[disclaimer: Ann is my cousin]
Performance as confusion.
When performance art isn’t performed by the artist, does it become theater? This is one of the many questions raised by Ann Trondson’s recent performance works. Performed by found-actors (comment on the found-object art piece?), these short events/artworks/happenings force the audience to make a harried meaning out of bits and pieces of biography, current events, and happenstance. The actors seem to channel someone’s experiences and stories, but whose? The artist’s (meaning Ann), or their own, or a collective unconscious?
As I watched her most recent piece, I found myself falling into the role of art historian in order to make sense of it all. And as I spoke to others about it afterwards, I realized this may have been the genius behind the work—to make the viewer aware of his or her own story-making skills and identity/ies. I have a strong identity as an art historian, and it is through this lens that I look at art. I can’t help it. I also have a second identity as Ann’s cousin. I can’t help that either. So while I watched the skits unfold, I found myself making connections to stories Ann has told me. One of the pieces recounted an event Ann had experienced and told me about. Watching the male performer channel Ann’s words was bizarre for me. I wished I could tell everyone in the room that it was her story. That’s what made it meaningful for me. But everyone else in the room had their own identities to filter the information and make meaning from it. I had no right to interfere with those other interpretations.
I spoke to Ann afterwards and she explained the theater vs. art question to me. “The difference between theater and art is that art makes the viewer do more work to get something out of it.” She’s right, theater tends to hand you the message, fully-formed and already interpreted. Ann’s work requires you to throw in your own identity and stories in order to find a message that makes sense to you.