Performative Exercise for your Personal Pandemic
Text by Wera Hippesroither
While assembly in public places is still prohibited and all venues are closed, theatres and independent artists are reacting to the crisis with different strategies. Many choose to digitize previous works or make stagings accessible as online streams. This may be a welcome distraction, but it brings with it the decisive disadvantage that interaction becomes almost impossible within these formats. Performance artist Michikazu Matsune has developed the most interactive approach so far for his project Performance Homework. On the project’s website, performances are not shown but rather instructed. The recipients follow the instructions and execute performative actions within the confines of their own four walls, which in turn makes it a physical experience (again). Thus, Performance Homework simultaneously points to what we miss and to what is actually there.
The exercises were created by various visual and performative artists. It ranges from preparing a salad (Alison Knowles), washing hands (Aldo Giannotti), climbing a table (Thomas Anderson), rolling a fruit (Anna Paul), or carrying bread dough on your head (David Sherry). Some works are inspired by historical works, such as those by Yoko Ono or Henri Matisse. In conversation, Matsune emphasizes the importance of learning by doing: the practice of the exercises can be understood as a learning process that dissolves the boundary between artist and audience. This mode of self-learning is open to all. The instructions are easy to understand, props and objects that everyone has at home are used. The execution of the performance is outsourced and offered as an individual experience that is very accessible. Matsune says that in his own artistic practice he likes to play with the expectations of the audience, sometimes there can be a big difference between what the audience expects and what they really get to see. The labels assigned to the individual exercises on Performance Homework are part of a similar game. If you only look at phrases like “Make a salad,” “Move!”, “Imagine a better place”, or "Finally time to reflect", you could as well be browsing one of the many lifestyle blogs that are currently bombarding us with well-meant advice on how to cope with the crisis. Performance Homework recognizes the Internet as a valid space for performance and employs typical online expressions and behavior. Matsune says that the phrases are intentionally chosen to be straightforward because familiar patterns enable accessibility for people who are outsiders to the art world.
Some of the work was created before the pandemic, but due to our current circumstances, these same works are seen in a different light. Matsune is dealing with the question of what should or could be done at this moment. In doing the exercises, the audience is present and empowered to be in touch with their immediate surroundings, their bodies, and their feelings. You don’t need fancy costumes or props. Everybody can do these exercises. In this sense, Performance Homework points to the essence of performance: being thrown back on oneself and perceiving a specific situation with all your senses; exposing yourself. When Matsune presented wrapped gifts and letters for a future audience of the year 2111 as part of the work “Hello 2111” in 2011, the performance was unexpectedly framed by the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. With the feeling that it is the end of the world at his back, he addressed a distant future generation. When looking back at the pandemic and this project in a few years, maybe we will be able to discover parallels. In a time of crisis, when performative arts seem lost, Performance Homework brings back what performance is really all about: being present and sensing oneself, which can perhaps be the best gift to a 2020 crisis-ridden audience.