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Performa 13: Exploring the Surreal

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This month, New York will once again become the center of the performance art world for twenty-four days of incredible programming, as Performa 13 makes its biennial appearance. Forty venues, one hundred events, fifty arts institutions and fifty curators will bring together the latest fusion of visual art, music, dance, poetry, fashion, architecture, graphic design and culinary arts. This year, Performa 13 will cast an anchor overboard into the ocean of art history and explore the waters of Surrealism. The festival will celebrate the revolutionary movement lead by Andre Breton in the 1920s, using Surrealism’s penchant for the marvelous, the random, the dream-like and the importance of the artist, as a jumping off point for modern performance.
Tori Wrånes, BOBO This I can't tell you, 2009, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter. Photo by Erik Slyngstad.
While the theme of Surrealism resonates throughout the festivities, a focal point will be cast on the performance tool which is the voice. Many pieces will explore the varying role of the voice in art and performance, from the simplicity of its role as the original instrument in sound and song to the notion of the disembodied voice without the performer, as well as its purpose in coercion, persuasion, seduction and violence, acting as an exclamation point beyond the movements of the body.
Performa 13 will also serve as a thread, linking New York, Poland and Norway. The Inaugural Norwegian Pavilion Without Walls pairs the Royal Norwegian Consulate General of New York with the festival, while the Polish Pavilion Without Walls brings in the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, CCA Zamek Ujazdowski, Polish Cultural Institute New York and Crikoteka, creating a dialogue between artists, curators, writers and directors in each country. As the art world becomes even more of a global village, Performa curators made visits to Bergen, Oslo, Krakow and Warsaw, searching for artists with existing performances, but also hoping to commission new pieces specifically for Performa 13. In Norway, the focus was cast on sound and vocal artists, which helped to inspire this year’s theme of The Voice, bringing together a roster of Scandinavian artists and programs like Tori Wrånes, a four part program called “Voice is the Original Instrument,” Performa Radio, Marthe Ramm Fortun, Jumana Manna, Lina Viste Grønli, Pedro Gómez-Egaña and Randi Grov Berger. In Poland, Performa curators honed in on artists concerned with a more political feel, combining ideas of art and social change in a shifting political and economical environment. The pavilion will include Pawel Althamer, Akademia Ruchu, Katarzyn Krakowiak, Radek Szlaga and Konrad Smolenski.
With over 100 events to choose from, we’ve narrowed down a few not to miss artists and performances.
Tori Wrånes, LOOSE CANNON, 2010. LIAF: Lofoten International Art Festival. Photo by Kjell Ove Storvik.
The Norwegian visual artist, composer and singer is known for singing and playing a piano that hangs dangerously over a cliff. For Performa 13, the artists will team up with New York musicians for two performances, as well as give a free talk about her method of combining her voice with physical material for her outlandish performance events.
Three Duets, Seven Variations
Presented with The Studio Museum in Harlem and Grey Art Gallery, NYU
Maren Hassinger performing Senga Nengudi’s RSVP, 1975–77, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, November 17, 2012. Photo by Max Fields.
This series will present a scope of performance art history, by pairing six intergenerational artists together in seven different pieces. At one end of history is Fluxist founder Benjamin Patterson, which will be honored with a retrospective concert of his work since the 1950s. William Pope L. will continue the Fluxist thread by reading a 25 hour marathon of John Cage’s anthology. On one evening the 1970s RSVP performance series by Senga Nengundi will be recreated and representing the contemporary, Tameka Norris will explore her body as art medium by painting with the blood from a cut in her tongue, as Jamal Cyrus fries a saxophone while reciting poetry and Zachary Fabri weaves movement, monologue and sound together (to read more about it, click here).
Subodh Gupta, Celebration, 2013. 
The Indian artist will relate food to performance, staging eight nights of feasts, cooked in the traditional style of Saturday Night Meals of Nihar, India, with each detail, down to the flatware, considered by the artist.
Presented with Pioneer Works
Philippe Quesne, Bivouac at far festival des arts vivants / Nyon, 2010. Photo by Martin Argyroglo. Courtesy of Vivarium Studio.
Visitors will have four chances to experience Quesne’s immersive Bivouac, in which the French director will bring guests on a specially guided tour of Red Hook, Brooklyn where things are not what they seem. The piece has previously been presented in Versailles and a Swiss forest.
Jenny Hval, 2013. Photo by Kristine Jakobsen.
The theme of The Voice is celebrated and explored with a concert of four opposite styles as part of the Norwegian Pavilion Without Walls. Performer Jenny Hval explores experimental pop, while Stine Motland and C. Spencer Yeh push the extended vocal technique. Attila Csihar aka Void flexes his Black Metal vocal muscle into varying shades of the Death Growl.
Presented with New York Live Arts
Jérôme Bel and Theater HORA, Disabled Theater, 2012. Photo by Michael Bauser.
French choreographer Bel pushes the notion of the performance artist identity by teaming up with Theater HORA, a Zurich based theater company of professional actors with learning disabilities; powerful piece that will be presented for six performances.
Bedwyr Williams, still from The Starry Messenger, 2013.
Fresh from the Venice Biennale, the Welsh artist’s new monologue stages a break-in into a private collector’s home – for two performances only.
Raqs Media Collective, working image from The Last International, 2013. Courtesy the artists and Frith Street Gallery, London.
The Indian collective of Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta will offer up a multimedia performance set around a roller coaster like staircase and interactive lemon trees, called The Last International, commissioned especially for Performa 13. The collective will also offer a free artists talk on their process.
Presented with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Florian Hecker, C.D. – A Script for Synthesis, 2013. Image courtesy the artist.
“C.D. - A Script for Synthesis” meshes sound, voice, text and drama with a specially designed scent, commissioned by Hecker and created by Frédéric Malle to make an all encompassing, multi-sensory experience.
Performa 13 enlightens New York venues from November 1-24, 2014. For details and tickets please visit Performa 13 website.
Written by Leah Weinstein