News / Art, Culture

No lo llames Performance/Don

With “No Lo Llames Perfomace/Don’t Call It Performance,” El Museo del Barrio invites us to merely react, and not label. The exhibition has been organized by Paco Barragan, an independent curator from Spain whose recent projects include a show dealing with photography and the urban space called Urbanismo Sintetico/Synthetic Urbanism at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogota (MAMBO) and Antirrealismos: Spanish Photography and Video Now, a traveling exhibition curated for the Australian Center of Photography. No Lo Llames Performance/Don’t Call it Performance, was originally put together for the Audio Visual Department of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. El Museo’s curator Deborah Cullen then helped tailor the project to fit the outreach and mission of the museum:to present and preserve the art and culture of Puerto Ricans and all Latin Americans in the United States, “introducing young people to this cultural heritage,while satisfying the growing interest in the Carribean and Latin American art of a broad national and international audience.”

The artists participating in “No Lo Llames Performance” are not strictly Latino or Latin American; the exhibition presents a wide range of international artists who do not seem out of place within the context of El Museo, but rather go hand in hand with the multicultural identity of the museum. This is something new and groundbreaking for El Museo del Barrio, and proves that cultural identities must co-exist within artistic and social expression of all kinds.

The exhibition examines the recent manifestations of what we recognize as “performative art” It addresses the issues of what performance is, and whether it can still be called performance art if the actual act is executed exclusively for the camera. This particular show is of interest because it is the first time that El Museo has broken away from its traditional barriers to present us with a show exclusively dedicated to video in an attempt to discuss the significance and evolution of performance art.

Without even having seen the exhibition, there was curiosity on my behalf as to how a museum that specifically aims to appeal to a wide audience and build a young public would be able to make this exhibition accessible. Performance art is infamous for its intellectual and aesthetic limitations, and because of its conceptual nature has only been appreciated and understood by a very limited and esoteric audience. But this exhibition allows this art form to become more accessible and therefore appreciated by audiences of all size and ages.

The exhibition is divided in into five groups, each displayed in five interconnected screening rooms in which like-themed videos are displayed. These curatorial groupings are a clear effort on behalf of the curators and the exhibition designer to categorize the subject matter so that the videos can be easily compared and contrasted, thus aiding the viewer to better comprehend the material.

The first selection is Art/Form, in which the works displayed deal with the artists’ quest to define style, playing with sculpture and experimenting with formal problems such as time and behavior. This grouping acts as a “warm up” to the rest of the show, dealing with the basic elements from each video, even though their primary issues don’t deal directly with the overarching theme they have been ’niched’ into.

The second group is Memory and Devotion, in which the selected pieces are identified as being meditative, reflective or spiritual in nature. The videos in this category portray personal and communal experiences that easily trigger human sensitivities and the feelings of personal relation to the work. For example, in the Brazilian artist Beth Moyses’’Memoria de Afeito’ (Memory of Affection) where a ’procession’ hundreds of brides walk towards the camera and throw gravel with a spade into a large circular hole in thee ground. This is an act that can be interpreted as catalyst for the elements of life, love and death.

The third group titled Mass Appeal features work that comments on mass consumption and popular culture. The artists in this category have in common the will to bring out the balance and connection between ’high’ and ’low’ cultures. This is the strongest section in the exhibition and features the work such of Latin American artists as Martin Cambre (Puerto Rico), Catarina Campino(Argentina), and Yoshua Okon (Mexico). The videos by these artists indirectly reflect the current situation of Latin American countries through the use of simple images. They deal with having to comply with the will of globalization, and the coexistence of ’high’ and ’low’ cultures this brings to the social context.

The Fourth group, Commitments, tackles the artists’ takes on culture, gender and life-styles. This category brings a wide range of issues from personal to global points of view. ’Politicamente correcto’ (Politically Correct) by Claudia del Fierro(Chile) stands out in particular; we see ’herds’ of women in maid uniforms and men in regular clothing coming in and out of a random entrance. The piece is not acted, but just a mere documentation of the human activity in a certain time and place. The large amount of women in uniform is compelling, provoking thought on what a uniform is, and what role it plays in establishing demarcation between social groups.

Audioscapes is the last category in the exhibition, providing us with the works that are founded on sound, language and music. Each artist plays with the elements of sound, placing the image as secondary and thus making this the most playful and experimental section of the show. Maybe not as experimental, but definitely the most playful is ’Solo tu y Yo’ (Only You and I) by David Perez. In it, we see and hear a mouth that tries to vocalize words that are being handicapped by foreign elements such as toothpaste, scotch tape and a cigarette.

In between the curatorial groupings, you find yourself in narrow, brightly lit corridors with white pieces of paper meticulously pinned to the walls. These papers form a timeline highlighting Latino and Latin American artists’ contributions to the history of performance art. The precarious pinning of the timeline on the wall suggests that the history of performance is currently in the making, and at the same time mimics the ’temporary’ nature of the performance.

Most of the people I encountered in the exhibition reacted initially to the lay out of every screening room, and then became aware of the different elements: the papers pinned on the wall, the text and then the actual videos. Children would laugh at the quirky occurrences in the videos, and adults seemed equally receptive to the work, content to experience each piece, whether they understood it or not. The content of most of the videos does not require understanding or interpretation. There is a conscious selection of works that even if not comprehended by audiences, specifically children, still present playful and interesting imagery that awakens and provokes visual reception and reaction. None of the videos selected evoke intellectual pretense, but rather present work that is accessible to all audiences and at the same time fits the multi-polar cultural identity that El Museo continually juggles with. By the title of the exhibtion, El Museo del Barrio encourages the audience to not call this performance, but doesn’t necessarily define it anything else, thus making the art form more accessible, and furtherly inviting us (the public) to call it whatever we want.

No Lo Llames Performance/Don’t Call It Perfomance will be on view at El Museo del Barrio until November 7th, 2004.