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Monday, Sept. 27, 2010

Performance Art Souveniers

Performance Review

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The theme of the 6th Performance Art Showcase was “Souvenirs.”  To emphasize the ephemeral nature of live performance, co-producers Pegi Christiansen and John Loscuito asked each participating artist to offer the audience an object memento of their interaction. Twenty separate performances, many with several performers, were given simultaneously over the course of two hours in the warehouse-like fourth floor of MIAD which was divided into small rooms and hallways. Audience members wandered from area to area in any sequence and stayed for any length of time. I needed more than two hours. I would have spent more time with each if I hadn’t been worried about missing others, and in the end I missed several.

Playful, thoughtful, the whole show was easy to absorb and very pleasurable. The theme seemed to inspire the artists to create sweet, often humorous interactions with audience members. It was comforting to be among so many people of all ages—including a young family with a four-month old baby in a carriage—sharing thoughts and sensations face to face, and hugging, laughing or screaming as appropriate. In a visual art gallery, you move from painting to painting; the experience is private. Here, you go from performance to performance, individually but not alone; and the experience is interactive and communal. That’s potentially frightening, but this group was good at dispelling anxiety or using it to form bonds. Most chose not to represent the ferocious and disheartening facts of life today, but rather to focus on survival strategies.  The event itself was one. I thought if I could have this every day I would be all right.

My souvenirs include a gold badge I received on arriving declaring me “approved,” part of Mark G. E. and Theresa Ala Mode’s “You’re the Best.”  Next, I was tagged with a “subject identification number” as part of Danielle Rosen’s “Proximity Maintenance.” Soon I was called alone into her lab, observed and evaluated for the animal behaviors I exhibited. Around the corner, I was delighted to find that Petra Press’ sanctuary from maniacs included a lovely gift shop as well as a nightmarish maniac huddled in a corner behind police tape. The uncredited actor quietly whispered and whimpered in terror and grief for two hours in this otherwise ordinary setting.

 Jennifer Morales as the biblical Martha gave everyone a delicious bread roll to remind us that women made the bread of which Jesus said “This is my body.” Audience members found the courage to whisper their fears into Kasia Drake-Hames’ ear and join her in screaming sublimely into small glass jars that they kept; it was hilarious and exhilarating. Video artist Joe Reeves offered the sweat of his brow as he filmed himself pumping a television set. Health-conscious Jessica Poor and Judy Dubrowski removed our germs with a gauzy rolling contraption and returned them as fuzzy souvenirs.

The most startling and subversive idea came from John Riepenhoff and his friends at Green Gallery. They used the two hours to get work done; in this case, archiving performances made several years ago by the local group Kyoto Protocol. All art is functional, Riepenhoff explained when I asked.  High from that, I was privileged to enter Zoe Darling’s space where she shared basic facts of her life as a diabetic. You could read the bills and letters from insurers and hospitals and watch her measure and adjust her blood sugar, or join her amid insulin pumps and glucometers and chat, as I did, till it was very hard to say goodbye.

Molly Noyes offered flavored popsicles shaped like handguns.  I drew a picture of a memory and traded it with Laura Gorzek and Angie Moser for small photos of dresses they’d owned that had been ruined by bad love affairs. I had my photo taken by Anna Helgeson in an exclusive club setting (security made me touch my toes before I was allowed to enter) with the artist Kate Brandt who did absolutely nothing with her back to the wall. I saw a smiling portrait of that four-month-old in a handcrafted hat courtesy of Gina Litherland’s and Hal Rammel’s “Pick-A-Hat Portraits.” Paul Schwarzkopf’s music formed a dreamy background all night, alternating with screams. Pinkerton Xyloma looked great in a purple musketeer’s hat doing card tricks for individuals. Sadly, I missed his magic act, along with Angela Laughingheart’s “Swimabout” and Sarah Luther’s “Wabi Sabi.”  Lewis Koch treated me to a post-show look at his photographs – found collages worth a solo show—but without his accompanying performance.

Two artists made chapels. Robert and Philipp Hoffman’s was a serene, dignified, meditation room where you were invited to write your intention on a red “prayer ribbon,” then go into the crowded gallery and fasten it to the “pilgrim” who would pray for your intention.  Robert, increasingly covered with ribbons, walked on wood blocks fastened to his knees. When Philipp struck a bell, Robert placed his hands, also tied to wood blocks, on the floor, bowed and prayed for us. Theresa Columbus’ chapel (my word) was lively, funky and social. The walls were covered in colorful pages of writing and drawing, the kind an artist fills journals with, reflections on work, its meaning, worth, and relationship to the human community. Here you were invited to sit and to compose your own “artist’s statement” to take with you, another form of prayer.