Impressions of: Performa 13 at The Studio Museum in Harlem Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art
Work by Tameka Norris, Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi with Regina Rocke and Marya Wethers.
November 14, 2013
Choreographers: Tameka Norris (Untitled); Maren Hassinger, Regina Rocke and Marýa Wethers (R.S.V.P.)
Performers: Tameka Norris (Untitled); Maren Hassinger, Regina Rocke and Marýa Wethers (R.S.V.P.)
Production: Edwin Ramorah, Monique Long, Jeffrey Cohen, Justin Allen
Never have I ventured above 90th street in New York City (not counting the Bronx Zoo) until tonight. Three words that come to mind seeing Harlem for the first time are ‘brash,’ ‘electric,’ and ‘jazzy.’ Nestled in this artistic mecca is the Studio Museum in Harlem, one of two venues to host Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art (the second location being New York University’s Grey Art Gallery).
Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art is the first festival of its kind. Myriad concerts, theatrical productions, dances, and other overlapping works provide a glimpse of the development of black performance art over the last 50 years.
A vague press release has left me little prepared for the evening’s performances. What I do know is… There will be blood.
Tameka Norris sports a blood red jumpsuit in Untitled (2012). Her fingernails are painted a vixen red and she even sports matching red bangles. I am enchanted by these details, for they belay attentiveness on the artist’s part.
A nervous audience clusters around Norris in a typical gallery space to witness an unorthodox performance. It happens so quickly, I never see her make the cut. One moment the knife is in her mouth and the next thing you know, she’s painting with her own blood. While expressions in the room range from terse to horrified, Norris remains stoic. With a crazy kind of calmness, she gets down on all fours and drags her injured tongue across a whitewashed wall. A power outlet in the wall doesn’t break her momentum; moist pink muscle simply glides over plastic receptacle. Little beads of blood and saliva pool at the bottom of the wall.
How does her mouth not run dry? Did she conduct a test round prior? What will she be eating in the next few days? Soup, I hope!
Having ‘trekked’ her way around the room leaving a translucent snail-like path, she turns her attention to the upper part of the walls. Blood and saliva from the top ‘rung’ drips and coalesces with the earlier product. Her bright red apparel and sideways scuttle make me picture a crab.
Time is of no consequence; rather, the performance is measured by distance as Norris bleeds for more than 20 feet. The artist literally goes to great lengths to achieve the improbable. While movement typically leaves no trace (sans the tools of photography), Norris transcends this limitation by leaving her mark. No, more so – by leaving a bit of herself behind. Blood as signature. I bled here.
It is clear why Untitled (2012) and R.S.V.P. (2013) are presented as a set; physical transference and mnemonic stimuli are central.
R.S.V.P. was first performed by Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi in the 1970s. Both are present, but only one takes the stage; the other observes from amongst the audience. Hassinger and Nengudi are more than collaborators; survey of their artistic chronologies reveal countless collaborations between the friends including Alive Performance, Spooks Who Sat By The Door, Mail Art and Long Distance Conceptual Exercises, Side by Side, Kiss and Walk Tall. Tonight though, Hassinger is accompanied by two protégés: Regina Rocke and Marya Wethers.
Hassinger, Rocke and Wethers, dressed in sleek black spandex, weave their way through webbing made out of women’s stockings. Pantyhose in organic shades of black, tan, and nude - essential props to the performance - are stretched taut between wall and floor; nails hold up one end of the stretchy material while sand weighs down the cul-se-sac where one’s toes usually go. When Rocke massages a skein of stocking between two toes, I am struck by the sensuality.
Different details relay the idea of transference, one of which involves the trio sliding stockinged sand onto each other's backs, shoulders, hands, and feet. Think water droplets that drip, but don't quite sever… Think bendy stalactites or bubble gum. Timely transmissions in the form of exits and entrances give each artist individual turns to reign solo on stage.
R.S.V.P isn’t an exclusive dialogue between the performers, but an invitation to audience members to participate in ‘transactions.’ Something continuously bumps against my head. I try to shake it off and suddenly realize that people are grinning at me. Glancing around, I discover that Wethers has been swinging a stocking against my head for a while now. Did she pinpoint me because of my furious scribbling? Through this element of surprise, I become a part of the transference.
Click on Tameka Norris' website