Thanks to Marina Abramovic’s sweeping retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York last year, 2010 was in some ways the year that performance art entered the public awareness. “The Artist is Present” greeted viewers with shocking images: A totally nude woman, and clearly in pain, balanced on a thin seat that jutted from a wall several feet above ground. To use some passageways, viewers were forced to squeeze between a pair of naked people. The centerpiece featured Abramovic, sitting still for days on end, sustaining eye contact with whoever sat before her. (For a while there, searching on the Internet for pictures of celebrities staring at her was my favorite sport. Hey look, Lou Reed!)
In his first piece of performance art, Anthony Restivo will hole up inside The Bridge/PAI for 22 days, turning himself and his locks of hair into a gallery installation. Restivo joked that he’s looking forward to “having some quality ‘me’ time.”
If Charlottesville hasn’t produced any self-flagellating, endurance-based performance artists like Abramovic, it’s probably because most locals have to, say, go to work every day. But we get something like our first stab at it when the 23-year-old Charlottesville resident Anthony Restivo’s “Far Off and All Aflame: Pushing Against the Real” opens at The Bridge/PAI on Friday. Restivo will not leave the gallery for 22 days while he works to assemble an installation from the words of gallery visitors.
Starting with the First Fridays gallery walk, observers are welcome to stop at any point between sunrise and sunset. Restivo will be there to conduct one-question interviews with everyone who passes through, making a record of the answer and placing it in an envelope. Then he’ll cut off a piece of his hair, and pin it to the wall, along with the envelope. The list of his materials? “Typewriter, chair, desk, paper, cot, pigment, apples, envelopes, thumb tacks, razor blade, pencil, string.”
One of the first questions that comes to mind, when you hear someone’s going to lock himself in a room for three weeks, for art’s sake and otherwise, is this: Why? “I feel alienated by a lot of modern art,” says Restivo. “I don’t feel any connection to it or to the artist that made it. Performance art is different—a lot of it, anyway. Someone can go in and see an artist, interact, experience something unique.”
Restivo says that Abramovic’s early “Rhythm” works, from the 1970s, are a big influence. In “Rhythm 0,” she sat impassively in a chair and encouraged onlookers to use a series of objects—from a feather to a gun with a single bullet—however they saw fit. O.K., so there won’t be any guns, but the three-week Bridge installation places the artist’s labor in the front and center. Restivo will miss a lot on the outside. “I won’t have any interaction with anyone outside of the piece for the whole three weeks. I have friends, a girlfriend, a job. There is a lot to miss.” The exhibit’s title, “Far Off and Aflame” is a quote from the Aeneid that “refers to the space I’m trying to create and maintain, and the impossibility of it.”
“Bringing an observer out of their day-to-day existence and into a space just odd enough to disarm them will, I hope, provide the possibility for a more honest interaction than what would otherwise be possible,” says Restivo. “People are constantly worried about social expectations, conceptions of themselves and others…This space is meant to shake those things loose and allow the observer to share something real.”
Two institutions whose 2011s seemed in limbo returned this week. The Virginia Quarterly Review published its first issue since the suicide of its managing editor placed the journal at the center of a national referendum on workplace bullying. The issue features photography from this summer’s LOOKbetween festival, LOOK3’s off-year celebration of up-and-coming photographers. And The Dave Matthews Band, who said they would take a year off 2011, will in fact host a series of as-yet-unannounced summer minifestivals. For the latest details on arts news big and small, visit the Feedback blog at c-ville.com.