New York

Fiona Templeton

Art on the Beach

For the past several summers Creative Time, Inc., has presented an installation-and-performance program on the Battery Park City landfill, a Nelson Rockefeller-era dream which will eventually house some 30,000 new downtown New Yorkers. This odd, urban, ersatz beach—acres of empty, sandy flats—is an imposing location, and some invited artists have simply marked off an area for their artwork or performance and allowed the unusual ambience to function as an atypical backdrop spicing up typical work. Other artists have been more provocative, mapping out and presenting site-specific pieces for this most singular of art sites. In the summer’s performance series, Fiona Templeton’s Poverty, Fantasy, and Information: Part 1—Defense was a particularly ambitious attempt to exploit this incongruous environment. Twenty repetitive activities, carried out by a cast of some 60 performers, were distributed around the vast area of Art on the Beach’s fenced-off, open-air space: the mostly tableaulike scenes were spatially fixed, and viewers were invited to walk among, around, and in some cases through the events. The large scale finally defeated any attempt to pull together the widely scattered elements of Templeton’s collage “landscape veritè” conceptually—all was diffusion and abstracted fragmentation—but here and there, in no particular order or relation to each other, some catchy images and actions took place.

Overall, the events had loosely similar qualities of gamelike or ritualistic structures and activity. Among the more striking ones were “Buried,” in which three figures, including a red-gowned woman and a nude man, were embedded frieze-like in a large sandbank, and “Fortune Teller,” in which a group of courtly characters in turn-of-the-century costumes languidly presented their palms to a witty palmist in a wind-whipped, slow motion tableau at water’s edge. The staging here was reminiscent of a Robert Wilson scene. In a more mysterious, weirdly arresting series of movements, several women clad in black leotards fended off unseen irritants in “Invisible Adversaries,” and some gray-suited execs tumbled and writhed in contorted poses a la Robert Longo. Other groups of performers served up banalities—in “Climb” they climbed, in “Bandaged” they bandaged—or oddities whose import was not clear—in “Amplification” performers in red bikinis and partial football gear stood in a line and posed. An energetic, playful obscurity emerged from a sort of tag game played by a mixed team of players, again partially dressed in football gear, whose good-natured chases took them in wide swaths around the space: another idea for energizing the static performance situation was seen in some wandering performers, the most obvious being a large, fat, and truculent man escorted by two soothing, tunic-clad nymphets.

Templeton herself stood at the calm eye of the activity storm as a “blind referee”; blindfolded, posturing as if trying to absorb her collage epic without actually seeing it. Poverty’s prime mover removed herself as a rule-maker and authority in the actual performance. This contradictory, tantalizing, altered cliché of a role—a helpless control figure—was emblematic of the piece’s quirky, amiably skewed, and somewhat quizzical events.

John Howell