Monday, 10 December 2007

Walking in the City: The Motif of Exile in Performances by Krzysztof Wodiczko and Adrian Piper


Walking in the City: The Motif of Exile in Performances by Krzysztof Wodiczko and Adrian Piper

Kinga Araya, Ph.D.
Concordia University, 2004

This thesis investigates two art performances involving walking in the city that are conceptualized as exilic works of art: Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Vehicle performed in 1973 in Warsaw; and Adrian Piper’s Catalysis performed from 1970 to 1971 in New York. My contention is that Wodiczko’s and Piper’s walks in the city can be examined by applying a threefold understanding of exile. First, these important performative artworks made manifest in the form of artistic walks are marginalized within, or exiled from, an institutionalized mainstream art. Second, the artists themselves communicate either personal or metaphorical states of exile. Third, the phenomena of contemporary metropolises, as diverse as the communist Warsaw and the capitalist New York of the 1970s are analyzed as alienating and exilic social dwellings par excellence in which most of the inhabitants do not feel “at home”.

This paper also summarizes a much longer and more intense conflation of my personal and professional experience with walking. I, myself, am an exile, who literally walked away from a student trip in Florence, Italy. Since that crucial event, I have developed a very special relationship with walking, this most humble human activity that I no longer take for granted. In order to make my writing more conversational I traveled to Poland and the United States to walk the same streets that Wodiczko and Piper walked during their performances with my photo and video cameras. My visual and textual re-tracing of the artists’ steps form a creative part of this dissertation. Since I wanted to exhaust the richness of these two exilic art works and to connect them to the contemporary urban experience, I employ my personal writing style and juxtapose it with the photographs I took in Warsaw and New York. These creative reflections on walking that enrich the academic form of expression are enclosed in two attachments following the chapters in which I theoretically analyze Wodiczko’s and Piper’s walking performance artworks.