Analysis of a performance entitled ’T.A.A’ (Temporary Arts Academy)
[This text was an attempt on my part to examine and analyse my experience of the Temporary Arts Academy relational project as a durational (two week) performance. My role was as a teacher of performance.]
Analysis of a performance: ‘T.A.A’ (Temporary Arts Academy)
The performance starts on Monday 22nd September 2014 at 12:00.
Postmodern art seems to pose problems for traditional models of art analysis in terms of its construction, as well as the sorts of statements that it makes.1
Peristeri, 20 Sofokleous str. The space where the Performance will take place is revealed. From the street one can see its glass facade, with two posters featuring the T.A.A logo sellotaped to it. It is a cold space with obvious signs of its previous deployment.
The first performers are already in the space. They are embodying the role of the ‘principal’, the ‘teachers’, the ‘certified collaborators’, the ‘advisors’ and the ‘professional volunteers’.
The performers – ‘registered students’ start arriving in an irregular manner. One or two of them lie about their place of origin, claiming they are from Peristeri.
The performer Panos Sklavenitis is wearing a gorilla mask and does not introduce himself.
The aesthetic of the space is performatively established in contrast to the Municipal Art’s space, which is about fifty meters away from T.A.A.
The space with its pillars and its open layout, does not clearly delimit the actions (within the Performance) it will accommodate. Some benches near the glass facade resemble a set of tiers or a stand for the presentation of small sculptures. There are three tables placed at the sides of the space, the naked floor tiles extend out towards the wall, where one finds more works of art (within the work of art), with no indication of the artist.
Will shifts occur here?
The performer – ‘principal of T.A.A’ Elpida Karaba addresses the students and explains that the ’T.A.A’ is not just an academy, it is also a work of art in itself. It is a Performance2. So apart from ‘principal’, she is also ‘curator’. And performer. If anything about her – maybe her young and breezy presence – gives rise to a questioning of her role, it is allayed by her instantly convincing words. (The same will happen later on, when the performer-‘founder of NEON’, Dimitris Daskalopoulos, who has funded the Performance, will experience a significant shift during his short visit to the space, thanks to the speech-performance of the principal). Elpida Karaba is ‘acting’ in her own Performance. Not easy work. She has to be in and out of it, critical and defensive of it, tough and encouraging all at the same time.
We are having discussions at the tables, there is a sense of excitement. The voices of most of the performers are heard for the first time. Some names are lost in the echo of the space. Dimitra Argyropoulou’s soft voice. Marianthi Kolokytha’s enigmatic gaze. Later on we will find out that most ‘students’ are in reality (the reality of this Performance) unemployed. Panos invites them to watch a video. A haphazard gathering around a small projection.
This is a multimedia Performance
The first obvious shift.
Later on he proposes they browse around the installation (within the installation), consisting of pictures stuck on the walls. The students disperse into the space:
Drawing as part of everyday life. Design as punishment, as a compliance. Hoboglyphics – a devised language of the American homeless.
Next to these, again through pictures, we see human movement in the public space as a choreography: with rules, restrictions and regulators. And also, the identity of the subject as a performance which embodies social conventions or deviates from them.
The performers meet. The ‘teachers’ present themselves and the ‘courses’ which will ensue. The performer, Elpida Rikou, presents the ‘Spirit of Contradiction’ as a ‘secondary module’ or ‘workshop’ (within the Performance). The performer, Glykeria Stathopoulou, answers questions relevant or not to her ‘role’. She elucidates, adds, clarifies, but in reality she is there, on one side, as a steady observer, a creative observer, reflecting and intervening at the right moment.
The ‘stage set’ includes other works of art: a glass case with marble handles (Io Chaviara), a base with wooden crowbars (Nikos Arvanitis), an installation with blowpipes (Panos Sklavenitis). A peculiar armchair for two with the sky and clouds printed on its pillows (Kostas Roussakis). Whoever sits there is a little bit higher than the rest. This will soon become a meeting point for the performers – ‘teachers’, and the smoking area. The artists, Konstantinos Xatzinikolaou, Nikos Alexopoulos and Apostolos Karastergiou also ‘sign’ elements of the set design.
Panos sets the first exercise (within the Performance). Draw a line. A line which performs an idea. The instruction is abstract and obscure at first.
The performance is created by whoever is present. The notions of performer and audience are blurred: is the teacher a teacher or is he playing the role of a teacher? Does the student obey the teacher or does he claim equality between performers.
These questions are articulated, but the students still expect a class, a lecture to be ‘given’. They desire to give themselves over to the instructions and knowledge of the teachers. They crave tools and are not really concerned with the content of the work they are producing (within the performance).
Until the performer-‘teacher’, Nikos Arvanitis, finally introduces the ‘dualities’ theme. At last we have a familiar starting point: good/bad, big/small, beautiful/ugly. The first works of art are created (within the Performance). Small and insufficient. A small insufficiency of big and global concepts.
A net is extended between two pillars (installation by Anastasia Douka). Three students will make use of it during the first, stated as such, physical exercise in the T.A.A. performance –‘curriculum’. This physical action is about bridging the two given themes. The line, the notion of dualities and the body will enter the space. But we are already in the space. Tautology.
The concept of temporality is introduced. Bodily presence is underlined in contrast to representation and the production of meaning outside the material object is implied.
All the performers are invited to use the blowpipes. Now the performer Panos is identified as an ‘artist’ because the blowpipes are his work of art. Plasticine ammunition is to be fired at worthless objects placed on the windowsill of a small room at the top of a staircase in the depths of the space (over the toilet). Scenic action: the destruction of the existing stage design. The space of the Performance opens upward. We experience an emotional uplift.
Dualities start being reversed. Agency/passivity, teacher/student, performer/audience. This reversal or at least momentary subversion of roles creates a new situation within the performance.
At last the action coincides with the intention. It is overtly performative and not referential. Some (performers) observe. They play the role of the audience.
Role reversal thus can be understood as an interplay of disempowerment and empowerment, which applies to both artists and spectators. The artists relinquish their powerful positions as the performance’s sole creators; they agree to share – to varying degrees of course – their authorship and authority with the audience [Fischer-Lichte, 2008, pg50 3].
The Performance develops in time. The space fills at noon, empties at night. It transforms depending on the program.
The Performance opens up to the public space. Three walks. One silent walk. One dialectic walk. One confrontational walk.
The security of the private is revoked. The body and a variety of common notions enter into a state of crisis. Learning is confused with the performance (and life). Observation becomes a form; dialectics become the content and confrontation becomes the experiment.
The relational nature of the performance is slowly revealed. Here, we will negotiate issues of democracy, power and prejudice through participation in something common.
Τhe inter-subjective space created through these projects becomes the focus – and medium – of artistic investigation [Bishop, 2006, pg2 4]
We are suspended between the rules of everyday life and those of art. Ethical issues arise. Can we confront the teacher when he proposes something provocative, unthinkable or even ridiculous? Can we question the aesthetics of the municipal public space? Can our presence in the public space undermine the power of the structures that govern it?
I would argue that such discomfort and frustration -along with absurdity, eccentricity, doubt, or sheer pleasure – can, on the contrary, be crucial elements of a work’s aesthetic impact and are essential to gaining new perspectives on our condition.
[Bishop, 2006, pg7]
A definite shift: the walk.
The Performance at this point includes some drop outs.
The Performance contains some more video projections. They are curated by performer Constantinos Hadzinikolaou and accompanied by short texts he has written himself. The action is concentrated near the left hand side wall. The movements of the viewers express the way they feel about each film.
At least here there is an artist, a specific work of art (within the performance). We have someone to argue with, something against which we can articulate our criticism.
But the work of art in this case is not the movie. It is the performative absence of the majority of the students, it is the echo created by the sound of the movie, it is the silent and curved presence of Constantinos, whose text is not read out, but passed from hand to hand. Discreetly, just as the rice paper it is printed on.
As the Performance progresses more absences from ‘secondary lessons’ – and ‘primary’ for that matter – are recorded.
The irony of the program – ‘brochure for the Academy’ has not sunk in. The word ‘academy’ predisposes the students to a ‘canonical’ situation, and so they are absent.
The performer Medie Megas teaches a choreography lesson in chairs. Ironic by definition: ‘A choreography lesson’ for performers who don’t dance and, moreover, are sat in chairs. The definition of choreography is broadened to include every human movement in space and time. It becomes choreography as soon as it is framed as such by our own gaze, that of the spectator or artist (within the Performance). How much is this choreography determined by urban planning and architecture, and other regulative factors of private and public space?
[…] the aesthetic is, according to Rancière, the ability to think contradiction.
[Bishop, 2006 pg 10]
Giannis Mastrandonis participates with a certain amount of resistance. We all sit in a circle of chairs. The only thing each person had to do is to ‘inhabit’ the centre of the circle with his chair for a couple of minutes. Any action or non-action is valid in this situation (within the Performance).
With the pretext of the idea of an ‘oral library’, the students have the opportunity to watch some performances (within the Performance) – some attempts by invited artists to direct themselves each choosing their own content.
Performer Constantinos Hadzinikolaou, with a new role this time, shifts the attention of the audience from the materiality of the medium he is using (VHS) to the performativity of his presentation. Performer – ‘student’ Giannis is impressed. He is shifted.
Performer, Andreas Kolisoglou, a disabled dancer, presents his body as a field where the aesthetic collides with the political.
The broad definition of design, which Panos introduced on the first day, leads to the Daysign project. Self-activation is now expected of the students. They have to make their own plan and realise it on their own. As if this had been a requirement, most of the actions contain a shift in the plane of activity in space:
Low (at ground level)
The performer Natasha Drouga lies down next to the exit of Peristeri Metro Station. She draws on the notion of ‘presence’ we have discussed in the choreography lesson. She is literally underlining the conventional norms of usage of public spaces. She proposes a perpendicular viewpoint and redirects the flow of the crowd by creating an obstacle to its movement.
Medial (on all-fours)
The performer Elisabeth Latsiou takes performer Konstantinos Zilos for a walk; he is wearing a red dog’s collar and a muzzle.
The performer Youli Takou sits on the roof of a car and surveys Peristeri’s town-life. She is both observer and observed, transferring herself to a position above the seating level of the driver.
Performers Vasilis Londorfos and Sylvia Daphne, install a hammock over a busy road and camp out on it all day. Apart from substantially shifting the plane of action, they also create an temporal oasis, above the hectic rhythms of the everyday traffic.
Extremely high and extremely low.
Having created a language of symbols to communicate with aliens, Avgoustinos Fytilis, climbs up to the roof-top of his home and tries to summon them with his dancing. In the depths of the Metro system, Athina Kanellopoulou, tries to extract stories of the everyday from random women.
Tasks carried out in the private space involve the embodiment of different roles or gender identities, of alternative physicalities.
Giannis takes on the role of his wife for one day. It turns out to be a truly ‘unique’ day for him. This is not a question of representation, but of embodiment; a contemporary practice which is radical for its perpetrator.
The debate around the significance or not, of ‘shifts’ of any kind on the part of the performers is a reoccurring feature of the work. It could be said that it contributes to the aesthetic cohesion of the performance. Something like the leitmotiv in painting or choreography.
Within the framework of Daysign (a project within the project) the performer, Elpida Rikou, is called upon to make a presentation on ‘Love’. It is a theme which she is investigating from the perspective of an anthropologist and also through her personal experience.
The atmosphere heats up. Reference is made to pornography. The silent ones remain silent, the daring ones express themselves.
The important function of discourse, which is developed around a work and is shaped through a variety of approaches, such as that of anthropology, becomes apparent. The conclusion is reached that art ultimately expresses ideas, a train of thought on the part of the artist, it ‘emerges from life’ in the words of the performer-students. This is a step forward (shift) accomplished by Daysign; ideas which may otherwise have been denigrated as pretentious ‘tricks’ on the part of the artist are recognised as potentially significant.
Is there love in this Performance?
The performer Nikos Arvanitis introduces the mind map. An investigation of concepts and inter-relations expressed as a work of art (within the Performance). Some performer – ‘students’ make individual attempts to create mind maps.
Once again, the necessity of articulating a personal discourse in order to develop some sense of ‘value’, is revealed.
How does one define or identify value within an artistic context? Discussions on this subject take place continually. It seems that the academy is distancing itself from post-structural models of analysis, declaring that we must address issues regarding artistic value and of the status of meaning. Here, anything doesn’t go!
The performer Medie Megas defines the three dimensional space as the field in which we are to create our collective mind map. She has covered the flour with cardboard. For the first time the space slightly resembles a dance studio. This creates a positive attitude towards the task, mostly among the women performers – ‘students’.
The traditional student-teacher relationship once again triumphs over any attempt to subvert it.
It becomes clear that the body and its actions will be brought into the mind map. The physical performance takes on the same status as linguistic performance. Improvisation (within the Performance). The bodies warm up, come into physical contact with one another for the first time. Everyone is satisfied with the outcome, even if it does not entirely please them aesthetically.
There ensues a debate about whether the material trace of the improvisational task should remain in the space or be destroyed.
A second action in the public space. It is deemed a failure. Medie Megas assumes responsibility. The action is christened ‘aPATychia’ (a playful combination of the Greek word ‘apotychia’ meaning ‘failure’ and the initials ‘PAT’ which stand for Temporary Arts Academy).
Performers Giannis Mastrandonis and Medie Megas are sitting in a corner of the space, discussing. The later asks the former if his drawing (he is a painter) is influenced by his minor disability (the loss of three fingers from his right hand in an accident). He proudly answers that it was not. The performer – ‘teacher’ asks him if he could permit his disability to feature or have an influence on his art. He responds by saying that he had never considered such an idea but that it sounds interesting.
A shift. Possibly in the future.
Feedback sessions between performer – ‘students’ and performer – ‘teachers’. Aristea Kavadia with her romantic patriotism becomes the centre of a heated conversation. She is steadfast. So are we. No shifts occur.
Discussion on the final exhibition.
On the part of the performers – ‘academy staff’, there is an attempt to shift the focus from the work of art as an object to the work of art as an event. Conflicts are staged in order to start a process of questioning, not around the quality of the art the performer – ‘students’ have produced, but around the very aims of the academy. Does anyone really believe that the aim of the academy was for the students to learn how to draw, sculpt and dance?
What was the aim of the academy if not to test IF an alternative education model could exist; leading to different art, more critical, more politically aware? The performer – ‘students’ have reached the point of accepting alternative forms and means of expression, but with regards to content they are resisting. That which is on a pedestal is sacred. That which is sacred is untouchable. That which is untouchable is forever legitimised.
The conversation takes place for the first time in something like a circle. All legs are crossed, bodies are shrunken.
Here, it is language which is performing.
The linguistic gap testifies to a conceptual gap.
We are not getting through to one another. Some are talking in terms of ‘unforgettable experiences’ and ‘lives changed’ and others in terms of ‘relational art’ and ‘hierarchical or dominant models’.
During the exhibition the action moves to the sides of the space. Works of art are hanging on walls. The space is flooded with new performers. They come with an appetite for participation in the Performance. They converse with the performer – ‘artists’. They try to trace the history of the Performance. It is difficult.
When emotions run high, we observe more shifts in the plains in space:
(very low) Natasha Drouga throws her sculpture on the flour, destroying it.
(very high) Sotiris Tsiros delivers a speech standing on a chair to stress his gratitude to the other performers and the academy for what they offered him.
Τhe communities brought forth by these collective actions constituted a temporary social reality. They disappeared as soon as the actions were performed. [Fischer-Lichte, 2008, pg55 ]
The performers – ‘staff of the academy’ are out in the street (already outside the performance?) discussing, in a pensive mood, the exhibition.
The performer Medie Megas is thinking of how complex this Performance is, but how worth creating. Of how complicated the relationships created within it were, but how precious.
The Performance ends on Sunday 12th October 2014 at 17:00.
1 Here I have paraphrased an excerpt of a text by Bonnie Rowel, replacing the words choreography or dance with the word art: Bonnie Rowell / Dance Analysis in a postmodern age, integrating theory and practice from the book, Contemporary Choreography, a critical reader / 2009, Routledge.
2 This text is an attempt to analyse the T.A.A project from this perspective.
3Erika Fischer-Lichte: The Transformative Power of Performance: A New Aesthetics, 2008, Routledge
4 Claire Bishop: The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents, 2006, Artforum.