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Claire Bishop, Black Box, White Cube, Gray Zone

Claire Bishop, Black Box, White Cube, Gray Zone

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Claire Bishop, Black Box, White Cube, Gray Zone: Dance Exhibitions and Audience Attention

As performance has become an increasingly frequent phenomenon in US and European museums, it has also come under fire from art historians and critics who see its rise as a misguided fad and a cynical marketing gesture. Critic Jerry Saltz, for example, has been outspoken in his distaste for MoMA’s extension plan because it “privileges live-action events, performance, entertainment, and almost anything that doesn’t just sit still to be looked at. [...] The new MoMA is designed to allow for an ever-increasing number of events whose primary purpose is to produce little hits of serotonin and dopamine” (2014:129). His comments are echoed by critic Sven Lütticken, who argues that the work of Tino Sehgal exhibits a “perfect compatibility with the temporalized and eventized museum, in which something (anything) must happen almost all the time” (2015:91); when dance is brought into the museum, he writes, “the visitors effectively become co-performers in [...] the museum as three-dimensional Facebook”(96). More recently, a Canadian critic complained that Anne Imhof’s Angst (2016/17) is just a “supremely Instagrammable spectacle”: a “repertoire of images drawn at random” in which performers labor four hours a night to produce carefully choreographed images, each ultimately“as fleeting as the Snapchats documenting it” (Hugill 2016). Even if these critics don’t all directly draw an equation between performance and social media, they tend to equate performance with presentism, distraction, and entertainment, and implicitly make an appeal for the pleasure of looking at dead objects.

Performance studies, by contrast, has been predictably less anxious about spectacle, and instead reads the resurgence of artistic interest in performance, and the performative turn of culture more generally, through theories of post-Fordist labor. As Jon McKenzie argues in Perform or Else (2001), neoliberal economies are fixated on performance as an index of evaluation; performance has become the regulatory ideal of our time, replacing Foucault’s idea of disciplinary surveillance. Performance theorists have turned to Italian post-Workerist theory as a framework for contemporary performance, and conversely, Italian post-Workerists have turned to performance to account for post-Fordist labor practices.

Paolo Virno, for example,has argued that post-Fordism turns us all into virtuoso performers, since the basis of labor is no longer the production of a commodity as end-product (as it was on the Fordist production line),but today is a communicational act, designed for an audience; it is the fulfillment of an action internal to the action itself. In his account, wage labor is based around the possession (and performance) of aesthetic tastes, affects, emotions, and — most importantly — “linguistic cooperation.” Today we are all virtuosic performers (Virno 2004:52–65).

Full Essay

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