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.

The themes of humanity and precariousness were also present in the three evening performances. Keijaun Thomas's Distance is Not Separation, explored the various queer black identities and identifications available to a young femme black person growing up in the 90s. A hot mess of glue, glitter, water, saltine crackers, flour, sugar, shower caps, blue nylon rope, and poetry, Thomas's piece explored these permutations viscerally making objects of words and words of objects. Taking place in the tiny basement of DFB, Distance is Not a Separation had no separation: Thomas was right in your face, with her femme sexuality, her mess, her poetry, reminiscent for those of us who have been around for awhile of Marlon Riggs, and her athletic and aggressive actions. In the best possible way, the performance (even with the frequent invocations of hashtags) recalled the urgency of this kind of work in the early nineties, when failure to conform to gender normativity was criminalized, and AIDS was seen as a heavenly scourge.

Keijaun Thomas Distance is Not A Separation 2016 Photo by Author
Erika BuLLe's Pieces of Dead Meat addressed the limits of the human/non human divide through the agency of her own body--obese, aging, indigenous, and sexualized. Her performance challenged the traditional construction of obesity and the idea that it was impossible to have any kind of sexuality if one were obese. BuLLe comes from Mexico, and implied in this performance is the damage that has been done through the insidious colonization of American culture, which has continued long after the actual colonization of Mexico was over. There was a lot happening in this performance: BuLLe greeted each member of the audience with a blessing and a touch of gold paint on the forehead. BuLLe pulled a tape measure out of her vagina (like Carolee Schneemann's Interior Scroll) and then sat while a volunteer pierced her back in a corset pattern and then laced the tape measure through the piercings. BuLLe stood up while the volunteer held onto the ends of the tape measure and pulled the whole thing out. She then returned so that the volunteer could insert sharpened feathers into her skin so that she looked like Huitzilopochtli, the Eagle god of the Aztecs. The action was accompanied by very loud music and a film of BuLLe engaging in sex and food play with a young man dressed in fishnet stockings and a wig (or series of wigs). The performance ended when the volunteer threw more gold glitter/paint on her back.
Erika BuLLe. Pieces of Dead Meat 2016. @RapidPulseFestival
The third performance of the evening was actually sandwiched in between that of Thomas and BuLLE: Stephanie Elaine Black's Extensions.  For the performance, Black had created an elaborate headdress of ribbon hair that she had woven into her own hair. The performance was meant to be about the meaning of female hair, how it is closely related to female empowerment, identity, beauty and religious repression. Black's actions suggested as much--she used the fake hair as a long veil, an instrument of seduction and titillation, and finally as an object that controlled her rather than the other way around. The performance ended with her cutting off the extra "hair," which seemed somewhat anti climatic. The wig/hairpiece that Black constructed was really beautiful. It recalled the experiments of artists such as Roni Horn who make beautiful and impossible costume constructions which referenced conceptual art, costuming, and prosthetics. There was something so elegant about Black's Extensions that I was really sorry when she destroyed them. Sometimes it isn't a terrible thing to be a slave to fashion, especially when that fashion is so out of the ordinary.

Stephanie Elaine Black. Extensions 2106 @RapidPulseFest

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