Rebecca Patek

Rebecca Patek talks about her performance for “Greater New York” at MoMA PS1

A still from Rebecca Patek's Back to the Source (work in progress), video, color, sound.

Rebecca Patek is a New York–based performance artist and choreographer whose work combines elements from dance, comedy, and the visual arts to create often uncomfortable theater and performance situations that involve instances of satire and violence. As part of MoMA PS1’s latest iteration of “Greater New York,” Patek was invited to perform a new work for an upcoming Sunday Session, titled “The Cringe: Performance and Anxiety,” along with the artist Ieva Misevičiūtė, who will also be presenting on October 18, 2015. Here, Patek discusses the precarious development of her new piece.

I’M INTERESTED IN the highly choreographed ways in which porn is edited and shot. My original idea for this piece was to have a porn shoot in the VW Dome, which is located outside the museum. I was going to have a live-streaming camera shooting during a panel discussion—actually the panel was going to become the porn shoot and the actors were going to be played by PS1 staff. There were also going to be actors playing security guards; one was going to be an escort named Hunter. The male escort service Cowboys 4 Angels has a cowboy named Hunter, and I wanted to hire him but it didn’t work out. (I actually met with him and he was kind of a jerk.) My idea had been that Hunter would say to me, “Excuse me, ma’am,” and make it obvious that he’s not a guard, and then we’d have sex on the panel table. I planned to edit it as “MoMA Porn” and post it on pornography websites. Part of this idea was about looking at the live thing and then realizing that the live thing is for the camera.

Sex with consenting adults is something the art world can handle. I’ve been to MoMA and I’ve seen mainstream porn repurposed as art—cutouts from magazines and so forth. To me, that could be considered more offensive than what I wanted to do, which was actual, real sex but in a way that tears down porn, that makes it awkward and uncomfortable but also maybe pleasurable. It wouldn’t be functioning as glossy and glamorous—I wanted to undercut that version of pornography.

In the end, MoMA HQ rejected most of my ideas. Slowly all the elements in the piece had to be stripped away and I realized all I had left was a panel talk. So I made a documentary about the three months of making the piece, which is what I’ll show.

Rebecca Patek discusses her upcoming performance at MoMA PS1.

I understood that the staff being involved was a no-no, but I still wanted to use the museum logo in the edited porn videos I ended up making. The dome itself also just seemed so good for porn, especially with the gray carpeting and lighting. And I think a table with water and mics would be a funny setting for a shoot. Since the whole thing was going to be set up as a scene for something else, with the final product being a video that could be uploaded to other sites, it wasn’t actually a performance; it was just a shoot. The audience would have been voyeurs and there would have been close-ups projected onto the dome walls. Of course, I didn’t expect the museum to say yes to everything. It was just my fantasy idea. But what I didn’t realize was that this piece would become so much about the institution. I never planned to make a performance about PS1’s rules—that was never my intent.

There are so many unknown factors in performance, especially when you’re commissioning a work that’s never been seen before. The museum didn’t really know what I was going to do, and so there was a fear both of the unknown and of bodies. I made the people at the museum anxious, from the beginning, I think, just because most of the work entering a museum has been made already. So it was the not knowing in addition to the fact that I had proposed something sexual. Oh, and also that it could fail—that it could be both bad in quality and offensive at the same time.

Maybe they should just disown the dome—it’s already outside the museum, anyway. Maybe they should just let it be a place where things happen that we don’t have control over.