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Gallery Talk at Hirshhorn Museum on Marina Abramovic

Posted: April 30th, 2011

We have had some inquiries regarding the talk that Blithe gave on behalf of Coble/Riley projects at the Hirshhorn’s Friday talk series on March 16th, 2011. We decided to post the notes from the talk on our website, as well as some additional resources. We were really excited to be able to discuss Abramovic’s work, since her practice is one that we both greatly admire, and also find challenging. The talk covered Marina Abramovic‡ and Ulay’s piece “Light/Dark” as well as discussed issues around “re-performance,” archive, and authorship in the artist’s work.


The talk and Q&A were 45 minutes.

1. Introduction.

– Here today to represent my collaboration, Coble/Riley Projects, which is composed of DC/Denmark-based artist Mary Coble and myself.
– Together we make performance-based video works that are interested in injecting gestures and actions into specific sites; in particular our work is interested investigating sites that are in a state of decay. You can come get a taste of our work at Conner Contemporary art where are showing our piece Ascension/Immersion, which is up until April 30th, 2011.

– For those of you who know Mary’s solo work, it is very much rooted in an “endurance” performance tradition. That same tradition that Marina Abramović and other ’70’s performance artists helped to coin. In our collaboration, that strategy of repetition of action and extended time is still very much part of our process- however it is mediated through video. When we formulate our work, we engage the tools of video to both frame the action, and also extend and transform the time of the performance through editing and looping techniques. So in our work video is a tool that we use to conceive the performance. This is very different from a more pure performance tradition where video is really a tool for documentation, and is not the final product.

2. Light/Dark

This distinction between documentation and what the actual work resides in performance is a tricky, and one that is central to discussing Abramovic‡’s work. This is also true of the work presented here, Light/Dark. To briefly introduce the work, Light/Dark was first performed in 1977 at an art fair in Köln Germany by Marina Abramovic‡ and her collaborator and partner at the time Ulay. The piece was then was performed a year later in Amsterdam and recorded, which is the version you see here. To be clear, the piece you see here is a documentation of the work, Abramović considers the work of art to be the performance itself. The recording here is a bit over 9 minutes. The original performance was twenty minutes.

– Some other things to note that are not immediately evident in the video. There are two bright lights shining on either side of the performers, so they cannot see the slaps coming. They are however not completely blinded, they are able to see each other’s expressions. This slight sensory deprivation is key to understanding the space they experienced in the performance.
– The slap is a very loaded gesture. I think especially seeing it in black and white, it conjurers up connotations of dramatic slaps in film (Godard’s Breathless).
– However like other work in this series, for the Abramovic‡ /Ulay, these works were not about violence, experiencing pain, or exploiting power dynamics within their personal relationship. This performance was meant to illicit an experience, to push the boundaries of the body. To quote Abramovic‡ she says “We never did things for the pleasure of pain. We were looking for a key, a way to break through the body, to open something up, which is a desire that comes from another side of truth or reality.”
– That said, as time goes by and we get further removed from the immediacy of the work, a work light Light/Dark can come to take a number of meanings without a backstory. It is difficult not to overlay readings of gender and power in the piece.

3. Re-Performance.
– At Abramovic‡ ‘s retrospective at the MoMA Light/Dark was not one of the pieces that was re-performed during the exhibition. Abramovic‡ is not willing to allow works that are violent or dangerous to be re-performed. She is very clear and explicit about that. She believes that performance requires a real set of skills, and cannot be done by just anyone. She refuses to re-perform anything that is dangerous.

– That said, if you go to YouTube and you go do a search for Light/Dark you get a number of re-interpretations from artists, student artists, fans, the works. Ironically this kind of re-enactment is exactly the kind of thing Abramovic‡ is trying to combat with her re-performance work.She believes that if you want to re-perform an artists work, you should get permission and even pay them for the use of their idea.

– I know my collaborator Mary Coble has also had issues with students emailing her documentation of her performance that they have re-done or modified, and it really bothers her. Abramovic‡ is trying to confront this problem within the field, and to have the same rules of authorship apply to performance as in other media. For her (as well as Mary) this kind of copy-cat performance strays from the artists original intention of the work. The purpose of MoMA retrospective and re-performance in general is really about preservation and archive of the work as it intended by the artist. Its about preserving the idea as its intended to be seen.

Additional notes about re-performance.

– For Abramović , without re-performance, the works dies. This speaks to her idea that documentation really fails to represent the true work.
– She wants to both train people to perform her work, and give permission.
– She believes that the work changes, people bring new presence to the work.
– She believes performers get the “gift” of ownership from the artist
– She believes you must give up ego in order to allow for re-performance.

The curator of the exhibition The Artist is Present, agreed to the re-performance with the idea that in a retrospective the museum has the responsibility to exhibit the work as close as possible to its intended presentation.

Open up for Q & A.
Notes from Q&A (written from memory, not a 100 percent accurate!)

Comment. The meaning in the documentation is valid. If Abramovic‡ chooses to show documentation, she has to embrace how the meaning of the work shifts over time.

Q: What is the difference between acting and performance? Why doesn’t she just hire actors to do the work?
A: An easy explanation is to think about in acting if someone gets stabbed the knife is usually fake. In real life its real.
Q: What is the Abramovic’s training method?
A: She hosts retreats where students go and do a series of workshops. She is talking about opening a school in upstate NY. She talks about this in the MoMA lecture.
Q: How will this work live on after Abramović dies? Are there a chosen few who will be able to carry out her work?
A: In a way yes. I think that is why she is so invested in education and training her method to another generation of performers. It is difficult to anticipate how this will hold up over time. Will these pieces actually be collected? How will there meaning become transformed and translated over time? All of these elements are fascinating and remain to be seen.


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“Ascension/Immersion” Press Release

Posted: March 10th, 2011

Conner Contemporary Art is pleased to present concurrent exhibitions of “Paladins and Tourists, treatment ” featuring new drawings and video by Zoë Charlton; “Stress Cone,” a new sculptural installation by Mia Feuer; and the premier of “Ascension/Immersion,” a collaborative video project by Mary Coble and Blithe Riley.

Ascension/Immersion, Coble/Riley Projects 2009


Mary Coble and Blithe Riley make their collaborative debut with the Gallery as Coble/Riley Projects in their two-channel video “Ascension/Immersion.” On-site in the woods of Maine, the artist team transformed an abandoned decaying, spring house into a platform for performance by cutting two large holes in the roof, which allowed a sole performer (Coble) to enter the structure from above and then exit from below. We watch and listen as the protagonist repeatedly drops 5 feet into a pool of water inside the spring house, then climbs outside through the roof, to drop in the water yet again, with no explicit goal. The performer’s sequential actions of emergence and ascension are visible simultaneously on the split screen, creating a sense of dislocated time. The continuous unfolding of an unexplained ritual within the format of “Ascension/Immersion” generates an absorbing visual rhythm, while the ambiguity of the video’s imagery gives rise to various possible meanings that can attend the oscillation between internal and exterior states. Read the full Press Release

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First Solo Exhibition at Conner Contemporary Art

Posted: March 1st, 2011

March 19 – April 30, sick 2011

We are excited to announce that Coble/Riley Projects will be having their first solo exhibition at Conner Contemporary Art in Washington, troche DC with the video Ascension/Immersion.

Please join Blithe who will be in attendance at the opening on March 19th.

On March 18th, Blithe will be representing Coble/Riley Projects as the speaker for the Friday Gallery Talks at Hirshhorn Museum, which will address the work of Marina Abramović, the connection between video and performance, and strategies of archiving and historicizing the medium.

Untitled 1 & 2 (from Ascension/Immersion), 2009

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Our installation in St. Louis

Posted: November 21st, 2010

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New Installation of “Pile” in Saint Louis, MO

Posted: October 16th, 2010

We are happy to participate in the exhibition Sweet Jesus on November 19 & 20th, ed organized by artist/curators Lauren Adams, cialis sale Juan William Chavez, Jake Peterson, and Kiersten Torrez. The exhibition venue is a great match for our work, an enormous old abandoned brewery!

This will be the first time that Pile will be shown in its full screen three-channel format. Blithe will be going to Saint Louis to install the piece, taking the unique location into account. We will also be participating in a panel discussion open to the public on November 20th.

The Location:
Lemp Brewery, Site of "Sweet Jesus Exhibition"Lemp Brewery, Site of "Sweet Jesus" Exhibition
Lemp Brewery, Site of "Sweet Jesus" Exhibition


Lauren Adams artist site:
Cosign Projects:

Juan William Chavez:

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“Ascension/Immersion” will be showing at the SPARK FESTIVAL

Posted: September 23rd, 2010

Coble/Riley Projects will be participating in the Spark Festival at the University of Minnesota with our video piece “Ascension/Immersion”

Spark Festival of Electronic Music and Arts 2010

September 28 – October 3, mind 2010

University of Minnesota; Minneapolis, drugstore USA

Now in its eighth year, search the Spark Festival showcases groundbreaking works of music, art, theater, and dance that feature use of new technologies. Spark invites submissions of art, dance, theater, and music works incorporating new media, including electroacoustic concert music, experimental electronica, theatrical and dance works, installations, kinetic sculpture, artbots, video, and other non-traditional genres.

Ascension/Immersion                               2009

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Artist Talk in Brooklyn, July 10th at 1pm

Posted: June 29th, 2010

Coble/Riley Projects will be giving an artist talk in conjunction with the group show I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER on Saturday, July 10th at 1pm, in Brooklyn NY ( Saint Cecilia’s Convent21 Monitor Street, Brooklyn, NY)

The talk will be followed by a video screening of other artists work running from 3-5pm.

We will present recent work made at two residencies— Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and The Market Estate Project in London, UK. We will hold a conversation about our collaborative process and the challenges of working site-specifically in unusual environments.
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER is an exhibition created by an international group of artists who met one year ago in rural Maine, at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. This summer, these artists reunite to form a five-day multi-media exhibition at the former convent of Saint Cecilia’s in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The broad range of works on view reflect the stylistic pluralism of our era and present the fruits of an artistic community that continues to prosper. With 60 artists on its roster, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, celebrates creative exchange, collaboration, and the mission of the Skowhegan community at large.

Schedule of Events
Opening Reception & Performances, July 9th, 6 pm to 9 pm
Video Screenings, July 10th, 3pm to 5 pm
Guided Tours, July 11th & 12th, 2 pm & 5 pm

About Skowhegan
Skowhegan, an intensive nine-week summer residency program for emerging visual artists established in 1946, seeks each year to bring together a gifted and diverse group of individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to art-making and inquiry to create the most stimulating and rigorous environment possible for a concentrated period of artistic creation, interaction and growth.

Participating Artists
Lauren F. Adams • Eduardo Tomás Basualdo • Keren Benbenisty • Ashley Blalock • Katherine Bradford • Heather Bursch • Maria Buyondo • Krista Caballero • Nayari Castillo • Caleb Charland • Colby Claycomb • Mary Coble • Brandon Cox • Rachel Fainter • Amy Feldman • José Joaquin Figueroa • The Friendly Falcons • Rosalinda González • Jacob Gossett • Jane Fox Hipple • Cooper Holoweski • Janelle Iglesias • Nova Jiang • Art Johnson • Kyoung Eun Kang • Devin Kenny • Ji Eun Kim • Avi Krispin • Anna Kunz • Eva La Cour • Jenny Lee • Dan Levenson • Gregg Louis • Matthew Mazzotta • Nat Meade • Matthew Metzger • Irvin Morazan • Nyeema Morgan • Rosalind Murray • Tameka Norris • Brandon Norsted • Mie Olise • Ann Oren • Ester Partegàs • Renata Poljak • Rit Premnath • Jaye Rhee • Blithe Riley • Christopher Robbins • Jacolby Satterwhite • Paul Stoelting • Clarissa Tossin • Niels Vis • Richard T. Walker • Ian Warren • Brindalyn Webster • Letha Wilson • Gregory Witt • Jayoung Yoon • Theodoros Zafeiropoulos

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Coble/Riley Projects now represented
by Conner Contemporary Art

Posted: June 25th, 2010

Coble/Riley Projects is now represented by Conner Contemporary Art. Conner, who has represented Mary for quite some time, is a prime venue for contemporary art in Washington, DC. We’re thrilled to have our collaboration join their amazing list of international artists!

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March and April Updates

Posted: April 27th, 2010

Things have been so busy since we left London! We are still finishing up the final edits of our installation pieces that we made, have applied for a grant to help tweak the sound, and have submitted a proposal to work on a new site-specific piece this summer. Over the last two months we’ve been spending time on our solo projects, but wanted to give an update of what’s been happening.

Updates from Mary: Mary has an upcoming solo show at Conner Contemporary  in DC. The opening is Saturday May 15th! Details below:


In Source, Coble presents three new videos, mixed media work, and a live endurance performance (to occur in the gallery courtyard during the exhibition opening). In all of these pieces, Coble addresses themes of purification and renewal in actions focused on the element of water. In her videos, the artist explores subjective states of uncertainty and futility. In her performance, she will raise social awareness about water quality and availability in the local and global communities. The exhibition demonstrates the depth and dimension of Coble’s art, which ranges from personal introspection to experience shared through public interaction.

Coble’s videos: Stand, Fall, and Swim document the artist’s endurance-based activities in a secluded lake. Working in an introspective mode, she explores what making work means to her personally, confronting challenges and opening up to discoveries that arise with that making. Her lone pursuits convey apprehension and doubt associated with uncertain journeys. These videos are Coble’s most Romantic works to date, as their natural setting, and her struggle against the elements, recall 19th century landscape painting.

Endurance is a consistent methodological factor in Coble’s videos as well as her live gallery performance. In each work, she also embraces water as a medium. The natural setting for her videos underscores the importance of the environment to the global water supply. The performance demonstrates that the abundance of water in DC doesn’t insure its quality. In the videos, water visibly affects Coble outwardly, as she makes an inward journey. Her performance calls attention to the internal effects of water quality. Whereas the videos reveal the artist’s self-examination, the performance takes its departure from her experience as a member of a larger community, and propels her outward into that community. To gather her material, the artist went door-to-door, collecting water samples from residences in all of DC’s 8 wards (over 127 neighborhoods). Coble crossed demographic boundaries to emphasize that water quality has differential effects across populations. The artist’s actions at the gallery will create a communal source of clean water, a condition which has historically given rise to gathering places.

Updates from Blithe:
Blithe has been busy making new work! She just got back from a very productive residency at the Institute for Electronic Arts at Alfred University where she worked on a surround sound audio piece for her ongoing project The Edna Experiments, as well as iris prints, and some 3-D documentation for Coble/Riley projects.

Mary and Blithe both finished an art edition of 25 frames for the Skowhegan Benefit Awards Dinner, where Blithe will be in attendance.

Happy Spring!

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Goodbye London and the Trip Home

Posted: March 8th, 2010

Blogging from New York! Still running on very little energy, but happy to be in my native time zone. Yesterday was a bit of a blur, Mary and I woke up to post party madness in the office. Last nights rave left bodies littered on the floor sleeping on couch cushions, and one final drunken art installation in the bathroom. Here are few priceless snaps of our post-party organizer friends.

Gadi waking up on the radio station floor:

Nathan sleeping on last nights dance floor

Remnants of a bathroom Happening

Mary and I headed to Camden to get gifts to bring home. We felt like posers getting tourist knickknacks since we never made it to the city center, so we mainly stocked up on the staples of our trip— tea, cheap biscuits, chocolate (although Mary did get a bad ass skull and crossbones british flag patch, and I bought a very bright purple I heart London hoodie.)

We then headed back to the estate to say our goodbyes. We said a final farewell on on the Market Estate radio, and hugs to Gadi, Chris, Nathan and Gaby, and to the building. I felt a little sad knowing that the estate will soon be gone, but we are also happy that we got to work on site while it was still there. This place was so generative and productive to our work, and we feel great about what we’ve left with. We only can hope that the future of this site is a positive one, for the new residents that will be housed in the next incarnation of flats built, and for the neighborhood overall. We look forward to following its progress from a distance, as well as future endeavors from the TallTales organizers.

Chris, the Market Radio Host with sleepy Mary

One Final Group Shot:

Gaby and Lihu helped us lug our bags to the tube as we headed to the airport. We were so happy to have them with us since we were re-routed and would have been terribly confused otherwise. Mary and I departed on the train, although goodbye for us just means until the next email or phone call. We still have work to do in our near future, finalizing our installation edits, and finding the right venue to show this work that we’re proud of. We look forward to showing what we’ve done, taking the time to process and reflect on the project, do some writing, and get feedback.

Thanks to all who followed us on our trip. We will continue to actively post, probably not daily, but regularly. Stay tuned for our finished pieces.

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