Curating Performance Art Night is always wild and rewarding. It was especially so in September. While perhaps the most palpable memory of the evening was the small riot which resulted in Notsuoh telling me that Clockpole is no longer welcome to perform in future Performance Art Nights, the evening included many other thought provoking moments complete with poetic tacos, stylish sculptures, casting couches, meditative movements, gentle nudging and a progressive session of gesture drawing.
The night kicked off with Cris Skelton's "Tacos and Shakespeare," in which he quoted Shakespeare while eating tacos. I imagine Chris intended for it to be funny but no one laughed much, which honestly made it more funny to me. The tension in the room emerged from the audience's awkwardness as they did not seem to know how to react or what to expect. I was uncomfortable but in an enjoyable way. My main contemplation during the piece was how a performer could interact with the audience's tension. Perhaps the intentional creation of a tension like this is impossible but it seems like a rich place to create powerful experiences.
Next came Tracy Hamblin, a new performer, exploring the power dynamic of the job interview. There was strength in the concept. Mike Ambramowitz, a somewhat notorious unruly local creative character has an upcoming job interview. Tracy engaged the crowd to help him prepare by conducting mock interviews. Three people volunteered. On stage, Tracy trained them on the interview process including the use of power poses. After each mock interview, the interviewer critiqued Mike, telling him how to be more like the interviewer and less like himself. It was a thought provoking critique of this common social practice. Asking for volunteers to participate in a somewhat complex performance was a big request, and i sensed some unease in the crowd and also in the artists -- but this unease is inherent to interviews in general so it was a very useful conjuring of the feeling in relation to the topic at hand. This perhaps unintentional uneasy dynamic highlighted the "posing" and often skewed judgment that happens in the traditional job interview.
Dana Suleymanova (Dana pronounced like “Donna”, FYI), a charming new addition to Performance Art Night, took the stage next. Studying under Mike Smith in Austin like Houston faves Ryan Hawk (Now a core fellow!) and Emily Whittemore, I was curious to see what Dana would bring. Dana placed a large, hot pink, zebra bag in the middle of the stage and then zipped herself into it. Then she popped out of a it modeling an assortment of hat-like sculptural pieces. The words cute, quirky and solemn come to mind when remembering the performance— a collection of words that holds an interesting tension. Perhaps tension was the unsuspected theme of the night? This performance was unusual for PAN because Houston artists do not generally make their performance work around self-created objects. However, this piece, like Robert Catalusci’s recent Alien God, had “sculptures” or “props” that were as integral to the performance. Perhaps this will serve as a new inspiration for Houston? Dana’s work definitely reminded me of the fashion shows by B. Anele (currently showing at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft) that have been occurring at Mystic Stylez events in Houston. When contemplated together, they create a bridge between “fashion”, “sculpture”and “performance” that I hope will continue to be explored in Houston.
Following Suleymanova's soft sculpture performance, Bobby Levy performed a Butoh-inspired dance. His slow movements and bodily contortions completely enraptured the crowd. The tension in the room melted. His meditative movements lulled the crowd into a state of connected presence. While it may have seemed that his small movements for such an extended time could be found boring, his confident presence and fully entering into his meditative state transformed the whole room, opening us up for a different level of experience. Bobby's piece was a lesson in presence.
As everyone rapturously watched Bobby, a rogue artist couple engaged in sexual activities in the back of the bar in my participatory art installation, "Love In Unsafe Places." A television was set in a prominently visible space next to the bar. It showed a live feed video of a secluded bench located in the back of the bar. I intended to create something that questioned privacy, intimacy, responsibility and the concept of safe spaces—and the needs we hope them to meet. I created an invitation to be seen by or perform for a camera in a space that feels private, but in reality is not.
After Bobby's piece, I performed a stage (and beyond) piece entitled, Functional Fixedness. I moved throughout the space and outside on the street engaging with objects, people and the space in ways that acknowledged their potential outside of their function.
Clockpole took the stage next. Their music set began with a referee announcing it, such as you might see at a wrestling match. It was a clever foreshadowing. It seemed as if it might just be another music set, until a "drunken" woman began screaming at the stage and fumbling over audience members. A Notsuoh staff escorted her out only to have her return with a greater vengeance. She threw a beer, broke a stool, jumped on stage. Pandemonium broke loose. A group of women from the crowd put on Luchadora masks. A huge wrestling match and staged bar brawl broke loose, female wrestlers vs. Clockpole. It was intense. Even though I could see that this was definitely an act, a male member of Clockpole pushed one of the women in a way that made me physically cringe. Glass was broken, a microphone crushed. Despite the concerning dangers and destruction apparent in the piece, it was an incredible spectacle to behold. The male vs. female fight was both cathartic and frightening to witness. It played out as an outward expression of the battle of the sexes that's been brewing in the current culture. It was an unsettling expression of aggression, but it left the crowd wide eyed and enlivened by the intensity of feelings that were stirred; a messy soup of fear, protectiveness, anger, anxiety, enjoyment, confusion, amusement and excitement. It left me asking myself lots of questions about safety, responsibility and precaution.
The final performer of the night was, Cassie Mira. She took the stage for her first solo performance art piece. Faced with quite a shell shocked crowd, Cassie magnetized the audience with a quiet firm grace. The audience responded with a playful and rapt attention. She started by asking how many people had taken a life drawing class. Lots of hands went up. Then she asked how many people had trans bodies as their models. Very few hands remained up. With assistance, Cassie distributed paper, charcoal and clip boards to the audience. Then Cassie disrobed and gave the audience its instructions. She would model 14 poses for 30 seconds each. They were to create a gestural drawing. A calm recording of Cassie's voice and a metronome like beat played over the loudspeakers. Each pose began with a simple statement. The participatory nature of the piece calmed the audience after the raucous riot that preceded it. Starting out with the introduction naming that Cassie's body is a trans body, and then diving into an engaging task created a very quick normalization process. Cassie's openness and vulnerability in revealing her truth and then moving forward in the task at hand, leading the room with a quiet confidence, quickly took me and at least the majority of the crowd out of any sort of focus or feeling of "novelty" regarding her body. Simultaneously, her recording grounded us, reminding us of her humanity, presence, and control of the situation. The recording made simple requests to focus on the task at hand, but also to question assumptions and to contemplate Cassie's body beyond the moment. For me it was a created experience of "conscious normalization". It felt like a powerful step towards a "trans body" becoming normalized and accepted as a "body"-- while making strong, grounding statements that simultaneously do not let the viewer ERASE the experience, power or humanity of the person within that body. When I asked Cassie about the piece, she stated, "I was going for a general visibility theme. collecting the drawings at the end was an attempt to reverse the subject / audience gaze by limiting the experience to memory."
Many thanks to all of the performers and the audience that came out and created this one of a kind experience. See you at the next Performance Art Night!
Photos by Holy Moment Photography