From the Editor

by Wendy Vogel

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      The Yes Men
      Detail of A Guide to the Basic Functions and Properties of the Halliburton Model X7 SurvivaBall

      When I was invited to guest edit this issue of …might be good, I was planning a trip to New York. There, the art-world vogue for performance (and vogueing) continues to gain momentum… and hype. From the spectacularized Performa biennial to the creation of curatorial departments devoted to the medium in major museums, live performance has become, if not mainstream, certainly institution-friendly. The performative turn has equally informed a recent spate of exhibitions in Texas exploring notions such as identity construction, the alter ego, the performative qualities of process and participatory practice.

      This issue doesn’t attempt to synthesize different strands of artistic practice into one statement, but rather offers a variety of positions on what I’d like to dub the élan vital and its afterglow. Henri Bergson first theorized the élan vital, or vital force, as the current of life. At the time, some believed that this ephemeral organic substance could be harvested and re-animated with electricity. Though this Frankensteinian notion may seem relegated to a distant era from a scientific standpoint, we still ask it from art. We believe in art’s power — especially live art — to activate our humanistic impulses and reanimate the character of artists, alive or dead, fictional or not. As viewers, we reap the benefit from this encounter: the frisson of enlightenment, embarrassment or transcendence that comes with art viewing.

      Yet while the renewed interest in “the live” has importantly validated the performing artist, it raises new questions about the fetishization of the artist’s presence and the degree to which all artists must perform authenticity. My review on Marina Abramovic’s exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art asks what MoMA’s stakes are in preserving “presentness” in performance. In the artist project space, Nancy Douthey presents her recent performance work, accompanied by an essay by Surpik Angelini on Douthey’s feminist use of appropriation and trespassing. In other reviews, Michael Bise considers Cruz Ortiz’s work at CAMH featuring the alter ego Spaztek, while Erin Kimmel parses the élan vital animating the corporeal work of Marianne Vitale and Nathaniel Donnett’s work exploring race and identity at Colton & Farb Gallery.

      Finally, in the interview space, I invite artists working in performance to become both authors and respondents in a game of Interview Telephone. Their answers about their practices reveal skepticism with the market, an embrace of chance, and a penchant toward personal reinvention and audience transformation. In short, their dynamic words provide a certain élan vital. We invite you to bask in the afterglow.

      Wendy Vogel is a Critical Fellow in the Core Program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.


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