Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New Humans at SFMOMA

Reposted from Working Artist's Journal:


Last night UC Berkeley philosopher Judith Butler read three short lectures/essays on speech, sexuality, love, and politics. She was participating in a collaborative performance/installation work at SFMOMA, by Mika Tajima, Charles Atlas and others, of New Humans.

I had no idea what to expect, going in. I was invited to accompany a friend and was under the vague (wrong) impression that it was some kind of visual art opening.

SFMOMA was closed and dark, but a secret handshake got us in the the door (just kidding.) That room just off the lobby where they usually have bands & food during member openings? (The Schwab Room.) It was buzzing - literally. It was loaded with electronics and there was a pervasive droning sound, alternating with static. I think it was coming from speakers in the ceiling, but I'm not sure. The room was crammed with people but they were as quiet and respectful as students at a zen center.

The audience stood (and eventually sat on the floor) around the perimeter of an area that was scattered with props, lights, and screens. There were three "acts" and between acts, people would move all the props around. Each act was filmed by a big camera on a track, plus a shoulder video cam, and multiple still cameras. While Ms. Butler spoke, digital morphs of the scene played on the props around her.

The Phyllis Wattis Theater (same floor, behind the stairs) was showing a live feed of the scene and the audience was encouraged to go back and forth between the areas. I watched the first two acts in the flesh and saw the last one in the theater.

I enjoyed Ms. Butler's lectures tremendously - they were stimulating, thought provoking, and I even felt compelled to take notes. As for the rest of it - it was interesting, from a never-seen-this-before standpoint, and because something was changing every second. But afterwards, I could not figure out what all the scene-shuffling and fancy light-show effects had to do with the issues being addressed in the lectures. They didn't detract from the lectures, but they didn't seem to add anything either. I suppose I'm going at this all wrong. I'm guessing that Ms. Butler and her lectures were not intended to be the point of this installation, but just another sound/visual effect. So, I look forward to hearing from someone else who was there, someone who can explain to me what I missed.

More photos on my Flickr site

1 comment:

namastenancy said...

We are reading Butler, along with other contemporary theorists in my Modern Art class so when I saw this event advertised I knew that I was not something I'd be interested in. The blurb on the website kind of gives it away:
For three days, SFMOMA's Schwab Room will be transformed into an installation/
film set by artist Mika Tajima (who often works collaboratively under the name New Humans), creating a live space for the exploration of performance, video, and sculpture. Tajima's set will consist of her objects (which double as scenery flats) and the accoutrements of film production, including lighting gear, dolly tracks, and sound equipment.

Simultaneously, award-winning filmmaker and videographer Charles Atlas will be shooting the event and creating live-edit works, which will be projected in real time in the museum's Phyllis Wattis Theater, as well as onto the surfaces of the installation itself.

Additional evening performances include a lecture by philosopher Judith Butler — known for her seminal work on gender performativity and subject construction — and a sound performance by noise band New Humans.

Sometimes it bothers me not to be up with whatever is supposed to be new and cutting edge. And...sometimes it doesn't bother me at all.