Envisioning High Performance Author(s): Jenni Sorkin Source: Art Journal, Vol. 62, No. 2 (Summer, 2003), pp.

36-51 Published by: College Art Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3558505 Accessed: 07/11/2010 12:15
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Cover, High Performance I, February 1978. Depicted: Suzanne Lacy in her Cinderellain a Dragster, 1977. Photograph: Susan Mogul.

ran The only magazine devoted exclusively to performance art, HighPerformance as a quarterly from 1978 to I997. Based in Los Angeles, in the midst of a burgeoning performance art movement, the magazine provided a forum for both local and international artists, many of whom in the years beyond the I97os and early i98os became known as prominent and highly influential members of the vanguard. A significant document of a particular era in American cultural production, was HighPerformance central to the development, expansion, and legitimization of art as a medium distinct from theater, creating both an audience performance and a venue for the dissemination of live experimental and conceptual, bodybased work. Variously referred to as body art, bodyworks, live art, living art, and action art, performance art, as it came to be called,' was, for much of the 197os, an art form with no consistent designation and, thus, no progressive discourse. Artists and critics alike reacted vigorously and negatively to the new art form, an unrecognized discipline flourishing on both the East and West Coasts. In 1974, Los Angeles-based painter Walter Gabrielson published one such diatribe in Artin America: Today'sMainstream kick-Process-Conceptual-Performance, etc.-continues the slide in new and more fascinating vulgarities; we must now wade through the spectacle of thousands of little people doing their gawd-awful trendy "pieces." It is all so easyto do.At least in the (gasp) past you had to go out and make a painting or something....2 provided the necessary critical conditions needed to foster HighPerformance a fruitful discourse, rather than a set of reactionary responses. With no hope of Arts, coverage in mainstream art periodicals such as Artforum, Jenni Sorkin and ArtinAmerica, Angeles-based performance artists were Los eager for information and discourses regarding other cities


H igh Perform ance

and outside scenes. Without a network of distributors and media organizations, video documentation was less easily
duplicated and disseminated in the 1970S than it is today.

Art historian RoseLee Goldberg's volumes, Performance: Art Live from19o9 to thePresent 979, revised and enlarged in 1988 and 1996) and ( Performance: Artsince1960 (1998), offer a groundbreaking history of twentiethLive century performance. Full of color reproductions, the latter work is one of the most evocative sources for replicating the energy and feel of live performance and remains a popular reference book for art professionals. As the primary reference volumes on the subject of performance, Goldberg's volumes are invested from with the authority of classic texts. The omission of HighPerformance them is of the larger erasure that contributes to the unstable legacy of 197os and part I98os California feminist performance. (Two recent anthologies document a
art" . The origin the term "performance of remains unclear. to According Steve Durland was (editorof HP 1986-97),TheKitchen the firstspaceto use it in its brochure text, afterthe movedto SoHo circa1974.Durland organization October with telephoneconversation the author, great deal of recent and historical performance: Amelia Jones's and Tracy Warr's series produced by the German

The Artist's Body2000,

and Peggy Phelan's and Helena Reckitt's ArtandFeminism,

both part of the Themes and Movements

art publisher Phaidon.)

7, 2001.

Mainstream "Why WalterGabrielson, 2. Water Gabrielson"WhySuckthe Mainstream Art 62, IfYouDon't Livein New York?" inAmerica no. I (Jan/Feb1974):37-38.

With the commencement of HighPerformance, publisher, founder, and editor
Linda Frye Burnham invented a standard format for the documentation and dissemination of live and ephemeral artworks, creating single- or double-paged

37 art journal



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i K


spreads that paired a photograph with an artist-supplied text chronicling the live event. Operating on an open submission policy from its founding in 1978 until 1982, Burnham published any artist who could provide black-and-white photographic documentation, dates, and a description of the performance. The inclusion of an original text served to illuminate the ideas presented in the reproduced photographs. Single or serial, photographs create a compressed narrative within the space of a few frames. Without a written explanation, such documents are compromised by the potential misrecognition of the aesthetic motivations and impulses guiding the work. Through the publication of artists' texts, HighPerformance provided artists with the means of self-representation, that they use their own voices, rather than those of critics, to describe insisting and document both their works and their intentions. Introducing the magazine and its ambitions toYoko Ono, Burnham wrote: Perhaps I should tell you that our first concern with this magazine is to let the artist's voice be heard. We have featured interviews with and documentation by: Carolee Schneemann, Chris Burden, Les Levine, the Kipper Kids, Hermann Nitsch, and many others, including the famous and the newcomers. Among our concerns are a democratic approach to selection and editing, and a well-balanced mix of male and female artists.3 Many of the texts came in the form of original handwritten or typed scripts, which often included artists' notations, sketches, and greetings. Known as the Artist's Chronicle, this documentation comprised the bulk of the magazine and was published alongside interviews with individual artists, articles, news, and occasional fiction, poetry, and artists' projects. Historically important, the Artist's Chronicle contains some of the only existing description and imagery of many early, key performances, many of which were not videotaped. Documenting anywhere from fifteen to eighty artists each issue, HighPerformance provided a broad range of different kinds of performance, work that varied widely in content and form, from autobiographical monologues, to collective, activist practice, to timebased, endurance performance, providing a depth and breadth previously unseen and undocumented. As Burnham notes: HPwas like a room where performance art came together. Then of course there is the whole discussion of what became of that information as it traveled through time. Whoever "came" wound up in a version of art history. Of course later as the field grew we had to be more selective.4 In requesting photographic documentation, HP took its cue from the casual exchange already in place in Los Angeles, where many artists traded technical services with each other. Black-and-white photographic documentation of performance was the preferred and most cheaply circulated format. Similarly, single subscriptions to HPwere often shared or passed among friends. This accounts for HP'srelatively modest number of subscribers, which peaked at four thousand
in I989.5

3. Burnhamletter to Ono, October 6, 1980, High archives, Santa Monica, Calif. Performance 4. Burnhamemail to the author, September 4, 2001. 5. Durland, ibid. 6. According to Amy Newman's meticulous circulation in 1963 was 5,483. research, Artforum's By 1968, it had doubled to 10,918. 7. October'scirculation has consistently hovered around 2,000. An exact figure is published each year in the journal's annual report.

Subscription sales, however, are not an accurate barometer of the magazine's total readership. At half the circulation of Artforum6 its infancy, but still double in that of the academic journal October,7 circulation of four thousand is squarely in a the middle of the art-periodical spectrum. Despite no outside advertising budget











Cover, High Performance 8, winter 1979-80. Depicted: Lesbian Art Project. The Oral Herstory of Lesbianism, 1979. Photograph: Jo Goodwin. Cover, High Performance 9, summer 1980. Depicted: Stephen Seemayer, Pope Video, 1980. Photograph: R. Johnsen. Cover, High Performance 13, spring 1981. Depicted: Wolfgang Stoerchle, R. R. Event, Sacramento, 1970. Courtesy of High Performance archives, Santa Monica, Calif.

and little distribution outside of independent booksellers, HP'sorigination of a dedicated and enthusiastic audience cannot be underestimated. By I986, the magazine reached an audience estimated at twenty-five thousand readers worldwide.8 Beginning at the Beginning:The Covers HP featured documentation from individual artists' performances on both the front and back covers of each issue. The magazine commenced with Suzanne Lacy'sinaugural cover, photo documentation of a traveling fairytale piece,
in Cinderella a Dragster(I977).

Perfor8. LindaBurnham,"HighPerformance, mance Art, and Me," The Drama ReviewT 109 (spring 1986): 15. 9. Of the first twenty issues, two featured posters and graphics from festivals on the covers, and two more were combined issues: #1 I 1/2 (fall/winter 1980) and # 17/ 8 (spring/summer 1982). This comprises a total of sixteen possible magazine covers, of which women received a 9:7 majority. 10. The covers were from the following performances: RichardNewton (I take you to a room in Brawleyand we smell onions, 1975); Stephen Seemayer (Pope Video, 1980); The LesbianArt Project (An OralHerstoryof Lesbianism,1979); and Hermann Nitsch's OrgiesMysteriesTheatre ( 978).

With a strong penchant for equality, the first twenty covers of HP (1978-82) featured women and men in nearly equal numbers.9 The eight women featured individually were: Lacy,Linda Montano, Carolee Schneemann, Theodora Skipitares, Bonnie Sherk, Rachel Rosenthal, Maura Sheehan, and Laurel Klick. Additionally, issue 8 (winter I979/8o) featured a feminist collective, the Lesbian Art Project. During the same period, seven men were granted covers: Paul McCarthy,Hermann Nitsch, Chris Burden, Richard Newton, Stephen Seemayer, Wolfgang Stoerchle, and Alex Grey.The magazine's front covers depicted a range of provocative images, many of which would today be deemed obscene, offensive, or otherwise unprintable. Such covers include artist Newton in drag, Seemayer bearing the weight of a giant cross upon his back, Lesbian Art Project members Arlene Raven and Catherine Stifter kissing, a collaged image of Stoerchle arm-wrestling with then-president Ronald Reagan, and a mud- and blood-covered blindfolded male participant in Nitsch's Orgies Theatre Mysteries a glass of animal blood poured down his throat.10 (1978) having That HP did not shy away from violent or even graphic sexual imagery is evidenced by its steadfast commitment to the feminist collective the Lesbian Art Project, whose eight-page documentation of its thirteen-night performance at of the Woman's Building, AnOral Herstory Lesbianism (1979), included an explicit oral sex photograph that had graced the cover of the performance program. The magazine's local printer, G. F. Huttner Litho, refused to print the image, and as


art journal

a result, a new printer was found and retained. As an act of defiance, within the space of two pages, Burnham repeated the image six times. Like the B-side of a record, HP allocated back covers to a lesser-known work the front-cover artist or, often, a different artist altogether. Slim and bound by with staples, with glossy performance stills on both covers, the magazine adopted the look and feel of an artist's book project. Back covers from the first twenty issues featured performance documentation by Sandra Binion, Les Levine, Jerry Dreva, Paul McCarthy,Eleanor Antin, Bill Harding, Buster Cleveland, and the collectives Bob & Bob, Labatand Chapman, and The Waitresses. For commercially distributed magazines, back covers are prime advertising space, and the art world is no exception. Back covers have traditionally been earArt marked for full-page gallery ads. Turn over any pre- 1980 issue of Artnews, in and a New and Artforum, America, FlashArt, even the I97os hipster magazine Avalanche, York gallery show is billed in a full-page ad. In the I98os, when corporate advertising and exhibition sponsorship became the norm, things shifted a bit, and an Absolut Vodka advertisement (Absolut Schnabel, Absolut Haring) with an artistthemed bottle was not uncommon, even at a magazine like the NewArtExaminer, which had not-for-profit status.The other magazine that has consistently rejected which has this model, in addition to HighPerformance,Britain's ArtMonthly, is used its back covers as a table of contents since its inception in 1976. shrewdly Throughout HP'srun, gallery advertisements were virtually nonexistent. Those that did advertise were primarily not-for-profits, local booksellers, printers, and independent media outlets, with the rare appearance by performance-oriented galleries such as the (now-defunct) Tortue Gallery in Santa Monica and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts in New York. Inside High Performance Through 1982, within HP'smasthead, Burnham ran a permanent open call for submissions, announcing guidelines for sending work and the time frame covered in the upcoming issue, accepting material that fell within a leniently yearlong period: Artists are requested to send black and white glossy photos and descriptions of performances, including date and place. All text should be typed, doublespaced. Please do not send material about dance, theater or music performances. Nothing will be returned without a stamped, self-addressed envelope. The next issue will cover performances between February i, 1978 and
January 31, 1980. Deadline is January 31, 1980. "

I . Masthead, Performance 2, no.4 8, vol. High (winter 1979-80).

Rejecting outright the inclusion of dance, theater, and music, HP delineated clear boundaries by determining what was notperformance art.This is a crucial difference between HP and Avalanche, which enthusiastically profiled avant-garde dancers such as BarbaraDilley andYvonne Rainer. NewYork's strong tradition of avant-garde dance and theater created a space for impromptu interdisciplinary events, collaborations, and festivals. In the early i98os, performance acquired a nightlife tinged with a heavy dose of theater, when artist/actors such as Penny Arcade, Eric Bogosian, Spalding Gray,and Ann Magnuson played the EastVillage club circuit, performing one-person, stand-up, and monologue shows. Across the country, Los Angeles performance artists had the commercial




music industry and Hollywood in close proximity. In a personal letter and article in proposal to Ingrid Sischy at Artforum 1983, Burnham lamented artists who "sold out": This could be an article about how and why performance artists are going into commercial fields and what that is doing to performance art. It could include not only Philip [Dimitri-Galas], but Bob & Bob (records), Eric Bogosian (theater), and if you like, Laurie Anderson (although she HAS been getting dealt with an awful lot). I would include some relevant things about Julia Heyward, Rachel Rosenthal and Michael Peppe, who all have noticeable commercially-marketable skills, and who have voiced some loud opinions about this dilemma. Basically,it could be about whether performance art is over and what function it serves. Of course, I realize that if it's over, what's the use of a whole magazine about it? I should add that I would not let this problem influence me and have no objection to giving up and going into truck driving or something.... Ingrid, no bones about it, I am seriously fed up with contemporary performance art.There's been a death of inspiration and too much support for snakes in the grass. 2 Burnham's tone is one of frustration and despair, foreshadowing the continued commercialization of performance throughout the i98os. Insisting that performance remain a part of the avant-garde, Burnham's embrace of marginality is due to the rapid rate at which performance is subsumed by the entertainment business, complete with corporate record deals, agents, and publicists. This tone serves as a strong counterpoint to the effusive optimism that permeated the magazine in its first three years. In 1980, HPpublished a plea for outside recognition in an article by K.Anwalt called "Why Not L.A.?"in which Anwalt questions why Los Angeles artists were not getting more national visibility, observing, "Members of the Los Angeles art community seem perplexed by the unreasonably slow rate of growth of the L.A. art scene." 13 A few years later, HP did break its no-music code, even producing as a complete issue its own record album, for which artists sang and recorded live performances. This, however, was more of a playful critique than an expression of support for the celebrity status of Anderson, Bogosian, and Heyward (who, in fact, began making music videos in the early i98os). Such artists achieved crossover success, using the marginal spaces as a launching pad to sail past the mainstream art world and land happily in the popular market. Publicist fees and booking fees required playing to large, full-house audiences in NewYork, as compared to the free or low-cost performances offered by P.S. I22, The Kitchen, and Franklin Furnace. Scornful of those who "sold out" or profited financially from their work, veteran performance artists were by and large displaced in the i98os by a younger generation of artists who had emerged from drama academies rather than art schools. By the mid- I98os, performance had transformed itself from conceptual art into stage-based entertainment. The Artist's Chronicle, 12.Burnham to Sischy, letter 17, August 1983,
High Performance archives, Santa Monica, Calif.

1978-82 Assembling performance documentation from a wide range of established and

13.K.Anwalt, Not "Why L.A.?" Performance High w a activated a dialogue between artists workingproverse, but insular circumstances, 132-35. /12, vol. no. (fall/winter1980): activated dialoguebetween artists ith noin diverse,but insularcircumstances, I1/12, vol.3, no.3 (fall/winter

41 art journal

illustrating what performance was, what it looked like, who was making it, for whom were they making it, and why.Burnham has suggested that "performance answered a need to bring the human figure back into art, which at the time [of the late I96os] was dominated by abstraction."'4 Committed to an emerging and unprofitable art form, HighPerformance validated previously unacknowledged concerns in art production through its critical engagement with performance art. Channeling thought and feeling into dynamic patterns of speech, movement, and sound, artists performed body narratives, formalizing a commitment to revive emotion in artmaking and unifying aesthetic and psychic experience, rather than treating the two entities as irreconcilable. This approach recalls the old dialectic of form versus content. Such a distinction is erased by Allan Kaprow's notion of antiform: The antiformalist seems to champion the release of energies, rather than the control of them; he or she wants things indeterminate, muddy, or sensually lyric, rather than proportioned and balanced.... But on closer examination, one is still dealing with a profound involvement in form. The antiformalist simply replaces the appearance of order with the appearance of chaos.' Kaprow advocates the experience of form through the gestures of daily livthe creation of imprints or templates of modern experience, rather than the ing, universal ideals of symmetry and repetition engaged in minimalist art production. Performance created elasticity within the visual arts, articulating the sublimated energies particular to feminist and issue-oriented content, using the power of language and body-based imagery to create new perceptions and posit questions. A testament to pluralism, personal enlightenment, social activism, and subversive behavior, HighPerformance created an active discourse surrounding the role of the body and the assertion of the self as an artistic strategy.Through live, bodybased works, artists engaged experiences of autobiography, social injustice, and catharsis, challenging the ideological separations between art and life. Nonhierarchical and occasionally alphabetized, the Artist's Chronicle was a serial presentation, comprising the body of the magazine, where the individual practitioner was slotted between, next to, and among other artists, positioning both well-known and emerging artists alongside each other. Contextualizing practices that were ephemeral and solitary in nature, this strategy served to educate artists about each others' intentions, ideas, and work. Highly accessible and informative, the Artist's Chronicle was an immense contribution in creating a permanent record of a transitory, time-based practice. As Burnham notes: It's true that critical writing is crucial to placing the work in historical context and current critical thinking, but documentation by the artist has supplied you with some basic information you would have had to really dig for as a curator. I am not sure that has ever been said. 6 14.Burnham, Performance, Performance "High Art,andMe,"20.
15. Allan Kaprow, "Formalism:Flogginga Dead Horse (1974)," in Essays on the Blurring Artand of Press, Life(Berkeley: University of California 1993), 156. 16. Burnham 16. Burnhamemailto the author, email to the author, November I 1, November ,

An invaluable archive of information that is otherwise lost, unavailable, or destroyed, the Artist's Chronicle provides necessary names, locations, dates, and
imagery, facilitating research into a largely overlooked and easily misconstrued era. More important, as a primary source, the early magazines offer a path back,


permitting entrance into a hea a nd innovative cultural moment. Making use of alternative, artist-run spaces and public sites such as the street,



beaches, and the city at large, Los Angeles artists explored intimate ideas and preoccupations before standing groups of spectators, comprising mainly other artists. HP generated a context of liberation, granting an appropriate space in which to rage, mourn, regret, heal, protest, endure pain, enact shamanistic rituals, experiment sexually, experiment collectively, and experiment with movement, sound, and nonlinear narrative. Championing the spontaneous, experiential qualities of performance, HP offered critical reception to an emerging and international assortment of artists who resisted the production of art objects. The magazine was therefore created in what Herbert Marcuse termed "a context of refusal,"'7 the effort to resist being absorbed into what was already a rejection of the avant-garde apparatus, where the most radical production becomes complicit with the art market. This is evidenced in Willoughby Sharp's coterie of Avalanche artists, such as Bruce Nauman and Vito Acconci, who made groundbreaking performance and video works beginning in the mid- I96os but, having achieved critical recognition and gallery representation in NewYork, returned primarily to the production of sculptural objects. By the end of the 197os, many California artists had come to regard NewYork as exclusionary and market-driven, facilitating career opportunities rather than the phenomenological, social, and political concerns of artmaking. It cannot be overemphasized how ontologically different East and West Coast performance was. Judson Dance Theater, for example, concerned itself with dynamic expressions in space, as opposed to the expressive possibilities of narrative. California artists, beginning with Kaprow,'8championed the lifelike qualities of performance, leading to explorations of the self and an active engagement with the outside world. Judson concerned itself with the language of action, rather than language itself, while the rituals and spectacles of Kim Jones, Linda T. Montano, and Barbara Smith were committed to the relationships that form between repetitive actions and displaced emotion. Given the less efficient geography of Los Angeles, a city of sprawl and distance, in relation to NewYork's compressed city blocks, Manhattan has been thought to be the more logical home to collective performative practice, beginning with I96os Fluxus happenings. Manhattan's events were in close proximity, with artists often living and working in the same downtown loft space, among other artists in nearby buildings. From its inception, NewYork performance artists had loyal and supportive audiences not only of each other but often of writers and critics as well. Given the higher visibility accorded to NewYork artists in print, Burnham focused specifically on unknown and underrepresented Los Angeles-based artists:
17. Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), 69. 18. Although Allan Kaprow originallylived and worked in New York and moved to Los Angeles to teach at California Institute of the Arts, his trajectory of thinkinghad an enormous impact on his peers, younger artists, and students alike, which is why I believe he can be credited with initiallythinkingand writing about the connection between art and life that was the basis for an aesthetic that pervaded Californiaperformance in the ensuing decades. 19. Burnham,"HighPerformance, Performance Art, and Me," 24.

I did not go hat in hand to famous artists to beg for their material (I did notify Vito Acconci but received nothing in return) because it was obvious to me that there was plenty of news in my own backyard.And I wanted to publish people who weren't getting out there, extending this even to those who were new to artmaking.'9 Many of the artists who lacked exposure were women. Offering an immediacy and intensity above and beyond object-based art, performance was used by women as a platform for political ideas and a vehicle for social change. With its radical status and alternative gallery structure, performance art circumvented the

43 art journal

Cover, High Performance, #17-18, spring-summer 1982. Alex Grey. Sacred Mirror Series: Psychic Energy System, 1980-81.Acrylic on linen.

traditional commercial gallery system and therefore was open to women in a way that traditional artistic mediums, such as painting and sculpture, were not. HP gave women unprecedented exposure in print, offering coverage to both women and men whose art practice often challenged the boundaries, conventions, and silences of the NewYork art press. Through the Artist's Chronicle, HP showed, rather than narrated, the formal attributes and intentions of performance art without the critic mediating between artist and audience. With the magazine running nearly one hundred pages every issue (and close to two hundred for double issues), between forty and eighty pages were devoted to the Artist's Chronicle. The spring/summer I982 issue (# I7/ 8), for example, ran documentation of 123 performances, encompassing over 125 pages. The entire editorial space of the magazine was given over to HP'slast Artist's Chronicle, which ran as the winter 1983 (#20) issue, featuring documentation from 1982. At the request of regularly contributing artists, the Artist's Chronicle was discontinued in 1983 in favor of a reviews section. This represented a meaningful shift in the magazine's editorial policy, and for that reason, this essay covers the first twenty issues of the magazine only. Reviews were considered crucial to the professionalization of performance and were a stepping-stone to the financial stability of artists, who, in securing grants and university employment, had found it difficult to legitimate performance as an art form without a circuit of evaluation and peer critique. Burnham's open submission policy was the inverse of the selective editorial policies of larger art magazines. While perhaps willing to consider new writers, in their mastheads all firmly discouraged the submission of unsolicited materials. With visual and written clarity, the Artist's Chonicle artists guided readers through their work, articulating event and intentions in the creators' own words. The texts took on all different forms, some laconic, consisting of a paragraph, as in Paul McCarthy'sA Penis Appreciated980): ( Painting The penis, a male tool, used as a brush to apply paint to a canvas.The painting is something to show, a gallery item; to sell, a profit item. Ace Gallery will show it and the Grinsteins will buy it.20 Simply recounting his actions, McCarthy'stext evidences the aim of the performance, which is to undermine painting's aggressive assertion of masculinity through the literal creation of a "big dick" painting. McCarthy'scritique is both humorous and visceral, not just admonishing male painters, but pointing to the art market's collusion with their machismo and, by turn, McCarthy'sself-critical acceptance of money from the sale of his swaggering canvas. Far more subversive and evocative, a photo of McCarthy,penis in hand with his pants down, becomes the after-image printed in HP, rather than a reproduction of the painting itself. Many more artists submitted longer, more detailed texts, for example, Gina Pane, whose contributions were presented in a series of stanzas or scenes in both French and English. Between the years I969 and I979, Pane (1939-I990) executed a series of extreme body performances collectively known as Blessures (Wounds), cutting sensitive and vulnerable parts of her body such as her tongue, lips, stomach, and eyelids with razor blades, inserting nails along her forearms, and breaking sheets of glass with her whole body. Through its inclusion of both local and international artists, HPwas signifi-

20. PaulMcCarthy,"A Penis Painting Appreciated," 8, High Performance vol. 2, no. 4 (fall/winter 1979-80): 80-81.

45 art journal

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Cover, High Performance 3, vol. I, no. 3, September 1978. Depicted: Harry Kipper in Hermann Nitsch's Orgies Mysteries Theatre, April 1978. Photograph: Charles Christopher Hill.

cant in establishing an active and ongoing line of communication between European and American artists.According to Cologne-based artist Jirgen Klauke: What distinguished Europe [from America] were the many informal performance meetings-museums, and often cultural institutions like the Documenta in Kassel, which always showed aspects of this art form. Germany and the Netherlands were very active-which led to the establishing of special places for performance or intermediate actionists like De Appel in Amsterdam, or Noestheres in K6ln. Always [there were] publications or catalogues about the activities [in Europe], but a similar magazine to HighPerformance not exist. I would say H.P.was very special.2' did The magazine functioned as both a lifeline and a dialogue, creating a network that benefited both American and European artists, facilitating direct exchanges, opportunities, and invitations to festivals abroad. For isolated Eastern European artists, such opportunities were scarce or nonexistent. HP consistently published documentation of illegal performances smuggled out of Iron Curtain countries. In issue i6 (winter 1981-82), HPpublished a seven-page feature, with documentary photographs, by the Russian artist MargaritaTupistyn, documenting, in a less global time than the present, the obstacles and oppression faced by artists elsewhere in the world.22 On April 8, 1978, Hermann Nitsch premiered Orgies Theatre Venice, in Mysteries California. Nitsch chose Harry Kipper (of The Kipper Kids, an L.A.-based artistduo) as his principal performer. The event was sponsored jointly by the Los Angeles Institute for Contemporary Art (LAICA)and Some Serious Business, a Venice-based arts organization. HPpublished a long interview with Nitsch and used photographs of the performance on the front and back covers of its fall 1978 issue.23Alongside the interview, HP published artist Nancy Buchanan's critique of Nitsch's work, in which she raised issues of violence and audience participation: What I see being attacked in Nitsch's catharsis is the sacredness of life and the human body.... Although there were no children in Nitsch's L.A. performance, many scripts call for large choruses of young boys. Do they separate the art experience from all others? And what is the rationale for using children, who have not been anesthetized, in the performance?24 Three curated by Chris Burden at LAICAin I978, comEuropeans-Polar Crossings, prised photographic, video, and live works by Pane (France), Petr Stembra (Czechoslovakia), and Richard Kriesch (Germany). Both Pane and Stembra performed new work, their first live presentations at an American institution. Later that week, Pane traveled to San Francisco, where her piece Little Journey 1978) was ( performed again at the San Francisco Art Institute. In its only review, published in the Los William Wilson, the newspaper's chief art critic, wrote: Times, Angeles Wouldn't you know the guest curator for the exhibition would be California's own kamikaze performer who first drew our horrified attention by having himself shot?... Now he turns up an exhibition that is not only repugnant in itself, it looks like a cheap, pathetic, self-serving attempt to make Burden's own "aesthetic" look "significant and influential." The whole thing is so dismal you don't know what to do first, blow your stack or
47 art journal

21. Klaukeinterview via facsimile with the author, November 17, 2001. 22. Margarita Tupitsyn, "Some Russian Performances,"High Performance16, vol. 4, no. 4 (winter 1981-82): 11-17. 23. Nancy Buchanan,"Hermann Nitsch," High 3, Performance vol. I, no. 3 (September 1978): 44-49. 24. Ibid.,46. In her introduction, Buchananreferences Nitsch's script for an unexecuted project, The Six Day Theatre,which includes the following: mass intoxication by the audience, recorded speeches by Hitler, and the crucifixion and disemboweling of a dead, naked male child while a chorus of children watches and sings.

Kim Jones in his performance piece Telephone Pole, 1976. Photograph: Ned Sloane.

Opposite: Cover, High Performance 4, December 1978. Depicted: Linda Montano in her Dead Chicken-Live Angel, 1971-72. Photograph: Mitchell Payne.

throw up. How many times does it have to be said that this kind of thing doesn't belong in an art gallery any more than it belongs anywhere else?'5 Like Gabrielson's tirade four years prior, Wilson's review is hopelessly dogmatic, perpetuating a climate of sabotage within the Los Angeles art community. Through their mean-spirited and persistent condemnation, both writers do their best to damage the credibility of performance artists, denigrating both the intentions and aesthetics of the work before a broad reading public.
That HP, a fledgling magazine in 1978,


25. William Wilson, "Three Europeans-Polar Crossing Is a Bloody Shame," LosAngeles Times, Saturday,September 9, 1978, section 2. 26. VirginiaTrendall,"Fur'n Feathers: Sadism Sans Talent,"LosAngeles Times,Thursday, March6, archives, 1976, KimJones files, High Performance Santa Monica, Calif.

persevered even in the face of such bitter opposition is a huge accomplishment. Its advocacy and endurance resisted the demoralizing censures being published both locally and nationally. HP invented a language with which to talk about performance, transforming an ephemeral, nonstatic, essentially underground art form into a widely disseminated visual arts magazine that introduced the artist's voice as a viable, even preferable option to rote reviews and published harangues. Like Burden, Kriesch, Pane, and Stembra, artist Kim Jones also generated public antipathy when local reporters printed a number of scathing articles about his performances with In titles such as "Sadism SansTalent."26 1976, Jones was arrested for (and later acquitted of) animal cruelty during a performance at California State University (Los Angeles) in which he _ r '^ ~ set fire to live rats, making overt reference to the nihilistic pastimes of traumatized soldiers. Within HP,Jones played with the order and visual look of his narratives, using progressively smaller font sizes line by line to abate or muffle his own voice, overlaying images of his persona Mudman in a collagelike fashion. After serving as a Marine in the late i96os in Vietnam, Jones attended art school and in \972, as an M.F.A.student at the Otis Art Institute, was threatened with expulsion for setting a rat on fire and filming its death. From 1974 until 1982, Jones embarked on an ongoing series of performances in which he became Mudman. Affixing elaborate latticelike structures of sticks to his back and smearing mud and his own feces onto his naked body, Jones transformed himself into a primitive creature and wandered the streets and beaches of Los Angeles for miles, cryptic and intimate actions that suggest the wartime rituals of fear, camouflage, and concealment. Jones published photographic and textual




BarbaraT. Smith. Birthdaze, 1981. Performance,Tortue Gallery, Los Angeles, July 17, 1981. Depicted: Barbara Smith and Victor Henderson. Photograph: Daniel J. Martinez.

documentation of his work from the first issue onward; a number of the pieces were covered as features. HP is the best existing record of his oeuvre. At once displaced and at home in the anonymity of an urban setting, Jones's performances were covert and private spectacles arranged for an audience of chance encounters. Like Joseph Beuys, Jones provoked powerful feelings through his unique combination of materiality and personal narrative. Jones, however, does not project a heroic and spiritual resurrection through his imagery, preferring instead to examine with painful candor the inhumanity of blind combat and its aftermath. Other artists featured in HP also chose to map intensely personal experiences through their work. Both cathartic and moving, Linda Montano's Mitchell's Death(I978) 7 was a mourning ritual for Montano's late husband Mitchell Payne, who tragically died by self-inflicted gunshot wounds while hunting. During the performance, the artist inserted acupuncture needles into her face while recounting her experience through Buddhist chanting. Cross-legged and full-throated, Montano vocalizes the intensity of her own guilt, shock, and grief, never revealing whether his fatality was accidental or a suicide. BarbaraT. Smith's performance Birthdazei98I ) ( was a three-hour extravaganzaperformed on the occasion of the artist's fiftieth birthday.At once scripted and improvisational, Smith's successive and intertwined narratives define and then reenact her personal struggles with male relationships as a simultaneous source of female oppression and ecstasy; the artist oscillates between feeling exalted and stymied by men, both physically and intellectually. HP ran the performance as a feature, consisting of six pages of text with two to four photographs from various points of the performance arranged on each page. Instead of showcasing just herself, she included a photo of the audience, in which rows of seated people are seen from above. During the multipart performance, Smith engages in numerous activities and sensations, among them applying makeup, riding a motorcycle, listening to the recorded testimonies of men who had served in Vietnam, and shooting a gun, all interspersed with scripted sexual acts, including both unwanted and consensual activities. Smith and her lover, Victor Henderson, meditated and fasted for five days prior to the performance, which culminated in a Tantric ritual. Flanked by six chanting women, the pair ate symbolic foods29 and engaged in intercourse with the intent of experiencing high states of ecstasy, through an energy-centered but nonorgasmic union. 3 Through Montano's and Smith's public expressions of death and sex, the




artists resist the restrictive gender roles that women inhabit in society, choosing instead a vocabulary of emancipation, rather than resolute anger, helplessness, or self-blame. Similarly,Jones defies an easy assimilation into civilian society. Antonin Artaud wrote: If the theater has been created as outlet for our repressions, the agonized poetry expressed in its bizarre corruptions of the facts of life demonstrates that life's intensity is still intact and asks only to be better directed.3' All three artists attempt to create a context of reversal through the arduous task of claiming, forfeiting normalcy, diplomacy, and convention to integrate sublimated life experiences. As characterized by Artaud, such an undertaking vigorously preserves and sustains the commitment of an individual to the ultimate force of circumstance. Specific, passionate, and itinerant, artists such as Montano and Smith sought willing participation in their artistic practice, as well as ecstasy, the dissolution of ego, and abandonment to a higher power. Through an investment in Eastern philosophy and religion, both artists experimented with transformation in real time, situating their work in stages commensurate with the rites and paths of Catholicism and Buddhism, respectively. Body-based performance is a highly structured psychosexual realm, enacted in real time but in a specific space. Framed by the artist, the performative possibilities of ritual deny the audience enjoyment or entertainment, but endorse collective gain, release, or catharsis. Montano describes the experience as a female appropriation of the spiritual realm of traditional Catholicism, in which certain nuns were permitted states of ecstasy, but only those who were mystics and holy anorexics. 32 Montano's art/life terminology is applicable to a great deal of the art production that was featured in HP, in which intimate information was often revealed during the course of a performance, validating themes that had previously been absent from art practice. Much of this was women's experience: themes of rape, abortion, incest, menopause, beauty, and aging, subjects often dismissed as confessional33 or lacking in seriousness or intellectual rigor. These are topics of the impulsive, messy, or emotive body, what Hannah Wilke referred to as an "assertion of life,"34rather than of the rational, disciplined mind. Through its self-selecting, ever-changing roster of contributing artists and through the Artist's Chronicle, Burnham rejected the editorial power wielded (and relished) by editors at other publications, which resulted in a tightly controlled amount of information in the art press. The presentation was, and remains, an immense achievement unduplicated today, offering artists the opportunity to customize a published presentation that was not just limited to one breakthrough feature, but rather involved a progressive and consistent dialogue over time, one that could potentially serve as a record of their oeuvre, should they choose to contribute regularly.
Jenni Sorkin is a critic and a research assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. She is the curator of High Performance: FirstFive Years, 1978-1982, an exhibition that originated in 2002 as The an M.A. thesis exhibition at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, and was re-presented at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions(LACE),February I-March 30, 2003.

27. LindaMontano, Mitchell'sDeath, 1978. Blackand-white video, 22 min. Distributed by Video Data Bank, Chicago. 28. BarbaraT. Smith, "Birthdaze,"High Performance15, vol. 4, no. 3 (fall 1981): 19-24. 29. Ibid.,23: "Shrimp:a symbol of the vast sea of the unconsciousness and of evolutionary beginnings; meat: the manifest earth of human and landbased awareness; grain:the essence of higher consciousness to supra-subtle vibratory realms; wine: the mystical fluid of livingtransformation from state to state; and cardamom seeds: within which the two are one." 30. Smith interview with the author, November 27, 2001, Venice, Calif. 3 1. Antonin Artaud, The Theaterand Its Double, trans. MaryCaroline Richards(New York:Grove Press, 1958), 9. 32. Montano interview with the author, December 7, 2001, Kingston, N.Y.. 33. "Confessional"was originallyused to describe the New Englandpoets of the 1960s, such as Robert Lowell, John Berryman,Anne Sexton, and SylviaPlath,whose work was often darkly personal. Much has been made of the fact that of this group, three of the four (all but Lowell) were suicides. 34. Joanna Frueh, "HannahWilke," in Erotic Faculties(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 145.

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