From November 1st to November 24th, performance art takes the stage in the art capital of the world with PERFORMA 13, the fifth edition of the biennial dedicated to the celebration of performance art. More than one hundred events will take place in New York in forty public and private venues, and fifty art institutions, all of which will be overseen by fifty curators. This year, the major celebration of performance art has Surrealism as its main theme, which was founded by the Frenchman Andre Breton in the early 1920s.

Why surrealism? After almost two years of extensive curatorial research on the matter, Surrealism as a pillar for this event seems to make complete sense. For as performance, Surrealism as an artistic movement also called upon liberating ones mind and venturing in a parallel universe. Citizenship and the uses of the voice are two major sub-themes of the biennial. The former will present artists who find new ways of creating bonds between humans and a common desire for a global community. The latter will celebrate performers who use the voice in all different kinds of ways as a unique and powerful mechanism “for the language of persuasion, coercion, seduction and violence.”

Performance as a ritual is not a new phenomenon! It goes back to the earliest years of humanity whether under tribal purposes, religious purposes or even sporting purposes. Yet, at the end of WWII and partly as a reaction to the trauma of the war, performance as an artistic movement and as a new visual art medium grew extremely popular in New York. In 2004, Roselee Goldberg – a major art historian, critic, professor and specialist in performance art- founded the organization as an anchor of the growing importance of performance art in the 21st century. The first edition of the biennial followed one year later.

Pawel Althamer, Biba Performa

Pawel Althamer, Biba Performa

What distinguishes PERFORMA from other biennials is that it is the only one in the field solely dedicated to the presentation and representation of performance art. It is also an event that encompasses all art disciplines from visual art to fashion, dance, poetry, architecture, culinary and more. But what I find really interesting about this biennial is probably the special commissions engagement. Every year since its conception, the managing committee of the biennial invites artists who are unfamiliar or new to the performance scene to participate in the Performa Commissions. The chosen artists are asked to engage with visual performance while obtaining guidance and support from the people at Performa. This artistic, experimental and educational invitation to art creation is beneficial to artists in many ways. Not only does this allow them to expand the boundaries of his or her own practice but in some cases it is also a mean to discover untapped “natural” talent in visual performance. Performa Commissions included the biggest name in the art world such as world famous performers artists Jesper Just and Francis Alÿs (Performa 05), installation and filmmaker artist Isaac Julien (Performa 07), the late versatile artist Mike Kelley (Performa 09) and Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat (Performa 11), among many others.

Rashid Johnson: performance of Dutchman at the East 10th Street baths. © Paula Court, courtesy Performa.

Rashid Johnson: performance of Dutchman at the East 10th Street baths. © Paula Court, courtesy Performa.

This year, Performa Commissions include thirteen artists that will offer their audience a new take on their work. The special commission program will reveal Rashid Johnson’s first live performance, a re-imagining of Dutchman the award winning theatrical play a 1964 production by Amira Baraka; the first large-scale public work for New York City of Polish artist Pawel Althamer at Biba a local bar in Brooklyn (and the source of inspiration of the project); Ryan McNamara‘s MEƎM: A STORY BALLET ABOUT THE INTERNET, a choreographic exploration of the online world; Alexandre Singh’s new play The Humans… and many other interactive events that make performance art a great tool for artists to expand their creative horizon. More than that, I think that performance art distinguishes from other kinds of art expression in a very special way: it aims to create a bond between the artist and the viewer and help stir live and timely emotions in ways that are not always as effective in a static sculpture or painting…

For more info on PERFORMA13: click here.

10 must-sees according to BlouinArtinfo: click here.


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