Friday, September 14, 2018

History Will Be Kind to Me? Global Contemporary Performance Art

Global Contemporary Performance Art
Closing comments on September 12, 2018 by Jennie Klein as part of History Will Be Kind To Me?

My remarks today are about the nature of contemporary performance festivals which have changed a great deal since performance art, which draws on experimental dance, music, studio practices, and avant-garde theater, became viable in the late fifties and early sixties as artists sought to break down the separation between real life, art, and actions. Early performance art events were generally tied to a gallery space or a small alternative theatrical space that could be used for dance and theatre. Sometimes the performance would take place in the artist’s studio, or, in some cases, at a local college or university that was willing to make a larger space available. The audience, and the artists, were for the most part local. Performance art was thus based primarily in major urban centers that had the population and the interest to support experimental art. In the early days of performance, there were not that many festivals, particularly international festivals. Some notable exceptions included The Destruction in Art Symposium in London in 1966, organized by Gustav Metzger, and the Fluxfests organized by George Maciunas in western Europe, beginning with the series of 14 “concerts” organized at Weisbaden, Germany in 1962.

The landscape for performance festivals has changed significantly since the 1960s. Many of the spaces dedicated to the performance in the seventies and eighties that flourished due to government support at the time are no longer in business although there are certainly some spaces left such as Dixon Place in NYC, Mobius in Boston, FADO in Toronto and ]performancespace[ in Folkestone, England. Whereas before artists performed primarily at alternative spaces or in a university setting, today that has shifted to performance festivals, most of which boast an international roster of artists. This shift from local performance scenes to events that feature an international roster of artists and attract visitors from outside of the festival location reflects the changing contemporary art world, which has of late been dominated by art fairs, biennials, triennials, and quadrennials. While some of these annual exhibitions are associated with specific spaces, such as the Whitney biennial in New York, many other biennials are not associated with any single institution, and are instead sited all over the city or urban territory. The same can be said for many performance festivals, which often change locations from year to year, albeit mostly due to economic reasons.

This shift corresponds to the globalization of the world. Communication technologies, social media platforms, global capitalism and neoliberal economic policies have all contributed to an art world that is no longer confined to certain major urban areas in western Europe and North America. Within artistic circles, according to Tim Griffin, globalization “describes an exponentially increased audience for (and financing of) contemporary art, attended by a radical proliferation of public and private museums throughout the world and, further, an expanded and evermore rapid travel network and exchange of information among constituents of art on all points of the compass.” In this new world, artists have become what Jen Harvie has called the artrepreneur, an artist/entrepreneur who, by working privately for their own advantage, models “neoliberalism, the contemporary from of economic practice that privileges the ‘liberty’ of individuals to trade as they please and, in so doing, promotes private enterprise within apparently ‘free’ or ‘open’ markets over publicly regulated economies” (63). Operating as a free agent in an economy that has little in the way of social institutions that can provide support is really difficult when the artist is expected to move between nations, institutions and cultures in their pursuit of a creative career. As we have seen in the talks given today, the artists also take on many roles--as curators, critics, organizers, bakers and chefs, and hosts. Many artists are expected to volunteer their time and creative output in order to build their careers with no renumeration but with the promise of writing their own history, or perhaps becoming part of art history. All of this allows for the production of unique experiences for an art going public that assumes it is normal for art workers to be fed rather than paid.

Contemporary art is big business. A biennial or similar large art event can bring thousands of dollars into the local economy where it takes place. Performance festivals, most of which take place over a few days to a week and have a much smaller audience, don’t bring the same amount of money, but they do make it possible for people to see a lot of work in a short amount of time. Support for performance festivals can also help to establish the reputation of a city or country as both an economic and cultural leader that is not afraid to promote more experimental art forms. Outside of the United States, whose current government is actively hostile to contemporary art, many countries including Norway, provide support for these festivals, allowing organizers to house the artists as well as pay them a small fee. In the case of the United Kingdom, there is more support for contemporary experimental art such as performance than there is for the more traditional media, with the result that the UK is host to a disproportionate number of annual international performance festivals such as The National Review of Live Art, Tempting Failure, Buzzcut, Spill and In Between Time. That said, international performance festivals still retain much of the DIY/Do It Yourself feel that characterized the early performance festivals put on during the sixties and seventies. Instead of a curatorial staff, most performance art festivals are organized by the same group of people, many of whom volunteer a lot of hours and also perform. Budgets are tight, staff are often working on a volunteer basis only, and generally the admission is either free or very cheap.

One aspect that is unique to performance art is the amount of grassroots institutional support that is available. Organizations such as Live Art Development Agency, Arts Admin, Performance Art Bergen, Defibrillator Apprentice Program, Mobius, The Present Tense, FADO performance space, and The Artists Village in Singapore, along with a number of university programs have provided support for younger and mid-career artist in terms of professional advice, resume building, and connections. Many festivals including the National Review of Live Art, Buzz Cut, Asiatopia, and Mobius have reserved spots for local and younger artists--called platform artists in the UK--to show alongside more established and international counterparts. Certain festivals such as undisclosed territory in Indonesia, Future of the Imagination in Singapore, and Asiatopia in Thailand have scheduled their festivals so that an artist may go from one festival to the next without having to fly home in between.

Contemporary performance festivals thus represent the shift from an art scene that was localized, tied to nation and identity, and not particularly beholden to documentation or even much of a media presence. Like the biennials and triennials, the festivals are international, intersectional, and interdisciplinary. However, unlike the biennials, which are big, sprawling affairs with fundraising openings where tickets cost upward of several hundred pounds/dollars, the performance festivals are surprisingly intimate. People are generous--locals offer to host artists, people bring food for pot luck openings, and often help with transportation by picking up and dropping off the artists. There is actually a rather small circle of artists who perform on the international art scene, and the range of artists in terms of their backgrounds, nationalities, ages, gender identity and style of performance is pretty broad. Nevertheless, everyone is very supportive of one another. And as we can see here in the community that has come together to participate in History Will Be Kind to Me? And It’s Personal, many of the artists present have met before at different festivals.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Angela Sprunger I've Got it All! December 2017 The Ridges

Angela Sprunger's December 2017 performance I've Got It All riffs on Traci Emin's Polaroid photograph of the same title in order to say something about artists, children, money, and feminism. Emin's claim to fame comes from her excruciatingly intimate and personal work that explores her sexuality and working class identity. I've Got It All, a 43" X 49" C-Print which shows Emin, garbed in a low cut Vivienne Westwood Dress, seated spread-eagled on a red floor while attempting to gather a pile of British currency that seemingly spills from her loins. The photo/performance, made shortly after Emin was shortlisted as a nominee for the Turner Prize for her 1998 installation My Bed, a recreation of the artist's filthy unmade bed, in which she spent her time after the dissolution of a relationship, seems to speak to Emin's triumph over her working class background that included a single mum, a rape, two abortions and several miscarriages. By 2000, the year that Emin made I've Got It All, Emin had also "made" it as an artist, a rising star on the contemporary art scene and part of YBA/Young British Artists group. She really did have it all, her private life proving to be an unending source of material for art that garnered her recognition and monetary compensation. And yet, as blogger Holly Marie Armishaw suggested, I've Got it All also suggests that Emin's art work substitutes for children, something that Emin never wanted. Emin, who has been pregnant several times, never carried her pregnancies to full term. But she has realized her art career, a career that she thinks would not have been possible had she had children.

Emin was 37 at time she made I've Got it All, about the same age as Sprunger. Like Emin, Sprunger is also childless and an artist, but that is where the similarity ends. Sprunger is still a graduate student with a relationship to the art world that is very different than that of Emin. Sprunger's performance I've Got It All, a performance that finds its expression in the actions of the artist rather than an oversized C-Print, is, if anything, much more ambivalent, with pink plastic pregnancy tests replacing the bank notes and coins. There is an emphasis here on the materiality of femininity and fertility that backs off from the excessive debasement of Emin's version. Sprunger's I've Got It All is messy, but not overly so.  

The piece begins with Sprunger, garbed in a pinkish dress that resembles a hospital gown and seated in front of a matching pinkish curtain, rummaging in a box of "stuff" that eventually ends up strewn all over the floor. The "stuff" includes condoms, tampons, a timer, and pregnancy kits in individual packages. Sprunger opened the kits, wrote something that turned out to be "I've Got It All" on the back of each one, and then disappeared behind the curtain with a cup in hand. Reappearing with the cup a few minutes later, Sprunger dabbed her urine onto each pregnancy kit, set the kitchen timer, and waited. Once it dinged, Sprunger sat up, placed the kits back into the box, and distributed them to the audience.

Unlike Emin, Sprunger doesn't have past pregnancies (at least that we know of) or a lot of money. She had a hand-made, unhemmed dress rather than a designer dress. The pregnancy kits, all reading negative (although many of the audience members weren't sure how to read them), seemed more like a declaration of a willingness to be childless, in spite of living in a culture that is very suspicious of women who don't have children. At the same time, the pregnancy kits, a staple of those who are infertile, point to the outsized desperation of those women who think they don't have it all if they don't have children, and spend a lot of money trying to change that. There is a certain irony in Sprunger's I've Got It All--she doesn't really, but it doesn't matter, especially since she decides to give away I've Got It All to her confused audience.

At the same time, Sprunger's work also points to a rather welcome return to ideas about art making that were around in the 70s, when Rosalind Krauss wrote about the significance and originality of the grid in modernist paintings and Agnes Martin painted grid after grid, each new grid somehow saying something new about originality, the ideology of western vision, and the craft of painting. Sprunger is a printmaker, an artist who has dealt with the idea of multiples in the past. Previously she has made multiple iterations of milk cartons, perfectly folded so as to mimic the real thing, and colored in shades of pink, much like the pregnancy kits and accompanying props in I've Got It All. What is perhaps lost in the initial viewing of this piece is that Sprunger is continuing to make multiple prints--in this case, pregnancy kits with a negative result, her urine producing the ultimate modernist gesture--the line, which is stark and geometric in its unable-to-be-reduced-to-anything-else purity. And in fact the pregnancy kit, pictured below, is a rather interesting modernist construct--the pinkishness obscuring the wonderful and non-utilitarian geometry of what is essentially a dipstick for predicting fecundity, and, as it came out in casual conversation after the event, cancer as well.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rapid Pulse 17 Day Four

Rapid Pulse 17: Day Four

Panel: Performing Leadership: Links in Creativity

Miller and Shellabarger, the artist collective responsible for the final edition of stŬ on Sunday night, are a married couple with (almost) identical long gray beards and shaved heads. According to their web site, their work "documents the rhythms of human relationships, speaking both to common experiences of intimacy as well as the specifics of queer identities. Their performances, always enacted together in public, push simple materials and actions to almost Sisyphean extremes." The idea of human relationships, intimacy and the specifics of queer identity carried over into their offering on Sunday night--a spicy peanut stew served over rice from Africa, with a yoghurt or sour cream topping to soothe the palette and offset the spiciness. Spiced cashews were available for those waiting in line, and a small tea candle was handed out with each serving of stew--suggesting both an intimate performance between two people and pointing to the queerness of that intimacy, which probably was not between lovers at the festival.

Performing Leadership: Links in Creativity

Organized by Carlos Salazar Lermont, the panel, which convened in the DFB Garage, dealt with the issue of organizing and funding art events. The panelists, Jackie Taylor Joseph Raven Mark Jeffery and Angeliki Tsoli, have all had experience with organizing alternative events and raising the money to support alternative institutions. Given the current political climate, the discussion was quite interesting, as it turned out that many of the panelists were already very savvy about raising money from non-traditional sources. Jackie Taylor is currently putting together a program to serve very young children--probably the most important and formative age. In spite of the heat, the discussion was lively and animated.

Fereshteh Toosi Driftwood

Fereshteh's Toosi's Driftwood according to her website, "is a contemplative, guided walk informed by environmentally-focused healing practices such as shinrin yoku (forest bathing), horticultural therapy, and ecotherapy. Participants will explore the connections between wellness and outdoor access while learning about the immigrant history of Eckhart Park."

The audience/participants met Toosi in front of DFB. Many more people showed up then signed up (the author was one of those who forgot to sign up) so Toosi kept her remarks short and led everyone in the direction of Eckhart Park a few blocks away. Eckhart Park is refreshingly verdant and cool. A green oasis in this midst of the urban neighborhood, it has been the site for several Rapid Pulse performances, including Alejandro T. Acierto's Untitled Action (2016) and John Court endurance performance 7 Hours 30 Minutes Untitled (2015).

Toosi first took everyone to a spot under several trees and asked people to stand in a circle and close their eyes. With eyes closed everyone turned around, noticing sounds, smells and experiences that they might not have noticed if their eyes were open. From there, people moved slowly across the park in a kind of meditational walk. Some people took off their shoes, and some people, overcome by hay fever and insects, quietly left the group.

Once the group reconvened, Toosi posed several questions to the group, such as thinking about how trees branch out above and below the ground and the way that this might relate to human migration and immigration. The group then moved to the far corner of the park and worked in groups of 2-4 to think about what it meant to belong to a community and how their identity might have changed if they had relocated to Chicago. Everyone dispersed again in order to find a tree and sit with it for about 30 minutes. Finally, the group reconvened in the gated portion of the park (this included a water attraction and playground equipment for children) and sat in a circle. Over plantain tea (the plantain is a native plant that can be found all over Eckhart Park and has healing properties), everyone shared their experiences before drifting back to the gallery. The entire piece was really powerful--very meditative and non-judgmental.

Mikey McParlane and Erica Gressman: Project

Project, according to the description provided by the artists, was a kind of latter day Frankenstein monster tale, set in a post-human, cyborg world in which unnatural nature has overrun technology. The performance opened with Gressman, a barefoot Dr. Frankenstein with white lab coat, goggles and an Tablet, poking and prodding at someone or something draped from head to toe in a white sheet. The operating theater, far from being pristine, is seemingly overrun with flora and fauna that is vaguely menacing, overly colorful (suggesting human engineering or radiation) and encroaching upon the surgical equipment. Lifting one side of the sheet, Grossman poked and rummaged around underneath it, periodically throwing out bits of grey slime--made of the same substance as the Slime toy (manufactured by pillo) that showed up in 1976: a viscous, squishy and oozy material, generally colored, made from guar gum. Suddenly, an impossible figure, part plant, part animal, part human, and part cyborg, emerged from under the sheet and fell to the floor. Keening and wailing against a background of electronic of music, the creature wreathed around on the floor, slashed what looked to be a bag, worn externally, of blood, and finally expired, at which point the performance was over. 

The description of Project, posted on the Rapid Pulse website, suggests a post-apocryphal scenario, in which everything that was once "nature" has become toxic and diseased. 

Set within an oozing laboratory of the grotesque, a mysterious surgeon builds a monstrous and beautiful creature merging complex sonic biotechnologies with gooey protean substances cultivated from the surrounding tropical overgrowth. The creature rises from the operating table, quivering insect-like between life and death, crying out in operatic bursts of pain and despair that prophesy the oncoming ecological apocalypse and unveil an emotional jungle of queer experience. As it grasps for the sublime, the creature finds itself unable to escape the technologies and manipulations of the surgeon who gave it life, bound by humanity’s dark limitations. Nature’s final resistance crumples into silence, its warning fading off into the landscape.

McParlane and Gressman have always been concerned with queering the categories of human/animal/plant/object through what could be seen as kind of excessive drag. Performed the week before Pride, Project suggested that there needs to be a more complex understanding of what constitutes human and who is permitted to be human, particularly given the pushback against LGBTI rights. Project also suggests that humans are enmeshed within the environment that produced them, and that is time to began to reverse the human imprint. From the time that they climbed to the top of the food chain until today, humans/homo sapiens have impacted the environment to a disproportionate degree, causing the extinction of species, plant life, and many of their hominid relatives. In the week following the decision on the part of the current POTUS to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, McParlane's and Gressman's performance is a reminder of what might happen if we don't pay attention to the environmental toll that has happened during the Anthropocene.

Video Series: Embodied Politics

The Video Series was screened this year in several different locations: the basement, the main gallery, and, on the final night the garage, which allowed the DBF crew to prepare the space for the final performance by Carlos Salazar Lermont. In keeping with the three performances that took place both on and off site, the theme of the final night of video pieces, curated by Giana Gambino, was embodiment and identity. Wilhelm Wilhemus's and Arianna Foks's Distraction is a video tape of a performance during which Wilhemus winds a white string around his head that unspools for Foks's mouth. The binding or encasing of the head in performance art has become a rather common motif--in this short piece it becomes a negotiation with an implied sexual tension between the two performers who are being strangled/choked by the string. The video was made by videographer Tomasz Szarama for a joint project Not Ready Yet. Other standouts included Victor de la Roque's interactive piece that required the audience to move around and change places and Francesca Fini's typewriter with nails covering the keys, resulting in hands that become increasingly mangled and a letter smeared with blood. For more on the video series, click here

Carlos Salazar Lermont

The final performance of the evening was by Carlos Salazar Lermont. The performance begin with Salazar Lermont, garbed neatly in a reddish brown shirt, black pants, and black shoes, seated next to a wooded bunkbed. Salazar Lermont moved the bed towards the back of the gallery, then moved it back. Four volunteers were enlisted: They took the top mattress off of the bed, jumped on the mattress, and then returned to the audience. 

Salazar Lermont placed long stemmed roses and a dead fish onto the lower mattress and gently covered them with a sheet. Shortly after, as though performing a magic trick, he pulled the sheet back off and held the fish and the roses aloft, even though they hadn't really changed. Holding the roses and fish aloft, Salazar Lermont climbed up to the top bunk and balanced on the slats as though he were walking on a tightrope. 

The roses and fish were wrapped and displayed in the discarded sheet/altar cloth. Seemingly from out of nowhere, Salazar Lermont produced an electric chainsaw, which he used to cut the bed in half. He nailed the fish and the roses to a makeshift cross that he fashioned from the broken bed slats, doused them in lighter fluid and set them on fire, again holding the flaming crucifixion aloft. 

The performance ended with Salazar Lermont stamping out the fire on the floor of the gallery, leaving a bloody fish and wilted roses in his wake. 

Salazar Lermont is from Venezuela, a country that is in a great deal of trouble these days, with people unable to find food, medicine, work or even a place to live. On his blog/website, Salazar Lermont has posted the following declaration:

Starting today, I, Carlos Salazar Lermont, Venezuelan artist, curator, producer and teacher, commit to adjust to a severe austerity regime, based on avoiding any kind of vain expense in daily life. Any exception will be documented and justified. This spent cut to achieve higher goals, more meaningful for personal fulfillment

The performance seeks to reflect on the effectiveness of austerity regimes to which undeveloped countries are forced to fit their economies. The personal scale acts as an analogy of the macro economic systems that significantly affect our lives as citizens. Its failure or success hopes to aid the political stand of individuals on that matter.

On the one hand, Salazar Lermont's performance at Rapid Pulse 17 can be seen as part of a tradition of action art, in which a sequence of actions reminds the audience and the artist of the malleability of materials, the vulnerability of the artist's body, and the process and difficulty of making artwork. On the other hand, it is difficult to not read this performance from the context of Austerity Performance, which has been ongoing since April 3, 2017. The bunkbed, which looks like the institutionalized furniture found in immigrant detention centers and also recalls the beds upon which political prisoners were tortured in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, had to be literally torn/sawed in half. The rose/fish crucifix, a symbol of both sacrifice and blood, had to be destroyed. It was as though Salazar Lermont was condemning the oppressive colonialist/imperialist/religious triad that had led his country to the brink of ruin, redemption promised through a fiery cleansing. 

The festival ended with this piece. Rapid Pulse 17 (and Salazar Lermont) are presently on the road, stopping at Spreadart in Detroit and then Rosekill in New York. For more about the Rapid Pulse Tour, please click here.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Rapid Pulse 17: Day Three

Rapid Pulse 17: Day Three

Sarah Grabner's essays on Crocetta and Reese and Eli K. Gold can be seen by clicking on the names of the artists.

ATOM-r + Julia Pello
Sandrine Schaefer
Jess Dobkin
Shana Moulton
Endam Nihan
Andrei Venghiac

Since I began the blog post with the end of the evening for RP17 Day 2, it seems appropriate to continue that way for the remaining two nights of the festival, especially since the artists responsible for stŬ have worked so hard to make such good food that is served up beautifully. JGV/WAR's offering was a chickpea curry, served over rice, with toppings of fresh cilantro and homemade mango chutney. It was accompanied by nan with a hint of anise. This time I took a picture of my bowl before I ate it. I wish I could have had this for breakfast on Sunday morning as well. My advice to future Rapid Pulse attendees is to bring along your own tupperware container since there are usually leftovers.

Lucky Pierre/Michael Thomas American Slut

The third day of Rapid Pulse kicked off with Michael Thomas/Lucky Pierre's offsite performance American Slut. The performance took place at Thomas's studio on Fulton Street, about a 25 minute walk from Defibrillator. Fulton Street is located in the industrial area of Chicago. Walking to Thomas's studio from the Ashland Subway stop, I was struck by the degree to which most of the businesses appeared to be outdated relics from a different era and how deserted the streets were. The neighborhood looked a lot more like small town Ohio, where the steel industry is only a faint memory, than it did like Chicago, a rapidly expanding global capitalist city. Thomas's studio, which was a long distance from the Ashland stop (the nearest stop), felt like a final outpost, slated for destruction but in the meantime hanging on, its denizens continuing to use the space for as long as they could continue doing so. The performance that unfolded American Slut, also felt like it was a long distance from what the world is today. As Thomas's succinct description of the piece that is posted on his website states, it includes "The American Sniper, Pasties, Guns, Madonna, refreshments."

Thomas is a founder and member of the collective Lucky Pierre. For Rapid Pulse 2012 and again in 2017 he performed work that he devised himself. He did employ an actor, Alex Stein, for American Slut, which was part of the reason that the performance was offered twice in one day (5 p.m. and again at 9 p.m.). Stein was only available on Saturday evening as he was busy filming a movie. 

At the 5 p.m. performance, people slowly trickled into the space, after walking up a flight of stairs and through several artist's studios. Thomas/Lucky Pierre has a very large studio, which was taken up by a table cum runway around which people sat. Refreshments were provided and most people were drinking wine or beer when the performance begin. placed at one end of the table was a binder with the title tenure review on the cover. The performance began with Thomas seating himself in front of the binder and beginning to read from its pages. The title tenure review has academic associations with which many of us are familiar--generally it implies the dossier that one has compiled prior to applying for tenure, which gives the applicant job security. But in this case it was unclear what Thomas was applying for and why he was applying. The review began with an imagined interrogation of Chris Kyle, the deadliest marksman in history and the subject of the book and movie American Sniper. In between asking Kyle why he made the movie and wrote the book, Thomas asked him to take off all of his clothes. The tenure review turned out to be a kind of stream of consciousness rant of truth and half truths--the names were real, Thomas really is gay (?), and David Foster Wallace (who was also mentioned) and Chris Kyle really existed. But Thomas was never an academic, and never applied for tenure. So perhaps the "tenure review" was meant to be a review of his tenure as an artist, a queer (who was told that he wasn't queer enough), and a social activist. It was a review laced with queer desire, some Madonna (as promised in the description), and an implicit challenge to the toxic class-based masculinities. Thomas's desire was clearly for Kyle. Wallace, the subject of a posthumous movie, perhaps served as Thomas's amanuenses. 

A lot happened in the performance. In no particular order: Thomas read from his tenure review, he passed out multiple photographs of two images, one of Chris Kyle, the other of what looked like a close up of skin cancer, after reading captions that indicated that each of these photographs was linked to a specific time and place in his life. He then gave the audience many more photographs, which were spread all over the table. He donned an S&M type blindfold, and then walked along the table to the other side while holding onto the hands of the audience. He read again from his tenure review once he reached the opposite side of the table. He crossed the table again to unroll a large oil cloth banner that read "Beautiful Photo" and covered the table. At some point his pants came off, and he danced back across the table to the strains of Borderline by Madonna revealing glittery star pasties that were underneath his shirt. Thomas seemingly plucked a random audience member from the audience to join him. This turned out to be Alex Stein. An exchange ensued between the two. Stein held a plastic rifle over his head, becoming Chris Kyle. Stein asked if he really had to take off his shorts (he had already taken off his pants). When told he did not, Stein reversed the exchange. Taking a seat at the end of the table, he repeated the dialogue from the beginning of the performance. The piece concluded, more or less, with Stein removing two more star pasties that Thomas has placed on his t shirt while he held the rifle earlier. Stein closed the book and the tenure review was over. 

The Lucky Pierre website home page includes a quotation from Antonio Gramsci: 

The crisis consists precisely of the fact that the old is dying and new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great number of morbid symptoms appear.

This quotation, from which Thomas/Lucky Pierre has taken the title of his upcoming gallery show/performance at Roman Susan Gallery June 10-30,  can apply as well to American Slut, a performance about queerness that finds itself in a strange place of the queer and not so queer, the past and the future, and the interregnum in which all seems chaotic. In a tenure review that is never resolved or passed, Thomas asks us to consider where we are going and what we want to become.

Alison Crocetta and Peter Reese

Crocetta and Reese initially performed On and On in the Electrodes Window Gallery at the first DFB location in 2014. For Rapid Pulse 17, they became a living music box. Standing on an elegant spinning platform with handles that they used to turn themselves, the artists, dressed simply in matching brown clothing with metal megaphones attached to their heads, sang the the song that never ends. 

We started singing it aware of what it was
And we'll continue singing it forever just because
This is the song that never ends
It just goes on and on my friends

No one knew when and if the song actually ended as the audience was asked to leave after about 45 minutes. It was an understated and elegant piece that addressed duration, the voice, longing, and desire without anything much happening.

Sarah Grabner on Crocetta and Reese

Eli K Gold

For Rapid Pulse 17, Eli K Gold, or Eli Kabir, set up a border checkpoint in the basement of Rapid Pulse. In this case the border crossed was that of the festival. Audience members who left the Crocetta and Reese performance were asked to walk out to the back of the building where they were confronted by a border patrol agent and a barking dog wearing a vest that said "working dog." As people walked past the "agent" they were told to not pet the dog, and commanded to wait quietly in the holding area. Eventually the audience was told to walk single file down the basement steps, where they again were asked to wait in a long underground corridor. One by one, people were called forward and asked to produce their driver's license or some other form of id. They were questioned about their participation in the festival and their knowledge of DFB and either permitted to enter the basement proper or told to return to the back of the line. Unlike people who are actually detained or are refugees, the audience members were able to leave at any time. But the entire process showed the degree to which we as a group comply with those in authority as well as suggesting the completely arbitrary nature of who is, and who is not, admitted.

Sarah Grabner on Eli K. Gold

Video Program: Re-Imagining/Re-Imaging

ATOM-r and Julia Pello, Sandrine Schaefer, Jess Dobkin, Shana Moulton, Endam Nihan, Andrei Venghiac

The Video Program for Day 2 was much lighter than the previous evening. It kicked off with the sumptuous Kjell Theøry (pictured below) by ATOM-r and Julia Pello. Other highlights included Jess Dobkin's singing vagina/Neil Diamond. For more information on the video series, click here.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Rapid Pulse 17: Day Two

Rapid Pulse 17: Day Two

Sara Grabner's essays on Ayana Evans and Industry of the Ordinary can be viewed by clicking on the names of the artists.

Jeffrey Byrd
Francisco-Fernando Granados
Jon John
Lechedevirgen Trimegisto 

Today's blog post on Rapid Pulse 17 starts backwards with the end, rather than the beginning of the festivities at 7 p.m. because up until now the artists responsible for stŬ, the vegetarian soup/stew served at the end of evening to encourage the exchange of ideas and conversations between attendees as they sit together at large trestle tables. Last night's  stŬ, created by John Burkholder and Jessica Bortman was particularly good: a broccoli soup poured over a generous amount of quinoa and flavored with Parmesan cheese, lemon, and toasted pine nuts. I shared some of my ideas about an article I am in the process of writing with my table mates and in return received some terrific suggestions about affinities and correspondences that I plan to incorporate. I don't know if I was able to do the same for my companions, but their input was appreciated. 
 stŬ was served in a ceramic bowl that set off the lovely green color of the broccoli. I was so anxious to eat my portion that I forgot to photograph it. So I have provided a photograph of broccoli instead. 

Ayana Evans: Operation Catsuit (Be Careful Drinking the Kool Aid)

Ayana Evans knows how to entertain an audience and her performance didn't disappoint. A combination of hip hop, southern revivalism, and Kool Aid, it started with a bang, or at least a mini explosion. At approximately 7:30, a striped white, black, and yellow truck, playing Kanye West as loud as the speakers would permit, pulled up to the front of the gallery with Evans in the back. Garbed in her trademark fluorescent yellow zebra (?) striped catsuit and sparkly high heeled gold sandals, make up and hair just so with a white flower as an accent, Evans handed out water balloons and, at the count of 3, had everyone throw them as hard as they could at the ground. 

Beginning of Ayana Evans' performance

Once in the gallery, Evans quickly organized the audience members onto four benches that made two rows of people facing each other with knees touching and hands clasped. After donning a pair of soft socks, Evans dove fearlessly into each of the human hand chutes and slithered her way from one end to the other while a soundtrack of Kanye and Grandmaster Flash played in the background (not loud enough for Evans's taste, but as loud as the techs could manage).

Recovering quickly, Evans reorganized the audience and the benches/pews so that they surrounded her as she began to mix Kool Aid with abandon and generous portions of sugar poured directly from the bag. Cups were passed around and filled, and Evans prepared for her final tableaux. Calling for volunteers to help, Evans moved the table on which the Kool Aid had been made, plugged in some Christmas tree lights, wrapped them around her hands and arms, and then attempted a handstand/wall climb against the interactive wall installation by Diaz Lewis (more on that below). By this time the floor was slippery with spilled Kool Aid and the fuzzy socks were creating traction problems. More volunteers came forward, and Evans was finally able to balance successfully against the wall. On the count of three, the audience drank their Kool Aid. 

Photos and Videos taken by the author. For better photos, see Evans' website:

Sarah Grabner on Ayana Evans

Industry of the Ordinary: Plato's Man Cave

Note: There will be a separate essay on Industry of the Ordinary by Sarah Grabner posted in about two weeks. Please check back.

Plato's Man Cave--Clothes by Men's Warehouse. Photo taken from Industry of the Ordinary Facebook Page.

Industry of the Ordinary is a collaborative team of Adam Brook and Matthew Wilson. The following is an excerpt from the statement provided for Rapid Pulse 17. The entire statement can be found here.

Through sculpture, text, photography, video and performance, Industry of the Ordinary (IOTO) are dedicated to an exploration and celebration of the customary, the everyday, and the usual. Their emphasis is on challenging pejorative notions of the ordinary and, in doing so, moving beyond the quotidian.

For Rapid Pulse 17, Industry of the Ordinary set up a bar in the garage behind the gallery--a perfect location for a man cave. Garbed in matching tuxes from Men's Warehouse (the bags were hanging on the wall opposite), Brook and Wilson required that everyone wishing to partake of a cup of beer (India Pale Ale, a keg of which was donated to the Festival) receive an arm stamp (the stamp could go anywhere but fit best on the arm). The choices were EVERYBODY HATES and A TOURIST. Most people opted for both stamps.

An eclectic mix of music could be heard playing softly in the background. Periodically Industry of the Ordinary would announce the name of a president--it turned out that the music was the Presidential Playlist of the last 11presidents by Spotify. The performance, a disturbing mixture of high brow and low brow that suggested the same contradictory appeal of most of the U.S. Presidents, ended with Industry of the Ordinary taking down the Men's Warehouse bags and exiting the space, as debonaire at the end as they were at the beginning. They left behind the question, stamped on on many participants bodies, as to who was a tourist, who was hated, and who was not. We will never know.

Sarah Grabner on Industry of the Ordinary

Díaz Lewis

34,000 Pillows. Image taken from
Díaz Lewis is a collaborative team of Alejandro Figueredo Díaz-Perera and Cara Megan Lewis. Partners in life as well as art, the couple met in 2012, he from Cuba and she from the U.S./Chicago. Their work has always been concerned with negotiating the divide between their two respective countries. For Rapid Pulse 14, their performance The Other's Voice addressed this separation, with Díaz-Perera literally flying into Chicago and traveling straight to the gallery space for the performance, in which the two faced each other across the gallery entrance and washed their respective flags until the colors faded. In the current political climate, the issue of borders, immigration, who has the right to be in the U.S. and who does not has taken on new urgency. In 2016, Díaz Lewis launched 34,000 Pillows. Inspired by the "bed quota," the mandate the U.S. Customs and Immigration maintain of 34,000 detained immigrants a day in its 250 facilities passed by Congress, Díaz Lewis created an installation/performance in which pillows are created daily from clothing that belonged to undocumented immigrants, poor detainees, and their allies. The pillows go for $159 apiece--the daily cost of detaining one undocumented immigrant. 10% of all profits goes to organizations that help immigrants. While the charitable aspect of the performance installation is certainly laudable, the power of the piece comes from the piles of pillows, made from clothing that has clearly seen better times. The pillows are very individual--like the people who once wore them as clothing. They remind us that the undocumented immigrants are human too. And these pillows, the making of which requires a lot of volunteer labor, take up a lot of gallery space. And yet even if they were to fill the gallery, there would not be 34,000 of them--an almost inconceivable number.

Díaz Lewis's performance installation for Rapid Pulse 17 was equally subtle, aesthetically beautiful and conceptually powerful. A moveable wall, painted so that it matched the gallery wall and anchored in the center by an axis/pole around which it spun was installed prior to the festival. The wall, which started out looking very pristine, recalled minimal and post-minimal art, particularly work that interfaces or interrupts the flow of traffic within the space, such as Sarah Oppenheimer's S-337433 installed in 2017 in the Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio, which also spins on two axis.

And of course, given the events of the past few months, it also recalled the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, a wall that the current President has promised to reinforce and build up. 

For the performance portion of the event, the artists conscripted people of many different nationalities to push the wall in a circle, all the while attempting to negotiate this movement in their native language. The result was that by the evening's end the pristine grey wall had become cracked and broken, leaning drunkenly around the axis/pole that supported it. The wall might not be perfect anymore, but on the other hand, large groups of people who came from different countries, cultures, and in some cases ethnic affiliations were about to cause the wall to orbit around the gallery many times. The performance installation turned out to be a deceptively simple plan for how we (as humans living on this world) might proceed into the future.

The Video Program: Metaphor With or Without Recourse

The video program curated by Giana Gambino was incredibly powerful. Dedicated to Jon John, whose final performance/video made before he succumbed to cancer was included in the program, the content was heavy without a loss of levity. Jon John's video was filled with love, and he ended the piece smiling and laughing as he greeted the audience. Jeffery Byrd's contribution, which shows him walking slowly across the salt flats in Utah, garbed in a football uniform and holding a bunch of balloons was transcendent. The most powerful piece for me at least, was Lechedevirgen Trimegisto's/ Felipe Orsonio's The Blood Tree, which deals with his kidney failure and need for dialysis. In excruciating detail, the video show Orsonio being hooked up to dialysis so that his blood can be purified. In the second part of the video, framed as though he is a tree he reads a poem in which he compares himself to a bleeding tree of life, a popular motif in Mexico. The video is really hard to watch (or at least it was for me) but it was really powerful. Giana Gambino's excellent essay on these videos is available here. If you click on the image of the Tree of Life below, you can access Lechedevirgen Trimegisto's The Blood Tree

 The Blood Tree