The motivations for doing performance are as numerous as the performers
who do it. An art form that had practitioners long before performance
art became a term with a comprehensible definition in the 1960s and 1970s,
it allows for the development and expression of ideas and visual effects
unattainable in, or even unsuitable for, such disciplines as painting and
sculpture, or traditional theater and dance. A performance is enacted live,
in front of an audience which provides immediate response. A script or
a preplanned scenario may govern the event. Likewise may accident and chance.
A performance happens palpably. over time. Then its over, its gone.
It seems ironic, therefore, that performance. among whose salient aspects
are its temporality and its apparent spontaneity - indeed, its refusal,
an esthetic and sometimes political grounds. to be a process that culminates
in the creation of a static art abject - should be recorded and remembered
by a static art form: by photography. But nowadays every art, non-static
as well as static, requires critical and visual validation, its proof of
existence and worth in addition to its actual physical existence. PROOF,
an appropriate title for an exhibition including ten photographers who
demonstrate through their work that photography of performance is much
more complex than straightforward documentation.
On the most rudimentary level. however, the photographs in this show
are documents. and the photographers who made them did so in the course
of earning their living. But what the exhibition indicates and what is
often overlooked when these same images are seen as public relations stills
or as illustrations for critical reviews, is that each of these ten photographers
has transformed their work into an art form. The source material overtly
differs from that of most other artists. Theirs is an art that emerges
directly from another art. Such an evolution connotes a certain aridity
or rarefaction which these photographs, because of their origin, fortunately
This vitality in the work reflects the vitality of the events photographed
as they are experienced by the photographer, perceived through his or her
eyes, and seen, ultimately and permanently, by the film. Like the conventional
documentary photographer, the photographer of performance is witness to
a live action - an action excerpted from its context and commemorated by
the photograph. Looking at these photographs suggests the viewing of a
moment of history, of art history, it is significant to the scope and ambition
of this exhibition that the broad time span represented samples several
generations of activity: Harry Shunk, whose career goes back to such early
performers as Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely and Arman; Babette Mangolte and
Paula Court, who have observed such influential contemporary figures as
Trisha Brown. Joan Jonas, Min Tanaka and Pina Bausch; Shigeo Anzai, who
has worked with Stelarc in Japan and outside of his native country as well;
Plauto, whose sphere of activity has primarily been Brazil; Ben Blackwell
and Marion Gray, who have followed San Francisco Bay Area performance for
over ten years; Dona Ann McAdams, Ana Barrado and f-Stop Fitzgerald, who
are drawn to the performers and musicianscum-performers at the late 1970s
to the present.
But to appreciate the exhibitions intention and the individual works
themselves. It is preferable to look at the photographs without specific
captions. From this perspective, the identity of the performers and performances
is suppressed in foyer of the style, personality and reaction of the photographer.
In this weighing of what is photographed against how it is photographed.
the photographer may fall at his or her assignment of recording the event
for the performers purpose, but may succeed in communicating an essential
- and essentially subjective - way that the performance was seen. Shigea
Anzai expresses a sentiment that is shared. to varying degrees, by the
nine other photographers: Ihe experience I have of a particular situation
is my particular concern.
In spite of such initial attitudinal affiliations. no two of the ten
photographers in PROOF have the same way of seeing, as can be understood
by a superficial comparison of Shigea Anzais and Ben Blackwells images
of the Kipper Kids, or Paula Courts and f-Stop Fitzgeralds interpretations
at Laurie Anderson. In a sense, the photographer functions as part spectator,
part performer, as a middle agent - observing the event, on the one hand,
and interacting with it, on the other. As every photographer chooses or
develops a relationship between self and subject, each of these ten photographers
works at a distance or closeness peculiar to his or her approach and to
the performance being recorded.
Although determined in part by the nature of the specific performance,
this place of the photographer in relation to the subject becomes for these
ten photographers a matter of personal choice an individual style. which
is generally repeated throughout the body of work exhibited. To cite extremes:
Ana Barrado gives the impression at intense involvement with the performance,
almost to the point of becoming one of the performers. Her images vibrate
as it in response to the unheard music. The viewer at her photographs is
thrust amid the symbiosis of performer and visually implied sound. Paula
Courts purity of vision is coupled with a distance from the performances
much in keeping with the spareness of the performers gestures and the
settings of the events. Arrested motion. rather thon conveyed solely by
a single frame. is offen expressed episodically. through a sequence or
grouping of images. which, by maintaining the distance between photographer
and subject and by eliminating the audience. possess an elegant sense of
forms in balance.
Whether the photographers point of view is close or distant, the resulting
image presents an event seen out of its intended context. All photographs,
of course. extract images from their place in the flow of time and space.
But because performance is itself isolated from the world around it, occurring
in the intimate confines of contemporary art. photographs of performance
take the event one more step away from anything that viewers can identify
as existing even an the fringes of their experience.
The most direct and plainly documentary of the photographs in PPOOF
offer images of performance as ritual. mysterious and ambiguous. By his
own admission, Ben Blackwell. whose approach is among the most straightforward,
is attracted to paradox and ambiguity, recognizing that every photograph,
once taken. relinquishes any claim to objectivity. The more abstract the
works in the exhibition, the more the event recorded seems to frame a glimpse
of the forbidden. the spectacular, the bizarre - of something that is utterly
and wondrously fictional. Beyond being a practical remembrance etc performance
event. beyond being proot. the photograph is fan these photographers.
and for these observers who allow their mind to enter its gates. a path
into the Imagination.
Shigeo Anzai - Born in 1939 in Atsugi City. Japan.
Ana Barrado - Born in Buenos Aires.
Ben Blackwell - Born 1944 In Lubbock. Texas.
PauIa Court - Born in Covington. Kentucky. Currently lives
in NewYork City.
f-Stop Fitzgerald - Born in 1949 in New York.
Marion Gray - Born in Oakland. Calitornia.
Babette Mangolte - Born in Montmorot. France in 1941.
Dona Ann McAdams - Born in New York in 1954.
Plauto - Born in Brazil. Currently Iivet in New York City.
Harry Shunk - Born in Trieste, Italy in 1942.