COLUMNS

  • TAKING STALK

    Piper Marshall on Ericka Beckman

    FOR MORE THAN FORTY YEARS, Ericka Beckman has coaxed viewers to assume the perspective of a child. Her earliest films, in 8 and 16 mm, featured simple performances, bright geometric shapes, and crude computer graphics layered into staccato vignettes. (Critics such as Sally Banes have likened their looping, repetitive structure to children’s songs.) The camera was her editing tool: Beckman double-exposed the film to alter the tempo and animate the tableau. Rehearsing the dynamic between caregiver and ward, teacher and student, these early, small-gauge works complement pieces such as Joan Jonas’s

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  • Moving Home

    Jess Barbagallo on the New Now Festival

    DRIVING THROUGH DOWNTOWN SEATTLE, I saw construction everywhere, luxury housing for tech employees rising up around small tent cities. I was a tourist, visiting for a week to check out the New Now Festival, which is being presented by interdisciplinary performance venue On the Boards and curated by its artistic director, Rachel Cook. This is the first time in eighteen months that On the Boards has been open for business, although the space provided residencies and support to artists during quarantine. Before a performance of Beyond this Point’s Reclaimed Timber, executive director Betsey Brock

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  • Ramble On

    Tavia Nyong’o on Rashid Johnson’s The Hikers at Storm King

    STORM KING ART CENTER is located in the Hudson Valley, about thirty miles south of the birthplace of nineteenth-century black abolitionist, feminist, and utopian seer Sojourner Truth. It sits on the ancestral territory of the Munsee Lenape nation. Bringing a black presence to outdoor sculpture in this verdant rural area should be less a matter of making space for diversity within white art worlds, and more a matter of challenging the terms upon which our histories have been violently erased from the landscape, and yet remain tangled up in its undergrowth.

    A recent work by Rashid Johnson with

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  • Heart and Home

    Jess Barbagallo on NAATCO's “Our Town” and Xiomara Sebas Castro Niculescu’s “A Domestic; Cut”

    TWO ONLINE PERFORMANCES earlier this summer—a reading of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town by the National Asian American Theater Company (NAATCO), and Xiomara Sebas Castro Niculescu’s A Domestic; Cut, presented by danilo machado and Claire Kim as part of Stream/line Artist Residency—conducted serious conversations with the deceased while wisely refusing the dueling lures of nostalgia and better tomorrows. On the surface, these two projects couldn’t be more different—one, wholesome, the other, salacious—but both demanded a strangely profound patience with time itself.

    No longer solely the province of

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  • This Is Water

    Sasha Frere-Jones on Ryuichi Sakamoto and Shiro Takatani’s Time

    OUR LANGUAGE for physically slow performance has been tainted by the residue of familiar associations. Sidecar words like “delicate” and “calm” attach themselves to descriptions of performances just because they’re filled with only a handful of events. Time, created by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and Shiro Takatani, artist and founder of Dumb Type, moves slowly, yes, but it is inflamed, an emotional flaying at a snail’s pace, a psychic oven walled with black glass and set to a steady 200 degrees. For almost 70 minutes, Min Tanaka, a dancer trained in the improvisational Butoh style, moves in and

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  • Disorderly Conduct

    Catherine Taft on David Hammons's Global Fax Festival performance

    THIS IS IMPROVISATION,” Butch Morris says emphatically to an ensemble during a heated rehearsal. He continues, “This is collective improvisation. This is Conduction. This is conducted improvisation. This isn’t necessarily free music. This has a focus and I am the focus.” This moment—found in an uncredited YouTube clip likely filmed in the 1980s at the Alternative Museum in New York—effectively demonstrates the genius of Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris. To encounter the late improvisational virtuoso, theorist, conductor, composer, and performer in motion is to tangle with Conduction®, the rigorous

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  • Spirit of the Age

    Jess Barbagallo on the Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival

    BEFORE SITTING DOWN AT MY DESK for the inaugural evening of the Public Theater’s digital edition of its annual Under the Radar Festival, I scroll through my phone, looking at costumed marauders storming the Capitol Building. The pictures depict smiling Vikings, Confederate and Revolutionary war soldiers, Captain America as a paratrooper holding a straw broom. Is he a warlock, or a street-sweeper? There are enough mixed metaphors for heroism to make your head explode, and I am struck by how desperate people are for cosplay, their imaginations totally warped by popular fictions.

    It’s not the most

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  • Perfect Stranger

    Jess Barbagallo on the Pomodori Foundation’s Queer and Alone (1993)

    IN A PARTICULARLY telling moment of the Pomodori Foundation’s 1993 production Queer and Alone, based on the eponymous 1987 novel-cum-travelogue by Jim Strahs, the ne’er-do-well narrator Desmond Farrquahr (Greg Mehrten) finds himself in an intimate conversation with one of his primary nemeses, Miss Deborah Springman (Ann Rower). It’s 1979 and Desmond is mysteriously en route to Hong Kong, along with a passel of morally questionable “travel rats,” whose exploits he recounts with varying tones of amusement, scorn, and outrage over the course of the show’s sixty minutes. Having arrived somewhere in

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  • Full Circle

    Andrew Pasquier on Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Sky in a Room

    IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY, San Carlo al Lazzaretto was built as a field altar that permitted plague victims to eat of the body and drink of the blood in open air. Two Fridays ago, the church was hemmed in not by the sick, but by loud bargoers unaware of a different form of communion taking place inside. It was the twenty-fifth day of Ragnar Kjartansson’s durational performance The Sky in a Room and the beginning of the end of a summer lull in Milan’s coronavirus cases. A human-sized condom cutout flanked a mobile STD clinic in the church plaza, its cartoonish smile suggesting: We’re all fucked.

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  • Nun of the Above

    Jess Barbagallo on Ethan Philbrick’s Disordo Virtutum

    AT 8 PM ON A WARM, Thursday night, a crowd of twenty arrives in a virtual room for a Zoom performance of composer, cellist, and writer Ethan Philbrick’s Disordo Virtutum, presented by New York’s Museum of Arts and Design. With varying degrees of surprise and pleasure, I find that some attendees are familiar to me. I see a former lover, an artist with whom I have made small talk on several occasions, and a choreographer I once had a shy first date with over greasy pasta at a small Italian restaurant in Ridgewood. (Today we’re friends; she’ll text me after the show.) Curator Lydia Brawner is there

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  • Talk to Me

    Rachel Valinsky on three new lecture-performances by Carissa Rodriguez, Naama Tsabar, and Pablo Helguera

    THE ARTIST’S TALK CAN BE A DULL AFFAIR: a PowerPoint presentation attesting to careerism and credentialization, an exposition of past and current projects and institutional engagements, uninspired commentary by an artist who seemed fascinating at a distance. The contemporary circuitry of MFA visiting lectureships alone harks back to the form’s origins in academic professionalization, which has largely become a requirement for critical and commercial success despite the unbearable (and unjustifiable) burden of graduate school tuition. Born out of boredom with this standardization of the lecture

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  • Weak House

    Ren Ebel on Maria Bamford

    ON APRIL FOOL’S DAY, around two weeks into my quarantine in Spain, I attended a comedy show: thirty minutes of new material by Maria Bamford, provisionally titled The New Material Show, broadcast live and for free via Zoom from her home in Los Angeles. A couple of hours before showtime, I received an email which began with a caveat that doubled as an enticement: “Instead of comedy, this may feel uncomfortable.”

    Bamford is no stranger to discomfort, or to working from home. Her comedy, whose predominant themes are family and mental illness, has often availed itself to a kind of self-imposed house

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