Through September 29th, 2012
By Abby King
Additional performances by Joanna Quigley and Layla Marcelle September 22nd at 7pm
When you think of YouTube, what comes to mind is typically videos of cats with cheeseburgers, dramatic chipmunks, and autotuned news reporters. What you might not expect to see are discussions of gender and identity expressed through dance moves. However, the current show at Little Berlin involves just that.
Prrrsona is an all-female show curated by local performance artist Beth Heinly. At first glance, the look is minimal and the walls are bare: the focus is on two freestanding screens with four projected videos running simultaneously. The videos play as a collage, with contributions from artists Ann Hirsch, Bunny Rogers, Liz Rywelski, and Petra Cortright blending into a single piece of pixilated video art with a jumbled but occasionally familiar soundtrack of noise. Because the videos stream endlessly without any signifier to connect them to a specific artist, the show concerns itself not with a black and white discussion of personas, but rather with where one identity ends and another begins.
Each of the artists included in the show are investigating the line between artistic performance and reality, or the conundrum “Where does art stop and life begin?” Ann Hirsch’s work in particular raises this question through her multi-dimensional practice on her website, Scandalicious, where she dances and mimes in a variety of different costumes, autotunes, and personas. Because Ann Hirsch exists in many facets of the web, the context in which her work is seen is crucial.
Each of the women creates a specific context through costumes such as sporty outfits, oversized t-shirts, or 50s cocktail dresses. The settings are in bedrooms and living rooms, private arenas transformed into exhibitionist stages of fetishized performances. Not only is the context established inside the video, but the gallery itself and the forum of YouTube likewise situate the work. Unlike sites like Vimeo that are favored by artists, YouTube is a populist venue where anyone is free to post and comment, making it a more democratic space for social experimentation.
A potential drawback to these artists’ YouTube characters is how the videos exist outside the gallery and without the framework of conceptual performance art. Artists such as Andrea Fraser, Adrian Piper, Carolee Schneemann, and Marina Abravomic have pioneered art in this vein in the museum world, but the Prrsona artists have chosen the free and open forum of YouTube to continue this exploration. In the autonomous venue of YouTube their videos may not be spotted as simulacra, but in the context of the gallery their work can stand on its own as a copy that has gone beyond the mimicry of YouTube. Viewers may ask, “Is this a parody or real life?” It is also questionable whether Prrrsona offers a post-feminist or third wave response to the exhibitionism of the internet or a fetishized look at the first person perspective of YouTube.
It is easier to spot the pastiche in the workout videos, where artists Bunny and Petra mimic clichés of toned tan women, but the videos speed up or slow down to comic effect. However, the difference between parody and life isn’t always so obvious. The most intriguing videos are the ones so adept at simulation they appear sincere. Baudrillard writes, “Simulation threatens the difference between true and false, between real and imaginary”, and one video by Liz Rywelski crosses this threshold. In the piece she cries while watching the Obamas slow dance to a Beyonce performance. Unlike the other highly sexualized dances, this video brings up questions about the public personas of our politicians and pop stars and how they elicit emotional responses. Rywelski is responding to a video while watching herself, creating a loop of endless spectatorship blurring the line between sincerity and simulacrum.
The moments that go beyond parody are important in a show where the all the work merges into a single blurred selfhood. This blending is potentially problematic as a representation of sexual identity because of the limited representation of differing perspectives; all the artists are attractive, young, white females. Each of the artists could easily represent the mainstream cliché of beauty, even without the guise of a persona. It is because of the simultaneous presentation of each artist’s work that the show as a whole goes beyond a trite representation of YouTube culture.
Abby King is a mixed media artist currently pursuing her MFA at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.