Thursday, May 07, 2009

Performance Art and Experimental Theater

Saying that I struggled to make sense of Gerry Pryor, let alone his video of Chance Running, would be an understatement. He's a colorful character, and I would have liked to see some of his other performances too, because I don't think I was the only person who felt a little confused about what they had just seen and who they had just met. My only real issue was the barely-suppressed glee with which he proclaimed, "Using my body in this way is sort of like a sin. Every time I create art... I'm actually sinning." He seemed tickled to death by this fact, but I'll leave my criticism at that.

Last week, we watched a variety of performance art videos with Zhao Chuan, and these were somewhat greater in scope and in length of time than Chance Running. This type of art is definitely abstract, but never to the point of meaninglessness. While I won't claim to be able to extract a single, clear, direct message from any of these works, it is still more than possible to take something away from them. Thinking about Li Ning's work in particular, as emphasized by the frequent nudity, the human body is an essential component of the performance art we saw. As simple as it sounds, I was especially struck by how the actors/performers moved in strange ways, and in ways I wasn't expecting. Eventually, I made a list of what these performances were all "doing." Sure they were running around naked and lighting meat on fire or whatever, but generally these videos emphasized:
1. Thinking about and using our bodies in new ways, and
2. Interacting with and moving through the world in different ways,
both concepts that I think easily translate to a larger, more accessible "meaning," raising questions about anything from the fragility of the human body or the fragility of humanity in general, to posing questions about our roles as individuals within the world or in society, and to what extent our lives and our ways of thinking are shaped (or constrained, or guided) by the particular environment in which we live.

Finally, I was almost surprised at how much I enjoyed the grass stage performance last Friday. I know that accessbility isn't a requirement of any form of art, but I found that a lot of the material presented or addressed in the show felt quite relevant to either my own life and experiences or to humanity in general. It was also a fun opportunity to get to talk to a few of the actors later at the Mommy Foundation party, and hear about how the ways in which they invented and developed the performances, and where they found inspiration for their individual characters.

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