Friday, April 11, 2008

Empty Spaces

Robert Patrick sent this article from Seattle's The Stranger to his e-mail list. I'm always conflicted on the issue of conceptual performance: I think there's a lot of BS out there, but not all of it. Assuming this is for real, and I've no reason to assume it isn't, what interests me is that there really is a performance and the artists really are performing... for no one. And the artistic director and at least the artist mentioned in the article are taking the project seriously.

Someone in the comments section asked what's the point of advertising a performance if no one can see it. I don't actually have a problem with that at all; in fact, I'd ask "How can you call it a performance if you don't promote it?" All of the artists we've met who worked the Caffe Cino in the '60s all talked about the occasional production where no one was in the place at show time and Joe Cino had them perform the show anyway (they did plays all week at the Cino and 2-3 shows a night on weekends, so it's not hard to imagine that a few plays would not have an audience—but apparently one usually materialized some time during the show). And I think there's a difference between a performance with no outside observers and a rehearsal or workshop. I'll grant you, it's a subtle distinction, but I think the closed performance requires a great deal more discipline than most theater artists I know—including me—probably possess: can you give the same energy, enthusiasm and focus to a piece that no one will be able to see?

I think the history of art is an equal balance of 'standing on the shoulders of giants' and re-imagining the accepted beliefs about the art. I remember in college hearing over and over, "All you need to make theater is an actor and an audience member;" personally, I've seen too many productions already that only met that requirement (and, on occasion, didn't quite meet it), so I think that's a paradigm that should be frequently questioned. I'd love to hear from someone who performed in Strikethrough, but that seems unlikely: if you talk about it afterward, you've just transformed the experience from a dialogue between performer and audience into storytelling. Perhaps part of the experience for the 'audience' is trying to imagine what must be happening in these performances. Perhaps it's similar to Duchamp's readymades. Or perhaps it's just a gimmick.  

If I lived in Seattle, I'd be interested in participating.

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