Last summer I found myself in the company of Every house has a door’s Matthew Goulish and Lin Hixson discussing the first performance series Sector 2337 would host. Not surprisingly it began as an ambient conversation — they asked about what Sector’s first show was going to be, and as I began to describe The New [New] Corpse, an invitation began to form. What would they think about co-curating a night of performance art? The Dead Weight Performance Series bookends our inaugural exhibition, occurring first on October 8th (just before the gallery opened) with Carlos Martiel and Jesse Malmed. The final installment is on December 18th (a week after our first show closes) with Amelia Charter and Jefferson Pinder. Recently I had the opportunity to ask Matthew and Lin about their curatorial approach to this series.
Caroline Picard: Ever since I read your description of the Dead Weight Performance Series, I have been thinking about the human as a “nonhuman event.” What does that mean? And how do you see it appearing in the four Dead Weight artists?
Matthew Goulish: We meant that phrase as a provocation and invitation to the artists. It resulted from philosophical thought, and now in practice it suggests to me a distillation of the complex systems of human existence, their separation, as if reducing the human to one aspect, and allowing that reduction to take the stage and impel the human in a nonhuman direction. Carlos Martiel lined up eight prone figures under flags. They became people as bodies, and bodies as objects, with a patriotic inflection, perhaps ironic. The classic uncanny arises in that confusion between living and dead. Jesse Malmed’s language often appeared to adhere to game-like rules or technological structures, simple devices such as to tell a joke as if it is serious, to tell a serious story as if it is a joke, to leave out the punch line, to alphabetize three figures who have the same first name as if that act is of value. Each of these suggests a mind becoming a machine through its work. Its work is to do the work that transforms it into a machine. I do not know Amelia Charter’s plans yet, or Jefferson Pinder’s in detail. I suspect Jefferson (based on previous work of his that I know) will compose with repetition of body types and activity in a way that destabilizes distinctions between individual and group, suggesting militarization, training, or a performance of servitude, with social and historical overtones. Amelia I believe has an interest in those embodied behaviors that converse with the intersecting logics of use value (labor) and dance. When she performs, she appears possessed by a spirit in excess of the human. I think one can understand each of these cases through that phrase, the human as a nonhuman event. Lin and I had observed trends in these artists’ practices to which we wanted to respond by devising an invitation that might serve as permission, or license to contribute in a certain direction.We offered an idea that excited us in relation to their work.
CP: Can you talk a little bit about how the two of you, Matthew and Lin, work when you curate performance? How is it different from organizing a new work of your own with Every house has a door?
Lin Hixson: When curating, I am looking from the outside. When creating a performance, I am looking from the inside. To me, what is fascinating about these vantage points is that they are vectors, in motion, and directed toward the same locale – a meeting place where people come together to experience the performance. In both the curated and created performances, a topology of connection occurs between the inside and the outside. To bring the curated performance to the point of presentation, I remain an outsider guided by the artist on how to meet the interior needs of the work contextually and physically. To bring a work I am creating to an audience, I remain an insider attentive to articulating the requirements of the work on its journey to the outside. Both involve listening and moving back and forth. But the starting points are in opposition.
CP: How do you negotiate a desire to make an audience feel generally welcome while also responding to the individual artists’ work, and the architectural demands of a given setting? What balance are you aiming for?
MG: The question for me is one of a play between immersion and distance. The standard of display in an art gallery to my eye has an individual viewer in mind. Galleries work perfectly when I am the only visitor. Arriving as one in a collective audience, whether at an opening or to attend a performance, nearly always poses problems. It is difficult to engage with the work when you cannot see it because you only have a clear view of the backs and heads of the people standing in front of you, or when you remain concerned with what to do with your own body during the entire event. The free-for-all you encounter, or the half-hearted attempt at transforming the gallery into a performance space, might prompt you to question the honesty of the invitation. On the other hand, visual art practitioners and supporters seem justifiably skeptical of ideas of “theater,” I suppose because of the perhaps accurate history of threadbare seats, sticky floors, and audience members hiding and napping in semi-darkness. Lin and I like the curatorial challenge of importing elements from across this habitually policed boundary, or assessing the actual possibilities of the room and allowing, in the concept of the event, a measure of space for all bodies concerned. I have used the word hospitality, and by that I mean framing and orienting the event as legible — visible and audible — and honoring the contract that the invitation assumes. In practice that might mean raising levels of viewers or performers, providing chairs in a thought-out arrangement — small gestures that require a degree of care, attentiveness to the requirements of the performance and what audience configuration it necessitates, as well as the accurate anticipation of the effect that a room’s volumes and organization will have on individuals within a group of specific number. Lin says I am an architect at heart. But I have learned from her how to attend to the singular possibilities of the relationship between the performance and the room in which one finds oneself.
CP: How has the performance series been developing in your minds since we first started planning it in August? What do you think happens to a series like this, when its first and second parts take place a month and a half apart?
LH: Since we first starting planning and talking about the series, it has become a reality. The first evening of performances with Carlos Martiel and Jesse Malmed took place on Oct. 8 and the second evening with Amelia Charter and Jefferson Pinder will happen shortly on Dec. 18. For me, the process of curating these works moved from the abstract to the concrete and then opened up again, engendering deeper understanding and possibility. For example, we began with the idea of the series engaging a dialogue between human and non-human in a way that considers the human as a non-human event. As curators, putting together the performances of Carlos and Jesse involved finding performers, finding a lectern, turning the lights on at the right time, turning them off again. Orienting the audience in the right way, setting up risers with no chairs. Setting up risers with chairs. These are all obvious things in producing a performance. The abstract idea turns into the unfolding of a chair. It is now prosaic and straightforward. But it is part of the construction of the performance and part of the construction of its meaning. When the performances took place, when the flags of Carlos and the texts of Jesse, inscribed bodies with matter and words with architectural physique, an unanticipated way of seeing the non-human and human event occurs and unfastens a new way of approaching the world.