Sunday, March 27, 2005
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...