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Hard Return: 9 Experiments for this Moment

ON VIEW: February 1—May 7, 2023

Hard Return: 9 Experiments for this Moment is a performance art exhibition featuring a series of nine artists creating dynamic week-long experiences, environments, and interactions live in the Neuberger Museum of Art’s galleries.

Over the course of Spring Semester 2023, each of the nine artists will create works that pose fundamental questions about art and life. The projects will experiment with our sense of being alive in this moment, probing the influence of history on our present and proposing different ways of shaping and understanding community—from the intimate experience of one-to-one relationships to attempts to see humanity at planetary scale.

Hard Return promotes modes of artistic activity that the pandemic made impossible for a while and explores the museum as a space of community, reflection, and support.

IMAGES: Past performances created by Alix Pearlstein, Brendan Fernandes and Patty Chang, among the nine artists participating in Hard Return: 9 Experiments for this Moment at the Neuberger Museum of Art, Spring 2023.


Participating artists include:

Brendan Fernandes
February 1-5

Fernandes will develop a dance piece in response to African art in the Neuberger collection. Working with vogue expert Jason Rodriguez and a cast of Purchase College students, the artist will consider the transmission of cultural forms and knowledges across time and space and from body to body. This work, which will change and grow over the week, will also consider questions of rest and repose. In addition to developing original choreography, the artist will offer related movement workshops to museum visitors throughout the week.

Alix Pearlstein ’88
February 15-19

Pearlstein’s work, Inventory, explores the historical dimensions of an individual life through assemblage and evaluation of a personal archive of objects and memories. Reflections on this work of inventory will become elements of live performance captured by a video crew. These videos will then recursively feed back into the work’s installation and become fodder for further reflection and creation. This work will also feature Purchase College students as actors and collaborators in the production of a steadily growing environment that questions the boundaries between live and recorded, then and now.

Daniel Bozhkov
February 22-26

Bozhkov’s performance investigates the viability of life on this and other planets through an intensive involvement with soil science and cucumbers. Bozhkov has been working with Cornell University’s soil laboratory as they experiment with how to grow vegetables on Mars; in Hard Return, he will work with a composer and Purchase faculty and students to develop this process of provisional planting into an operatic libretto. The resulting opera will be performed in the Neuberger by Purchase students, set against the backdrop of some of his experimental produce, hand-painted fresco panels, and an embroidered tapestry that functions as an experimental log. Pushing the science-fictional limits of the present, Bozhkov’s work asks us not only to imagine another future, but also to stop and consider what it is that makes our lives livable here and now.

Nao Bustamante
March 8-12

Bustamante will present a series of theatrical set-pieces organized around the all-too-timely theme of the history of optics and tools used in gynecology and how these have interacted with, and informed conceptions of, femininity and womanliness. The work will feature original videos as backdrops to live performances which will feature Purchase students as actors.

Amber Hawk Swanson
March 29 – April 2

Hawk Swanson will film episodes of The Harmony Show, a multi-faceted talk show she developed with her collaborator, Davecat, and his partner, Sidore Kuroneko, a life-size silicone doll. Created during the early days of the pandemic as a web-based mode of artistic production foregrounding intellectual inquiry and community-building, The Harmony Show explores issues of personhood, desire, race, queerness, dis/ability, and community in two modalities. The first is a seminar in which an invited scholar presents on their work and discusses it with the show’s co-hosts. The second is a cooking show, where a less academically-geared discussion about the same types of issues can unfold as the guest and hosts prepare a meal designed by a recipe developer who specializes in food’s healing properties. As a program designed for an online environment, filming in-gallery with a live audience will present new opportunities for considering public engagement and imagining the community created by the show’s dissemination.

Emily Coates
April 5-9

Coates’ work will interweave a multi-channel video installation with a dance piece featuring original choreography and speaking-role cameos for Purchase College science faculty. The video, dance, and dialogic elements stem from Coates’ research into the long human history of cosmic dances across time and multiple geographies. Exploring attempts to reckon the cosmos in human scale and through the orchestration of human movement and collaboration, the work will feature Purchase College students. Coates will also offer movement workshops related to the themes of the piece to museum visitors.

Autumn Knight
April 12-16

Knight’s sculptural installation and dialogue-based performance work, Complain/Disappoint, will feature five performers drawn from the Purchase College community. The performers will interpret and present action scores that include interaction with sculptural objects created by Knight and the recitation of texts featuring the complaints of people who “are not usually allowed to complain or who we do not expect to hear complaining.” The piece explores affective labor, vulnerability, and the extraordinary expectations placed on certain types of workers we ask to shoulder other’s burdens while ignoring that they have their own.

Patty Chang
with Astrida Neimanis and Aleksija Neimanis
April 26-30

Chang, Neimanis and Neimanis will present a work exploring intimacy and feeling (as individual physical sensation and as the sense of belonging to a group) through a participatory, immersive environment. Still images culled from virtual reality depicting the action of touching an object will form the visual backdrop to performers and audience members playing a memory game using cards strewn across the floor. Investigating the seams between vision, touch, and sound, as well as the borders between individual and collective experience. Chang, Neimanis and Neimanis will invite museumgoers to consider the reality of feelings in multiple ways.

Jesus Benavente
May 3-7

Benavente will present a series of installations and interventions in the gallery and across the Purchase College campus on a rotating, irregular schedule. The artist will work with students to produce gatherings that have the aesthetics of protest to investigate what turns a group into a politicized bloc. Large inflatable sculptures will fill the gallery, altering one’s perception of space and transforming the solemn museum into an overstuffed funhouse. Museumgoers will be invited to a dance party with music and lights, all of which will alternate between a celebratory club atmosphere and a surveilled crime scene. Sometimes, a mariachi band will appear. The collection of spatial invitations and interventions will explore the ways our surroundings shape our sense of self and the permissible—what it is OK to do, and what it is not OK to do—and it will offer moments and glimpses of how people can push back on these limitations and expand our sense of the possible.


Hard Return: 9 Experiments for this Moment
is organized by the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, SUNY, and co-curated by Purchase College faculty members Kate Gilmore, a renowned performance artist, and Jonah Westerman, an art historian who specializes in performance art. 

Funding for this exhibition is provided by the Purchase College Foundation and the Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art.


A Note on Performance Art
by Professor Jonah Westerman
Co-Curator, Hard Return

“Performance” itself can be an intimidating and confusing word when it comes to describing artworks. Since the 1970s, “performance” has become a way to describe modes of artistic activity that do not fit neatly into other categories–like painting, sculpture, photography, video, dance, theater, etc.–or flout their conventions. At the same time, works described as performance often include or borrow from these traditional mediums. Performance itself, however, is not a medium—not something that a work of art can be—but is rather a set of questions about how art relates to people and the wider social world. Describing artwork as performance emphasizes the processes through which it is created and received. It destabilizes the line between two usually sequential procedures to acknowledge the many ways a work is made at the place and time where it meets its audiences.