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Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012

Endurance and Change

12 performances, 12 hours on 12-12-12

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Pegi Christiansen has made performance art for 12 years. She has also sought out, chronicled and fostered efforts by other Milwaukee artists to create meaningful, memorable, even life changing live performances that don’t quite fit the categories of theater, dance or music. Her 2003 book Convergence is a careful presentation of Milwaukee’s rich history of performance experiments since Sister Laura Lampe founded Alverno Presents in 1960 to introduce such work. Christiansen took up the good Sister’s mission with a series of annual Performance Art Showcases, introducing diverse city artists to city audiences and, often, to one another.  In 2008, PAS presented My Vote Performs, a live performance event unique in American history, offering original site specific and event specific daylong performances at polling sites across the city during the presidential election.

In 2009, PAS filled the top floor of MIAD with simultaneous performances among which audiences freely wandered as if at a carnival. Titled 9-9-09 for the date of the event, each performance lasted nine minutes, was repeated nine times and featured the number nine. The carnival format was repeated in 2010 in Souvenirs during which spectators acquired mementos of each performance. Then PAS ceased producing.

Then this happened: “I realized that Dec. 12, 2012 is the last time this century that the numbers in a date will match,” Christiansen explained. “We had to do a show.” Titled 12-12-12, it’s a substantial addition to Milwaukee performance art history. Twelve simultaneous performances, each lasting 12 hours, from 12 p.m. until 12 a.m. on Dec. 12, will illuminate the artist studio complex RedLine Milwaukee. It’s $5 to enter or $10 for a hand stamp that lets you come and go—a good idea since what you’ll find at noon will look nothing like it will at 6 p.m., much less at midnight.

The event’s themes of endurance and change are especially poignant since a fire in July destroyed the building where most of the cast had studios. 12-12-12 was conceived for that building and several nearby Riverwest sites. Some participants left the project after the fire. Others joined, including Theresa Columbus, a seminal figure in performance art here, and now again in Baltimore; and the artist-documentarian Joe Reeves, home for his Dec. 12 birthday after traveling the Pacific Northwest.

At RedLine, everything is one building and nothing separates performers from spectators. Sarah Gail Luther will draw in the library. Ashley Janke will make scenes in the framed windows. John Kowalczyk will build and operate a makeshift sports utility vehicle in the hallways and elevators.

Reeves will spend 12-hours-a-day in the week preceding the performance transporting cream city bricks from Walker’s Point to RedLine in a backpack. He’ll share these documented journeys while he “rebuilds Milwaukee brick by brick” inside RedLine.  Columbus will perform her normally solitary daily tasks with the internal dialogue audible.

Kim Miller will perform a 12-hour task-oriented play based on The Clouds, Aristophanes’ comedy about the Greek philosophers. Like the ancient poet singing of men and fate, Jennifer Morales will recount the last 12 months of her life through the entries in her check register. Wes Tank will reconstruct his last 12 years in multi-media poems.

Brad Fiore, James Pederson and Jessi Schleis, recent MIAD grads with the wit to call themselves the Nomadic Art Center, belong to a current movement of historical performance re-enactors. They’ll repeat the Edinburgh-based Tim Taylor’s 2003 experiment “Domestic Erosion,” working with large ice blocks and household heat sources. Meanwhile, Michael Kautzer will attempt to heighten visitors’ political partisanship and Sara Caron will involve them a developing horror story via text messages.

Christiansen will make 12 different cranberry recipes for spectators to eat while she works with therapist Raymond Paul to resolve her anger over the fact that beautician Renee Bebeau, who has cut her hair for the past 12 years, is retiring to become a full-time artist. Bebeau will cut Christiansen’s hair for the last time during the performance. Christiansen credits the current resurgence of performance art across the country to its intrinsically non-commercial nature and the fact that, unlike video, you can only experience it by being there.

12-12-12 runs continuously from noon to midnight on Wednesday, Dec. 12 at RedLine Milwaukee, 1422 N. 4th Street.

John Schneider worked in several Performance Art Showcases and treasures the memories. He teaches theater at Marquette University and is a member of the Shepherd Express staff.
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