to be very firm. The relationship with the audience is also very different. I was surprised for example that people came to my performance and took selfies like if the performance was something to hang on a wall like a painting.
QD: How did you connect with Pinta Miami?
CM: I received an invitation by curator Jesús Fuenmayor to participate in his “Time Sensitive – Pinta Projects”.
QD: I see that you have presented performances across the globe. In your experiences thus far, does the reception of your work change per location? Can you offer a few examples?
CM: My work does not go in one direction, it is a fluid experience that changes depending on where I live, but also changes depending on the context where the performances take place. I think change gives richness and variety to my work, and better enables me to avoid common clichés. For example, on several occasions I have worked with the theme of emigration and immigration, but I address these topics from different perspectives each time. In Cuba, I made “Where My Feet Do Not Reach” in which I was interested in the idea of traveling through the subconscious of people who could not leave the island. For the Liverpool Biennial, I performed “Horror Vacui,” in which I dealt with the same issues from the point of view of the immigrant who is to assimilate into a different culture. In this context, I sewed onto my skin different parts of a classic English suit. In “Simiente,” a work I performed in Chicago, I wanted to unite in one body the blood of different immigrants living in Chicago, a city that has a large population of immigrants, but all segregated.
QD: Is your practice exclusively rooted in performance? If so, what brought you to this methodology?
CM: For the time being, I am working with my body and the possibilities that it brings as living matter. I am open to work with other media but it depends more on the ideas than a specific practice. For example, while I was living in Cuba in early 2007 I made a series of drawings with my blood. I would go to public clinics and ask the nurses to draw blood from me, clandestinely, so that I could use it in my work. Sometimes the nurses would refuse or they would not retrieve an adequate quanitity of the blood that I needed for my drawings so this created a big frustration for me. One day, I realiized that time and the body are extrememly important elements for the type of work I wanted to realize and so I decided to make my first performance. Since then, I’ve been working with the body and performance as my practice.
QD: Are their any current performance practitioners that inspire you?
CM: I really do not receive inspiration from performance artists, I am moved by the reality around me, I am inspired by human contradictions, social problems that I cannot believe have not been resolved yet like immigration, police brutality, racism, to just mention a few... I am inspired by writers like Eduardo Galeano or singers like Mercedes Sosa and Lola Flores. But I do think that there are perfomance artists whose work I find attractive given the content and the vivacity of the work. For example, Paulo Nazareth, Tania Bruguera, Regina Galindo, and Santiago Sierra.
Special thanks to Martiel's translator: Jorge Sánchez
Carlos Martiel (born 1989, Havana, Cuba). He graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts “San Alejandro,” Havana in 2009. Between the years of 2008-2010, he studied in the Catedra de Arte Conducta, directed by the artist Tania Bruguera. Martiel’s works have been included in: Havana Biennial (2009), Pontevedra Biennal (2010), Liverpool Biennial (2010), Biennial “La Otra”, Bogota (2013), International Performance Art Biennale, Houston (2014). He has had solo exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Center “Wifredo Lam,” Havana (2012); Nitsch Museum, Naples (2013); Axeneo 7, Montreal (2013); Lux Gallery, Guatemala City (2013); and Steve Turner Contemporary, Los Angeles (2014). He has received several awards, including “CIFOS Grants & Commissions Program Award” in Miami, United States, 2014; “Arte Laguna” in Venice, Italy, 2013; “Close Up Award” in Vallarta, Mexico, 2012. His work has been exhibited in Estonian Museum of Art and Design in Tallinn, Estonia; Museum of Modern Art of Buenos Aires in Argentina; Bellevue Museum of Arts, Washington; The 8th floor in New York, among others.
Pujol presents 9-5 in the city that he has called home for nearly half of his life. The physical and economic landscape of NYC has changed considerably over Pujol's residency. I wondered if Pujol's NYC experiences influenced the creation of 9-5 so I reached out to him with a few questions. In this week's interview, Pujol reveals the project's inspiration and performative structure. I am honored to share our conversation below. If you are in New York City, October 26-28, give yourself the gift of this experience! -Quinn Dukes
The performance art powerhouse -that is- Carmelita Tropicana (aka Alina Troyano) and her award-winning, filmmaker sister, ELA TROYANO, will preview their latest sci-fi film/performance/lecture hybrid, Schwanze-Beast today and tomorrow. The work encounters topics like climate change, gender, species preservation... and also poses the question “What separates human from beast?”
Because Performance Is Alive strives to share the voice of artists directly, I reached out to Carmelita and Ela regarding their new project. Despite an insane rehearsal schedule, they generously provided further insight into their project which can be found in full below. Enjoy and get out to Vermont! - Quinn
Alexandra Hammond Polina Riabova