Museum of the Moving Image Steps Out In Astoria
January 21, 2012 / Astoria / Film in Queens / Queens Buzz. People were lined up outside of the Museum of the Moving Image [MOMI] on both Thursday and Friday nights. They were waiting to see Ming Wong’s performance art production entitled Persona Performa. The production title tidily summed up its essence – an art performance based on an Ingmar Bergman film entitled Persona, which was being performed for Performa 11, the fourth biennial visual arts festival in NYC.
Artistic director, Ming Wong, developed the piece during his residency at MOMI in 2011. He told us that the inspiration for the production came from the minimalist architecture of the museum and an Ingmar Bergman film, Persona, which is generally believed to be one of the ten best works of cinematic art. The Ming Wong video piece Persona Performa Panorama will continue to be on view in the lobby until April 1st of 2012.
Click here to read our report of Ming Wong Persona Performa at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.
Persona Performa - Ming Wong At MOMI
Museum of the Moving Image Steps Out In Astoria
Continued. January 11, 2012 / Astoria / Film in Queens / Queens Buzz. As I entered the museum, the long wall across from the reception area was showing a black and white film of close ups of various body parts of some of the performers who ethnically represented the world. The large screen, with multiple frames of the same close up images, has a dramatic impact. I knew I had just entered into a world of something special [see photos above / right].
People were milling about in the large foyer at the back of the museum. Many had already found seats or places to sit upon the floor. Another film was running along the back wall of the museum of the ocean waves washing up along the shore.
These were the cold Nordic waves of the north Atlantic Ocean, not the midday summer waves of a warm beach on a Long Island [see photo to left]. An auspicious shadowy human figure would occasionally move and stand motionless behind the screen. The figure's role in the production was not yet known.
MOMI Art Performance - Brief History Of Ingmar Bergman
It helps to have some knowledge of the two Ingmar Bergman films referenced in this performance art piece. Bergman was a Swedish film maker from 1941 to 2003 [born 1918 / died in 2007]. He is considered one of the great filmmakers of the last century. His films were generally minimalist [like Ming Wong’s reference to the MOMI architecture which was designed by Thomas Leeser who grew up in Germany].
Ingmar Bergman's Persona - Great Art Films of 20th Century
Bergman’s Persona film contains only three characters, two of which are women. One is an actress who’s suffered some trauma and no longer speaks, while the other is her nurse who does the talking for the both of them to fill the house with sound. The nurse tells her most intimate secrets, about love and an abortion, and the actress sends letters to a friend analyzing the nurse and her problems. One day the nurse surreptitiously reads the letters and a conflict ensues. This is followed by a sexual encounter between the nurse and the husband of the actresses, right in front of the actress. Another conflict ensues. As the Bergman film ends, the production crew is revealed to the audience, showing that it’s film, not real life. This film is the primary inspiration of Ming Wong’s performance piece.
The Seventh Seal Film - Death & a Chess Game
The second Bergman film referenced in Ming Wong’s work is The Seventh Seal. The Seventh Seal is the story about how a good man engages death in a game of chess in order to delay his own demise, so he can do something meaningful in his life. The death figure in Ming Wong’s performance piece is dressed in the same manner as death is depicted in the Bergman film. In the film only the good man can see death, and in Ming Wong’s work, the death figure’s presence is not acknowledged by any of the other performers.
Museum of the Moving Image Art Space
I made a quick visit to the upstairs theater where another black and white film was running. The film contained visual images of people’s faces made from a collage of various people’s faces. Again there was ethnic diversity, combined into one image. I returned to the main foyer and found a seat. The show was about to begin.
Ming Wong's Persona Performa Begins
A young boy all dressed in white introduced himself. He talked about the magic lantern. The references to Bergman and his work had begun. The Magic Lantern is the title of Bergman’s autobiography. Bergman was given a magic lantern as a child and it essentially changed the direction of his life. A magic lantern was a simple light / projector which could be used to project images onto a surface like a wall. My interpretation of the young boy is that he was the creation of Ming Wong as an opposite of the Death figure who’d been the shadowy figure behind the back wall [sea film].
A flickering sound, like the running of an old movie projector, was present in the background as an old magic lantern appeared, showcasing the stairwell leading to the second floor. The projector is shown in the photo to your right as it's being set up prior to the show.
The boy talked about early film, where images were presented frame by frame by frame, running twenty-four frames per second to create the effect of the moving image. And the moving image then takes on a life of its own, as if it’s real. The boy exited the center of the foyer. Jorge Palau, of the Frank Sinatra School for the Arts in Astoria, is the boy in white shown in the photo above.
Dance, Theater & Film - Performance Art in Queens
The lights were lowered so that we could only see shadows. Slowly down the stairway came a lithe, blond woman, dressed in a flowing white gown, wearing a black headband. As she descended from the stairs, looking straight ahead, she turned to her left, walked toward the wall showing the ocean film, made another right and exited into the theater.
Another woman began descending the stairs, dressed the same way, moving just as deliberately, following the same pathway. And then another, and another and they just kept coming. They all ‘looked alike’ with the blonde hair, black headband, white flowing gown – but their faces were oh, so different. Many of them were in fact men, not women and many of them were not just of Nordic European descent but also of Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, African and Latin descent.
They began looking around the room. Their faces showed concern, anxiety, fear, distraction, calm. They looked at us and let us look at them. One looked ready to cry. Another showed great anger.
They started coming down the stairwell in two’s and then fours and then one continuous stream of them. Like the film was winding up to full speed. Soon all of them are standing before us in one continuous line.
It seems the gowns on half of them have a white front and a black back, while the gowns on the other half is just the opposite, with a black front and white back. The duos begin to dance with each other in a longing, languid love. They seem to explore one another as if they are part of the same whole. The projector stops and all is silent. They exit.
Inside the Large Theater at the Museum of the Moving Image
The young man in the white garb returns and instructs us to go into the theater. Inside the main theater, standing center stage, is a tall man all dressed in black except for his ghostly white face. This man represents death, an allusion to another artistic Bergman film, The Seventh Seal. Death is angry and yells, “you’ve kept me waiting”.
A number of the pairs of performers come out onto the main stage. On the large theater screen two women are shown talking in what I believe is an Eastern European language. One woman talks, while the other silently listens. No doubt an allusion to the nurse and the actress in the Bergman film. We, the audience, sit silently watching the women interact, not understanding a word. [Editor's Note: the following quotations are not exact, but rather representations of the audible track].
Persona Performa Dialogue - Understanding the Human Need to be Heard
Then another set of women appear on screen, and this time the dialogue is in English. Here is the gist of what was said:
“Nobody ever said I was a good listener. You’re the first person who ever listened to me. I know it’s not that interesting to you. I wish I could be more like you.”
This dialogue goes on in other languages, reflecting the ethnic diversity of the performers, who are initially coupled based on similar ethnicity.
It's Important to Understand Each Another ... or as in the Movie We'll All End Up Trying to Hurt Each Other
“I hope this doesn’t irritate you. It feels so good to talk. I’ve been talking about myself all day. I looked into the mirror and we look alike. I could change myself to be like you on the inside if I really tried. Your soul sticks out everywhere.”
Then the performers switch partners, now combining Asian with African, Caucasian with Asian, and African with Caucasian. The dialogue continues, repeating some of the lines, while interjecting new ones:
“It can’t be that interesting to listen to me. You could read a book. It feels so good to talk. It feels warm and nice. What could possibly interest you about my life? It’s so boring. After your movie I went and looked into the mirror. I thought that we look alike. You’re so much more beautiful than me. Your soul is too big to fit inside of me. It would stick out all over and look sort of odd.”
The performers then begin doing a silent dance, while the dialogue continues.
“Would you do something for me? Would you talk with me about the weather or what we’re going to have for dinner? It’s not easy to be with someone who doesn’t talk. You have your own voice and it sounds false. I still can’t say what I want. You’ve made it simple for yourself. You just shut up. I need you to talk to me. Can’t you talk to me?”
Who are we after we Shed the Roles We Play at Home and in the Community
“The abyss between what you are and what you are to others. The roles, the actors, the mother, the mistress. Which do you like the most? Playing the actress with the interesting face.”
“I could be quiet, cut myself off, close myself in, put on a face and make false gestures. You’re hiding plan isn’t water tight. It leaks out everywhere and you keep playing the part until you lose interest in it and then drop it like other parts.”
“You’ll never reach me. You don’t think like me.”
Persona Performa - Evolutionary Derivative of Bergman's Work
Then two performers come onto the stage wearing one robe. Like a chromosome. Male and female. Black and white. A second pair of performers come out onto the stage. They dance a quiet dance of entanglement. The male reaches out, the female pulls back in. The female reaches out and the male withdraws. The sexual combinations include male to male and female to female and male to female and female to male.
The boy in white re-appears on stage. A single woman comes out onto the stage. I think she’s the actress in Bergman’s film. In the background the cold waters wash upon the shore. A man comes out and extends his hand.
The boy begins a narrative:
“the sounds, light and reflections on an island … to rest her. I took her out there and impulsively asked her to be in my next film. I told her she could say nothing for the entire film. The film, the fare, erotic … cut.”
Old Death and the young boy converse as one and the same. The performanceends and the performers come out along withthe Artistic Director Ming Wong. After the show Ming Wong held a little cocktail party in a separate foyer underneath the stairwell on the main floor. I shot a few photos and left.
This was one of the most intellectual and aesthetically stimulating performance art pieces I've seen over the past year. It was a dramatic mix of theater, dance and film based upon what many consider Bergman’s most artistic film, easily ranking as one of the most artistic of the 20th century.
Post Performance ... What did the Audience Think?
I queried people about their impressions of the performance. While not everyone liked it, it provided for great conversation late into the night.
Credits: Ming Wong, Performa 11 & the Museum of the Moving Image
This event occurred on November 11, 2011 or 11/11/11 at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria as part of the biennial visual arts festival entitled Performa 11. Performa is the production of performa-arts.org. And the creator and director of the performance art production was Ming Wong of mingwong.org [in photo to left]. You may find contact information for the Museum of the Moving Image in our business directory, including links to a map and their website. And use the search function to view reports on other events held at the museum as well as a history of the museum itself.
Photos of Ming Wong Persona Performa At MOMI
Click on this link to view an album containing photos of the Ming Wong art performance at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria NYC.
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