Thursday, August 31, 2017

Romanian Dancer Alexandra Pirici

The Conjurer: How Romanian Dancer Alexandra Pirici Became Performance Art’s Newest Rising Star

Coming to the High Line, the Romanian artist's multilayered work is rich with complex histories—and intimations of the future.
Alexandra Pirici, 2016 ©Jens Ziehe
For three consecutive days next week, the artist Alexandra Pirici will take center stage on New York’s High Line, marshaling her troupe of performers amid its increasingly autumnal foliage. The group, consisting of professional and untrained dancers, will become a living, breathing threshold separating the eastern and western Rail Yards at 30th Street between 11th and 12th Avenue, demarcating the passage into the more manicured part of the public park that cuts deeper into the city. For many New Yorkers, this might be their first encounter (in a literal, physical sense) with Pirici’s work, but it’s actually a rather belated introduction. After all, the artist has been steadily conquering the European art world over the past five years, one major event at a time.
In 2013, Pirici (whose name is pronounced Pea-Reech) seized international attention when she joined with choreographer Manuel Pelmuş to represent their native Romania at the Venice Biennale, memorably using dancers to stage an “immaterial retrospective” of the international show through recreations of artworks, moments, and scandals from the Biennale’s history. In 2014, she participated in the public program of Manifesta 10 in St. Petersburg, curated by Kasper König, where she performed sculptural additions to the city’s monuments. Then, in 2016, she was invited by DIS Magazine to create an acclaimed, unnerving work for the 9th Berlin Biennale; in the piece, performers in motion-capture suits enacted items of viral web content selected by viewers from a list generated by Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm.
This year, meanwhile, Pirici’s performance commissioned by Skulptur Projekte MünsterLeaking Territories, has become one of the most talked-about attractions at the decennial art show (which continues until October 1). For the work, her troupe occupies a room in the City Hall, where a series of Peace Treaties known as the Treaty of Westphalia were signed in 1648. There, in a multipart performance, the dancers connect the historic site to other such sites around the world—such as Tiananmen Square or the Warsaw Ghetto—by reciting the distance separating the two and then enacting the distant event; at another point, they function as “search engines,” performing search terms requested from the public and providing answers explicitly based on easily perceivable parameters like age, gender, signifiers of social status, and more.
Classically trained as a dancer and choreographer, Pirici got her start in that rigorous, tradition-grounded milieu but found herself naturally transitioning into the art world as her works grew increasingly experimental and the limits of the theater stage began to feel too constrictive. The first of her pieces to be framed in the context of the visual arts was staged in 2011, in Bucharest; titled If You Don’t Want Us, We Want You, it saw performers bringing to life different historical monuments around the city, as if engaging in arcane rituals. (She doesn’t tackle Soviet monuments exclusively; in 2014, she reenacted Richard Serra‘s Tilted Arc in Switzerland.)
Alexandra Pirici, Leaking Territories, ©Skulptur Projekte 2017, photo: Henning Rogge
“I was looking for other formats, other ways of display, or ways to produce works that are not narrative-based, where you don’t have to build up the action to a point,” she told artnet News in the backyard of the Berlin nonprofit art space N.B.K., where her latest work, Aggregate—commissioned especially for the site—has just been performed for the last time. “I also wanted to have another experience with the audience, who could come and go as they like, and where I could do a work that’s two minutes, or four hours long.”
For Aggregate, her first institutional solo show in Berlin, Pirici worked with some 82 performers—such a large swarm that it meant the ratio between dancers and audience was often tipped in favor of her troupe, who performed for four long hours every day. This manipulation of space and viewing dynamics evinces a political approach at the heart of her practice. “What does it mean historically that an exhibition space opens to the public?” she asks. “When the first public museum, the Louvre, opened after the French Revolution, the people were supposed to exercise their newly discovered freedom and claim this new concept of the individual, who was free to roam across space. This post-Enlightenment concept was also connected to the colonialist notion that space was empty.”
To embody a more contemporary, relevant understanding of space in Aggregate, Pirici posits a white cube, but one that is crowded, cohabited, and ever-transmuting, sometimes trapping viewers in isolated enclaves. “What impresses me the most about her work is the utterly intelligent ways she finds to evoke social structures and relations, and to render them physically tangible,” Kasper König, who worked with the artist on Manifesta 10 and this year’s Skulptur Projekte Münster, told artnet News in a phone conversation. “Working with her is a win—she knows what she wants, she asks the right questions with her work, and she is not afraid of taking chances.”
Alexandra Pirici, Aggregate, exhibition view at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein,
2017 ©Neuer Berliner Kunstverein / Joseph Devitt Tremblay
Pirici, who lives in Bucharest, was seven years old when Nicolae Ceaușescu was executed. Shortly thereafter, she was given her first computer, and the world—which was already becoming drastically different than the one she grew up in after the fall of the Iron Curtain—suddenly became accessible in new ways. It should come as no surprise that digital information and new technologies find expression as themes in her works.
“I think that new technologies are interesting to reflect on in terms of how they manifest in the human,” she explained. “I’m interested in creating an experience of what you can intellectually perceive online but without having a feeling of it. Like being profiled—you know it’s happening but you don’t have a physical sensation of it.”
“Alexandra Pirici & co, If you don’t want us, we want you, 2011, postcards documenting public space interventions / sculptures.
Acknowledging that her work is sometimes mentioned together with Tino Sehgal’s (with whom she also shares some Berlin-based performers), Pirici also cites choreographer Jérôme Bel among her contemporary influences, as well as Spanish dancer and artist La Ribot, who is considered the first to sell works of performance art to collectors. (Berlin’s Barbara Weiss gallery is currently showing a retrospective of La Ribot’s films as part of the Tanz im August festival.)
“An important aspect of my work is that it’s sold and collected as a livework,” Pirici points out. “I never make another object, or props, that I try to sell.” In fact, she says, she’s been approached by several galleries who were interested in representing her on condition that she produce objects or prints related to her live performances. So far, she has demurred.
“I don’t want to do that because I’m interested in how the performance lives on, and how it gets entangled in the market,” she explains. “As a territory, it’s not necessarily new—Tino and others also sell live ‘situations’—but it’s a smaller niche that’s already occupied by larger galleries.” Her insistence has paid off, it turns out, since she has no problem selling works without gallery representation. (For instance, the corporate collection of Deutsche Telekom, which focuses on Eastern European art, has supported the production of her work for the Berlin Biennale, and now owns it.)
As an artist who navigates both spheres—that of the stage arts, in which she continues to create performances for more avant-garde theaters and festivals, and the institutional art world—Pirici is well aware of the resurgence of dance and performance in the latter, and is not uncritical of it. “The art world’s reception of dance is often very superficial,” she says. “There’s a very big delay in perceiving developments in choreography and dance and in thinking about aesthetics, virtuosity, beauty. Also, oftentimes the dance world had already gone over some things, and then you ‘rediscover’ them in the gallery space.”
“Ideally,” she adds, “this moment in time should allow for more cross-pollination in both directions. I think the visual arts can still learn a lot from dance and theater. The art world, on the other hand, has a better practice of thinking about itself, and being interested in the new.”
Alexandra Pirici, Threshold,” is on view on the High Line from September 5-7, between 4 and 7 pm.
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Selling Kink on Madison Avenue

CreditKirsten Luce for The New York Times
I ONCE worked on a play with a dominatrix, who explained a troublesome producer with the smiling dismissal: “Oh, don’t worry about him. He’s such a John.”
Meaning: obvious, easily manipulated. Sex, in her mind, was smeared all over men’s faces and running down their bibs, rendering them too ridiculous for any reaction other than amused, affectionate pity.
We’ve hit an interesting impasse in the battle of the sexes. In one corner, we have unprecedented access to unprecedented amounts of pornography, which has been transforming sex into a kind of performance art (in some cases, literally). On the other side, we have actual women — who, while gamely eager to please, generally speaking, find themselves a bit overwhelmed or upstaged (or both) by this onslaught of visual fiction and the new standards dictated by an almost mainstream ubiquity of smut.
It has been astonishing to watch, in the slowing of the economy, how the classy sex-shop business model has thrived. Society becomes creative when its entertainments are confined to the home.
Agent Provocateur has “arrived,” as it were, on Madison Avenue, ready to underclothe the hooker fantasies of a whole new class of shopper. This comes as a bit of a surprise. Agent Provocateur in SoHo has been a rowdy counterpoint to the nearby dead-serious upscale kink of Kiki de Montparnasse. For silk negligees and 18-karat tongue vibrators, you’d go to Kiki; Agent Provocateur was the source for tongue-in-cheeky stuff: gingham cowgirl bikinis, rubberized nurse costumes.
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On Madison, it seems, the shop is all dressed up to role-play as Kiki de Montparnasse. The interior is black and classy. There are sumptuous dressing rooms with billowing silk curtains and cherry blossoms crawling up the walls. A sitting room is furnished with vampire-luxe Victorian club chairs. Murals sweep up the staircase: Aubrey Beardsley meets Edward Gorey in an evil garden full of nude Vargas pinups.
CreditKirsten Luce for The New York Times
The saleswomen still sport the old uniform: a tightly tailored pink shirtdress, black tights and pumps: equal parts sexy nurse, roller-skating waitress and lab assistant. It’s a look conveying the message: we’re licensed underwear technicians, here to aid your scientific research.
The Madison inventory seems geared to undress women in a particular “Mad Men” fantasy, classic stuff that appeals to the stag-film-and-martini-marinated male. To wit: marabou peep-toe slippers; lace merry widows in ivory and red. No black leather, no latex. In short, it’s the stuff you buy the chorus girl with whom you are cheating on your proud Madison Avenue wife.
Who, then (besides sex workers, for whom such dainties are, arguably, a professional expense), buys this tricked-out, candy-apple shellacked hot rod of outlandishly expensive yet adolescently cartoonish love for sale, on Madison Avenue? The women I saw seemed to want nothing more than to throw beige cashmere cardigans over these rococo brassieres. The store uncomfortably exposes people for their exact level of sexual maturity — or not.
While I was trying to solve the labyrinthine conundrum of tiny straps on a red lace “playsuit” ($370), a dapper couple in their 50s walked in, all matching glen plaid and horn rims. “Look, $280 — for just the bra!” the woman squealed, too gamely.
Her companion overcompensated by trying to act devil-may-care. The Russian beauty working the floor explained that the loftier Soirée collection was on the second floor (e.g., French lace nightie, $1,990).
“Oh, so you work your way up to the luxury line?” he asked, too loudly, using the bra as a prop. “I guess that’s when you rip this one apart!”
CreditKirsten Luce for The New York Times
It was an uncomfortable moment — his cool was already blown, and so quickly. The saleswoman gave him a polite golf-chuckle.
The main problem of the Madison Avenue Agent Provocateur: it’s on Madison Avenue, a shopping area for ladies-who-lunch of a certain age. I’m guessing that porn gear isn’t at the top of their shopping lists. It’s probably not even in the middle of their lists — and those are very long lists. In fact, chafing dishes, dog jewelry and even decorative pine cones would probably appear on most of their lists before pink leather spanking paddles.
“I didn’t look good enough in these to pay that for them,” a 40-ish woman exiting a dressing room said, with a joyless giggle. “But I’ll be back!”
I didn’t believe she’d be back. I doubt the saleslady believed it. She sounded as if she had seen her own shadow in that dressing room.
BEAUTY is relative, certainly, and in the eye of the beholder. And men, bless them, can be amazingly dumb. A set of sequined pasties with tassels doing a double whirlybird is apt to get their attention on a slow afternoon, to say nothing of gilded handcuffs or seamed stockings that spell “Whip Me” in cursive on the calf ($70).
Bottom line, girls: it ain’t fashion. Fashion is about glamour, which is about seduction, which is about intrigue, which is about suggestion. In this joint, all of fashion’s ingeniously composed double and triple entendres are burned down to one big fat entendre.
I’d wrap it up for you, Johnny Dearest, but the only girl I know who wears anything that skimpy is my gun, and she only wears leather. Here’s where I beat it.

a New Lingerie Label

Serena Rees, who made racy lingerie a wardrobe staple, in her London studio. She is introducing Les Girls Les Boys, a line for millennials.CreditTom Jamieson for The New York Times
LONDON — Serena Rees, a founder of Agent Provocateur, who earned herself a fortune in the 1990s by making kinky lingerie a wardrobe staple, sat on a velvet sofa last month in her Marylebone townhouse. She was musing about the power of reinvention.
“After selling Agent Provocateur a decade ago, I was approached by both rivals and potential partners asking me to go back into the intimates business with them,” she said. “But nothing felt quite right.”
“I felt like I’d done it all,” she said, tucking her legs, clad in silky black athletic pants and open-toe stilettos, beneath her.
But several years spent watching the way her children and stepchildren dress and share clothes changed her point of view.
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“The kids that live in this house, or their friends that come through it, have such a different view to previous generations on how to dress, how to behave, how to hang out with friends and lovers and in their attitudes toward sex and sexuality,” she said. “I looked at what the market was currently offering them, and it felt like there was a big disconnect. Victoria’s Secret and Agent Provocateur are just not relevant to them anymore.”
The result is a new label called Les Girls Les Boys, which is set to be introduced Sept. 1. The 100-piece collection will be a gender-fluid array of intimates, underwear and street wear, designed to be worn by men and women. It promises to take its millennial wearers from “bed to street,” in keeping with their boundary-blurred lifestyles and a more informal approach to clothes than the generations before them.
In recent years a decisive pivot away from the sex-doll look in favor of a unisex aesthetic has been on full display across the ready-to-wear runways. It’s a positive movement, Ms. Rees said, one that is also a clear sign of and reaction to the times.
The 100-piece collection includes intimates, underwear and street wear that are designed to be worn by men and women. CreditBrett Lloyd
“The last decade has seen the rise of totally unobtainable and hypersexualized body images, particularly for women, fueled by the era of internet, social media and plastic surgery,” said Ms. Rees, the former daughter-in-law of Vivienne Westwood. (Ms. Rees founded Agent Provocateur in 1994 with her ex-husband, Joe Corré.) “It is wrong and it is worrying because it makes people so unhappy and insecure. In a weird way, I feel a little responsible for it.”
A bodysuit from Les Girls Les Boys.
When she introduced Agent Provocateur 23 years ago, Ms. Rees hoped to empower women to take control of their sexuality and the way they displayed it in public and private. A tongue-in-cheek blend of stylishness and smut, it featured satin cutaway corsets, embroidered bra straps and barely there slips brazenly on display. All of these, Ms. Rees reasoned, could actually be tools of liberation.
A knit bra from the collection.
“Except that people got carried away over the years,” she said with a disapproving shake of her cloud of raven curls. “Now it has all gone too far. Les Girls Les Boys has been engineered to be the antithesis of all that.”
Briefs from the collection.
The project began 18 months ago when Ms. Rees saw that the millennials around her were already engaged in a wardrobe revolt.
“Many of them already seem to understand that they don’t have to live up to those images,” she said. “Our garments are tools to help them feel totally comfortable in embracing whoever are, their life choices, approach to relationships and the fact that the most gorgeous thing in the world can be youth.”
“Particularly when people are relaxed both mentally and physically,” she said with a grin. “These kids are creatures of comfort, but they still want to look good. And that excited me again. I really wanted to be a part of it.”
The label’s first season of briefs, bodysuits, sweatpants and pajamas, which cost $25 to $143, will go on sale via the label’s e-commerce platformand at stores like Nordstrom and Selfridges. (A $1.3 million robbery of Les Girls Les Boys stock from the truck of a sleeping driver in Britain this week may affect availability of some items, but the label has no plans to scale back its unveiling.)
Ms. Rees appeared sanguine about the future.
“Listen, I’ve got nothing to win or lose doing this,” she said. “I have a great life. But it has been a real labor of love and genuine reaction to the social and political climate we are currently living in. So many brands get stuck in their ways: They don’t look anymore at what is going on in the outside world. We really are doing that. And hopefully, people will listen.”
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