Is Brian Feldman's '24 Hour Embrace' serious performance art or schtick?
Published: June 16, 2011
24 Hour Embrace (After Young Sun Han)
12 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. Sunday, June 19
Orange Ave Gym
1616 N. Orange Ave.
In 2005 a documentary about Warhol dealer and Pop art curator Henry Geldzahler was released, titled Who Gets to Call It Art? The film didn't have a good answer for that, really, but merely by posing the question, it lodged itself in the brains of many of its viewers (or reviewers, anyway) – who is the ultimate arbiter of whether an oversized cardboard Brillo box or a silkscreen of a movie star has the same value as a Rodin bronze or an oil by Leonardo?
Performance art drags its own baggage of questionable credibility. Just last week I was describing one of my favorite conceptual action pieces to a fellow editor – Joseph Beuys' "How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare" – and by the time I got to the part about how the gold leaf and honey coating Beuys' head symbolized his desire to reinvigorate human thought … well, he went from politely raised eyebrows to full-on get-the-fuck-outta-here groaning. I didn't even get to the iron slab attached to Beuys' boot (masculine strength, connection to the earth).
Marina Abramovic, the self-described "grandmother of performance art," said in a 2005 ArtInfo interview that a photo of Beuys cradling the hare "was described by some critics as a new ‘Mona Lisa' of the 20th century." At the time of that interview, Abramovic was embarking on her Seven Easy Pieces, a Guggenheim show in which she re-enacted seven famous performance pieces, including "Dead Hare." Abramovic is a particularly apt reference here, for a few reasons. First: Orlando artist Brian Feldman was one of more than a thousand museumgoers who sat across from her and gazed into her eyes during her massively hyped 72-day MOMA show, The Artist Is Present. Second: In its temporal and endurance aspects, Feldman's work is very similar to Abramovic's. Temporal art is simply art that intentionally ceases to exist; it could be a site-specific dance or a sculpture built of ice and twigs in a riverbed. Endurance art can be a bit darker (there's a stripe of vicious self-harm in the performance art repertory; e.g. Chris Burden filming himself being shot in the arm, nailed to a car, etc.) but it refers to any extreme of repetition or duration – say, for instance, jumping off a ladder every four minutes for a full day.
Feldman's projects, well-known to most Orlando cultural punters, are too numerous to examine here; indeed, their very profusion might be considered significant, a work in itself exploring compulsion. He examines and reflects back to the audience his (our) relationship to time ("Leap Year Day," in which he, yes, jumped off a ladder 366 times in 24 hours on Feb. 29, 2008), to self-image, to notions of entertainment, consumerism, religion ("Hanukkah in Little Havanaka," "ChanIKEA™," "Jai-Alai Hanukkah"), to nourishment (multiple "Brian Feldman Eats Everything Off the Menu" actions) and to politics. His most famous piece, "Brian Feldman Marries Anybody," is also the most explicitly political: In "Part 1," Feldman advertised for a stranger to marry him; in "Part 2," after a lesbian couple applied for and was denied a marriage license at the Orange County Courthouse, Feldman and local artist Hannah Miller, previously unacquainted, were wed on the spot.
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