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.