Thursday, June 1, 2017

Rapid Pulse 17: Vernissage

Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival 17: Day 1

The display of posters, t-shirts, and tote bags from the 5 previous years of Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival, which first took place in June 2012. This year, Rapid Pulse/Defibrillator is having a raffle, with one of the prizes being a complete set of posters, shirts and totes similar to the display picture here. Photo Credit goes to Defibrillator, from whose Instragram account this picture was shamelessly plagiarized by the author.

2017 hasn't been a great year for alternative art institutions, most of which are dependent upon a combination of federal, state, and local funding to keep afloat. Just last week, the current president of the United States, or POTUS, released the official budget for 2018, and the news is rather dire: the proposed budget calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). While, as Blair Murphy writes in an article posted recently for the online art magazine Hyperallergic, the fate of these organizations is still up in the air, it does seem likely that some cuts are inevitable, and vulnerable institutions will either disappear or have to operate in a drastically reduced capacity. The elimination of the NEA would essentially destroy the foundation of the country's funding network, leaving arts organizations, particularly those located in rural areas that already have less access to additional private and public funding, very vulnerable. 

The Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival is hosted by Defibrillator/DFBRL8R Gallery, founded by the artist Joseph Ravens in 2010 as a platform for experimental performance art. In 2013 it was awarded a tax exempt status. Nevertheless, DFB, as it is affectionately called by those of us who can't spell either of the longer options without looking them up first, has struggled to stay afloat. Originally housed in 1136 North Milwaukee, the DFB gallery was relocated to 1463 West Chicago Avenue in 2015. Operating a gallery where there isn't really much of anything to sell is tough. Earlier this year, Ravens/DFB was forced to post an impassioned plea for donations via twitter, Facebook and email, asking patrons to donate money so that they could pay their back rent and continue to provide alternative programming to the art community. Incredibly, current and former patrons of DFB came through. Ravens was able to pay the rent and the gallery, along with the festival, is still in business. 

It is thus little wonder that the Vernissage, or opening ceremony for the festival, was particularly festive and crowded. The theme of this year's festival, which almost didn't happen,  was "Retrospect," and the audience, comprised of long time Rapid Pulse attendees and past presenters, was retrospective and very glad to be there. By the time Ravens and his assistant director and video curator Giana Gambino walked up on the stage the gallery was packed with revelers, who enthusiastically applauded the two, who have once again managed to produce what promises to be another amazing festival. Gambino has expanded the video portion to include a loop of new work by Rapid Pulse alums that plays throughout the festival. This selection, which was available for viewing during the Vernissage, is worth taking the time to watch. Particularly noteworthy are Tori Wr√•nes' mythological creature singing on a moving car against a desert background (Desert Troll Technique in collaboration with Skylar Haskard, 2016) and Beverly Fre$h's tribute to Mountain Dew, made in a tiny town in either Minnesota or Michigan (The Sweet, Sweet Mindew, 2013). Also noteworthy was Scott N. Andrew's Narcissister is You (2013), a rather appalling video of a hirsute man with pierced nipples taking a bath while wearing a Narcissister mask and covering his genitals with another mask, no doubt intended for submission to the Narcissister is U, an ongoing community project sponsored by the REAL Narcissister. 

The evening concluded with an inspiring lecture by Jefferson Pinder, a 2017 recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts, a professor of art at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, and an alum of the 2013 iteration of Rapid Pulse, for which he performed Magical Negro. Pinder's work, which engages with minimalist performances of Afro-Futurism, physical endurance, and blackness, is both humorous and thought provoking. The same could be said for his talk, in which he praised his students for moments of brilliance, acknowledge how hard it was to produce an event such as Rapid Pulse, and gave the audience several "take aways" from his experience as a Marine, which he decided to do rather than enroll in college. Wearing a very small dress jacket that he could no longer fasten around his middle, Pinder praised the Marines for teaching him discipline and how to own his choices, even as he acknowledged that he wasn't a very good Marine. Pinder's experience in the Marines helped to make him the person that he is today, and even though the dress jacket no longer fits (Pinder is a very trim man, but clearly had not finished growing when he enlisted), Pinder continues to wear that jacket, a tangible indication of his former self, into the identity of his new self. 

Pinder's talk suggested the importance of retrospection as a means by which one can continue to develop and grow as an artist and as a person. It will be exciting to see how the artists performing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday have evolved from their initial performances at earlier version of Rapid Pulse. 

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