Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in New York City and the Caribbean

The full documentary Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in New York City and the Caribbean, the culmination of a collaborative project between Fresh Milk and New York-based, Guyanese artist damali abrams is now available for viewing online.

The Fresh Performance Project was an experimental, six-chapter documentary series which saw damali interviewing 12 performance artists, 6 from the Caribbean and 6 from NYC, and pairing them under particular themes to investigate performance art from the perspectives of those working in these different locations and contexts.

This video, which was screened at FRESH MILK XIII in October, 2013 saw footage from all of the interviews edited into one video, which flows almost as if the artists are in conversation with one another as they speak out their practices and the larger contexts they work in, revealing a number of linkages that can be drawn despite differing settings and the variety of concepts addressed.

Screening damali abrams' documentary Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in NYC & the Caribbean

…Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in NYC & the Caribbean, the documentary that I came to this residency to complete, came out very differently from what I expected (but I expected that as well)… I began to leave in only the portions of the interviews that clearly explained the importance of performance to these particular artists. I wound up cutting about two-thirds of the piece. It went from about 90 minutes to roughly 30 minutes. Then I had to rearrange the clips so that the words of all of the artists I interviewed flowed together. It wasn’t until I got back to New York that I realized that the project had taken shape based on the conversations and experiences I had during the residency (which I think must be the entire point of a residency anyway)…

– damali abrams in her blog post on her residency with Fresh Milk and Groundation Grenada

Zachary Fabri, New York-based performance artist in Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in NYC & the Caribbean. Photograph by Mark King.

…Entitled Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in New York City and the Caribbean, damali’s documentary is less about the specific performance works of the twelve artists that she interviewed but is instead more about the artists’ conceptions of performance art as a practice within the context of their work. In the first few minutes of the film we are introduced to differing considerations of what performance art is from the twelve artists, which for the viewer emphasizes the interpretive nature of performance art and its malleability as an art form. damali has paired the video interviews with still images of the live performances of each artist, which creates an intriguing juxtaposition of interview as performance, and performance as documentary…

Jessica Taylor in her review of FRESH MILK XIII

A Review of FRESH MILK XIII

Art historian and writer Jessica Taylor reviews Fresh Milk’s last event, FRESH MILK XIII, which took place October 24, 2013 at The Milking Parlour Studio.

Photograph by Mark King.

Photograph by Mark King.

The Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc. continues to provide a space for contemporary artists to develop projects and exchange ideas in a creative and engaging environment, as evidenced by the most recent public event Fresh Milk XIII, which was held at the Fresh Milk site on October 24th 2013.

While outlining a number of projects that have been ongoing at Fresh Milk, the event included a screening of a full-length documentary made by resident-artist damali abrams. damali, a New York-based Guyanese performance artist, showcased a documentary that she had produced during her joint residency at Fresh Milk and Groundation Grenada for the month of October 2013 as part of The Fresh Performance Project. The documentary featured footage from interviews that she had conducted with six Caribbean-based and six New York-based performance artists over a six-month period prior to beginning her on-site residency.

Entitled Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in New York City and the Caribbean, damali’s documentary is less about the specific performance works of the twelve artists that she interviewed but is instead more about the artists’ conceptions of performance art as a practice within the context of their work. In the first few minutes of the film we are introduced to differing considerations of what performance art is from the twelve artists, which for the viewer emphasizes the interpretive nature of performance art and its malleability as an art form. damali has paired the video interviews with still images of the live performances of each artist, which creates an intriguing juxtaposition of interview as performance, and performance as documentary.

The role of documentation in performance art is fairly ambiguous given that some artists have denied any documentation of their work (claiming that it shall not exist outside of the moment of its performance) and others rely on documentation to preserve their performance (normally for exhibition purposes). damali complicates this ambiguity even further by turning an act of documentation into a performance itself. For her, the documentary is as much a performance as the works that we see in the still images shown in the documentary. The result of this is that as viewers, we are experiencing the binary of watching a live performance art piece by one artist in which she interviews other artists about their practice and calls on them to recollect past performances. This play with documentation and temporality demonstrates that performance can be something direct but not necessarily something that is easily understood by the public.

Despite the drastic differences amongst the various pieces discussed, several common threads surfaced throughout the interviews, such as the importance of the audience, the role of spontaneity and interaction, and an appreciation of the unpredictable nature of performance art. This overarching notion of the role of the public sparks many questions for me. Can we have cross-cultural notions of performance art? Does a Barbadian audience approach damali’s work differently than a New York audience? Given that all of the artists interviewed deal with issues of identity, how do their audiences inform and interpret these issues based on their geographical location? Of course these questions remain unanswered, but I believe that is exactly what damali is trying to show us.

Ultimately, damali is offering these artists a chance to both explore and explain what performance art means to them, while forcing her audience to ask themselves the same questions. Her exploration of the medium through the words of these twelve artists initiates a much-needed discussion of the role that performance art has to play in the Caribbean, and simultaneously links it to performance art in New York. The connections that damali is making between the Caribbean and New York through the dialogue that she maintains with the twelve artists are unique, given that performance art is practiced by such a small number of Caribbean artists. Perhaps the most telling sign of this was not only in the words of the Caribbean artists on the screen, but even more so in the responses given by the audience members attending Fresh Event XIII. After the screening damali was met with questions from young art students who had either never heard of performance art or had never considered it in great detail, but who will now hopefully perpetuate this important discussion.

In addition to damali’s documentary, there was also a screening of Project 35: Volume 2, which is a travelling exhibition produced by Independent Curators International (ICI) and included a piece by Bahamian artist Heino Schmid, selected by Trinidadian artist and curator Christopher Cozier. Subsequently the director of Fresh Milk, Annalee Davis, took to the floor to present to the audience a series of other projects that had been in the works at Fresh Milk over the past few months. The first of these was the Fresh Milk Artboard, which was erected at the bottom of the road leading to the Fresh Milk site as a new public gallery from which the work of contemporary artists will be showcased. The first work to be displayed on the Artboard was designed by Barbadian artist Evan Avery, who had also previously designed a graphic work to be installed in the front window of Casa Tomada’s ‘A Casa Recebe’ in Brazil, which exhibits the work of both local and international artists.

The relationship between Fresh Milk and Casa Tomada is just one example of the cross-cultural exchange that Fresh Milk is encouraging and that we are beginning to see more and more in the arts of the region and further afield. In light of this, Annalee also presented the Fresh Milk Virtual Map of Caribbean Art Spaces. This resource is an online map indicating the existing art spaces across the region, which also includes links to the websites of these spaces. Working to circulate information regarding arts in the Caribbean, this map not only offers a regional view of how these spaces have manifested themselves across the Caribbean but will hopefully help to facilitate greater connectedness between these institutions. Finally, Annalee directed the audience’s attention to the addition of new publications to the Colleen Lewis Reading Room, located on the Fresh Milk site.

Fresh Milk XIII, which marked the platform’s final public event for 2013, fittingly brought together several of the elements integral to Fresh Milk’s mission; regional and international collaboration, experiment and exchange, knowledge of the contemporary arts, and increased visibility of Caribbean art all came into play. Moving forward, it is imperative to find the best way to activate these resources that Fresh Milk has made available, and continue to nurture the relationships built with artists such as damali and institutions such as ICI. In this way Fresh Milk will continue to evolve not only as an organization, but as an entity facilitating change by inspiring new ways of thinking, reaching new audiences and stimulating the public’s sensibility as we move towards intellectual and creative growth.

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Jessica Taylor

About Jessica Taylor:

Jessica Taylor recently graduated from McGill University with an undergraduate degree in Art History and Philosophy and hopes to begin a graduate degree in Curatorial Studies in 2014. Her focus is contemporary Caribbean art.

FRESH MILK XIII Photographs

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We are pleased to share images from FRESH MILK XIII which took place on Thursday, October 24th 2013 at the Milking Parlour Studio.

To listen to an interview conducted by Stacia Brathwaite with Fresh Milk Founder/Director Annalee Davis promoting the event and speaking about Fresh Milk’s mission, which aired Wednesday October 23rd on Starcom Network’s 6:00pm Williams News Makers segment, click here: Fresh Milk Feature.

The event comprised of a screening of our resident artist damali abrams’ documentary Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in NYC & The Caribbean; the launching of our new public gallery space FRESH MILK ARTBOARD & our Virtual Map of Caribbean Art Spaces; screening a selection from Project 35: Volume 2, a traveling exhibition produced by Independent Curators International, New York; and showcasing the new additions to the Colleen Lewis Reading Room.

Special thanks to the US Embassy in Barbados for supporting damali’s residency and contributing to the expansion of the Reading Room; to the Maria Holder Memorial Trust for supporting the Virtual Map as well as expanding the library collection; Groundation Grenada for taking part in this collaborative residency with us; the ICI for sharing Project 35; and to Musson Realty for donating their billboard for Fresh Milk to use as an exhibition space. We are extremely grateful for all of the relationships we have formed, which assist us in carrying out our mission.

All photographs by Mark King unless otherwise stated.

FRESH MILK XIII

FMXIII final draft

FRESH MILK is pleased to invite you to our upcoming public event FRESH MILK XIII, which will be held on Thursday, October 24th 2013 from 6:30 – 8:00 pm at the Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc., St. George, Barbados. See our About page for directions.

The event will feature a screening of the full length documentary Fresh Performance: Contemporary Performance Art in NYC & the Caribbean, created by New York-based, Guyanese  performance/video artist Damali Abrams, who is currently on a joint residency with Fresh Milk and Groundation Grenada.

Fresh performance poster

Damali has been working with Fresh Milk since April this year on the Fresh Performance Project, which has seen her interviewing one Caribbean-based and one New York-based performance artist each month and editing the footage into a six-chapter series of short videos. Given that performance art in the Caribbean is practiced by a small number of artists, this project has opened up a critical dialogue contributing to expanding the creative arena, and offering support to performance artists who often work in isolation. The project aims to build cultural bridges between the U.S. and the Caribbean and generate understanding and community through the arts. Damali has been using her time in the Caribbean to produce a full length documentary on this subject, as well as undertaking public outreach components in both Barbados and Grenada. Her progress will be screened at FRESH MILK XIII, and a Q&A session to further the conversation will be facilitated.

ici logo

Also being shown at the event will be a selection from Project 35 Volume 2, a traveling exhibition produced by Independent Curators International (ICI), New York. The exhibition is made possible, in part, by grants from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, and the Robert Lehman Foundation; the ICI Board of Trustees; and donors to ICI’s Access Fund. Among the curators who took part in this project is Trinidadian artist and writer Christopher Cozier.

Fresh Milk will also use this event as a platform to launch two very exciting projects – our new public gallery space the FRESH MILK ARTBOARD and the Fresh Milk Virtual Map of Caribbean Art Spaces. The Artboard, which resides in a field of cows bordering a public road on the way to Fresh Milk, will be used to feature the work of contemporary artists, increasing visibility and awareness of their practice to a wide audience. Kick-starting our new public gallery space will be Barbadian artist Evan Avery, whose work was taken to Brazil as one part of the Visual Arts component of the recently held Barbados trade mission to Sao Paulo. The graphic he designed is currently displayed at the informal art space Casa Tomada in their ‘A Casa Recebe’ programme, a street facing window showcasing work from artists locally and internationally, until March 2014. Having his work running concurrently in both spaces for a period of time deepens the relationship we are building with Casa Tomada and the arts community in Sao Paulo, and we look forward to hosting pieces from Brazilian artists on our Artboard as a part of this cultural exchange.

The Fresh Milk Virtual Map of Caribbean Art Spaces

The Fresh Milk Virtual Map is a freely accessible, interactive online cultural map of the Caribbean, which clearly delineates the existing spaces for the arts in the region, from the nineteenth century up to the present time.

This map addresses the lack of available information about Caribbean arts at the formal, informal and educational levels. The region is mapped to show arts entities, listed with links to the websites of spaces, and maintained to keep information current. This map is not only a pivotal information hub and educational tool, but a place to form new bonds and to make connections among practitioners in the Caribbean and worldwide. We would eventually like to expand the map to include our partner institutions throughout the diaspora as well. We wish to acknowledge the amazing tour de force we have in Kriston Chen who has managed and designed the virtual map project.

Finally, we are also proud to showcase some of the beautiful new publications we have purchased for the Colleen Lewis Reading Room. Our collection has continued to grow through the generosity and support of donors, funders and organizations, and as always we invite people to email us at freshmilkbarbados@gmail.com to schedule appointments to make use of this valuable resource.

Some of the new additions to the Colleen Lewis Reading Room

Special thanks to the US Embassy in Barbados for supporting Damali’s residency and contributing to the expansion of the Reading Room; to the Maria Holder Memorial Trust for supporting the Virtual Map as well as expanding the library collection; Groundation Grenada for taking part in this collaborative residency with us; the ICI for sharing Project 35; and to Musson Realty for donating their billboard for Fresh Milk to use as an exhibition space. We are extremely grateful for all of the relationships we have formed, which assist us in carrying out our mission.