nibia pastrana santiago, Whitney Biennial 2019, New York

Whitney Museum of American Art
  • nibia pastrana santiago, PORT PRACTICE, New York, 2019. Photo: © Eduardo F. Rosario
  • nibia pastrana santiago, June 6th, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2019. Photo: © Paula Court
  • nibia pastrana santiago, June 6th, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2019. Photo: © Paula Court
  • nibia pastrana santiago, June 7th, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2019. Photo: © Paula Court
  • nibia pastrana santiago, June 8th, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2019. Photo: © Paula Court

[En anglais]

nibia pastrana santiago, objetos indispuestos, inauguraciones suspendidas o finales inevitables para un casi-baile (indisposed objects, suspended inaugurations or inevitable endings for an almost dance)
Whitney Biennial 2019, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
June 6–9, 2019

Biennials are an uncanny phenomenon of the art world, condensing the complex practices of numerous artists into one large-scale exhibition. Despite their best efforts, they often clumsily foreground problematic issues that plague the contemporary art world—gentrification of neighbourhoods, unethical funding sources and institutional management, pay inequity, and various other forms of discrimination and exploitation. Even when the curatorial vision and creative works on display are poignantly relevant and critically rigorous, as they are in the current iteration of the Whitney Biennial, scandal is never far behind—see the calls for trustee Warren B. Kanders to be removed. Distinguishing oneself among this quagmire is never easy, especially when some of the work is predisposed to grab the headlines with capital P politics and/or capital A aesthetics.

nibia pastrana santiago’s contribution to the Whitney Biennial 2019, objetos indispuestos, inauguraciones suspendidas o finales inevitables para un casi-baile (indisposed objects, suspended inaugurations or inevitable endings for an almost dance), takes stock of the world renowned event and challenges its conventions and context in disarmingly humorous ways. In her self-described “choreographic events,” pastrana leaves behind the traditional stage, choosing instead to confront her audience in unusual public outdoor settings. In her native Puerto Rico, this movement-based inquiry has led her to explore historical and contemporary forms of colonial violence exerted on Puerto Ricans by the United States. Approaching choreography as an “inherently territorial act” in its dissection of space, her practice invites audiences to reconsider their own positionality within routinized power dynamics. Often slow, contemplative, and accumulative, each intervention gains meaning over a set period of time, with both chance encounters and carefully crafted assemblages providing moments of levity and insight.

Over the period of a few days, pastrana transposed her durational, movement-driven studies from the persistently developing Hudson River Park towards the meatpacking district where the museum is located. Donning a partially transparent neon spandex costume designed by Daniela Fabrizi, her unusual bodily movements distorted the absurdity of athleisure as the ever-present accompanying trend of New York City’s wellness culture. With various unfulfilled and incomplete choreographic events, she repeatedly gestured towards the evolving nature of the museum’s new site, questioning the economic, social, and real estate practices that have buttressed it. Since 2014, Renzo Piano’s controversial building design at 99 Gansevoort Street has become contiguous with the gentrification of the West Village. Working under the radar, weaponizing the non-eventness of endurance work by demanding patience and pause in a hyper-capitalist landscape, pastrana insisted that spectators revaluate the urban spaces adjacent to and encompassing the Whitney.

During a five-hour-long action occurring on the building’s front steps on June 6th, the tension between the neighbourhood’s Disneyfication and the museum’s projected cultural value was put on full display. As pastrana fell and rose to improvised rhythms and patterns, the obnoxious music of an adjacent volleyball tournament overlapped with a soundtrack created by Eduardo F. Rosario’s for the outdoor performance. To the intermixing beats and bops of pop music, voiceovers referencing Althusser, and industrial noises, a climax occurred as a professional volleyball player dressed in his workout clothing observed the artist, joining a crowd of tourists, joggers, and art-viewing aficionados. pastrana’s kinesthetic ramble played the emblematic site like an instrument, acknowledging the full potential of her context by engaging with otherwise unnoticed landmarks such as sewer grids, bicycle racks, newspaper stands, and flower beds. Speaking through sequences of gestural codes, metaphors, and juxtapositions, her physical presence unsettled the mechanisms of pedestrian activity. Endlessly thought provoking, pastrana constantly reinvented herself and the environment(s) of her performance by shifting and linking disparate architectural features, interpersonal encounters, and the dynamics of the consumption-driven metropolis. Moving into the museum’s galleries for her final series of actions, her intervention gradually folded Manhattan’s socially charged, spectacle-induced cultural industry into the Biennial’s intimate space. Employing an open-ended, process oriented and expansive approach to performance, pastrana’s choreographies shed light on the value of understated aesthetic and political gestures, and their capacity for generating deep-felt and important forms of structural critique.

Published online on June 25, 2019.

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