Block Museum symposium explores performance art

Emily Chin, Assistant A&E Editor


As part of a dance piece in the upcoming symposium “Performed in the Present Tense,” performance studies graduate student Didier Morelli will use his body to erase words off a chalkboard.

His performance is part of the symposium the Block Museum of Art is featuring Friday and Saturday. The symposium, organized jointly with the Mellon Dance Studies in/and the Humanities, will include performances and presentations that explore and consider performance art, a type of art that features performance within a fine arts context.

“The day and a half that we’re staging is going to be really lively,” said Susy Bielak, associate director of engagement for the Block. “We’re going to be going in and out of performance and sharing a lot of different examples of performance art.”

Morelli’s performance is a recreation of “Erase Everything” by Geoffrey Hendricks, an artist associated with the art movement Fluxus, which blends different art mediums and has existed since the ‘60s. Morelli said Hendricks never performed the score himself, leaving it up to the interpretation of other artists.

“I’ve known about making this piece for a year, but the piece has a strong biographical component to it,” he said. “And for me it’s a constant dialogue that I’m having with the history of performance and performance art.”

The symposium was inspired by Block’s exhibition “A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde.” As an artist, Moorman blurred the lines between music, performance and visual art, and questioned the nature of art itself, Bielak said.

Bielak said she hopes the symposium will bring to life questions Moorman raised as an artist and organizer of the Annual Avant Garde Festival of New York.

“How does a performance curator embody the roles of collaborator, producer, instigator?” she said. “How, in turn, can curation reignite the meaning of a score?”

During her lifetime, Moorman took other artists’ works and changed them so much they became her own, Bielak said. Similarly, she said the symposium will explore the challenges and ethics behind reperformance, as several artists will be performing their interpretations of others’ scores.

“It was really exciting to think about the role of the score,” Bielak said. “The score is an organizing principle. We’re thinking about how the beats of text of the past is used as a base for a performer. (The score) has an importance and we’re thinking about the relationship between a score and contemporary artists’ work.”

Amanda Graham, the Mellon postdoctoral fellow in dance studies at Northwestern, has been teaching a course around the Moorman exhibition and is exploring intermedia works. In the class, she said her students are not just writing papers, but creating scores that will be performed at the symposium.

“It’s about how avant garde practices from the ‘60s and ‘70s influence practices today,” she said. “I believe that performance and art making is as much a form of scholarship and research.”

Through her class, students have been able to focus on an object in the Moorman exhibit and examine it closely to connect more with the art, she said.

Graham invited Morelli to speak to her class about his research and critique the work her students will perform at the Block. Students’ work ranges from textually based performances to ones in which the performer’s actions are dependent on other people in the space, Morelli said.

The symposium is part of a larger effort by the Block to serve as a “teaching and learning museum,” Bielak said. The program was built in collaboration with NU faculty and is bringing together graduate and undergraduate students with well-known curators, she added.

“It has been incredibly meaningful what we’ve been able to bring to life these past few months,” Bielak said. “We’re raising more questions. The function of the art is not to provide a solution but to pose productive questions, which is what we’re looking to do. We’re looking to invite light and challenge and feeling.”

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