Documenting Performative Art

Anthony Michael Perri

María Teresa Hincapié (©AMP 2022)

March 16th, 2022

The Museum of Modern Art Medellin (MAMM) is, apt to its name, a modern looking building, composed of offset blocks and criss-crossing stairways, situated between the river on one side and a park on the other where groups of teenagers sit around and smoke marijuana.

The event wasn’t heavily publicized; at least, I hadn’t seen it advertised anywhere. I was made privy to it myself just the day before by my assistant, who was to accompany me to the event, albeit late in doing so.

By the time I got there it had just finished raining. I was happy to discover that my favourite franchise had a location right next door, and so I bought myself a chocolate ice cream and milled about. Outside, teams of men were mopping and wiping down a stage that was erected there. The entrance to the museum itself was busy with throngs of university students with slightly dark stylings to them.

Admission to the event was free – the only prerequisite was to show one’s proof of vaccination. I was given an orange sticker to put on my sweater and directed to the theatre located on the 3rd floor.

Just above the top row and set off to the side were 2 chairs semi-obscured in the shade. This is where I took my seat as the presentation was gearing up. 4 people stood on the stage, their outfits ranging from “artistic-eccentric” to “artistic-business-casual”. Of the 4, only 1 was a woman, in a flowing all-red outfit. She must have been a Spaniard, her accent hitting thick on the c’s with that unmistakable lisp.

The event was a joint production between Colombian, Mexican and Spanish museums. It was at this point that I learned that the subject of the exhibition was a woman named María Teresa Hincapié (deceased), a Colombian performance artist who was most active in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. The 4 on stage passed the mic between themselves, thanking each other graciously and eagerly reiterating what a pleasure it had been working together.

“There is a difference between performance art and the documentation of that art”. This line, which came from the man in the “artistic-business-casual” outfit, made an impression on me. What did this mean, and what did it have to do with the show?

Before the presentation ended a man in the row just in front of me got up and made to leave. There was something about his face which was really quite remarkable, and I noticed his pants, which were cool. It was at this point that I received word that my assistant had arrived. Timing was fortuitous, because the presentation had grown dull, and I was eager to relieve myself in the service room.

Me and my assistant perused the permanent installations on the upper floors and smoked some marijuana ourselves before descending down to the domain on the first floor.

The domain was full of unrolled grass, which, as I had learned from the presentation, María had made use of in a project she began in the early 90s entitled Hacia Lo Sagrada (Towards the Sacred). This was the same sort of unrolled grass one can find at any home and garden hardware store. In line with the performative medium in which María worked, I walked all over the grass, thinking that, what is performative art if not this? Of course, I was told by a museum attendant that I wasn’t supposed to be doing this sort of thing.

The walls all sported images of María in what was either instances of her daily life or her performances. In one we see her raking a field whilst wearing big mud boots, and in another she is writing Soy Una Mujer Puta (I am a slut of a woman) on glass with pastel. And in the centre of the domain were recreations of the sort-of divining and witchcraft symbols where María would do interpretive dance and pose for pictures.

The main hall itself was skirted by a series of smaller side rooms, and in one of these was an 8x8 stack of tube TVs from the 90s. The same Panasonic I had when I was a child, the type of TV that actually had buttons on it; power buttons, channel up and down buttons, and the 3 red, yellow and white AVI ports right on the front of it, asking for a PlayStation to be plugged in, just begging for it. A visceral reminder of how much the Flat Screen TV changed my way of life. I molested those buttons, and was seriously tempted to press one, but in the end I restrained myself, for fear that they had been deactivated and were now just there for show.

Back in the domain another TV screen lit up in front of me and I instantly recognized the remarkable face and the black teeth of the man who had left the presentation early. I remarked on this, to which my assistant alerted me to the fact that the man was directly behind me. And sure enough there he was, lightly touching his guitar, sitting on top of a pile of unrolled grass in his cool pants.

Me and my assistant both made a few more rounds. Not much later, the man in the cool pants began to play his guitar much more vivaciously, to the accompaniment of some music played through a Mac laptop. Soon enough, the crowd formed a semi-circle around him. I have been averse to standing and watching musicians since as long as I could remember. Music is an auditory medium, so why the need to look? I noticed a yellow soap bar taped to the top of a cardboard box. Bending down and sniffing it my olfactory system was graced with a pleasant and uplifting citrusy-scent.

“There is a difference between performance art and the documentation of that art”. The line from the presentation came back to me. Is the documentation of art to be considered art itself? Should it be treated as though it were art, not to be touched or stepped upon? And is a museum even the right space for such an enterprise? These weren’t questions for me to answer, and, having seen everything there was to be seen, me and my assistant left and went to our favourite franchise next door, where I ordered myself a frothy hot chocolate.


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