Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll

40,000 Years of Modern Art, a re-enactment

Institute of Contemporary Art, December 2012

Written and directed, filmed and edited by Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll
Sound by Tamara Friebel, Choreography by Kirill Burlov, Voice by Joanna Christie

The commission is part of the series of performances I'm doing around London, this one is part of the ICA’s On Language. Short video documentation and recent review below.



by Jonas Tinius
for Visual Arts Australia

'40,000 years of modern art: A re-enactment'
Institute of Contemporary Art, London, December 8, 2012
Written and directed by Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll
Commissioned for On Language, curated by Lauren Godfrey

Anthropology, the study of humans in their cultural and social context, and art history have been interwoven fascinatingly in a re-staged exhibition at the ICA, London directed by Austrian-Australian artist and curator Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll. Re-performing ‘40,000 Years of Modern Art: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern’ the ICA’s inaugural exhibition in 1948 after ‘40 Years of Modern Art’, she brought together London-based actress Joanna Christie, Russian dancer and choreographer Kirill Burlov, and a long-standing collaboration with Australian-Viennese composer Tamara Friebel.
The performance resonated with experimental rising music talents Kate Whitley and Rhodri Karim who set foot in the last few years in the Cambridge New Music Scene, experimental performances by Lucas Abela, who plays his face on a pane of glass until it breaks, as well as new stimuli in performance-based rethinking of exhibitions as re-enactments (in collaboration with Damien Skinner).
During the event, Joanna Christie enigmatically welds together archival dialogues between anthropologists and art historians of the 1948 exhibition, her voice is underlined by metal sounds of pens writing on glass mirrors.   Twisted movements of sculptures are re-enacted by Russian dancer and choregrapher, Kirill Burlov.  Together the performance strikingly challenges and blurs experiences of performance and exhibition.  This performance asked curious questions about how the sometimes uncanny and often awkward relation between 'primitive and modern', vitrine and escape, exhibition and performance can be made into a melodic and stimulating process. 

Amidst a crowd of 50 witnesses of previous poetic translation of Ed Rusha (Lauren Godfrey) in dip-dyed flannel suits in the mezzanine ICA bar, Christie reads in a notebook, sporting a blue dinner dress and complementarily red Champagne Punch. Tamara Friebel plays a 1948 gramophone and microphones on glass electronics. We are about to witness a re-enactment of the anthropology-meets-art-history exhibition, which took place 74 years prior to this event. Yet nobody quite knows when to begin paying attention.   In what seems like a rehearsal, Friebel initiates a subtle soundscape. Christie enacts several archived characters including Edmund Leach, Dorothy Morland, Herbert Read, Lee Miller and Roland Penrose, scripted from the archive. Attendees note dancer’s Burlov’s slow shuffling along the floor until dazzling each of the 150 thick audience as he runs out of the ICA, screaming.

Projected outside the mezzanine bar, we witness flickering images: Picasso’s enormous painting – ‘D’mouselle’s de avignon’ being moved into the 1948 exhibition space, Penrose holds a lion puppy, and suddenly  -  a shot of Burlov outside the ICA appearing through live video feed gazing into the ICA bar.  Some watch the video, others stare outside. Christie accelerates her dialogues schizophrenically: "Modern is a category gone mad… if a sculpture could speak, what would it say? …let us not hide the art behind glass … not the Commonwealth Institute… confrontation of primitive and modern art".

The projector screens flicks between modern and 'primitive art' and Burlov’s sudden sculptural body movements. Once a gaze fixes onto a movement, an uncannily melodic sound averts our attention to the musical scratches or the scribbled words in Christie's notebook. Christie's strides to the window. Most attendees of the show now follow her movements whilst her performance is interrupted by Friebel’s repeated pencil smash onto glass membranes.  Then, even Christie runs through the ICA hallways and out to Burlov.  Silence, then murmur, and a wild applause. 

What galvanized this Saturday evening's audience at ICA was a series of awkward-cum-melodic encounters. Art history met its past, exhibition met re-performance, and an improvised sound-performance met experimental dance. Kirill Burlov graduated as a dancer from the Riga Ballet in 1996 and as a choreographer from the Latvian National Academy in 2004.  He is now with the Rambert Dance Company.   Burlov’s movements at the outset of the performance were not rehearsed; "I made my movements resemble the sculptures and the music. It was a conversation, which continued after I moved outside.” Burlov’s body quivered in silent dialogue with musical improvisation. In conversation, Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll suggested that the reversal provoked by the performance echoed the relation between the audience and the object that breaks down when the danced sculpture gazes back into the ICA vitrine.

The 2012 re-enactment of 1948 provoked a new encounter with non-western and contemporary art, the voyeurism of performance spectators, vitrine and stage, object and subject, music and movement. As visitors commented, the performance provoked new readings: the 1948 re-performance demarcates a framework for interdisciplinary performative engagement with the uncanny albeit melodic encounter between art and anthropology; one which neither the canvas nor the seminar room exhaust. Only in the arrangement and interplay between the seemingly incommensurable-the object in the vitrine and the dancer in the street, the anthropology of the exotic and the musification of the banal-does this performance explore its full potential for interdisciplinary rethinking of exhibition, performance, and academic art.

See here for more background on the collaborators:
The Rise and fall, Marrkech Biennale 2012

Jonas Leonhard Tinius
648 King's College, Cambridge