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performa


taking it to the streets

mary paterson at performa 07, new york


 Christian Jankowski, Rooftop Routine 2007 Christian Jankowski, Rooftop Routine 2007
photo Paula Court
PERFORMA 07 SWARMED ALL OVER NEW YORK CITY—IT SHOWED WORK ON BROADWAY, AT SMART UPPER EAST SIDE HOMES, IN TRENDY CHELSEA GALLERIES AND EVEN ACROSS THE RIVER IN BROOKLYN AND LONG ISLAND. BUT ITS MOST MEMORABLE PIECES WEREN’T THOSE THAT FOUND AN ATMOSPHERIC CORNER OF THE CITY TO CALL THEIR OWN. IN A TOWN WHERE EVERYONE’S ON THE MOVE, THE MOST MEMORABLE PIECES IN PERFORMA 07 WERE THE ARTWORKS THAT TOOK TO THE STREETS AND TACKLED THE DYNAMISM OF NEW YORK ITSELF.

Christian Jankowski invited visitors up to the roof of his Lower East Side apartment block one chilly Saturday morning to witness the surrounding cityscape suddenly come alive—with hula hoopers. Thirty men, women and one child twisted and bobbed in unison. Following a sight line from Suat Ling Chua—Jankowski’s neighbour whom he spotted hula hooping as a fitness regime—these dancers linked together the Manhattan skyline. They connected derelict buildings to new apartment blocks, neon-fronted shops to shiny glass office buildings. The joyful simplicity of Rooftop Routine sutured social, financial and racial differences that are felt more keenly on New York’s streets.

While the sight soothed New York’s wounds, however, it also emphasised the awesome scale of the city. Like the tiny figures in a sublime landscape, the hula hoopers looked fragile and weak. To watch Rooftop Routine, then, was to thrill in the shared danger of city living. As the dancers continued, other New Yorkers stumbled onto their rooftops to watch, and the intimidating skyline was temporarily transformed into a rolling landscape of domestic vignettes.

While Jankowski relied on his audience to take part in a celebration of the city, Pablo Bronstein might have preferred it if people stayed away from Plaza Minuet. In an interview he said, “The presence of the viewer distorts the space.” Bronstein’s interest in the physical landscape of New York was not as a home for individuals but as a battle ground for ideologies. Orchestrating four performances that took place in and around Wall Street, Bronstein pitted the architecture of New York’s financial district against the bodily discipline of ballet.

In each of the Plaza Minuet performances, a troupe of turquoise-clad dancers bounded into what are known as ‘privately owned public spaces’ (areas designated for public use and owned by private companies), and moved in silent unison between ballet positions. These spaces are designed to be used in a particular way—the vast atrium of 60 Wall Street, for example, is lined with palm trees that make sure people walk in lanes and carry on moving. And they’re usually used by particular types of people who wear suits and sombre colours. But the bright costumes and refined, aesthetic movements of Bronstein’s dancers contravened these unspoken rules. Making alternative use of this space, the dancers brought its hidden rules to light.

More interestingly, the dancers in Plaza Minuet did not just contravene the modes of behaviour implied by Wall Street’s architecture, but actively competed with it. Controlled by Bronstein and a choreographer, Hilary Nanney (who barked orders as they performed), the dancers escaped the strictures of Wall Street only by conforming to the strictures of ballet, itself the product of Renaissance-era social control. Displayed against each other, both types of authority—the imperatives of Wall Street’s architecture and the contortions of ballet—were stripped of their aspirations to naturalisation. But the comparison also showed that authority in this sense is inescapable, whether in 21st century New York or in 15th century Florence. The question is—is it more bearable when we pretend it’s not there?

While Rooftop Routine offered a heart-warming break from everyday life, Plaza Minuet took a chilly, forensic look at the mechanisms that control daily living. And while Jankowski revelled in the common, human interest of New York, Bronstein focused on the meta-structures of the city as institution. By engaging with the real conditions of New York these artists created experiences unique to Performa 07. More importantly, they represented an essential dimension of Live Art: art that exists outside formal art venues destroys the notion that (good) art is ever separate from life.


Performa 07, Christian Jankowski, Rooftop Routine, Nov 3; Pablo Bronstein Plaza Minuet, New York, Nov 7 2007

Mary Paterson was part of the Performa 07 writing live project.

RealTime issue #83 Feb-March 2008 pg. 16

© Mary Paterson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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