Shaun Leonardo Visits YI Writers
Nov 12, 2013

performance artist in front of sign

Guest artist Shaun Leonardo performs for YI Writers at the Whitney, October 2013. Photograph by Clifford Owens

For the past few weeks, with our artist in residence Clifford Owens, we have been writing our own one-line “scores” for performance pieces and performing them, as well as learning about the history and importance of performance art in the canon of American art. On October 29, we had the pleasure of a visit from performance artist Shaun Leonardo who gave us some insight into his own performance art work.

 Leonardo began by explaining how he combines his identities as a Hispanic man, football player, and artist to develop his unique body of work. After showing us clips of his performances, we discussed how he uses recognizable masculine gestures to comment on American society. Then we headed up to the Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE exhibition. We were given time to explore the show and pick a favorite piece before we divided into groups. Each group collectively chose an artwork and created a “still” performance based on our interpretation of Indiana’s work and how it speaks to our own life experiences. Owens photographed our performances.  

  • artist performing dance for class

    Leonardo performs for the group, October 2013. Photograph by Hannie Chia

  • teens performing a dance in a gallery

    A group of Writers performs a still piece in front of Robert Indiana’s EAT/DIE (1962). Photograph by Clifford Owens

  • students hugging in a group dance piece

    Writers performing a group piece in Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE, October 2013. Photograph by Clifford Owens

  • students in different poses around installation

    Group performance, October 2013. Photograph by Clifford Owens

  • students and artist sit on floor

    YI Writers and guest artist Leonardo watch Jerry as he performs a short individual score, October 2013. Photograph by Correna Cohen

  • girl dances in gallery format

    YI Writer Tess D performs the individual score “walk on your toes,” October 2013. Photograph by Correna Cohen

For our final activity, five people were chosen to perform individually for the group. Owens assigned each performer a one-line “score” written by one of the Writers. I performed the score, “Express anger without showing violence.” To prepare, I thought about how I feel and process anger. For my performance, I walked through the audience in silence while making intense eye contact with individuals. Once immersed in the crowd, I selected a person at random who I stood over and glared at, then slowly removed either my sweatshirt or shoes and angrily placed them in front the person. After my performance, the primary reaction from the audience was that I scared people with my intensity. The highlight of the day for me was interacting with the audience during my performance, as well as getting feedback from Leonardo and Owens. It was great to get a new perspective on what performance art is and it was interesting collaborating with other YI Writers on the group performances. 

By Tess W, Youth Insights Writer