Marina Abramović + The Future of Performance Art, ed. Paula Orrell (Prestel) $45
MA+TFOPA is by far the most accessible introduction to contemporary performance art, showcasing the recent work of Serbian legend Marina Abramović, including her Guggenheim performances based on early performance classics like VALIE EXPORT’s Action Pants: Genital Panic, Gina Pane’s The Conditioning, First Action of Self-Portraits, and her own Thomas Lips. Divided into three sections—Tomorrow, Yesterday/Today, and Tomorrow/Yesterday, the book uses Abramović’s new self-named Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art, in Hudson, New York, as a point of departure. Hans Ulrich Obrist and Paula Orrell interview the always articulate Abramović about the institution, and particularly about the challenges of effectively documenting and preserving performance art, the most ethereal of contemporary fine arts. That interview is followed by Obrist’s with Taiwanese performance artist Tehching Hsieh, who shares the importance of dividing time, as in his yearlong performances like Time Clock and Outdoor Piece, which highlights what is most essential, most exciting about performance art: its physical interaction with the contemporary world. Many of Hsieh’s pieces took place while he was an illegal immigrant in America, including Outdoor Piece, for which he remained outdoors for an entire year, save fifteen hours in jail. He recounts:
I had a street fight and was sent to jail for 15 hours. The judge allowed me to stay outside the court during the hearing. I was found guilty of disorderly conduct. What I don’t understand is that after I came out of jail, why I wasn’t sent to the Immigration Bureau and deported from the country? I went back to the streets to continue doing the piece.
The book’s most valuable asset—for the performance art newbie and connoisseur alike—is its brief profiles of contemporary performance artists, featured both early in the work, in the chapter “Imagining the Hams of Tomorrow,” about a forthcoming festival in Plymouth, England and late in the book, in the section documenting Manchester International Festival and the Whitworth Gallery’s Marina Abramović Presents, in 2009. Artists featured in the first section of profiles include Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG, who virtually reenact work from the performance arts canon in Second Life, Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kelleinen’s popular Complaint Choirs, and Snežana Golubović’s Love Steps, in which she moved between 90 pairs of friends’ shoes to recount their stories. In the second, they include Nikhil Chopra, whose work “combines the creation of fictional characters with accomplished large-scale drawings,” Ivan Civic’s Back to Sarajevo…after 10 years…, in which he climbs on mounted pegs through projected video of his first return home in 10 years, Kira O’Reilly’s slow, naked roll down a grand staircase, and Fedor Pavlov-Andreevich’s reenactement of the life and death of Vitaly Titov, “a Soviet engineer who survived for twenty days having an artificial body attached to his head.”
The book’s appendices provide generous biographies of included artists, so that one can research them further if desired. Prestel has done a great job of proving just how effectively performance art can be documented and preserved in print format, with full-color photos throughout, just the right amount of conversation, and not too much discipline-specific jargon. MA+TFOPA is a great success, and I hope the Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art will be too.
Jennifer Steinkamp: United States Presentation, 11th International Cairo Biennale (MAK Center for Art + Architecture, L.A., @ The Schindler House) $22.50
In the foreword of this backwards-bound, bilingual Arabic-English showcase of Steinkamp’s ICB work, commissioner Kimerli Meyer writes,
In approaching the United States’ presentation at the Eleventh International Cairo Biennale, I had two major themes in mind: the increasingly influential role of digital technology in shaping our views of reality, and the longstanding power of art to bridge distinct cultures by opening a dialogue about aesthetics.
According to her own criteria, the selection of Steinkamp’s work, featured here with documentation of previous installations, her own simulation of her biennial projections on the streets of Cairo, and an essay that frames her work and practice theoretically, definitely fulfills her “two major themes in mind.”
Even in its most textual moments—as in Kimberli Meyer and Nizan Shaked’s essay—the book is laid out to generously reflect Steinkamp’s work itself, edged with projections from former works and featuring regular photographs of projected shows. My only complaint is the book’s small size, which sometimes doesn’t allow for the magnificent detail of Steinkamp’s projections to show as it would in person. Though I understand the book’s decidedly small scope—the International Cairo Biennale—the few simulated images of Steinkamp’s projections in Cairo and the more generous images from her previous shows make me want to enjoy more of her work: a sign both of the book’s success and limitations.
The Shortest Interval, David King (Sparkplug Comic Books) $3
David King’s latest offering is a tiny meditation on the relationship between art, science, and wonder. He illustrates characters Max Planck, “big player” Gravity, and others in his recognizably retro style, and writes with characteristically dry humor. He describes a brief period that followed the Big Bang: “It was a wild time that lasted just 10ˉ⁴³ seconds. For those that witnessed it it was real metaphysical and exciting and new.” The book ends with King’s note that “The author is not a scientist and does not understand physics or anything. Use this comic book as an academic source at your own risk.” Though not a scientist, King is a great illustrator and writer, and though not an academic source, The Shortest Interval is one of the best mini-comics in recent memory.
Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles, Alexandra Schwartz (MIT Press) $29.95
Schwartz’ tiny hardback chronicles the development of West Coast pop art, with a special focus on Ruscha’s slow canonization in a field largely dominated by East Coast icons. The book contains generous if conservatively sized images of work by Ruscha and others. Especially noteworthy are Jerry McMillan’s candids of Ruscha and his friend Joe Goode riding horses (1968) and sitting against Ruscha’s ’39 Chevy, (‘ 70) posed shots of Ruscha dressed in a bunny suit, as a sort of debonair cowboy (both ’70), and next to the Hollywood sign (’72), in an unused assignment for Life magazine. Some of my favorite images—and a testament to the broad scope of the book—are Artforum advertisements for Ruscha’s shows at the Ferus Gallery (September 1964) and “Ed Ruscha Says Goodbye to College Joys” (January 1967). Schwartz prose maintains the sharp tone of a literary biography. On the whole the book resembles Ruscha’s art: approachable and engaging at first glance, but with considerable depth upon consideration.