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Provocative performances

Provocative performances

Posted: July 29, 2004

By Lizzy Le Quesne

Imaginative self-reflections use the body as a canvas

Performance art is a rare treat nowadays, though it is perhaps enjoying a modest reprise locally, with four or five such events in Prague galleries over the past two years. Distinct from theater or dance, it uses the body in a vital and often extreme way, focusing on the live act as symbolic or direct expression. Performance artists do not "act," they "do."

The new exhibition at Futura presents the performance work - live on opening night July 15, and for the next two months in detailed photographic and video documentation - of seven international performance artists, all of whom have studied under Marina Abramovich, one of the biggest names in the medium. World-renowned since the 1970s for her dramatic and provocative body art pieces that often pose considerable risk to her person, Abramovich also led a remarkable department at the School of Fine Arts in Braunschweig, Germany, from 1997-2004. Her training of students involves exercises in heightened consciousness of existence, such as fasting or remaining silent for several days. Seven of the graduates from this department have come to Futura under the curatorship of Emanuela Nobile Mino.

In Herma August-Wittstock's Movie Star, the artist stood sweaty and naked on a plinth for two and a half hours at the opening, calmly sprinkling herself with silver glitter squares. As the glitter built up on her body, she was transformed into a silver statue, like a modern-day Joan of Arc in shining battle dress. The sentimental soundtrack repeating the words of the title affirmed her status as both a product of the system and a valiant protester.

In the bright upstairs hall, Melati Suryodarmo performed The Promise, also shown on video and in photographs made in 2002. Seated on the floor dressed in ferocious red, this dignified Indonesian woman quietly fondled a huge raw cow's liver. Her black hair was extended to form a long, winding river or pathway deep into the space. Derived from personal cultural traditions, this touching ritual was both beautiful and pitiable by turns.

In the current standing exhibitions, Viola Yestilac's Blue Box World (2003) is a series of seven marvelously underplayed photographs from her performance. A dourly dressed woman is caught against a featureless background, like the blue screen used in television, onto which any fantasy setting may be projected. Posed in a range of subtly awkward stances, she is photographed from a number of angles, as though she is either turning to avoid the viewer's gaze or being rotated especially for it.

The downstairs Projekt Room features "ALI-EN-ATION," a solo exhibition by local artist Veronika Drahotova that "analyzes the process of alienation from society, from one's self or from a common reality, and the consequential identification with another reality: identity." The installation is dark and brooding, with dimmed lights and several references to sadomasochism. A long plait of blonde hair is a recurring image, as well as several versions of the artist's own face painted jet black with luminous green features.

This musing upon the self and self-image makes a most interesting partner show to the main exhibition, "Faxe Kondi." In this, the body is the essential site of the self, undergoing various actions to highlight emotional or political issues - in contrast to Drahotova, who focuses on a dramatically projected notion of the self as a kind of retreat. In direct opposition to the dark, rampant being in her images, Drahotova appeared at the opening in an explicitly demure dress, another performer in another guise.

Lizzy Le Quesne can be reached at features@praguepost.com

Faxe Kondi: The unZipped Time Diary

Ends Sept. 12. Veronika Drahotova: ALI-EN-ATION Ends Aug. 15 at Futura Holeckova 49, Prague 5-Smichov. Open Wed.-Sun. noon-7 p.m.

By Lizzy Le Quesne

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