Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Punching the Clock

Dawn Kasper, This Could Be Something if I Let It

Much attention has been paid to Dawn Kaspers’s recent Whitney Biennial project This Could be Something if I Let It. I was curious about the work after having seen Kasper perform countless times in Los Angeles. I’ve always found her work to be a bit self-indulgent and ambling, as was the case with Meditations for a Fucked Up Emergency. For this work, Kasper moved all the objects from a storage room into the main gallery space as she and her collaborators broke into operatic vocalizations or recited banal diatribes. While it may have made for a nice conceptual gesture, it was excruciatingly tedious to watch Kasper carry and drag objects for nearly an hour. To complicate matters, Kasper was second in the performance line-up, so all of the “stuff” had to be put back into the storage room before the third performer could present her work.

While Meditations for a Fucked Up Emergency certainly could be called a durational performance, it is a stretch to call This Could Be Something if I Let It a durational work. For the project, Kapser moved the contents of her studio and domestic life into the Whitney. The work is an extension of a project she began in LA called Nomadic Studio Practice Experiment, where she inhabited an art space and turned it into her temporary studio.

According to the Whitney website:
Regarding the 2012 Biennial as a full-time job, Kasper is spending every day of its three-month run making new work, holding studio visits, and playing music while the Museum is open to the public.

There are many precedents for art as life as work projects Hsieh, Abramovic, Ukeles and countless others have executed durational performances in the realm of real-life. What these artists’ works all have in common is a structure, a focused dedication to the frame and action that is ritualized through containment.  As a durational performer, the first rule is commitment to your own plan of action. If Kasper is working “full-time” at the Whitney is it ok for her to “take personal days” or arrive late? The day I visited the Whitney, Kasper was absent from her work. While the video interview on the Whiney site shows Kasper interacting with patrons in a bustling open space, I was met with a cordoned off studio piled full of boxes, containers and supplies.

  Dawn Kasper, This Could Be Something if I Let It

It turns out her absence was not an anomaly as can be evidenced by this bit from Marissa Perel who penned a two-part interview with Kasper for the Art 21 Blog:

 3:00 pm: I show up and wait. I spend time observing the piles of artwork, stacks of DVDs, CDs, VHS tapes, shelves of books and equipment, photographs on the walls, videos playing on monitors, a drum set. 
…I start to panic; could she just not show up to her own show? Impossible, if she’s here, she is going to have to come up eventually.

Is it enough for an artist to name and claim a distinction for their work? Is Kasper’s work durational if she says it is? Does any one question the validity of the work outside of that distinction? There is a real crisis all over the genre of performance as an “anything goes” attitude replaces a sincere engagement with the power of the body and ritual. Far too often the only critical discourse on an artists' work is lifted directly from the artists' own statement. In contemporary performance, there needs to be a much deeper critical questioning about both form and content. 

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