A bit of background before we get crankin; QMAD, launched in 2005, is a not for profit arts organization based in Queens to produce and implement arts and communications media programs and encourage Queen’s multicultural communities to actively participate in forging an artistic identity for the borough. Hector Canonge, one of the QMAD founders, initiated ITINERANT in May 2011 as Queens’ first performance art mini-festival with the objective to bring the borough the Contemporary Performance Art of a handful of Queens-based artists and artists from NYC at large. Hector doesn’t have a specific intent for how ITINERANT fits within the family of performance art venues and programs/festivals but he believes ITINERANT has it’s own characteristics and approach as far as presentation. And while I could feel this lack of specificity in the festival arrangement and curatorial intent, ITINERANT is young and growing and is providing the platform and space for more performance artists to share their work with the possibility of a broader/broadening audience, and that is awesome.
I arrived late to Grace Exhibition Space on April 6. It was 8:45pm-ish and Hector was in the process of leading a cheer and tacking letters on paper to the gallery wall. “Give me a A.” (insert weak response from audience here) :::STAPLE::: “Give me a N” etc. I paid a donation ($10 suggested at Grace) and made my way to the bar where I grabbed a free beer and readied for the evening’s line up of 12 performers. I had already passed the Flamenco dancer laying face down on the entryway stairs with feet toward the approaching audience, red carnations placed perfectly crossed on the stairs down to her and a bunch scattered near her hand –I expected 11 more surprises.
Someone garbled speech into the amplification of a megaphone, and the audience of about 80 people gathered in a semi-circle around a lit area and woman in nice blouse, leggings and socks sitting center. Sound starts and she starts talking. The sound playing was so loud it was difficult to hear her speak. I tried and then noticed the video playing behind the entry counter in which a woman smeared lipsticks on; she was loving it. Blouse and leggings, which performer was this - not the first one listed in the program it turned out – the program was not in order of performance, was holding note cards and it seemed for a moment or two that maybe we were listening to a kind of live MadLibs script but she was probably just ‘on book’. She was talking like a guru in a yoga class for cubical dwellers who want to learn sure fire ways to hook up with others. There was a bottle of champagne placed on the floor for offer; a man stepped up (I thought he was a plant but his intent on participation showed that he was just a giver later). When the bottle was passed around there was a live unexpected spit take that was thrilling and sprayed the scattered notecards with mouth champagne while the performer gave head to a squeaky unfilled balloon.
Out of 175 local, national and international submissions 45 artists were selected for the 5 week festival via a process of elimination based on the theme of this year’s program; self-reflection and introspection. Hector clarified, “Selected artists are exploring that theme from the inside out. Meaning that their performances are not just to create some ‘crazy’ destructive or cute work for the sake of performance (and I have seen so many of those) but a well thought-out piece.”
I heard what I believed to be an Irish accent coming from a woman setting up in front of a black curtain. She was convivial and introduced herself as Rosalind Murray. I went over and got a closer seat than I had for the first piece hoping to hear. She discussed the death of painting, she unpacked a painting in a bag, she illustrated how it sounds like walking on snow, that’s why she loves it, and she told us that we can have this performance art at home (buy the painting in the bag, otherwise known as a drop cloth, for $3 and walk on it). She had a yellow duck that was a measuring tape and notes on a computer that also made sounds. I thought of performative essays and their popularity in Europe and she was talking of undiscovered psyche, framing, and (from under a layer of her painting) sleeping on the street. There was a puddle of champagne from the last performance and I wondered if it was going to get her painting gross, and she packed up the plastic painting and then we all applauded. A dark haired woman said something in the megaphone, the bar called to the audience. I asked the videographer/photographer where the next piece would be. He said, over where the light is on and that he normally documented live bands, but he was having a great time tonight. I was able to find a little folding stool, next to Hugo, so I could stop kneeling on the icky floor. I felt like I was in the front row of a fashion show.
Arms and legs started coming through the holes in the black curtain. I thought about the Slipper Room, it was burlesquey and one or two audience peeked backstage to see who the limbs were attached to. Three ladies came through the black and performed some choreography to a language heavy narritave. Their moves were object eye candy and the one in the red shoes was disrobing. There was another inbetween the gallery colums leaning on a saran wrap support until she slowly fell face down on the floor. She talked about ‘him’ and red shoes laid on the floor and invited the audience to eat cheese off doilies covering her nipples, knees, on a tray over her pelvis. The cheese went slowly, but when it did, we all applauded. Megaphone sound came from somewhere over the crowd. I wondered who these artists all are, what if any clear acknowledgent their names should have attached to their pieces, and why I didn’t bring more paper. Closer to the bar there was a woman in a blingin’ disco-style goddess robe and headpiece holding candles goddess reciting mantras of positivity and negativity about the honesty of the flux of the mind over new age music. She called out the present moments of her inner life and said chaos and clarity are illusion. I thought about social discomfort with spirituality and the different ways I’ve seen ritual and devotion addressed by various contemporary performance artists.
There was a break in the action, or I can’t remember what was happening, and over by the entryway a woman solicited confessions through a tin can phone from the audience. It’s a pretty set, pretty girl, nice clean uncluttered idea that fits the festivals theme, witty and good design for the eye now and in photos later. After about 5 confessionals being written on the board, distorted by the difficulty of hearing and understanding, we all applauded.
The audience was about 100 deep at this point in the night and there was a violinist tuning up. I was sitting there thinking about the density of the way performance art festivals pack in artists performances, always feeling like a Performance Art Fair, a circus sideshow of sorts. I haven’t been to many spaces that give a performer a length of time to have a solo show, and for years have been debating the entertainment vs. art work framing of contemporary performance art – is it just something for your one-off night event or can it be appreciated over time, the ephemeral given space to age and continue a social dialogue. The lights all went out. Theirs is a Mac computer, it’s operator, and the violinist lit by the computer screen and then a video. We saw a group in the video, all was dark but a scopes site of light and in that moment of glitch of live and mediated the audience was caught off guard and people ask is that us, is that live, is that me? Then I saw cops, their reflective gear glowing casting an ominous presence on the edges of the masses of non-gear wearing crowd. The post special of flashlight circle seeing in the dark targets specific people, are we at the occupy protests, and asks who’s going to act out. Is that person dangerous, who is dangerous, is that person going to lash out, is someone going to get hurt, what happens to a group mind, and my mind went with it for a bit and then the reprise in the music shifts and I turn away. Short attention span strikes again and I began to not watch in protest. The edited non-liveness of video is often experienced via headphones or in separate room in the gallery this was a change in the energy of the space for the night, a bit of a reprieve.
An organizer was on the megaphone making the alarm go off in hopes to corral people to the center. There was a mirror and some fabric on the floor and some seriously harsh lighting hitting the side of the audience across from me. A guy began putting on white face and a painted red nose, he had coal dust on the butt of his underwear. Sound played and it was a child’s creepy laughter, I wondered if when he turnd his back on our side of the audience the other side sees something we don’t see, and then I see there is a hairball on the lipstick that he is putting on. He attacked the standing mirror with his fists. It shatters but there is no blood from broken glass, and the mirror was tippy and wouldn’t stay stuck in the right position, this is what happens when you have to buy cheap because props are disposable. He had a great understanding of the theatrical structure or narrative arc, everyone was applauding and then went towards the bar.
An organizer (or helper? Who is it this time?) was trying to silence crowd (they’ve been drinking for hours) over the megaphone and direct them to the last two pieces of the evening. Was the expectation of the organizer for full focus the expectation of the performer? I wondered how the next performer felt about audience noise and full focus and if the organizer asked them and was trying to meet their wishes. This performer, Carlos Gonzalez, (I heard someone say his name to him before he begins) was generating a strong energy, and fierce focus. Once it was go time and he made all the audience stand, picked four and made them enter his stage square and hold out their arms. His physical energy soon reached fierce level, and sweat begin dripping off him to the floor as he did some martial art like controlled dance, trying to outlast the chosen audience in their ability to hold up their arms. Other audience members were feeding the chosen few beer, interrupting the energy flow, helping hold up their arms, etc. At one point the performer pushed them out, took a time out, twice the lights out went out from audience pulling the cord. Disruptions abound, but Carlos had it under control. I wonder how frustrating that is, or if he expects the disrespect or if as a performer doing silent but powerful energy performance he doesn’t even see it as disrespect. He is able to acknowledging the audiences focus even when it’s not directed somewhere where he is not looking. I start to have many judgmental thoughts about non performers performing loudly in public when asked to participate and their hyper awareness and level of comfort in knowing that the eyes may be on them. Eventually Carlos bests all the audience participants. He is soaked. We all applauded.
Jill and Hok make some announcements about their upcoming showings at Grace Exhibition Space (they have some fierce artists; stop by on Fridays) and we move on to the last performance of the night. A black man in a sari like garment and head wrap did some ritual washing and then covered himself in white paint. He was transformed into an effigy or an idol, a saint, and a moving alter. He approached the audience with candles in his toes, hands, underarms and offers the one in his mouth to the audience. Once they are all lit he stood dripping wax until he fell to the floor. We applauded. It was almost 1am. The bar was still open.
ITINERANT gives you the chance to see a large group of artists performance work over a number of days, in some venues that are supportive of a night, or more than a night, of this form taking up their space. Even if I’m still not thrilled the prevalence of sense that this medium is made for 15 minute or less one-off performances shown in a lineup of 12 artists a day – and that this may be the only way to guarantee an audience – ITINERANT will get 45 artists the space to show their stuff and that’s awesome. Go check it out, but don’t check the QMAD website for information, it is outdated and has no link from the home page to ITINERANT, go right to the site at www.qmad.org/itinerant.
Saturday, April 21, 6 – 9 pm at Crossing Art Gallery, Queens
Saturday, April 28, 7 – 10 pm at Floor 4 Art, Manhattan
Sunday, April 29, 6 – 9 PM at Bronx Art Space, Bronx
Every Friday, April 6th – May 4th, 3 – 6 PM at 37th Road Pedestrian, Queens
“Worlds Together, Worlds Apart,” a durational performance collaboration between Camila Cañeque and Hector Canonge,
Saturday, May 12th, 3 – 6 PM public performances by Chloe Bass, John Cichon, Nadja Marcin, Lizzie
Scott, and Priscila Stadler
ARTISTS: Maria Fernanda Alves da Silva (Brazil), BabySkinGlove, Michael Barrett , Chloe Bass, Thomas Bell, Anya Liftig & Christina deRoos, Cynthia Berkshire, Jessica Bonenfant, Camila Cañeque (Spain), Bryon Carr, John Cichon, Irene Chan, Christen Diane Clifford, Charles Dennis, Christine Ferrera, Amy Finkbeiner, Carlos Gonzalez (Oregon-USA), Jil Guyon, Ian Hatcher, Kanene Holder, Whitney V. Hunter, Maria Hupfield, Maya Jeffereis, Marie Christine Katz, Sarah Kipp, Jia-Jen Lin & Yung-Li Chen (China), LuLu LoLo, Stiven Luka, Nadja Marcin, Lili Mihajlović (Italy), Rosalind Murray (Ireland), Zavé Martohardjono, Alex Nathanson & Dylan Neely, Panoply Performance Laboratory, Ioanna Neofytou & Klitoras Charalampopoulos (Greece), Nancy Nowacek, Diana Pettersen, Miles Pflanz, No Collective, Anthony Romero & Marissa Perel, Lizzie Scott, Negin Sharifzadeh, Priscilla Stadler, Alaina Stamatis, Chris Udemezue, Genevieve White, and Jess Whittam & Lorelei Ramirez.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Zhenesse Staniec Heinemann has created art in New York City since 2005 in varied spaces such as John Connelly Presents, English Kills Gallery, Grace Exhibition Space, Collective:Unconscious, Interart Annex, the Scope Art Fair NY, chashama spaces, and the Red Room. She holds an M.F.A. in Playwriting from the University of Southern California and an M.A. in Performance Studies from New York University and has been the recipient of a Puffin Grant in 2007 and 2009, a Scope Grant, and multiple chashama space grants.