Inspired by Nam June Paik, Performa is Bringing Back the Telethon

On New Year’s Day 1984, video art pioneer Nam June Paik conducted a live primetime telethon titled Good Morning Mr. Orwell. Countering the visions of Orwell’s dystopia, Paik presented a more hopeful vision of technology’s potential through an interdisciplinary lineup. Performa, in partnership with Pace Gallery, will celebrate its 15th anniversary with a 12-hour online fundraising telethon on November 18, honoring Paik’s continued legacy. Co-produced with E.S.P. TV, the program will include new work and reimaginings, solo performances and collaborations across three time zones and continents. A mix of live, prerecorded, and archival material, many of the works will draw attention to the medium of video, reflecting and refracting our current moment.

Yvonne Rainer, “Trio A with Flags” (1970), Judson Memorial Church (photo by Peter Moore / © Barbara Moore)

The archive is a point of connection for many of the participating artists. Experimental choreographer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer, for example, will restage her iconic performance Trio A with Flags with dancers Brittany Bailey and Nick Sciscione. They will perform against a backdrop of the original documentary footage, filmed almost exactly fifty years from the day of this year’s telethon, on November 9th, 1970. The work features Rainer and five other performers at Judson Church, nude except for American flags tied around their necks and draping over their bodies. Originally presented during the Vietnam War, the piece’s interrogation of nationalist imagery has ongoing resonances. 

Glenn Kaino and Deon Jones’s new collaboration Sunday Bloody Sunday also blends present and past. It reimagines the U2 song (first released in 1983 as part of their album War) in the context of Jones’s recent near-death experience with a police-fired rubber bullet during a protest following the death of George Floyd. “How long must we sing this song?” Jones repeats, a fitting refrain for the durational nature of a telethon and the ongoing struggles for justice. The performance will include a clip of the late Senator John Lewis at the 1963 March on Washington; he asks “How long must we be patient?” Made in collaboration with producer Butch Vig, pianist Jon Batiste, drummer Glenn Kotche, and cinematographer Larry Fong, the song’s proceeds will support the Georgia-based voting organization Fair Fight

Still from Glenn Kaino and Deon Jones, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (2020), (photo by videographer Afshin Shahidi; image courtesy Performa)

Also part of the lineup is the group the WideAwakes, led by artist Hank Willis Thomas and named after the youth organization founded in 1860. Stating “The Past is Present,” the organization conjures this legacy to create “civic joy.” The WideAwakes will collaborate with Harlem’s Marching Cobras Drumline, who will perform throughout the night. 

What can we find in connections across time, space, and screens? How do they last? As we face the challenge of more months of the pandemic and extended digital realities for many, questions of duration and sustainability extend beyond images and institutions, they are personal. 

Still of Marching Cobras Drumline with WideAwakes, Performa Commission for the Performa Telethon (image courtesy Performa)

The Performa Telethon will air on November 18th from 2 pm to 10 pm EST. In addition to the performances, artist editions from Cindy Sherman, Kia LaBeija, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Barbara Kruger, and others will be released throughout the fundraiser. 

Inspired by Nam June Paik, Performa is Bringing Back the Telethon is from Hyperallergic, a forum for serious, playful, and radical thinking about art in the world today.

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