Place In Place Of: Alexandria‘Place In Place Of: Alexandria’ is a work in progress by Jeremy Beaudry that manifests itself as a set of site-specific interventions, performances, and documents based in Alexandria, Egypt. Equally important and essential, this project will be co-created as a collaboration with local art and architecture university students and recent graduates. The research and documentation will be collected, reconstituted, and recontextualized on the Web at alexandria.placeinplaceof.net
‘Place In Place Of: Alexandria’ is the first project in the series of events, workshops, exhibitions, and lectures collectively titled CLEOTRONICA: Festival for Media, Art, and Socio-Culture organized by Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum (ACAF), more information will be available on CLEOTRONICA in February.
Posted on Jan 11, 2008
In what sense does my presence in Alexandria constitute a performance? (And if it does, what does that mean? Is it even all that significant?)
I think I’m wrestling with a definition of performance here. Admittedly, as a discipline with a unique history, my knowledge of performance is weak. Is performance dependent on some degree of intentionality? Or can performances be staged unknowingly by actors in the course of everyday actions and movements? What is the frame that is drawn around a particular body (or bodies) in a particular space and during a particular time to distinguish a performance? Must there be a receptive audience in order to legitimize the action(s) as a performance? What role does documentation fulfill in the reception and validation of a performance? Must a performance be made public?
I know this is happening: My movement through the city is conspicuous; it is noticed by the inhabitants of Alexandria. I can’t remember the last time I have been so aware of my own visibility in public spaces. Merely walking down the street elicits curious stares, smiles from children, excited greetings in English. (”Hello! Welcome! How are you?”) If I happen to be taking photographs of the funny things that I take photographs of, or walk through the market pointing a microphone in every direction, then I sometimes achieve the status of spectacle. It is this attention that I’m not used to and that has me considering my stay here as a performance.
Back to (dictionary) definitions. Perform is somewhat ambiguous, oscillating between “carry out, accomplish, or fulfill” and “present to an audience.” Similarly, performance: “action or process of carrying out or accomplishing an action, task, or function” and “act of staging or presenting a play, concert, or other form of entertainment.” Well, these aren’t very helpful at all actually…
Precedents come to mind: Mierle Ukeles washing the steps of the museum or shaking hands with every sanitation worker in NYC, Ulay and Marina Abramovic walking towards each other and the end of their relationship on the Great Wall of China, Gordan Matta-Clark and friends running the Food restaurant, Vito Acconci following strangers on the street, Alan Kaprow’s downtown happenings, Sophie Callie having her mother hire a private investogator to take surveillance photos of her, Situationist drifting in Paris, Francis Alys carrying a gun through Mexico City or a leaky can of paint, Joseph Beuys living in a NYC gallery with a coyote for a week, Alex Villar occupying public niche spaces, Bas Jan Ader sailing out to sea and never coming back, Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire in protest, terrorists flying planes into buildings… There are countless others.
That I would consider my presence in Alexandria as a performance has, essentially, to do with my body in space, and how the presence of my body changes that space, changes the people in that space. And what that presence might mean. My otherness here produces a kind of emanation that people visibly sense. My otherness stems from my appearance as a white western-looking male which, as Bassam (ACAF curator) notes, carries with it a degree of cultural power: my body is draped in the garments of western (mostly American) hegemony. If I do acknowledge the effect that my body has on the spaces I move through, I wish to do so without placing too much importance on these small changes. But they have significance in their own right that I am trying to come to terms with.
Finally, relating to the more modest sense of performance, I have thought about the pedestrian histories of the city as being performed by its inhabitants. My mundane performances in Alexandria—my own pedestrian histories—are compiled alongside theirs as we live out so many routines, paths, stories, etc each day.
Alexandria Contemporary Arts Forum (ACAF)