Performa 17: Absurd Times, Absurd Acts

These images were replaced by captivating photographs that changed too quickly to absorb, offering teasing glimpses of subjects both appealing and forlorn: landscapes, cityscapes and distracted pedestrians from the United States, Europe, Africa and the Mideast; art museums and food markets; hotels and airports. There were quick references to fallen heroes (Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X), but much was anonymous. The barrage of photographs grew darker as the sound of pounding, suggesting boots, or cannons, became increasingly loud and fast. At its peak, Mr. Cole sat up abruptly, shouted incoherently, as if trying to shake himself out of a nightmare, and walked off as the screens went black.

Photo

Kemang Wa Lehulere’s “I cut my skin to liberate the splinter,” a six-person ensemble piece in which handmade props were sometimes used as musical instruments.

Credit
Paula Court

Only slightly less somber, the South African sculptor Kemang Wa Lehulere’s “Icut my skin to liberate the splinter” was a six-person ensemble piece in which handmade props were sometimes used as musical instruments. Games and furnishings of childhood were a motif: one old wooden school desk, cut apart and reassembled, became a makeshift wooden drum; some were remodeled as birdhouses, into which one performer thrust her arms and legs, and writhed, thus encumbered, on the floor. An image of inadequate shelter in collapse, these miniature homes suggested another motif, seen again in a one-walled tent, whose wire struts were bowed like a cello.

Tires were sometimes pushed along the floor with crutches, or swung aloft, as if in strenuous hoop games. Others, ringed with pipes, suggested the “necklaces” hung around people’s necks and set on fire to punish suspected regime collaborators as apartheid came to a bloody end. Mr. Wa Lehulere explained that the casts of…

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