Bruce Nauman - Disappearing Acts at MoMA 2018

Perhaps, like me, you are a person who has heard about people who go to art galleries and get to become part of the work on show...anything with Marina Abramović immediately comes to my mind. Abramowić's performance art is challenging because the interaction is directly between the artist and the viewer. At MoMA's 'Bruce Nauman - Disappearing Acts' there is a different interaction which I was fortunate to have as my first participatory art gallery event. When I was 1, going on 2, Nauman created an installation in Germany called Kassel Corridor: Elliptical Space.  46 years later I got to walk inside it in NYC.  

The basic experience has a page of rules to follow, mostly regarding the access to the corridor. One person per hour is given a key to unlock and open a door that is in the middle of a curved narrow corridor-esque space.  The key holder is agreeing to not share the key with anyone else, not to take anyone else inside with them.  Closing the door behind you significantly closes off your visual experience which is vital in an art gallery.  You can see slivers of light around the curving sage painted corridor walls, but you have to move to either end of the corridor to see anything beyond, and the openings at each end are so narrow that you are seriously limited to what you can see.  So - you must rely on the people in the gallery to be your connection to the outside world.

When I signed up, I expected to use my hour as a personal and calming meditation taking the art as if it was my own for the entire hour. What I discovered after two minutes of sitting was that the rule to not share the art was so restrictive I felt compelled to bend it, like the corridor itself bends.  Although I had agreed to not let anyone into this space with me, I could invite them to talk with me and we could discuss what it was like. In a very basic summary, the work inspired me to reach out and talk with strangers which is the opposite of what an introvert like me would normally do. Photographing the interior space is unhelpful.  You might see the closeness of the walls, but it is different to feel the walls enclose you as you walk to the open ends. The best I can do is share a stack of images I call NauMoMA that gathers the experience of the walk toward and into the Kassel Corridor - and I sent copies to the NYC based curator and the artist as a way of saying thank you.


"Myself and Other Strangers" by Robin Lindsay Wilson

One of the beauties of Robin Lindsay Wilson's poetry is how he brings us into his brief but lingering worlds. He crafts memories from sensation, builds experiences from touch and taste and makes it possible for us to participate as more than readers of words on a page.

His cast of characters interact with us as if we were their family, a close friend, or lover. Our memories are, like his words, glimpses of time that are slightly fragmented and sparked by sensorial connections. As we read about these strangers we create our own memory associations which he encapsulates in hints of sound and temperature which enables us to recall fondly the experience of the others, for example, we personally discover a hunger for more than a life of basic nourishment when we sat in "Jackson Pollock's Pizza Bar".

These are not the core memories that we establish as kids reading stories, but the memories that come from having participated in life. These are the great poems for teenagers who are bored by the textbook poems they are forced to read in school as they will see a hint of life that shows that others do understand what they are going through. For those in their twenties and thirties there is recognition of a recent past while, for the rest of us, there is the pleasant sensation of reliving a life without holding on to the past.

H {N)YP N(Y} OSIS - Philippe Pareno - 2015

Commissioned by the Park Avenue Armory as an installation and experience in that amazing vast space.

July 24, 2015, I weighed the option of spending $13 to sit in the dark to watch some easy-to-anticipate blockbuster movie for 2 hours, or spend $15 for entry of an unknown length of time inside a cryptically evolving space which Pareno (or Philippe if he prefers) calls a "mental choreography".

My 3 hour experience in this constantly adjusting visuacoustic hall was just brilliant. During a weekday the crowds were few, but it was immediately interesting to feel that somehow this place would be brilliant when crowded - odd since I really do not prefer being stuck indoors with loads of people.

Automated pianos, harsh shadows, sudden shifts of the entire hall from daylight to darkness, the sounds of movie screens being hoisted and lowered so that the holding straps are percussive, ghostly representations of marquees, a series of movies which oppose fast action and yet grab attention entirely. And a truly fascinating concept (as a father of acting children) of kids speaking quietly to the crowd as the embodied dimensional representation of a manga character making observations about human life and asking some impossible questions.

At one point a crowd of school kids came in and clambered up the circular moving Bleachers and sat, or lay down, next to me while the recreation of Marilyn describes the Waldorf Astoria room she might have inhabited. It is not clear if the kids knew who the movie was about since the computerized handwriting revealed the name Norma Jean, but they all very quickly began to refer to the film as creepy. There is certainly something, not-quite-straightforward about the images and while creepy was a good word to use, it did not creep them out so much that they left.  They continued to watch; perhaps that which is creepy is also a fascination?

Alan and Michael Fleming at Storm King - 2015

On July 25th an afternoon was spent, with my friend Stephanie, at Storm King. Visiting by itself is an amazing inspiration; being surrounded by the massiveness of the art and the nature with which it coexists. The first day I ever visited I instantly became a member as one trip to the 500 acre sculptural space cannot be a one time event.

The afternoon included the opportunity to spend a couple of hours with twin brothers, Michael and Alan Fleming, who took a crowd of around 25 people/strangers on a performatory interaction around the land and two sculptures at Storm King, Adonai by Alexander Liberman and Shia Armajani's Gazebo for Two Anarchists: Gabriella Antolini and Alberto Antolini.

I was impressed by how easily the brothers helped complete strangers quickly participate together in overcoming what I imagine is the first stumbling block of any performance art...concern of perception. It began with the kind of exercises which put me in mind of the warm up exercises I did in my early days of acting at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. Loosening up of the body and then movement to help us be aware of ourselves, our surroundings, and the people around us. Working within a visually restricted space and following some simple rules allowed us to focus on rules of movement and not be concerned about the way others might perceive us.

The next step was to move around the Adonai and then in small groups of 5 or 6 use our bodies to emulate the sculpture itself. Being left on the outskirts of the groups with no strangers left to join up with, Stephanie and I enlisted the help of Alan and Michael to develop our human mimicry of the the rusted steel gas storage tanks.

To close the session we walked to the Gazebo, after having been first asked to walk in two lines and talk with the person immediately to our side. Hi to David. At the Gazebo, one of the few sculptures at Storm King where touching and walking on is permitted, our two groups then took the movement elements from the two earlier sessions and walked through the Gazebo from opposite sides. One group then took to the gazebo to perform a movement in, through and around the gazebo for the spectating second group and then we switched roles. A short round of questions concluded the session and it was nice to be able to walk away having participated, but not feeling the need to talk about what had happened in any deeper context.

What follows are my images of the other groups mimicry of Adonis. To capture that merging of people, space and sculpture together I felt that the longer exposure was an appropriate way to capture, not the moment of emulation, but the experience of time when both participating and watching.

The final image is one of my aviaries of, was it Michael, or Alan, I cannot tell, on the Gazebo.

Wim Wenders

Where to begin?

Paris, Texas - it captivated me as a teenager and introduced me to Ry Cooder's music. Wow.

Wings of Desire - how can a black and white modern movie about German angels observing people have held my fascination over the years? That scene in the library, where the subtle act of watching the collective mind of humanity humming along. Meditative. That desire and the colour of life is only available to humans. Intriguing. That even beings who observe the world in great detail will struggle at living within it.

And then, at the brilliant Strand Bookstore I came across Once, his travel/photo diary - not a typical collection of images about a travel through America that a regular visitor might take with their family and friends. Even if someone ripped out all the photos from the pages, photographers will benefit from this book just by reading his preface poem "TO SHOOT PICTURES..." which he ends by telling us a photobook can become a storybook, "if you just listen to your eyes."