Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Historical Reenactment

Allison Smith / The Muster

The Muster is a public art event in which artist Allison Smith invokes the aesthetic vernacular of the American Civil War battle reenactment as a stage set for a polyphonic marshalling of voices in her artistic and intellectual communities. The Muster takes form in a creative encampment on the Fort Jay marching grounds of Governors Island, in which fifty enlisted participants fashion uniforms, build campsites, and declare their causes publicly to an audience of spectators. Smith creates a literal platform, complete with banners and flags, to identify the creative minds in her midst and to celebrate what they are fighting for. Smith directs but does not script the event, so that its outcome is only revealed at the Muster itself.

Allison Smith, a Brooklyn-based artist, is interested in the notion of “authentic reproductions” – a common if oxymoronic phrase describing contemporary objects or tableaux that conjure historical aesthetics and episodes. In her sculptures and mixed-media installations, Smith investigates the ways in which a simple prop, bridging past and present, can come to signify more than its appearance suggests. She creates colonial handcrafts, Civil War memorabilia, and 19th-century weapons, often arranged to transform the exhibition space into that of a historic home or period room. For the past ten years, Smith has conducted an investigation of the cultural phenomenon of Civil War reenactment, or Living History, founded on the belief that historical events gain meaning and relevance when performed live in an open-air, interactive setting. Smith has appropriated the reenactor’s aesthetic palette to produce sculptural installations that examine the role craft plays in the construction of national identity. Over the summer of 2004, Smith organized a weekend encampment on the Catskills property of Mark Dion and J. Morgan Puett in which artists came together to create their own unique historical event. Emerging from that experience, the Muster on Governors Island is the most complex project she has undertaken thus far, broadening the Civil War metaphor to reflect on current events, and involving potentially hundreds of participants. Smith was born in Manassas, Virginia in 1972. She received a BA in psychology from the New School for Social Research (1995), a BFA from Parsons School of Design (1995), and an MFA from Yale University School of Art (1999). She participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program (1999-2000).

"Re-enacting Stonewall, Jackson that is" / Matt Wolf with Allison Smith


RFK in EKY, The Robert F. Kennedy Performance Project, is a series of public conversations and activities centered around the real-time, site-specific intermedia performance that recreated, on September 9th and 10th 2004, Robert Kennedy’s two-day, 200 mile “poverty tour” of southeastern Kentucky in 1968.

This webpage represents our attempt to capture both the essence and detail of the project – the material here reflects the four year development process, the performance itself, the ideas explored in a variety of formats, and the different directions the project is now heading . . . Like the reenactment itself, there are occasional points where the past and the present overlap, compete in some ways – we’ve learned to live with them by recognizing the ways they inform and challenge each other. As a point of reference, the performance is spoken of in the past tense, the project as a whole in the present – it is ongoing, and continues to find new ideas for evolving its exploration . . .

The project provides an opportunity to revisit the essential and still pertinent questions raised in Kennedy’s original visit (2004 being, like 1968, a pivotal election year): on the representation of marginalized populations in the national consciousness; the role of government in maintaining a quality-of-life safety net, and fostering sustainable economic development, educational and vocational advancement; ways to stem the out-migration of rural young people and the loss of natural resources; and the priorities of a government administration engaged in a protracted war. RFK in EKY, like Kennedy and those who created his tour, recognizes these questions are part of an important national dialogue for which Appalachia is only one of many possible settings.

Like the original tour, RFK in EKY focuses attention on the indigenous expertise and alternative visions of Appalachia. The performance re-enacted, with an all-local cast (of hundreds), the most significant events of Kennedy’s 1968 visit in order to hold an historical mirror to present day issues and ideas. The 48 hour performance recreated all aspects of Kennedy’s tour, including two official hearings of the Senate Subcommittee on Employment, Manpower and Poverty (held at Vortex and Fleming-Neon), roadside visits with individual families, walking tours of small communities and strip mine sites, stops at one-room schoolhouses, and speeches at courthouses and colleges. A series of contextualizing activities took place preceding the recreation, and surrounded the two-day performance itself. They will continue, in new forms, as the project evolves. These events range from the analytical to the deeply personal and use art as the occasion for creating public meeting space in rural communities.

These pages present the events prior to and during the performance: speakers such as Peter Edelman and Loyal Jones address the history and strategies of the “war on poverty” as it played out in central Appalachia, and the legacy of the programs’ spirit and ideas. Head Start workers focus attention on the last intact remnant of the “war on poverty” idea of “maximum feasible participation of the poor” in determining the direction of programming meant to help them. Artists from the project, including Harrell Fletcher, present an exhibition of memorabilia and commemorative artifacts gathered during its four year development process, and artists within the project conduct a public discussion of the integrated arts approach and the many pitfalls that led to the performance.

Initiated and led by the artist John Malpede, RFK in EKY is a project of Appalshop, Inc. Malpede, now in-residence at Appalshop, began developing the notion of recreating Kennedy’s visit during the American Festival Project sponsored Artist and Community Gathering in 2000, and evolved it into its present form during extended visits over the subsequent three years.

John Malpede is a distinguished, genre-bending performance artist and theater director whose solo pieces “Inappropriate Laughing Responses” and “Get” have been performed throughout the US. Over the past three years Malpede has been featured in five video works in Bill Viola’s series, “The Passion,” including “Quintet of the Astonished,” in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. Currently, Malpede is performing a one-hour monologue as Antonin Artaud in director Peter Sellar’s “Artaud/Jordan.” The piece has toured six European cities and is now touring the US.

In 1985 Malpede formed the Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD), the first performance group in the nation comprised entirely of homeless and formerly homeless people. LAPD’s current touring project, “Agents and Assets,” originally produced in 2001, recreates a US House of Representatives hearing on the importation of drugs into the country by Nicaraguan Contras with CIA complicity.

The creative process of “Agents and Assets” merges experiential knowledge with contextual information, allowing both performers and audience a deeper understanding of the social and political forces that shape their lives. This model, mixing lived experience and context, is the basic groundwork for RFK in EKY. Local citizens, some of whom saw Kennedy as schoolchildren in 1968, will play national figures; children will play their parents; today’s political and community leaders will play their past counterparts. The construction of memory and commemoration is one context; environmental sacrifice and economic self-determination another; federal policy promises and failures yet another – the project exists to reveal both the imbalances inherent in our society and the extraordinary work and workers attempting to expose and rectify them.

RFK in EKY not only recreates an historic moment, it holds a mirror to it and asks people to join the conversations, exploring their hopes and analyzing what’s true in our relationships to government, community, and each other. Like RFK himself, the project hopes to give people the opportunity and the courage to listen, speak, and act as free citizens in a true democracy.

"RFK in EKY: Maximum Feasible Participation" / Jane Hirshberg

Jeremy Deller / The Battle of Orgreave /17 June 2001 / Orgreave, South Yorkshire

In 1984 the National Union of Mineworkers went on strike. The dispute lasted for over a year and was the most bitterly fought since the general strike of 1926 marking a turning point in the struggle between the government and the trade union movement.

On the 18 June 1984 there occurred at the Orgreave coking plant one of the strike's most violent confrontations, begun in a field near to the plant and culminating in a cavalry charge through the village of Orgreave.

Jeremy Deller's The Battle of Orgreave was a spectacular re-enactment of what happened on that day, orchestrated by Howard Giles, historical re-enactment expert and former director of English Heritage's event programme.

The Battle of Orgreave was filmed under the direction of Mike Figgis for Artangel Media and Channel 4, and was aired on Sunday 20th October 2002.

Dramatic photographic stills from the clashes in 1984 are intercut with footage of the clashes re-enacted in 2001, teasing out the truth behind this bitter struggle.

The English Civil War Part II

Rod Dickenson

The Milgram Reenactment is an authentic reconstruction of one part of Stanley Milgrams Obedience to Authority experiment conducted at Yale University in from 1960 for several years.

The Promised Land / Rod Dickenson’s re-enactment of Jim Jones’s miracle healing

Waco Psychological Warfare Re-enactment

Artist Rod Dickinson will reconstruct the FBI's secret psychological warfare assault on the infamous Branch Davidian religious community in Waco, Texas, at a secret, remote location close to London, on Thursday 16 September.

In 1993, the FBI laid siege to the religious community led by David Koresh for 51 days, intimidating them with a continuous barrage of white noise, rock music and an array of repetitive sounds played at 110 decibels.

Using first-hand testimony from interviews with survivors and academic researchers, Dickinson will recreate some of these original sounds, which included babies crying, circling helicopters, high pitched rabbit screams and dentist drills. The reconstructed audio will be broadcast at 100 decibels at a remote location surrounded by wire fencing and bright floodlights.

The reconstructed audio from the psychological warfare siege will also be streamed over the internet, in real time, for 24 hours a day for over a month.

Artur Żmijewski: Repetition

Artur Żmijewski's 39-minute film Repetition (2005) is a complex and riveting documentary of his reenactment of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. In place of college students, Żmijewski hired unemployed Polish men to enact the roles of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison environment.

Filmed with hidden cameras, their behavior quickly progresses from play acting to acts of seemingly genuine frustration and anger. Confrontations between prisoners and guards escalate ominously, but just when it seems that Żmijewski's experiment will replicate the traumatic results of the original, things take an unexpected turn in a manner that raises questions about the differences between art and science, and whether either can offer convincing conclusions about human nature.

Greta Pratt

Greta Pratt is the author of two books of photographs, Using History, Steidl, 2005 and In Search of the Corn Queen, National Museum of American Art, 1994. Pratt's work is included in major public and private collections, including The National Museum of American Art; Smithsonian Institution, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and The Minneapolis Institute of Art. Pratt’s photographs have been featured in the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, American Art, and Photo District News. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1987.

Nineteen Lincolns / Using History / In Search of the Corn Queen

Ahistoric Occasion / MassMOCA / Opens May 28, 2006

Historians, theorists, philosophers, and everyday folks have described the 1st decade of the 21st century as a period unaware of its own history; a period that has managed to step outside of time itself. Where are we now? How did we get here and where are we going? Have we reached the end of history as proclaimed by Francis Fukuyama or have we entered a new historic period that has changed the rules? In answer to this question, artists from around the world have taken up the charge and begun resituating and analyzing historic events. Whether it is the accuracy of the official story, the impossibility of historic memory today, the recreation of the past into the present, or the obstinate refusal to accept an ahistoric period as acceptable, these artists cull from the landmarks in the global timeline to position the present and give shape to the future.

Artists include: Paul Chan, Jeremy Deller, Peggy Diggs, Felix Gmelin, Kerry James Marshall, Greta Pratt, Dario Robleto, Doris Salcedo, Yinka Shonibare, Allison Smith, Eve Sussman

Jacqueline Donachie / A Walk for Greville Verney

"A Walk for Greville Verney" celebrated the life of the last of the well-known Warwickshire family to live at Compton Verney. The walk was led by a 20-strong Irish pipe band, actors from the Kineton Theatre group, and a team of horses and riders, each representing aspects of his life and passions.


An Arts-Based Exploration of Mao's Long March

La Commune / Paris, 1871 / Peter Watkins

Article: Patricia C. Phillips / Art Journal / Spring, 2003

Article: "Doing It Again" / Iain Aitch / Eyestorm