Thursday, June 16, 2016

Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival 2016: Day 5



Danilo Bracchi
Michiko Saiki
Pedro Matias
Roos Hoffman



Jim Bachor: The Pothole Artist

Much if not most of the Rapid Pulse programming in the past five years has been focused on artists who perform in the art gallery or alternative spaces. Very rarely have they addressed what Gregory Sholette has termed the dark matter of the contemporary art work--those artists and collectives who cheerfully and willingly operate under the radar of the art world. Sholette's dark matter (which is the title of his 2010 book as well) is a diverse lot--art that flies under the radar of the art world because it never shows up in blockbuster exhibitions, art fairs, and biennales. Dark Matter can be something as overlooked as the work of small town painters exhibited at the local library, or as central to the crafting of visual political language as the work of the artists collectives that Sholette covers in his book.  Jim Bachor's street mosaics function as sort of a gentle and understated dark matter--a one man solution to combatting potholes and beautifying the city by replacing the missing blacktop with exquisitely crafted mosaics. It is a bit of a stretch to consider Bachor's work performance art, although Bachor was certainly one of the most interesting and entertaining artists to participate in the Festival. Bachor's performance in this case was to carefully install a tile mosaic into a pothole around the corner from DFB that was fabricated using a technique that is literally thousands of years old and dates back to ancient Rome and the Byzantine Empire. Bachor, who has a background in art history and commercial art making, credits his experience on an archaeological dig in Pompeii with the inspiration to work in mosaics. 

Bachor has made a number of pothole mosaics (those interested can use this map to find them) and has a well-earned reputation for both the potholes mosaics and the larger public art commissions that he has done such as his 2014 Run Chi in a commercial space in Michigan Avenue. Bachor also sells his mosaics through his web site. It is thus particularly noteworthy and generous that he offers these mosaics, many of which depict ice cream treats, to anyone who is walking by on the street. By the time I arrived to watch Bachor work, he was almost finished with the installation. What was great was that there were more people who lived in the neighborhood than people from Rapid Pulse, and Bachor was able to simultaneously joke with his audience and continue the painstaking work of installing the mosaic. 
Jim Bachor. This is Not a Pothole anymore. Northeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Chicago, 2015.

Edra Soto: Architectural Interventions
Edra Soto. Graft DFB Window. 2015

Meanwhile in the window of DFB, artist and architect Edra Soto was also asking the audience to think about the process of making art rather than the finished product. With painstaking care, Soto literally graphed/grafted a grid onto the large glass windows of the gallery. Soto, who collaborates with her husband Dan Sullivan on The Franklin, an outdoor project space that they co-direct, has done several iteration of Graft, which references the ubiquitous iron screens of Soto's native Puerto Rico. Graft, which can take the form of a literal wooden structure or a structure suggested through adhesive metallic tape, references these post-colonial, Spanish-inspired iron fences that allowed for both security and cross ventilation. As Albert Stabler points out, Soto's Graft represents the indoor/outdoor architectural spaces that are fenced off by structures known as rejas. Stabler, whose essay is reproduced on Soto's website, questions what it means to transpose these structures to the mainland U.S. For her window performance at Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival 2016, it meant that the elegant, Arabic Spanish curlicues and patterns were transformed into a metallic grid that divided and organized the window space. The laborious process was only completed with the help of several volunteers who stepped in to ensure that Soto's window grid was completed. The obvious labor of the installation suggested the labor--and work--that was brought to bear on the colonization of Puerto Rico. For those audience members who were not able to see the final version of Graft at DFB, another version of Graft will be on display at the Western stop on the train line to O'Hare.

Vela Oma: Technologies of the Self

Vela Oma's Interdimensional Psychic Apparatus was a visceral tour de force, an electronic and sensory assault on the collection of witnesses/audience that gathered around him in a circle to watch what was described as a "video alter action which will attempt to conjure together several multiverse ids, egos, and superegos of myself in a small precious fragment of our time." Vela Oma's actions took place against a background of electronic music, sounds and phantasmic projections on the walls of pre-Columbian Deities, space-ship structures, futuristic graphs/diagrams, and television footage from the previous century. The futuristic, sci-fi projections were balanced by a low tech diagram that was taped onto the floor. 

The performance was a combination of high technology and base humanity. The performance began with Oma, garbed in black shoes, loose pants, and a black hoodie, shuffling into his soundscape/techno-scape installation that had been on view for approximately an hour prior to the start of the performance. The installation was pristine, futuristic--the superego of Vela Oma's psychic landscape, and the performance was the id. Oma turned on a radio and then proceeded to break up and destroy all of the objects that had been placed discreetly around the space. A bottle of whiskey was upended and poured over his head. A bag of licorice roots that Oma had attached to his waist was emptied and broken up--chewed, pounded, and pulverized. Everything was smashed, soaked, and broken, including the radio that was stuffed into a metal bucket. The performance concluded with Oma, hood and shoes removed, sweeping up the remains of the frenzy and carefully removing the labyrinth/diagram that had been taped to the floor, removing in essence the traces of himself/ego. The performance was stunning, a sort of futuristic scenario in which the technology reinforced, rather than denied, the inescapable fact that humans are still animals, with all of the base instincts that this implies. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival 2016: Artist Suz Evans on Nabeela Vega/Thahab

Sunrise is Four forty
Glimpse gold glistening veil in the periphery; prelude. still shimmers and sways, still bounces the light like their ever changing eyeballs. Thahab, projecting infinite colors, steps into a Lyft.

A few interns, curator and Elaine are ready too. The shopping cart sloshing water buckets the curator says Oops and giggles wet with holy water. How many trips it took to fill that kiddie pool, not not trying to not to get people wet. Thahab wanders away, making a trail in their path.

They say ‘it’s Ramadan,’ in a store with undercurrent of prayers playing through small suspended speakers, a store with many objects but not a disposable camera. Into the sun
Stay gold stay gold stay golden - slow walk down the street. Cars stop for them differently - with more space and less drag, wheels silenced by the disco reflections bouncing off windshields. (Thahab is too much fun for you.)

Still gold stay gold stay golden
Still gold stay gold stay golden
Still gold stay gold stay golden

In a doorway next to the gallery, playing Queer Muslim on soundcloud, lighting candles and smoke bombs under the veil. the colorful smoke seeps out of the fabric; maps the spaces one cannot locate with their eyes. Are witnesses locating Thahab in a shallow media understanding of terrorism, and myself too yes?

Kissed me in, through the gold, the sun (Thahab) is on the rise. Pressure of tongue scratchy on bare lips, curve and dip of their facial planes. Peculiar mixture of exhilaration, exhibition, sexuality and shame. ( eye - I am ) xenophobic, lover, source of oppression, administer of love. Afraid of it and into it. Thahab (the sun) is on the rise and smells like smoke bombs.

Sprays on their feet together which makes this symbol, a mark of their tense, ritual call  

Kiddie pool on the sidewalk. Gold curtains veil the gallery doors. Chalk on the side alley wall. Queer Muslim playing from the speaker. Traces of their annointments; glitter trail, spray, smoke, altar candles. Thahab travels, losing sight of them briefly as they reappear (the sun) several blocks away; still gold. Glitter trails from their body. A man sweeps some into the street.

Sun still rising sitting in the window of the pie shop and eating delicious pie, two people take cellphone pictures of Thahab from outside. Goes to the pool, sits on a stool in the middle of the pool. It’s too hot, they get in. lounging w Elaine and Maria (who brings pizza beer and cigarettes)
Passersby are into it (it’s fucking hot outside, water looks great, a human relief overcomes confusion of surreal mirage in this instance)

Sun (Thahab) has peaked, wanders into the park? About and throughout the quiet neighborhood, people move out of the way and stare a bit. Watching people watch them, they are both respected and feared, sparking curiosity. The gold veil is real, it is art and not art, Thahab is rn, serious spectacular. Goes to the gallery, tall gold curtains hang and blow in the entrance. They step inside, turn on Queer Muslim playlist, introduce a wig of long black hair. Can only see their hands, Thahab strokes the hair behind the secondary golden veil, shines, moving with wind. The gesture continues for some time as a small audience accrues, sun begins descent.

Thahab rips down the curtains.

Back to the park, some people watch basketball and Thahab watching basketball.

Selfies with people maybe that will become a snapchat, digital relics untrackable.

Return to the pool on the sidewalk. People eat Cuban dinner as Thahab steps into the water, staying golden. Passersby ask questions, evening brings a different approach. What are you doing? Skeptical curious. Thahab explains, ‘mirage, surreal, xenophobia, durational, dusk to dawn, come in,’’ intimate moments hand in hand; friends, artists come into the pool, Thahab anoints the wrist with fragrant oil - Rose oil? They move their cheeks up to Thahab’s gold figure to listen to their voice. Get wet together, mirage together. People standing in line outside Beauty Bar wondering what the hell, having a collective experience of confusion and curiosity on golden veiled figure wading in pentagonal kiddie pool. some folks are taking cellphone images of Thahab from inside the glass walled entry of the bar, space of six feet maybe, but glass wall is enough separation. Some strange visibility metaphor is happening rn..

Almost sun down Thahab lets water out of the pool, presses out the inflation and walks back to the gallery. They meet a few folks in the side alley wall, but their chalk drawings (which have grown since) Thahab provides sparklers as the sun sets, plays music and Bowtie is dancing and we are smiling as they unveil.

Suz Evans is interested in distinguishing patterns of gendered behavior and thought through absurd social gestures. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival 2016: Day 4

Esther Neff
Barcode DJ's: Beata Kolbašovská & Jakub Pišek

Adam York Gregory and Gillian Jane Lees

Eli Kabir Gold
Gavin Krastin
Peter Baren

VIDEO SERIES: Traces of the Absent
Keaton Fox
Julie Gemuend
Justyna Gorowska
Helen Kirwan


Adam York Gregory and Gillian Jane Lees: Achieving Failure Again and Again

Gillian Jane Lees and Adam York Gregory created Constants and Variables for an intriguing UK performance festival entitled Tempting Failure devoted to performance art and noise. I have never managed to attend the festival, but have followed it on Facebook, intrigued by the aptness of the title when it comes to performance art, which embraces the frailties of the body and the macroscopic and microscopic failures that take place when things are live. To perform is to tempt failure, sometimes rather spectacularly and sometimes through the accruing of small mistakes. 

It is the latter sort of failure that Lees and Gregory address in Constants and Variables, which has subsequently been performed twice at Buzzcut and now most recently at Rapid Pulse. For the performance Lees constructs a lovely white paper dress and York creates ink using candles, gum arabic, and water. Seated between full vials of ink and empty vials of ink, Lees transfers the ink from the full vial to the empty vial, spilling some ink onto her paper clad lap in the process. Each drop spilling represents a minute failure, the inability to successfully make that transfer using a spoon. Subsequently the stained paper dresses are exhibited as discreet art works, their mute presence speaking to the futile labor previously conducted by Lees and York (who documents the whole process while Lees works). The ink stained dresses are elegant in their simplicity and understatement. 

Barcode DJ's: Empire and Trash

In between the window performance and the gallery performance, the attendees of Rapid Pulse were treated to a musical concert by the Barcode DJ's (Beata Kolbašovská & Jakub Pišek) which begin in the garage and ended in a local clothing store down the street from Defibrillator. The Bar Code DJ's make music from the barcodes found on product packaging. Using standard barcode scanners and open software, the Barcode DJ's create music from this packaging. The musical event is determined by the trash/discarded packaging that the artists have managed to collect or, when performed in a store, by the plethora of consumer goods, all packaged with plastic and tags containing a barcode. For the Barcode DJ's, trash is both literal and metaphorical: the world is awash in useless garbage which reflects the throw away consumer culture that pervades every aspect of the current global economy. 

After a surprisingly diverse musical experience created by the unique barcodes found on a large pile of cardboard trash assembled for the occasion, the Barcode DJ's took to the street, leading the audience to a local clothing store after plugging their scanners into a portable machine. This part of the performance, which normally takes place in a grocery story (and thus emphasizes the relationship between consumerism and trash) ended up in a local, family owned clothing store down the street. The store sold everything from shoes to perfume, and the owners, themselves immigrants from the middle east, were there at the door to greet the artists and the audience. In this tight space full of discount clothing made in China and sold in a family business, the concert took on a different meaning, one that highlighted the tension between local businesses, the ambition and generosity of people who might or might not have been forced to leave the country where they were born, and the rapacious capitalism that has resulted in goods being manufactured in other countries and sold in the U.S. Joseph Ravens, the indefatigable owner of Defibrillator Gallery and the artistic director of the festival, exhorted people to look around the store, as he often found interesting things when he shopped there. Many of the audience members, myself included, stayed behind to shop, grateful to the family that hovered helpfully nearby. Below is my purchase that day--the last pair in my size. 

Eli K. Gold: Art and Labor

Eli Kabir Gold's Braced was a deceptively simple piece that took just a few minutes to complete. For as long as he was able, Gold braced a 300 pound  slab of concrete that was balanced precariously on one end. Shirtless and barefoot, Gold appeared vulnerable and at risk, especially since there was a row of nails directly underneath his feet. Rather quickly Gold's exertion turned to exhaustion. Jumping back, he allowed the slab to fall to the floor, which was covered by a pristine white cloth. The slab cracked open along the line made by the upright nails, oozing a fluid that Gold identified as oil on his web site. As the oil quickly soaked into the cloth, Gold folded it around the slab, almost as though it were a shroud. The performance ended once the slab had been partially covered. 

Gold's performance was the second in a series of pieces about the ongoing struggle of living with mental illness and its crushing weight. It also was the latest piece by Gold that addressed artistic labor. In previous pieces such as Full Time (2015), performed with Rena Detrixhe at Charlotte Street Foundation in Kansas City, MO or The Monkey Chase the Weasel (How Did I Get Here) performed in Detroit in 2016, Gold has used the time units of the standard work week in late capitalist society--40 hours in the former and 8 hours in the latter--to address the gap between so called productive labor and non-productive labor. For the duration of a 40 hour work week, Gold and Detrixhe made concrete slabs and pillowcases, which they sold to gallery visitors. The Monkey Chase the Weasel was eight hours (with a lunch break) of Gold lifting a cinder block from a pedestal and then returning it to the pedestal, marking each occurrence with a drop of blood in a grid. These two futile acts of endurance point to a different economy of time and time management, one that exists outside of the standard blocks of scheduled time that structure most people's daily existence. 

Gavin Krastin: Lord of the Flies

Gavin Krastin's Pig Headed takes its name from William Golding's famous 1954 novel Lord of the Flies. Lord of the Flies was about a group of boys, stranded on a deserted island during war time, who try to govern themselves with disastrous results. The Lord of the Flies refers to the demon Beelzebub, the lord of filth and dung. As the fragile society that the boys have constructed progressively breaks down the boys become more and more filthy. "The Lord of the Flies" in the novel was the severed head of the wild pig that the boys had killed in their search for survival. In Pig Headed, Kratin, who comes from South Africa, uses the trope of the rotting pig's head (the lord of the beasts and the representative of all that is uncivilized) to speak to an apathetic citizenry, one that can quickly become beastly. Krastin began the performance by unveiling the pig's head and pouring a glass of champaign for himself and for the pig. Moving to a lectern opposite the pig's head, Krastin, who comes from South Africa, commenced reading from that country's Bill of Rights. As he read, he became more and more "pig-like," modifying his nose and adding clothespins to his lips and a mousetrap (a symbol of catching the devil in the middle ages) to his tongue. By the end of the performance Krastin was all but unintelligible, and the audience, trapped in the basement space of the gallery, was flinching away as though in pain. At the conclusion of the reading, Krastin consumed the pig's glass of champaign (which nearly choked him) and then stood at attention as the audience exited the space. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival 2016: Day 3

Esther Neff
River Lin



Jai Du
Chongha Peter Lee
Sujin Lim
Raul Rodriguez
Fermin Diez De Ulzurrun
Andrei Venghiac

Wen Yau

Pieter Breughel. The Tower of Babel 1563.

Rapid Pulse Day 3: The Tower of Babel Then and Now

The overriding theme of Rapid Pulse 2016 has been the number 5. In honor of the 5th anniversary, there are 5 nights of programming, 5 different kinds of venues/performance offerings, and 5 consecutive days in June beginning with June1.  Each day of the festival is also themed, with the particular theme echoing the video programs. Day 1 was titled "This Is Not Sex." Day 2 was "Performing the Portrait." Day 3 was devoted to the theme of the global citizen. Appropriately most of the artists had started their lives outside of the United States. Much of the work addressed what it means to be a global citizen. What sort of ethical responsibility should one take on given the way in which the lure of the local has succumbed to the glamour of the global.

The idea that we presently live in a global community has gained increasing traction in popular culture of late. This idea, while having some basis in truth (tools such as the internet have permitted us to connect with people and see things that are half a world away) also manages to belie exactly what it means to have a global neoliberal economy where the gap between the haves and the have nots has significantly widened and the specificities of the local--language, customs, cultures, and religions--has been obscured by the ubiquity of English, spoken fluently and taught in the schools of all first world countries. Along with the video series, the performances challenged the ubiquity of English speaking culture, even as they were offered in English as a concession to the Tower of Babel gathering that converged upon DFB/Rapid Pulse on the evening of June 3. At stake was the notion of how to counterbalance the global with the local, the crowd with the individual, and ideology with stories.

Nabeela Vega Visiting Thahab

A long time supporter, blogger, volunteer and former performer at the festival, Nabeela Vega returned this year as a performer. Visiting Thahab explored the identity of a Muslim American femme genderqueer woman in the post-9/11 diaspora. The performance, which took place in and around DFB, lasted from sunrise to sunset. Using gold, a color traditionally associated with luxury and masculinity, Vega, originally from Bangladesh, walked around the neighborhood, hung out in a child's pool in front of a restaurant, and observed art work (in this case the window performance by Regin Ingloria and Amy Sinclair, which coincidentally also involved gold) from behind their makeshift veil. Vega's performance was quiescent. Beginning around 5 a.m. they walked around the neighborhood dropping gold glitter. Vega's performance was experienced by many as traces--a smattering of glitter, a gold cloth floating in the pool, a Facebook post or Tweet from someone who had found them, or Vega themself, saying little to nothing and letting the idea of the veil speak for itself. Vega's performance fittingly reprised their performance Purge from the third iteration of Rapid Pulse 2014, a split screen video in which Vega adorned, effected and purged their body of gold paint, glitter, and fluid. 

As with PurgeVisiting Thahab questions the degree of assimilation allowed to Muslim women 15 years after 9/11. It also forces us to face the specter of fundamentalism, and to question how that particular system of belief has managed to overtake the Cartesian World view and scientific positivism. The traces of gold, so difficult to see, suggested our inability to understand fundamentalism, or indeed, to even acknowledge its existence. 
Gold glitter on the alley behind DFB as sunset approached on June 3.

For more images and video of Nabeela Vega's Visiting Thehab please see their Instagram account for the Rapid Pulse 2016 performance here.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival 2016 Day 2




Pedro Galiza
Angela Alexander-Lloyd
Julia Gladstone
Jeffery Byrd

Katie C. Doyle

The second day of Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival 2016 could be characterized as an interesting mixture of Baroque excess--Heidi Wiren Bartlett's & Kuldeep Singh's Nole Me Tangere Part II;  post-minimal interactive sculptural installation--Heeran Lee's 50 Bulbs; and part throwback to the spare gestures and actions of conceptual performance art in the seventies--Alejandro T. Acierto's untitled action and David Frankovich's Always Be(come) a Unicorn. The Video Series, curated by Giana Gambino and Julie Laffin addressed portraiture (Performing the Portrait)--two standouts were Pedro Galiza's Erlebnis 4, a video of the artist searching for himself in Sao Paolo, obsessively calling his own name while moving through the city landscape, and Jeffery Byrd's Unchained (for Elvis), a wild ride with Byrd through an empty parking lot while he sings along with various songs. Esther Neff continued to offer "affect" as part of her performance Affactions and River Lin spent an hour kissing away (mostly) physical and psychic pain. 

Kuldeep Singh performing alone while waiting for the arrival of Heidi Wiren Bartlett for their performance Noli Me Tangere Part II. Performed in the window of DBF. Photograph by Author.
Singh's and Wiren Bartlett's Noli Me Tangere Part II was sort of a trans-disciplinary, transnational, postmodern/post-colonial cultural pastiche. The performance, according to the artists, was rooted in the commonalities between sensual Greek and Indian mythology, specifically that of Leda and the Swan and the Hindu Deity Indra, the thousand-eyed lord of rain and thunderstorms. However, the piece went way beyond the meeting of Hindu divinity and and Greek mythological desire. The title, Noli Me Tangere, or Don't Touch Me, refers to the words uttered by Jesus Christ to Mary Magdalene when she recognized Him after His resurrection. Metaphorically, the words refer to the Magdalene's desire to hold onto the human form of Jesus Christ which is no longer possible. "Don't touch me." "Unhand me." "Do not cling to me." 

Heidi Wiren Bartlett beginning her performance at Navy Pier. Photo by Emilio Rojas

Along those same lines, the performance started with a rather vast separation--Wiren Bartlett began the piece on the Navy Pier, rode the Ferris Wheel, and then walked towards the gallery carrying a pheasant frozen in a block of ice which she did not not put down until she was able to offer it to Singh. At 5 p.m. Wiren Bartlett, slightly delayed after having been stopped by security, was still walking. Alone and desiring his partner, Singh stepped into the window space and began performing. 

Trained in the Indian Classical dance of Odissi, Singh began to dance in the opulently decorated window space. At that point, Singh looked less like Indra and more like Krishna, avatar of Vishnu and  lover of all of the Gopis/cow heards but particularly of Radha, his favorite, who often traveled great distances at great hardship to reach Krishna. Meanwhile the anticipation for Wiren Bartlett grew as reports reached the audience that she was still walking but had been delayed by the weight of her frozen pheasant, which was necessary to compliment the swan sculpted from ice that shared the window space with Singh. 

Wirren Bartlett on her way

When Wiren Bartlett finally arrived, garbed entirely in white and looking more like Amadeus Mozart than Zeus, the reference shifted again. Wiren Bartlett's clothing referenced both a white swan and 16th century Europe, the height of the colonial period. The inclusion of the frozen pheasant exacerbated this tension between the colonizers and the colonized, as the pheasant was a non-native bird from Asia introduced to Europe and North America for sport. Wiren Bartlett's presence in the space with Singh suggested the uneasy relationship between the European colonizers and the native cultures that they encountered, a relationship that is evident in the famous Mughal miniature by Bichtr entitled Jahangir Seated upon an Allegorical Throne (1620) where Jahangir, in what retrospectively seems to be a futile effort to fight back, indicates his preference for a Sufi Sheik over King James I of England. It seemed as though Singh and Wiren Bartlett deliberately attempted to foreground the violence and suppressed eroticism of colonialism.

In contrast, the performances of Alejandro T. Acierto and David Frankovich were quite understated. Both performances were very simple, and harked back to the early 70s, when documentation was low tech or non-existence, props were whatever you found, and artists were endlessly fascinated with the possibilities and limits of the human body. Acierto's untitled piece involved taking a small group of people to a quiet spot in a nearby park and giving a short lecture on breath, its transformative power, and its permeability, which means that we all expel breath and take in other people's breath at all times. A musician as well as a performance artist, Acierto had prepared three harmonicas. After asking everyone to stand in a circle that was so tight that you could hear everyone else breathing, Acierto passed out two harmonicas and kept the third for himself. He asked his fellow musicians to blow into the harmonic and be aware of how the breath was able to transform sound. The rest of the audience was asked to hum along. I experienced the performance the first time having come upon it and not being able to join the group as the vocalizing playing and already begun. The second time I was part of the group. The effect was completely different. The circle of transformed and transformative breath was magical once one was inside of it, a quiet, meditative moment.
Alejandro T. Acierto. Untitled 2016. Photo by Author. 

Frankovich's performance Always Be(come) a Unicorn was about embracing this mythological beast as both a symbol of invisibility (unicorns don't actually exist) and as a power symbol of queer possibility. For the past year, Frankovich has been operating from the position of bisexuality because like a unicorn it supposedly doesn't actually exist and yet, pace Peggy Phelan, its unmarked status is a potentially powerful place from which to operate a queer performance art practice. As Frankovich wrote for the Rapid Pulse website:

Can we imagine the possibility of some magical excess emerging from invisibility and erasure in queer and bisexual performance? Can absence itself be thought of as a queer kind of presence and appropriated as a queer performance strategy?

Always Be(come) a Unicorn was about that possibility of a queer presence. There was illusion, magic, cheap analogy effects, and underlying all, abjection. Like Bulle, Frankovich began the performance with an homage to Carolee Schneemann, pulling a ribbon out of his anus while reciting a variation of the text that Schneemann pulled from her vagina for her performance Interior Scroll. Frankovich gently placed the ribbon on the glass plate of an old fashioned enlarger, which projected a lacy and elegant design onto the walls that belied the supposedly shit covered ribbon (it actually wasn't shit covered, which was fortunate since Frankovich later dragged it over the audience--he had stored it safely in a condom). Frankovich moved around the room, turning on other enlargers so that the audience felt as though they were in the middle of a forest, the sort of magical forest that normally might conceal a unicorn. The performance ended with Frankovich moving over to a crudely constructed machine that produced voluminous soap bubbles, an ersatz cloud bathed in the ersatz glow of a flashing strobe light. The performance props recalled the kinds of spare actions undertaken by artists such as Linda Mary Montano, who used what was at hand to create strange juxtapositions and new readings of tired objects. At the same time, the underlying abjection was undeniably queer in a way that was still radical and still wrong. With the almost complete appropriation of the term queer into the capitalist regime (RuPaul's Drag Race), Frankovich's performance begins to articulate a strategy that prevents the loss of queer's (and bisexuality's) transgressive potential.

David Frankovich Always Be(come) a Unicorn 2016. Photo by Rapid Pulse International Festival

Heeran Lee's performance 50 Bulbs was aesthetically exquisite. Garbed all in white, she approached a circle of heat-proof gloves set out around 50 hanging lightbulbs. With methodical precision, she handed one lightbulb at a time to an audience member, and then turned off the previous light bulb after a new lightbulb had been handed off. After moving slowly around the circle for about 20 minutes, she gathered all of the gloves and handed all of the lightbulbs off to the remaining audience members. Eventually all the lightbulbs were turned off and then back on, at which point Lee donned a large glass bulb and requested that the audience release the lights at her head. The sight of all of the smashing lightbulbs, which according to Lee had something to do with ignorance and conformity, was still amazing. Lee's performance/installation serves as a reminder that art can be a conduit to wonder and receptivity, and antidote to ignorance. 

Smashing the light bulbs against Heeran Lee. Photography by Rapid Pulse.

The beginning of Heeran Lee's performance 50 Bulbs

Three views of Herran Lee's 50 Bulbs 2016. Photo by author.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Rapid Pulse International 16: Wednesday, June 1 2016




VIDEO SERIES: this is not sex
Rinat Schnadower
Pedro Matias
Emma Varker
Justyna Gorowska
Krefer & Turca

STU: John Burkholder and Jessica Bortman

Rapid  Pulse 16 officially opened on Tuesday, May 31 with the traditional Vernissage, a gathering of artists and supporters that included food, spirits, and art: a window installation by Sarah and Joseph Belknap, music by DJ Ariel Zentina, and a talk by the recovering groupie/penis and breast casting Cynthia Plaster Caster (which might explain why the image stamped on our hands upon receipt of our admission ticket was a penis!). 

The first full day of Rapid Pulse 16, the gala fifth anniversary for this Chicago-based but international performance art festival that takes place at Defibrillator/DFB Gallery, featured eight artists, a very amusing video program themed around sexuality, and a feast/performance event that capped off the evening and filled everyone's bellies. 

Linda Mary Montano performing Art/Life Counseling with Esther Neff. June 1, 2003. Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival. Photo by Elaine Thap

The following morning the festival opened on a more serious note, with Mother Superior Linda Mary Montano conducting Art/Life Counseling (your choice). Garbed entirely in orange clothing, Montano counseled festival goers for approximately eight hours in the garage behind the gallery. Montano, a pioneer of conceptual feminist performance art in the U.S., has been concerned with the relationship between art, life, spirituality and consciousness since she first had her MFA show at University of Wisconsin and replaced the conceptual Minimalist grids that were being used by the men in her program with a grid of live chickens. Prior to becoming an artist, Montano was a nun for two years. Much of her career has been devoted to studying and articulating the relationship between different forms and expressions of spirituality, corporeal asceticism, and the messy interstices where the body refused to behave. Montano has collaborated with artists as diverse as Tehching Hsieh, an artist known for his extreme acts of radical endurance to Annie Sprinkle, the artist most celebrated for embracing radical sexual diversity, corporeal pleasure and a truly transgendered approach to art making and performance. Montano first did Art/Life Counseling as part of her durational performance 7 Years of Living Art. For that performance Montano wore the same color, meditated to the same sound every night, and called upon a different spiritual guide each year. For a time she also spoke in an accent, although she dropped that after about two years.  7 is a magical number--there are 7 chakras and 7 sacraments. The number 7 also figures prominently in many fairytales--7 doors, 7 obstacles. For her performance at Rapid Pulse, Montano reprised some of that earlier performance (which eventually turned into 14 Years of Living Art). The second chakra, Orange is the color of security.  Montano's guide for the orange year was Teresa of Avila, the Spanish saint and mystic. It was fitting that Montano, as the Mother Superior of this festival, reinvoked St. Teresa through her clothing and her actions. The festival will conclude on Sunday night with a Sleepathon: An Overnight Glandathon experience at DFB.

Sarah and Joseph Belknap Window Installation DFB Gallery June 1, 2016. Photographer not identified.

Sarah and Joseph Belknap's performance in DFB's window, which was going on at the same time as the Art/Life Counseling, turned out to be a sort of meditation on creation, the beginning and the end of world, deep ecology, and the way in which humans have constructed and manipulated this creation. The Belknaps are known for their sculptural installations that invoke both unformed matter/earth and the era of the Anthropocene, or the human impact on the earth. The window performance/installation cannily invoked both the idea of the beginning of Earth (with quotations from various scientists, popular science book about the beginning of the cosmos by authors such as Carl Sagan, and a slide show projected on a tiny screen of desert images. The center of the performance was a large "rock"--seemingly a piece of a meteor, settled onto a desk decorated with more desert pictures and space age foil. For approximately three hours, Joseph, aided by Sarah who was hidden in the desk, pulled objects from this rock, which took on the roll of a cosmic volcano, periodically ejecting smaller rocks and balloons. Belknap also pulled chairs, fake palm trees, pictures, alcohol, and cigarettes. He mixed a drink, rolled a cigarette, and created several vinegar and baking soda volcanic eruptions in the small volcano sculpture that was placed toward the front of the installation. The genius of this performance was in its understated emphasis on the manner in which we--humans--have constructed nature while underestimating the way in which materials can shape the human as much as the human can shape the materials. There is something deeply ironic about the rocks, volcanos and Easter Island Head vase, which held sun flowers.

Joseph Belknap pouring champagne.

The Belknap's understated and cerebral performance stood out in comparison to the rest of the offerings that day and evening, which were more in the spirit of Cynthia Plaster Caster, whole heartedly embracing affect, sensuality, corporeal excess, identity, and sexuality. In a sense, they represented the root or red Chakra, the Chakra grounded in the earth and sensuality, and the Chakra immediately (and in this case appropriately) just below the Orange Chakra/Linda Mary Montano. EstheR Neff's durational performance Affaction, which continued throughout all five days of the festival, allowed audiences to respond viscerally and visually to the performances which they experienced. Garbed in a bone colored tunic and a rather amazing backwards skull mask constructed on a wire armature with plaster and paint by the artist herself.
Esther Neff's backwards mask reflected in the window of Defibrillator

Neff haunted (and will continue to haunt) the edges of every performance, offering the audience the opportunity to fill out a Affaction sheet after giving her something to which they were very attached. Neff's exercise provoked and provokes the audiences to experience performance corporeally and visually. It also raised issues of the affinities between the bodies of the audiences, the performers, and the materials which the performers used.

EstheR Neff. Affaction June 1-4 2016. Photograph by Author.

River Lin. Kiss It Better. June 1-4, 2016. Photography by Author.
River Lin's ongoing performance Kiss It Better, offered twice each evening at 6 and 6:40 engaged with the ideas of empathy, touch, and human interaction. Judith Butler, in her 2004 book Precarious Life, Judith Butler has suggested that one of the most important tasks facing artists/theorists today is to "return us to the human where we don't expect to find it, in its frailty and at the limits of its capacity to make sense."Kiss It Better exemplifies that frailty, that vulnerability that exists at the point at which we are able to recognize the humanity of the other. Lin's performance is simple: the audience gather around in a circle. Blindfolded, Lin asks each audience member to tell him where they are hurt physically or emotionally, and then kisses it and makes it better. Lin first swabbed the area with a q-tip and then took a mouthful of red dye (food coloring, since it was safe). The audience left with a record of Lin's "kiss." Lin concludes the performance by asking the someone from the audience to kiss his lips, where "he has an emotional block." The exchange of red thus goes full circle. 
Me, after the performance. I had recently been sick and lost my voice.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

FOI 10: Day 1: Lina Adam, Ma Ei, and AOr NOpawan

Lina Adam (SG) – Culinary History of Singapore Performance Art Re-Presented
Ma Ei (MM) – Searching Of Nothing
AOr NOpawan (TH)– I Will Follow You Into The Dark

FOI 10 is unique this year due to the fact that Jason Lim, the organizer, deliberately invited only women to perform.  While Lim has not dubbed this iteration of FOI as a “feminist” performance event, the presence and participation of so many international women artists cannot help but recall the history of feminist performance art and the importance of women’s voices for this experimental medium which is based in the corporeality and temporality of the body.  In the 1970s, women artists working in the west turned to performance art because of its immediacy and existence in everyday life. Artists such as Linda M. Montano, Carolee Schneemann, Barbara T.Smith, Marybeth Edelson, Lorraine O’Grady, Howardina Pindell, and Suzanne Lacy wanted to say something about the treatment and representation of women in contemporary culture. They wanted to challenge the social and cultural inequities that were accepted as given by performing and iterating feminine identities that challenged sexist assumptions and patriarchal language. Often this challenge was mounted against the art world, which, in spite of its leftist sympathies and working class/hippie allegiance, remained divided along gender lines. Feminist performance artists introduced topics that were considered inappropriate for the art world, such as women’s spirituality, rape, sexuality, menstruation, childbirth, childcare, and lesbian identity.

Forty years later, the concerns of women performance artists have shifted.  Misogyny, sexism, and abuse are now understood as occurring on a global scale, with many women continuing to suffer untold indignities and atrocities. With the advent of social media platforms and communication technologies, feminism has morphed into global feminisms. Currently there exists a vibrant community of women artists working outside the west. These artists often combine feminist tactics and techniques with an exploration of the cultural, economic and social specificities of the area of the world in which they are working. Thus Lim’s decision to focus on the work of women for an international festival is significant, particularly since the formerly authoritarian Singapore has not had a great record of supporting women artists.
Lina Adam. The Culinary History of Performance Art Re-presented. ICA Singapore. November 7, 2014

The opening night performances by Lina Adam, Ma Ei, and Norpawan Sirivejkul did not disappoint. Adam, a native of Singapore, performed a Culinary History of Singapore Performance Art Re-Presented, a meditation/presentation of canonical performances done in Singapore that referenced food. Adam didn’t have much history to work with, as conceptual/performance art was banned for about 10 years in Singapore after Joseph Ng’s notorious Brother Caneperformance in the early 90s. Nevertheless, she found ten performances that referenced food and re-performed these earlier works by presenting the audience with a feast based on the food used in the performances. Fortunately for the audience, who took turns sitting down to the performance feast and often shared the dishes, Adam translated some of the more abject elements of the earlier performances such as Ng’s pubic hair and the urine in Vincent Leow’s 1993 performance Coffee Talk into edible offerings.

Lina Adam. A Culinary History of Singapore. 2015 Photography by Jemima Yong

Adam also translated a history of performance that was primarily masculine into one that was generated by a woman. Her ten examples included the work of only one woman: Amanda Heng, who was literally a pioneer in feminist performance in Singapore. Heng’s piece, Let’s Chat (1996), was an invitation for people to sit down with the artist, clean bean sprouts, drink tea, and chat about various issues. Adam’s Culinary History also provided the audience members with the opportunity to chat—to engage in dialogue across time, space and history. The structure of her pieces thus resembled Heng’s earlier piece, which took place approximately 20 years prior.

Ma Ei Searching of Nothing. 2015. Photography by Jemima Yong.

Ma Ei, from Myanmar, allowed the final course of Adam’s Culinary History (Leow’s coffee cups) to remain on the table for her performance Searching of Nothing. Garbed in a lovely embroidered red satin robe and a red chemise, Ma Ei walked slowly to the table, peering into the half drunk cups of coffee before spitting into them. After walking silently around the table, which was illuminated by a harsh spotlight that looked a lot like a scene of interrogation, Ma Ei produced a flashlight, which she pointed at the ceiling while turning it off and on a few times. Ma Ei then turned to the audience, randomly selecting people to examine with the aid of the flashlight, which she shone on the their face and eyes while moving their clothing to examine the skin underneath. A humorous moment occurred with a light saber battle broke out between Ma Ei and a very young member of the audience, who was armed with a homemade cardboard shield and sword.
Light Saber Battle. Photo by Author

Like Adam, Ma Ei makes reference in her work to an earlier generation of feminist performance artists in Myanmar. Influenced by the activist work of Htein Lin and Chaw Ei Thein, Ma Ei has used her work to challenge the conditions of women in Myanmar who continue to be subservient to men. Dressed as a prostitute or courtesan, Ma Ei behaved as though she were the predator rather than the prey, forcefully examining male and female members of the audience. As Nathalie Johnston wrote in 2004, Ma Ei’s practice “has evolved into a direct confrontation with men in society.” ( Ma Ei’s piece was both beautiful and very disturbing, suggesting sex trafficking, kidnapping, and slavery, through a series of haunting actions.

AOr NOpawan. I Will Follow You Into the Dark. 2015. Photography by Jemima Yong

 AOr NOpawan from Thailand is a return artist to FOI, having participated in FOI 7 in 2011.  Her piece, I will Follow You Into the Dark, appropriately “followed” Ma Ei’s “dark” performance, with the artist disappearing into the dark at the conclusion of the piece. Garbed in a black dress and leggings, AOr NOpawan carefully stretched a spool of transparent nylon thread between two large columns in the back of the space. Once the thread was secured, AOr NOpawan collected a handful of red glitter, which she held up and allowed to spill out her hands and settle at her feet, creating a painting in the negative of her footprint. Having done the same thing with silver glitter, plastic confetti, and flour, AOr NOpawan placed four large yellow Chrysanthemums in her mouth and walked through the nylon thread, breaking it and trailing it behind her as she left the space.  In her work AOr NOpawan uses thread and flowers to tell an enigmatic story of the fragility of life, memory, and loss. Her performances, at least those reproduced on her web page, involve installations of thread and yarn, meant to symbolize the tenuous link between the past and the present. AOr NOpawan is the project manager of the long running performance festival ASIATOPIA. She is also heavily involved in social justice movements in Thailand, particularly for women. I will Follow You Into the Dark references the disasters of war, implying that we are all the victims of loss. Like Ma Ei’s piece, it hints as well at something darker—the disappearance of women in times of social instability. I will Follow You Into the Dark speaks as well to the bonds between women, particularly women who have few resources.