Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: Lady Gaga; Hannah Hoch: Rebecca Horn; Marina Abramovic

[Lady Gaga on the cover of Rolling Stone, issue 1108/1109, July 8-22, 2010]

[A montage of works by Hannah Hoch]

[Hugo Ball, in costume to recite his sound-poem "Karawane", at the Cafe Voltaire, Zurich, 1916]

[Theatre of Marionettes, Automata and Dolls, at the Bauhaus, c.1925 ]

[Rebecca Horn, "White Body Fan," 1972; photo by A. Thode]

[Rebecca Horn, still from the film Unicorn, 1970-1972; photo by A. Thode]

[Marina Abramovic, interview connected to her show "The Artist is Present," at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, March 14-May 31, 2010.]

Thinking about Lady Gaga as a performance/installation artist as much as a musician.

She has sparked much conversation about the "machine-gun bra" that she sports on the cover of Rolling Stone, and that she wears in her latest video, "Alejandro," but the concept is hardly new. Madonna famously wore an exaggerated conical bra in "Vogue" and on tour; Rebecca Horn sketched a design for "breast extensions" in the late 1960's.

Horn's early work was all about body extensions of various sorts, presaging Gaga's (and Beyonce's and Rihanna's) fascination with the same.

Other pop music antecedents: David Byrne's "big suit," Peter Gabriel in his days with Genesis, David Bowie as "Ziggy Stardust," George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and the entire Funkadelic Parliament band, Elton John's eyewear (pairing Elton with Gaga at this year's Grammy Awards was a natural).

Shared models from experimental theater and the visual arts might include the "mechanical ballet" and "theater of dolls" staged by Schlemmer at the Bauhaus in Weimar, and the work of Hannah Hoch and other Dadaists, especially Hugo Ball with his bruitist presentations at the Cafe Voltaire.

Mix in Berlin cabaret and German Expressionism, some Grand Guignol, a dash of Artaud and a pinch of Mummenschanz, and a big swirl of vaudeville and burlesque.

Oh, and science fiction... surely the costumed Gaga and dancers who emerge from the pods at the start of her video "Bad Romance" owe something to the Giger/Scott creature in Alien?

Whatever her sources of inspiration, Gaga is reminding audiences that performance matters. The question is whether she will dare as much as some others have done, for instance Marina Abramovic, for whom performance is unique, unsettling, and authentic.

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