This past Wednesday – Friday October 3-5, 2012 Contemporary Performance Network was a critical partners for the annual PRELUDE 12. NYC Regional Editors engaged with PRELUDE and are now following up with their first person responses. These Regional Editors are Kathleen Amshoff, Esther Neff, Raul Zbengheci, and Emily Bercir Zimmerman. In the next few days we will post each of their responses and continuing the conversation in the comments section. Below is Raul Zbengheci’s response to the opening night manifestos.
Screen shot form the live feed of PRELUDE 12 Manifestos
Some quotes lifted directly from my notebook:
Richard Foreman: taking no position as a conscious choice
Leah Nanako Winkler: crash the new car and make it explode
Mac Wellman: theater of the future derives from the anti-theater impulses of the present
David Levine: anti-autonomism as regurgitatino always, “really real” theater as realization of 1970s performance theories
Maria Streier: I like the way ideals die
Big Art Group: unbecoming unreal
Brandon Jacobs Jenkins: ethnicity as commodity, not all commodities have the same value
Jay Scheib: cataclysmic collapse of trunks, limbs, and dirt
Tina Satter: offness, anti-representational, whattt?
Miguel Gutierrez: it doesn’t____________
Though the curators had no real way of knowing what each presenting manifesto orator would come up with, the two most emblematic speeches opened and closed out the night in the Martin E. Segal theater this past Wednesday. Centered on a responsibility to remain in a constant state of transition and self-critique, Richard Foreman‘s decidedly anti-manifesto cum interview proposed taking no position as a conscious choice. He touched on his ideal theater, but immediately corrected himself by saying that as soon as an idea is decided upon, it becomes obsolete and too rigid. This choice to rest in a sort of no-man’s-land between making an active proposal and immediately presenting the impossibilities of pursuing said proposal informed and framed the evening. Similarly, the closing manifesto by Miguel Gutierrez explored the same impossibilities for dance, it doesn’t cure AIDS, it doesn’t stop riots, it doesn’t start riots. If I were asked to choose an era in this cycle of creation//destruction in the theater context, this round of manifestos has clearly set out to question endlessly and settle into a position of detouring, walking in circles, (spirals) and embracing the ephemeral nature of art movements. Following Paul Virilio’s theories of speed and power, it is only natural that we have a series of manifestos bent on negating themselves before even taking proper ground, moving viciously from certainty to negation.
Yet, I would like to also make the claim that the impossibility theme presented throughout the manifestos is not completely negative and hopeless. Richard Foreman touched on the potential theater, a theater that doesn’t exist yet and should not exist outside of one’s imagination, something utopian to pursue. In this sense, the potential theater is impossible to articulate but endlessly open to incisions by new theater practitioners. Even Leah Nanako Winkler from Everywhere Theater Group presented an ambitious, young view concerning failure. As probably half of the artists present at Prelude 12 consider themselves experimental by nature, Winkler’s contemplation on what it means to fail within her indie theater bubble resonates with the greater thoughts of the evening. At the same time, however, she did provoke exasperated sighs of we know after her initial remarks on the difficulties of being a theater artist in this country, especially from underprivileged communities. And I will not comment on this, but it becomes interesting to compare Winkler’s concerns for under-privileged theater kids and Brandon Jacobs Jenkins, a fictional black playwright created by Max Eli Posner to study ethnicity as commodity. Themes of commodification and commercial theater reigned. Between Mac Wellman‘s (and I suppose, Richard Foreman’s also) proposal that the theater of the future derives from the anti-theater impulses of the present and Daniel Fish’s opening film The Dollar General, the atmosphere was filled with a feeling that late capitalism has pushed the theater arts to a decrepit state.
Self-awareness is another crucial element covered over the Prelude 12 Manifestos. David Levine delivered a brilliant manifesto concerning the intersecting points between visual arts performance and theatrical performance, stating in conclusion that the two have converged and have collided with each other while not attempting to. He made the claim that the theater has been critiqued for the past eighty years to deaf ears, forming a superficial divergence between what we used to call performance art and what we called theater. However, his analysis yielded a view that pushes one to see that the two are becoming the same, that the spectacular and the repetitive have not really escaped performance art, and that ultimately, contemporary theater is the actualization of performance art theories from the 1970s. The essential point here is reproduction. Recently, (ten years’ time) performance art and self-aware stage productions have begun to be restaged, thus becoming, in their own time-based way, products to be manipulated. And now to arrive to manipulating identity via the queerness inherent in the virtual body. Big Art Group‘s call for technological destabilization of assumed identities frames the discussion of manipulation and recreation properly, considering its foundation in a Butlerian critique of identity. To follow Levine’s critique of the pursuit of the “really real”, Big Art’s “image-characters” liberate themselves from the futile attempt of being “really real” or Foreman’s implication that one must “show doing”. Multiplicity and diffusion are key, and Big Art Group’s Fiascos (the image-characters) are constantly in a state of disintegration and reconstitution, never pausing for long enough to remain singular. And what better than an inflatable black object to illustrate a time-based Malevich suprematism present in their manifesto. Considering that the virtual body/stage dynamic offers the possibility to live an infinite amount of lives and experiences, Big Art Group’s call for transient characters and ephemeral identities makes me want to lose my mind trying to write about. Really, these possibilities for the future of theater that are were present in Levine’s, Big Art’s, and Scheib’s manifestos together are too heady and too abstract in nature for words to do them justice. At one point, Scheib stated that he’d like to capture the whole of human ecology in a single frame. As it is becoming evident that time-based arts are the most capable of exploring new notions of speed and technology, (Virilio) the virtual body, (Kurzweil) and the final actualization of the n sex or the performative gender, (Deleuze and Butler, respectively) it will simply have to take a seismic shift away from being trapped in semantic discussions of what is performance art and what is theater, “really real” or not, and a move toward exploring the stage with all of its potential. Even though Gutierrez finished the night a note of what dance cannot do, the resounding feeling of the night was potential and capability laying dormant in the stage arts. By overcoming the distance between visual arts performance, theatrical performance, video games, and urban planning, the stage, not necessarily the physical stage, can become the new transcendent space to consider the contemporary condition.
About Raul Zbengheci (Brooklyn, USA) Raul Zbengheci is inspired by monolithic social housing left over after the Communist regime in Bucharest. These are buildings that speak louder than anyone who inhabits them, they are buildings that create visions and ghosts for anyone surrounded by them. For Collectif Experiencia, he uses these memories of monumental constructions to create stage spaces that serve as speaking skeletons, superficial and waiting to be filled by bodies and movements that will redefine the spaces themselves. When considering the stage, he uses light to redefine and reconstruct the space with the idea that a precise structure on the outside can allow for greater abstraction within the limits it has imposed. Zbengheci is also a photographer and writer. In photography, he uses the same ideas he expresses for the stage, composing spaces rather than capturing them. His first book, Tryin’ to Find Another Place, is in final revision. The project nicesentences aims to find a style of writing detached from context and minimal, visceral as well as aesthetic. He lives in New York where he is the Editor-in-Chief of Connectom, LEIMAY-CAVE’s online artist network and publication. He is also the co-founder of Collectif Experiencia.