Performance Art – SIX VIEWPOINTS

by Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

I arrive in the room. Other students are milling around, some stretching in the blinding winter light stretching in from the tall windows on the far side of the room, others laughing in little clusters, some silently penning down notes in blank-paged cahiers.

We are still new to one another. We do not yet know each other’s gaits or humor. Regardless – the mood is high and we greet one another jovially and warmly, like old friends.

A woman arrives a few minutes after myself. Her face is obscured by a thin blue surgical mask, and she has a mustard yellow bobble hat on. All I can see are her eyes. She takes off her coat and places it tenderly over the back of a chair, then beckons us all over to her. She has a gentle Spanish accent, and her tone itself is soft. The students and I come to sit in a semi-circle around her, and the woman begins speaking. We listen, and smile beneath our masks, but we do not yet know what is to come.

The woman, whom we discover is Isabel Sanchez, introduces the term Viewpoints into the room. We toy with the word, placing our own pre-learned attributes and meanings to it, then let it drop as Isabel continues to speak. At one point, Isabel suddenly points at a line on the floor before her. The line is one of wear and tear, likely created by the sliding foot of a dancer or actor. Isabel lies down and begins caressing the line, speaking of its beauty and wonder, of how fascinating and unseen this line previously was, of how she could not believe she had never noticed such a line before. We laugh at this spectacle, at once befuddled and intrigued by Isabel’s attentive and overt curiosity.

Isabel brings herself back to sitting, then gasps and points at Giulio, one of the other students. She remarks on the extraordinary form that has been produced by the creases on his jumper, and by the complexity and magnificence of the shape that his body has produced by sitting as he is, with his legs outstretched in front of him. Isabel jumps up and goes over to Giulio, then asks him how he managed to create such a beautiful thing so effortlessly, and inquires as to whether he was indeed trained at Harvard, so astonishing was his shape. We laugh at Isabel, and at Giulio’s shy charm.  

This was our introduction to Viewpoints, a postmodern theory that we engaged with for four weeks. That is to say, we trained with Isabel in Viewpoints for four weeks, but, at least for myself, this training lives on, for it is itself infinite.

Mary Overlie, the founder of the Six Viewpoints (often known simply as ‘Viewpoints’), was a deconstructing postmodern theater practitioner who lived from January 15th 1946 until June 5th 2020. She was the woman who taught our teacher Isabel Sanchez. Mary was not known in the sense of fame or celebrity; she was unafraid of obscurity in her work. She preferred to let her work shine above herself, as this enabled her greater creativity in her practice. I marvel at this humility, especially considering the conflict that Mary encountered when Anne Bogart initially took the title ‘Viewpoints’ and attributed it to her own work. Isabel told us, during those too-short four weeks, that this was the one thing that really upset Mary during their time working together. It was a relief when Anne finally released the name Viewpoints from her work and acknowledged Mary’s precedent in the Viewpoints practice.

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - Mary Overlie

Mary Overlie

“Observe the ingredients, the materials of performance, contemplate the particles.

Once you find them, train yourself to listen, allow them to become your teachers,

embrace them as profound partners. Allow them to create.”

For many years, Mary attempted to simplify and fully encompass Viewpoints as a complete practice, a practice that could hold and feed actor, audience, and the materials simultaneously. In 1998, a national Viewpoints conference was held in New York, where Mary succeeded in articulating a basic and highly functional postmodern art training. Her Viewpoints, though they can indeed be employed as a methodology in dance, are predominantly centred around theatre.

Mary was born in Terry, Montana. She spent much of her youth with her neighbors: Robert and Gennie Deweese, who were notable modernist painters in the Montana contemporary arts community. Mary would fall asleep listening to conversations about innovations in the art world, and, somehow, these words landed so deeply within Mary that they inspired a profound interest in the materials of performance and art that would eventually lead to her working in such establishments as The Whitney Museum, Mabou Mines Theater Company, and The Experimental Theater Wing of the Tisch School of the Arts. Instrumental in Mary’s ultimate creation of the Six Viewpoints was Yvonne Rainer, an American experimental artist especially prominent in the field of dance. Yvonne herself was inspired by the procedures of chance illustrated in the work of John Cage and Merce Cunningham (whom she trained with for eight years in the 1960s). Yvonne’s work was, in simple terms (as I have not the space with which to articulate the sheer breadth and honesty of her work in this article), a blend of quotidian pedestrian movement, such as walking and standing, with aspects of classical dance. Mary was besotted by Yvonne and followed her work until the end of her life. To more concisely describe the nature of Yvonne’s work, one might look to her ‘No Manifesto’:

NO to spectacle.

No to virtuosity.

No to transformations and magic and make-believe.

No to the glamour and transcendency of the star image.

No to the heroic.

No to the anti-heroic.

No to trash imagery.

No to involvement of performer or spectator.

No to style.

No to camp.

No to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer.

No to eccentricity.

No to moving or being moved.

As you will see, these rejections of the expected nature of performance have some similarities with the doctrine of the Viewpoints (though I hesitate to use such a dogmatic term to describe the Viewpoints approach).

According to The Six Viewpoints website, Viewpoints is:

‘a study that establishes and expands the base of performance by inquiring into the vocabulary of the basic materials that are found in the creation of all art. The Viewpoints theory involves three intertwined sections:

The SSTEMS, an interrogation of the materials; Space, Shape, Time, Emotion, Movement, and Story.

The Bridge, a set of nine philosophical interrogations into the nature of performance.

The Practice Manual, a set of practical exercises that lead the artist into a dialogue with their work process.’

Using these approaches, the artist can exponentially expand their creative processes from a deeply horizontal standpoint which rejects the hierarchical structure of Classical and Modernist art forms. Most notably, Viewpoints work aims to destruct the ‘creator/originator’ of preceding methods of art creation in favor of the ‘observer/participant’ which the artist is ultimately aiming for in their practice of Viewpoints. The Viewpoints do not wish to erase the history of art, nor to condemn other art forms for their hierarchical nature, but the Viewpoints do wish to shift the perspective of the performer by starting from a point of careful and respectful deconstruction (separating the whole (theatre) into its essential parts/materials) with the eventual objective of reifying these materials with greater clarity. This, the Viewpoints proposes, is truly postmodern.

Carl Kruse Arts Blog - Dance Students

Students at the Alvaro Prats Bertomeu studio in Spain, practice Viewpoints theory

I think that, at least for myself, the term ‘postmodern’ has been so carelessly abused throughout the 21st Century that it almost lost its meaning. Isabel herself told us of a show she went to see which dubbed itself ‘postmodern’, but which was inherently hierarchical in its artistic proposal; there were bright lights and booming music coupled with an obvious ‘protagonist’ situated center stage for the majority of the performance. Even I have been known to throw around the term ‘postmodern’ when referring to the evolution of advertising, or in relation to various cultural phenomenon that I have been exposed to, such as the platform of TikTok and its enabling of fast fashion. These things are not postmodern, I now realize. Postmodernism is a wholly specific term which refers to a disparate method of artistic practice which is a great departure from anything we have yet seen in the world of art. It is inclusive, non-hierarchical (with regard to those that practice it, those who observe it, and the materials which feed it), and fundamentally anarchical. This does not mean that the work is within discipline and strict guidelines; freedom does not mean that one can do what one wants without thinking. The Six Viewpoints website suggests that:

‘this work does not have a pre-existing idea of what theater is, how it should be created, what it should say or how it should say it. In entering this work the artist finds that they take possession of the stage and are anchored in its realities free of the opinions of others about how to make theater.

[…]

The simplicity of The Six Viewpoints is based on one on one contact with the basic materials. This approach aligns itself with the eastern practices that rely on the student to find their own truth as part of the understanding encompassing all of life. In this work there is no teacher, no authority to pronounce achievement or failure beyond understanding that any part is a part of the whole.’

It was oftentimes difficult to engage with this practice during my time with Isabel. Some days, I would come into class and find myself unable to focus fully on the SSTEMS and what they were saying to me. It is difficult to let go of oneself, of one’s ego, of ones ‘creator/originator’ when these are the sole elements of theatre that one is initially ordered to create with. The SSTEMS, to clarify, are the materials that the Viewpoints artist has a dialogue with in their practice. These are: Space, Shape, Time, Emotion, Movement, and Story (or Logic). There are many separate aspects of these SSTEMS, for example Space can be deconstructed into Architecture, Direction, Location, Trajectory. This is a minimalist, conceptual art, wherein all performers are particles making up the whole. These particles are interdependent and co-dependent, but not independent. These is no ego in the postmodern practice of Viewpoints. This is perhaps due to the influence of Transcendental Meditation and Buddhism on Mary throughout her life. In the practice, the performer does not have the aim of CREATING a product. The performer may be writing a dance in space, but their work is improvisational in nature and rejects the self in order to achieve the truth of the essential nature of things. The practice is one of experiencing and perceiving which ultimately leads to a higher level of consciousness. In Viewpoints, the act of waiting can CREATE art. The performer does NOT create art, it lands on them and they experience it.

It is difficult to write about Viewpoints, for writing about this practice cannot possibly convey the experience of finally noticing the material of Time when standing in a room facing another particle on the other side of that room. How can I articulate the true nature of Time with words? How can I communicate the feeling of the material Space TELLING me where and how to move? How can I express the gentleness of the materials, how they hold and care for me as a performer, how they lead me to places I never even conceived of? In writing this article, I fear that I am intellectualising Viewpoints beyond recognition, when this is not at all my aim. I fear even that, upon reading my article, Isabel might point out errors in my terminology, in my interpretation of the Viewpoints, in the unsubtlety with which I have written about this beautiful and indescribable practice. I will be forever grateful to Isabel for bringing Viewpoints into my life. It has certainly been a transformative journey, and one which I will continue to pursue for the rest of my days.

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Find the blog home at https://carlkruse.net
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Hazel Anna Rogers include: Metropolis and Reflections on Montmarte.
Also check out Hazel’s article focusing on Stanislavski’s take on acting over on this other Carl Kruse Blog.
The blog’s last post was on Yury Kharchenko.
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Marina Abramović, Grandmother of Performance Art

By Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

This story begins with a woman standing motionless in a room. Half-naked, a trickle of blood dribbles on her breasts, her eyes swollen with tears, and a gun is aimed at her while surrounded by a group of men. This is not the scene from a crime film, but one of Marina Abramović’s best known performances. 

The performances of the Serbian artist make noise, scandalize, and are often frightening in their ability to dig into the darkest caverns of the self, playing on the border between life and death. Her works are cathartic rituals that push the viewer into the abysses of their soul and then bring them back to the surface, purified. Maybe better. 

Everything has been said about her, for better or for worse. What is certain is that regardless of the judgments, Marina Abramović has revolutionized the world of performance art, making each of her works an event to be told to others, like an adventure, a journey into the depths of oneself. 

Marina Abramović (Belgrade, 1946) is a Serbian artist, naturalized in the United States, and active artistically since the 1960s. She is famous for performances that explore the most instinctive (and often obscure) traits of the human soul. She defined herself as “Grandmother of Performance Art” to underline the revolutionary significance of her way of understanding artistic performance which, in her case, often involves the participation of the public, both mentally and physically. 

Marina Abramović’s biography offers interesting insights right from the start. Her parents were partisans during the Second World War while her grandfather, a patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, was even proclaimed a saint. 

There are three key cities to tell her story: Belgrade, Amsterdam, and New York. 

Belgrade is her homeland, where she took her first steps in the world of art, attending the Academy of Fine Arts from 1965 to 1972; Amsterdam is the city where she met the German artist Ulay, a fundamental partner in her creative activity and life; finally, New York, the city of consecration, where the artist still resides today. 

But what is performance art? 

Performance art is an exhibition consisting of an artist who presents themself in front of an audience and creates something unique. The term that defines this new art form was born in the 1960’s and places the event at the center of the whole performance: this art intends to live a unique experience that the artist shares with their audience. 

Hic et Nunc: this is how performative art can be defined. “Here and now”, an event that must be fully enjoyed at the moment, its aspects, meanings, and sensations must be grasped before these vanish at the end of the performance. 

Performance art is not just the work that speaks to the public, it is a dialogue that is established between the performer and the audience. It can involve multiple disciplines and can also be improvised or studied in every detail, enjoyed through media or live. The fact is that without an audience this form of art would lose much of its deepest meaning. 

The artist’s own body is often the bridge between artistic experimentation and the public. The performative turn makes contemporary art an event, a social, ritual, and spectacular act; in this relational art, the experience of the world becomes embodiment, not only mental but above all physical. The body becomes a canvas, testimony, and artistic medium. The importance of the body in performance art is such that it deserves a definition in itself: when we talk about performance art we are also talking about body art, art through the body, and of the body. 

Among the most famous works by Marina Abramović is the series of performances entitled Rhythm or the series Freeing The Body, Freeing The Memory, Freeing The Voice, performed in the 1970s. 

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Marina Abramovic 1

In particular, the Rhythm series was striking for the violence that the artist inflicted on herself, bringing her body to the extreme physical limit. Emblematic is the case of the performance Rhythm 5 (1975) during which Abramović risked her life.

The artist stretched out in the center of a five-pointed wooden star, positioned in the center of a room which was then set on fire. In this prison of fire, however, the air soon became unbreathable, so much so that Abramovic passed out, though luckily, bystanders noticed the problem and helped the artist escape.

However, the performance Rhythm 0, held in Naples in 1974, aroused even more of a stir. Here the artist stood in the center of a room where various objects were present (knives, feathers, ropes, scissors, even a gun) and explained to the spectators that for six hours she would remain motionless as an object and everyone could do with that body what they wanted. With impunity.

 After a couple of hours of hesitation, the spectators began to rage on the artist, in a violent and uncontrolled way: they cut her clothes, shredded her skin with a razor blade, pointed the gun at her. At that point other spectators intervened and a heated discussion arose that almost led to blows.

The performance, all in all, had worked. It had shown the worst of human beings who, if sure of impunity, risk giving vent to the worst sadistic fantasies. However, Abramović’s work ended with faint hope. Someone, in the end, had opposed that senseless violence.

In Amstrerdam in 1976 Marina Abramović met the German performer Uwe Laysiepen (aka “Ulay”). A profound artistic and sentimental union was born immediately. 

The series of works made in pairs is called Relations works: complex and disturbing performances, functional to explore the physical and psychic limits of human resistance and the theme of the man-woman relationship. 

Carl Kruse Art Blog AAA-AAA
 

 Their intentions are described in the Art Vital manifesto: “Living art: no fixed abode, permanent movement, direct contact, local relationship, self-selection, overcoming limits, risk-taking, energy in motion, no evidence, no set end, no replication, extended vulnerability, exposure to chance, primary reactions “.

The first performances that are conceived early in their relationship are physically extreme. In  “AAA-AAA”, “Relation in time” and “Breathing in / Breathing out” the two artists make visible the sufferings, contradictions and needs of the couple bond: they present themselves as an androgynous being, capable of containing male and female energies simultaneously.

Carl Kruse Art Blog, Relation in time

In the first performance, “AAA-AAA”, they sit opposite each other, emitting a monotonous sound that becomes more and more intense as the minutes pass, until it turns into a scream and one of the two gives up exhausted.

In the second performance, “Relation in Time”, made in Bologna, the artists influenced by Asian meditation practices sit back to back with their hair tied tightly together for sixteen long hours. The public is allowed to watch the last hour when overwhelmed by fatigue, the two begin to let themselves go physically.

“Breathing in / Breathing out” reaches an even higher level of suggestion: Abramovic and Ulay close their mouths with each other, plug their nostrils with cigarette filters and breathe the air expelled from the other for 17 minutes. until they collapse to the ground practically poisoned by the carbon dioxide emitted by the other.

In June 1977, in the midst of the sexual revolution, Abramovic and Ulay created “Imponderabilia” at the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Bologna. The performance is still part of the collective imagination due to the audacity and intelligence shown through the execution of a simple and impactful gesture. They position themselves opposite each other at the entrance to the Gallery, completely naked, thus forcing the public to pass between their bodies. The exhibition puts a strain on the Italian visitors, forcing them to deal with feelings such as shame and modesty, in a historic moment of transition from a puritanical society to a more sexually free and uninhibited one.

“Rest Energy” then raises the degree of difficulty of their artistic experimentation to the point of making them risk their safety: showing the public that the strength of their art lies in living it to the extreme, in order to create a fracture in the sensitivity of the beholder. The two place a bow between them: the arrow is pointed at Abramovic’s heart while Ulay pulls the string back. The center of gravity of the two is abandoned, only the arch keeps them standing. The microphones record the heartbeats and the labored breathing of both: her life is at the mercy of the balance that is created between them: a slight failure could kill her. The performance lasts four interminable minutes, in which they manage to represent the concepts of time and trust in a single gesture.

Carl Kruse Art Blog, Rest/Energy

Abramovic and Ulay shared twelve years, loving and working together. In a recent television interview, she confessed that the last three years of the relationship were horrible: betrayals, misunderstandings, accusations. The more their fame grew, the more the couple’s relationship deteriorated. Ulay could not stand celebrity, while Abramovic manages to regulate it and benefit from it to make her ideas known.

In 1988 they decide to leave each other in their own way: a painful and private decision is transformed once again into an artistic act and a suggestive gesture for every couple who have decided to put an end to a great love. Their latest performance is “The Lovers: The Great Wall Walk”. The last epic act of a love that tried to make itself intelligible to everyone, so much so that it reached the degree of universality and of total sharing. With an action reminiscent of the one that inaugurated the beginning of their history, to honor the end, they choose the Great Wall of China. Walking each from the two opposite ends of the Wall, they decide to meet halfway after ninety days and end, with great emotion, their story.

Marina Abramovic and Ulay from that moment will no longer have contact for 23 years, until, on the occasion of the performance organized by her at the MOMA in New York entitled “The Artist is Present,” which forces her to remain seated for seven hours a day at a table with one empty chair in front of her, and anyone can sit down and watch her in silence for two minutes. To everyone’s surprise, one of the visitors is Ulay.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Artists Together

Unexpectedly, there is her old partner in art and life sitting n that chair, giving life to a moving moment: a performance in the performance – extemporaneous, unrepeatable – which, born in the age of social networks, will be subject to destiny of sharing by reaching the widest possible audience.

“I am half, he is half and together we are one,” Marina Abramovic said of herself and Ulay. Over the years, many critics and detractors have accused them of not having made true art, but however you view it, it cannot be denied that their works have created suggestions whose effects still reverberate in the eyes and conscience of those who decide to see their performances. Together they investigated the strength of an instant, the precariousness of the couple’s relationship, with its poisons and inexplicable balances and demonstrated the instability of the concept of time, giving in their way an essential contribution to human expression.

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Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Asia Leonardi include exposes of Frida Kahlo, Charlotte Salomon, and Jackson Pollock.
Her last article focused on Pop and Optical art.