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Editor's Letter

Theatricality in Our Lives. Celebrate It!

Amy Gahyun Lee

Apr 16, 2018

Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to step into the shoes of an international celebrity just for a day? Would you get so caught up and flustered by the public attention that you wouldn’t know how to act? Or do you think you’d be able to pull it off naturally?


In 2014 at the Gwangju Biennale curated by Jessica Morgan I had the simultaneously proud and embarrassing experience of a guard loudly announcing my arrival to the crowd ahead of me as I was arriving into the exhibition hall. This simple act of calling out one’s name in public was the core experience of Name Announcer (2011)—a theatrical performance piece by the French artist Pierre Huyghe who has since presented the work in various forms throughout the world. I believe anyone can appreciate this experience. And I view it as an allusion to Descartes's Cogito in the style of a court announcer from Europe’s Middle Ages.


Then there’s Leopoldo Pisanello—my favorite character in Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love (2012)—an ordinary bureaucrat living in Rome with his family who—out of the blue—one day finds himself to be famous, suddenly being chased by the paparazzi. Overnight his private life is turned upside down and he becomes the subject of public intrigue. That is, until another man—with an even less exceptional life—manages to steal the spotlight from him. In depicting Leopoldo’s transition from being famous back to being ordinary again, I believe Woody Allen is sharing his deeply cynical perspective on fame.


This year, at Art Basel Hong Kong I saw lots of people who seemed to enjoy participating in some of the interactive pieces presented throughout Encounters. For Erwin Wurm’s theatrical performance, One Minute Sculptures—where audience members would act out the artist’s instructions on a the pedestal serving as a stage before the crowd—being briefly recognized as a ‘celebrity’ seemed to be making a statement about today’s hyper-realistic commercial art scene.


We are living in an era of uncertainty in which our lives would seem fade into the noise around us as quickly as we are able to make ourselves known. Am I being ironic here? Don’t we all have access to the public stage whenever we want it in this age of social media?


In The Empathic Civilization (2010) the renowned economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin proposes that one’s desire for fame is driven by their fear of mortality or—if not that—at least a desire to know that their existence is recognized—or celebrated—by others.


We all know that our sense of social relevance these days has become increasingly superficial and more oriented around instant gratification than ever before. Perhaps this explains our desire to be celebrated by others—even if we don’t know who these ‘others’ may be. Could this unconscious desire for celebrity of ours be driven by a more basic survival instinct—our own recognition of just how precarious our lives really are? Or in other words: When we wish we were famous, are we just trying to prove to ourselves that we exist?



“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

- William Shakespeare, As You Like It