The Renaissance

Each biennial begins with an historical research anchor that grounds contemporary performance in the rich history that came before. For Performa 09, it was Italian Futurism, with its radical manifestos to take art out of the studio, the academy, and the museum, into the streets, public squares, and variety theaters; for Performa 11, Russian Constructivism, and its utopian impetus was a touchstone for considering how performance was used, in 1920s Russia, to communicate shifts in political and economic tides to a broad pubic, and with Performa 13, Surrealism unleashed ideas from that movement, exploring the psyche, exquisite corps poetry and the pursuit of “the marvelous”, with a diasporic overview from Paris to Havana and Dakar.

With Performa 15, we reach back in time, to the Renaissance, for an extraordinary precedent to today’s performance, when the social and cultural role of artists as makers of live works, of pageants and triumphal processions, court fetes and revelries, royal marriages and allegorical tableaux, was the expected order of the day. Collaborative, interdisciplinary, and site specific, such activities might include after-banquet entertainment in the form of performance paintings, royal ballets or fireworks, which also frequently communicated unveiled messages of the politics and philosophy of the patrons who sponsored them, and their sovereign worlds. 

Performa 15 commissions resonate with this historical anchor, reflecting the vibrant experimentation and interdisciplinarity that characterize live art during the Renaissance. French artist Pauline Curnier Jardin pays homage to the artistic ‘rebels’ of the Renaissance, among them painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, ceramicist Bernard Palissy, and writer François Rabelais, through a series of singing tableaux vivants. And Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli, in collaboration with American ballet dancer David Hallberg, presents a piece that pays homage to the birth of ballet in the royal courts of the Italian Renaissance, bringing into question the importance of architecture throughout the history of performance, and the complicated and interconnected roles of dancer and audience.