As in previous biennials, we had a broad range of work and the contrast made for some startling highlights — Rashid Johnson versus Ryan McNamara, one in the steamroom of a bathhouse, with a play that is gut-wrenching and about race relations in this country, the other playful, clever, entertaining and about the internet and the history of people dancing. At the other end of the spectrum, we had community building works by Polish artist Paweł Althamer, and works about communes by Raqs Media Collective from India; an illustrated lecture on the history of the fist-fight in Surrealism by Shana Lutker, and a surreal performance with opera singers on bicycles, and much more, by Tori Wrånes.
Our booklet and our website. Everyone commented on the clarity of the hard-copy guide to the biennial, and the on-line calendar with background on projects and artists. With more than a hundred artists at over fifty venues, this was crucial. We had more visitors from abroad than ever, with curators, festival directors and artists from Korea, Norway, Poland, France, the UK, Germany and Australia, and our Hub was the busiest ever. The Performa Institute program drew hundreds of people every day to talks by artists
Pavilions Without Walls opened enormous possibilities for in-depth research into a selected country. Our curators and producers traveled to Poland and to Norway on several separate visits. We met artists, curators, museum directors, and government led cultural organizations in each country and were given the most amazing access to contemporary artists and an overview of the culture, history and politics in that country. We used the Venice Biennale’s pavilion structure as a jumping off point, but did not follow the standard of a single artist representing that country. We were very aware of the current conversation regarding 'immigrant nations' and looked beyond what it means to be "Polish" or "Norwegian". Pavilions Without Walls program has been profoundly illuminating — politically, culturally, socially — and successful for all, and will build on this program going forward.
Performa changes with every biennial. We're always taking off in new directions; for the first biennial we had three commissions and a handful of consortium partners' Performa 13 had twelve commissions and more than 40 partners. The "historical anchor" changes each year and gives us a very different focus of research each time — in '09 it was Futurism, in '11, Russian Constructivism, and in '13, it was Surrealism — and we use these ideas to drive certain aspects of the programming as well. In '07 we added a very strong dance program, in '09, it was food and architecture, this year it was the Pavilions Without Walls. Stay tuned for Performa 15. We're already in full research mode!
The biggest challenge is the fact that there are very few writers following this work in any depth, or who have background knowledge of its history. I know how hard it is to see performance with any regularity. I've spent decades going out three, four nights a week to see performances. I have a huge memory bank of images, texts, conversations with artists and extensive historical and contemporary research as reference for critical writing. Imagine if our art critics only saw visual art rarely, and then had to write serious articles on an exhibition at a museum. There are so many complex issues contained in this work, and we need many more writers who have the time and references to respond to it with the depth that the artists and their work deserve.