Rethinking the Institutional Body and its Movement
“How can we build a structure to be alive inside?” is one of the questions asked by the artist Emily Roysdon in her work By Any Other Name / Uncounted* that began as a Corpus production in 2013–2014, and was subsequently developed further by the artist. How can arts institutions provide these conditions?
Corpus is a collaborative network for commissioning and presenting new performance work in a visual art context. It was founded in 2012, having been initiated by If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution, with founding partners Playground festival, Tate Modern and the Centre d’Art Contemporain Brétigny. After a pilot phase (2012–2014) in which projects were realized with various artists including Joëlle Tuerlinckx, Tim Etchells (with FormContent), Emily Roysdon, Orla Barry and Isidoro Valcárcel Medina, the network currently consists of Bulegoa z/b in Bilbao, Contemporary Art Centre Vilnius, If I Can’t Dance in Amsterdam, KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, Playground festival (STUK Kunstencentrum & M-Museum) in Leuven, and Tate Modern in London. Six associate partners, Ashkal Alwan in Beirut, The Kitchen and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, Kunsthaus Bregenz, REDCAT in Los Angeles and OCAT in Shenzhen, further extend both the reach and the conversation.
While perhaps an unlikely institutional alliance at first glance—with each of the institutions being very diverse in scale, character and history, and embedded within a particular locality—Corpus is brought together by a mutual longstanding interest in and a deep-rooted engagement with performance. The network grew from personal and professional connections that emerged around this shared interest, along with certain approaches to live work and particular contemporary artistic practices, and an interest in the histories they are heir to. These existing connections and affinities were formalized through a network, with the aim of establishing a new kind of structure that might improve the conditions for commissioning performance in an art context, to stimulate its production and development, and to generate strength in the emergent global conversation about “performance”. Having been led by this shared interest in performance, the specificity of each institution has come to be a surplus, enriching what Corpus can be, and what it can offer to artists and audiences alike, with each partner bringing a breadth to the discussion on performance rather than trying to localize it in one context, be that the theatre, the gallery, the collection or the festival.
Complementing this was the idea of finding a way to be more ambitious in the production and presentation of new performance works, by joining with others who have shared interests but are often working in precarious ways: either as independent small-scale organizations, or within larger institutions where this area is not necessarily a priority. This ambition mainly manifests itself in taking time—one of the essential and defining materials of performance—as a principle for thinking and working. Performance demands a different relation to temporality, and a different attention to the care required for its material—living bodies. The temporalities that performance proposes challenge the dispositifs of the institution, and the long-term collaboration extends the potential of each. Corpus, operating within a three-year rhythm, enables artists to work over time, and allows works to grow and evolve in repertory, across several platforms.
Corpus sets out a new model of inter-institutional partnership in which the institutions are not just connecting with what are usually seen as their peer organizations. The disparity between the partners creates new gradients and new possibilities for the invited artists to develop their work. The central ideas of the network are to share ways of working between the partners, and to expand the potential platforms for production and presentation available to artists working in these ways: artists who have a focus on live practice but whose work often falls between support structures designed for theatre and dance, and the financial systems of the art market. We are not simply “touring” projects between us, but rather we are engaged in a live conversation whereby we discuss many artists and works that we’re excited about, and approach artists to form project proposals offering an evolving context for new works on several platforms: from the large-scale of Tate or its small-scale Performance Room broadcast online, to the theatre stages of STUK, to the gallery spaces of M-Museum and CAC Vilnius, to the deeper research and production potential offered by Bulegoa z/b and If I Can’t Dance, for example. The partner organizations themselves are also venturing out onto other platforms and stages, as in the case of KW’s collaboration with Foreign Affairs. The network gives a concrete reason not just to share ideas and artists, and to support them, but also to pay more attention to the nuances of how work might move and develop through time and across the different spaces.
This is Offal by Mary Reid Kelley, for example, started out as a live-streamed performance in Tate’s Performance Room in November 2015; in a retake on Thomas Hoods’ poem The Bridge of Sighs (1844), the artist slipped into the body of a drowned woman, whose organs voice their opinion and discuss her apparent suicide. From this first eight-minute-long performance, a combination of pre-recorded video material and live action, the project has been further developed with Playground into an installation to be activated with a series of late-night performances for Foreign Affairs at KW in July 2016, before moving on to the different context of Leuven—and possibly a new form—at Playground festival in November 2016. The Book To Come, a project by Bulegoa z/b in Bilbao in collaboration with Filiep Tacq, takes five books by Marcel Broodthaers as a starting point for thinking about books through the lens of performance. In Reading Sessions that started in April 2015 and are led by a different artist or thinker each time, The Book To Come steadily builds a body of thought around the performativity of books through a diverse set of practices. In November 2015 a parallel yet autonomous Reading Group started at CAC Vilnius, bringing not just other books, practices and concerns into the conversation, but also an additional group of participating readers. As another Corpus commission, Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa develops a series of distinct performances and videos that allow him to address specific subject matter—the Guatemalan Civil War—from different angles over an extended period of time.
For the future, we are interested in how Corpus might continue to evolve as a curatorial body that, at one level, supersedes institutional or national “competition” and instead allows the work to grow as a conversation between localities, born of shared interest.
Corpus grew from a specific wish to support investment in performance art, but its form speaks to a growing desire amongst curators and artists for the establishment of connected ways of working within a precarious and potentially atomized contemporary context. The drive for this network is not simply financial and practical, but is also concerned with the texture of exchange that it generates, both in the longer-term collaboration with artists and in our continuing conversation as partners.
How to Frame. On the Threshold of Performing and Visual Arts
Edited by Barbara Gronau, Matthias von Hartz, Carolin Hochleichter
July 2016, Sternberg Press