Countdown to Gala 2017, Day 22: Excerpts from Issue #30 of the Movement Research Performance Journal

The 2017 Movement Research Gala on May 8 will celebrate 25 years of Movement Research at the Judson Church and 50 Issues of the Movement Research Performance Journal. As we count down the days until the Gala, we’re posting #50DaysOfMRPJ with Editor’s Notes and excerpts from each Performance Journal.

Movement Research Performance Journal Issue #30 was released in Fall 2006. You can view the full Table of Contents here.

*The Movement Research Gala will take place Monday, May 8 at 6pm at Judson Memorial Church. For more information, to volunteer or to purchase tickets, click here.

#MRGala2017 #50DaysOfMRPJ


MRPJ#30: Jennifer Monson

Editor’s Note

Editors: Trajal Harrell, Jill Sigman and Darrah Carr

MRPJ#30 is an experiment.

A set of inquiries regarding the possible performance of the journal.

Possibilities.

1. Not just the performance of the reader and the text, but also the journal’s physical performance in the culture. How might this particular issue perform itself differently in terms of its relation- ship to the many environments where it will find itself?

2. It is also an object which could just be seen as paper with marks and stains. Feel free to also disassociate it from agreed–upon linguistic meanings. So, slap it. Draw on it. Lose it. Lay it on the floor. Let the new puppy pee on it. Sleep on it. Wrap fish and chips in it. Give it away to someone you love. Read it onstage or toss it out the window in your next piece. Or wear it over your head in the rain. And after you have perhaps exhausted the possibilities you care to engage, read it again. Reassociate it to agreed–upon linguistic meanings. Has it changed? Have you changed?

Change.

I haven’t changed. I said once before that I never wanted to do the journal again, but I came back for more. Because it is a beast. And beasts are scary, and monstrous, and unforgiving, and willful, and bigger than you are. And they push you to your limits where you can discover new things. It’s my form of race car driving. Or downhill skiing.

That said, a special thanks to Levi Gonzales, Koosil-ja, Isabel Lewis, Alejandra Martorell, and Carla Peterson, all of whom gave me the initial encouragement to put together a team and follow this inquiry. And to Jill Sigman, for keeping track of all the balls even though they were primarily always up in the air. Last, but not least, superthanks to the writers, artists, MR Staff, graphic designer, copy editors, and the editorial team who made this possible.

Trajal Harrell

I signed on to this editorial team because this issue of the Journal was an experiment I wanted to see happen. What if the workings of our “downtown” dance world could be accessible to, interesting for, and informed by a larger sphere? And how could the MRPJ be a vehicle for that? In thinking about these things, a distinction bubbled up: I had never thought about the difference between a magazine and a journal. In its most prosaic sense, a journal is something personal — a confessor, a repository for inner language. In an academic sense, it is a place for the construction and dissection of a shared body of knowledge. The MRPJ has indeed been both. But a magazine is a beast of a different stripe; it creates hype, edge. It builds identity. A magazine is a picture of a culture caught in the act of striving.

So what would it be for the MRPJ to be a magazine? What if the articles were not related thematically but like bars in a happening neighborhood or videos on YouTube? — component parts in some vague phenomenon of now. In order to look at how “downtown” dance negotiates with the larger world, this MRPJ, qua magazine, itself became an instance of that.

Many thanks to everyone who made this issue happen, particularly to Darrah and Reghan for hitting the ground running, Carla for her radical faith in our project, and Trajal for his vision, smarts, and undying get-up-and-go.

Jill Sigman

Having spent the last six years as a freelance writer for Dance Magazine, Young Dancer, Dancer, and the online Dance Insider, I am well-acquainted with the traditional magazine format. The Movement Research Performance Journal, however, is less familiar. Although I have long admired many of the artists involved with Movement Research, I have not been directly engaged with the organization, given my heavy involvement with New York City’s Irish dance community, whose concerns and aesthetics are arguably quite different from those of the downtown dance community. When I was asked to join the editorial team, I was immediately intrigued. Not only would my specific journalistic background be well-served, but also, the team’s intention of reaching out to other disciplines through presenting the journal as a magazine resonates strongly with my desire to bridge the practices of contemporary dance and Irish dance within my own choreographic work. My very participation in this process is one manifestation of the goal of connecting to different artistic communities and speaking to a broader readership. As part of the editorial team, I also welcomed the opportunity to engage in dialogue with the writers whose multiplicity of perspectives makes these pages really thought provoking. My sincere thanks to Movement Research and the entire team for inviting me to be part of this process.

Darrah Carr

Miami’s Octavio Campos and the Business of Art

by Laura Diffenderfer

When Cuban-American choreographer-performance artist Octavio Campos returned home to Miami in 1996 and began showing his own work, after spending seven years of his career in Europe (most spent in Germany performing for director Birgitta Trommler), he was not exactly received with open arms. “People thought I was crazy. They were like, what the fuck are you doing? This is not dance. This is not art,” he tells me in a recent phone conversation.

Campos explains that the piece in question, Three Way Soup, took place in the parking lot of a Filipino restaurant and was “a bit like a freak show.” The audience was escorted through a caged back door, where they were witness to a duet performed by Campos and a blow-up sex doll named Rita. “That was the beginning of the end,” Campos laughs. He spent almost four more years working in Germany before again returning home to Florida, where he has continued to make what he calls hybrid theater works that question the boundaries of performance.

I had the opportunity to see his most recent production, IPO, at the Sellout Festival in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, this past July. TheaterMania.com described the performance as “a public meeting for potential IPO World- wide franchisees” where “art, artists’ body parts and sweatshop girls will be auctioned off,” which called to mind ’70s performance artists, child labor laws, and strippers. Off to a good start.

Entering the theater, I was handed a clip-board and a pencil and asked to fill out a form which asked for my name, telephone number, profession, and salary. I felt reluctant to give out this information, but after a moment of hesitation, I went forward in the name of art.

Inside, Campos and his fellow colleagues were rushing around in business attire. I was passed an agenda and soon we all learned that we had, in purchasing a ticket, become shareholders in a company called IPO. The meeting was about to begin. The subject, it seemed, was the business of art. Foremost, IPO addresses the lack of funding for art in this country, and the difficult place that the arts hold within capitalism. After a few brief remarks, Campos (A.K.A. Dr. O, the CEO of IPO) passed around a collection bowl, telling the audience: “We won’t begin until everyone donates.” We chuckled, fairly certain this was a hoax. But then, one of his business associates produced a glass receptacle and began circulating through the audience, pausing in front of each viewer until he or she had coughed up some cash. Surprisingly, everyone tossed in a dollar or two, except one man, who after much convincing begrudgingly flicked in a business card.

This badgering for money went on throughout the performance. As Campos talked about IPO’s business plan, cell phones began to ring (we had been asked to leave them on), and a spattering of muddled voices emerged from the seats around me. When mine started to buzz, I answered and a lovely woman attempted to sell me something for three dollars. I politely declined and she said she would call back. I thought about turning off my phone.

While participation potentially offers the audience a certain amount of freedom, beneath this element of inclusion is a constant undertone of pressure and coercion. During IPO I shifted uncomfortably, wondering: If I refuse participation, am I being a bad sport? And alternatively, if I accept my status as a participant and assert this new freedom by interjecting, do I become a performance hijacker? (I remembered that a friend of mine once joked about becoming a performance terrorist, agreeing to be a part of a project and then derailing it at the worst possible moment.) As these questions ran through my mind, I began to appreciate the man who refused to give his dollar. Because, of course, the environment was such that there was little choice but to do what you were asked. Full participation meant donation. Just as in advertising or politics, the rhetoric of freedom was managed with cutting precision by the charismatic, convincing and watchful eyes of its orchestrators. Used to placing myself on the side of the artist, I began to resent the fact that I was being manipulated.

But, Campos’s work might suggest that this is the way we should feel. On his Myspace page (www.myspace.com/campostion), he asserts that his works “are a direct response to the world’s staged sensuality and political corruption.” Many of his pieces deal with the ways in which reality is hidden in everyday life, often pointing to the theatrics of corporate America and politics. Campos calls these practices into question by utilizing similar approaches himself, leaving the audience to question why. In interfacing the logic of art making with that of capitalism, both realms become unfamiliar and absurd. (At one point in IPO, Campos suggests outsourcing painting, assuring us that “art from a teen in Sri Lanka is just as cutting edge as a middle-aged collage artist from Brooklyn.”) The result is disarming, and perhaps the goal is to make us, first, angry at him, and, next, angry at the institutions whose practices he is aping.

Other recent works have utilized similar tactics. Artists such as German director Christoph Schlingensief and performance artists/activists The Yes Men have been questioning both the boundaries of performance and ways in which truths are sometimes masked by institutions. Schlingensief, whose work has been said to create a “permanent state of insecurity by blurring borders between reality and fiction, art and offence, intention and action,” ran for chancellor of Germany in 1998. It was a real campaign, in a real race, as well as a work of performance called Chance2000.

Similarly, The Yes Men have made recent appearances as representatives of Halliburton and McDonalds. Most famously, in 2000, they set up a fake World Trade Organization website which garnered them an invitation to speak at an international trade law conference, where one of the members gave a speech suggesting that a “free market” in democracy should be encouraged by allowing votes to be sold to the highest bidder, and that the siesta in Spain should be outlawed in the name of standardized business hours. Just as Campos’s outsourcing idea is humorously absurd, these suggestions hint at unsettling realities that are often masked by the PR of large corporations.

In mimicking a corporation, IPO led me to wonder where exactly candor ends and critique begins. Campos’s performance was, at least in part, a legitimate attempt to raise funds. In addition to the inaugural donation, the IPO telemarketing resulted in another small contribution from the majority of audience members. (After much pestering, I finally purchased a drug that was to solve all of my problems, right before my date bought a back rub from a Russian jazz dancer.) The line between irony and earnestness remained blurry. And, IPO, it turns out, is not just a performance, but a company of sorts with a website (www.ipo-worldwide.com) and a mission “to replace the tired cliché of the starving artist with a thriving, functional structure of artistic entrepreneurship…”

But, the most provocative questions in Campos’s work are not those relating to why art is not better funded (although those are valid, too), but those which ask why we have found ourselves in a society in which the theatrics of politicians and advertisers have become so prevalent that it has become difficult to feel or see anything else. Campos has stated that he creates work to challenge “both artist and audiences with new ways of seeing, represent-ing and responding to contemporary life.” Along the lines of IPO, in Campos’s 2005 installation work Scan Artist, (originally performed at 801 Projects in Little Havana), he placed himself in an office with a large gold- painted copy machine, where he attempted to convince viewers to give over a piece of their identity to his company. Audiences did so by allowing Campos to scan a personal item or body part “into the infrastructure” of the business. In the culmination of the performance, Campos takes a bat to the giant machine.

What I find most interesting is that, in mirroring the practices of the very institutions which often both sustain art and threaten its very existence, this kind of work becomes a dance with the political. In our current climate, this is perhaps the most pressing — the most urgent — business of art. Campos laughs for a moment, reliving his Scan Artist antics, and then falls silent. “I just never realized how difficult it would be to break the machine.”