Friday, December 7, 2012

Continuum Live Art Series - Opening Night (part 1, NSFW)

Dean Liscum

On the last Friday of November, Continuum's Live Art Series Opening Night occurred at Avant Garden. The performances kicked off a 6-month residency at Avant Garden that will include workshops along with performances through April 2013. I attended the event, which started on time and ran on schedule because they had more performance art than you could shake a neon green recorder at. Here's what I saw.

southmorehouse presents' David Tyson Moore and his day-glow phallic symbol

southmorehouse presents' David Tyson Moore and Laurette Cañizares served as the M.C.s and  got things started with their performance Be A Woman 2. In it, the couple prepared for hosting the show. Cañizares went through her beauty routine and Moore mirrored her. It started and ended in slapstick. The two took the stage dressed in matching bra, panties, and head scarves and end in sport coats, his and her matching iridescent wigs, and hats.

Laurette and David...

However, a few moments slipped into intimacy. Whether intentional or accidental, I don't know.

After Mirror, I went to the back of Avant Garden, where Christine Cook had set up her piece This Body Is... In it she stood stark naked and stoically next to a chalk board that had the words "This Body Is" written on it. Adjacent to it, a small table with a cup full of colored chalk stood. The implication was that the audience was invited to comment on the performers body. To do so one had to get in the performer's personal space. You could think what you want or say what you want--Reubenesque, zaftig, pleasingly plump, fat, enveloping, squeeze-ilicious, etc.--but that was just talk until you recorded it in chalk.

The power in this piece lay in the fact that you had to not only write your thoughts/feeling about it but you had to confront the artist and subject while you did.

In the attic, Militia "Malice" Tiamat performed Know Thy Self. In this piece, audience members experienced it one at a time. A guide greeted me at the stairs and instructed me to form a single question and hold it in my mind until it resonated through my body, until I felt it in my feet. Then I was ready and could enter. In the midst of fog and disco style lights, I ascended the stair into the attic. I sat before "Malice" and asked my questions. She stared at me for an instant and then answered confidently and calmly, "No, you're not. Not now. Not until spring."

photo by Steve Patlan 

I've never given fortune tellers or futurist much credence. I still don't. But Tiamat's performance had a satisfying feeling of mystery and possibility. The Jean Michel Jarre atmosphere didn't hurt.

M.C. David urged the crowd upstairs into Noelle Dunahoe's performance of Lights. In it, she sat in an old fashioned rocking chair and choreographed a light display show of bald bulbs as if she were spinning a yarn for her kith and kin by commanding her own limited universe of constellations.

photo by Hilary Scullane 

During the light display she asked a series of questions. Here's just a sampling:
Are you alive? 
Have you grown? 
Have you changed? 
Can people change? 
Have you known Love? 
Are You loved? 
Do you love? 
Was it worth it?
And then it just ended.

Next it got emotional (ok, more emotional) as Koomah injected the emo with The First Time I Say... in which s/he used a red marker to draw red circles (symbolically kisses? cuts? orifices?) on her/his arms and face.

S/He circulated the room with a bowl of band-aids and invited audience members to place them over the circles. After which, s/he ceremoniously tore them off one at a time.

Finally, s/he stripped to the waist displaying the eponymous slogan The First Time I Say I Love You temporarily tattooed across her/his torso and screamed "Love".

I'm not sure if s/he seduced anyone in the crowd, (I've tried screaming "Love" at someone before with no luck), but it shifted the mood to raw.

Perhaps this was intentional in preparation for Minotaur Blues by Jonatan Lopez. Perhaps, not.

The piece started in total darkness with Lopez clothed in a transparent sheet and white boxer briefs. He circled the room, illuminating his face with a flash light and confronting audience members with his apologies for his transgressions and for what he deemed were the transgressions of life. "I am sorry for..." was his refrain. He then shifted from sorrow to anger, lashing out at the artist Daniel Kayne for killing himself and declaring that he, Lopez, used to think suicide was an act of bravery but now knows it's an act of cowardice. The Minotaur then talked of his own slow self-death caused by grief and meth usage. He pulled out a glass meth pipe and smashed it with a hammer, and then another and another.

Finally, he scooped up the broken shards in his hands, thrust them into his crotch and masturbated, smearing the resulting fluid on the floor and on the wall spelling out "Help".

At first I was a little confused and stupidly literal minded. Lopez played the Minotaur but he did not appear as the half-man, half-bull. I didn't get the connection. By the end, even I got it. He was the Minotaur in a maze, but the maze that he could not escape from wasn't built by Daedalus. The maze he couldn't escape was life: its highs, its lows, its end. I'm not sure if he was sorry he couldn't help us or that we couldn't help him.

RainDawg followed Lopez's performance with his Homage to Daniel Kayne. He stood up straight and brought his hands together in the traditional christian gesture of prayer and intoned "I want to perform with Daniel Kanye." Repeatedly. And of course he did just that--invoked the memory of Daniel Kayne and incorporated that memory into his performance in the mind's eye of the beholder. He ended the piece with same line followed by a single word. "Again."

I hope, for the sake of Kayne's memory, that RainDawg and others do.

After that series of performances, I needed some fresh air and a drink, so I got one at the bar outside. Unfortunately, in doing so, I missed a large portion of Love Exorcist performed by Tina McPherson via streaming video from the "exorcist stairs." (I put that in quotes because I don't know if that's the stairs from the movie of the same name or the scene of an actual exorcist or a really dark, that is dark as in cool, goth bar). I do know that the exorcist was a success and the woman was un-loved or de-loved and it wasn't painless because she cried.

And due to technical difficulties (a.k.a. the Love Demon), this following random fashion show stream briefly interrupted the exorcism...

...or maybe it was part of the exorcism. I'm not sure.

At this point in the evening I also became unsure of the order of events. Let's just say it seemed like the next performer was Chuz Martinez in The Destruction of A Dream whereby the artist Jimi-Hendrix-ed (yes that's a verb) an acoustic guitar. I could bore you with a blow-by-blow comparison of their processes and techniques. Instead, let's just say that Jimi had a good sledge-hammer swing and kerosene, where as Chuz favored a knife, but with the same result.

I'm not sure if the Dream represented the music industry in general, an ex-lover, the U.S. drone strike program in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the state of acoustic guitars, the rise of poverty in the U.S. or the failure of technology to actually transform our lives rather than help us trivialize and devalue ourselves at the speed of Moore's Law. Whatever metaphor you picked to read into this performance, it was destroyed/conquered/defeated.

While the staff at Avant Garden was cleaning up the remains of the guitar, Jade, with the help or combative assistance of RainDawg, performed The Doll Bride in the Guilded Cage. It consisted of his character, the groom, forcing the doll bride to do something against her will. It wasn't exactly clear what his goal was or what she was objecting too. In what I witnessed of the performance, they embraced, struggled, she broke free and hide in the ladies restroom. Then she emerged, they embraced, struggled, and she broke free. The metaphor was as obvious as the behavior is common place. As one drunken observer noted, "I see that shit at this bar every weekend."

Love or Wrestling in 19th century costumes

Without, I suspect, the mid-19th century costumes.

Jade about to be hugged or harassed

Black Magic Marker followed Jade's piece with the Gory Story of Love. Love turned out to be Agape and not Eros. BMM started off wearing a black mask with a red sequined something on it. He played a base guitar and talked about the greatest love a.k.a. the crucifixion story. He then took off the mask and crowned himself with a ring of thorns and continued to thrash away at his base, all heavy-metal and reverb.  A cross appeared.

There was blood. There was proselytizing.

Just me personally, but if I've got to choose on a Friday night, I'll take bloody masturbation over crucifixion.

Tentative Title (hey that's what the program said), which was Evan McCarley's piece started stealthily in that she, like everyone else in the room, was standing around drinking a beer. I assume that it started either when she ordered it from the bar or when she meandered near the stage but the performance didn't attract my attention until she threw the beer down at the edge of the stage and smashed the glass. Then she took her seat on the stage, removed her shoes, and began to cry, then to sob...hard, as in someone drop-kicked a kitten type sobbing.

She stood up mid-sob and removed her shirt. She removed her pants. Still sobbing, she embraced a few members of the audience.

Then she returned to center stage and thanked the audience. Thanked us for what I'm not sure because I didn't know the context. So instead of feeling somewhat voyeuristic and removed from the whole piece, I decided that it was a tribute to those who died in the recent attack of Gaza by Israel. In this context, the piece worked for me, except there wasn't enough hard sobbing...but then there couldn't be.

Next, it was Nestor Topchy's turn. I'd been anticipating this all night. I'd even mentioned it to patrons at Lawndale's opening as I left early. Then I experienced I Got Nothing on Laura and Jim, which was Nestor standing on stage and apologizing for not performing. He said that he wasn't going to perform because Jim refused to perform and Laura was going to have a nervous breakdown or a stroke or both if she had to perform. He called Jim to the stage. Jim came and stood on the stage. Nestor mentioned that performance art is not entertainment and it's OK to fail. Nestor then pulled out some pants that were way too big for him, christened them "big boy pants" and put them on as ostensibly a metaphor for taking responsibility for his failure to perform and thus "wearing the pants." Then he put a paper bag on his head, tore a hole in the front and stuck his nose out of it. Finally, he invited the audience to rub noses with him (possibly in solidarity, possibly as consolation) as he left the stage.

Big Boy Pants? Always a boy never a man?

Now I realize this could have been a brilliant performance in which the performance is a non-performance, and I totally didn't get it. It could have been a performance about being unable to perform, about impotence, about fear of failure, about failure, about aging, about creatively calcifying, about performers losing their creative edge.

And perhaps it was.

Performing but not performing

Nevertheless, if it was, it was both brilliant but it was not convincing. It was like having two stars of Houston's first generation of performance artists stand before an enthusiastic crowd of performance art's next generation and say "Oh if it's only you, I prefer not to," and then rubbing their noses in it.

Rubbing your nose in it

(to be continued...after I overcome my disillusionment)



  1. Laser lights provided by SMB design Steve Boriak thanks for coming xoxo
    ~Militia Malice Tiamat

  2. lol, I forgot to log in to my USTREAM account, if not logged in, when long periods of streaming, you get little commercial interruptions, sorry Tina. Thanks for the wonderful review Dean,I hope you know how much we appreciate your work, and we get so excited waiting for your blog posts. You and Robert are the best in Houston when it comes to honest and well thought out press. By the way, your comments about my piece helped me learn more from it, Thank you.

  3. I do want to add that,... even though Minotaur was a very sad piece, with no apparent happy ending or sense of hope whatsoever. I know that something good will come out of it. I believe that you and the audience have helped me already and that I possibly helped someone by sharing that. No one should be afraid of asking for help in the most literal of ways. I wasn't sure that I wanted to do that piece in that public setting, it was very hard to decide to go for it, I was scared. It was not fun it all, but I needed to do it, and our project Continuum has become my passion and a safe place where to express myself, a place where I have found many true friends and a brave audience that can understand me and when going through harsh times. I seem to be learning a lot as I experiment with performance art. The Minotaur Blues will be playing inside my head for awhile. But I love life, I love life so much, I love my friends and the art we create and the new artists that so excitedly are joining us. I think I am learning to help myself by using performance and its sometimes disturbing way of communicating a message as a healing and cleansing process. I wanted to embarrass myself in order to get rid of that evil that can cause premature death, sometimes slowly but sometimes abrupt. Thanks to my very supportive friends now I am taking further steps to fight that evil now, and I want to do it fast. We can not get rid of death in general, but we can postpone it as far, far, far as we can. I had to do that sad piece in order to get back to happy and be there for when my friends need me too. I promise there will be many many happy pieces in the future, and happier shows. I have talked so much about death lately, but I have learned some much about life and its beauty. I love you Dean, thanks for being there my friend.