Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Continuum Live Art Series, Second Night (might be NSFW, depending on where you work)

Dean Liscum

Before Continuum's Live Art Series, Second Night on January 4, 2013 had even officially begun at Avant Garden, I almost committed an act of performance art myself. Heading east on Westheimer, I whipped into the parking lot and my headlights focused on a guy sweeping the parking lot. I stopped before I completed "Pedestrian crash test dummy", but just barely. At most venues, I would have wondered WTF? and probably said something to the guy. But this wasn't most places. This was Avant Garden, where nothing seems out of place. So, I took it in stride and headed inside for a pre-show drink.

Inside, the organizers are still organizing, so I take my drink to the back patio and there's the sweeper.

Daniel Bertalot

He pushed the pile of potting soil and twigs across the patio and then fashioned it into perfect square. Once he perfected it, he extracted a note book from his jacket and recorded the measurements.Then he began pushing it across the courtyard.

Daniel Bertalot squaring dirt

I later learn that he was Daniel Bertalot and this was his performance piece Control/Intervention. Nevertheless, I was ready to believe that he was Avant Garden regular and this was just what he did on the first Friday of every month.

Bertalot wasn't the only one competing for attention in the courtyard. Another guy, artist Joshua Yates, had strung twine about 2 ft off the ground between two poles. Trundling under the tables and chairs and along the edges of the courtyard, he was methodically scavenging specimens from the court yard.

Joshua Yates

He then placed his collectibles: small rocks, leaves, dirt, detritus into small plastic zip lock baggies (a.k.a. dime bags). Finally, he clothes-pinned each bag on the twine to complete another portion of his piece, Aggregate.

Dime bags as an art medium

I kept waiting for someone to shout "dude, that's my rock! I marked it with my pee last week."

These were "durational" pieces. My experience of them was before the show officially started. But they both persisted with their performances through out the night.

The evening officially began when someone shouted into the patio that a performance was starting up stairs. As I headed up stairs, I caught a glimpse of the schedule on a dry erase board propped up on the piano and Jonaton Lopez told me that Julia Claire was the host. I very quickly realized that Julia Claire was the most passive-aggressive host I'd ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Not once did she call us to order or draw our attention to an act (OK may be once but sotto voce without a microphone just doesn't work in a bar.) There was a lot of pointing, and people not-Julia speaking for Julia and introducing shows as if to suggest that "Julia recommends..." or "Julia would prefer..." or "Julia commands your attention...", but Julia would be damned if she'd actually say that. Pine for Julia's firm direction as I might, I never experienced it, directly, and yet performances happened.

I entered the upstairs performance space to witness Kelly Allison duct tappe a box of Brillo pads to her crotch and one to her ass. I immediately assumed this piece protested the practice of removing all ones pubic hair and how that played into the prepubescent female\pedophilia sexual aesthetic that permeates the culture. Then she said "I am your mother," and walked back and forth as if she were on a n imaginary runway. I just smiled Freud like.

Do these Brillo pads make my butt look big?

Allison picked up two pails, declared "I am your mother," and walked the invisible rope.

Kelly Allison NOT returning from Fiesta, but she could be

She wrapped herself in a flag. "I am your father." Then in a series of taping and declarations and runway walks, she affixed to herself toy rifles, teddy bears, cables, and with each new taping she declared "I am your brother;" "I am your sister;" "I am your stuff," and  "I am your sons and daughters." Allison put on fins and struggled to walk the walk. "I am your anxiety."

She draped a tire around her neck. "I am your shame." Finally, she placed an egg-shell helmet over her head, which amplified her labored breathing, and walked the runaway one more time. "I. Am your pride."

performance art or Japanese game show

She de-burdened herself, neatly piling up the paraphernalia, and stated, "I am your friend."

I Am... worked for me, but in what became something of a theme in the evening's performances, it kept on working after it made it's point. By the time Allison became "my pride," my attention was checking out the crowd. The end of the piece, in which she deconstructed her costume, brought me back.

The bystanders that distracted me turned out to be the next act, Buddha Slain, which consisted of RainDawg and a two other artists. They gathered in the middle of the stage and started to chant individually "Me!"

Buddha Slain

After a few refrains, the artist disbursed among the audience and shouted in randomly selected members' faces. "Me!...Me!...Me!"

Me-ing with member of the crowd

Some shouted back, "Me!" Some backed up, there bodies signalling 'yeah buddy, it's all you and then some.'


The chorus of Me's crescendo-ed, and then suddenly all three feel silent. The other two performers turned toward RainDawg and he screamed out "a-ME-rica."

Simple, short, and spot on. If they'd have wrapped themselves in Allison's American flag, they could have entitled the piece "a-ME-ricaN Politician".

RainDawg yield the stage and David Collin's green doppelganger took it. How do I know it was green? Because I, and everyone in the crowd, could see all the green. He was completely nude and armed with a guitar.  

Did you have dreams of Kermit like this too?

I must admit I got a little excited. My pulse quickened as I thought 'Aww, he's going to sing "It's Not Easy Being Green".' Or, I figured he was going to sing a political ditty supporting the Green party, which he represented in last year's election for the U.S. Senate.

Much to my chagrin, he didn't burst into a Kermit classic. Instead, he asked if anyone in the audience was from out of town. Crickets. Then he broke into a song about nudity declaring among other things:
  • He was not naked because this was art. He was nude.
  • Male nudity is viewed as "threatening"
  • Female nudity is viewed as an "invitation"
  • Labia rhymes with Scandinavia
The performance was an interesting take on a public service announcement, but I don't expect it to replace Conjunction Junction anytime soon.

After the song, the performance veered off course. Collins offered anyone in the crowd $50 if they'd would get naked and join him on stage for an interview. At this point, the performance lost its rigidity, shall we say.

The price is right format with a green twist.

No one got naked (Did I mention it was cold? Notice how in all the pictures everyone is wearing their heavy winter coats.) However, someone did join him on stage. Collins meandered through the interview as if he hadn't prepared the questions. Finally, he called on 5 more clothed volunteers to the stage to help him play a game that resembled the "Price is Right" using true values instead of monetary ones. Collins would ask the interviewee a true or false question and the volunteers would hold up signs saying "truth" or "bullshit." Are you confused or disinterested yet? I was both and was ready for him to get his green ass off the stage. And he did eventually but long after the impression of the cleverness of his performance had been eroded by the grating annoyance of the game show.

Julia made some sort of subtitle motion and then one of the Continuum members announced that the performances were moving to the courtyard. I stepped out on the back patio and almost onto this guy that was sprawled out on the floor. The situation wasn't really noteworthy except that it was kind of early for people to start passing out. A couple people were staring at the prostrate man. I took a second look and noticed that he was wearing only short-sleeves and that he was perfectly positioned for a steady drip of water to land in the middle of his back.

Be sure to tip your bartender. Those drinks are a knockout.

The regular bar crowd was also starting to peak, which can make things interesting. Part of the intrigue or at least some inadvertent humor of these shows is that during them Avant Garden continues to operate as a bar. Most of the patrons are there for the show, but a few literally walk cluelessly into a performance.

Ryan Hawk complete with water soaked back

The artist, Ryan Hawk, continued to lay motionless as his shirt became drenched with what I can only imagine was frigid water, which I assume was the choreography of his performance. He also lay motionless as various bar patrons cussed and belittled him and placed an ashtray on his back, which I assume was not part of the performance. On both fronts, it was an extraordinary display of self-discipline.

As Hawk persisted motionless on the terazzo, a woman in the courtyard started ringing a hand bell. As she rang it, she approached the patio. A man produced an identical hand bell and began ringing in tune. Then another person began ringing bells in unison with the other two. Then another. One bystander in a fashionable wool pea coat said to his date, "I think we walked in on a jingle bell flash mob." 

Jingle-bells flash mob...

The ringing intensified as the ringers moved closer together. It happened so organically and then proceeded so quickly that it was almost over with the ringers in an orgiastic heap before I knew that I'd witnessed a performance, Bells of Folly, by Jonathan Richie and Molly Brauhn.

or jingle-bell orgy?

Ryan Hawk cannot be tempted.

Belled out. It was time to move inside for a Jim Pirtle and Nestor Topchy performance. Having been disappointed by their performance in the first Continuum series, I approached the stage with low expectations. Then one of the members of their ensemble rolled in a motorcycle through the side door and Jim Pirtle took the stage as Stu Mulligan with Nestor Topchy accompanying him on stage playing a leaf blower.

Amanda playing the motorcycle

Stu in his pseudo-eastern European accent burst into a version of "Silent Night" or "Sound of Silence." I made out about 3 words of the entire performance. After Pirtle's opening line, Nestor kicked the leaf blower into high gear and Amanda, playing solo motorcycle, revved her engine. There appeared to be some sort of musical composition or progression guiding the musicians, but I'll be damned if I could identify it.

Look! It's Mick Jagger and Keith Richardson on the leaf blower

Stu slurred and shouted into the microphone, plowing through the lyrics with a dramatic inevitability that was matched only by his enthusiasm. Strutting the stage like a Honey BooBoo in need of an attention fix, he lost his wig.

Let me put my microphone next to your 2-stroke engine.

Nestor faithfully accompanied him on the leaf blower, blowing him, blowing the groupies lined up along the stage, blowing the fans foolish enough to fill the front row.

Topchy blowing his fans away.

Stu croned. Stu crowed. Stu even yield the microphone and his spotlight to the motorcycle for a brief solo.

Industrial Strength Blow Jobs

Pirtle and Topchy played their parts to a "T". Their lampooning of pop idols and performance art had me belly laughing. This was Pirtle at his best, analytical and satirical of the culture at large and himself in the confines of an intimate bar with electrical outlets and a wheel chair ramp up to the side door.

BlackMagicMarker took the stage next. His performance started with him quoting a bible passage, Isaiah 66:6 (I'm a fan of the King James version.), which basically talks about divine retribution.


His performance has a familiar trajectory. Bible passages, guitar feed back, and then he ends up shirtless and covered in blood. One of the refrains, "Christ understands," contradicts the passage of retribution, but it works well within his portrayal of Christ as both a martyr and a sympathetic figure.


Personally, I'm thinking he should rock this show at Lakewood Church.

Joel Osteen after the fall?

After the fake blood was cleaned up / smeared into the floor, Jade and two other performers in 1960-70s hippy-esque attire took the stage. Jade held a colorful sign with a peace symbol on it and positioned herself between the two male performers. They began "singing" or as any middle school choir director would describe it, chant-yelling "peace", "happiness," and "love". They did this for a while and I was never quite sure if it was a command or an offering or a complaint or a flower child with Tourettes as it seemed to be random and unfocused. They stole their ending from the spontaneous bell ringers and simply collapsed into a funky peace-love-happiness pile.

Time Parallels

I'm not sure if I got it in the first 15 seconds or I just never got it at all. If it was a re-enactment of a peace protest, it didn't have nearly enough drama to compete with the Vietnam War reenactment, The Battle of 11th street, for verisimilitude or audience participation. If it was a post-modern appropriation of the peace protest as art, I could have done without the Al Jolson stunt.

Black face and Peace as the new gang sign

By the time they were done, so was I.

Next, we moved outside to the back patio where Koomah and Misty Peteraff (Sway Youngston) began ...and it consumes me.

call me Misty Peteraff

Koomah removed his clothes, neatly folded them, and placed them in a stack next to him. Koomah stopped at his black bikini briefs and revealed a chest wrapped in saran wrap.

Koomah modelling my Summerfest attire

Sitting on the cement tile floor of the patio, he placed black firework snakes on his legs and lit them.

This usage of black snakes is not recommended by the manufacturer.

I watch cartoons.

Meanwhile, holding a bucket with the words "What consumes you?" written on it, Misty P. ascended a chair. She would call out "What consumes you?" and then extract a slip of paper from the bucket and read its inscription: "sex," "fashion is pointless," "you," "anxiety," "I watch cartoons," and others.

"The gentleman with green skin is concerned that your knee is on fire. Here let me Instagram that."

The piece ended unceremoniously, not with a bang or a whimper. Peteraff quit reading and Koomah matter-of-factly dressed. The two parts of the piece never fully congealed into a whole for me. Still, I liked them both, individually.

The group went upstairs to hear Aisen Caro Chacin, Tyson Urich, Melanie Jamison and Alex Tu do a sound performance entitled Rococo.

The cookie monster after hours.

Aisen and band

I'm not a music critic or a sound performance aficionado, but I felt the monostatic buzz. It was a musical progression of not chords but noise: screams and blowing into glass cylinders and spheres, and banging pots.

After Aisen's session, the noise reverberated throughout the room. Then, Jajah and friends began to perform Old Yet New Beginnings. The piece begins with African music, yoga poses, and the pacing an flipping of an officious yellow legal pad. Then Jajah weaves in a creation narrative, "In the beginning..." His beginning is perfection, filled with 4 elements: wind, earth, water, and fire.

He discusses the concept of reciprocity. To paraphrase him, it's what you do to survive: balance, rotation, balance, sing, be what we were, be what we are. Does that description seem disjointed? Good. Because it is disjointed, like walking into the middle of a ritual.

Jajah with Mother Earth in the background

Then he shifted into capoeira style dance with another performer. That was pure Brazilian ballet.


more badass capoeira

The piece ended in a game, a fight for a dollar. According to Jajah, the dollar represented man or his life. The first combatant to pick up the dollar with his mouth won the game of life. I didn't even notice who won because it was such a beautiful game.

Getting Beattie with it.

The final performance of the evening was conducted by Unna Bettie. Dressed in tie-dyed smock and tights, which she could have stolen from Jade's performance, Bettie proceeded to disembowel a mattress. She extracts ice blocks from the mattress and molds them into a green brain-like ball. She then climbs into the mattress, forces stuffing and ice in a manner that resembles feces. I can't help thinking of both Josephy Beuys and his relationship to felt and when Han Solo stuffed Luke Skywalker in to a Tauntaun's stomach.

Bettie does bedding.

After Bettie emerges from the mattress, she stands it up against the door so that lights shining through the door illuminate the mattress. Continuing to disembowel the mattress, she sheds ice from her tights. (Apparently, it was there the whole time.) She then wedges / hangs / suspends the ball of ice in the middle of the mattress, and it glows like entrails from one of those human body educational toys.

Tag still on. Warranty in tact.

And then it was time to go to sleep and discover the meaning of all that I'd seen. Only not on Unna Bettie's icy entrail furnished mattress.


1 comment:

  1. Hello this is Daniel Bertalot,

    I just want to start by saying THANK YOU for including me in your article, I am honored to be shown on this great Houston blog! I would just like to say that the link in my section of the article leads to the wrong website. Here is my website :) -----> Thank you! I greatly appreciate all of this!