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“This is what you cannot see in a video”

INTERVIEW. There's one last chance to catch the Month of Performance Art Berlin tonight (May 31)! Curator Teena Lange helps explain what all of the fuss is about.

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Photo by Marco Berardi

The Month of Performance Art Berlin ends today with a couple of durational performances, New Zealand performance and video artist Alexa Wilson’s Extraordinary Aliens and one massive closing party from US Inc, as a fittingly diverse end to an equally diverse month of performance.

This third edition of the annual festival featured a new focus on the curator and their role in the presentation of performance art, creating mini hubs of artists throughout the 31 days of events. As one of the curators for this year’s events, Teena Lange invited three artists based in Berlin and one group from Brooklyn to investigate the relationship between the image and the act in the storefront she runs in Wedding – Grüntaler 9, a space towards the performative.

What’s struck you over the course of the month with regard to the performances in your curated space?

What I find interesting is that in each performance something is added or taken away or changed. That is really a challenge for each performer: how do you deal with layers of previous performances, because you don’t start with a white room. I don’t allow any kind of preparations in any sense so they have to come deal with the space the way it is. It’s also quite interesting for me to see how the atmosphere of the space changes with each performance, so it’s not about the one hour presentation in the end it’s really about what happens throughout time. It’s not about sitting here beginning to end, it’s more about the moment you choose to come within those 12 hours, six hours, or how long the performance goes. This is your moment, and how will you approach this particular moment that you’re here, this is your performance, and whether you will get involved or not that is up to you.

That’s a stark contrast to other genres of performance like theatre or dance or on the other side, like the commercial art market…

They are not so much interested in the process; they want to see the end product. But here, it’s just the opposite. Of course, the space has changed at the end of the performance but it’s not a product at all. People tend to come here and expect to be entertained in a way, and at some points during a long durational performance, the performer might just sit here for an hour and do nothing. Then people come and they think: “So, what’s happening? Nothing is happening. What am I doing here, am I wasting my time?” In this kind of performance there is no pure distinction between stage and audience, it’s more like something is happening in this very moment. It’s not about the narrative, it’s not about the characters, it’s not about the climax, it’s not about an educational or clear message – it’s really about what you can take from this experience. It’s up to you: how open you are, if you let it work, how receptive you are.

Where does the artist come in?

Of course it depends very much on what sort of atmosphere the artist creates. Because if there is really an atmosphere that grabs you right away, even if you don’t know why, then there is actually a potential that something can happen. Even if you don’t realise it in the moment, maybe you realise it one month later, or maybe you never realise it, but it stays with you.

It really is difficult to describe the relationship of the audience or observers to the work in these kind of performances.

That’s why I’m so careful with these terms. For example using words like audience or stage, I would never use the word stage, I would never use the word beginning or end, I try to avoid them. To be quite honest we are only forced to choose a beginning and an end time because we have to announce it somehow, otherwise you can just have a flowing beginning and a flowing end but people need to plan their day, so you have to tell them when it starts and when it ends.

The sounds similar to the performative state that came up in discussion about what Maria Abramovic was employing in her work The Artist is Present.

The performative state – it’s an interesting word – but the point is the artist has to be in a state where he or she is really present, and this is what you cannot see in a video or in a photo, you have to see it yourself.

More information about tonight’s closing performances at http://www.mpa-b.org