Well, tonight was the opening of my newest video installation piece, titled “Face Off”. I have to say, it is one of the most vulnerable pieces of art I’ve ever made in my life. And I’m still not sure how I feel about showing it. But, these past two weeks of preparing the installation have been the most inspiring two weeks of action and direct result than I have experienced in a while. There’s something about having a deadline and just going for it; putting all the energy you have into it to create something to the best of your ability. All in all, I’ve learned a lot from this process. I still feel vulnerable, but sometimes letting your vulnerability show itself to the world is just about one of the best things you could do with it.
Here are a few pictures of the video aspect of the piece. More from the opening and installation to come soon…. :
Last night I performed a piece, Die Tomato, Die!!! at the Performance Laboratory, which is a bi-monthly performance event I co-curate at the Contemporary Art Institute Detroit. The theme for this month was Death.
I performed Die Tomato, Die!!! for the first time last April in a seminar in grad school, then titled Tomato Smashing. Here are some pictures from that performance:
It was a successful performance, and I made a lot of discoveries by doing it. One of them was that smashing tomatoes with a hammer was more difficult than I thought (they roll off the table, especially if they’re not ripe enough). Another, that the juice sprays everywhere, including on the audience, who in that particular space space (an empty studio space) was in close proximity. As they were sprayed with squirts of tomato juice, my peers grabbed a plastic sheet on the floor that just happened to be there, and used it to protect themselves from the bursts. There were plenty of yelps and squeaks as I worked away with my hammer. It was hard to be serious even though I was trying to be- I really didn’t know what would happen, and everything was unfolding in the moment.
The performance was aimed to be an exploration of the RED BLOB, which has been a theme I’ve been experimenting with in my work over the past year. I’ve done all kinds of experiments around the idea of what the red blob might represent, without wanting to define it too specifically as one particular thing. In the tomato smashing context, the tomato represents food and cooking (and a female doing it), there is something quite gorey about it as it is smashed, and it has an interesting context in a performance, especially with me, as the performer, smashing it. Usually it’s the audience members who throw the tomato at the performer…
So, with all these things in mind, I recreated this performance last night at the Performance Laboratory for The Death Show. And it went really well! In the context of death and horror (two other themes I’m working a lot with right now), I wanted to continue with the seriousness of the piece, choosing atmospheric ‘scary’ background music. I chose a costume that was a bit more ‘glamorous’ than the previous one, and was a red color just a bit deeper than the tomatoes, but would be partially hidden behind my white apron. I also added a timer, that I set to 10 minutes long, which is the duration limit for each piece at the Performance Lab. I added rubber gloves, which accentuated the horror effect and made a lot of people laugh in nervous anticipation. And lastly, I handed out plastic bags to the audience members in the first row, who were in close proximity to my table. Oh, the anticipation!!!! AND, I waited to enter for added suspense- just the audience staring at those shiny red tomatoes and a hammer with plastic bags on their laps, waiting for something to happen….
Here are pictures from the performance:
I have to say, this is definitely one of the most satisfying performances I’ve ever done in my entire life. There is something so incredibly liberating about covering an audience in tomato juice. And even though it was a serious piece, there was a lot of laughter, a lot of participation, and a continuous dialogue between me and the audience. This is still a work-in-progress, and I plan on continuing to develop it for more future performances. I feel so thankful to have the Performance Laboratory as a continuous forum to try things out and experiment. I couldn’t have asked for a more willing and accepting audience, one willing to get covered in tomato juice for the sake of good and experimental art. I don’t know if this would happen everywhere… it would certainly have to depend on the context, and the space that I performed it in.
You can read a review of the Performance Laboratory’s Death Show on the Midwest Theater Review: http://midwesttheatre.wordpress.com/2011/10/22/detroits-performance-laboratory-journey-to-the-interdisciplinary-fringe-a-review-by-edmund-lingan/
For more info about the Performance Laboratory, please visit our facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Performance-Laboratory/139602749441643. I co-curate this event with collaborator Carrie Morris. It takes place at the Contemporary Art Institute Detroit (CAID) every other month, featuring short works by artists and performers that explore what performance is, and what it can be.
A hard part about being an artist is finding the right space to do so in. Rehearsal space, space for making things, space for thinking about making things… all these things are needed but space is limited and to have space you have to have $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. Artists have to become increasingly creative in the ways that they find space to make things in. This is why Site-specific art work makes more and more sense. Not only does it bring itself directly into the public sphere, not contained in a traditional art space, but it also saves big coins in the wallet, if you know what I mean. As space is limited, I feel pushed to search for a new means of creating artwork that does, indeed, fit outside the box.
Image Sources: http://www.greektravel.com/greekislands/santorini/ (Galleries and Wineries in Santorini), http://web.ncf.ca/ek867/2009_03_01-15_archives.html (Prague Warehouse), http://www.today.ucla.edu/portal/ut/challenging-the-concepts-of-art-96002.aspx (Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” in the Great Salt Lake), http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2007/apr/26/sitespecificworkneedsmoret (The National Theatre of Scotland and Grid Iron’s production of Roam, performed at Edinburgh airport.)
Well, the Performance Laboratory had another great monthly event last night. What was fabulous about this time around was that we staged it mostly outside in the backyard of the CAID, with each performance in a different area of the yard. I’m becoming more and more drawn to site-specific performance as opposed to performing on a standard stage setting, and having the Performance Lab outside added a new exciting dynamic to the performances and event. Besides the fact that we had to mow a completely overgrown lawn a day ahead of time, and that there were mosquitoes nipping at everyone’s skin for the entire event, it was AWESOME. Great performances, nice theme of ‘water’ to tie it all together and a fabulous audience. The Performance Laboratory really does just get better and better. The more we learn from each month’s event, the more we grow as organizers, performers and a solid community.
As for my own performance, well, I went kinda crazy. And it was so much fun. See, I’ve been performing this character since approximately November 2010 named Buoj iz Jeb. Buoj iz Jeb is an old man with a dirty mouth and a foul sense of humor. He’s not afraid to talk, and despite his raunchiness, he’s a pretty likable guy. The thing about Buoj iz Jeb is that he likes to take his clothes off. That’s what he does for a living. He’s a professional figure model, and more recently, a stripper and swimsuit model as well. His first big break took place at the Work: Ann Arbor Gallery in downtown Ann Arbor on November 19, 2010. He showed up with an easel, some props and his own body to be drawn by the art show attendees in an interactive performance, which took place in the front window of the gallery, exposing itself both to those on the inside of the gallery, as well as those on the street passing by. Each time an ‘audience member’ drew Buoj iz Jeb, he taped it to the window facing out to the street to display. By the end of the night, the window was full of drawings of his naked, old man body.
This time around, Buoj iz Jeb was the host of the Performance Laboratory. Going with the theme of water, Buoj modeled a different swimsuit between each performance. Each swimsuit was peeled off to reveal the next, until by the end of the night he was completely naked, transforming into a nudist swimmer. Each swimsuit had a theme, and music that he played out of his boombox to go along with it. There was lots of audience interaction, and in the end Buoj collected money in his socks for the show. It was a big success! For this performance I hadn’t had a lot of time to plan ahead, as I didn’t commit to performing until a week before when we realized we needed more performers to fill the show. Slowly over the week my ideas developed, but nothing was ever set into stone. Even though the performance wasn’t completely planned, I had a structure and idea of where it was going from one point to the next. I also had a lot of thoughts in my head about what I might do, which naturally came out in the moment. The majority of the performance was improvisational- responding to the audience and situation. What I love about playing Buoj iz Jeb is that all the things I am unsure about or question ahead of time naturally come out in his dialogue- he has the ability to communicate what’s working and what’s not, and make that a part of the show. Basically, his character gives permission to be completely chaotic while still having a throughline and end point, which most of the time is to take his clothes off. What’s the point? Well, to make the audience uncomfortable, and yet completely enjoy the absurdity of something that would not usually happen in most cases. There’s something about Buoj taking his clothes off that people totally get a kick out of, in many ways because it’s pretend- it’s not real. Buoj’s body is not a real naked old man body, it’s my female body dressed in a nude unitard that I have designed to appear realistically as a male body. However, it’s still obvious that it’s not real. Therefore, the removal from reality makes a generally grotesque and disturbing action turn into a fun, still grotesque, but raucous and hilariously disturbing event. If we were gonna talk concept and theory, we could say that the performance plays on the stigma of male sexuality and body image, in particular that of an old man, in society. It challenges the audience to view something that normally they would feel extremely uncomfortable viewing in a completely different context. It also challenges gender ideas: me playing drag in reverse.
This is a monthly performance event I co-curate in Detroit with my partner-in-crime, Carrie Morris at the Contemporary Art Institute Detroit (CAID). August’s event will take place in the back yard of the CAID, with kiddie pools, swimsuits, musical saws, wildflowers and cool awesome performances. It’s going to be great!! I will post more after the event, with stories of my adventures playing my old man character, Buoj iz Jeb, in various male swimsuits.