The Symbolic Trespass
An argument for Augusto Boal as the future of feminist performance
and feminist art as a reflexive pedagogical necessity for social reimaginings.
The work of Augusto Boal is a crucial and incredibly valuable way of thinking about performance, and conversely, about performativity as a necessary aspect of lived life. The nature of his work is both tied to a larger ritualized history and also a reimagined state of the societies of potential futurities. This new state he speaks to is not the ritualized aristocratic entertainment centuries of patrons have come to expect, but a functional tool that inflicts social and individual change.
Boal’s work demands questions of institutionalized theater and ways of theatrical making: what are direct and clear ways that theatrical tropes can be used to engage various publics? How can theater potentially serve as a tool of democracy? How has it historically served as a tool of propaganda and classism? Through his development of a theater method that empowers those experiencing social and political strife, he begins to break with tradition and renegotiate the use of bodies, script, improvisation, and space. It is worth noting that these things (bodies, script, improvisation, space) are both marked as theatrical tools and also as the basic tenants of social organization. This is useful to remember as Boal’s work tends to migrate out of the theater and into politics and social structure with little explanation. His lack of need to explain these moments of transcendence serve to be both telling as to his approach and instructive to a new way of viewing performance as fully integrated into society.
Over the following pages, I will propose that Boal’s work brings us in direct contradiction with the predominant message and focus of the selffocused theatrical productions of the Western traditions dating back to Greek theater, and instead asks for a return to the ancient spontaneous participatory structures of ritual and celebration as well as a yet to be seen future state. I see Boal’s methods as linked directly to modes of feminist and postmodern art practices via his strategies of making, existing
in a poetic semiconscious conversation with feminist standpoint theory. Rather than engaging directly with these ideas, he does it tangentially, by moving deeply into identity politics, and finding new vocabularies of representation, looking, and identifying. I will propose that his work offers us a practical logistical path to reshape and reutilize our existing systems in a way that offers productive paths forward through complex identities and issues.
A brief biography...
Augusto Boal was born in Rio de Janeiro. He first traveled to the United States in the 1950s to pursue studies in Chemical Engineering at Columbia College. Although he was interested in theater from an early age, he didn’t embrace it as a career until after his graduation from Columbia, when he returned to Brazil to work for the Arena Theater in Sao Paulo. While in New York, he had worked with contemporary heavyweights of the period, such as John Gassner and The Actors Studio. Because of this exposure, he returned to Brazil with a deep interest in and understanding of Stanislavski’s Method approach and a strong awareness of the midcentury excitement in Europe and the United States for realism in theater.
In 1956, The Arena Theater in San Paol entered headlong into its own “realism” stage (Boal, 136). The technique, presentation, and packaging was very familiar to anyone comfortable with European methods of midcentury theater making. It was, as Boal described it; “theater made by money for people who had money” (Boal, 136). For several years, Boal directed such English classics as “Of Mice and Men” for The Arena Theater. However, also according to Baol, Brazilians quickly began to tire of what he referred to as “perfect English diction” ( 137) and become hungry for authentic works of theater that reflected national identity and experience, which was completely uncharted territory. There was, at the time, no publicly produced theater that reflected Brazilian experience.
It is impossible to separate Boal’s work from the specificities of Brazilian politics of the 1960’s and 70’s. Throughout the 1950’s and ‘60s, the Brazilian economy experienced unparallelled growth. The gross national product was swelling by eight percent a year, largely due to the fact that the country was
turning away from its legacy as an agricultural exporter and toward a future of industrialization. This newfound wealth was also felt in the art world the bossa nova emerged, and cinemanova (led by Glauber Rocha), literature, and poetry all took a turn for the psychological and the political. The middle classes saw an emergence of a politically radicalized group of artists and intellectuals (de Abru).
In response to the new selfreflective cultural hunger, the Arena Theater attempted to create a national theatrical core of twelve young Brazillian playwrights in 1958 (Boal, 138). Over the following years, many young playwrights began to produce consistently and successfully, Boal among them. Brazilian nationalism was on the rise, which was reflected on stage: traditional European plays began to fall further and further out of favor. As Boal remembers, the Arena “opened their doors to anybody who wanted to talk about Brazil to a Brazilian audience” (139). For a period of time, what was popular in Brazilian theater was the simple realistic representation of lives and identities which had been previously missing from popular visual culture. Boal remembers plays about people going to soccer matches, people going shopping and planning dinners pedestrian things. There was a frantic joy in finally seeing the Brazilian proletariat portrayed visually (Boal, 137). This kind of interest in visual selfrepresentation of underrepresented minorities is incredibly important in the early development of Boal’s work.
In her article “PostRacial Visual Culture” Laura Hargarten writes that minorities in television in the 1950’s in the US were “represented as whites saw them, not as they saw themselves.” While the location and the context between the two countries are obviously different, the class divides in Brazil of the period are comparable to the United States, and the representation of people who looked and sounded like Brazilians was almost nonexistent in theater before the 1950’s, and the representation of people from South America at all were in plays that played heavily off of otherized stereotypes of dark skinned people written by European playwrights or playwrights from the United States. The representation of people that looked, sounded, or experienced in ways that Brazilians could identify with were most often offensive and reductive representations. These were hardly deep and profound representations of the the experiences of marginalized Brazilians, and Boal felt this deeply.
Even at this early stage in his creative work, his impulse to create democratic involvement in theater is evident even in his earliest days at The Arena, while he was producing and directing fairly traditional plays, he continuously troubled traditional expectations by asking audience members to stay after the performance to speak about their experience. The urge to pull the audience in and get them talking was evident from the beginning of his career. Quite quickly, however, he began to push this even further. In 1979’s “The Joker” Boal wrote a play which played out multiple endings and intricate possibilities, allowing the audience to examine and critique specific choices made by the characters, and the power structures they participated in. He called this approach dealing with theater "within the transitoriness of theatrical techniques"(Lovelace).
As he moved deeper into developing these interactive techniques, the way in which Boal responded to traditional theater was not just to change the message, but also the media itself. He became deeply invested in questioning the basic tenants of the ways we make theater, as well as what we use it to say, and to whom. Even very early in his career, his interest in democratic representation led not just to writing plays that represented people that looked, sounded, and experienced life in ways that felt authentic to his Brazilian identity he began to critique and reshape the entire framework of how we think about dramatic action. This began innocuously enough Boal often encouraged audience members to suggest alternative actions and conclusions for the actors in his traditional plays in his audience feedback sessions. During one performance, one particularly vocal woman jumped out of the audience and got on stage to show an actor what she envisioned (Boal, 12). For Boal, this moment of embodiment was a revelation that would spark years of research and a lifetime of experimentation. He went on to work extensively around the world developing his theatrical process, which he called The Theater of the Oppressed, write many books, and found centers across the world that strive to articulate and change the experiences of oppressed peoples.
Boal was specifically influenced by Paulo Freire, a radical theorist and developer of what he called the Pedagogy of the Oppressed Boal’s TO is a direct reference to this (Boal, 17). Freire asked that artists show their support of the people's struggle by giving themselves over to the thinking of the people. He
did not encourage focusing on the actions of man, such a focusing causes confusion, but rather he encouraged a focus on "the thoughtlanguage with which men refer to reality, the levels at which they perceive that reality, and their view of the world." Do not go to the people with the objective to bring them salvation, he cautions, but rather to understand through dialogue, "their objective situation and their awareness of that situation." (Lovelace). This was a major aesthetic and philosophical tenant for Boal, who took took these ideas deeply to heart, and began to craft new ways of making to incorporate them. “Boal looked to theater as an instrument of education, rejecting the popular idea of theater as only spectacle and entertainment. His objective was to increase the capacity to confront internal and external factors in deeply rooted conflict by increasing the capacity to conceive of change” (Lovelace).
Boal often romanticized a return to the dithyrambic notions of theater as he writes in “Theater of the Oppressed:
“in the beginning there was the dithyrambic song; free people singing in the open air. The carnival. The feast. Later, the ruling classes took possession of the theater and built their dividing walls. First, they divided the people, separating actors from spectators; people who act and people who watch the party’s over! Secondly, among the actors, they separated the protagonists from the mass. The coercive indoctrination has begun!” ( Boal, 95)
His life work became dedicated to intervening in this cycle a perpetual quest of a dithyrambically centered theatrical expression for the masses and the spectators with the goal that these notions would begin to erase themselves in favor of a chaotic and imaginative voice of the people. Boal was primarily interested in effectiveness in this way, he reveals himself as a deeply intermediary artist his work ranged from traditional theater to workshops to holding political office. Boal was not chasing media or technique, he was chasing ideas, and this manifested as constantly morphing artistic expression.
The overlapping shadows of Politics and Aesthetics
Since much of Boal's work is in such direct and aggressive dialogue with ingrained tropes of western theater, it is necessary to touch on this briefly. Specifically, a quick look at the work of Aristotle and
Bertold Brecht is valuable to flesh out the world that Boal was working within, as well as exposing the tensions he spent a lifetime responding to in regards to the modes, expressions, history, and theory of theatrical and social expression.
Boal deal extensively with Aristotle's seminal work on western tragedy; his notorious "Poetics". In this work, Aristotle laid out rules and regulations for the “poetics”, which translates from Greek as the entire concept of making. There are two primary areas of "Poetics" worth addressing in relation to Boal first, the idea of subject and subjectivity (memisis), specifically around the development of character/and the concepts of cathartic emotional release of the audience. Second the ways and methods in which theater functioned in the larger Greek society. The ways these concepts are inextricably linked and the things they say about value, work, and the individual is crucial to understanding Boal's method and thinking.
In regards to memisis the idea of imitation or representation is very specifically laid out in "Poetics". The tragic hero i.e., the protagonist of the narrative functions very specifically as an agent to create what Boal referred to as an "emotional prosthetic" (Boal, 11) which allows a passive audience to be emotionally moved by an artificial series of events unfolding in front of them. In Artistotle’s mind, this identification is crucial, as it allows for an emotional buildup that can lead to a cathartic purging of emotional energy at the climax of the play. In order for this to happen, Aristotle states that the tragic hero must have a litany of very specific traits so that everybody who saw the play could quickly and easily identify the tragic hero and follow their storyline (Boal, 13). In short, theater is not a reflective tool in and of itself, it is a mirroring device that he believed should allow people to safely navigate emotional journeys that traced predictable trajectories with secured outcomes.
Aristotle saw all systems of making as attributes of poetics, and all arts linked to one another in a hierarchical way. For example, leatherworking is a form that relies of others a butcher and a toolmaker come to mind but leatherworking also cloths the more dignified artisans and politicians further up the chain. In systems of hierarchy, it is always valuable to ask who sits at the top, and for Aristotle, the answer was politics. The lives and processes of the politics of Athens were the highest form of poetics,
and all other art forms served to support them.
With this in mind, theater takes on a new cultural functionality. The ideas of art and art making were central to politics, and theater in Aristotle’s time was the biggest mouthpiece that existed thousands gathered to watch the theater. Therefore, theater became a crucial aspect to politics, and quite openly was a way to sway minds and hearts, as well as control the actions of the body politic (Boal, 15). The effectiveness of theater centered around the idea of the cathartic release.
The cathartic release that the audience felt plays directly into Aristotle’s views of the constant yearning of the human condition toward perfect form. As Plato had proposed, Aristotle believed that there were perfect forms of all things, and that the world we experience was not that of the most ideal forms. However, Aristotle diverged from his teacher in the concept that humanity was constantly moving in the right direction but that sometimes humanity still fails to embody perfection. He stated that “the world of perfection is yearning, a movement which develops matters toward its final form” (Boal, 10). Poetics, and the theater in particular, is a perfect corrective tool for these slippages away from perfection that we so often experience. By exposing the audience to a narrative in which an individual falls prey to some kind of sinful quirk in their personality (greed, murder, lust, etc) and then evoking perpetia (or a massive raising of the stakes) and then dropping the character to the depths of despair, the ultimate emotional purging was allowed for all in attendance. Greeks watching a tragedy were allowed to passively play
out their worst vices, and then experience the total terror of their fall from grace. Theoretically, this allowed the audience to expunge their urge for vice without actually polluting society by physically acting these things out. Boal describes this by saying“the cathartic effect is entirely avoided. We are used to plays in which the characters make the revolution on stage and the spectators in their seats feel themselves to be triumphant revolutionaries. Why make a revolution in reality if we have already made
it in the theater?” (Boal, 120).
This process has become so ingrained in our ways of storytelling that it becomes difficult to even see, much less critique. For Boal, this system undeniably mirrors complex and oppressive class politics.
From the moment Thespis stepped out of the chorus and developed the duality of protagonist and chorus, theatrical expression became undeniably aristocratic. The crowd became the individual, and the individual was chosen and marked as special. Boal believed that this method of telling stories was oppressive and reaffirming of class structures, all the more dangerous because it allowed for audiences to feel that they were fulfilling their desires, when in fact, they were releasing them into a highly controlled environment where they would have no impact or outcome (Boal, 14). He saw the theatrical climax as a direct move away from the possibility of revolution of societal.
These ideas have shaped the way theater has been made on the most profound levels. Of course, there have been thousands of years of theatrical flux that allows for new reimaginings, but the core of Westernized theater has almost always aligned itself with these ideas of cathartic release. Perhaps the most profound and deeply felt move away from this happened with Bertold Brecht in the 1940’s in Germany. Brecht began to play with the format and expectations of theater via denial of character as “real” and attempts to expose the actor as the real “character” in the first half of the 20th century. Boal saw Bretcht’s work as interesting, but still disembodied. As he writes in “Theater of the Oppressed”, “there is still this idea of of power: the audience must be still and passive. They are denied the right to speak, to empower themselves. There is this idea of this essential truth that the drama must impart” (xx). He began to imagine a theater of messy surprises a place where there is no set script, no prescribed moral lesson, and no telling where the action may take us. In short, a move toward chaos which required incredible faith in others. “I want the Spectator to take on the role of of Actor and invade the Character and the stage” (xxi).
Aristotle proposed a poetics in which the spectator delegates power to the dramatic character so that the later may think and act for him. Bretch proposes a poetics in which the Spectator delegates power to the character who thus acts in his place bus the spectator reserves the right to think for himself, often in opposition to the character. “In the first case, a catharsis occurs, in the second, an awakening of critical consciousness” (Boal, 98). But in both cases the audience was physically inert. This is where Boal began to intervene at the bodily level of the artist.
Much of Boal’s work is in direct and very conscious contentious conversation with these methods of making. Informed by both but mirroring neither, Boal set out to create a new way of making theater
that could remake his systems in a way that empowered those at the bottom of the power hierarchies. This is directly influenced by his time working as a political legislator in Brazil during which his radical approach to politics (primarily, his interest in advocating for the poor and other minorities) in a time of conservative antiCommunist fluxus of the late 60’s, got him kidnapped, tortured for four months, and exiled to Peru (Boal, 72). While in exile, he wrote his most influential book, The Theater of the Oppressed, and began to develop the theatrical method by the same name.
With this turn in his career, Boal moves from the implicit to the explicit embracement of politics as society as a forum for theater, ripe for theatrical intervention. As he wrote, “the poetics of the
oppressed focuses on the action itself; the spectator delegates no power (or actor) either to act or think
in his place; on the contrary he himself assumes the protagonistic role, changes the dramatic action, tries out solutions, discusses plans for change in short, he trains himself for real action” (Boal, 98). The development of the Theater of the Oppressed was done with absolute clarity and focus on one thing: the goal of upward mobility of the lowest classes in a given society, with one eye firmly on the possibility of total societal upheaval and revolution. “... instead of taking something away from the spectator (these forms of ‘rehearsal theater’) evoke in him a desire to practice in reality the act he has rehearsed in the theater. The practice of these theatrical forms creates an uneasy sense of incompleteness that seeks fulfillment through real action” (120).
Fleshing out theory
As soon as he began engaging with these ideas, Boal found himself pushing the limits of what theater and performativity could do. Instead of crafting entertainment, he found himself working as a literacy director, a teacher, and a community organizer. Anita Wenden writes that “discourse can also be the focus of politics, that is, the struggle for the power of representation and proponents of various views
use a variety of strategies to ensure that their framing of the nature of a particular issue predominates”
(90). Thus representation, the symbolmaking of the self, becomes crucial. By intervening in the ingrained translated representations between the self, social frameworks, and larger communities, a radical differentiation becomes possible, which is felt/manifested politically. This became the core of Boal’s work a way to offer a space for reframing the ways of representing the self. If the self and the community can be represented in new ways, power structures become visible and named, and therefore opened for editing and recrafting.
Much of Boal’s work specifically addresses the complex problems of trying to bring a traditionally aristocratic art form to groups of people who have rarely had any specific contact with theater, and
those who have often have notions of sentimentality, leisure, and expense connected to the art form.
Boal describes this process as “very difficult” (103). He goes on to say that to avoid “the very fact that the educator comes with the mission of eradicating illiteracy (or some other inequality the people face) with presupposes a coercive, forceful action, is in itself an alienating factor between the agent and the local people. For this reason, the theatrical action should not begin with something alien to the people... but from their own bodies.” (Boal, 103). In these messy and confusing negotiations with race, class,
and privilege, Boal’s work begins to create an interesting friction with feminist standpoint theory. As the IEP describes it, feminist standpoint theory has three basic principles (1) Knowledge is socially
situated. (2) Marginalized groups are socially situated in ways that make it more possible for them to be aware of things and ask questions than it is for the nonmarginalized people. (3) Research, particularly that focused on power relations, should begin with the lives of the marginalized. This outlines the approach that Boal took the work should begin with the bodies and voices of the people not with his preconceived ideas.
Boal’s incorporation of all of these principles into his work is maybe not intentional, but it is hard to deny. His genius lies in his ability to take these ideas and animate them through a variety of particular social interventions. Specially, he used the following modes as a way to track an individual's transition from a passive spectator into an active participant. This is a transition that is agreed upon as crucial by so many people interested in power interventions, but is also incredibly hard to manifest. The specific
activities he lays out in his workshops create a clear and focused approach to this transition.
Knowing the body: in this stage, an individual begins to explore the ways in which their body has potentials for reconciliations, limits, and possibilities.
Making the body expressive: a series of exercises and explorations allows an individual to begin to become aware of their body as a powerful site of expression and nuance.
The theater as language: participants become aware of the current and evolving nature of theatrical expression. Via use of simultaneous dramaturgy (all participants writing a script or timeline together) image theater (spectators intervening via “images” made by the body, and forum theater (all spectators intervening directly on the dramatic action) the participants become aware of theater as a mode of selfempowerment.
Theater as discourse: simple skits in which the actors create 'spectacles' in which they can act out or rehearse specific problems, concerns, or social issues. Modes of this include: invisible theater, newspaper theater, rituals and masks, and myth theater.
One of Boal’s strengths as a critical writer and revolutionary artist is his willingness to engage with theory while keeping it grounded in a sense of practical application. It is precisely this insistence that his artmaking be accessible and open to the public that lends a revolutionary and intermediary bent to all his work. This opensource feel to his work demystifies the artmaking process and allows it to break new and fertile ground in form and content. In all of his ventures, Boal invited people inside his flexible and accommodating practice, allowing them to shape and change it along with him.
In 1973, Boal worked with The People’s Theater in Peru and a radical national literacy program that planned to eradicate illiteracy in the nation within four years (Boal, 96). This ambitious project clearly shows the flexible ways in which Boal envisions performative interventions in social context. One of the
primary problems facing the program was the sheer volume of languages spoken in Peru. In one region, over forty five languages (not dialects) were spoken (Boal, 97). This posed a serious barrier to any
kind of communication in a teaching context. Rather than force participants to learn Spanish and abandon their native tongues in order to be literate, Boal moved away from language altogether in favor of alternative modes of communication. He developed a project where he passed out cameras and
asked participants to take an image that they thought represented their home. In order to explain their photographs, the participants had to learn to communicate nonverbally or across great language
divides. By asking them to use language to communicate something personal and emotional, he was giving voice to the experiences of these people as they lived it, with no expectation of outcome or narrative. He was using common symbols and ideas (home) and asking that people make them specific and personal. By not privileging one language over another, he created a context that wasn’t just about developing literacy for cultural capital, but about allowing the voices of the disadvantaged to be the shaping mechanism of the program. As Friere writes, “no pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption” (54).
In discussing this program, Boal goes on to talk about the power of symbols “it happens many times that wellintentioned theatrical groups are unable to communicate with an audience because they use symbols that are meaningless for that audience” (Boal, 101). In these cases, listening to the actual lived narratives of people are essential for developing a relevant and constantly evolving visual vocabulary. Boal describes this kind of paying attention to symbols and how different people craft and obey them as a crucial tool in understanding power structures. He cites image theater as a very clear and useful way to expose preconceived notions and generate new potentials. he describes is as showing "how we
come to create the Other: a negativelycharged rigid perception that generates bias and hate" (Lovelace). This harkens back to ideas of representation as Wendon writes, “when we talk about politics, we are talking about representation, and we must focus “ on discourse as the focus of political struggle, i.e. the struggle for the power of representation.”
Boal recounts a formative experience he had in a Peruvian town called Otuzco, which had a very specific history. In this town, a peasantled revolutionary uprising had been squelched when the leader of the peasants was hauled into the town square and publically castrated by the wealthy landowners. When Boal visited on a literacy campaign, this history divided the town sharply across class lines, even generations later.
In the workshops that he did in this location, Boal asked the participants to use image theater (the physical placement of other bodies by one person in order to explain something nonverbally). Boal asked the group to describe how they saw their town in one image, then another image that described what they desired their town to be like. For the third image, the group brainstormed about things that could change in the first image in order to create the second. Boal writes that using image theater in situations such as this gets around the “denotationconnotation problem” (115). Take for instance, the word “revolution.” Most people will have a pretty good idea of the textual meaning of this word some kind of abrupt change in the power of a given system. But the connotations of this word will vary wildly from person to person. As Boal points out, using imagery that clearly visually states where the power lies and how it could change and what that change might look like is an entirely different conversation (116). Finally, the individual is asked to place themselves within the scene they have created locating and visualizing their own power. From this vantage point, clear paths present themselves action becomes a tangible and obvious course, not an abstracted and elitist notion of theoretical
Boal describes this as a fertile way for the residents to this town to clearly see and therefore begin to understand where their power and agency lay within the situation they all shared. By exposing this, new ways of moving forward to heal were envisioned. As Boal writes, “in my version of revolution, what are the statues doing? Do they have guns or ballots?” (115). Quite often, the group would settle on a logic solution to craft the first image into the idealized image, and this would give a group a clear forward trajectory. In many situations, Boal cites image theater as an extremely successful way of giving social
dynamics a new visual vocabulary that allows for creative reimagining of possibility, rather than acceptance of oppressive dynamics.
Sometimes, however, the participants in a workshop would not agree on a solution via image theater exercises, and in this case, forum theater would be turned to. By acting out the scenario multiple times and allowing people to take turns dictating the action, new knowledge could be gained. By acting walking through the steps, problems, conflicts, and potential solutions could be visualized in new ways.
Theater as active provocation
The ethical and moral implications of this kind of working are quite profound. Something quite interesting happens when you allow these ideas to coexist with the philosophies and struggles of feminist philosophies. As Peggy Phelan writes in Seeing the Invisible, “attempting to link ancient, inherited knowledge of the body with a newly expanded interest in alternative modes of consciousness” is the implicit and explicit in feminist performance (1). This statement alone draws striking similarities to the work of Boal deeply invested in political and social revolution, which he felt could only be accessed through the body. I would venture here that feminist performance art is highly invested in and therefore tied to our Greek ideas of catharsis. In much of feminist performance art we see a fairly constant dwelling on the moment's of catharsis the emotional climax of another, given to us in great detail or consciously withheld. In the first example, we are flooded with sensory information, in another, we are denied the possibility of empathetic response. This kind of art is absolutely crucial in the development of the representation of women’s experience, but the aesthetic of much of this work centers around exposing what is oppressive in women’s experience. There are few performers who imagine new futures. The content is indescribably important, and the effects of these artist’s work has reverberated deeply throughout performance of all kinds since. As Phelan writes, “feminists saw in performance an opportunity to explore ideas that had been systematically ignored in western thought” (2). However, I would venture to respond that this kind of art making can only take us so far. To watch will always only take us so far, as it is directive and doesn’t allow for the surprise of participation the moments that
break our ingrained systems and allow for revolutionary spaces that change and activate.
By joining the ideas of feminist thought with the practices of Boal, a new kind of performance can be imagined one that holds deeply with the value of speaking and exposing that which our cultures deny, repress, or silence, and twines it with the practical methods of Boal’s work. This speaks directly to the main structural problems of much of feminist thinking: society has found ways to marginalize and degrade the academic and artistic modes of feminism. Therefore, it speaks most directly to people who are already seeking it out and studying it, allowing it to otherize itself from the rest of society, creating the illusion of neat and firm boundaries where there are in fact, none. This removes the power of feminism to be a true interruption of power dynamics. Culturally, we have created systems that remove feminist power from feminist interventions.
Because of this, feminist thinking, and perhaps even more than that, feminist art, has needed alternative vehicles for decades. By turning to radically embodied participatory reimagining, these futures suddenly become clearer. The need for explanation and oppositional rhetoric becomes unnecessary to cause the friction that feminist often relies on the onus is no longer on an intellectual “wake up” from those in power, but on a group of people being asked to move through power and privilege defining moments. This kind of thinking involves ageold practice, and postmodern content. As Alice Lovelace writes, for thousands of years, many nonwestern forms of performance involved
“the community (artists were always a part of the community) gathered in the open, under the sky, nature providing the scenery and backdrop. The action was interdisciplinary, using mask, songs, dance, ritual, and unscripted so that the audience/community was free to intervene and shape it to their needs. This theater was under the authority of the community. Together they told their stories reflecting their values and worldview. In the age of Christian theater forms, the actor became the focus. The community's role was reduced to listener/respondent. The drama moved indoors, onto a stage, raised above the audience/community.”
Feminism demands a move away from these power structures. There is incredible power and
excitement in imagining art that does not tell or show, but art that listens, art that opens itself up to the possibilities of surprising itself and creating new modes of being and showing. As George Ikishawa writes,
“the bourgeois theater is the finished theater. The bourgeoisie already knows what the world is like, their world, and is able to present images of this complete, finished world. The bourgeoisie presents the spectacle. On the other hand, the proletariat and the oppressed
classes do not know yet what their world will be like; consequently their theater will be the rehearsal , not the finished spectacle.” (Gordon, 269).
Much of feminist thought insists (and rightly so) that an awakening of the proletariat to their oppression without an accompanying awakening of the controlling classes is useless the only option in this case would be a violent reassignment of power, not the radical restructuring of the basic tenets of society itself. In this scenario, we are only able to recreate the power dynamics we strive against. Perhaps Boal perfectly placed the individual and their need for action within our age old oppressive tactics when he said
“the poetics of Aristotle are the poetics of oppression: the world is known, perfect, or about to be perfect, and all its values are imposed on the spectator, who passively delegate power to the characters to think or act in their place. In doing so the spectators purge themselves of their ‘tragic flaw’ that is, of something capable of changing society” (134).
It is in the underlying philosophies of Boal’s work that we begin to see linkages and dialogues emerging between the seemingly disparate fields of feminist standpoint theory, theatrical methods of making, and politics. This conversation creates a crucial and new tension all of these areas speak to the mishandling of power and the hierarchy of knowledge, and the systems that support them. The lines begin to blur between these seemingly disparate categories when the conversation becomes about empowerment.
As Anita Wenden writes, “one can attempt to silence one’s opponents by attacking their positions... when one mode of representation prevails, a hierarchy is formed among the competing representations with the winner’s being given primacy as a way of framing a particular issue” (91). She is speaking
particularly about political positioning, but it is literally impossible to not see the deep connection between this kind of capitalist emphasis on meaning being made by representation, and the work of artists. Boal writes that “popular audiences are interested in experimenting, in rehearsing, and they abhor the ‘closed’ spectacle. In those cases they try to enter into a dialogue with the actors, to interrupt the action, to ask for explanations without waiting politely for the end of the play. Contrary to the bourgeois code of manners, the people’s code allows and encourages the spectator to ask questions, to dialogue, to participate” (120). This statement stands against Anita Wenden’s assertion that “while the power of language in the realm of politics is intuitively recognized by the lay person, less appreciated is the fact that, like liberty, power and money ̧discourse can also be the focus of struggle, i.e. a struggle
for the power of representation.”Augusto Boal spent a lifetime focusing on this profound power of representation. His playful and flexible use of a variety of engagements on this topic marks him clearly as an intermediary artist, and also as a thinker and artist with an incredible ability to challenge and reshape our most basic systemic understandings of the world.
1. de Abreu, Alzira Alves. Published in History Today: Volume: 47 Issue: 10 “History and Memory, Brazil’s Guerilla Trap” http://www.historytoday.com/taxonomy/term/22686
2. Boal, August. “The Theater of the Oppressed.” Translated by Charles McBride and Maria OdiliaLeal McBridge. Theater Communications Group: 1979.
3. Gordon, Robert. “The Purpose of Playing: Modern Acting Theories in Perspective.” University of Michigan Press: 2006.
4. Lovelace, Alice. “A Mutual Alliance: Mediation and Theater of the Oppressed in a Process for Social Change.” In Motion Magazine February 15, 1996.
5. Phelan, Peggy. “Making the Invisible Seen.” Art and Performance LIVE. Routledge: 2006. Ed. by Adrian Heathfield.
6. Martin Reisigl, Ruth Wodak. “Discourse and Rhetorics of Racism and Antisemitism” Routledge: 2001.
7. Wenden, Anita L. “The Politics of Representation: a critical discourse of an Aljazeera special report.” International Journal of Peace Studies, Volume 10, Number 2, Autumn/Winter 2005
Gregory Colbert, The Storyteller:
breaking the rules of conventional art
Author: Sal Levi
University of Maine
Professor: Owen Smith
It was the spring of 2006. I was driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles, my convertible open. It wasn’t out of the corner of my eye. For it was far too big. Huge crate boxes were swallowing up a parking lot. This wasn’t good for there was never enough parking to be found in Santa Monica. Aesthetically, it intrigued me, but I just drove on. It wasn’t for another month or so, when a colleague of mine said something that caught my attention. She was going on about some exhibit on the beach with a line so long that it was in question whether the wait would be worth it. She pressed that everyone had to see it. After that, there was no break from hearing recent spectators’ experiences. My anticipation grew, but so did the wait time. I had never heard so many people this excited about art. Now knowing that the exhibit was called Ashes and Snow, I waited for the line to settle down before making plans on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon to finally see what all of the fuss was about.
The solo exhibition was by Gregory Colbert, born April 19, 1960 in Toronto, Canada. Colbert’s life’s work is an ongoing multimedia travelling exhibition entitled Ashes and Snow, housed in a large-scale installation which Colbert has named the “Nomadic Museum.” He began his career in Paris making social issue documentaries. His filmmaking career was placed on hold when he disappeared for ten years. “When I started Ashes and Snow in 1992, I set out to explore the relationship between man and animals from the inside out,” (1) Colbert explained. He was 32 years old at the time. In 2002, at age 42, he re-emerged with a show at the Arsenale in Venice, where every print was bought by the Chairman of Rolex, Patrick Heiniger. Rolex then sponsored the travelling show, which was to become the most viewed exhibition of all time, reaching over ten million people. The show debuted in March of 2005 at Pier 54 on the Hudson River in New York City, before going to Los Angeles in 2006. This was the first time that Colbert exhibited in the US. After that, Ashes and Snow travelled to Tokyo and Mexico City, but with each destination a variation on the installation was designed. The photographs, film and structure were uniquely curated for the new place. The exhibit currently is not being shown, but will return in the near future. Colbert has never shown his work in a US Museum or any commercial gallery worldwide.
The title of the exhibition, Ashes and Snow, is a literary reference to a component of the exhibition. There is a novel of 365 letters hand-written by Colbert. It is a fictional account from a man writing to his wife over a year’s length of time. In the last letter, there is mention of the exhibition title. Colbert has revealed that the first and last letter were written before he begun the project: “With words I am relating the story of a man who looses his human face because he lost his animal face…. out of his experiences, as he sees man in Western culture. It is an autobiographical account in form not in facts. The idea was that words were a separate elephant from the sounds, and a different elephants from the stills…everything was separate. The ideas wasn’t for one to be illustrative from the other, it was a separate strand. I do not want people to be focused on words because it would take them on an intellectual mindset” (1). The ancient books are made by paper experts, headed by Gloria Velandia. Velandia says of Colbert: “He storms into the studio at least five times a day with a brand new idea and says ‘Glo, Glo I have this idea….’ He has an endless fascination with ancient artifacts, thus stumbling upon them and envisioning how to incorporate them into his life-his project” (1). Velandia continues to work for the Art Basel Conservation, an art conversation and restoration service company.
“The show itself opens with elephants, which is no accident. 'Elephants keep out evil spirits… Indian lore says they remove obstacles and promise good luck and prosperity'” (17). Colbert’s exhibit is not a finished piece, but something that he is continuing to work on. His work is primarily done in far-off locations from Burma, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Kenya and Antarctica. He has captured such creatures as elephants, whales, eagles and cheetahs. The animals interacting with humans is beautifully shocking, yet looks completely dangerous, which may be the case. On Colbert’s personal website, under biography, he writes: “I have been tusked by an elephant, almost eaten by a sperm whale, knocked off my feet by a rhinoceros, embraced by a jaguar, given a haircut by a tiger shark, chased by a hippo and a black mamba, brought to my knees by malaria and dengue. But I was always able to avoid the greatest danger of all. Never stop exploring the things that open you, or that you love” (2).
When speaking of his work, Colbert mentions the words: instruments, orchestra, melodic and other musical terms. He speaks of his work as to say it is a symphony of sorts. Colbert doesn’t call himself an artist. In a camera interview with Riz Khan, Colbert considers himself a storyteller: “I’m a storyteller who uses photography, or architecture, or film… I try to tell stories” (10). Though he doesn’t mention himself as an Intermedia or installation artist, Colbert wants “to have spaces that are reactive and agile” (10). In the interview, Colbert points out with a childlike smile how exhibitions are set several years in advance, which makes them unable to be agile, and negatively references the personnel who administrate and curate them. He goes on to talk about “the idea of academics to create films, to create a publishing house or create a dance, you… no… we should have our ears to the sidewalk and the sidewalk tells us” (10). He also offers that it’s a bad model that unfortunately other countries are following. Colbert goes on to say that “The mistake that people have made with the arts, is it has been very elitist. And the glitterati is relevant to the other glitterati” (10). Colbert openly has no social aspirations, but rather likes to spend time in the field. He’s been criticized for being a white man capturing images of exotic people. His response is that the MOMA and The Metropolitan tell the stories of white people, where he doesn’t tell those stories. His are of indigenous people and there cultures. Many artists are criticized for the same supposed offense, being called voyeuristic. In the interview, Colbert mentions the scathing New York Times review, where it reads: “the only white guy and adult male in sight” (9).
His process surprised me. When I first saw his images, I thought I was seeing a documentary project. It turns out that Colbert arranges the animals and people from far and wide. The image featured in many advertisements is of a young girl, with closed eyes, leaned up against a posed Cheetah on a small mound. An intimacy and relationship captured between the girl and animal. I automatically thought that the girl cohabited the landscape with the Cheetah. I believed I was seeing an image that Colbert captured during an existing moment. The truth is that Colbert staged the photograph. He found the young girl at her school, while scouting for models in Namibia. Her name is Sannatjie Keinamses and at the time she was five years old. She is part of the San tribe, which has inhabited Southern Africa for over 30,000 years. Colbert met her parents and asked the girl to model. She was afraid when Colbert asked her to lean against the Cheetah. Sannatjie said: “I was scared but Gregory explained to me how to behave. He also told me I had to be careful. He said he was going to take the photos, enlarge them and sell them overseas” (4). She has continued to model for Colbert over the past eleven years and travelled with him to countries including Malaysia, Mexico, Australia, Thailand, and Antarctica. Her brother has also become a model for Colbert. Sannatjie is the only girl in her school that can say that she has bought a car for her mother. There are rumors that other children have been severely hurt, if not killed, during a Colbert shoot. Because Colbert works under the radar, there is no way to know if this is true or not.
When speaking of his exotic locations, Colbert talks about some of the difficulties that he had in Myanmar, a sovereign state in Southeast Asia. “I chose to shoot there principally because the prodemocracy politician Aung San Suu Kyi invited me – in addition to the fact that the country has dense virgin rainforest and the people are the most lovely you could hope to meet. At the time, she had been released and there was renewed hope that things would be different. As it turns out, the junta re-arrested her a week after we left and we had to send the film out of the country in an assistant's personal luggage, as we feared that the authorities would try to confiscate it, which is exactly what they did. So I'm persona non grata with them” (19). The “hopelessly utopic” (12) Colbert, considers himself: “blessed to be able to photo my dreams” (12). My favorite of Colbert’s work is the elephant piece with a boy looking like he was reading to it. It is dream-like and innocent. Colbert: “In exploring the shared language and poetic sensibilities of all animals, I am working towards rediscovering the common ground that once existed when people lived in harmony with animals. The images depict a world that is without beginning or end, here or there, past or present” (8).
Colbert said: “If you could make the hairs on peoples’ necks stand up using words or movement, or sculpture, just as long as the hairs stand up. You don’t have to stay in any box” (7). The hairs stood up on my arms when walking into the massive space made from shipping crates, but lit by what felt like fire, I was engaged by the overwhelming floor to ceiling prints, which were sepia-tone on Japanese paper and exactly six by nine feet in size, all 100 of them. “Colbert uses beeswax or pigment to create a sense of age--or perhaps agelessness” (18). Colbert chooses not to name each of his photographs, because he prefers each piece “without explanatory text so as to encourage an open-ended interaction with the images” (2). The hour-long film looped continuously and often in slow motion was projected on a theatre-sized canvas with what I remember as wooden water barrels lined for people to sit. The narrated 35mm film was poetic and felt quiet in the large space. “One can find harmony, melody or counterpoint in words or images, or in stills in motion. To assemble those individual strands into a whole enriches the process and the project even more.” Though Colbert started Ashes and Snow by using film cameras, he has switched to digital for the low-impact environmentally friendly nature of the new technology. Colbert now uses the Hassalblad H3DII-50, which can handle such large-scale work as his. “I do not think about taking pictures but rather about making images, much in the way that a musician might compose a narrative piece” (3), Colbert confesses. He doesn’t consider himself a photographer. Though Colbert is extremely thorough with his craft, it is in the service of the art. He claims that he does not do any photo manipulation or retouching.
The original architect that Colbert worked with to design the “Nomadic Museum” environment was Shigeru Ban, a famed Japanese designer. “The containers reﬂect Colbert's love of things that age,” (5) Shigeru Ban remarks. The structure built is indeed made out of shipping containers that are designed to break down and ship part of the exhibit, then be re-constructed for the new space. Ban explains: “Traveling all over the world… each container has its own history" (20). It takes up over 45,000 square feet, with a height of over 34 feet. Colbert thinks that “This kind of architecture doesn’t exist. It’s not trying to be separate to the work. It is organic to the work” (1). From the large materials to the most minor detail, Colbert and Ban utilized recycled materials: “a handmade curtain to be suspended from the ceiling is made of one million pressed paper tea bags (used, with the tea leaves removed)” (20). This sounds ideal in theory, but have the artists been making claims about their work that has not been implicated? “Though the ‘Nomadic Museum’ was designed to be recyclable, New York builders erred and welded the structure together, so it had to be ‘trashed,’ according to Santa Monica site Superintendent Bob Meeks of RMS Group General Contractors” (23).
When entering what I would consider a gigantic installation, it instantaneously felt like a cool summer night - swept into another world where a journey awaits. The unframed photographs hang between cardboard columns, free from walls. Colbert comments that “It is certainly far away from the, ‘white cube’ concept cherished by today’s Contemporary Art thought police. I want to expand the boundaries, not create a box” (1). Shadows play a large part of the design of his two-dimensional photographs. The darkness they cast, creates mood and atmosphere in which to experience the haunting images. For me, it was reminiscent of the catacombs in Paris, The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul and Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. It feels vacantly ancient. It does not appear like a history lesson or an environmental statement. It feels like art and entertainment.
''’As a kid I was always called an elephant because my ears stuck out,’ he said, laughing. ‘My mother was worried that I'd be traumatized, and she had my ears fixed. So I have an association with elephants that goes way back. The elephant became my Proust's madeleine’'' (17). Now considered a Postmodern, Renaissance artist, Colbert has shunned away from publicity. He spends half of the year isolating himself in Scotland and the other half out in the field. He considers himself nomadic and feels that it weighs on his personal life, but for him, he has to be who he is. There is a mystique about Colbert. Not much is known about his childhood, education or his private life. He has mentioned in passing that he doesn’t have a notable education. He does have a high school degree from Brantford, Ontario with average grades. He did not go to college, but instead decided to become a writer at age 21. He headed to the South Pacific, but stopped in Paris, becoming apart of a foreign arts group, “who were being prepared to carry French culture back to their own countries” (17) by the new French socialist government. Colbert decided to stay in Paris instead. In Paris, Colbert made social documentaries on subjects of rape, death, and AIDS. The AIDS documentary aired on The Discovery Channel in the mid 1980’s. “The AIDS film influenced how he would later work. Because the insurance company sponsoring the program objected to an image of two men kissing, he said, he vowed never again to accept corporate sponsorship” (17). At the same time, he had picked up photography and had his first show called “Timewaves” at a photography museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, The Museé de l'Élysée, which is believed to have opened to critical acclaim. I could not find any reviews. Though he destroyed most of the work after the exhibit, Colbert had caught the eye of a group of collectors. Why Colbert destroyed the work from the exhibition is unknown. There is no more information on this exhibit. It’s almost like it never happened.
Mention of his parents’ identity seems to be as vague as how he afforded to take ten years to travel around the world creating Ashes and Snow. It is believed that in 1992, after showing his films in Switzerland and Japan, individual collectors offered to sponsor his new project giving him no budget and no deadline. Since the project began, not one collector has sold a piece of his work. To the contrary, he did put his New York loft for sale in 2009 for twenty million dollars, stating it was going to fund his upcoming expeditions. He describes the expeditions for Ashes and Snow as any artist’s dream: “We would hang around for months. With whales we could work for six weeks, without even shooting a frame of film... around full moons is a good time. I think it’s the Zulus who say, patience is an egg that hatches great birds. I guess I’m a Zulu at heart. You wait heartfully, and there are days of miracles, and there are days when you’re just thinking about them. But you don’t push it. The elephants will decide, or the whales will decide. I’ll work on elephant time” (7). The New York Times writes that “Its cost has been met by the Bianimale Foundation, founded by Mr. Colbert and largely financed through the sale of his work.” The BiAnimale Foundation is based in Geneva. It organizes biennials with its theme being art and nature. Ashes and Snow, “which has a admission charge, is also partly sponsored by Rolex, which purchased these photographs from the foundation and is covering the show's extensive advertising” (9). “Ticket proceeds will go to Colbert’s Flying Elephants Foundation, which gives money to environmental charities, as well as paying for the artist’s expenses, according to Louise Errington of C4 Consulting, the public relations firm representing Ashes and Snow™ in Santa Monica” (23). Paul Hawken, the environmentalist, is also amongst his private collectors. Colbert’s work started at 0,000 in 2005 and has been purchased by celebrities including Brad Pitt and Donna Karen.
As of 2005, he was not married and did not have any children. Since then, it is thought that he has mentioned having a son. He has thrown fundraisers for the American Democratic Party, which differs from his perceived elusive character. He has strong views on consumerism, which he speaks of with a gentle mannerism. He does not have artistic representation. Colbert expressed in a live interview that “I don’t see the arts as real estate” (10). His work can only be bought directly from him and he makes himself accessible through his website. Colbert is quoted in an interview to say “my aim is to bring art to the people, it is art of inclusion” (1). This is why he shuns away from being part of collections, “For me the courageous collector is not the one who figures out the market, he who seems to be a visionary, but the one that dares to be naked and to express his sensibility” (1). It’s very important to him to bring nature and humans together and to leave a lasting positive impact on the world with his work. Influences that he notes include a babysitter who was from an Aboriginal tribe in Canada and her family’s relationship to animals. This might be where he came to the conclusion to “reverse the separation that exists between modern man and animals, and to nestle the ideological values of co-existence, respect, equality, preservation and conservation” (1).
“I didn’t grow up wanting to make objects for wealthy people,” (10) Colbert clarified during an interview. He goes on to talk about how important it is for his work to be for everyone and that is why the “Nomadic Museum” exists, rather than having his work be in a collection of a museum. Colbert notes that “Visitors to the exhibition aren't invited to be clinical observers, as they are in most art galleries. The fact that the exhibition isn't in a white space seems to be breaking a tacit law of the art world” (19). What doesn’t make sense is that I paid to see the exhibit, which many people would not be able to afford and is more than a lot of museums charge as an entry fee. “The Los Angeles Unified School District and the Santa Monica-Malibu School District plan to bring 300,000 school children from throughout the County to view the exhibit free of charge” (23). The “Nomadic Museum” has become a model of sorts, “Parallel to this vision of tech-enabled art outside the confines of the gallery, there is a growing interest in the travelling or ‘Nomadic Museum’” (26). Not necessarily for the better if considering art accessibility: “Despite being conceived as temporary projects, it is notable that these nomadic museums have been large budget projects, targeted at the ‘A list’ of contemporary art institutions” (26).
He doesn’t take time into account with his work, because he works with animals and they don’t have our human sense of time. This is why he doesn’t wear a watch and doesn’t think about how long something may or may not take, which is ironic considering his connection with Rolex. He also talks about his appreciation for success, but how to be able to do his work he needs solitude. Colbert recites John Updike’s saying: “Celebrity’s a mask that eats your face” (10). Though he does enjoy the benefits, while in his stunning loft in the Bowery, when he’s in New York City. He likes to appear as a man who “has few possessions and lives simply, even monastically, sleeping graduate-school style with a mattress on the floor” (15). Though when “Gregory Colbert tried to sell his 6,785-square-foot” (16) loft, which was fully furnished. Pictures revealed the truth.
The second rendition situated on Santa Monica beach, the city welcomed Ashes and Snow, accepting the 0,000 fee for use of the parking lot, which goes to a beach fund. The Hudson River Park Trust received 0,000 for rental of the pier off-season. Something that Colbert doesn’t seem to take into account is the structure’s impact on the place or the people trying to build it. Onsite at Pier 54, which is the same dock “where the Lusitania first shoved off and where the Titanic’s stunned survivors were deposited” (54), it seemed like the people and place were not be accounted for. “Grizzled dockbuilders are putting in 12-hour days, seven days a week to get the structure ready in time. (‘Between you and me,’ says Steve Medich, an electrical foreman on the site, pointing to an exhibit poster of a boy kneeling before an elephant, ‘I don’t get it.’)” (23). Brian Braiker’s Newsweek article wrote that “nobody had bothered to calculate whether the cranes required for its construction could be supported… the steel wedges that make up the roof became giant kites when river winds swept underneath them as they were lowered onto the building, nearly dragging a crane into the river” (23). It sounds like Colbert’s ethics are questionable when it comes to his artwork’s impact on the building crew and the location. This seems like a very different description of Colbert than the artist that does not care about time and who is conscientious of the environment. It makes me question the safety protocol of Ashes and Snow.
Some of his most stunning images are self-portraits. The one that he is most known for is Colbert swimming with sperm whales, a carnivorous creature. In the image you can see that he is not swimming with a breathing apparatus. That would scare the whale. As important as it is to not cause fear, it is vital to not be afraid. “The whales were wild, and we were in open sea, rather than in a tank as some people have assumed. We had to build these giant speakers to attract the sperm whales. Most of the scientists aboard our ship had never swum with whales, although they'd studied them for years” (19). Colbert might not having studied the creatures formally, but he has experienced them. Colbert remarks: “We are so caught up in our human, narcissistic fascination with ourselves that we have neglected to read the poem. We have even gone as far as ripping its pages without spending the time to read its content, to explore its inner life, its essence. To learn about the essence, you need to open yourself to it and explore it” (1). New York Times critic, Roberta Smith, thinks that: “Mr. Colbert's efforts form an exercise in conspicuous narcissism that is off the charts,” before finishing her review, she states that “This exhibition pulls out all the stops to sensitize us to the natural world, but mainly it reveals that selfless sincerity is often close to overweaning egomania and that the path between them is unconsciousness” (9).
After calling Colbert seemingly “godlike,” New York Times reporter continues: “The pretentious voiceover, written by Mr. Colbert and narrated by the actor Laurence Fishburne, is riddled with clichés and first-person pronouns: ‘I want to see through the elephant's eyes. I want to dance the dance that has no steps. I want to become the dance’" (9). All over the internet are nay-sayers, who question the authenticity of the images. Even with numerous bad reviews, the travelling exhibit was a huge success and have an endless amount of blogs referencing the piece as spiritual, breath-taking, incomparable. On rotten tomatoes, 93% liked it. The New York Times also criticized that: “…you would barely think twice about these photographs if you saw them framed under glass in a Chelsea art gallery. They're too derivative” (9). It makes me question whether Colbert’s art is an accomplishment as an installation, rather than looking at the different medium’s separately. Though it did appear more of a multimedia event once the initial reaction of entering the installation faded away. Is this more of a production, than museum-quality art? Colbert even has a company called “Flying Elephant Productions” and his background is in filmmaking. His work, which he refers to as a “bestiary,” might fall between the cracks of art and entertainment. Or maybe the naivety of the artist and his choices are easily criticized. In Colbert’s opinion, “In these agnostic and cynical times, the building becomes a place to feel and even believe. Ashes and Snow is a show that is disarmingly, and grandly, simple” (2).
Regardless, his work has a strong cause, which is animal advocacy. Colbert started The BiAnimale Foundation, a non-profit, in 2000 with an environmentalist, Giuli Cordara, who was the founding president. The foundation, which is “widely described by the New York press as a nonprofit organization that ‘encourages artistic endeavors to increase public support for the protection and conservation of animals and their natural habitats’” (23), does not seem to have an active website. Colbert also has founded the Flying Elephant Foundation. “The Foundation has awarded 10 fellowships and is planning to award additional fellowships on a regular basis” (21). One of the fellowships was awarded to Gregory Colbert himself for “grace, beauty, and empathy infusing his view of the world. He is the epitome of what the Flying Elephant Foundation seeks to do; give insight on a world that exists beyond the borders of chaos and war, if we will just open our eyes to it, and work to preserve it” (23). This seems strange since he is part of the organization. It makes me wonder whether the other nine of the ,000 fellowships also were awarded to Colbert. I could not find anymore information on the award. I did find an opposing article, which stated that: “Flying Elephants Fellowships have been awarded to ten individuals --none of them Colbert – ‘whose work inspires a reverence for the natural world,’ according to www.flyingelephants.org” (23). The initiative currently has an inactive website. Gregory Colbert’s website seems to be the only official online link to Colbert’s work, but it has little to do with activism that I can tell. “As for Colbert, he stops short of describing himself as an activist, but he says he hopes his work has an impact outside the art world” (23)
Colbert has left a lasting impression on the artworld with the success of the “Nomadic Museum” and the number of people it has reached. His ability to think beyond the box and create a new box with his installation work has left a strong footprint on the art world in general. The future for Colbert is looking bright. He took a “message from the elephants to the penguins” (7) with his next exhibition focused in Antarctica with a forty-eight person team on a 65 meter boat. This project has many facets, but emphasis has been placed on the feature-film, which is not a documentary. Like all of Colbert’s work, there is little written about it and much ambiguity, but it is expected to exhibit in 2014. There’s no telling who Colbert is as a man or an artist. The little that is known seems contradictory. The hidden truths may never be revealed. I walked into Ashes and Snow not knowing who the artist was and not really understanding what type of art I was going to see. Seven years later, I remember the experience vividly.
Patrick Heiniger, Chairman of Rolex, passed away on March 8th, 2013 in Morocco.
1. Loft Magazine – May 2005
“Seeing Nature through the Elephant’s Eye”
by Mariangela Capuzzo
18. McGuigan, Cathleen. “Animal Magnetism,” Smithsonian, Jun2005, Vol. 36 Issue 3, p72-79
19. Christian Amodeo in conversation with... Gregory Colbert.
Geographical (Campion Interactive Publishing); Sep2005, Vol. 77 Issue 9, p106-106
24. Sustainability Guidelines for the Structural Engineer, edited by Dirk M. Kestner, Jennifer Goupil, Emily Lorenz
25. Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, V3.3, By Ken Wilbur
26. Mixed reality and curatorial design: from existing practice to the nomad tech museum, Jules Moloney, University of Melbourne
Claire Bishop 90 minute video on "Participation and Spectacle: Where Are We Now?," Presented as part of Living as Form
Claire Bishop is an Associate Professor in the Ph.D. Program in Art History at The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, and an internationally recognized scholar and curator of contemporary art. Her critical work focuses on socially engaged art and theories of spectatorship.
"Participation and Spectacle: Where Are We Now" is the first in a series of talks leading up Creative Time's Living as Form exhibition, opening September 23, 2011.
Has 51 videos from “the most innovative art in the public realm. From our base in New York, we work with artists who ignite the imagination and explore ideas that shape society.”
This is the homepage of artist Stuart Brisley and has a short excerpt of a video of him applying paint to himself as the centrally located image. An explanation of the performance Black, White and Red is given. I hope the paint tasted OK.
Entire performance here
Writing, painting and The Museum of Ordure can be explored on this huge website.
and addtional performances here
Although this artist uses many intermedial ways of making art, painting and drawing are still part of his practice. Activism, Collaboration and Community seems the best fit, performance, conceptual, environmental, intstallation, video, situationism and photography all work too.
Getting a glimpse into the curious minds of others has never been so beautiful – or so bright.
Designers Brian W. Brush and Yong Ju Lee of E/B Office New York created an extensive fiber-optic installation for the Teton County Library grand opening in Wyoming that visualizes library searches in flashes of colored light. Dubbed Filament Mind, the installation, which opened at the end of January, uses over five miles of fiber-optic cables and 44 LED illuminators to collect, categorize, and render searches from libraries all across the state of Wyoming into glowing bursts of color."