Conference, Thursday 3 April–Saturday 5 April 2014

Para Site is proud to present “Is the Living Body the Last Thing Left Alive? The new performance turn, its histories and its institutions” co-conceived by Cosmin Costinas and Ana Janevski. The 2014 edition of Para Site’s International Conference is a major international forum discussing the renewed encounter between dance and performance and the institutions of global contemporary art, marking one of the most significant set of developments in the art field over the last decade.

The past twenty years have seen contemporary dance emerging as a new field of discourse and thinking. While writing within and about these developments is still in its infancy, this scene has produced some of the most powerful works of our times, reflecting the major intellectual directions and the changes in the world over these decades. More recently, dance and performance have entered the institutional realm of contemporary art, with more artists working in and around these disciplines, and with more museums, art centers and biennials considering how to deepen their commitments to performance. While these are global phenomena, the resources needed to mobilize such processes (and the sheer budgets for many dance productions) mean that they are primarily visible in the centers of cultural power around the world. However, a loosely related history of performance art as a category of visual art has been written for a longer period of time, and it is composed of multiple, fragmentary and geographically dispersed stories, many of them marking older turning points in their respective contexts, be it around the 1950s in Japan, 1960s and 1970s throughout Latin America and Eastern Europe, 1980s in China, or the 1990s in parts of South East Asia and Eastern Europe. This conference attempts to look at these interconnected stories, and in the process to point out and to extend the boundaries of what is possible in the paradigm of art and performance today.

Divided into three larger chapters, the conference focuses on the first day (3 April) on the new performance turn, the paradigm shift that has been increasingly bringing dance into the museum and doing it in a new way. It looks at the economic and political conditions behind this shift. It acknowledges that “performance” has a double meaning, as a live element in the arts and as a reference to economic productivity. And while doing so, it points out that these new developments are caught between apparently resisting the commercialization that has engulfed the object-based art world over the same period, and being the perfect products of the immaterial experience economy, where memory itself is a prime commodity.

The second part on 4 April looks at the more recent proliferation of living bodies in exhibition spaces, and of dance in museum programs. It tries to understand what are the institutional realities that allow this to happen and the institutional transformations that respond to this change. It looks at performance as a new instrument of curating and organizing meaning and while doing so, it asks whether there has been a crisis of the vocabulary of curating that has been conveniently suspended by the energy of performance. And in regards to museums, it wonders what is possible to acquire for future generations, and how should performance be displayed?

The third chapter on 5 April is composed of case studies of different histories of performance art within the field of visual arts, in different geographies, throughout the twentieth century. It discusses how and why these histories are being recuperated, translated and integrated or on the contrary excluded from the new institutional realities of contemporary art. Which histories are privileged and which ones are dismissed? Does the new paradigm of performance need these histories and are these histories legitimate historical precedents for this new paradigm? Or is the new performance turn too much a product of our times and its roots in the performance art of the late avant-garde too vague? Participants in this section include Inti Guerrero (Hong Kong-based curator, Associate Artistic Director at TEOR/éTica, San Jose, Costa Rica), or Claire Tancons (New Orleans-based curator, writer and researcher).

Para Site, G/F, 4, Po Yan Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong.

Conference, Thursday 3 April–Saturday 5 April 2014. Free of charge to the public. Live streaming is available.

Headline picture’s credits : Alexandra Pirici and Manuel Pelmus, “An Immaterial Retrospective of The Venice Biennale,” 2013. Enactment of drawing depicting two tigers exhibited in the Japanese room at the 14th International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice, 1924. Performance view, 2013. Photo: Italo Rondinella. Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia.