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.
Linda Mary Montano: Glands and Sleep
Rapid Pulse 2016 concluded with a performance by Linda Mary Montano's Interactionarama: Cry/Laugharama : An Interactive Lecture Honoring the 7 Glands of the Body. Montano was aided by three volunteers, who helped to facilitate the performance which was originally meant to be divided into 7 of Montano's video trailers which represent the 7 glands in the body: Intimacy, Security, Courage, Compassion, Communication, Intuition, and Joy. Instead of presenting 7 videos, Montano refocused her original idea after being at Rapid Pulse for a week and she began with her Chickenarama video of live chickens and announced in song-drone that she would "bless" the audience, the space and herself. Using the same format of song-drone, she called to the stage her "nurse" after letting the audience know that she was practicing the "art/life of aging." The nurse was a totally accurate Amy Winehouse doppleganger, a reference to Montano's persona practice which began in 1975 and continues today with her current Bob Dylan and Mother Teresa endurance performances. And then thebeautiful, twin love-ettes entered, teaching the audience to laugh and cry in gratitude for our glands (chakras) that work 24-7.
On her web site, Montano has included a "wish list" under projects that includes a proposal for a two day performance Death-Athon and L
ife-Athon. The two final videos that she presented covered those two states: Montano's My Mother: Artist and Teacher, an absolutely incredibly piece about the life and death of her mother, Mildred Montano, delivered in the same monotone chant that Montano used for her seminal performance Mitchell's Death, a piece performed three times (once for video) in which she narrated the circumstances of the death of her husband Mitchell Payne. Montano sang-droned that we were at the heart chakra and during the video about her Mother at Rapid Pulse, "Amy", travelled throughout the audience with a microphone, collecting the called out names of mothers from audience members while the two stunning love-ettes comforted Montano who was now disguised by a chicken mask; a theatrical attempt at losing her individual "self" and including all in the communal rite of healing.
After the intense depth of mother-sorrow, the mood switched drastically as Amy, and the two love-ettes swayed to Robert Palmer's Addicted to Love, an 80's video that looked absolutely bizarre in retrospect, but certainly stressed the importance of love. The audience thought so too and spontaneously jumped into the celebration of NOW.
|Linda Montano with C.V. Peterson. Photo by Linda Montano, lifted from Linda Montano's blog|
To conclude: Interactionarama: Cry/Laugharama : An Interactive Lecture Honoring the 7 Glands of the Body was the perfect performance with which to end a Festival that was celebrating its 5th year. Montano has been performing for fifty years or so (more if you count what she considers her earliest performances as a child and a young adult). Chickens have always figured prominently in Montano's performances. She has done performances with live chickens and dead chickens. Montano's first performance, Chicken Woman (1972) was inspired by her MFA Show in 1969 where she exhibited live chickens in a Minimalist grid. Montano continued to perform as Chicken Woman, sometimes with her dog named Chicken. In one memorable performance she was arrested as she attempted to perform Chicken Woman on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco because the police were concerned that she might be planning to jump from the bridge.
For Montano the glands are coterminous with the chakras. One of her seminal performances, 7 Years of Living Art (1984-1993) was based on the 7 chakras/energy centers of the body. Much of what Montano has done subsequently, including 14 Years of Living Art has been influenced by this performance. Interactionarama
encapsulated Montano's career, which has included in depth explorations of love, sexuality, spirituality (Montano was a novitiate with the Maryknoll Sisters for two years--Chicken Woman is a kind of latter day nun/saint), life versus art, and death. Everything is fodder for Montano's art which she has always used in order to explore difficult ideas such as sex, death, aging, and loss of mental and physical capabilities. Later that night Montano conducted an all-night workshop: Sleepathon/ Glandathon where 15 lucky participants (who were quick enough to sign up) spent the night sleeping on cots in the gallery. The workshop included exercises in laughter and different voices, a gland-athon meditation, journal writing and sharing, and a graduation ritual the following morning. The experience, which typical of a Montano workshop pushed everyone way outside of their comfort zone in different ways, was later written up for Hyperallergic by Chicago-based writer and curator Kate Sierzputowski. It was an apt finish to the five day whirlwind of the festival, a sending off from one of the most seminal, yet humble artists, who was a pioneer of performance work. Although in her writing Montano has frequently suggested that she realized that she wasn't "a perfect saint," being in her presence was just as exciting as if she actually was a Catholic/Jain/Buddhist/Hindu saint. The audience member, myself included, wanted something from her--something that would leave us wiser and more fulfilled. Montano delivered.