Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Never Less Than Dangerous: Pina Bausch, 1940-2009

Pina Bausch is dead.

Bausch, a towering icon of modern dance, was diagnosed with cancer five days ago and succumbed quickly, passing this morning. She was 68 years old.

Below I have posted Charlotte Higgins lovely remembrance of Bausch from her On Culture Blog on the Guardian UK's website and several links to her work.

Pina Bausch, 1940-2009

We have lost dance's most visionary, influential figure, who redrew the map of the theatre arts

By Charlotte Higgins

"A simple note on the Wuppertal Dance Theatre's website says it: this morning, 30 June, Pina Bausch died, aged 68 – quickly, after a cancer diagnosis five days ago. Only two Sundays ago, she appeared on stage at the Wuppertaler Opernhaus.

This is an appalling shock and a tragedy not only for the dance world, but also for the entire international arts world. Bausch's visionary work as dancer, choreographer and creator of the Tanztheater Wuppertal had a reach way, way beyond the confines of the German town where she worked. Theatre and opera simply wouldn't look the way they do today without Bausch; she has also had an enormous influence on visual art and cinema, too (Almodóvar's Talk to Her contains sequences of her work). I can't count the number of times I've seen work that either pays tribute – or cheaply rips off – Bausch's subversive, distinctive choreographic creations. Subtley but clearly, she redrew the map for the theatre arts.

The official tributes and obituaries will pour in. As a personal response – not as an expert in contemporary dance, simply as an enthusiastic member of the audience – I will be grieving for the loss of the most original voice in dance today. More than that, every performance that one saw (and her relatively rare appearances in London were instant sellouts, usually attended by a cultish, extraordinarily chic audience almost as watchable as her shows) was an event that left one emotionally changed, whether drained or elated or touched by an unspeakable beauty.

Instant memories – the dirt and sheer savagery of her early work Rite of Spring, brought to Sadler's Wells last February, which left me pinned to my seat with terror.

The same programme brought Cafe Müller - a classic work recalling her childhood memories of her parents' cafe, was confusing, troubling, strange, obsessional, wistful.

Kontakthof, brought to the Barbican in 2002, was a deeply moving piece that was performed by dancers in their 60s and 70s, forcing the audience to confront prejudices and fears about old age.

Then the sheer beauty of Nelken, in which the stage is covered by thousands of carnations.

Or Nefes, her late, Turkish-inspired work, in which the anguish and frustration expressed in earlier pieces was exchanged for something more (but never simply or unambiguously) joyous. A trademark was the way she asked her dancers to express not just the purity of their bodily movements, but their inner vulnerabilites, sometimes anger.

Watching a work by Bausch was never less than a dangerous, and profoundly fulfilling, experience. We will all mourn her."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Obscureterrain: Open Call for Artist Proposals

Gowanus, Brooklyn, NY
October 17, 2009 | 2-7pm

Submission Deadline: July 3, 2009

"We are rallying artists, performers, and community members to go to the rooftops on Saturday, October 17, 2009 to participate in a multi-rooftop spectacle of manifold performances, events, etc. occurring simultaneously. Throw a barbeque, dance, perform a circus act, build an installation, stage a protest, throw confetti in the air – anything goes.

Taking place specifically on the Gowanus rooftops along the F-Train in Brooklyn where it emerges from underground at 4th Avenue and descends at Carroll Street (and vice versa), this happening invites participants to harness the quotidian subway commute as an opportunity to lift fantasies and potentials out of the mundane, inventing/imagining alternative modalities for encountering and inhabiting the transforming urban landscape.

The jagged horizon of old, new and demolished buildings surrounding the path of the train marks the accretion of microscopic change that often rests on the periphery of the senses. Here, commuters have an opportunity to witness the sedimentation of one neighborhood’s rapidly changing skyline – an ever-shifting horizon of communities that indicates our transforming economic, social, political environments.

By excavating voluminous fantasies and potentialities from what is perceived as banal or unimportant, we hope to generate an opportunity for sensing the heretofore imperceptible – the virtually present – by inviting commuters and community members to take another look, to shift perspective, and to alter their relationality to the landscape. In this way, obscureterrain insists that it is necessary to be critical of the everyday, to imagine what else could be, and to enact it. Visit www.obscureterrain.wordpress.com for more information.

To apply please submit a 250-word description of your project to obscureterrain@dtek.net. You do not need to secure a roof prior to applying."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson is Dead

Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988), Jeff Koons

Michael Jackson is dead.

My reaction is complicated. On Facebook my high school classmates and I are mourning Michael Jackson and sharing memories. Claudia wrote, "I remember when someone brought the Thriller video to school and there was a 'viewing' before 1st period in the auditorium....was one of the few times I wanted to get to school early." And Anissia wrote, "cannot speak right now. I will be up all night watching these new reports. Is it a dream?"And then, "woke up this morning thinking 'What a horrible nightmare,' only to turn on the news to see it is real." My classmates and I are exactly the right age to get this news like a punch in the gut. We were the kids that made Michael Jackson a superstar. Whether we liked him or not (and we liked him) Michael was an integral part of our childhoods. And his passing, especially at a relatively young age, is an unsettling reminder of our own mortality. I can close my eyes and see the auditorium Claudia mentioned, but that morning was decades ago now. It is an odd feeling.

Still, my ambivalence about Michael Jackson was best captured on Facebook by two people I did not know in High School: Mark wrote, "(I am) not sad that michael jackson the pedophile is dead... whatever". While Stacia wrote, " (I am not) happy with this two-edged sword media coverage. Can we get a *day* before ya'll whistleblow the sordidness? 24 hours, yo."

Three memories:

1. Motown 25. I think the thing that makes a person famous is often something that grabs the zeitgeist and expresses it in an overt way. So a lot of times the thing that makes someone famous is also the most banal thing about them, which isn't necessarily a bad thing: it is how teen stars are made, and also why they fade (I am talking to you, Dude With the Long Hair and Other Black Guy in the Black Eyed Peas. Invest wisely. Boom Boom Pow.) But that was not the case with Michael Jackson. I remember watching Motown 25 with my parents and when Michael performed the air in the room changed. Even they knew we were watching something important. Of course Michael had already been famous for a long time by then. Off The Wall is a great, great album (personally my favorite, even over Thriller) and of course the Jackson 5 were a legendary Motown act before that. To this day the visceral hit of joy I experience when I hear Rock With You, Don't Stop Till You Get Enough, or any of the Jackson 5 stuff (which was technically before my time if you are keeping track) is measurable. My breath changes and my pulse picks up. It is the sound of teenage happiness. But the pure pop sugar of the Jackson 5 and the percolating post-Disco of Off The Wall were a prelude to this moment. Thriller wasn't out yet, and this was the premiere of Michael's new single, Billie Jean. He took the stage and...

Motown 25. Everything that happened after that performance was different because of it.

2. I saw Michael and his brothers live in 1986, during the Victory Tour. I was way too Punk Rock by that point to be interested in the Jacksons but I worked in the offices of Universal, the record distributor (See kids, music used to be pressed into giant wax disks called "records" that were played by running a needle along the grooves, ask your parents about it) and I was literally handed tickets to the show. So I went. And a few hours later cynical, punk rock me, who was way more into the Circle Jerks than the Jacksons, found myself standing on my seat, screaming "MIIIICCCHAELLL! MIIIIICCCHHHHAEEEELL!!!!!"... just like everybody else in the stadium. I have never experienced anything like the wave of force that came over the audience when he performed. It was surreal. During Can You feel It a web of lasers splayed out over our heads, and we reached up, trying to touch them, as if they were his fingers. Michael, who was a superstar by this point, performed his solo hits, which were already iconic. The thing I remember most about Michael Jackson as a live performer was the way he paused and made us wait for him. Sometimes he would simply stop, as if he were overcome with emotion and the crowd (including me) ROARED in response. Every little hiccup, every exhale and "eee-hee" was designed to whip the audience into a frenzy... and it worked. Like Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire, it can't be described without clichés, because it was so singular.

3. Fourteen years later I was living and working at a Shakespeare theater in the Berkshire Mountains. Winter in the Berkshires is no joke and the mostly empty dorms were like the Overlook Hotel, scary and lonely. Eventually, most of the actors and Tech people left for other jobs and I spent the Winter cutting pictures out of magazines that had been left behind and gluing them to the front of the rusted refrigerator in a giant collage I called, No Girls, No TV Reception, and Too Far to Walk to the Gym. But at Halloween there were still a lot of people around so one of my roommates decided to hold a party and someone put on Thriller. By 2000, Michael Jackson was a freak and a has-been and Thriller had air quotes around it. "Omigod 'Thriller'... awesome", a few younger company members snickered from the sofa. But there must have been a critical mass of people who were the right age because, as the song built to its instrumental break everyone in the living room (including me) suddenly broke into the Thriller dance.


At exactly the same moment.

Hand to God.

The junior hipsters, for whom "awesome" means "so bad its good" spit out their beers and jumped out of the way as a roomful of dancing zombies surged toward them, grinning like maniacs. The moment passed as quickly as it came and the evening became more debauched (Theater companies are strange places, they run on sex and grudges) but for that moment it was as if it was the 80's, which were sweet and corny and hopeful, even in their darkness, all over again.

So, when I heard that Michael Jackson was dead, I was shocked. Shocked because he had long been a symbol to me, rather than a person. Partly because he represents my youth, which is passed, and partly because it became increasingly obvious that, while the music is masterful in its ability to evoke pleasure, the person who made it was disturbing to consider. So when he died yesterday I was already used to separating the music from the man, and my feelings about both. His post-Thriller music was terrible (as far as I am concerned) and his ruined face, framed by its silky weave, had become a death mask of racial self-loathing. Most importantly, Michael Jackson's name had become synonymous with child sexual abuse. He paid out millions to the families of boys who'd accused him of molestation. And, while he was acquitted, that was not a definitive vote of confidence in Jackson's innocence. In legal terms it meant that they could not prove he did it, NOT that he didn't do it. However, fans who cannot reconcile the music with the man, insist on qualifying the abuse with "alleged", a soft-pedal that angers those of us for whom sexual violence against children is a personal issue. Rape is always "alleged" and this is the uncertainty that haunts every sexual crime. In the absence of physical evidence it boils down to who you believe. Survivors know this and live with the possibility that we will not be believed, a pressure that is often brought to bear to keep us silent.

As for me, I have no doubts whatsoever that Michael Jackson was a pedophile.

I'm sure my opinion is shaped by my history as an adult survivor of child sexual abuse, but the hair splitting around Michael Jackson's appetite for young boys sickens me. Already we are being encouraged by his famous friends, associates and diehard fans to remember him only for his music, while code words like "eccentric" and "idiosyncratic" (both employed by Al Sharpton on CNN last night) are being floated to posthumously frame his behavior. I can already see how this is going to go. The discourse will split between people who dismiss the abuse as an unproven attack on the image of a great star and those who refuse to allow that to happen. I can also anticipate the ways that these arguments will become racialized too, as with OJ before him. But before those voices get too loud I want to suggest something: People are complicated, as are our responses to them. While I am disgusted by the reframing of Michael Jackson's inappropriate behavior with children as a personal foible, I understand the difficulty some have in reconciling these monstrous private acts with the public persona that brought so many so much joy. Including me. Part of what makes a great star is the ability to forge a personal relationship with fans. So maybe those who feel that connection with him cannot entertain the possibility that he acted out sexually with children.

But still.

I can't let that discomfort, or even my own nostalgia and love of his music completely overshadow my conviction that we should be talking about the sexual abuse of children when we talk about Michael Jackson. If we excuse his behavior--sleeping with young boys (which he described as "a beautiful thing", giving them alcohol, presenting himself as their peer etc.--then we are handing a defense to men who behave similarly and that is not acceptable to me.


Michael Jackson was both an iconic star and a pedophile, and these identities do not contradict each other.

And, paradoxically, Michael Jackson is an important African American star who obliterated his blackness, bleaching his skin until it was notebook paper white and thinning his nose until it... literally... disappeared.

Michael Jackson was complicated. We are also complicated. And I do not trust simplistic responses to his death.

UPDATE: This essay has been cross-posted at Racialicious.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mexican Performance Artist MARTIN RENTERIA at Grace


840 BROADWAY, 2nd Floor - Brooklyn
(646) 578-3402

7:00 - 10:00 PM
Free (By Donation)


Interstellar Communications
Life Upside-Down

with live after-performance music by Asakomusic

"MARTIN RENTERIA starts with the body and creates rituals, where actions, objects and atmospheres provoke all kind of interpretations of the same reality. He plays with universal concepts such as space, power, balance, time, uncertainty, human-being essence and the urgency to establish genuine relationships, by means of symbols that cause reactions and reflections in every spectator. Concerned with evolution, Renteria’s work invites us to analyze present time from which emanates questions about the soul and the planet’s destination, and to undertake ways towards higher conscience levels.

He is a multidisciplinary artist who also works in sculpture, painting, installation and performance art - such as spectacular wearable art and machines of his own design. He has created the proper language to expresses his vision of the world."

"With MARTIN RENTERIA’S more than twenty years of professional career in contemporary art, the quality of his work has lead him to represent Mexico in international festivals in Spain, USA, Italy, Slovakia, Canada, Argentina, Hungary, Finland, China and Mexico."

J-M-Z train to Flushing or Myrtle
& walk 3 blocks east from Flushing,
or 3 blocks west from Myrtle
#840 Broadway, 2nd Floor (btwn. Ellery St. & Park Ave.)
entrance left of liquor store - ring top buzzer
call for more directions: (646) 578-3402

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Holocaust Museum Shooting: What Happened, And What Happened After

I was at the computer with CNN buzzing behind me a week and a half ago when the news broke that someone had walked into the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and opened fire. The news said that a security guard was dead and two others were hurt but there were no other details. A dear friend of mine works at the museum and I immediately emailed her but heard nothing back. So I waited. For what felt like a very long time I was not sure whether or not my friend was still alive.

Finally she emailed me from her blackberry that she had been evacuated along with her coworkers to a nearby location and was safe.

Thank God.

Once I learned she was okay I took a break from the news, but not before learning that an 88-year old white supremacist named James von Bruun was the gunman and the dead guard was Stephen T. Johns, a six-year veteran of the museum and an African American. I logged on to Racialicious where an open thread on the tragedy had started. I didn’t have much to add… I was too shaken up to say anything smart but I was comforted to know that the community was talking about this and sharing information. However, that feeling dissipated when I checked back the following day and saw the disturbing turn the thread had taken into a discussion about “black anti-Semitism.” A white Supremacist walks into the US Holocaust Museum and opens fire, killing an African American guard and the best we can do…on Racialicious yet… is bullshit about “black anti-Semitism”?

For what its worth, this grotesque turn had its origins (as far as I can tell) in a larger, better point: that anti-Jewish sentiments are pervasive and do not “live” only on the Right, or exclusively in the minds of nutjobs like von Bruun, but are also expressed on the Left. This is the same argument I have often made myself about Orientalism, that it is ubiquitous to the point of invisibility, and on its own, this is a valuable insight. But clothed in sloppy tangents about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and culminating in one poster’s assertion that “Blacks do harbor anti-Semitic views at greater rates than others”, not so much. Yes, anti-Semitism is everywhere–just like its close cousin Orientalism–no argument from me at all. Minus the racism, that is an important point. But why make it at the expense of black people, especially when a black man was just murdered protecting Jews from harm?

The fact is, a white supremacist whose ideology makes no distinction whatsoever between the black man he killed, the Jews he attempted to terrorize or the Arabs and Muslims who were initially blamed for the violence, perpetrated this horrific crime. But the possibility of unpacking the shared legacy of the marginalized people implicated in Johns’ terrible murder evaporated almost immediately as the smoke cleared. In other words, instead of using this tragedy to explore the ways the different marginalized populations implicated in the tragedy (Jews, obviously; Blacks; Arabs and Muslims, who were assumed to be the perpetrators—again) had in common, the discussion shifted quickly to whose narrative is the dominant one. Who gets to “own” this tragedy? Jews, against whom this horrific violence was intended or African Americans, who suffered an actual loss? What is the balance between symbolic and tangible violence? And must there be a hierarchy of suffering imposed and a singular narrative of oppression drawn?

The ironic backdrop for these questions is that von Bruun’s lethal assault on the Holocaust museum coincided, and some have speculated was incited by, the planned performance of a play by Janet Langhart Cohen, titled Anne and Emmett, which dramatizes a conversation between Anne Frank, who died of Typhus in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945 and Emmett Till, who was murdered by a racist mob in Mississippi ten years later. Langhart Cohen, a black woman, is married to the former Secretary of State (under Bill Clinton) William Cohen, who is Jewish. And the play, featuring young people—Frank was 15 and Till was 14—whose lives were ended through horrific racist violence, was to be performed at the Holocaust Museum to honor the eightieth anniversary of Frank’s birth. The imagined conversation between Till and Frank, according to Langhart Cohen, is haunted by the possibility they will both be forgotten—a final death. According to a Washington Post article by Courtland Milloy, titled “Dramatic Reminder of Our Duty to Remember”, Langhart Cohen was inspired to write her play when a luncheon companion—who is Jewish—scolded her for discussing “American Apartheid.” Milloy writes,

“’Oh, Janet, you don't want to go discussing that," Langhart Cohen recalled the woman saying. "You live in a penthouse. You're married to the secretary of defense. Why do you want to talk about those days?’” Recounting these events, her husband, William said, "Janet came home after the luncheon and said to me, 'It hurts so much to be told that remembering my history is unbecoming… Then she said, 'I wonder what Anne Frank would have said to Emmett Till?' And I said, 'Go write it.' And she did -- using two thumbs and a BlackBerry." In the complex history of black and Jewish relations -- long characterized by a mix of empathy and mutual respect, hostility and suspicion, and, of late, wearied indifference -- the play seeks to rekindle a memory of a common struggle for freedom and justice.”

However, despite Langhart Cohen’s best hopes, her play—and its message—went unheard, first because of James von Bruun’s hate-fueled shooting spree, which ended Stephen Johns life, and second by the failure of the discourse to account for the linkages between marginalized peoples, in favor of the issues that keep us separate. In Anne and Emmett, Langhart Cohen writes,

Anne: We're all here together in the darkness, yet alone at the same time until we're pulled into the light, until we're remembered.

Emmett: Remembered? By whom?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Screening TONIGHT: Hassan and Morcos starring Omar Sharif and Adel Imam

Alwan for the Arts and 3rd i NY Collaborative Monthly Film Series Present

Screening: Hassan and Morcos starring Omar Sharif and Adel Imam
Tue, June 23, 2009 7:30 pm at Tribeca Cinemas

Tribeca Cinemas
54 Varick St. at Canal
A/C/E/1 Trains to Canal Street
New York, NY 10013

Egyptian screen icons Omar Sharif and Adel Imam team up for the first-time in this razor sharp satire about religious intolerance.

Tickets: $10 http://www.tribecacinemas.com/calendar/#42500602/


Hassan and Morcos / Hassan wa Morkos
(Ramy Imam, Egypt, 2008, Arabic with English ST, 115min)

"The Arab world's greatest-ever film star Omar Sharif teams up for the first time with the Arab world's biggest box office draw Adel Imam in Hassan and Morcos, an often hilarious satire which attempts to tackle religious bigotry in Egypt. The film revolves around a Christian priest (Imam) and Muslim preacher (Sharif) who survive separate assassination attempts. Now on the run, the two men - who don't know each other - take refuge in a safe house in a downtown Cairo neighborhood and assume different identities, with Imam's character pretending to be a Muslim and Sharif a Christian.

As their friendship grows, so too does their new neighborhood's dissatisfaction with the two men's closeness until events come to a head in a powerful, climactic showdown. The film has already been one of the biggest hits in Egypt this year, where its subject matter has sparked a national debate on the tensions between the country's majority Muslim and minority Christian populations.

While a box office success in Egypt, its message proved so controversial that Facebook groups sporting Adel Imam's picture in Coptic garb called for a boycott of his movies. Imam, Sharif and other collaborators on the film have vehemently defended its content and criticised many conservatives and religious extremists who consider it blasphemous.

Imam said of the film:"I have declared war using art against the extremists - against those who foment differences between us. I hope Christians and Muslims will leave the cinema and embrace one another."

For more Info & Trailer visit: http://www.hassanwamorcos.com/

Monday, June 22, 2009

MGM Grand: "TONIGHT" & "dajointe" June 24th, 27th

MGM Grand presents

TONIGHT & dajointe

"In 2005 MGM (Modern Garage Movement) members Felicia Ballos, Biba Bell, Jimmy Leary and Robert McNeill started developing dances together in a one-car garage to break from the idealized confines of the dance studio. The evocation of a garage band inspired them to take their dances on the road. Using a few props, they transformed non-traditional spaces into arenas for audience mobilizing dances. Dances such as THIS DANCE IS CALLED GREE. IT IS FROM BEDSTUY. (aka GREE) (2007) were designed to be performed anywhere, on any surface, with any music. New Gree (2008) followed the path of the 2007 tour and was performed over 35 times in 15 different U.S. cities, from parks in California, to garages in Michigan, to gallery spaces in New York.

"dajointe & TONIGHT" combine elements of classical and modern dance, with vernacular dance forms that are often little-known outside of the subcultural milieus from which they originate. J-Setting is one such dance form central to (this) performance. Having its origins in African-American cheerleader troupes of the southern United States, the form has since been adopted by black gay men who have taken the dance to their living rooms and nightclubs. Typically J-Setting involves a head dancer who performs a short set that is then repeated by a row of rear-guard dancers. The head dancer improvises a variation on the first set that is repeated by the others once more. The cycle of call and response continues until the set becomes too complex for the rear-guard to quickly pick-up. J-Setting derivations will be enmeshed within elements that MGM has developed over the course of their many performances."

MGM Grand describes these works:

Lay it down TONIGHT.
The swishing sonic underscore.
Viscous air.
Slippery hair.
Dying elephants and mating rituals.
Pagan Tron.
Massaging the mind the body twists and unravels.
Look at her back.
The never-ending surface collecting scents, oils, dust, dirt.

It's another generation of a modern, black, gay update of WALK IT OUT FOSSE.
It's highly choreographed.
It's the Prancing J-Settes.
It's on pointe.
It's call and response. Everybody does that dance down here!

Wed June 24
Jack Hanley Gallery
136 Watts btw Washington and Greenwich
Directions: A,C,E,1 to Canal

Sat June 27
Calicoon Fine Arts
27 Lower Main Street, Upstairs
PO BOX 501
Callicoon, NY 12723

Directions from New York City: By car from the George Washington Bridge, take the Palisades Interstate Parkway north for 17 miles to the New York State Thruway north; continue for 21 miles and, at Exit 16, take Route 17 west for 45 miles to Exit 104; then take Route 17B to the hamlet of Callicoon. Do not turn off toward Callicoon Center - a different town entirely.


For more information about MGM Grand visit their site:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Music: Umm Kulthum

It took me forever to rinse out all the leftover baby oil from that Jad Shwery post last week. I opened the windows to let the stale cologne and cigar smoke out and I turned over the seat cushions. Now I think we could do with a little palate-cleanser. This is a fragment of a performance of Howwa Sahih by the great Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum from a documentary about her life and work. I am posting this excerpt, instead of a complete song because a) I think the documentary bit on Arab music (which I know virtually nothing about) is really interesting and b) Umm Kulthum is Tearing. It. Up.

Seriously. She is like Aretha Franklin + Pavarotti x My Grandmother.

A glance, and I... I thought it was a greeting... it passed so quickly

I love how confident she is. She has her audience right here ::taps palm::
Even in the midst of this heart wrenching lyric she is smiling and flirting with her audience, simultaneously portraying and embodying the longing of the lyric. Bending and elongating the moment until they cannot help but scream and applaud.

And then she throws back her head and laughs.

The next time I feel terrified and inadequate onstage I will remember this performance.

Kulthuum was a fascinating figure, a politically and socially powerful woman and beloved star during a period when female performers were looked down upon in the Arab world. Undoubtedly, a full post on her would be better than just this little taste. But this is what we are working with today. So listen up while I dump the rest of Jad Shwery's trash... anyone know if you can recycle Botox needles?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Second-hand, First-hand Iran: Part Two

Part Two of a first-hand account of Iran's "Green Revolution." (Press "full screen" to view and read).

Iran's Green revolution Part II -

Friday, June 19, 2009

Second-hand, First-hand Iran: Part One

After 9/11 I was in shock ( I was among the thousands who fled Manhattan on foot across the 59th Street Bridge, from which I had a perfect view of the destruction). At the time I belonged to a listserv that was attached to a Shakespeare Theater where I'd studied and I ended up posting several first hand accounts of what I'd seen that day--and the days that followed--on the message board. This was in the beginning, before it all got ugly again, so when people began to ask if they could forward them to friends around the world I said yes. I wanted people to know how it felt to be in New York, as everything was so irrevocably changed. I relate this as preface because I have been given a first hand account of the protests in Iran from a colleague who knows someone on the ground and I have been trying to decide if I should post it.

It seems clear that new media--notably Twitter--and blogs are playing an important role in spreading information about what is happening in Iran. But I have hesitated to post anything until now because I haven't wanted to oversimplify the dynamics of this conflict. These new media platforms reproduce Orientalist scenarios just as ably as "old media" outlets and I do not want to particpate in that (For e.g. it took me twenty minutes to find images for these posts on Iran that did not involve big groups of Iranians shouting...) Like many Americans, I have misgivings about Ahmadinejad, but it is hard to depend on the bufoonish portrayals in the US media, which are undoubtedly Orientalist in character, for a realistic picture of him as a leader. I also want to be careful not to expose the author to retaliatory violence in Iran, even if s/he is asking that as many people see this account as possible.

So here is what I have decided: I will print this first-hand account, with the understanding that it represents one Iranian's experience of these events. I welcome opinions about this material, which may be available elsewhere on the net by now. Let this be the beginning of a conversation about what is happening in Iran then, not a definitive word. (Press "full screen" to view the document at a readable size.)

Report from Tehran Protests -

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Um... Let the Funky Arabs Turn You On?

This is the video for a new song by Lebanese pop singer and video director Jad Shwery, which seems to be marketed toward the West, with lyrics like: "We're not what you see/ On CNN or on the BBC/Take a look at us/...We've got sexy girls/Arab beauty that will rock your world" And images of shiny, waxed, botoxed and surgeried girls and boys twisting and writhing around. So, pretty much like a Christina Aguilera video from 5-6 years ago. But the ethnic and racial politics on display here are causing a fuss, with Arabs taking offense either on religious or progressive political grounds (or both, since they aren't necessarily mutually exclusive). The objections, that the video is blatantly sexist and hyper sexualized, consumer-driven, Westernized and not representative of all Arabs, are not wrong. But I have a more complicated reaction to this song and video, that I'd like to unpack.

1) This is a song by a Lebanese Pop singer and Lebanon IS westernized. Some of that is due to colonization by the French but Lebanon has a loooong pre-colonial history as a cosmopolitan center since the ancient world. In our contemporary moment, Beirut has been reduced to rubble by US and Israeli imperialism twice, so its Western image is tied to the struggle for a free Palestine, but the image of Lebanon as an international (and therefore more secular, with all of the stuff that goes along with that) place persists in the Arab world. Many Lebanese pop singers are famous throughout the Arab world for portraying a more Westernized version of sex and beauty and they are paradoxically disapproved of and celebrated for it.

2) The subtext of the video and the objections to it–which is mostly invisible to a Western audience–is the tension between Lebanese Christians and Muslims. Despite being a minority, Christians ran Lebanon and Lebanese culture reflects that. And like Italy, which is also run by Catholics, there is a cultural preoccupation with sensuality, beauty (both feminine and masculine), love and temporal pleasure in Lebanese culture. And, like our neighbors on the Western side of the Mediterranean, the Lebanese also have little gift for government… preferring to drink coffee and watch girls walk down the street. I am saying this with a smile on my face, because these are my people. Israeli aggression, which has pushed Palestinian refugees across the border and led to the political ascension of Hezbollah in Lebanon, has created a shift in Lebanon wherein it is increasingly characterized by the contentious relationship of its Muslim population toward Israel. While many Maronites (like me) are sympathetic to the Palestinians and Islam in general, many blame them for ruining the country. Just to be clear: this is not an attitude I espouse, or excuse–but I do think it is an underlying factor in this silly pop song.

Jad Shwery (and I’m gonna guess everyone else in this video) are Christians. Shwery is a Maronite Catholic (like me). According to his website he attended private French Schools in Lebanon and the Sorbonne in Paris so he is presumably, like many upper middle class Lebanese Catholics, on friendlier terms with the colonial (ie Western) elements of Lebanese culture than Lebanese Muslims might be.

So, while I understand the arguments some Muslims are making against these representations, I’d argue Shwery is representing an element of his culture, for better or worse. The major flaw here is that he is totalizing that by singing "we"... when it seems pretty clear that the "we" he refernces are Arab Christians/Catholics.That makes the subtext of this song Islamophobic and Orientalist, in that it reproduces the false Good Arab/Bad Arab binary along religious lines. And that, for me, is the biggest offense on display here.


There are definitely Arabs who look and act just like this in the Middle East… and the West and that doesn't necessarily break down along religious lines. My first thought when I saw this video was that it looked less like a wild Dubai consumer orgy than an Arab night at a tacky Brooklyn dance club. (I am saying that with a smile too, FYI. Brooklyn holla.)

3) The folks in the video are silly, but also ridiculously hot and that makes me happy. Maybe that is pathetic, but we are so often portrayed as ugly and crazy that part of me likes seeing this, I admit it.

4) Arab Pop music–like its European analogues (again I would refer you to the Italians)– is sooo corny. These beats are at least five years out of date. And it will take some enterprising ethno-racist about five seconds to make the Funky = bad-smelling analogy. Sigh.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Call for artists for Bereznitsky Gallery, Kiev, Ukraine

July 10 August 16 2009

SHOULD THE WORLD BREAK IN-is an exploration of the voice of the singular enduring the ramifications of the perfect storm of strife, both pre-existing and of the immediate. A macro/microsmic exploration of the hero/anti hero inhabiting the one side, the other side or the no man's land of transitions both in ongoing situ and/or in current sociopolitical/geopolitical flux. Where the depiction of the one in the mob-the mute cry drowned in the chorus-is given volume, or be it of one, two ,or of more. A silence explored. A boxing breakthrough of the sealed room, shuttered windows, locked doors. The splinters suspended flight. The emptying of streets, giving way to the amble of one or the one in a ground swell of spilled magnitudes.

From Museum MAN's participation in the Liverpool Biennial 2006 BLUERPRINTS--models and instruction in an age of uncertainty to the most recent proposal at the Bereznitsky Gallery Berlin RELIQUARIES OF EMPIRES DUST Nankervis' proposals are exploring multifarious themes, in these proposals, the global shifts in politics, aesthetics, body politic, environment and geopolitics, and their trajectories, past and ever present in collaboration and participation with local, national and international artists.

Drawing from the collection of Museum MAN, and extracts of artists works from the exhibition RELIQUARIES OF EMPIRES DUST, work will be exhibited in a new context where the language, its resonance, its unique specificity is altered in a unique setting within a new cultural frame work. The art work continues to reshape its own signification abetted by a shift in context of the resculpting of the readymade environment, in form of installation and atmospheric invocation in which the work will inhabit and help shape.

International artists and artists working in Kiev, Odessa and the Ukraine are invited to exhibit works in the installation of SHOULD THE WORLD BREAK IN creating a dialogue between local, national and international artists, defining territory, transcending territory, and lending an important dialogue brought forth by each distinct cultural formation in the continuing reshuffling of global invention, reinvention, order and disorder.

Artists are invited to send their propositions to

Adam Nankervis
Museum MAN
Kastanienallee 72
D-10435 Berlin
Deutschland Germany


Museum MAN

Bereznitsky Gallery Kiev-Berlin

Friday, June 12, 2009

The War Expands: Obama and the South Asian Context

Alwan for the Arts Presents:

Panel Discussion: The War Expands: Obama and the South Asian Context
Mon, June 15, 2009 7:00 pm at Alwan for the Arts
With David Barsamian and Saroj Giri moderated by Brian Drolet
Free and Open to the Public

What's really going on in South Asia? Why is the United States's involvement rapidly escalating? Though the Obama administration uses different rhetoric, it seems to be continuing the Bush strategies on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, doubling troop strength and greatly expanding attacks on Pakistan that increasingly destabilize that impoverished country. Potentially far more reaching than the US-Afghan-Pakistan conflict, the entire sub-continent is undergoing radical ecological, economic, social and religious transformation. Revolutionary and resistence movements are growing in a region inhabited by one-quarter of the world's population and the impact of these upheavals is likely to run deep into the fabric of the neighboring societies of the Middle East and create tremors in the world at large.

David Barsamian is the award-winning founder and director of Alternative Radio, the independent weekly series based in Boulder, Colorado. His books include Targeting Iran, and What We Say Goes with Noam Chomsky; Speaking of Empire & Resistance with Tariq Ali; and Original Zinn with Howard Zinn. His earlier books include The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile with Arundhati Roy; Eqbal Ahmad: Confronting Empire and The Decline and Fall of Public Broadcasting. Barsamian lectures around the world. He is winner of numerous awards including the ACLU's Upton Sinclair Award for Independent Journalism and the Cultural Freedom Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation. In December 2007 he delivered the prestigious Eqbal Ahmad lectures in Pakistan in Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore.

Brian Drolet is the executive director of Deep Dish TV

Saroj Giri is lecturer in the department of political science at the University of Delhi. He has written on the Maoist movement in India and Nepal, the anti-globalisation movement, radical theory, ecological marxism, and the question of religious identity in India. He has been associated with the Naxalite movement in India since his student days.

Alwan for the Arts
16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor (bet. Broad & Broadway)
New York, NY 10004
(646) 732-3261

TRAINS: 4/5 to Bowling Green; J/M/Z to Broad St.; R/W to Whitehall St.; 1 to Rector St. or South Ferry; 2/3 to Wall St.; A/C to Broadway-Nassau
BUSES: M1, M6, M9, M16, M20.
BIKE: Hudson Rvr. Greenway, East Rvr. path, Liberty St., Broadway, Water St.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Venice Biennale: A Middle Eastern Presence

Visitors experiencing the sound installation Ramallah Syndrome
by Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti.

The New York Times

June 8, 2009

By Randy Kennedy

"VENICE – In a city whose sun-bleached facades wear their Islamic influences as proudly as their Western ones, it was nice to see a huge Middle Eastern presence at this year’s Biennale. And for the first time, the event included an official Palestinian exhibition, a show of six works by seven artists that opened to an overflow crowd Saturday night in a former convent on Giudecca island.

The idea for a Palestinian pavilion has been around at least since 2003, when the Biennale’s curator, Francesco Bonami, proposed one in the Giardini, one of the event’s main sites. But the plan was never realized, in part because the Biennale’s rules stated that only nations official recognized by Rome could have pavilions.

This year’s Palestinian show is considered not a pavilion but a “collateral exhibition.” Salwa Mikdadi, an art historian based in Berkeley and the curator of the show, said that it had been difficult to realize because one of the conditions she set when she started planning it six years ago was that it be sponsored only with money from Palestinian institutions and individuals. She views the show as a form of Palestinian resistance, she said, with artists “being free to do what they want, to do the art they wish to do.”

Even as the exhibition came together there were some frustrating hitches. Emily Jacir, probably the best-known of the seven artists, proposed a piece in which the names of the Venetian vaporetto – or water bus – stops along one line would be translated into Arabic, with the Arabic names written alongside the Italian names. The idea was approved by the Biennale and the city of Venice. But it met its end somewhere within the bureaucracy of the agency that runs the water buses, so the piece ended up being only copies of new water-bus maps, Arabic ones that made it seem as if history had been rewritten and the Ottoman powers battling the Venetians in the 15th century had won and overtaken the city itself."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Book Reading and Signing with Mariam Said and Najla Said: A World I Loved

Book Reading and Signing with Mariam and Najla Said

A World I Loved

By Wadad Makdisi Cortas (Nation Books, 2009) with a foreword by Nadine Gordimer

June 10, 2009
6:30-8:30 PM
Alwan for the Arts

A direct challenge to the stereotypes of passive Arab woman, Wadad Makdisi Cortas’s memoir A World I Loved, offers a window into the twentieth century Middle East through a fearless, feminist lens of pride and empowerment. Principal of the Ahliah National School for Girls in Lebanon for a quarter century, and mother of four children, including Mariam Said (wife of Edward Said), Cortas dedicated her life to the education of young women. While giving them an education that could take them anywhere they desired, Cortas instilled her students with pride in their own Arab identity and the impressed importance of the Arabic language in the face of pressures to assimilate to French culture. Beginning in 1917, Cortas traces the tumultuous history of the region as she experienced it, providing personal insights into the effects of political and historic events on the daily lives of individuals. This evening, Cortas’s daughter and granddaughter, Mariam and Najla Said, will read from A World I Loved, reviving a voice and a feminist outlook on the Middle East that is often ignored.

Alwan for the Arts
16 Beaver Street
4th Floor
New York, NY 10004
(646) 732 3261

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

You Had to Be There

"More and more artworks exist not as objects but as ephemeral events—a conversation, a thunderclap, a slow-motion kiss—that insist viewers take part..."

"Say you are wandering through a museum and the guards suddenly start hopping around you and singing, “This is so contemporary, contemporary, contemporary!” You may laugh—and then, a moment later, realize that the encounter is actually a living artwork choreographed by the Berlin-based British artist Tino Sehgal.

Or what if a museum stages an exhibition of unscripted meetings between visitors and total strangers?

There is only one way to identify such experiences as art: be there when they happen. Of course, that applies to any live performance—or work of art, for that matter. If you didn’t see it in person, you didn’t really get it.

But today, just being there is not enough. In a spate of recent exhibitions, an increasing number of artworks have been taking shape more as singular events than as unique objects, and almost all lead the viewer into assuming an active role in the proceedings. One must take part, or the situation cannot fulfill the transformative function of art.

In February, Jeremy Deller, who won the Turner Prize in 2004, collaborated with the New York public-art agency Creative Time to bring It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq to the New Museum. On the floor within the exhibition space was the twisted, rusted-steel hulk of a car salvaged from a suicide bombing on a street of booksellers in Baghdad. In the context of a museum, the wreck looked very much like a sculpture. It was both horrifying and beautiful.

“It’s not an artwork,” curator Laura Hoptman told visitors on opening night. “It’s a conversation starter. That’s all.” It did get visitors talking, and not just to one another. Two “experts” at a time with experience in Iraq—among them, ex-soldiers, refugees, journalists, curators, and translators all chosen by Deller and the museum staff—made themselves available during prescribed hours to answer visitors’ questions one-on-one. “How often do we get to hear the firsthand experience of those who have been to Iraq?” asks Deller, who admits to having an obsessive interest in the war and the misinformation surrounding it. Deller did not film or record any of the show’s conversations. “If you walk in and don’t talk,” he says, “you’re missing out on the experience.”

On the day I visited, a 29-year-old Iraqi surgeon who had volunteered for Deller’s show (only months after having been granted political asylum) took the floor in a carpeted lounge area that Deller had outfitted with comfortable chairs surrounding a coffee table. Describing his experience growing up in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as one of terror and enslavement, the doctor was fiercely supportive of the American role in Saddam’s demise. When asked if the war was worth all the spilled blood and chaos, the doctor gave the gathering crowd an impassioned speech on the price of freedom. (“A CIA plant, obviously,” groaned one spectator.)

When photographer Susan Meiselas took the doctor’s place, the conversation turned first to the experiences of the Kurds and then to the personal lives of the audience members, who said their families came from Honduras, Cuba, England, and elsewhere. The dialogue then veered toward revolution, insurrection, and cultural attitudes dividing generations. Altogether, it was one of the most fascinating afternoons I’ve ever spent in a museum.

Not long afterward, New York Times critic Ken Johnson panned Deller’s show, calling it “therapy for our national post-traumatic stress” masquerading as art. “I’m all for using the public space of a museum as a platform,” Johnson said in an interview, “but grassroots political activity is not art.” (Following the New Museum show, Deller and two of his experts, an Iraqi artist and a former army specialist in psychological warfare, took the bombed car on the road across the country, conducting conversations in both outdoor places and art centers.)

“Jeremy Deller provided a window on how war affects real people who aren’t just fleeting shadows in burkas on the six o’clock news,” countered New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz in response to my e-mail asking what he would have said had he reviewed the show. “Deller’s work is alive, it creates psychic friction and emotional tension. It crackles with art.”

Trained as an art historian, with a specialty in the Baroque, Deller is known for his exploration of cultural legacies. His Turner Prize–winning documentary film, Memory Bucket, conflated the 1993 Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas, with George Bush’s impact on Crawford. “If art can confound you and show you something you weren’t expecting, that’s good,” Deller says. “What interests me is a person becoming the artwork and the art becoming the person.”

Around the time Deller’s show opened, another participatory performance was taking place, at Gladstone Gallery in New York. For their first solo exhibition in the city, collaborators Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla installed the 2008 piece Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy for a Prepared Piano. Visitors who arrived at the top of every business hour did not merely see and hear one of six rotating musicians play the final section of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on a vintage Bechstein piano. They became a physical part of the show.

The artists deliberately chose “Ode to Joy” for its many and conflicting historical references. The Nazis had adopted it as a kind of theme song. In the film A Clockwork Orange, it is the sound of evil, the trigger for the principal character’s outbursts of violence. Leonard Bernstein chose to conduct it as part of the celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. And now it is the anthem of the European Union.

When Stop, Repair, Prepare was first performed, at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, “it sounded so different, very Nazi,” says Klaus Biesenbach, chief curator of media and performance art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the first institution to dedicate a staff to collecting and archiving such challenges to traditional object-art. “It had a political message,” Biesenbach says. “In New York it was purely an ode to joy.”

The only object for sale was the piano, which the artists had altered by drilling an 18-inch hole in the soundboard, cutting the strings to the middle two octaves of the keyboard. (Made in an edition of three, it had a six-figure asking price.) One at a time, the young musicians—three men and three women recruited for the show—essentially costumed themselves in the instrument, climbing inside the piano and playing the keys at either end, upside down and backward. And that was only half the job.

While improvising their performances, plucking strings and using the dead keys as percussive accents, they had to roll the piano slowly through each of four exhibition spaces in the gallery. Astonished audience members followed, surrounding the piano and taking pictures with camera phones, unwittingly collaborating in the performance itself.

Audience participation in art is not new, of course. Robert Rauschenberg’s Experiments in Art and Technology involved spectators in a series of dance, music, and theater pieces in 1966, around the same time that Fluxus artists like George Brecht and Yoko Ono were making a practice of it. Brecht printed up instructions, or “scores,” of simple tasks for audiences to perform; in her 1965 Cut Piece, Ono invited spectators at Carnegie Hall to pick up a pair of scissors and cut away her clothes. Nine years later in Rhythm 0 at Studio Morra in Naples, Marina Abramovic lay on a table with more than 70 objects, including scissors, perfume bottles, and a gun, and remained completely still for six hours to see if visitors would use them on her or not, and if so, in what way. Observers reported that audience members pierced her skin, cut her clothes, drank her blood, and would have shot her if they hadn’t been restrained.

“Brecht said it was impossible to look at objects and not think of them as events,” explains Peter Eleey, curator of visual arts at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Eleey has included several of Brecht’s event scores in “The Quick and the Dead” (on view through September 27), a historical show of decidedly ephemeral, conceptual artworks that seem to be made of, or do, nothing. The exhibition checklist includes a human skeleton by Belgian artist Kris Martin, but it is buried somewhere out of sight on the museum grounds and represented by a certificate stating its GPS coordinates. Robert Barry’s electromagnetic transmission operates invisibly. Hannah Rickards is responsible for an extended, and shattering, thunderclap. ”I wanted to do a show that is more than meets the eye,” says Eleey. “But there is a lot to see.”

Sehgal’s works, which the artist calls “situations,” are at the forefront of the new wave of immaterialization. Performed by “interpreters” who act according to his oral instructions, the pieces employ dance movements, scenes from historical artworks, and quotations from books and newspapers. Sehgal, who has been trained in both choreography and economics, is a kind of 21st-century visionary. He has invented not only a renewable form of performance art but also a new way to market it, without any written or visual record to promote or sustain it. His works may save paper, but they are expensive to make and, according to New York’s Marian Goodman Gallery, can cost up to five-figure sums to acquire.

To purchase The Kiss (2003), a stylized, slow-motion seduction in which a couple locked in an embrace re-creates kisses from popular artworks, MoMA had to agree to stipulations such as presenting the piece for six weeks every two years (to keep it from being forgotten), not allowing catalogues or photographs, and paying the performers a handsome fee. Nothing was put in writing, not even a bill of sale.

“Buying Kiss was a huge ordeal,” Biesenbach reports. The negotiations involved a dozen different people, including lawyers, curators, dealers, conservators, and an “interpreter” for Sehgal. “It’s oral history,” Biesenbach says of such works. “It needs an institution to give it visibility and access to a large audience.”

Late last year, Milan’s Nicola Trussardi Foundation sponsored the exhibition of nine Sehgal works in the period rooms of the Galleria d’Arte Moderna’s 18th-century Villa Reale. Its curator was the New Museum’s Massimiliano Gioni, who included Sehgal’s first artwork, Instead of allowing some thing to rise up to your face dancing bruce and dan and other things (2000) in his 2008 group exhibition, “After Nature.”

Executed by a single dancer rolling on the floor, with poses lifted from videos by Bruce Nauman and Dan Graham, it is a mesmerizing piece that is startling at first blush, when it isn’t clear whether the dancer is performing or is the victim of a fall from a staircase. “It carries out the idea that you can preserve history through the movement of your body,” says Gioni of Sehgal’s work, rather than through notations or objects. The same could be said of Stop, Prepare, Repair.

“It’s no accident that Sehgal’s reputation has risen with the derivatives market,” says Eleey, who presented the artist’s first U.S. museum show at the Walker last year. “The work circulates as pure capital. Once you understand that it can’t be documented or represented any other way, it changes the primary experience.”

Like Deller, Sehgal believes that the act of performing should be delegated to other people. “That’s different from past work by Marina Abramovic, Chris Burden, or Bruce Nauman, whose bodies feel the pain of the performance,” Gioni says. “It’s their sacrifice. Now the artist creates the situation and others carry out the action.”

I became one of those others in February, when I was conscripted by David Zwirner, along with dozens of volunteers, to read aloud One Million Years, an epic work begun in 1969 by On Kawara, best known for his monochromatic “date” paintings. What viewers saw in the otherwise empty gallery was a soundproof white booth with two people, a man and a woman, seated before microphones at a white table and taking turns reciting the years from 998,031 B.C. to A.D. 1,001,995.

Speakers, mounted on the gallery walls, amplified the voices, while a sound engineer outside the booth recorded the readings for compact discs to be released in boxed, limited-edition sets at some future date. (According to the gallery, if 27 CDs are produced by one of several participating galleries each year, the project will still take 100 years to complete.)

After less than two minutes of reading the even years, starting with 59,600 B.C., from the pages of a thick black binder, I thought I would go mad. Meanwhile, spectators in the gallery walked around the booth, listening intently. They distracted me, and I kept making mistakes, inadvertently skipping years, repeating them, reading my partner’s numbers, even going backward.

Once I found a rhythm, my mind began to wander through time, the subject at hand. I could not imagine what sort of civilization or planet there would be 60,000 years in the future; what had the thousands of years past already wrought? I felt sick. It was frightening to be propelled so fast and so far, from the beginning of time to the end of it. Thrilling, too. But if I hadn’t taken part, I don’t know how profoundly I would have been struck by the passing time, or by our tenuous grip on it.

The absence of visible objects makes room for all sorts of heightened experience in art. Think of Yves Klein’s much-hyped, now-mythic 1958 opening in Paris of an exhibition, featuring blank white walls and an empty cupboard, from which the public was temporarily locked out. Or Joseph Beuys’s blackboard “lectures” on art and politics as paths to spiritual enlightenment. Or Michael Asher’s 1974 show introducing the everyday transactions of his Santa Monica gallery’s back office and storage area as the substance of art, while the exhibition space remained empty.

The breakneck, stream-of-consciousness monologues that the 27-year-old British artist Tris Vonna-Michell has brought to large group exhibitions, like the current “Younger Than Jesus” triennial at the New Museum, have a direct line to Beuys’s lessons, as well as to more recent lectures by John Bock, who twists the language of economics, art, and psychology into absurdist verbal sculpture.

This winter, the Pompidou Center in Paris opened a historical show called “Voids.” The title, inspired by Klein, was more than appropriate. The nine identical rooms—comprising re-creations of exhibitions past—were distinguished from the other galleries elsewhere in the museum by the absence of any visible object. The only contents of Art & Language’s Air Conditioning Show (1966) was, in fact, cool air. Roman Ondák’s installation More Silent Than Ever (2006) was a hidden listening device in an otherwise empty gallery. Padding through the silent halls, visitors were, essentially, the show.

Does a tree fall in a forest if no one is around to see it?

Silent Film of a Tree Falling in the Forest (2005–6), a seven-minute, 16-millimeter film by Los Angeles–based artist Mungo Thomson, was a hard-to-find entry in the 2008 Whitney Biennial. The point of the film isn’t just that life goes on whether or not anyone is looking, but also that it takes an eyewitness, or an artist, to make sense of it. Yet no retelling can fully capture what transpires between art and its audience at any given time. You just have to be there.

After all, a viewer can walk away from a painting. It is much harder to detach from an experience that lives under the skin."

Linda Yablonsky is a contributing editor of ARTnews.