Performance in museums: a popular medium that draws visitors, looks good when shared on social media and allows institutions to put their foot forward as contemporary players in today’s cultural landscape. Yet, many museums host performances only as special events, considering them too elaborate for everyday staging, too expensive for a temporary project or insufficiently concrete. Proof of the contrary is offered by Adam Linder’s exhibition ‘Full Service’ at MUDAM in Luxembourg, realized in partnership with CCA Wattis in San Francisco.
Trained as a dancer, Linder came to art via ballet and the Michael Clark Company; he now produces stage works (most recently The Want, 2018, which premiered at Berlin’s Hebbel am Ufer) and performances at museums and biennials. ‘Full Service’, as the title suggests, is a comprehensive offering, consisting of five individual performances at MUDAM for the duration of the month-long show, on five out of seven days, several hours a day. The work critically highlights the challenges that must and should be faced by museums wishing to actively present performance today.
Rather than institutional critique per se, however, I see the show’s approach as an economic one that distinguishes clearly between service provider, client and consumer. Linder offers a service in the form of his five choreographies, ‘supplying’ bodies that move and dance. His client is not the audience but the museum: this is made clear by contractual agreements concerning deliverables to be received from the service provider (the performers) and the hourly or daily rates payable. These contracts are publicly displayed in the museum in the form of five different outsize displays, designed by artist Shahryar Nashat. The various outfits were designed by Linder for the specific service in question: workwear in the true sense.
The individual works deal explicitly with the use of the body in choreography and performance. In Some Cleaning (2013), a female dancer mimes gestures associated with household chores such as vacuuming, mopping and dusting. The museum contracted her for five days, so she will clean for five days. In Some Proximity (2014), over a slowly pulsating ambient soundtrack, two dancers interpret texts written for the piece on site by an art critic, reading the texts either out loud or to themselves. In this case, the critic is Jonathan P. Watts, who travelled to Luxembourg and responded, among others, to Theresa May’s last Luxembourg visit. The text consists of autocomplete suggestions that are prompted when ‘Theresa May’ is typed into a Google search: ‘Theresa May Dancing’, ‘Theresa May young’, ‘Theresa May Brexit’, ‘Theresa May Husband’, ‘TM Diabetes’, ‘TM Gollum’ and so on. In Some Riding (2015) two bodies move, cautiously but pointedly, to two texts concerning embodiment and performance, by Catherine Damman and Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer. A sculpture by Luc Wolff forms the focus for Some Strands of Support (2016), which is coerced, tamed and adorned with toupees by two dancers. Somewhere between ritual and affection, they performatively care for the sculpture and give it a hair treatment.
The fifth choreographic service, Dare to Keep Kids Off Naturalism (2017), brings together four bodies that move without generating a narrative. The contract outlines eight explicitly ‘anti-natural’ situations, including hustling, lubrication, animatronics and carpeteering (the internet-inspired phenomenon of photographing airport carpets). This last service is Linder’s strongest critique of the kind of ‘deskilled’ performance staged in many museums as a spectacular special event. For me, it is also a way into performance as a medium that makes Linder’s ‘Full Service’ so interesting and necessary. Obstacles to visiting public museums still exist, based on accessibility, location and cost of entry – these hindrances are not removed by ‘cool’ events with ‘hip’ people. Seeing these performances in an everyday context, alone and alongside painting and sculpture, moves the medium away from spectacle and towards a serious engagement of individual viewers with body, movement and dance.
Adam Linder, 'Full Service' was on view at MUDAM, Luxembourg, from 6 February until 3 March 2019.
Main image: Adam Linder, 'Full Service', 2019, installation view, Mudam Luxembourg, Choreographic Service No. 2: Some Proximity, 2014, performers: Josh Johnson, Justin F. Kennedy, Adam Linder, Robert Malmborg. Courtesy: the artist and Mudam Luxembourg; photograph: LaLa LaPhoto
First published in Issue 203