The Performance Agency’s ode to Fluxus falls somewhere between a performance art parcours and a boat party, embracing the unknown – even if it means getting a little wet. Berlin-based writer and Scorpio (water sign!) Eliza Levinson reports on the ride.
When The Performance Agency first started curating boat rides in 2018, the project – called Between Points, in an ode to Fluxus artist Geoffrey Hendricks's travel journal of the same name – interwove reality and dream segments, traversing the waters between sleep and waking life. The title of this year’s ride, Another Map To Nevada, refers to a work by Hendricks's contemporary Robert Delford Brown, in which the artist serves as minister of The First National Church of the Exquisite Panic. In Brown’s denomination, God was called “WHO?” – because, as Performance Agency's cofounder Yael Salomonowitz explains, “who knows?!” – and followers, rather than arriving at Nirvana, find themselves in Nevada. The parcours began in Berlin’s graffitied waterways; this year, Performance Agency took the show to Copenhagen, where the first night of Another Map To Nevada was, admittedly, dampened. Though it was still nominally summer, the evening was chilly – and getting chillier, as those of us at the pier waited in the rain, sipping on apologetic (read: generous) portions of natural wine, for our ride to arrive. In a romantic gesture to summer nights, fresh air, and health and safety precautions in 2021, the boat is uncovered.
Within a few moments of departing, Another Map to Nevada’s soundscape builds, cycling between ambient tones and repeated English phrases and dipping in and out of more lucid movements – spoken word poetry and mischievous lullabies – stitched together to form a conceptual symphony. This interplay between hypnotic droning and active storytelling casts a spell in which one is both at peace and out of conscious control, an enraptured bystander watching a fantasy unfurl like plumes of smoke. Copenhagen’s canal is peppered with bridges, here transformed into frequent points of contact between audience and performers. The interventions start small: a person in a black hood and jeans wearing flimsy angel wings scurries across an overpass as we float by. Quickly, due to the combined effects of the soporific soundtrack and the gentle surreality of the performances, the entire city begins to feel like some elaborately constructed, ethereal choreography, from the wavering city lights reflected on the water to the curious residents peering down at us, waving.
Site-specificity is central to these performances. Combining the familiar and the unexpected, the real and the fantastical, the city is transformed into a benevolent hallucination: the uncanny valley, but softened at the edges. Gliding past tall Danish windows, viewers glimpse peaceful moments in the lives of anonymous city residents, grounding the tour in some version of actuality. As the tour continues, the interventions become more involved, more disruptive: holding a glowing red flare, Astrit Ismaili steps on board the boat to the tempo of a fast-paced club beat to perform a live song; a thrilling fireworks show by Esben Weile Kjærand and Maja Malou Lyse explodes to the cues of a monologue, delivered as if from the psyche of the fireworks themselves, concluding the adventure. Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen’s contributions are standouts, running the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime: a particularly jarring intervention comes when they spring up from a bridge and hurl eggs at the audience – twice.
Needless to say, experiencing Another Map To Nevada in the rain is not recommendable. Still, I couldn’t escape the glow, ephemeral and undeniable; its joyful beating heart; the sound and performance, poetic and playful in equal parts as night fell on a sleepy, late-summer city. When I returned to see Another Map To Nevada the following, mostly-dry evening, with its technical difficulties resolved and weather permitting, it was radiant.
Though The Performance Agency’s boat rides predate the pandemic, it almost feels as though this project has been specially tailored to our era: an entirely immersive experience – a cultural corrective – reliant upon fresh air, being present, and paying attention to others. John Cage, whose ethos deeply influenced the Fluxus movement, was known for saying things like “Begin anywhere” or “Be open to whatever comes next”. Today, when artists draw from this philosophy, this sense of un-planning and openness is, to some extent, still radical, thumbing their noses at the careful orchestrations and extensive planning that organize most of this industry. Still – as evidenced by the rain – there remains a tenuous line. What role, I’m left wondering, does the experientially, inescapably, banally unpleasant (like the weather) have in art? Another Map to Nevada thrilled and provoked, even as its subversion of art world pretensions had me shivering.
Another Map to Nevada
Curated by the Performance Agency
27 – 29 August 2021
ELIZA LEVINSON is an artist and writer based in Berlin.