pics or it won't happen - an overview of performance art at frieze 2014
Performance is everywhere at Frieze London this year, with events happening both inside the tent in Regent's Park and in various venues around the city. Let i-D give you a guided tour of this year’s highlights.
Matthew and Mathew
"It's almost 1960s isn't it?" I heard a woman behind me mutter as Matthew Lutz-Kinoy stood between his paintings and his fired clay plate sculptures in the Freedman-Fitzpatrick booth during the VIP opening of Frieze London 2014. A crowd had gathered around two sides of the booth and were intently listening, watching, and looking over shoulders as Lutz-Kinoy read phrases like "material, base, base, material" from a script, addressing his own wall- and floor-works in turn. Just twenty minutes earlier, a similar crowd had assembled around the Mathew Gallery booth next door to see Villa Design Group interview prospective roles for their new video. They sat amongst an immersive installation which was half architecture and half artworks, half a place for performance and half a structure for screens, with a MacBook Pro recording the conversation under a monitor on the far side of the booth, and piles of their book REPERTORY, which catalogues their previous performances between 2011 and 2014, sitting on the floor. As the performances ended the crowd would know to disperse, probably saying hello to another friend and that yes, they were good. By the time the ticket-buying public are allowed in from today, the artists will be gone.
Green Tea VIP
The performances were quick, and if you didn't know they were happening you would have missed them. But performance is definitely raging at this year's edition of London's prime tent of art junk real estate, on the lips of the fair curators right through to the always more dynamic younger galleries in Focus. Coming off the back of other performance art based experiences at art fairs, such as Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Klaus Biesenbach's '14 Rooms' at Art Basel in June, 'Live' is the newest section to be added to the art fair, which offers a space for commercial galleries "dedicated to ambitious participatory works." Of this, a video and daily soup giveaway (free for normal soup, £3 for VIP soup) by UNITED BROTHERS at Green Tea Gallery, Iwaki, was perhaps the most creepily subversive, if only because so many people recommended I see it on the basis that their friends were in it. As the art market increasingly revolves around the art fair calendar, which itself follows entrenched flows of global capital, it makes sense that I'm watching a cast of friends based between Zurich, Berlin and LA, assembled by a commission via Japan, knowing myself that a lot of these people are also here making jokes about Contemporary Art Daily in the Tobias Madison room on the other side of the fair. Sitting on a thin plastic blanket watching a screen that felt like it might have been in a friend's living room, I couldn't work out if this was funny or weird.
Real (Fine Art) Estate
The most bombastic of the Frieze 'Live' section however was Shanzhai Biennial, a group comprised of Babak Radboy, Cyril Duval and Avena Gallagher, exhibiting with Project Native Informant in a project that spanned both gallery space in Mayfair and fair booth in Regent's Park. 'Shanzhai' in Chinese refers to imitation or pirated goods, often consumer electronics, although also has connotations of parody. Shanzhai Biennial claim to be hosting their third biennial in three years, which suggests something of their attitude to culture. In this project they attempt, in 'collaboration' with elite estate agency Aston Chase, to sell a £32 million estate (100 Hamilton Terrace, an 'ultra prime residential property' in NW8) with their booth and gallery installation acting as advertising to this potential sale. With the art market often a thinly veiled aestheticisation of the asset control of the ultra rich, Shanzhai Biennial attempt to bypass the folly of representation and instead expose the property market that underlies the art fair. Simultaneously they were the most democratic booth as they were the only one you could access before passing the ticket barrier. As an attitude towards performance, it suggested that the fair itself is a performance.
Time is Property
This performance extends beyond the fair itself, however, and into the slew of offsite events that now turn Frieze into London's bona fide art week, many of which are programmed into the weekend and beyond. Of these, the highlight may well be 'An Evening of Performances' at David Roberts Art Foundation. Clearly the blockbuster programming in this is Sarah Lucas' first public performance in the UK, which comes just with a title - Fried Egg - and a quote from an old interview with the artist: "sunny side up, naturally." So much of the performance this year involves live readings over intertextual environments, as epitomised by Juliana Huxtable's fantastic reading alongside a Marco Gomez (False Witness) DJ set for Nick Mauss' ballet'1NVERS1ONS' in Frieze Projects. This gave a much needed update to the cool European inside jokes for so long favoured by the art market, with Huxtable drawling lines like "I woke up today wanting to feel regal, dignified, modest",and acting as the perfect cultural accompaniment to Kim Gordon's dormant guitar and amplifiers alongside her, as they take turns to invigorate Mauss' space. This relationship between text, sound, space and place seems like the primary concern of many of the artists working in performance this year, however forms the deep backbone to a dialogue between Quinn Latimer and Megan Rooney at the DRAF event. Latimer and Rooney met this time last year when Latimer happened to be staying at the ex-library Rooney lives in, sparking a relationship that developed quickly into collaboration. Latimer informs me that their performance is "truly a text," and in this way it seems part of a wider cultural wave of artists exploring text as embodied experience, as is also so immediate in Huxtable's work. Yet as Latimer suggests to me, language, moved from the literary to the visual art world, becomes experienced as time as much as words, and of course time is the most valuable asset in the gluttonously-programmed fair.
Extinction / Distinction
In this way, the art fair week begins to feel like a type of social media feed in itself, with events, actions and connections popping up constantly, which the discerning viewer or user is left to navigate. You're defined more by where you are than what you though about it, as the art becomes something like an elite experience economy. No programming could highlight this more than that of the Serpentine Galleries, who this year present their annual marathon on the theme of 'extinction' through Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th. Placing ascendant picks such as Jesse Darling, Anna Zett and Korakrit Arunanondchai alongside the epic figures of Gustav Metzger, Stewart Brand and Etel Adnan, the dontstop-style format feels less like a buried commitment to a theme than relevance via bombardment or profound cultural trolling. However, perhaps this has become a necessary form in the world we now live in, where if artists explore beyond basic zone they are probably being too specialist. This creates a complex territory between criticality and commentary, which many of the performances this year feel like an attempt to carve out.
Pics or it won't happen
The frenetic and absurd experience of much of this lends itself to something like a Ryan Trecartin film. But, conversely, the whole experience is encapsulated by a night of performances curated by Ashland Mines inside the Fitch/Trecartin installation at Zabludowicz Collection, featuring Raúl de Nieves and Rachel Lord with Leslie Kulesh and Jesse Darling, again. These cultural provocateurs find themselves performing songs from Jesus Christ Superstar and donating their artist fees to a Gaza support fund. This prompts the question of whether between social media environments and the art market economy a moment of more transcendent experience can be found, or whether this is just thinly veiled privilege in the experience economy. A popular phrase on the internet, which spawned a lot of these cultural protagonists, was "pics or it didn't happen." Today, as we shuttle between these often guestlisted events in a large, expensive and congested urban centre, it feels more like "pics or it won't happen;" a mix of artists and Instagram users working out whether they're performing the past, the present or the future.
Text Harry Burke
Photography Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze