July 30, 2015
A “November Complex” Performance Day in Rotterdam, Netherlands, July 12, 2015
On a cloudy, sunny, rainy Sunday in Rotterdam this last summer, the artists’ collective known as “November Complex” brought together 15 artists to make performances mostly out of doors around the circumference of one very tall building in the city center. The actions were staged one after the other over the course of one hour thirty minutes, and were joined through an engaging but absurdist narrative (a performance itself).
All of this was in celebration of the closing of the MFA graduate exhibition of the Piet Zwart Institute, a catalyst for a vibrant art scene in Rotterdam. Performers were a mix of current PZ students, alumni and friends, all from many parts of the world.
All artists had selected sites on rooftops, in parks, cafes, gardens, plaza fountains and so on. They were simply asked to devise an action of their choosing, while somehow using the color red. These were not chance occurrences, and yet there was little but the high-rise building to tie the works conceptually. It was all just good, nonsensical fun. Organizers formed a schedule, which they coordinated via cell phone, but players knew little about what was to unfold. Unlike a “happening” alla Allan Kaprow, where there was a collapse of player and viewer, with participatory games between both, here there was an enormous distance between the two –eighteen stories! Moreover, the viewer’s position became that of a hyper voyeur, as if operating a drone from a remote location. It was as if we were riding in a police helicopter witnessing a getaway car on the autobahn below. In the history of performance art, this had to be a first.
The audience was instructed to gather at the site of a red bench (made by Ghislain Amar & Micha Zweifel) on the ground floor. The true beginning of the happening had actually commenced earlier in the day with two November Complex founders, Ghislain Amar and Hunter Longe, carrying the bench all the way from the Charlois district in the south through the city, onto the tram, the metro and then to its place before the high rise structure.
At the appointed time, artist Sol Archer, gathered the 60 plus viewers together. In good Dadaist form, he offered himself as master of ceremonies and guide to what would be an almost non-sequitur like rationale for the string of events to come. He acted as a caped baron and fictional heir to the site: defunct Shell Oil headquarters in the center of the Rotterdam. He gave a history of the Shell Corporation as if it were the home of an aristocratic family (von Shell) fallen from grace, and the nearly 30 story structure as its centuries old castle. He explained the demise of the holdings, the business of oil peddling, and would eventually acquaint the viewers with the artists, one by one, as if they were cousins or relatives. He invited the group to meet at the elevators and ride up inside of his tower fortress all the way to the 18th floor.
From here the audience jumped into his/her role as voyeur, face pressed against glass, with a birds-eye view of everything that unfolded below. From window to window around the four-sided building, we paraded to see one consecutive happening after another (all coordinated behind the scenes by Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell).
Upon cue via cell phone from Ireland artist Sinead Bhreathnach-Cashell instructed fifers to play red flutes & read a poem, while a lone red balloon rose up before the audience at the windows. We were then instructed to settle our eyes on a large red wall down below and to the right. From it emerged a man (Hunter Longe), jumpsuit painted in the same red on front, but white on back. He flipped against the painted wall, red to white to red, then crossed the bold white, Abbey Road stripes of the cross walk below. In a John Cage minute (i.e. feeling like 5), we waited with great anticipation for the cars to finally stop and for the red man to cross another boulevard in order to sit perfectly in the center of a Lego-like city bench of blue, RED and gray. Again, he disappeared into the color. Right at his feet there was an enormous circle of concrete in a park with crops beyond, where artist Anna Maria Luczak announced the joyous feeling of the day as she wrote out a message in chalk letters five times her size. The audience worked to make out a meaning and there it was: “OMG!”
At this point the red man ran from Luczak up onto the yellow wooden ribbon of Rotterdam’s pedestrian bridge, the Luchtsingel, until we see him no longer. Just then Joost Niewenburg called in to read a story and later had hot pizzas delivered to the 18th floor as part of his offering. We continued to a video screen indoors; the film was sent in by Hannah James, presently in summer residence at Rupert in Vilnius, Lithuania; it was a kind of moving landscape collage, very beautiful. Just then a call came from Amsterdam artist Nikki Oosterveen; she was down at street level, making her happening in the café Vapiano. From there she sang on speakerphone a beautiful and very funny, reportage-style song about the exact goings on in the café, replete with full descriptions of cappuccinos, the interior space, the patrons and so on.
Our eyes then followed along the sidewalk down under to see what must have been a 1 meter red happy face by Jan Bokma. The narrator called it the Shell family crest, saying, “we use the face to hide the complexity of our emotions, to defend the family brand; a puppet in an emotional war where we all wear the same face. Watch the people. Watch the trams.… From here, you see everyone is a pawn in their own game, anything could happen.” And so it did.
We moved again in time to make out a woman riding her bike toward the large fountain in the Hofplein (of course it was the baron’s castle moat). Exactly to the beat of two Katy Perry songs, the performer, Angharad Williams, threw down her bike, pealed off layers of clothes and skipped 2 laps around the lip of the fountain. She then climbed into the fountain, danced and now descended into the water, swimming and kicking like a novice water ballerina. We all laughed at the hilarity of the Lilliputian act.
The baron now brought our attention past the fountain to the large Willem de Kooning bronze sculptures down below. He called them the family bones. But there was something going on across the way. We could make out a large swaying eyeball made of fabric and a 3 meter wide pair of underwear. The performer inside of the canvas sphere, Sabrina Chou (who’s medium is often fabric), moved through yet another rooftop vegetable garden (kitchen gardens here become a Rotterdam sub-theme). The narrator went on: “the only way out is through the eye.”
At this point we watched a video sent direct of an action from November Complex artist, Christian Hansen, now in residence at Skaftfell Art Center in Iceland. He called it “Spaghetti Incidents.” The Danish, Rotterdam based artist showed himself in a large room doing a spray gun dance, with a thin stream of paint, making perfect swirling lines over the floor in time to the Guns n’ Roses song with Charlie Manson’s lyrics: “Look At Your Game Girl." The audience quietly wondered, “how did he step so adeptly between the lines and to the music without landing on the streams?”
At this point, Helen Flanagan performed a walking poem in the viewer’s space, which was followed by the Baron von Shell narrator playing a record on a phonograph and reading a short story in German about Egloffstein and it’s castle.
With bright red hands, another artist, Kym Ward, then brought our gaze to the former prison just to the right and a block or more past our immediate urban delineation. She explained that the building had been repurposed to hold a spinal clinic. She manipulated her hands down the window glass just so, while describing in thorough detail a full spinal re-alignment of a patient from the facility. We followed along. It was happening to us…”then to the C-4, soft pressure over the tissue just slightly above the C-6….”
Procedure over, the ex prison was still before our eyes. Bending necks slightly downward, another event commenced. Ghislain Amar, was on a lower rooftop of the ex Dutch Shell building. He was wearing a 30 ft. long cape of photographs, his oeuvre, all that were left in his archives; all were taped together and blowing in the wind. He was wearing a vogue-style sun hat, as if a crazed model on a photo shoot. He ran, darted and spun in the wind over and over. The train blew and fluttered apart in the frenzy. Then the red man re-appeared on the yellow path. He jogged along. We followed him to another rooftop agricultural plot.
Now white (his backside) and on the top of a defunct metro station, he joined to make a procession with the artist of a massive 3 x 5 meter mural of a Rotterdam ship floating in the harbor. It held a dream in cartoon bubble of itself out at sea. From the high rise, the immense painting appeared as a large postage stamp, laying flat on the roof soil just beyond an onion field. The artist, Brian Longe, with his red son Hunter, read a poem from a big red megaphone. It was a lament from the flag/mural at being cast flat, but was also a salute to the thunder, the lightning, to “the rivers falling from the sky as Rotterdam goes sailing by.”
Participating artists were:
Anna Maria Łuczak
Reviewed by N Hill