Strachan discusses his installation, Polar Eclipse, which represented the Bahamas in its first participation at the 55th International Venice Biennale.
Tavares Strachan’s affecting, sublime work at the Bahamas pavilion proved to be a formidable success at this year’s 55th International Venice Biennale. Polar Eclipse prompts the viewer’s immediate visceral reactions to the artist’s subtle treatment of a reenactment of a historic narrative: the 1909 polar expedition of Robert Peary and Matthew Alexander Henson. The latter was an African-American explorer, said to be the first to reach North Pole. Strachan explores displacement and narrative shifts in both geographical travels and historical stories, gently leading viewers to simultaneously feel belonging and alienation. For the piece, Strachan installed fictional documentation of his chosen story, including two large blocks of ice from the North Pole in display cases, spacesuits, a neon sign which reads “You are Here,” and “We Belong Here,” and forty Bahamian schoolchildren singing an Inuit song. Through engaging his own native Nassau community, an American historical event and an Inuit song on an Italian—yet international—cultural platform, Strachan drew attention to a particular transcultural code and globalized culture to which we indeed all belong.
Jovana Stokić How happy are you with your Venetian experience?
Tavares Strachan My team and I were there for six weeks, and we tried our best to become a part of the community. It was entertaining, to say the least.
JS Entertaining? Before we began today, you mentioned altruism.
TS Yeah. I guess my altruism has more to do with rigor than it has to do with a sense of generosity. People should think about things a little more. People like to generalize, and there’s a lot of miscommunication when they do. I like that. Your own agenda sometimes can be confused: Whether you’re doing something for reasons that you think are. When you become rigorous, you maybe think about those things, and perhaps you don’t do those things for the reasons you thought you were doing them. This is why it is more about rigor than it is a sense of exchange, or generosity, or giving. I mean, maybe those things come down the line, but first you have to ask yourself those difficult questions.
Michael Portnoy and Jovana Stokić discuss abstract games, the dangers of Relational Aesthetics and Portnoy’s recent participatory work 27 Gnosis.
In 27 Gnosis, the latest work from New York-based performance artist Michael Portnoy, language as we know it is broken down and re-introduced as a tool for discovery. Taking place inside a mauve-hued “ontic sphere”, Portnoy plays the “Rigid Designator” alongside his wife, performance artist Ieva Misevičiūtė, who appears as “Modifa, The Modifier” and together—outfitted in matching suits by designers threeASFOUR—they steer a group of participants through a game sequence led by dance, instruction, 17th century knowledge systems, revised syntax codes, and melancholic jokes. The winners’ ideas, or results, christen a ‘gnose’, a black, vaguely nose-like clay sculpture which is then passed onto the next group. Originally commissioned and performed for dOCUMENTA (13) last year, the work was adapted for a two-week run at The Kitchen in New York during March 2013.
Michael Portnoy I met you at one of my favorite restaurants in New York, Lucien. And you were with our common friend, Adina, who’s also from those lands in the east. Instantly, what I appreciated about you was this kind of unrestrained presentation of yourself.
Jovana Stokić Sounds awful!
MP No, you felt very real to me. A strong life force.