How do performing arts fit into museums? Casino, Konschthal Esch and Mudam showcase some possibilities

Encounters of the third kind

d'Lëtzebuerger Land du 29.04.2022

Ever since the early 20th century avant-garde movements, such as Futurism or Dada with their revolutionary performances at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, performing and visual arts have become closely linked, if not an integral part of the forward-thinking art discourse. In the 1950’s, performance further matured as an art form through the Fluxus movement, for instance, and Yves Klein’s gestures. By the 1960’s it had clearly made its entry into the world of galleries and museums. The design and architecture of most museums of modern and contemporary art, even those built after the 1960’s, did however not take into account the presentation of this young art form – nor other performing art disciplines such as dance or theatre.

Nowadays, public programs accompanying exhibitions are seen as opportunities for a more direct exchange with the audience. Ranging from performances to contemporary music concerts, panel discussions and theatre, public programs can be seen as an extension of the exhibition and the notion of contemporary art, while also being a platform for experimentation and showcase of more intimate narratives. The museum or the cultural institution thus becomes a platform for exchange between the different disciplines: a space of encounter.

When it comes to the art scene in Luxembourg, one can say that performance and the integration of different artistic spheres becomes gradually more important, not only through punctual events such as concerts, DJ-sets or theatre representations, but also through exhibitions that mingle different artistic domains and are truly multimedial, such as the current exhibition of Fabien Giraud and Raphaël Siboni at Casino Luxembourg: It integrates the media of live-performance and live-filming. Another example is Filip Markiewicz’s monographic exhibition at the Konschthal Esch, which includes a documentation of its theatre work.

Since day one The Casino Luxembourg – which considers itself as a space for contemporary creation and exchange – has long presented its audience with public programs ranging from screenings and conferences to concerts and performances. Most of the public program highlights or extends the exhibition on show. Apart from the yearly highlights such as the Nuit des Musées, or hosting the headquarters of the Luxembourg City Film festival, or even the extensive program in the context of the Luxembourg Art Week, Casino Luxembourg hosted a concert organised by Neimënster in the context of this years festival Reset and showcased a performance by the Luxembourgish artist and choreographer Yuko Kominami together with Joana Von Mayer Trindade. Furthermore, last year, the young Luxembourgish artist and performer Nora Wagner together with Carole Louis, Trixi Weis and Aurélie d’Incau presented the last chapter of their project Jamais peut-être in the form of a performative and participative parcours and publication.

The Casino stresses multidisciplinary formats and exhibitions that see the public program or performance as an integral part of the exhibition, and by doing so shows itself adaptable to experimental formats. During the exhibition L’homme gris curated by Benjamin Bianciotto in 2020 and 2021, music played a dominant role, as many of the artists exhibited were also musicians. This led to a publication of a cassette and a schedule of concerts accompanying the exhibition. During the exhibition by the artists Karolina Markiwicz and Pascal Piron, the public program became an integral part of the show. Carefully selected by the artists, it included talks, public readings, theatre, performances and concerts, as well as an extended educational program. The current presentation by Fabien Giraud and Raphaël Siboni takes not only an exhibition of their film works and objects, it is also a film set where performers are being filmed. It can thus be seen as a truly living exhibition, where the notion of the humane and ephemeral plays an important role.

Multidisciplinarity As a fairly recent space (last autumn), the Konschthal Esch had the advantage of being able to take into account the multidisciplinary nature of contemporary art when reconstructing its spaces. The space is versatile and able to accommodate a wide array of contemporary and performative practices. It lends itself to multiple formats, and while it is not a concert hall nor a theatre, it is equipped for showing performance art. The Konschthal shows quite an unusual and contemporary approach to its own space: It integrates a migrating project room where a more spontaneous programming and more experimental projects can take place. Christian Mosar, artistic director of the new institution, understands contemporary art as a realm where categories such as visual and performing arts, music, dance or theatre become blurred: “Separating contemporary creation into categories does not make much sense anymore, as multidisciplinarity is often at the very core of contemporary practices.” This is visible in the current monographic exhibition of Filip Markiewicz’s work, Instant Comedy. Markiewicz is an artist who works not only in the field of visual arts, but also in music, theatre and film. The public program around this exhibition includes a concert by Raftside, Markiewicz’s alias, and Forecasting, a choreographic performance in collaboration with the Escher Theatre and the Passages Transfestival, DJ-Sets entitled Ultrasocial Pop Afterworks, film screenings and theatre workshops. Furthermore, a film recording of the theatre piece Euro Hamlet, directed by the artist, is on display within the exhibition and acts as a document of a practice more closely linked to performing arts.

Out of the comfort zone In 2020 the former director of Mudam Suzanne Cotter created a new position of curator of public programs – and specifically performance. This is unique to the Luxembourgish art scene and fairly rare even on the European level. By creating this role, Cotter put a specific focus on the role of performing arts and performance within Mudam’s exhibitions and within the institution. Being an international and experienced figure, she had a clear vision of the relevance of performance in the contemporary art discourse and the importance of educating the audience about this crucial discipline. However, like most museums of modern art, Mudam has not been designed to welcome performing arts or performances. Thus it obliges the team of the museum, the artists and the audience to go out of their comfort zone, to look into the many ways of working with a space and to open up to unconventional ways of presentation. In a recent collaboration with the Théâtre National du Luxembourg, the theatre piece Kunst, written by the French author Yasmina Reza, was presented in the Great Hall of the museum without a frontal stage setting, thereby taking the architecture of the space into account and breaking the convention of a clear separation between the audience and the scenography.

The public and performance program in Mudam contains both a program within the framework of the exhibitions on display and a more focused strategy which highlights independent projects that have the same value as the exhibitions themselves. One of the most important manifestations of this specific program took place in 2021, under the form of an exhibition of performance art entitled the Mudam Performance Season: The Illusion of the End that took place in the two ground floor galleries of the museum. This two week hybrid format between exhibition, festival and performance program tried to explore the performance discipline itself with all its variations, from spoken word performance, dance performance to theatre based performance and sound based works. The format of the performance exhibition will continue bi-annually with its next itineration scheduled for 2023. Furthermore, Mudam is commissioning new performance works for instance by the Argentinian artist Cecilia Bengolea in the framework of Esch2022, including both live performance and an exhibition of video works (Deary Steel, May 14th & 15th), and the American choreographer Trajal Harrell (Sister or He Buried the Body, July 9th & 10th) who returns to Mudam after his presentation in 2018 in an attempt to show the audience how his practise has evolved.

By looking at the different ways leading art spaces in Luxembourg integrate performance and performing arts in their program, it becomes apparent that in 2022 cultural institutions need to be open for cross-disciplinary approaches. Performing arts and performance can take many different forms, they can be live or documented, evolutive, durational or ephemeral. They can be understood as media of immediate expression with a strong time-based value. The live format fosters the direct encounter between the audience and the artists, it eliminates barriers such as the stage and forces ourselves to overcome the boundaries of what we are used to as frontal and distant consumption of art. It becomes more and more important to understand an art institution as a space that is open, polyvalent and adaptable, gradually opening up to welcome all type of artistic creation and let the buildings and discourses come alive.

Anastasia Chaguidouline
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