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"Photography, Performance, and Contemporary Art" at The New School

Vanessa Beecroft, "vb52" performance documentation, 2003.
Vanessa Beecroft, VB52 performance documentation, 2003.

Photography, Performance, and Contemporary Art
7pm Wednesday 14 November 2007
The New School Auditorium - 66 W 12th St
Free Admission

This Wednesday The New School hosts a panel discussion featuring artists Marina Abramović, Vanessa Beecroft, and Babette Mangolte, moderated by Performa Director RoseLee Goldberg. Photography, Performance, and Contemporary Art will explore the evolving relationship of photography and performance art. Surveying new genres in contemporary practice of the last century, much of our experience of such temporal work has been mediated through photography and video; that is, a lot of what's left to be surveyed are ugly, grainy, and challenging trace documents. All of this changes significantly, of course, with the professionalization of contemporary art and the implicit expectations of strong visual documentation constructed to outlast the performance itself. These documents not only project the artist's presence across time and space but also constitute the afterlife of the immaterial work and the career trajectory of the artist, acting as a mobile, representative token of the best qualities of the work, and communicating its importance to the arbiters of cultural production: collectors, grant makers, critics, and art historians, not to mention generations of younger artists acting in sympathy or agitation to the past work.

Compare the six-figure photographs produced as peripheral material to Matthew Barney's performance and filmmaking enterprises to the relatively casual documentation of performances by Barney's Shamanic forebear Joseph Bueys. The tremendous production costs of Barney's film works are thus offset by this very salable auxiliary material, but collectors likewise demand a certain primacy status to this peripheral work which is expressed in glossy production values. Thus the photos of Barney in character become testaments not to the larger project, but art works on their own.

We might also compare the signature 70s work by panelist Marina Abramović who made a name for herself working outside her geographic bracket and producing a strong body of International style body-performance work — often captured casually in photos and grainy video. Abramović recently reinvested herself in her own national, or perhaps pre-national, background with a new film and suite of photographs entitled Balkan Erotic Epic. Epic... is comparatively a Hollywood production by the old photo-doc standards complete with gorgeous cinematography and professional photographic production.

The question of production values and the visual forms in art performance could consequently be serious issues for younger artists pursing this type of work. Whether or not Vanessa Beecroft's spectacular performance photos are any less conceptually invested than if they had been shot from-the-hip could well be a moot point. To assume a less critical stance, we could well argue for an advanced conceptual practice that has emerged from the austerely documented 70s work; the more developed documentation procedures involved being the natural evolution of an art both bracketed by a moment in space and time and functioning in parallel with a trace-producing activity.