What the H is performance art for video?

by Patty Templeton

Performance art can be seen as the art world’s weirdo kid sister. It’s a live performance by an artist (sometimes with collaborators) presenting an action that challenges traditional art forms. Physical action becomes art. If you’re unfamiliar with performance art, a good place to start is the documentary, “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present.” Video performance art takes it to the next level. Those live actions are recorded so that a performance can extend past a singular moment.

The Durango Arts Center is hosting “Vision All Together: Performance Art for Video,” which is is up now. The opening reception is on Thursday, Jan. 19 from 5 – 7 p.m.

We spoke to Adam Forrester, exhibit curator, and Stacey Sotosky, exhibit artist, via email for details.

Durango is fairly new to video performance art. What is it?

Stacey Sotosky: Video performance art combines traditional performance art with the moving image. Performance art is an ephemeral form of fine art that became popular in the early 1960s with artists like Yoko Ono and Allan Kaprow. Video art emerged during this same time when portable video cameras became available to artists. So, video performance art is time-based and interdisciplinary; it uses cinematic tools and the human body in the production of fine art.

What are your backgrounds in performance art for video?

Adam Forrester: I was quite frustrated with making conventional photography and film work, and I eventually began performing labor intensive actions in an abandoned lot at the end of my street, things like digging a hole and filling it back in or chopping wood and nailing it back together. It was refreshing and fulfilling. Then I began taking a camera along, added a wardrobe, and hired a few crew members. The actions then became performance-based narratives codified by the camera and some editing. I continued to refine the work until it became my thesis work, a series of performance videos entitled “Adopted Obstacles.”

Sotosky: My first video art piece was exhibited at Fort Lewis College in 2002. I went on to receive an MFA at the University of Denver in Electronic Media Arts and Design in 2008. While I also make documentaries, my art pieces explore the intersections of performance and cinema.

How is an interaction to video performance art different than experiencing an exhibit of stationary art?

Forrester: The biggest difference is the time investment required by viewing video performance art … When viewing a fixed artwork such as a painting or a photograph, a viewer is confronted with a single image, and often the single image needs to be actively investigated by the viewer. In the case of a moving image, the viewer is asked to absorb the rapidly changing images, and the investigation almost occurs naturally. The moving image actively broadcasts its meaning to any audience member willing to listen, and the fixed image or artwork patiently awaits a viewer’s investigation.

Where does video art end and traditional cinema begin?

Sotosky: Traditional cinema most often attempts to tell stories to large audiences in conventional ways, while video art is free from the standards of mass media. Video art has the liberty to explore duration, pieces can be extremely long or play in a continuous loop. Video art is not required to have a narrative structure like traditional cinema. Visual, time-based media arts have blurred the lines between traditional practices, opening the door for emergent forms like dance film and new media art.

What is one of your favorite pieces in the show? Why is it a favorite?

Forrester: I’d have to say Lilly McElroy’s “A Woman Run Through a Pastoral Setting.” For the first 25 seconds, the only indication we are given that this is a moving image are a few subtle movements and flickers within this idyllic landscape. In a flash, the image we see completely changes as the artist enters the frame, and as a result the work immediately becomes more complex. We see what we thought to be a pastoral setting interrupted by McElroy. She playfully challenges our understanding of what we thought we were seeing. With her entry into the work and in turn the landscape (real or imagined), our relationship to the setting depicted as well as our understanding of sublime nature is reconfigured. Within less than a minute McElroy woos us into a cliché, then turns it upside down. It is a fascinating experience as a viewer.

What emotions or experience do you hope visitors walk away with?

Forrester: As a curator, artist, and educator, I always hope that an audience leaves an exhibit, screening, or lecture with a greater understanding of contemporary life. We live in a complex time, and it is somewhat comforting knowing that there are other people (in this case, performance video artists) in the world interested in proposing difficult questions. If nothing else, it’s a collective admission that we’re still trying to figure this out … all together.

This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.

For more information, visit http://durangoarts.org/vision-all-together-performance-art-for-video/

Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer

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