In summer 2011, artist (and lawyer) York Chang conducted a residency at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, Calif., titled “second life.”
Chang likes to mess with art history, and in this case he messed with High Performance magazine (1978-1998), which I founded in downtown Los Angeles and edited in tag-team with Steven Durland. For “second life,” Chang (with Fernando Sanchez) documented the activities of Artist Actualization Services (AAS), a performance art group allegedly active between 1979 and 1980. His documentation comprised an installation at 18th St. (former home of High Performance), plus a “new” issue of HP (#12½, Vol. 3, No. 5) and several public events.
Chang’s project virtually “proves” that a number of performances documented in HP during the late 1970s were not actually performed by the artists to whom they were credited, but by impostors: AAS members posing as those artists. In the “corrections issue,” AAS claims to have appropriated the artists’ identities (without – but sometimes with – the knowledge of the artists themselves) and inserted this fake information into art history through the pages of HP, specifically in the Artists Chronicle, a section of the magazine that appeared regularly during the first five years. The Chronicle featured artists documenting their own performances with a self-written description and a photo, plus date, place & time. It was crucial to me that art history include the artist’s voice.
HP #12½ looks exactly like an issue of High Performance, down to the cover stock, the typeface, the page design, the ads and the typos. It even cracks along the spine like an issue of HP. For this “new” issue AAS selects ten performances documented in HP’s Chronicle and presents them in a double-page spread. On the left is the documentary page as it appeared in HP at the time, ostensibly written by the artist; on the right is a “correction,” written by the poser, documenting how s/he chose the piece and carried it out in the persona of the artist.
The artists/victims are Ulysses Jenkins, Cheri Gaulke, Michael Berkowitz, Mike Kelley, Richard Prince, Paul McCarthy, The Waitresses, Bob & Bob, Chris Burden, and Jeffrey Mark Burdett.
Typical treatment is what happened to “Sex Is Stupid,” credited to Bob & Bob, but “actually performed by” AAS members James Norrell & Bert Conner at LAICA on June 30, 1979.
Norrell and Conner claim to have used subversive techniques (aided by John Duncan and Marc Pally) to literally steal all the paintings from Bob & Bob’s studio that were scheduled for a show at LACE in July, installed them at LAICA in June and sold them all during a performance at $25 each. The performance component of the event was Bob & Bob “crucified” live to an oversize canvas and hung on the gallery wall, wearing masks of their own faces. But they weren’t Bob & Bob (who are, in truth, fake personae of artists Paul Velick & Francis Shishim); they were actually Norrell & Conner.
I found out about Chang’s project completely by accident. My friend Jerri Allyn was also conducting a residency at 18th Street at the same time as Chang, so she knew what was up. She e-mailed Chang that she would love to attend an upcoming Saturday project event. She suggested Chang invite me and Durland to take part in the project, and she copied the e-mail to me. I happened to be in L.A. at the time, babysitting my grandchildren in Topanga Canyon. I went immediately to Chang’s page on the 18th Street website and read about “second life.” I was at first appalled that he hadn’t told us anything about it, then deeply amused at the concept. I e-mailed Chang and told him I could come to the event. He called me and we got acquainted, then started plotting how I could conspire with him to convince Saturday’s audience that I was outraged and would be suing him ASAP.
When I got to the project gallery early on Saturday, I spent time with the installation and the magazine, which had me rolling on the floor. When it came time for the event, so few people showed up that we abandoned the fake outrage and simply discussed the project for a podcast. I was delighted to tell Chang and the others that there actually were several instances of people faking performances to get them documented in High Performance!
The moment was delicious for me. Much has been made about the artist’s voice in HP and the extensive documentation provided by the magazine. HP’s archive is at the Getty Research Institute and is playing a part in Pacific Standard Time, the Getty’s citywide project this fall about L.A. art history 1940-1980. Curator Jenni Sorkin recently did a thesis about the first five years of HP and curated an accompanying exhibition when she was at Bard College, and the show traveled to LACE a few years ago. It used a lot of the memorabilia in the Getty archive. It is especially delightful, even poignant, to see all this ephemeral performance going down in art history, considering I started the magazine on a $2,000 personal loan in my loft on Broadway in downtown L.A. Back then it was essentially a ‘zine and, come to think of it, an experiment in crowd-sourcing. It warms my heart to think that Paul McCarthy, Hermann Nitsch, Bob & Bob, The Waitresses and the Church of the SubGenius are tucked away in a major archive and in 300 art libraries all over the world. I can hardly wait to see if Issue #12½ winds up in some of those collections. ROF to the L.
If you want a copy of this “new issue” of High Performance, you’ll have to pry it away from York Chang. Try Chang’s website or contact 18th St. (There’s a Culture Monster review of the project in the L.A. Times.)