Thursday, March 15, 2012

What I did at the Lone Star Explosion Biennale: Day 3 (NSFW)

Dean Liscum

Lone Star Performance Explosion day three's dominating theme seemed to be food and catharsis. By the third day, I figured out the timing (the artists never start on time) and arrived in time to catch all the acts even though the first thing listed on the bill was Daniel-Kayne's Three Day Fast. By my calculations he was a day and a half into it, which made me a day and a half late.

If there was an explanation, I missed it. So what I saw is what you get: denuding Fiji bottles of there labels, decanting the bottled water into a larger container, performing a ritual (meditation? possibly prayers? the striking of a gong?) re-decanting the water back into the Fiji bottles from whence it came, and placing them on the alter.

Daniel-Kayne in the window of Dean's
More precious than oil, you just wait.
I'm not sure if this was a protest against designer water (Fiji being one of the most egregiously ungreen) or simply a reminder of how vital water is to us as humans. Whether you worship it or not, water and its future is worth expending a little mental energy on.

I stepped into Notsuoh for Chicken 'N Dinner in which Nancy Douthey played a talking chicken as it described and acted out how to prepare itself for dinner.

A floured Nancy Douthey
Dinner done, the audience moved next door to Dean's and was greeted by a toilet on stage. Stevie and Brian McCord then mounted the stage, sat down, and started eating from the toilet. Their dinner table talk consisted of discussions about food: access to and experiences of it. As they shoveled the contents of the toilet into their mouths with their hands, occasionally endearingly feeding each other, they discussed the plethora of grocery stores in and around River Oaks. They discussed the food desserts in Houston in places like the Third Ward. Stevie discussed the first times she ate meat: first pork (not so good), then chicken (coming up it still tastes remarkably like chicken), and finally beef, which took--she still loves it. Brian, basically, made a whole lot of snide remarks about whatever Stevie said. (I'm not sure if it's supposed to be part of the performance, but I could tell they're married.)

Brian and Stevie McCord
No really, it's soy.
When they were done (and I'm not sure if they cleaned their bowl), they wiped off with a napkin and exited stage right.

The end result was just as appetizing as the meal.
By the end, I and apparently the rest of the audience, was ready for a drink. As I was approaching the bar, a group of people who were all dressed in black stormed the bar. They were lead by a woman standing in a shopping cart. Since before I arrived, this group had been outside the bar spouting some sort of temperance and abstinence jibberish. "This leads to veneral disease" one shouted while pointing to Notsuoh. (I'd heard the bathrooms at Notsuoh were sketchy, but I didn't think they were that bad.)

I will buy any book with the silhouette
of a hatchet on its cover.
The woman in the shopping cart got out of her chariot and on the bar. Once stable, she pulled out an axe, brandishing it and castigating the crowd. Then my brain clicked on. That wasn't an axe, it was a hatchet. And that wasn't an abstinence crusader, it was Emily Sloan excellently disguised and performing her piece Carrie Nation Hatchitation.

Alcohol leads to debauchery!
No shit. That's why I'm in this bar.
After she was de-barred, Sloan shouted slogans and lead her band of teetotaler (and myself) to the second floor of Notsuoh, which was the venue for the remainder of the performances.

On the second floor, waiting atop a 15 ft. ladder was the performance artist, Julia Wallace in dark sunglasses and a black dress. Music began and she performed a sort of ballet dance on the ladder. It wasn't Cirque du Soleil, but it certainly wasn't a drunken maintenance man either. It was tightly choreographed, similar to a number of pieces she's done with sexyATTACK.

Done with the dance, she descended the ladder into a pile of dirt and glitter. After perfunctorily removing her sunglasses and dress, she scooped up the dirt and smeared it on her body. Sufficiently slathered, she danced around the ladder and vocalized.

The nudity and the slathering were sensual, but she had me up on the ladder. That portion of the performance captivated my mind.

While a crew of people removed the ladder and the dirt to prepare for the next act, I grabbed a plate of wonderful Pakistani food prepared by Nusrat Malik and then spent 5 minutes trying to navigate the drink-ticket bar set up. My quest for a ticket and a justification of why was a performance piece in itself.

What's a festival without fantastic food?
Nusrat and her assistant Dale
Gim Gwang Cheol took the stage and began unfurling a tape of some type (adhesive? magnetic?). After he'd reached a certain length, he stopped.

Gim Gwang Cheol unraveling a spool of  tape.
Then he methodically and matter-of- factly wrapped it tightly around his head until he had used all the tape that he had unfurled.

Gim with head wrapped, raising his arms to form a cross.
I'm not sure if it was a religious reference or one to the movie Platoon.
As with his other works, I have no idea what it meant, but the slow, subtle, steady pace of it mesmerized me.

Dressed like every middle school physical education (P.E.) teacher I've ever had, John Gregory Boehme strode on to the stage with his arms full of a tennis racket, a golf club, a hockey stick, and a baseball bat. He situated the equipment on a block of lard, which was already there. After all the implements were properly positioned, he tore a hunk of lard from the block and fashioned it into a ball. He repeated this exercise until he had several balls of lard (sounds like a gift one of my rural uncles tried to give me in the 70s) that ranged from baseball to golf ball size.

Coach Boehme
Boehme then proceeded to hit them with the various sports equipment. Some as they lay on the ground. Others, he coaxed audience members to toss his way and he attempted to blast them into the crowd.

Having played all the balls, Boehme stripped out of his sweat suit and put on slacks, a tie, and a jacket. He then placed some sort of breathing apparatus over his nose and mouth, coated his head with 6 inches of lard, pressed a tennis racket, golf club, and a hockey stick into it and then proceed to read a list of the habits of highly successful people or some such group.

Basically, the performance metaphorically captured my entire experience of middle school.

The adolescent flashback, however, didn't stop there. Orion Maxted took the stage with a small card board box. He placed the box in the middle of the stage, extracted a banana from it, held the banana above his head and proclaimed, "banana."  Simply enough. It reminded me of Wittgenstein's language games.

Orion Maxted and his banana
Until he pulled out an orange and proclaimed it a ""banana" and then labelled the box itself a "banana" and began retrieving audience members, bullying them onto the stage, and christening them "banana."

Early "bananas"
Ultimately, he cajoled or coerced just about everyone and everything in the space into participating in this humorous but insidious game, in which he insisted on a version of "the banana truth" and we went a long with it.

peer-pressured or artist pressured "bananas"
To underscore the whole exercise, he wrapped the entire crowd in a ring of tape. All we were missing was a bow and he could have presented us as present to the most debased politicians as an example of how easy it is to get people to go along with your version of the truth as long as you insistently repeat it. Thank goodness he's not running for president.

The stage cleared of "bananas." A man in white paint and a loin cloth set up a small table with various jars and cans of food, most notably mayonnaise. Then Jim Pirtle took the stage and began reading a story of catharsis.

Pirtle with loin-clothed assistant
I'm not going to summarize the story because to do so would make it sound both archetypal and trite. I, who know Jim only as the owner of Notsuoh and who usually has a harder time keeping his balance than I do, found it moving. I will say it did involve a discussion with a virtual "brother" from Russia, a lot of mayonnaise being smeared on Jim, tears (catharsis usually does), more mayonnaise, some personal history, and the quote "this place used to be about chaos and now it's all clean!"...and the second floor of Notsuoh was impressively clean.

...and Russian twin/doppelganger makes three
Then Jim put on a wig and sang a song as a Russian bear. (He'd actually make a pretty good lounge singer if lounge singers wore bad wigs and stumbled around the stag while singing.) What can I say. It worked. Sometimes, you just gotta be there.

Pirtle channeling his musical, inner Russian bear
The next performance was A Geometry of Painting by Nestor Topchy, Marianna Lemesoff, Greg Henry, and Dawn Bell. Armed with paint trays full of what looked like International Klein Blue paint, Marianna and Dawn took their places on either side of the stage size-canvas that covered the floor. Nestor and Greg stood before each, respectively and the ladies coated their backs with the paint.

Marianna bluing the back of Nestor
The two men then met at various spots on the mat\canvas. Using Judo and Aikido movements, they proceeded to paint the canvas by throwing each other.

human painting implements
(I hope they got free drinks at the bar.)
It was a very deliberate act of composition. It consisted of moments of contemplation and consultation followed by a quick, forceful throw and the reverberating slap. Then a caesura involving the re-application of paint and a repetition of contemplation and kinetic composition.

Nestor and Greg putting their backs into their art.
The performance went on for sometime. The crowd got into it ("Oh no you didn't," "you walked right into that one," and the like). Nestor politely requested silence. The piece reminded me of Yves Klein's blue paintings with nude females. However, in my opinion, where as the "beauty" of Klein's piece is ultimately the canvas, the beauty of Topchy's piece was in the making.

The evening ended with 1KA performing some electronic-metal generated music. The sounds were at times screeching, at times thundering.

It was a pitch-perfect coda for my experience of the LSP Biennale.



  1. Great post! I think a key to understanding Nester Topchy's piece is knowing that Yves Klein studied judo for years, achieving a 4th degree black belt, and even wrote a book about judo.

  2. Yes! Great post. Thank you for covering this event so well. One small correction: the banana artist is actually Orion Maxted, not Jamie McMurry. :)

  3. Oops. That has now been corrected. Sorry Orion!