Reporting from Itinerant Manhattan

I’ve been thinking about the Itinerant Festival since the opening night at Grace Exhibition Space.  I kept thinking, “Why five boroughs?”  I’ve discussed it with people I know in-the-know and they offer that maybe it helps people who would normally not traverse boroughs to see performance art get their dose close to home. So, although I missed the Queens-based night, I rejoined the traveling performance circus for the Manhattan incarnation at Floor4Art on Saturday, April 28.

I arrived a bit late, but the same bit late that I arrived to the Brooklyn-based night at Grace Space.  I spent seven minutes standing in front of a deli that had the address I was looking for on its banner, but its dark second floor windows didn’t look performance hospitable, and crushed my fantasy of traveling to the secret gallery through the drink cooler.  A tiny wrinkled man began gesturing and saying, “in here, in here,” and graciously led me to the door that I was looking for, three doors north and above an active mosque.  The entryway was beautiful, the check-in table had SunChips and two-liter soda bottles, and I was given a program.  When I stepped in the flamenco dancer was face down on the floor.

Orange plastic tape fences the audience in, facing down a long hallway serving as the performance space.  I’m not sure how many pieces I missed, but I am missing this one, too, as only a few of the forty or so people in the room can see the action.  It looks like there had been something in the lobby a moment ago, but all I catch is some flashing light and crinkling sounds.  I step beyond the orange tape, maneuvering through the crowd, and am struck by the difference in feeling and focus that this borough’s presentation presents. This space is brightly lit, and no one is at the bar.  I hear “We’ve got the moon” or “We are the moon” shouted, and everyone applauds.  I ask one of the hosts who this is and am told “Maria Hupfield.”  I consider going down the long hall and asking the artist if they anticipated the audience not being able to see the end of the piece, if that was a purposeful choice to not be visible to all or just a fate of the space but music begins and it looks like we are going to watch a film.  A blonde in flowered ankle boots catches my eye and I notice that behind her, “ITINERANT 2012″ is scrawled in Sharpie on the white wall.

Seven of us watch the video; everyone else hits the bar or networks/chats.  I miss the title card due to an obstructing pillar.  In the video cut out heads float below a layer that supports various liquids and semi solids appearing, migrating, and disappearing in different formations and permutations while below the heads move, come and go, get closer and farther.  It’s a very pretty collage on film set to a woman singing in a language I can’t name.  I am wondering if the men in the mosque below hear the sound and if the film is next on the bill or between performance filler for atmosphere? The talking and drinking is a bit loud.  I catch the end of the video and there are the names, Negin Sharifzadeh, artist; edit and composition by, maybe Edward. I ponder artists, production, ownership, and creative collaboration.  The film begins again.  It’s on a loop.  I realize this is not the first time the film has run tonight and most people already watched.

In the corner is a very pretty low table with a TV on it and a distinct looking orange wooden chair. A man in a leatherlike jacket with a saw in his hand comes and sits on the chair.  The film goes off, the room goes bright and then dark again.  In the dark the man loads a DVD that begins playing Todlers and Tiaras and then news footage. He turns up the volume to the highest point and holds the remote in his mouth so he can light a candle.  The candle drips wax on his shaking fist and he pretends to change the channels and the DVD runs on the TV. It’s uncomfortably loud and a few of the tightly grouped and quietly attentive audience members plug their ears.  I wonder about the specificity of the selection of clips on the DVD, and imagine that they are carefully chosen otherwise he could have used the regular TV for the performance.  It goes to static then Home Shopping. Static. Dali Lama.  Static.  While he suffers the wax we suffer the uber loud sound and I consider blowing out the candle. I wonder if anyone else is thinking about blowing out the candle, and I think it’s a probability that an audience member at Grace Space may have blown it out. He pulls the saw from his side and begins working at the leg still holding the lit candle in his other hand.  It looks awkward, and like it might take awhile.  The channels/image on the DVD/TV keep changing without his remote input. He stands on the chair and wiggles while sawing until the chair breaks and he falls, the wind on the way down blows out the candle.  He stands up and turns off the DVD/TV. Hector says Miles Pflanz and Miles exits.   Applause.

I am clearly writing in a little book and feel conspicuous so I try to hide my suspicious observation.  I go get some water until “… our next performance will be by Baby Skin Glove” and I end up in the back of the audience, and I can’t see everything.  3 people of various gracefulnesses in artful homespun costumes do diverse renditions of ballet movements.  The one in a neck ruffle is the leader and she lipsyncs to a voice over saying “now ballet is for the masses” with an underscoring of David Bowie’s Under Pressure.  The voice over ballet mistress calls us “little poodles” and the text is very wittily funny.  The two in tutus prance through the audience, the lipsyncer has many rings on graceful hands, and I wonder who wrote this text.  They all form a line and bow, audience applauds.

A woman with much yarn dances and sings in French, then speaks English with a French accent.  “Je suis malade.  Malade! I need you!  Need you!” and such as she wafts around the interior perimeter the audience makes. She tells of a bedridden favorite grandmother who has stories of the past and she hands the audience pieces of her yarn.  She’s inside the yarn like a cats cradle, and the woman of the story is the hero but is in great pain.  She asks the audience to tell her a story, then lays down on the floor.  Is she really asking?  After a moment of silence she gets up. Applause.  That was Marie Christine Katz.

The blonde from earlier is setting up speakers in the corner and says “Hi.  I’m Christen Clifford”.  She tells people they can sit, that she brought her own sound because she didn’t trust the venues, and now she worries that her sound is not going to work either.  Then it works.  She goes into a side room and comes back with a mop that she pushes around the floor, through the audience, grazing my butt.  I worry that I just got dirty mop water on my work pants.  BabySkinGlove is peeking out of the black curtained doorway that leads to ‘backstage’, and it looks like her heavily glamorous clown face is part of Christen’s piece.  Christen hands out big cans of Budwiser while Americana surf rock music cuts in and out with guys voices making dick jokes and other immature chatter.  She returns to the cooler/speaker/ set up and she is shaking.  We listen with her while we drink our beers, and when the guys say “Where’s Chrissy” she points to herself and mouths “That’s me”.  She goes around whispering to some of the audience.  The sound loops for the third time and she passes a cassette tape to the audience.  She asks us to think something nice when we touch it.  We pass it; she stops the sound and tosses all her props into the cooler along with her open beer.  I hope it is empty.  She says “is that tape somewhere”.  It’s only made it ¼ of the way through the audience and she says “wow” and she stands in silence waiting to get it back.  She seems agitated, but I’m not really sure why. I get the tape, it’s called American Dream, the ’60s. She tells us that she’s been thinking about what she has done bad because she was part of a group and she tells through some tears that she has an 8.5 year old and a 3.5 year old and says “I swear I’m fine” and sniffs and dabs her eyes.  She collects the tape.  Applause.  I notice that the face down flamenco dancer is gone.

A woman in a khaki beige outfit comes out and a 3 tier tech cart follows her, she has aviator sunglasses.  She tells the host she is ready to go.  Christen comes out of the green room and says “I need another beer” and I’m shocked at how noticeable everything is in this very quiet and calm environment (the video does not play in the breaks anymore).  Host says this is Marissa Perel for Anthony Romero and I mistake the sound from the mosque below for the sound of the piece.  She assumes an armed raised position and says “You can play #1”. A voice over begins to read a letter about sending a written dance.  The dancer says “Projection 1” and a building illuminates on the wall, “#2” and Strangers in Paradise plays. She does some modern dance light with gesture repetition and step and subtract repeat.   She goes to the tech cart and accidentally plays New Day by Kanye West and says “That’s not part of the show”, but it is now.  She walks into the long hallway and says “play #4”.  She goes up and down, up and down, sunglasses on and the singing of the mosque buzzes my butt through the floor.  She walks out to the entryway and comes back and says “that’s it”.  Applause.  The lights go on bright and people wince.

Last performance, which means I missed two and that at Floor 4 Art in Manhattan shit starts on time.  Clowns are preparing.  There is a videographer with pantyhose over his face and a Hawaiian-ish shirt. A George Foreman grill on paper towels is on the floor next to his high quality camera.  Loudly aggressive house hop sound starts.   Two clowns, Fat Suit Bald Cap and Mustache Towel Apron (not their legal names), begin spraying themselves with baby oil and dancing.  A wince of fear for nice clothing goes through the crowd and FSBC is stomping and storming around going H.A.M. while Mustache Towel Apron squirts baby oil all over his face and chest.  FSBC’s fat suit makes his hard dance moves fascinating.  It’s Mustache Towel Apron’s turn and he gets in some audience members faces and his mustache falls on the brim of my hat.  Nylon Over Face is videotaping and bopping around in convulsions.  Mustache Towel Apron puts his feet up the wall (hands on floor) and pops ass in the air.  Then he comes over and takes the meat in his hands, sits on the floor with a mouthful of it and fans himself with the rest.  It’s a spectacle fo’sho’.  FSBC raps sitting on the floor in an intimate moment with the audience and then they begin to clean up.  People applaud.  “That was Stiven Luka’s Big Rob’s Barbecue” and Hector says “that’s it”.  All artists stand when called by name for a final bow.  Applause.

People stand around talking about their reactions.  They say things like “I was right there with her”, “I was like don’t come near me with that…”, “which was your favorite”.  The video collagist gives me a postcard.  I exit.  No applause.

I missed the following night’s Bronx performances, but I can still catch the group public works show on May 12th in Queens.  You can too.

Saturday, May 12, 3 – 6 PM Outdoor Performances at 37th Road Pedestrian Plaza – Jackson Heights, Queens

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