Whitehot Magazine

How Four Women Performance Artists Launched Emergency INDEX Volume 6 at The Kitchen

Beatriz Albuquerque, Predicting the Future Through Chocolates, 2017. Photo: Beatriz Albuquerque.

INDEX Volume 6 at The Kitchen  

By DAVID MOSCOVICH, October, 2018

I am about to make a shocking confession: I have feelings for The Kitchen and I am thinking about taking our relationship to the next level.   

The Kitchen, which was originally a venue for video art in the functional kitchen at the Mercer Arts Center on Broome St, relocated to its current Chelsea location late in 1985 and opened there in 1986.[1]  

I hold a soft spot for most things Fluxus, the Rabelaisian performance art movement founded by George Maciunas with inspiration taken from Dada.[2] Since its 1971 inception in SoHo[3], The Kitchen has featured several women Fluxus artists including Yoko Ono, Alison Knowles, Shigeko Kubota, Takako Saito, Carla Liss, Chieko Shiomi, among others Fluxus-associated and otherwise.

Therefore, I would argue that as it approaches its 50th anniversary, The Kitchen deserves the "legendary" designation or else something resembling distinguished status as a New York City cultural landmark. My warm and fuzzy emotions toward the Kitchen are consistently underscored by exhibitions at MoMA like the recent Adrian Piper retrospective which concluded this July. Like Piper, so many artists who demonstrated early films, videos, or conceptual live arts at The Kitchen have also left their fingerprints at the MoMA.    

Enter Emergency INDEX, published by Brooklyn's Ugly Duckling Presse (UDP), which caters to the future of performance art, and/or its documentation. INDEX began in 2012 as an annual print publication to "document performances of every kind, from any genre, and for any purpose, providing a 'state of the field' view of performance as represented by actual works made in the preceding year." Thus far, over 500 artists from more than 30 countries have been represented in UDP’s international catalogue of performance.  

This past November, UDP presented a launch for its sixth volume at The Kitchen featuring "future-oriented provocations" by mostly women artists, as well: Esther Neff, Mariana Valencia, Geraldo Mercado, Beatriz Albuquerque, Dominique Duroseau, Lital Dotan, and Yelena Gluzman.

I asked a few of the artists from that evening if empathy fits into their performative actions, contemplations, or preparations. But the vocabulary of empathy may be an oversimplification when it comes to addressing what these performers do.

At the risk of running against Fred Moten’s notion that "to describe a performance is to [....] violate the ontological integrity of performance,"[4] I hope it is evident my trespassing is dosed with a modicum of respect for the history of performance art. As noted by RoseLee Goldberg, “recording the richness of performance history has been particularly complicated, primarily because of its ephemeral nature.”[5]  

According to Esther Neff, the word "empathy" implies shared feelings rather than embracing distinctions, so she prefers to consider "embodied affective transfer." By "embodied affective transfer," Neff is referring to a kind of social bonding in which people experience closeness, emotional support and mutual warmth.  

Esther Neff, 9 Propositions, 2017. Photo by Nabeela Vega.

For Neff, whom I spoke with after the performance, the limited vocabulary of empathy assumes that "sharing ideas, feelings, states, situations is the only way for people to stand under/under stand one another."  

Neff goes on to say that it is more important to acknowledge radical differences and still find paths for communication through a diversity of discourse and action. Empathic thinking may be confining because it presupposes a sameness of feelings or points of view, whereas "embodied affective transfer" she sees as more relevant to performance.

At the Kitchen, Neff presented "9 Propositions," in which future performances were organized by writing on the backs of poster boards, each representing a theme for the following year.  

For Portuguese artist Beatriz Albuquerque, each performance contains its own new language, and is site specific. Albuquerque's performance at the Kitchen was called "Predicting the Future Through Chocolates," and the discourse of empathy brought about the art of communication, language and fortune-telling. I asked Albuquerque about her performance, which involved reading the fortunes of audience members by scattering chocolate bonbons. She framed her performance as an attempt to "mimic" the art of the fortune-teller.  

Beatriz Albuquerque, Predicting the Future Through Chocolates, 2017. Photo: Beatriz Albuquerque.

Speaking via telephone, Albuquerque said that while audience members query her about their lives, she allows them to keep their questions a secret, and responds based on her own reading of the chocolates.

As audience members bite into the chocolate, contemplating their question, their "silence can also be a form of communication," she said. "I see sharing in their eyes. It's not a verbal sharing, but a shared moment in which we are both searching for a solution without talking about the problem." Although performances were slated to last only thirty minutes, Albuquerque had a constant stream of people seated at her table throughout the event, as the audience was invited to the stage to participate.   

“People thanked me, and said I took a weight off their shoulders,” said Albuquerque.  “Some had their health-related questions put to ease, or they were coming out of the closet and wanted to know their family's response – they revealed the details only after I gave them the solution.”  

She said that one man referred to her spherically-shaped virtual reality camera as a "crystal ball."

Albuquerque holds a Doctorate in Arts and Education from Columbia University. One of her ongoing projects is called Work For Free, which she began performing in 2005 in Chicago.           

Seated on a raised platform and shrouded behind a black veil and black dress, Dominique Duroseau presented what she calls "Mama Blackness."  

Her performances entitled "Mama Blackness" and "Mammy Was Here" are "allegorical embodiments of those who have lived the roles of servitude throughout time, even to the present day," she said.   

Dominique Duroseau, Mama Blackness, 2017. Photo by Jason Colbert.

Duroseau, writing via email, said her intention for this performance is to represent black women and other persons of color, and to be an "emotional and mental vessel."     

Duroseau said she not only acts as "confidant, psychiatrist, priest, bartender, mother," but she challenges perceptions of how audiences engage with others, offering a chance for people to recognize where they fall within the paradigm of systemic racism and sexism.  

The Kitchen, located at 512 West 19th Street in New York City, opened its 2018 season with an exhibition by Chitra Ganesh.

[1] Personal communication with Tim Griffin, Executive Director and Chief Curator of The Kitchen, August 31, 2018.  

[2] Goldberg, RoseLee. Performance Art, from Futurism to the present. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998.

[3] Harris, Rachel Lee, Artists in Dialogue at the Kitchen, New York Times, March 30, 2012.

[4] Moten, Fred. in Points of Convergence, Alternative Views on Performance. Eds. Marta Dziewanska, André Lepecki. Warsaw Museum of Modern Art, 2017. 

[5] Goldberg, RoseLee. in The Art of Performance, A Critical Anthology. Eds. Gregory Battcock, Robert Nickas. Ubu Editions, 1984.



David Moscovich

David Moscovich is the Romanian-American author of You Are Make Very Important Bathtime (JEF Books, 2013) and LIFE+70[Redacted]a print version of the single most expensive literary e-book ever to be hacked (Lit Fest Press, 2016.) His novels Blink If You Love Me (2019) and his newest, Manhattan Other (2023), are available from Adelaide Books. He lives in New York and Portugal.

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