Ulay and Jaša Perform in Redhook

Art in Review, Performance Art

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View the original article on Art Report here.

A site-specific installation and performance series by Slovenian artist Jaša and German artist Ulay Cutting Through the Clouds of Myth/Watermark is shrouded in mystery. Curated by Mitra Khorasheh and presented by WE.ARE Institute at Kustera Projects Red Hook, the “founding father of performance art”  engages in a one-time only performance with Jaša, paving the way for this promising talent to make his mark.

Ulay and Jaša are on radically different playing fields in the realm of performance art. Ulay has made a name for himself through years of subversive performance, exploring the limits of body and soul, and in recent years, by spreading awareness about environmental issues, chiefly that of water. In contrast, as if a skipping stone over the abyss of Ulay’s career, Jaša is only beginning to make his splash. He has rippled through Eastern Europe as one of Slovenia’s most critically acclaimed artists, marking his signature gravitas in experiential performance at the 2015 Venice Biennial for his country’s pavilion. His art is one that fuses poetic sensationalism with a politicized presence.

The artists came together over mutual struggles; through a single conversation, they found solace in their quest for a patrilineal connection, visceral communication, and the communal experience of performance art. In Cutting Through The Clouds of Myth / Watermark, their differences dissipate into an artistic simpatico that resonated, even if mistily, through the crowd. Through a cloud of silence, anticipation, and orchestrated uncertainty (on behalf of Khorasheh’s understated press coordination), the audience was able to absorb precisely that which Ulay and Jaša, in that moment, wanted to give.

Ulay arrived in a pristine limo to a coiling crowd of murmurs. He had one act: Weaving through a line of people holding umbrellas, he entered the glass facade of the gallery space and, facing the crowd with an inward gaze, etched the words “SOME CAN’T OTHERS DON’T.”

He retraced these letters, almost meditating their meaning and process of conception, like tracing a pool of water to create a ripple of resonance in the onlookers. This act ran a course of twenty minutes. As Ulay distinguished, this was not a collaboration, it was a cooperation; he entered Jasa’s performance space and imbued his intentions with improvisation.

Once completed, Ulay departed momentarily in a hushed  exit. The limo seemed excessive yet perfectly austere, in a humorous way that Ulay intended. It placed him on a pedestal from the outset that he ultimately subverted, diminishing the vehicle’s pontifical image to something parvenu, in communicating to the audience. His statement was beneath it all, a labile contribution to the greater nebulous of Jaša’s installation.

Khorasheh relays that his performance concerns aging and inability. Its brevity the result of  age — how time sets physical limits on an artist’s capacity to endure durational performances. After all, Ulay is remembered for the graphic extremities his performances entailed. This invokes yet another duality between the two artists, “the young and emerging versus the old and established.” What’s more, scratching the window belied Ulay’s view on art itself, that without a message art is “Aesthetics without Ethics are Cosmetics.” He is what he terms an “artivist”, an activist-artist who literally scratches the surface of a deeper message.

Naturally, then, Jaša’s performances concerned more the roots of physical process and repetition. His continuity is reflective of his linear perception of time. “As a man stepped into a crowded room…” The artist’s voice pierces the ambient sounds coming from the overhead speakers. This marks the commencement of the first performance.

Manic actions and cacophonous laughter shatter the pregnant ambiance within the space while a light goes on and off in tandem with overlapping words. “I have a father.” Jaša’s electronic and classical music interrupt the poetically vague narration. “Do we talk? Rarely.” The performance is live, tangential, and volatile. So much so that no two audience members will have the same experience. Jaša’s grating voice unveils new words each day as performing elements accumulate and break away. “Maybe we should just fight and get it over with.” Like a caretaker he moves around the space writing things on the floor, washing them away, and changing a bucket that fills with dripping water.

The words and actions seem arbitrary but charged are with the same intimate tension. What the audience is really witnessing is an inner, private network of thoughts. A sense of intrusion is omnipresent. Yet the collective response of the audience is what drives Jaša, making the spectator an active participant in the evolving thought process.

Always relevant and always moving, Jaša mirrors Ulay; the artists invoke the present in their work and crystallize the often escapable, oscillating meaning of contemporarian thought. In their joint performance, this ability to penetrate the attention of the audience, to bring everyone together in a single moment, is clear cut and crystalline.  The artists strike the same chord and bound their identities in a moment of coexistence, a complicit clarity that cuts through a lifetime of cloudy identity between them.

– Quincy Childs

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