Meet Alberto Gerosa, who forges passports and evades security to stage outlaw performances in the art world’s rarest spaces

Hong Kong-based filmmaker, anthropologist and experimental artist Alberto Gerosa landed in New York last week to play provocateur once again after infiltrating the art world’s three major global events earlier this summer: the Venice Biennale, Art Basel in the Switzerland and the Documenta Kassel.

Gerosa orchestrated site-specific performances tailored to hot takes around each event. In Venice he directed the traveling “Scythian Pavilion” to comment on the nationalist approach of the Biennale; in Basel, the second iteration of his “Ghost of the Author” booth dealt with speculation on the art market; and in Kassel a new group edition by him chicken blood Performance questions who is included in the art historical canon.

“Often I understand my performances as either alchemy or an initiation ritual,” Gerosa told Artnet News. “There is a transformation of the artwork.” This alchemy takes place when the institutions themselves intervene.

The backstory

Gerosa grew up near Lake Como in Italy where he went by the name Cose from the ages of 12 to 17 before studying performing arts abroad between Holland, Italy, Ireland and Denmark. He did his Masters in Visual Anthropology between Slovenia and Sweden and PhD in Religious and Cultural Studies from schools in Hong Kong and Tokyo.

“Whether it was a film, graffiti or theater,” said Gerosa. “I focus on the performative element.”

After spending six years in mainland China, he moved to Hong Kong in 2013 and five years later was hired by Hong Kong’s Tai Kwun Museum as an art dealer. There he installed a 16mm film by Korean video artist Nam June Paik, written by John Cage’s “4’33.Gerosa took the film — which is essentially white noise you can see — and carved his name into the celluloid as a commentary on working in the art world.

“I wanted to make a statement that art handlers are actually really ignored or invisible, but they do such a big part of the work,” Gerosa said. (He later told his superiors about his act.)

He continued his unauthorized practice at Art Basel Hong Kong 2021 where he participated as an exhibitor with PhD credentials. There he set up a “stand” entitled “Ghost of the Author” in homage to Roland Barthes, as a statement on the ongoing debates in the art world about authenticity and its value.

“A mother with a three-year-old baby came by,” said Gerosa. “I heard the baby say in English, ‘I want to see some ghosts’.”

After the boy pulled a Basquiat catalog out of his stroller to show Gerosa some pictures, the artist gave the child a blank sheet of paper to make a drawing. He then sold the boy’s work, confident that Basquiat had owned it.

“A lot of people don’t believe in these things,” says Gerosa, who draws inspiration from Greek myths and esotericism. “I believe in these things.”

Meanwhile, he hired two women to do a simultaneous work, handing out dried poppies at the entrance to the event in a performance entitled floor that was a comment on soft power and Britain’s role in the Opium Wars that ravaged China between 1839 and 1860.

Still from video footage documenting the performance “Soil” at Art Basel Hong Kong 2021. Footage provided by Alberto Gerosa.

The third part of Gerosa’s first trilogy took place at Hong Kong’s M+ Museum last November. For six months he worked with museum interns on a surprise installation entitled The cutest coup for which the group hid gummy bears throughout the building to represent the unseen efforts of the interns. (One intern even made a short film about her internship from the perspective of a jelly bean.)

Gerosa then promised that any museum visitor who found one could take it to his studio and receive a certificate of authenticity for the artwork, thus giving the institution back to the people.

The saga continues

This year, Gerosa launched a new project, the “Uninvited Trilogy,” which capitalized on the stars aligning as the Venice Biennale and Documenta opened within weeks.

To challenge the event’s Eurocentric, nationalist approach, Gerosa created the nomadic ‘Scythian Pavilion’ in Venice, taking over for a while the abandoned Russian pavilion.

There he staged a one-woman pole dance adaptation of Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring, paying the choreographer and performer from grants secured in Hong Kong. The dancer dressed modestly, but the spectacle provoked the arrival of the police, and Gerosa eventually received 50 euros for organizing an unauthorized event on the Biennale grounds.

“I used this penalty as my formal confirmation that the performance took place,” he said. On part of the ticket, which allows the perpetrators to explain themselves, Gerosa wrote: “Sorry, we are nomads. We didn’t realize we needed your permission.”

“Every national or foreign participant in Venice has to pay a participation fee – from 30,000 euros,” he said. “So €50 was really a lot cheaper. It really was a bargain.”

Dancer Louise Wawrzynska at a performance HOLY SPRING! in Gerosa’s Scythian Pavilion in front of the empty Russian Pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale. Photo courtesy Alberto Gerosa.

At the Documenta, Gerosa staged a performance entitled chicken blood which was inspired by a doctor from the Chinese province of Jiangsu who injected workers with chicken blood to boost labor in the 1950s. The experiment ended when it proved deadly, but its legend caught on: migrant workers across China still participate in the ritual.

“It’s interesting because it shows that there’s a very strong, irrational and spiritual side to capitalism that’s not often looked at,” Gerosa mused.

In order not to alienate the concept in Kassel, he decided not to use Chinese performers for a group of German artists who were invited via an open call. This time there were no penalties because Gerosa clarified his project ahead of time with ruangrupa, the collective that organized the documenta.

However, a member of the collective told Gerosa that it would be a missed opportunity if the performance didn’t allow audiences to engage, share and participate.

Actors hang up chicken blood outside Documenta 2022. Photo courtesy of Alberto Gerosa.

“That inspired me,” said Gerosa. “I shouldn’t do performances because of an aesthetically perfect little scheme. At the end of the day, it’s the emotional impact. You have to touch people.”

Now Gerosa is arriving in New York for his next project, which will begin as a tribute to his favorite artist, Tehching Hsieh, whom Gerosa will honor with events at the Met and another city museum before the summer is over.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you, and don’t even bother to tell. Getting caught is part of the plan.

Nevertheless, Gerosa does not see herself as an antagonist. He simply seizes his power to participate in the art ecosystem. He wants to reveal that power structures are not fixed.

“If you run MoMA today, that doesn’t mean it’s you are MoMA,” said Gerosa. “All of your influence is temporary. It’s an agreement I can challenge at any time. If I use your institution better or more interestingly, I’m effectively hijacking it.”

“I think people are pretty passive,” Gerosa concluded. “Many art brokers don’t realize that they can carve their names into artworks. It’s totally doable.”

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