profit and loss: Bruce Barber & Milo Moiré

Bruce Barber in his lecture yesterday, given as part of the Action and Delay conference hosted by AUT, raised for me the question – what is meant by performance in the ‘art world’, and in the institution in which I currently find myself? Why, indeed, would I want to align myself with it, if, as Bruce suggested, after Gregory Sholette, the vast pyramidal-base-sized majority of artists, those engaged in performance, he seemed to intimate, preeminently, are destined to become the ‘dark matter’, their efforts and their art invisible, that holds the Ponzi scheme together and keeps it from flying apart? While a few, as few as there are Russian oligarchs, profit from the existence of an art market, succeeding as artists, at the rarefied tip of the pyramid, they would hurtle off into non-existence without the infrastructural support of curators and managers, middle-men, critics, publications, research interest, courses and conferences that the vast and overwhelming mass of those who will never accede to such heights – or such success, failing inevitably – enables, the existence of which it feeds and feeds on, as an underwater milieu and vast sea-bottom.

What is at stake in ‘performance practice’ as used in this milieu? It seems on the face of it that performance practice is the last place to think about and reflect on performance or think through what it is. Even the documentation has a tendency to collapse into or onto the practice. Whatever thinking goes in to the practice occurs before the outcome which is generically the performance itself.

My understanding of a practice is however exactly the thinking through, about and reflection on the methods, beliefs and ideas that are brought to it, to itself think, and reflect on itself. The question, ‘how does performance think?’ seems to arise less in the milieu of performance than in theatre. The difference being that the performer thinks in theatre through the practice of performance – which is what is meant by technique, acting technique. While the performance artist expresses herself in acting, in an action, intervention, interaction, all the inter-s, she does not interrogate the practice except in research or theory – the technical practice being relegated to a position outside the performance.

The performance artist does not generally have the technical means to think in performance. The performance is an outcome of thought.

How the theatre actor thinks is in the technique of making transitions between states of being in performance, during performance. This insight is due to Esa Kirkkopelto.

Milo Moiré’s performance, PlopEgg #1, and at her website has the theatrical components of a technical mise-en-scène – the trestles and scaffold platforms, the canvas support for the finished Rorschach – and the strangley improvised modesty curtain behind which the performer inserts paint-filled eggs into her vagina. She has a stage-manager manoeuvre the latter at several intervals allowing her to refill. But the performance as performance according to the art-world milieu and the tenets of its self-understanding is not and could not be acted – there is only one state of being in the performance, between which the transitions are of low interest in technical terms: between Milo in performance and Milo preparing, backstage, behind the modesty curtain; between Milo pushing out eggs and Milo taking care of the business – albeit nude – of rolling and folding the paint squibs in a canvas. The canvas, it might be said, folds into the performance as its documentation. But the performance is the one repeatable action or operation of plopping eggs.

Where in this performance would there be room to think? As Bruce Barber pointed out, with the Paypal price for the uncensored version of the video at 4.99 Euros and the YouTube views at over 4 million, the thought is, how much money could Milo Moiré potentially make? The success or failure of this performance as performance rests on its reproducibility and functional iterability (this is PlopEgg #1) and statistical and quantitive considerations.