Another Map to Nevada in 24 Hours
by Lulu Obermayer
I have been to Nevada. In fact, I have walked down The Strip, a so-called adult playground. My father and I attended the city like an exhibition. The superficial surfaces reflected back on us; an image, a mirage.
In a sober and critical manner we lingered in the casinos looking at the performers, or rather, the doubles smoking their cigarettes like freedom torches, drinking their alcoholic beverages, operating the slot machines, gambling their life away. At The Venetian, I was underwhelmed and disappointed. There is just one Canale Grande and it is definitely not in here.
The question is, though, what does another map to Nevada entail and where does the trip lead? The Performance Agency invited us to embark upon a waterborne journey, this time in Copenhagen, after two editions orchestrated in Berlin in 2018 and 2020.
On three consecutive nights in late August, a performative boat ride takes off at dusk and voyages through the waterways, featuring performative interventions on board, on the shore and in the sky, by fifteen international and local artists and more performers. The title, Another Map to Nevada is an homage to Fluxus artist Robert Belford Brown, the founder of the First National Church of the Exquisite Panic. Inc.
“Many religions teach how to get to Nirvana. They all give very complicated directions. The First National Church of the Exquisite Panic, Inc. tells you how to get to NEVADA. It sounds close, and it’s simple. YOU TAKE A BUS!”
Since 2017, The Performance Agency have been curating and producing site specific performative formats internationally. Their aim is to create situative atmospheres full of reality-shifting potential and of expansive imagination. They define themselves as curators and producers who work mostly outside and sometimes with an institution. Within a framework, artists from all disciplines are invited to propose performative works. Together they dramaturgically weave all artistic contributions into an event that lays bare the interstices between art and life.
The all-female team has been very busy this fall. Not only did they mount the massive project Another Map to Nevada within the frame of TOASTER, a collaboration between Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art and Husets Teater, but they also curated performative works at Zeller van Almsick during Curated by in Vienna and co-programmed the Anniversary Weekend of KW in Berlin.
August 29/30, 2021
When I land in Copenhagen and head to the ‘Utgang’, someone stops me and asks me first in Danish, then in English, if I have been fully vaccinated. I say yes, and enter the country, where the medical masks have fallen without having to show proof any more. A few days earlier, the New York Times reported that in Denmark, Covid-19 has been taken off the agenda as it is no longer a ‘socially critical disease’. It takes a moment to ease into this new or rather old mode of being in public: two years ago this was not considered a “thing”, now my face feels naked.
After a short afternoon in the city center I walk from the hotel to the meeting point of the boat. Approaching the destination, other audience members join me rushing, hurrying like we are going to the theater together. A wave of excitement tickles through my body. I have missed being an audience member!
Once we see the boat in the distance we all organise ourselves neatly in a row, wait patiently to have our names ticked off a list and board the vessel.To drink, the bar offers natural wine, beer, lemonade and water with lemon. As the natural wine is only sold by the bottle, I go for water. Right next to a speaker, I wrap myself in a complimentary blanket. It is no longer summer, the seasons have shifted, and we take off.
The first work we encounter is The mythic being cycle 1, an audio piece from a street performance by Adrian Piper from 1974. It functions like an ouverture sharpening our senses. As a practice, Adrian Piper would dress up as a man and inhabit public spaces in the 1970s. She would memorize selected texts from her journals and repeat those sentences and create mantras. These would serve as focal points. The mythic being cycle 1 also opened the boat ride in Berlin last year. In an interview, Adrian Piper says that embodying a man made her think differently. When ruminating about drag, I come to understand that this boat ride is quasi in drag. By being on this boat, we are also thinking differently and looking at objects differently. From the shore a civilian, an uninformed pedestrian of the street, might look at the boat and miss its context, as the boat passes as a boat and does not necessarily signify an aesthetic or artistic experience. We are disguised as tourists, yet truly, we are audience members. The city becomes a projection screen, a canvas to paint on, a backdrop of the mise en scene, the 360° panorama.
I remember how the hyper-reality of Las Vegas made me feel more aware. I was alert to everything happening around me, analysing and reflecting my experiences as they were unfolding. It was similar when leaving the Miniature Museum in Hamburg and feeling suddenly we reversed roles and were in the model ourselves..
As a party of one, I sit in silence and look back at the waterfront with Adrians voice still in my head. My eyes carefully scan the gentrified waterfront, the decorated living rooms of first row luxury apartments. I am gazing back at the million dollar baby view, that promises a quality of life only a few will ever reach.
Each performance on the riverside is lit by a spotlight operated from the boat. The light searches for the performative subject, finds the body and frames the performance.
In ‘I come to take you home’, Mira Winding situates bodies adorned with wings in different places. A person with wings crosses the bridge whilst we approach it, only a fleeting moment. Later, we see the same angel on the roof of the opera house. These are angels of the 21st century. The scenes remind me of the angels in Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders who tenderly place their palms over human foreheads, preventing them from taking their lives, encouraging them to commit to life! At this point I didn’t yet know how much and how long the angels would guide me that night …
We encounter Miriam Kongstad in three scenes at different points of the journey.
Dressed in black leather she addresses herself to us like a queer siren, tough and soft in a low pitched voice. Like a rhapsode, she rhymes accompanied by Star Suanings guitar riffs, luring us in closer yet always maintaining a distance. Later she tells me she performs from the shore into the ether. She doesn’t hear her voice as the boat is too far away. In the first scene she stands on a platform in the water, later at the ledge of a bridge. Like an urban Sappho, she connects with us deeply at the edge and on the edge. The next morning I will pass this bridge with an angel, in fact two, and I will take a picture of the little house and the ledge that served as Miriam’s stage.
How does reality meet with the artwork? Again I wonder how bystanders encounter the performance. Echoing Augusto Boal’s Invisible Theater a Public becomes an audience unknowingly as it stumbles across a scene unfolding in front of them. What do the people who stand on the bridge looking at Miriam on the ledge think? Are they worried? This is how art clashes and intertwines with the everyday in this format. Where is the angel?
The boat steers toward the shore where Astrit Ismaili with a red smoke grenade awaits us. Miss Kosovo meets us like a different kind of statue of liberty and gracefully enters the boat working it like a cat walk, dancing, singing and posing to the sound of war. By performing to a cheering crowd, Astrit Ismaili transforms into Cassandra prophesying another future time.
One tries to listen closer, the sound of a flute becomes audible and the eye aims to locate its source. A flute player in a monster costume leans on the wall, an urban puck, a contemporary mythical figure who occupies a parallel world. (Kristoffer Akselbo)
Later, those moments are joined by humorous actions like an easter bunny on roller skates
who crosses the bridge and who synchronizes with the boat shoulder to shoulder for a while. From a bridge Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen throws eggs onto the boat dressed in lots of flowing fabric and a headdress .The audience shrieks but the eggs seem not to be raw. Slogans are written on them, but I can only guess, which came first-the chicken or the egg?
In the third scene Miriam Kongstad is joined by two performers adjacent to the mermaid statue, holding burning torches. One is pregnant, exposing her powerful bare belly. Being next to the statue makes them monumental. After the show, I heard that shortly before our arrival they had a territorial fight with some bachelors on their stag night who wanted to grope and harass the mermaid statue.
My eyes search for the next stage at the shore, yet an explosion in the sky grabs my attention. The collaboration between Esben Weile Kjaer & Maja Malou Lyse results in talking fireworks. The fireworks address themselves to the audience and open up a sensual and erotic dialogue between themselves and the audience. As promised, the evening is an invitation to look up. The fireworks marks this brilliant statement:
I KINDA LOOK LIKE HEAVENS CUMSHOT DON’T I?.
Once the sky relaxes from this climax and darkens, we speed toward the fort, toward the grand finale. We approach Lafawndah & Dalila Belaza, a tender voice and dance duet on the stairs of the lighthouse. Once one is in the light then the other in the dark, and vice versa. I think of ‘At the Lighthouse’ by Virgina Woolf:
‘Upon finishing the painting (just as the sailing party reaches the lighthouse) and seeing that it satisfies her, she realises that the execution of her vision is more important to her than the idea of leaving some sort of legacy in her work.’
Suddenly a blinding light from the lighthouse hits directly our eyes. The performance is over, the execution of her vision is more important. We are dropped off on the shore, invited to stay for a drink and food at a restaurant. We sat around the fireplace for a long time. Eventually the angels lead me through Freetown Christiania where we have a coffee on Pusher Street and back to the city center. When I arrive at 7am at the hotel, I will have walked the whole distance of the boat tour by foot. I walked through Copenhagen like I was attending an exhibition, and it’s simple. Don’t take a bus to Nevada, as my friend always says, go per pedes. I close my eyes, I have reached the right place.
Lulu Obermayer lives and works as an artist and performer in Berlin.