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Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010

Performance Art Showcase Returns

Carnival-like event ‘Souvenirs’ takes place at MIAD

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For the sixth Performance Art Showcase, 28 artists will fill the fourth-floor gallery of the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design with imaginative new works. As always, the presentation by co-producers Pegi Christiansen and John Loscuito is adventurous. One end of the gallery will contain a tent with semicircular seating and a stage on which five different acts will appear in continuous rotation. The rest of the space will be filled with a carnival-like maze of 15 high-walled booths of varying sizes with entrances from different directions, in which separate performances will repeat and/or develop through the two-hour running time. Versatile circus artist Geoff Marsh will perform feats in the pathways. As in my favorite video games, visitors can choose their own sequence of complex interactive adventures and come and go or remain in each domain for as long as it suits them. Everyone’s journey will be to some degree unique and self-created.

The event is titled “Souvenirs.” Each performer will offer an actual physical memento of the experience for visitors to take home. Most will be free; some will have a small charge to cover costs. The growing number of relic-like artifacts once used as props in live performances and now installed in major art museums worldwide inspired Loscuito and Christiansen. What is the relationship between the leftover object and the time-bound performance? For the co-producers, a major purpose of the showcase over the years has been to examine the nature of performance art. They hope the contrast between the temporal experience and the souvenir will spur visitors to rethink the special interaction that takes place live between each audience member and performer.

The Performance Art Showcase provides an exciting way to discover the work of Milwaukee artists you have never known. I trust the co-producers. The number of artists and range of styles this time are greater than ever. It looks to be a mix of serious and lighthearted works on an array of personal and political subjects in highly idiosyncratic presentations, just as it should be.

I know only two of the artists. Theresa Columbus, the endearing former impresario of Milwaukee’s main performance art venue Darling Hall, returns from Baltimore to perform “The Artist Statement” about her struggle to compose one. Filmmaker Joe Reeves, his back to us as he faces a camera, will reveal “the massive weight of his ego” via his televised face as he supports the screen on his shoulder for two hours.

Some performances sound genuinely useful. Pinkerton Xyloma will teach us how to survive without money. Petra Press will create a sanctuary from maniacs. Robert Hoffman will do penance for whatever reasons we give him. Kasia and Jason Drake-Hames will capture group screams in glass jars with lids. You can take one home as a souvenir.

The Performance Art Showcase takes place 7:30 p.m. Sept.22 at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, 273 E. Erie St. Suggested donation: $5; $3 for students.

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