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On Nicola L. and "The Cape of Blues"

 

 

By JOSEPH NECHVATAL, FEB. 2016

I received an email informing me that the still-young mature activist artist Nicola L. performed her street work “Red Coat” (1969) in London August 25th as part of her participation in The World Goes Pop exhibition. That show, currated by Jessica Morgan, the director of the Dia Art Foundation, opened September 17th at Tate Modern. I was not capable of Chunneling over to see “Red Coat,” but I am capable of sharing my experience and photos of a parallel performance that she did in Paris called “La Cape du Blues” (The Cape of Blues) (2007) at Place Saint-Sulpice as part of Les artistes cassent la baraque. I thought it was brave and wonderful.

Perhaps some may be familiar with Nicola’s early-1970s group street performances such as “Red Coat: Same Skin For Everybody” (1969) and the outstanding “Rug” (1975)? “La Cape du Blues” was very much in the same vein, this time involving 12 performers, 1 saxophonist, and Nicola herself, who directed the event. I was part of a crowd of around 50 people, who at first watched the setup, and then walked along behind or beside, like in a pageant. 

Each of the 12 performers wore a section of the beautiful blue cape where each hood represented a deceased individual (mostly artists and art-world luminaries) whom Nicola admired. The power of the piece was in giving the departed a respectful exodus. The names I recognized celebrated were Yves Klein, Sidney Bechet, Iris Clert, Cesar, Marcel Broodthaers, Pierre Restany (who I knew fairly well and miss dearly) and Raymond Hains (who I had met at a party at my house prior to his passing away).

The piece consisted of the preparation for the procession and the procession itself: which was somewhat like a New Orleans style funeral march; particularly as the saxophonist provided a continuous musical bluesy riff. 

We paraded all around Place Saint-Sulpice and then, much to great surprise and amazement kept going into the Saint-Sulpice Church (famous for it’s paintings by Eugène Delacroix and its referencing in The daVinci Code) during a celebration of a Mass! The saxophonist went silent then, but we, the blue parade, kept on truckin, snaking our way through the back of the vast church and out again the other side as the priest was delivering a sermon. I had to bite my tongue to prevent from laughing out loud. It was then when “The Cape of Blues” became a festive nod to departure.  

Prior, the commemorative mood was sometimes heavy/sad for me, particularly when I focused on the hooded heads of the performers as the blustery wind blew hard, naturally associating them with the Catholic religious processions one sees in parts of Spain. But in general, Nicola kept it pretty and light and compassionate. It never even verged on the turgid or pompous. What I particularly admired about “La Cape du Blues” was its mixture of informal casualness within a formalized ritual, a feeling that at times verged on some kind of secular sacred. WM

 

Joseph Nechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal is an artist whose computer-robotic assisted paintings and computer software animations are shown regularly in galleries and museums throughout the world. In 2011 his book Immersion Into Noise was published by the University of Michigan Library's Scholarly Publishing Office in conjunction with the Open Humanities Press. He exhibited in Noise, a show based on his book, as part of the Venice Biennale 55, and is artistic director of the Minóy Punctum Book/CD project.

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