Performa 09: William Kentridge at Cedar Lake

by Karinne Keithley

As this blogging group was forming, we corresponded about what a Movement Research-based writing group looking at Performa might do. One of the many ideas which came up, beyond the initial sense that we weren’t going to review, per se, and neither were we going to get oppositional about dance world and art world, was that we might learn something about our own habits by looking at the configuration of performance out of a different set of practices, practices generally not steeped in a long history of taking care of the audience. Complementing this desire to look at performance aslant, was the possibility that our responses, if they weren’t reviews, could be boomerang-like channels of return. So we visit this somewhat familiar and somewhat strange world of visual art performance, and return, via this correspondence, with ideas, questions, provocations, for the community that reads CC. Ursula’s last two posts perform this task with elegant economy. Go read them just as soon as you’re finished here. Or go now.

From William Kentridge I bring to you, dear reader, some questions of form. What kinds of freedoms do we gain if we step outside of our usual form(s) (for Kentridge, hand-drawn animations and puppet theater)? If we were to use some other genre or medium to talk about our work in dance, or writing, or sound, or whatever, what license might we gain? What would we want to talk about? How might we energize the discussion? With what charm might this new genre inflect our open inquiries, set them spinning so that they return to us renewed, different, a-habitual?

Kentridge has been a hero of mine ever since I wandered into “The Short Century” exhibit of art from post-liberation (so it was called, more optimistically than post-colonial) Africa at P.S.1 in 2002. His performance lecture at Cedar Lake, “I Am Not Me, The Horse is Not My Horse,” was something like an illustrated trip to his notebook. Half in, half out of performative mode, in a gentler iteration of say, Andy Kaufman, it was a strangely intimate event. Those looking for a “piece” of art might have been disappointed. It wasn’t exactly a work in that sense, maybe more like an essay in the form of a work. (Weirdly, the NYT blog claims it was “an exquisitely polished work of art,” just another worldy example of the investment in the repression of the recognition of all forms of openness and uncertainty.) I’d like to whole-heartedly endorse this exercise in formal translation as a thought experiment we might take up. If performance art was born out of the desire to complicate the commodity function of art, and if that commodity culture has inevitably learned how to swallow up these (shall we say post-liberation) practices, then what about circulating the unfinished anti-genre thought-sketch? Take that, o market. An un-concluded slant-ways reflection set provisionally on its feet in another form or presentation seems to me like a pretty lovely way to participate in an intellectual community.

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