The New York-based artist Liz Magic Laser (b. 1981) brought her political performance, The Digital Face, to the McKittrick Hotel on May 5, 2012, as part of “Oh, you mean cellophane and all that crap,” a 12-hour-long fete put on by the Calder Foundation. For a meticulously rehearsed ten minutes, Laser had two professional dancers, Cori Kresge and Alan Good, replicate the gestures from two State of the Union addresses -- President Barack Obama’s 2012 speech and President George H. W. Bush’s 1990 oration (which, by the way, Laser says was the first televised address to employ strategic oratorical gesture).
Dressed in shape-revealing gray spandex body suits, the performers enacted their silent, robotic movements to the amplified sound of a camera shutter snapping one frame a second. Generic yet somehow specific, they channeled the concentrated intensity of factory workers on the production line, operating as if programmed for maximum efficiency. The effect was at turns firm and relaxed, aggressive and defensive. Harmonious and jarring at once, their lithe bodies consigned to the awkward machinations of political rhetoric, their dance was hypnotic -- propaganda without a message.
After making a splash in “Greater New York” at MoMA PS1 in 2010, Laser was the hit of Performa ‘11 with a theatrical performance that dispersed her actors throughout the audience at the SVA Theater on West 23rd Street, where they re-mixed and re-enacted political speeches, memos and other texts as melodrama -- a show that was filmed and recently exhibited at Derek Eller Gallery on West 27th Street in Manhattan.
This McKittrick Hotel event -- a bit of a departure for the Calder Foundation, which has until now been better known for stewarding the American sculptor’s reputation -- began at 2 pm and concluded at 2 am, and featured performance art, film and music by 32 artists past and present, including Alexandre Singh, Francis Alys and Yves Klein. Part of its programming took place concurrently with a staging of “Sleep No More,” an appealingly nightmarish exhibition in the hotel’s other rooms.