INTERDISCIPLINARY Brooklyn artist Julia Mandle uses design, architecture
and the city itself to create performances that make viewers stop for a
New York minute. A ‘performance artist’ who doesn’t perform, and a
choreographer of intention instead of movement, Julia Mandle creates
multidisciplinary, site-specifi c art using dance, fashion, set design and New
York City architecture. Abandoning the proscenium theatre with its restrictive
fi xed stage and audience, Mandle founded the Brooklyn non-profi t J Mandle
Performance in 1996 to work at four scales. From outdoor urban settings,
architectural spaces and interiors (including a museum storefront) to the
intimate constructed scale of convertible clothing she sells based on her
costumes, all of Mandle’s selected sites allow her audiences to walk through,
around and even above her performances, to the point of allowing passersby
to stumble upon them unexpectedly and for free.

Last October at the New York Art Directors Club, under the title and a
fl ashing pink neon sign reading ‘Come & Have a Chicky Meal, Cuz You’re
Gonna Love This Deal’, Mandle produced a project lamenting Americans’
diminishing participation in the democratic political process. The work recreated
an abstracted version of a repeatedly bombed Karachi Kentucky
Fried Chicken take-out in the form of intersecting white walls perforated with
burnt holes. Five performers wore colonial American dresses embroidered
with anti-American slogans while struggling around, climbing over and
reaching through the walls. Wearing an oversized chicken mascot head
above a sexy white dress reading, ‘I said I was Canadian while travelling
abroad’, Chicken Head fl irts coyly and poses seductively. As the others
encroach incrementally, however, she begins frantically to scour the Club for
take-out bags with which to block the holes. ‘Performance art and protest are
close relatives – both public acts of conviction,’ says Mandle. ‘Today, when
someone supports my work, I believe they are supporting the extension of
their own voice.’

Mandle’s voice was formed early. She ‘grew up’ in the museum where
her father worked, learning an interdisciplinary approach to the world,
and was taught to sew by her grandmother who ran a sewing school in
her basement. She earned her MFA through the famously interdisciplinary
Gallatin Program at New York University, and went on to work with both
architect Steven Holl and theatre designer and director Robert Wilson – two
unique practitioners in their respective fi elds. Today, she continues to design
everything on the set collaboratively with her artists. ‘I have never been
comfortable with, or capable of, making the choice of visual art or design or
dance,’ says Mandle.

Last year’s conspicuously performerless ‘performance’, Fabrication
of Blindness, took its cue from a press photo of a hooded Iraqi detainee
embracing his tiny son shortly after the 2003 invasion. During a residency
at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, Mandle explored her guilt and powerlessness
in the face of the occupation by suspending 385 hoods (representing the
current number of Guantanamo Bay detainees), creating a large dark cloud
that blocked natural light from the room.

This year Mandle will revisit one of her most beautiful costume series
while working on an urban scale. In Kalch (1998) two performers wore
austere, geometric black dresses reminiscent of Rei Kawakubo pieces, and
tall, heavy platform shoes made from a specially cast cake of yellow chalk.
Dragging their feet, they made a slow circuit, tracing the outlines of an
extinct 18th-century pond. These costumes were revisited in a different palette
for Hustle in 2005, in which performers traced chalk around two small plots
of land – part of Gordon Matta-Clark’s 15 unfi nished Fake Estates in Queens.
The chalk shoes will be used again this spring to mark public entrances to
the new elevated High Line Park in Chelsea. ‘I’m interested in engaging my
audiences in their own context, but changing it so it raises their curiosity and
heightens their perception,’ explains Mandle. ‘I see performance art as a tool
to reconnect us in this overwhelming world and make us consider our role
within it.’