This September, Rashid Johnson’s critically acclaimed piece, Dutchman, will run at Chicago’s Red Square Russian and Turkish Baths for five evenings with performances beginning at 11pm as part of Performa 10 Years. Dutchman is Johnson’s first live performance and is a reimagining of the Obie Award-winning theatrical play written in 1964 by LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), re-enacted within the setting of a traditional bathhouse – having premiered at the historic Russian & Turkish Baths in New York City’s East Village.
A political allegory that wanders into the surreal, the piece is a collective experience for actors and audiences alike as they take part in an endurance-testing performance drama that travels through the Bath’s heated rooms and interior spaces, each conveying a shift in physical sensation and emotional atmosphere.
The Baths’ conditions act to disrupt the narrative flow of the drama so that scenes play out in fits and starts, to incite a profound level of disorientation and to conjure memory where notions of time and space become confused – past historical events and climates arrive in the present much like a sudden change in the weather.
Johnson himself is known for his photography, films, sculptures and installations that often draw on the identities of black figures from recent history such as Don King and Sun Ra, as well exploring his own upbringing. Recently his sculptural installations have made use of domestic materials and associations such as shea butter and black soap, with his work often referencing bodily experience, and the effect of space and atmosphere upon psychology and emotion.
Johnson has most recently been exhibited at the 54th Venice Biennale (2011), as part of ILLUMInations and at the Performa Biennial in 2013. The first major retrospective of the artist’s work travelled to several institutions including the Miami Art Museum and High Museum of Art, Atlanta in 2012 and most recently his work was exhibited at Hauser&Wirth, Zurich.
Performa meanwhile, is dedicated to exploring the critical role of live performance in the history of 20th century art and to encouraging new directions in performance; its next biennial Performa 15, a celebration of Performa 10 Years, will take place New York in November 2015.
Rashid Johnson: Dutchman, 16 – 21 September 2014. Russian and Turkish Baths, Red Square, 1914 West Division St, Chicago, Il 60622. For more information visit www.Performa-arts.org.
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1. Rashid Johnson, Split Decision (2011) mirrored tile, black soap, wax, paint. Photo Martin Parsekian. Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth.