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. 

Peter Baren: People Have the Power

Peter Baren's performance from his newest series Blind Dates With The History of Mankind (Rage and Time) addressed politics as well, albeit in a less literal, more metaphorical manner. The performance, which takes its name from Barens' book (Performances 1980-2013) of the same title, references a history of revolutionary ideas and actions. Originally trained as a painter and visual artist, and with a background in theatrical productions and dance, Baren created a Gesamkunsteffect, or total artwork that involves all of the senses in a trans-disciplinary spectacle of movement, language, text, and texture. Like Krastin's earlier performance, Baren's Blind Dates With The History of Mankind addressed political language. In this case, it was the Socialist/Marxist language of the avant-garde. Blind Dates grew out of the Ark series. These performances, which harked back to the spectacles of the Vienna Actionists/Hermann Nitsch, included fog, saran wrapped performers, dervishes/dancers, blindfolded performers (including Baren), molasses, and mopping the floor as a conclusion to the piece Blind Dates With The History of Mankind drew specifically upon several of Baren's earlier works, including Ark: Featuring Blind Dates, Orphaned Whisperings And Other Unknown Pleasures from 2007-8 and Blind Dates With the History of Mankind (Venice, Italy 2013--not part of the Ark series). The former included a blindfolded man reading from Peter Sloterdijk's Zorn und Zeit (Rage and Time), in which Sloterdijk characterized rage as a psycho political force throughout history, while the latter distilled the earlier pieces into a molasses stained white shirt which Baren, his eyes covered by a censor bar, carried along with a texted Wirra (Australian boomerang) for four days. 

Blind Dates With The History of Mankind (Rage and Time) began with Baren's trademark fog. Entering the space, Baren, his eyes covered with the black censor bar, wrote the work Hope in several languages, making a kind of spoked wheel-like diagram that in actuality was the symbol for infinity. Periodically Baren would lead other performers into the space, including two saran-wrapped and molasses drenched runner/dancers, a sock clad whirling dervish, and a blindfolded man in a suit who moved from spoke to spoke and read from Rage and Time. 

The performance ended when the man in the suit had completed the circuit of spokes. Baren led the Dervish and the dancers out of the space. 

As with the rest of the performances on Day 4, Baren's performance concluded with a meditation on labor, ideas and political action. The audience began to clap, but it turned out that the performance had not yet ended--Baren returned with a mop and bucket, exhorting the audience to consider "PEOPLE HAVE THE POWER!" (a song by Patti Smith) while cleaning up the mess. Dripping molasses, sweat, politics, rage and frustration--all was mopped up at the end, cleaned up and sanitized. But can rage, politics and revolution be so easily washed away with the sweep of a mop? The answer is NO. Baren emphasized his refusal to capitulate by stating "THERE IS A GARDEN AT THE BOTTOM!, an excerpt of a song by The Associates. As the audience shuffled around, moving in and out of the space, unsure of whether or not the performance had ended and no doubt hoping to be included in the festivities and STU that followed the final performance, Baren stood alone, continuing to insist that he will keep texting on! 

KEEP YOUR VACUUMS CLEAN! Nasmak, a Dutch New Wave Band

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