Sunday, March 27, 2005

Hara-kiri Karaoke



I'm rarely sure what to make of performance art. Usually I walk away bemused or, worse, embarrassed for the artist or artists responsible. Once in a great while, I do come across a performance that amuses or interests me but, almost invariably, these satisfying works are video documents of a performance, not live performance. Am I more comfortable watching someone engage in curious behavior on film than in person? Perhaps, but I also feel that video works are stronger conceptually. Having made a number of short films, I'm guessing this may be a result of the post-production process, an opportunity for the artist to tinker with presentation.

The performance pictured above, by Ryoga Katsuma, occured during the opening of the most recent group show that I participated in. Katsuma exhibited several of his "action paintings" and a video in "Le Petit Prince," and, for the bulk of the evening, he sat on a folding chair in the gallery space, drawing quick portraits of anyone who would sit for him. His sketches bore little resemblance to the sitters, but some of the drawings were nice enough.

At one point, however, quite unexpectedly, Katsuma stood up, howled, and went through the motions of commiting seppuku on the floor of the gallery. I stood nearby, sipping red wine from my plastic cup and watching the reactions of others in the room. (The brown shoes and jeans at the top of the picture are mine.)

Frankly, the performance made me uncomfortable. Even though I am a devotee of, for lack of a better description, awkward-moment-comedy, Katsuma's intentions were clearly not comedic. In fact, I'm at a loss as to what it was he was trying to communicate. Curiously, after the initial, despairing howl, he mimed the act in total silence but, in the background, the sounds from his video, in which he also ends his life in a crying fit, were synced to his mouth movements in the gallery space. It was a marriage of pre-recorded performance with live action. I suppose you could describe it as hara-kiri karaoke; it was baffling and alarming, but also rather forgettable.

Yup, I just don't know what to make of most performace art...

6 comments:

Devo said...

Oh man... that sounds awesome. In the most uncomfortable of ways, of course. I too am a big fan of awkward-moment humor, and honestly, the more inappropriate, the better. I checked out the American version of The Office last week, and THAT is some grade A inappropriate, awkward-moment humor!

Anyway, I wish there were more fake seppuku performance artists in MY neck of the woods. You are a lukcy man, my friend. Treasure those little disturbing moments that so define our lives...

vvoi said...

well,
it isn't really my personal taste either.
there is something so desparate about many performance artists, so... pornographic - it makes you want to say - come on, what about the foreplay, and the erotism of our encounter? why the hell do you have to spill your guts on me?
but i suppose the "good performances" you've seen on video are pretty close to the ones i have. my hypothesis is different though - i think there is fairly little good performance art around, so we get to see the videos, because there are many copies, but the artists themselves don't come around that often.
i've written about performance and the net a few days ago on my blog - you might like the blog:
http://new-art.blogspot.com

vvoi said...

well,
it isn't really my personal taste either.
there is something so desparate about many performance artists, so... pornographic - it makes you want to say - come on, what about the foreplay, and the erotism of our encounter? why the hell do you have to spill your guts on me?
but i suppose the "good performances" you've seen on video are pretty close to the ones i have. my hypothesis is different though - i think there is fairly little good performance art around, so we get to see the videos, because there are many copies, but the artists themselves don't come around that often.
i've written about performance and the net a few days ago on my blog - you might like the blog:
http://new-art.blogspot.com

Hungry Hyaena said...

VVOI,

Your blog is interesting. I will definitely continue to check it out and add you to my "blogroll."

Your hypothesis regarding performance on video is curious. In my case, I often give video art only a few seconds to grab me. If it doesn't do so, I move on. For some reason, the videos that do win me over are almost always performance oriented - I suppose I'm arbitrarily determing what classifies as performance here, but Bill Viola, to my mind, is not performance whereas Kate Gilmore is.

Hungry Hyaena said...

Devo, I missed "The Office" last week. I am happy to hear that it was funny, though. I so adore the original series that I've been expecting the worst.

BTW, "Devo" was my nickname in high-school. One of many, anyway. Supposedly, I was said to appear out-of-date, as though I was de-evolving. A companion name, used by a very few peers, was "ground sloth." To this day, I'm not really sure how either of those names was justified, and I ended up in a lot of fights as a result. When you're 13 and you don't quite understand a nickname, you tend to be quick to throw fists. Given my me-against-the-world approach, I earned a new name, "Spazmanian Devil." That last one I was more content with.

Actually, it's crazy to think of how many nicknames I went through during my freshman and sophomore years of highschool. Fortunately, I hit the long awaited "growth spurt" at 15 and suddenly became "evolved."

Devo said...

Ground Sloth!!! That's awesome! Again, in the most uncomfortable and not-nice-to-teenagers way. I procured the nickname Devo in Ireland, actually. I studied there for a semester back in college, and my friends took to calling me "Stevo". However, as the days wore on, our inebriation increased by exponential factors, and due to slurring of the speech, "Stevo" slowly matured into the easier-on-the-palate "Devo". Somehow, it stuck. And I guess I don't mind it so much...

Well, if you get a chance, The Office will be playing this evening on NBC, I believe. After my other favorite show in the universe, Scrubs. Steve Carell is so uncomfortably funny, it's great...