By JEFF GRUNTHANER, SEPT. 2015
The performance art of NYC-based Chin Chih Yang is inexorably public. He tends to enact what he terms “interactive performances” in areas otherwise reserved for spatial trafficking of an entirely different kind,—commerce, let’s say: the fluid passivity of pedestrians in transit to a bank, a retail store, or a bodega. What Yang essentially does, however, is interrupt these modalities of space, and all the habitual mind-frames that they shackle us to. Unlike most public performance art, Yang’s work does not recede quietly into the background, but impressively translates public space into a performative context. While not being scripted or staged, his interactive performances carry a very deliberate and unassuming directness. His work recreates the immediacy of two people meeting face to face, like a casual encounter on the street approaching the oblivion specific to the passing of time.
In a performance titled “An Interactive Performance against Corporate Waste,” Yang chose earth day for the date of the enactment; and for the duration of the performance he restricted the bulk of his spoken language to the phrase: “Save her, save the earth!” The artist John Ahearn, one of the participants in this performance, likened Yang’s aesthetic to the Biblical mythos of one “crying in the wilderness”—a fine blend of the artistic and the visionary. “An Interactive Protest Against Corporate Waste” didn’t seek to simulate, cathartically express, or stand in for anything else: it aspired to be, on its own terms.
As an invitee and someone who had known Yang and his work for several years, I was introduced to five or six other persons under a gray-lit, evening sky in New York's Bryant Park. The weather portended rain; and sky quickly gave way to a patio umbrella, where we engaged interested passersby (mostly elementary school students) regarding the performance and its significance. We were especially noticeable on account of the coat Yang had designed for the performance: a chatoyant vestment woven of aluminum cans. Yang also brought other materials (not quite props) to fill out his protest, including regional flowers from his native Taiwan: twiggy filaments attached to little notes that we, the participants, passed out to the curious.
Within about an hour, we started the performance proper. Yang had instructed us on how to use staffs for the performance—less with words than with cautionary glances. The eight or so participants—myself included—followed Yang from Bryant Park toward Times Square by way of 42nd street. Throughout the performance, the look on Yang’s face was eerily vacant. While he writhed dance-like in rhythms at once slow and spasmodic, the onslaught of anonymous posturing New York is famous for gave way to an air of questions. This was not always cordial; the constancy of the performance, its willed efficacy, seemed to create a glassed-in enclosure around itself: a transparency the public couldn’t pass by too easily.
The Bank of America building on West 42nd street was the primary target of Yang’s ritualistic ire. His protest-performance was designed as a form of peaceful retaliation against the quantity of waste produced by that building over the course of a single year. Fittingly, an office worker from the building started taunting Yang. Behind a pudgy, sardonic grin, one could see that he felt intensely threatened by Yang’s tribalized gestures. He took some pictures, as though to reduce the whole meaning of Yang’s actions to an image, and our little group proceeded down 42nd Street into Times Square.
Yang had hired a photographer to document the performance. But by this point there was already another photographer, who spontaneously followed us, taking pictures of his own. He photographed us the entirety of the performance: stopping when Yang made massive and rhythmically directed gestures toward the luminous towers of Times Square, walking with us as we made our slow eventual return to Bryant Park. This whole time, I would occasionally make out incredulous remarks. One Times Square performer dressed in a batman costume found the performance—equipped with an entourage, as it was—strange enough to ask what was behind it all.
To my mind, an almost Kierkegaardian intransigence towards the universal animated Yang’s quixotic demonstration. And just as Kierkegaard was not wrong when he opposed his own subjectivity to any leveling universal power, Yang’s performance resembled an intervention: something this side of theater, which everywhere had the potential to derange, like a little vortex, the unreflecting, automated selfhood fostered by a globalized society of networked images. WM
Jeffrey Grunthaner is a writer & artist currently based in Berlin. Essays, articles, poems & reviews have appeared via BOMB, artnet News, The Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallergic, Louffa Press, Drag City Books, & other venues. Recent curatorial projects include the reading & discussion series Conversations in Contemporary Poetics at Hauser & Wirth, West 22nd Street (NY).view all articles from this author