Performance--Multimedia Performance

From David Wojnarowicz Knowledge Base
Jump to: navigation, search

Wojnarowicz's work often combined many kinds of art together, making it hard to categorize. For instance, he created densely layered performances that combined sound, moving images, and live or rotting elements in his installation work. And in his 3 Teens Kill 4 performances, the band members would spray paint in the background, suggesting a multimedia art piece as much as a performance. [1]


Wojnarowicz’s most significant multimedia performance piece was ITSOFOMO (In the Shadow of Forward Motion). performed with musician Ben Neill. It was performed at the Kitchen in New York in December 1989, followed by performances at the Center on Contemporary Art in Seattle, the San Francisco Art Institute, Hallwalls in Buffalo, NY, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and Exit Art in New York City. Wojnarowicz spent much of 1989 planning for the performance, collecting photographs, sounds, and film clips, and working with Neill to choreograph the show. Everything was potential material, including an answering machine tape from his estranged brother and an improvised film he shot of Marion Scemama violently tussling with her boyfriend during their retreat upstate (neither of which ended up in the final show). [2] The title is short for “In the Shadow of Forward Motion” (also the title of a 1989 exhibition at P·P·O·W, and the Xeroxed catalogue produced for that show). Wojnarowicz explained the feeling he wanted to capture thusly: "Consider that you're in a car speeding along on an expressway. Everything that you see out of the corner of your eye which doesn't register [while you're] in the pursuit of speed... It’s all the things quietly occurring, within absence of sight.” [3] For Wojnarowicz, trains symbolized this relentless, destructive acceleration, as they had enabled western expansion in the United States and the simultaneous destruction of Native American culture. Neill believed that his fascination with this concept at this point in Wojnarowicz's life also had to do with the accelerating progress of his own AIDS-related illness.[4]

The performance constituted an assault on what Wojnarowicz called the ”One-Tribe-Nation,” or the disciplinary constructs propagated by the government and the media that govern society. The performance was structured around the idea of acceleration. He used visual metaphors of life and death, symbols of industry and nature. The piece was a mix of improvised and scripted components, recycled video, slide projections, sculpture, live dance, reading, and live musical composition to create an immersive environment.

Excerpts from the video footage and audio used in the performance can be found on Ben Neill's YouTube page:

Media and Techniques

Wojnarowicz used nearly every media he worked with elsewhere in his practice in ITSOFOMO. The final work performed at the Kitchen was a multimedia performance with four monitors simultaneously showing videos, two screens for slide projections, live dancers, and other performers who read texts and moved papier-mache objects around the stage (dancers did not appear in the subsequent iterations of the piece). Many of the slides and videos were pulled from Wojnarowicz’s photographs and films, including The Weight of the Earth, Fear of Evolution, and Fire in My Belly. Neill added a live soundtrack of sampled sounds such as recorded bells, trombones, and yelling, in addition to other percussion and electronic sounds. They received grants for a recording of the performance, and discussed creating a video documentary that would intersperse Wojnarowicz’s video with performance and rehearsal footage. A DVD was released in 2004.

Extensive documentation of Wojnarowicz’s planning for ITSOFOMO can be found throughout the Wojnarowicz Papers at Fales. Slides with performance notes that were likely used for ITSOFOMO can be found in Series IX, Subseries F, Box 84. Notes and sketches can be found throughout the phone logs (Series IV, Box 7, Folders 1-29). The collection also contains script mock-ups and other performance notes for ITSOFOMO in in the Manuscripts series (Series III, Subseries G, Box 6, Folders 279-284).


  1. Gary Schneider recalled this in his interview on this site
  2. Cynthia Carr, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz (New York, Bloomsbury, 2012):426
  3. Quoted in Carr, 239. Fales 8B, 17, Audiotape 092.0278
  4. Carr, Cynthia. Fire In the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz. New York: Bloomsbury. 2012