Anya Liftig, Licking the Line and Mlu Zondi, Devolva; Highways Performance Space, Santa Monica, February 19, 2011

Anya Liftig performing Licking the Line

I went to see Anya Liftig perform out of sheer curiosity. Looking at her website, I wasn’t especially impressed; rather than showing individual strength, the works seemed to be echoes of predecessors’ work, amounting to a sort of performance-artist-in-training. Still, you really don’t get a complete sense unless you see the person in action, and plus, it was a rare opportunity to see a performance artist from out of town (based on a Google search, she seems to be based in New York, but I’m not entirely sure).

Licking the Line was a fairly classic work of torturous endurance. Along the length of Highways’ risers, Liftig had laid out a long line of whipped cream. Lying in a mostly fetal position, with white tape lashed around her body, Liftig seemed intent on licking her way from one end to the other. She had a glazed and nauseous look in her eyes, which was understandable considering she must have been on the nasty processed sugar high from hell. Interestingly, she had not started licking at the very beginning of the line; there was about five feet of undisturbed cream there, indicative of the length of her body leading up to her mouth. Near the end of the evening, she had still barely made it to the halfway mark, and was looking progressively sicker.

Before I really had a chance to think, I got caught up in a discussion with fellow onlookers Jerri Allyn and Horacio Cadzco. Cadzco offered a solid take on the performance, which I agree with: that it’s about American dependence on processed sugars, how it’s fed to us incessantly in the marketplace, and yet there is also an accompanying judgment of those who overindulge, casting them in the role of abject infants. A friend later asked me if I still thought Liftig’s work was juvenile. It occurred to me that the topic of processed sugars could be thought of as a juvenile one, but still, it wasn’t handled badly. Maybe juvenilia or an ongoing quest for maturation forms a legitimate body of concerns for this artist; certainly the linchpin to this would be her infamous Anxiety of Influence performance, in which she sat for six hours with Marina Abramović at MOMA, providing a perfect imitative mirror of the older artist. (And by the way, Liftig’s inner monologues about this are hilarious.)

Mlu Zondi performing Devolva

What I liked the most about this evening at Highways, though, was the mirror effect achieved between Liftig and Mlu Zondi, who simultaneously performed his own durational piece, Devolva, on the other side of the room. Moving in the opposite direction as Liftig, Zondi walked and gestured in a ceremonial fashion along the Highways stage as a long white banner trailed behind him, decorated with ribbons of various colors. Every few minutes he would stop so that an assistant could trace the outline of his body along the wall. In the end, he wound up with something like a politically charged disco satire of the human evolutionary scale. Both Liftig and Zondi walked the line and marked the mark of social critique; each piece had its own presence, but together they made for a nicely balanced and divergent experience.

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