Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Continuum Live Art Series - Opening Night (part 2)

Dean Liscum

...I wasn't that disillusioned. The holidays just got in the way. Here's part 2.

Next up, in the evening was Kelly Alison assisted by Emily Sloan. Allison's piece started with her stating how much she liked Christmas and what a wonderful time it was for her. Then she began to deconstruct why? As she spoke, Sloan strapped white balloons to Allison's body.

Alison revealed that like many of us, what made Christmas so joyful was the presents under the tree. In her family, that meant 40 presents decking the halls. (8 people times 5 presents or it might have been 5 people times 8 memory fails me as I'm sure any study of fruit flies--the laboratory equivalent of art bloggers--reveals is inevitable when you add alcohol to an art blogger and then give them memory tasks). Her family often waited to wrap the presents on Christmas eve out of sheer necessity (buying presents up until the last minute and\or working until the last minute). That was also the precise moment at which her father would pick a fight with her mother. Irregardless of the subject, the result would be that her mother was left "holding the bag" and wrapping the pile of presents by herself. An exhausting and Herculean task that left her mother exhausted and Alison upset.

By the story's end, Sloan had transformed Alison into a white balloon-festooned, human cross. Given the context of her narrative, I presume that the number of balloons was 40, but I didn't count them. Long white candles were distributed among the audience members, who lit them and then proceeded to pop the balloons and thus liberate Allison, who at this time bore a striking metaphorical resemblance to her mom, with the flames.

Now that's what I call putting the cross in Christmas.

Somewhere in the space-time continuum surrounding Alison's piece, Unna Bettie began circulating the room with a collection box that read "Collecting Money for My Performance". A few (Ok one) audience members tossed a dollar or two in but most of us did what we normally do when confronted by a request for money whether to support the arts or political-humanitarian causes or the youth of America or someone's meth addiction, we did a quick mental calculation donation = less money for sex, drugs, and alcohol, and then stared blankly off into the distance until Bettie and her box moved on. Then Unna Bettie took the stage, spilled the money on to the stage, stripped down to a leotard, and assumed the yoga position referred to as "plank". She held this position for minutes: 2? 5? 6? until she collapsed on the money. She lay there, caught her breath, stretched, and then repeated the process. Again. And again. 4 or 7 or 9 times. (So many so, that I actually missed the end. Her endurance "outworked" my bladder.)

It was the simplest form of work. Hold your body in a position. It was also the most Abramovic-ish piece of the night in that the artist's exploration of her own body's limitations within a certain context, in this case work, enabled the audience to re-assess their own definition of the topic.

What is work? What should it be? And at what rate (monetarily, socially) should it be rewarded?

Bettie's performance didn't answer the questions. It did emphasize the ambiguity that surrounds our definition of work in the digital age and in the context of the immigration debate and who's willing to do what kind of work for how little remuneration?

After so much work, we needed a break. Our host moved us outside to the courtyard where a large A-frame structure that could have been an over-sized easel stood. Randi Long hammered a single 2" x 4" horizontally across one of the A-frame's sides. Janna Whatley mounted it. Long then hammered another board above that one. Whatley ascended it. Long removed the first 2" x 4" and attached it near the top of the other side of the A-frame. Whatley climbed over the hinge and onto the board on the other side. Long removed the other board and hammered it in below Whatley. Whatley descended to it. The end.

Ascend, descend. Almost childish in its simplicity and yet (and probably because of it's childishness) I really enjoyed it. The right combination of elegant, arduous, precarious for me in that space-time.

The descent concluded, our green-haired, red-pantied host ushered us upstairs.

On the second floor, the audience circled around Julia Claire Wallace. Her hands were dipped in black paint and she held them up in a gesture of supplication or surrender or greeting. She slowly rotated. While spinning, she declared that she was seeking authenticity and asked the audience to help. The request was structured as a proposition. Her performance was "help(ing) you, help me; help(ing) me, help you." Then she disclosed as either a disclaimer or a rationale to help that she is of average intelligence, average clerical skills, and not the best artist. That inspired the crowd to erupt into riotous, foot-stomping applause. When the cheers died down, Wallace led us in a chorus of "This little light of mine."

Having inadvertently shifted into literalist mode, I looked for the light. None. So I'd have to take points off for continuity. That and if you're looking to me to validate your authenticity, you took a wrong turn on your existential journey.

The childhood theme continued with Zubi Puente and Y.E. Torres' work Let's Play Doctor, which sounded promising until I witnessed what type of doctor. The piece opened in a nursery with a phallic menagerie of stuffed animals: a two-foot velour cock and balls, a bear-like animal with a hole where the head of the cock fit snugly, a teddy bear with a fur-lined erection, and a ballerina princess. Zubi as the ballerina princess protagonist came to life, produced a pair of scissors, and proceeded to both dreamily and matter-of-factly circumcise her teddy bear-erectus.

The bear sat calmly as the ballerina removed the furry foreskins. I squirmed, suffered a pre-conscious nightmarish flashback, and then silently, screamed.

Her mission as mohel accomplished, the ballerina danced back to her place and then tranquilly turned back into a doll.

Freud in the house! The act of the circumcision appeared playful. But, in what context can one truly deem taking a pair of scissors to someone's genitalia a form of child's play? Given the assortment of odd stuffed animals in attendance, I opted to interpret the act as vengeful. Perhaps, it was a politically based, negative fantasy inspired by stories of female genital mutilation that are publicized in the media periodically. Perhaps, it was a personal exorcist. Off! Off! damn foreskin! Off! Perhaps, it was something in between.

The performance art drew to a close with Perpetual Dawn by Christine Cook and Sway Youngston. Dressed in black, the two artist entered the performance space with their hair tied up and black mop buckets in their hands. They placed the buckets on the floor and knelt beside them. Having let down their hair, they connected themselves by each fastening an end of a bungee cord around their necks.

Simultaneously, they dipped their heads into their respective buckets soaking their shoulder length hair with soap suds. Then they began to mop the floor with their tresses. The crowd went momentarily silent. All you could hear was the wet sound of their hair sweeping across the floor.

Our M.C. grew agitated and made a pro-feminist crack along the lines of "so all you guys are just going to watch these women do all the work." It was greeted by a few uncomfortable chuckles. Then he offered, perhaps out of jealous, perhaps out of longing, to join them.

I must admit, I too wanted to participate. His co-host cut him off, "let them finish their performance." He quieted down. My heart sank. I realized that the audience's participation would have turned it into a different performance piece altogether. It would have become communal and cathartic, instead of being the sensual and redeeming act that it was.

We remained transfixed as Cook and Youngston metaphorically cleansed the second floor of Avant Garden, the evening, and us.


According to the agenda, I realize that I missed a few events, most notably Hilary Sculane and M.R. Miller's individual performances. I stayed until the first set of Say Girl Say was over and then I turned in. It was an enjoyable experience, but an exhausting one. So rest up, because Continuum and I will do it all over again at Avant Garden on Friday, December 28 for Continuum Live Art Series, Second Night.



  1. Oh no. You didn't really use "Irregardless of the subject...." Did you?

  2. Black absorbs all light, Dean!

    Thanks for your support of Continuum, believe it or not, you help with authenticity more than you give yourself credit for.