One Night Stand in Paris-II

Adam Fahy-Majeed on an exploration of performance art curated by Amin Gulgee at the Cité Internationale des Arts

One Night Stand in Paris-II
As we have already seen, the performance art curated by Amin Gulgee at the Cite Internationale des Arts at Paris was characterized by a non-linear, multi-sensory cacophony. But this in no way detracted from the structural integrity of the artistic dialogues that, like particles accelerated in a collider, propelled by the divergent energies of its performative agents, organically created a complex, reticular network of interwoven tangents, rather than a linear narrative.

This was epitomised by another dialogic interaction, which materialised between three dynamic, young performers: Tatyana Jinto Rutherston; Amber Arifeen; and Alex Ayivi. Their performances heralded the emergence of the hybrid generation in the sphere of cultural production, for whom the possibility of parallel cultural realities has been a permanent existential actuality. This hybrid generation are anthropologists from birth, their cultural liminality inherently providing them with augmented anthropological insight into multiple cultures, ensured by the simultaneous adjacency and observational distance of their positioning, spawning a self-reflexive instinct in cultural production.

Raymond Hosny - "Look at me" - Sculpture by Amin Gulgee - "Pain" - Image courtesy - Roman Ruiz

Perched on a table in the corner of the atrium, Jinto Rutherston, of British-Japanese heritage, transformed herself into an eroticised, manga-esque schoolgirl, repeatedly painting ‘TOKEN’ on sheets of paper in bold red, yet with the measured, deliberate grace of Japanese calligraphy. At the conclusion of her performance, she tore them up, leaving a solitary ‘TOKEN’ stuck to the voyeuristic, mirrored surface that had backgrounded the entirety of her performance. Yet with the irreverent incisiveness of youth, she added a layer of discursive criticality with her title, “Une Magicienne de la Terre”, demonstrating an acute sensitivity to the performance’s locational context; an element which linked the nodes of this discourse on hybridity-as-anthropology. Whilst the surface layer of her work speaks to the eroticisation and fetishisation of the Japanese female form, the ingenuity of her title reveals a self-reflexive critique of the neo-exoticisation of ‘Asian art’ pointedly directed at the Euro-American art world. In this, Jinto Rutherston assimilates the two as parallel manifestations of the “Western gaze”, whilst simultaneously questioning the ethnographic turn in contemporary art and the problematics of art world power dynamics in an erudite touch, intentionally inviting discursive analysis.

Downstairs in the gauntlet, Pakistani artist Amber Arifeen’s performance, “Dévoilez”, was in direct dialogue with Jinto Rutherston’s, both in its conceptual criticality and practical realisation. Arifeen, on the floor in a hijab, wrote lines, as if in detention, but repeating the single word “dévoilez” (“unveil yourself”), upon a mosaic of reproductions of a 1950s propaganda poster from French-controlled Algeria, encouraging Algerian women to ‘dévoilez-vous’ . The poster’s text, translated from the French reads: ‘Aren’t you pretty? Unveil yourselves!’, foregrounded on the caricatures of three fully veiled women, and one in a hijab, revealing her “prettiness”. In this work, Arifeen succinctly draws parallels between the “emancipatory” rhetoric of French colonialism and its history of unveiling Muslim women, and the controversial 2010 legislation banning religious face coverings from being worn in public (specifically the niqab and the burqa), as well as the “burkini” controversy in 2016. As Arifeen states, “Once again women’s bodies have become battlegrounds for ideological and political warfare.”
Pakistani artist Amber Arifeen succinctly draws parallels between the “emancipatory” rhetoric of French colonialism and its history of unveiling Muslim women, and the controversial 2010 legislation banning religious face coverings in public

This artistic discourse was furthered by French artist Alex Ayivi’s performance, La MUA. Ayivi sat behind a desk, stacked with banknotes of a currency of his own creation, the eponymous Monnaie Unique Africaine, which he stamped with his signature and distributed to audience members. The MUA is a utopian form of tender, envisaged and physically realised in opposition to the financial neo-colonialism of the Central, and Western African CFA Franc, the respective currencies of 14 independent African nations, and still guaranteed by the French treasury. On its introduction in 1945, the CFA stood for “colonies françaises d’Afrique” (French colonies of Africa), and whilst it has changed its name it continues to exercise neo-colonial power over the nations whose financial stability it putatively protects. In his performance, Ayivi inversed this power dynamic, become the distributor of currency to the Parisian audience because, “he had too much”. Through Ayivi’s circulation of this utopian, pan-African currency in Paris, “he is henceforth rich and enjoys the monetary power of the MUA.” Through this inversion he is able to embody the problematic elements of the maintained French presence in Africa and the way in which the CFA Franc reinforces French economic hegemony over a large swathe of Africa, whilst simultaneously proposing an idealised, colourful alternative. The audience took away a keepsake from the work, one of the fantastic MUA banknotes, and in doing so, secured Ayivi and the MUA’s imaginary wealth and power.

This artistic discourse evincing the potentiality for anthropological insight imbued within cultural hybridity was furthered by Benjamin Daman’s “Childhood memory”, in which he ground up spices representing his childhood in La Réunion, offering his formative memories for the audience to taste. A philosophy student at the Sorbonne, Daman not only entered into this dialogue by giving the audience a taste of the formational complexities of cultural hybridity, he epitomised Gulgee’s curatorial methodology in structuralizing “One Night Stand” with multi-sensory, textural topographies. Gulgee’s incorporation of non-artists to add further layers of nuance to these textural topographies was testament to the experimental innovation this methodological approach realised. This simultaneously ensured the dialogue operated on multiple levels of sensorial perception – visual, gustatory, olfactory, textural, auditory – whilst accelerating its conceptual, transcultural variegation. Yohan Kim, South Korean owner of Parisian patisserie Monsieur Caramel, explored the Pavlovian nature of smell and taste by making and distributing caramel in the atrium; Algerian-French security guard Saad Zeroual moved around the exhibition studying the audience’s faces in “Le Physionomiste”; Parisian journalist Eliane Volang moved through the exhibition handing out homemade cakes in “Epices and Love”; Tunisian LGBT activist Omar Didi engaged audience members in discourse; Montenegrin academic Tijana Todovic asked the audience to stitch her jacket with compressed wool. In this, Gulgee broadened the perspectival and perceptual scope of the discourse of “One Night Stand” and thus, augmented its anthropological insight.

Alex Ayivi - 'La MUA' - Image courtesy - Luis Carlos Tovar

Consequently, broader discourses that emerged that more conspicuously synthesised anthropology and performative contemporary art. This was exemplified by the manifestations of contemporary performance as masquerade in “One Night Stand”, physically explored the ‘differing relationships between performer, mask and identity in performance’, therefore embodying an anthropological insight into the place of masquerade in transcultural performative art. Congolese artist Precy Numbi’s impressive sculptural performance, KIMBALAMBALA embodied the third of Jedrej’s categorisations of these fluctuating relationships: “the interesting possibility of both mask and what is being masked is accorded equal significance”. The title, deriving from the Lingala vernacular nomenclature for cars made from recycled parts, is apt, as Numbi created a humanoid robot from the carcasses of cars that he could inhabit; a scrapyard cyborg. Ostensibly, the mask is of the utmost importance, conceptually and visually, the anthropomorphic manifestation of Europe’s exploitation of Africa as a junkyard, ecological and political in its defiant existence. However, as this KIMBALAMBALA exoskeleton, a 23-kilogram suit of scrap metal, was being animated, controlled and propelled by a human agent, whilst it constantly moved around the exhibition in resistance, it truly embodied a cyborg mask, a robot-human hybrid; the mask and the human underneath the metal accorded equal significance in its performance . Lebanese actor Raymond Hosny’s performance “Look at me” also displayed this dual possibility in masquerade, at times inhabiting, and at times in maniacal, unintelligible dialogue with a metal mask – Amin Gulgee’s bronze sculpture, Pain – as its own separate entity , as did Iranian artist Hura Mirshekari by confronting the audiences with various masks made by Iranian sculptor Mehdi Yamohammadi (Mirshekari’s husband) in “Changing the Face”.

Lebanese actor Raymond Hosny’s performance “Look at me” also displayed a dual possibility in masquerade, at times inhabiting and at times in maniacal, unintelligible dialogue with a metal mask – Amin Gulgee’s bronze sculpture “Pain” – as its own separate entity. The same goes for Iranian artist Hura Mirshekari confronting the audiences with various masks

Jedrej’s second “possibility” in the performance of masquerade, in which: “… attention is focused on a materially and symbolically elaborate mask…”, not only manifested itself in a dialogue in which affinities bridged the masquerade and the ritual, crucial phenomena in anthropological discourse and pervasive in “One Night Stand”. Otiniel Lins; Cheo Cruz; Nirveda Alleck; and Thierry Lo Shung Line, all incorporated aspects of the shrine in their works, immediately imbuing them with a potent sense of ritualism. Lins, a Brazilian artist, covered completely in roses, picked the flowers from his body to proffer to the audience. Though extremely mobile in his performance, entitled “Time scents”, Lins orbited the white netting and petals that anchored the masquerade, whilst nearby, Amy Kingsmill, dressed in white, dichotomously bled herself onto white roses in the sacrificial ritual of “Fairytale” , statue-like in her impervious stillness. Another British artist, Stephen Sheehan questioned the very nature of this aspect of ritual in performance in his work, “We are giants standing on mountains,” the artist becoming an obscene perversion of an altar statue, a performative, physical embodiment of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) at the entrance of the exhibition, repeatedly urinating himself in a basic, visceral act of behavioural transgression; an excretory offering at the feet of future human irrelevance. With the immediacy imbued by performative contemporary art, this also encapsulated the playful, yet distinctly confrontational diminution of distance between artist and audience that pervaded “One Night Stand”, commendably subverting the viewer’s surety from their very entrance to the exhibition, having to watch their step to avoid the liquid produced by Sheehan’s “fountain”. In the performances of Mauritian artist Nirveda Alleck and Thierry Lo Shung Line, an artist from La Réunion, both performers undertook metamorphosis of enshrinement. In Lo Shung Line’s “Personalchemy”, the performer himself became a mobile embodiment of the shrine, hanging specific iconographical symbols from his body. Whereas in Alleck’s “Insular Variations III”, the performance of the masquerade was to become enshrined within her own installation; an “imagined ritual” in which she became subsumed by a figurative “landmass”. Colombian artist Cheo Cruz enacted a trifocal manifestation of masquerade, ritual and enshrinement, with body paint and wire loincloth as mask, feet entrapped in a concentric web of lights and rope, whilst performing a shamanic dance with maraca in hand . The results of One Night Stand’s investigation into the place of masquerade, ritual and the shrine within performative contemporary art are thus polysemous, layered with nuance and ambiguity, yet nonetheless unequivocal in voicing their multifaceted relevance in an anthropology of performance.

Hura Mirshekari and Mehdi Yamohammadi - "Changing the Face" - Image courtesy - Luis Carlos Tovar

To aptly conclude this essay, it seems pertinent to discuss James Carlson’s “Eyes of Gaia” project, which aims to create a mosaic of Earth with 10,000 irises, each corresponding to a specified area of the globe. To deal with the vast scale of the project, Carlson, who has by now taken a total of 7,500 iris photographs across the globe, including those at “One Night Stand”, synthesised scientific, technological innovation and art in his interdisciplinary methodology, developing an artificial intelligence based matching system. Consequently, with every iris that the A.I. system encounters photographically, its capacity to form the mosaic is augmented; Carlson and the audience are teaching the algorithm how to see and construct the world with human eyes, whilst the human eye is designated one specific section of Earth, physically connecting the individual to the planet by their iris. In a similar way, the experience of attending “One Night Stand” made the viewer feel more connected to global cultural production. The experimental, flexible adoption of interdisciplinary methodologies within a transcultural framework leads to progression in cultural production, when applied with temporal and spatial specificity, as evidenced by both “One Night Stand” and “Eyes of Gaia”.

In the case of “One Night Stand”, the exhibition has indeed made a compelling case for performance as the optimum vehicle through which to obtain unmediated, transcultural anthropological insight within the context of contemporary art.