University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

Enacting Acting

January 10 - March 9, 2014

Enacting Acting

Alix Pearlstein, Moves in the Field (production still), 2012, courtesy of the artist

Enacting Acting features three contemporary artists who portray the craft, methods, and expressive potential of the acted performance. Through film and video, Robert Arndt, Vishal Jugdeo, and Alix Pearlstein dissect the actor’s ability to seamlessly portray a role; each artist focuses on certain, distinct elements that constitute a performance. Their inquiries explore relationships between actors and directors, actors and actors, and the subtexts of choreographed, scripted, and improvised scenes.

The exhibition asks us to reflect upon what underlies the actor’s artistry and informs her technique in creating expression through movement, expression, and voice. The nuances of such communications either get lost or become hyper-stylized in pop culture’s spectacular entertainment, amateur YouTube videos, and codified characters. The works in the exhibition offer the opportunity to consider the power of gesture embodied in the actor, in settings apart from the overly familiar, engrossing performances we passively consume.

Three works by Robert Arndt follow the same actor through different scripted situations, each shot using a specific cinematic convention. In each, the relationship of the actor to his character and to the unseen director behind the camera shifts, offering insight into the creative, and at times fraught, exchange between artists. This interpersonal connection is bound up equally in anxiety, boredom, obsession, and other emotions—attitudes revealed in the videos and the accompanying photographic series Deleted Scenes.

Vishal Jugdeo draws from clichéd modes of scriptwriting, acting, camerawork, and editing found in mainstream film and television. By unraveling the tidy formulas these entertainment forms rely on, his videos reveal the social relationships often suppressed by character acting, direction and production elements. Absurdist sets and props form sculptural installations that act as TV sets where actors and objects interact on equal footing, creating a confounding spectacle steeped in complex and contradictory dialogue.

Shot in a stripped down, white environment, Alix Pearlstein’s Moves in the Field and The Drawing Lesson track groups of actors playing out abstract dramas. Their gestures, movements, and facial expressions recall aspects of performance for the stage and the cinema yet don’t reside fully in either. Informed by dance, minimalism, stagecraft, and methods of acting, the filmed action zeroes in on individual behavior and group dynamics. Pearlstein’s works condense psychological narrative to create a sharpened look at how relationships and social constructs are performed and enacted.

Talk: Elena Gorfinkel

Unacting: Notes on the Performing Body in Moving Image History
February 27, 6:30pm INOVA, 2155 N. Prospect


This talk contextualizes the conventions and conceptions of acting and performance which are engaged, questioned and implicitly undone in the works of Arndt, Jugdeo and Pearlstein. Gorfinkel places these works in dialogue with select moments in the history of the moving image and film culture specifically, to explore the way the performing body moves between texts and media, and both secures and challenges the boundaries of a created world. Thus acting is always potentially unacting.

Gorfinkel is Assistant Professor in the Art History Department and Film Studies Program at the UWM and a fellow at UWM's Center for 21st Century Studies.