Sep 23 2013

IN THE ACT—A Sprawling Space for Performance edited by Corrine Fitzpatrick, Hanna Wilde, and Imri Sandström

Samara Davis

web exclusive

IN THE ACT documents five evenings of performances that took place in Stockholm and Malmö, Sweden, and in New York City. Conceived by artist Imri Sandström and curator Hanna Wilde and presented by the Swedish collective Högkvarteret, this collaboration—as the first page of the book boasts in all capital letters—“brought together a total of 44 Swedish and international performance artists, curators, and writers working within overlapping artistic domains across varied geographical spheres.” IN THE ACT is an extension of the performance work it documents, addressing many issues in contemporary performance, e.g. re-performance and citationality, the archive and documentation practices, the politics of venue and creative labor, and what it means to represent certain bodies in time and space. Each essay assumes a different style, and all pay attention to how, over time, meaning is made and remade in the hands of different authors. IN THE ACT is also a good-looking object: hand-bound with fourteen eight-page stacks sewn together and tightly pressed into an exposed spine. The middle of the book has thirty-two color photographs from all the performances: crisp images on glossy pages, voluptuously documenting each event.

The first essay by Imri Sandström, “Borrowed Words and Stolen Scenes” is produced entirely out of quotations. Beginning with a borrowed sentence from John Waters and Bruce Hainley’s Art—A Sex Book: “Not that long ago I had my library catalogued,” Sandström follows up with a citation by Charles Bernstein from Marjorie Perloff’s Radical Artifice—Writing poetry in the age of media: “Every element is intended, chosen.” Through piecing works together in such a subjective manner, Sandström demonstrates how to love a line of text without tailoring it to an interpretative frame. The short essay also underscores the book’s dependence on citation: At the bottom of each page, an elegant block of text, center-justified, lists the books and authors quoted, providing a resource for the reader and a kind of visual foundation.

Andrea Merkx’s essay, “The reproduction of a performance, a performance about a reproduction, and a performance,” is ostensibly about "Rio in MIDI," a lecture-performance in which the artist discusses several different MIDI formatted versions of Duran Duran’s 1982 hit “Rio.” Interspersed throughout the essay, however, are references to another performance, a durational piece by Malin Arnell that was going on before, during and after Merkx’s piece in an adjacent room. Merkx recalls watching Arnell's performance, and how the artist’s seemingly masochistic gestures—such as bouncing a tennis ball off own her forehead repeatedly—entangled the audience in their enactment by forcing them to witness it. The essay skillfully weaves together Rio’s conceptual history with descriptions of both Merkx’s performance and Arnell’s. By invoking another performance alongside her own, Merkx muddies the separation between them and between the audience and performer, underscoring the ways that documentation is enacted and assembled.

In Litia Perta’s essay, “Between the In the Acts,” Perta outlines the many evenings, bodies, cities, states and cigarettes that were assembled under the project’s ever-expanding umbrella. Perta writes affectionately about the performers—casting them as both anonymous and deeply familiar by describing them in terms such as “two long, brown-haired bodies,” or “a tall short-haired body.” Towards the end of the essay, Perta highlights the affective and instructional roles that each performer played in the project through a series of paragraphs dedicated to individual artists, each of which begins with that person’s name: “For Malin Arnell,” “For MPA,” “For Jenny Grönvall.” Through emphasizing the relational ties that made the project possible, Perta describes the conditions that made IN THE ACT possible: a certain self-consciousness on behalf of the performers, a particular attunement to space, bodies and time, and an insistent acknowledgment of the different relationships existing across material, geographical and textual borders.

The last essay, Corrine Fitzpatrick’s “Land of the Midnight Sun,” reflects on a road trip the author took in Sweden with Sandström and Wilde. She offers a quote from Hanna Wilde's essay in the book that informed her writing and thinking about the project:

“A work or a piece is not only interpreted by the audience…it’s also being interpreted by the actual space and by what happens between the walls and the work and also what space arises during the interaction between bodies and environment. That’s what I understand to be feminist spatiality, that which arises.”

IN THE ACT not only thinks about the politics of space as contingent on the in-betweenness of bodies and places, it also enacts these shifting and contingent formations by existing as a book, a series of performances, a group of relations, and a process in which movements, practices, relationships and the organization itself are continually taking shape.

The co-editors and writers of IN THE ACT are very adept at orchestrating adjacent voices and temporalities, both in text and through design. The use of multiple fonts and other stylistic distinctions highlight the range of editorial interventions possible within a single book. These interventions are self-conscious and not particularly innovative—IN THE ACT makes clear that nothing is ever really new—but there is something instructive about the way these maneuvers are exposed, and an unlikely generosity abounds in this text if you take the time to read it.

Samara Davis is a PhD student at NYU's Performance Studies department. She writes about dance and feminism.