Courage to Take Risks
Performa 17 in New York

If you want to know what the state of the art in performance is, don’t miss the current installment of Performa in New York. Since 2005, this unique biennial has been devoted exclusively to works that burst the boundaries between visual art, graphic design, dance, fashion, architecture, music, film, and even cooking. Performances were long regarded as a relic from the 1960s and 70s and garnered little attention. But they are now experiencing a renaissance, even at international art fairs like Frieze or Art Basel In an age of growing digitization and virtual worlds, live performances but also dance and theatre satisfy people’s longing for an immediate experience of art in the moment.

Many artists from the Deutsche Bank Collection are represented at Performa 17, including Kemang Wa Lehulere, Wangechi Mutu, and Yto Barrada, all of whom were “Artists of the Year.”  They all were born in Africa, the continent that is in the limelight at the festival, with a special focus on the vital South African art scene. The country’s most prominent artist, William Kentridge, is among the South African artists included at the festival. Kentridge, who realized the commissioned work „Black Box / Chambre Noire“ for Deutsche Guggenheim in 2006, presents his version of Kurt Schwitter’s legendary “Ursonate,” a sound poem that the Dadaist recited in various versions between 1922 and 1932. Sound is also a key aspect of the work of Kemang Wa Lehulere, whose “Artist of the Year” show “Bird Song” is currently on view at MAXXI in Rome. He titled his dynamic sound installation “I cut my skin to liberate the splinter.” Machine-like sculptures that like his works for “Bird Song” are partly constructed fron old school desks produce sounds when they are activated by musicians and performers. The project was inspired by “Cosmic Africa,” a 2003 documentary about Thebe Medupe, an astrophysicist who combines modern science with age-old African myths in his work. Mohau Modisakeng and Zanele Muholi, two other exciting young South African artists, are also featured at Performa. Modisakeng is making New York his stage: He is planning a procession in which twenty dancers will carry personal belongings through the city’s streets. With this performance, he is not only calling attention to the expulsions during the apartheid era, but also to the fate of refuges today.   

Her life in a field of tension between New York and Nairobi, where she recently opened a second studio, inspired Wangechi Mutu to create her multimedia performance “Banana Stroke.” In her first live performance, Yto Barrada also makes use of various media. In “Tree Identification for Beginners,” she unites film, sculpture, songs, and recited texts. The starting point for this work was a trip her mother took in the USA. In 1966, as a twenty-year old student, she was one of fifty “Young African Leaders” invited by the State Department to become acquainted with the American way of life. The Moroccan artist interweaves her family’s history with the collective past and investigates the extent to which 1960s progressive movements such as the Pan-African movement and the protests against the Vietnam War are still relevant today. The project by Julie Mehretu, who like Kentridge conceived a commission for Deutsche Guggenheim, and Jason Moran deals with the current political situation. The performance staged by the Ethiopian-born painter and the American jazz pianist reacts to the Trump era with a kind of joint mourning in which Mehretu’s gestural brushstrokes and Moran’s sounds, which are played at jazz funerals in New Orleans, react to each other.

Performa 19 ends on November 19 with a grand finale encompassing a big party and the presentation of the Malcolm McLaren Awards. The distinction, named after the “inventor of punk” and the manager of the Sex Pistols, goes to the contribution that best embodies Performa’s “risk-taking and irreverent spirit.”

Performa 17
Until 11/19/2017
At different locations in New York