Julien Creuzet, Algorithm ocean true blood moves (2023).
Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk; Courtesy the artist and Performa

Performa Biennial Takes Over New York City with Three Weeks of Immaterial Art

The tenth edition marked the influential New York biennial’s two decades of mainly commissioned performances by established artists

New York’s art circle is well tuned with the city’s speed-of-light social life: bombastic museum exhibitions, star-making gallery shows, and global fairs rotate throughout five boroughs, perhaps more frequently than any other metropolitan. Amidst this joyfully overwhelming cultural buffet, pacing down to fully absorb the creative moment can sometimes pose a challenge. The city’s own performance art biennial Performa, founded by scholar and curator RoseLee Goldberg, has been offering such moments of reflection for two decades, returning to the city every other year with a programming solely dedicated to immaterial art. New York’s vast iconography backdrops the show with performances by international artists occupying various locales around town, some of them established cultural venues or cutting-edge spaces while others unoccupied addresses.

Teo Ala-Ruona, Enter Exude, 2023. Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk; Courtesy the artist and Performa

This year’s tenth edition has been spread around the city since November 1, from the Guggenheim Museum to Judd Foundation, Swiss Institute, Art Center at Governor’s Island, or a warehouse in east Brooklyn. New commissions by the likes of Marcel Dzama, Julien Creuzet, Haegue Yang, or Franz Erhard Walther have been among the show’s hot tickets. The calendar also includes the Finnish Pavilion, organized by Los Angeles-based curator Job Piston, with artists such as Pilvi Takala (who had represented Finland in the last Venice Biennial), Anna Maria Häkkinen, and Teo Ala-Ruona. As a biennial tradition, the downtown community space Performa Hub has been open to the audiences and performance aficionados. The purple-washed Tribeca space which is designed this year by architect Assaf Kimmel not only hosts a portion of the biennial line-up but is also home to talks, gatherings, works from “Protest and Performance: A Way of Life” series, or one-off events, such as artist Rirkrit Tiravanija’s collaboration with chef Antto Melasniemi for the visitors’ tasting senses.

Haegue Yang, The Malady of Death – Monodrama with Noma Dumezweni, (2023). Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk; Courtesy the artist and Performa

When Goldberg founded Performa in 2004, the first-hand human experience had a different, rather tame, relationship with technology, and social media had not penetrated into our everyday existence. Today, real time art has a particular resonance for the audience whose attention spans and creative perceptions are intertwined with digital realities awaiting at their fingertips. The immediacy that performance art offers therefore comes off as a fresh breath of familiarity, of art delivered and experienced collectively. “Reality is precious,” told Galerie Performa Senior Curator curator Charles Aubin. “The irreplaceable nature of direct engagement is what makes performance art special today.” Aubin notes that “the immediate reaction between the work and the audience each time creates a new dynamic,” which turns into a vast network when blended with New York’s own particular cultural energy.

Julien Creuzet, Algorithm ocean true blood moves, (2023). Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk; Courtesy the artist and Performa

After kicking off the two-week marathon with an annual gala and a party at its Hub, the biennial had its first grand evening with Yang’s theatrical staging The Malady of Death in which Laurence Olivier award-winning actor Noma Dumezweni took over the Guggenheim’s circular Peter B. Lewis Theater for a full house two consecutive nights. The operatic delivery of French filmmaker and author Marguerite Duras’s text was heightened by a dramatic setting which included projections over the ceiling. “This performance could not exist anywhere else,” added Aubin who chose the venue for its all-white interior. Another artist paying homage to a 20th century artistic icon was Dzama whose To Live on The Moon (for Lorca) assumed Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Trip to the Moon” screenplay from 1929 as a starting point for a surreal show at the Abrons Arts Center. True to any Dzama work whether in drawing or three-dimension, the resulting work combined surrealist and absurdist narratives with flamboyant costumes and movements.

Marcel Dzama, To live on the Moon (For Lorca), 2023. Photo: Maria Baranova

Crowds flocked to Brooklyn last weekend for Ala-Ruona’s techno-sexual show Enter Exude as part of the Pavilions Without Walls series which this year is dedicated to Finland. Under nocturnal lights and moody tunes, the dancers roamed around a muscle car with movements that fluctuated between car-washing and sex. Back at the Hub, a newly launched Protest and Performance series has woven the artistic and activist connections between two forms of corporal defiance. Organized by Defne Ayas and Kathy Noble, the line-up of events blend the socially-engaged aspect of performance art with the poetic aspect of activism. “Long used by artists as a vehicle with which to comment and effect change, protest is indeed dynamic, with strategies continuously reinvented anew, as ongoing social structures and systems incessantly perform generational repression,” Ayas told Galerie. The duo was inspired by “abundant use of citizen media in protests in the past decade as well as by the Women, Life, Freedom movement,” in their programing which has included a talk between Shirin Neshat and Goldberg and a live screening of Rabih Mroué’s film, Our Hirāk: The Tishreen Revolution, about 2019 Beirut uprisings.

Anna Maria Häkkinen, Afterglow, low lingering slips of light, 2023. Photo: Maria Baranova; Courtesy the artist and Performa

The series will culminate to a finale on Saturday with Atlanta-based painter and sculptor Lonnie Holley’s concert with instrumental duo Nelson Patton and Shahzad Ismaily. Another crescendo for the last weekend is mother/ faceless bloom by Juni One Set at New York Live Arts. The theatrical performance also includes the presence of Senga Nengudi whose ongoing Dia Art Foundation show serves as an inspiration for the multidisciplinary stage show.


Cover: Julien Creuzet, Algorithm ocean true blood moves (2023).
Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk; Courtesy the artist and Performa


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