Performing Play

 
A still from "Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse."

A still from “Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse,” by My Barbarians, which will be on view at the 2014 Whitney Biennial.

At the beginning of the loopy and joyful video “Boy Band Audition,” a crowd of people twirls around, doing their best to execute some Backstreet Boys-style dance moves. Later on, single people stand alone with a microphone, with the karaoke singer’s mix of excitement and shame, while a voice off-screen instructs them to improvise songs on a range of themes, from pepper spray and self-actualization to gay culture.

That off-screen voice belongs to Parsons faculty member Alexandro Segade, a performance artist whose work explores the idea of play, the future and the aesthetics of prediction.

“Performance art is a way to engage with ideas in a kind of social way,” he says. “When we think about play, it has a lot to do with interaction – with the audience, with the public, and with other artists. Play is about having space and time, and some rules. And within that structure, all kinds of ideas—even very serious ones—can be engaged without being so heavily weighted that you can’t find the contradictions in it and take some pleasure in teasing those things out.”

“The content of most of the classes I teach here,” Segade said, “is related to the investigations I’ve been doing in my practice.” This includes courses on public spectacle, ones exploring the performative aspect of sculpture and objects at play, and, in an upcoming course, the nitty-gritty of producing performance art.

And now, Segade is about to get an even larger platform. It was recently announced that as part of the collective My Barbarian, Segade and his partners Malik Gaines and Jade Gordon would be featured prominently in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, one of the most important events in contemporary art. They will be taking over the lobby gallery for an installation and three weeks of performances, and also will present a video work, “Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflecting the Creative Influence.” In this piece, My Barbarian interviews their mothers and female artists they have found influential to question why artists are so often cast in terms of fathers and (often rebellious) sons.

“Think of Thomas Hart Benton being the teacher of Jackson Pollack,” Segade explains. “We are proposing a different model that isn’t about rejection of the prior generation, and one in which women artists can be as influential to people as male artists.”

The Whitney Biennial will be on view from March 7–May 25, 2014, for more information visit the Whitney website. And for students interested in studying with Segade, learn more about his spring course on producing performance art here.