Experimental Action: Performance Art Houston, February 23 – 25th, 2017

Last entry, September, 2016. Since then…professor of art, teaching art appreciation, and interim gallery manager at a local college. Resting, yoga, walking, time with spouse and dogs and family and friends – HEALING. Today, co-Manager of the Cliff Gallery, Mountain View College and member of ART BEEF/BEEFHAUS collective, Dallas, Texas. Now am honored to be invited to speak at the Contemporary Art Museum Houston symposium for the international performance art event in Houston, Texas. Excited!

EXPERIMENTAL ACTION 2017

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The Value of Empty Space

Yesterday afternoon I joined several people in the ongoing dialogue on the topic of value, specifically the value of the artist/curator in the art industry. Chagrin I missed the weekly conversations which took place at Central Trak beginning April 18th yet caught up in a way as the walls void of “art objects” such a paintings, drawings, and the like were full of an alternative visual stimulator, text. The words included complaints, desires, and ultimately solutions related to the topic at hand.

problems

wall 3

CTWall4

Thanks to a problem, artist and independent curator Leslie Moody Castro, rather than forcing a curatorial exhibition with objects and artifacts, decided to “produce weekly articles that explore the relationships between value and the visual arts in Dallas, the United States, and even internationally.  Thus, CentralTrak’s exhibition space will be “empty”, and will be a metaphorical and conceptual reflection of the intellectual property, capacity, and the time spent curating an exhibition with little, or no existing budget.” (Central Trak website)

Leslie and Heyd

Thus, conversations began at Central Trak, taking on the role as an incubator for discussions. The public was invited via their website and a variety of social media sites. As far as I understand there have been a core group of people who have attended every conversation while many took part in at least one or two. To catch me up Moddy Castro pointed me toward each wall where thoughts, ideas, rants, complaints, desires, and solutions were given validity. These ephemeral feelings and hopes typically get squelched or even disappear under the weight of everyday life. Yet it seemed to me that this time they did not. There on the wall, as if objects and even artifacts created by a variety of artists in the area an “exhibition” of sorts proclaiming truths often shared yet typically set aside to honor what has always been, a struggle.

Central Trak Director, Heyd Fontenot, served as moderator and collaborator alongside Moody Castro. Intelligent, honest, vulnerable, thoughtful, and with years of experience in working with others as liaison, agent, curator, and leader/supporter both created an atmosphere which allowed me to feel comfortable and willing to share my thoughts openly and equally as honestly. It seemed to me others must have experienced a similar sense as most in attendance pressed thoughts of particular passion and desire for the arts in Dallas.

Several big ideas regarding how to create change in the dynamic of art venue, patrons, and the artists, especially local artists. Discussions revolving around the Dallas Art Fair and how to respond to its success and it failures. Do we ride on the coat-tails of the fair or do we create works or a dialogue of criticism of the venue/event. Someone brought up the reality of differing opinions about venues such as the fair many don’t see the fair as extravagant or unrealistic while many do, stating that some of that expense could go to scholarships, grants or support for local artists. A response to this was the statement I won’t forget, “this isn’t a competition is about ecosystem”.

A woman sitting in the back with her adorable dog pressed the idea of making one thing happen so that all these efforts, thoughts, ideas, and energy don’t fall flat one more time. Needing to leave the gathering early, this long time supporter of Central Trak, reiterated please don’t conclude the time together without scheduling one action.  Discussing a few possibilities both Darryl Ratcliff and an artist he has been working with brought us to an understanding of how much a casual gathering around a meal is worth. Ratcliff reminded us that the issue of our need to build trust among one another – artists, gallerists, collectors, patrons- is one of the most important steps to building community. Another valuable thought related to the idea of a meal or pot-luck was made by Central Trak artist-in-residence K Yoland, meet in a variety of locations to help others feel included.  So it was set, Ratcliff and artist friend will take on this first gathering around the table, a pot-luck, Sunday, June 7th. A Facebook event will soon be posted.

After a few disappointments following grad school, this has given me some hope. Thanks guys.

Read more detail about the conversations here:

Leslie Moody Castro Interview       By Leslie Moody Castro      Witness To Change

The Conversations on Youtube:

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In Support of Artist’s Freedom of Expression

 Gavin Delahunty, Contemporary Art Curator at the DMA

Gavin Delahunty, Contemporary Art Curator at the DMA

On Monday, April 13, from 12:30-2PM, the Dallas Arts District Museums collectively re-staged Cuban artist Tania Bruguera’s participatory artwork, Tatlin’s Whisper #6. Members of the general public including staff from surrounding museums were provided a platform to step up and speak freely. Most who spoke, did so for the artist. Bruguera faces  potential incarceration by the Cuban government. In December 2014 Burgera was arrested when she attempted to stage Tatlin’s Whisper #6 in Cuba. Now the government marks her as a “counter revolutionary” and dangerous to the country. She faces sentencing of no less than three years of imprisonment.

Museums, art organizations, and other art related venues restaged Bruguera’s performance piece in response to a call for action by Creative Time director Anne Pasternak.  The directors urged us all to  join in support of Bruguera and other artists around the world who face criminal charges and violence for exercising their basic human right to free expression.

#YoTambienExijo ” a civil platform for peaceful promotion of civil, political, economic and cultural rights in Cuba, from an open and plural civil society” (https://www.facebook.com/YoTambienExijo/timeline) was created to collectively aide in ” the promotion, respect and peaceful restoration of civil rights of the Cuban people through public actions concrete in different fields: artistic, cultural, civil, among others, driven from a civil society open without exclusion for political, religious affiliation or any other”. Through this collective effort there is hope for change not only in Cuba but in all other countries where the basic human right to free expression is repressed. The call to action on behalf of Bruguera and others is one way to address the issues of oppression and any political rule that suppresses the freedom of speech.

A group of no less than 20 people gathered at the Nasher like many others around the world. Most of those who spoke out at the Nasher read from several texts that Bruguera’s sister, Deborah, sent me to hand out for reading. My reading came from this text:

ON BEHALF OF CUAUTHEMOC MEDINA:

“Tania Bruguera’s intervention at the beginning of January 2015, was a bid to restore the voice of civil society and art in the process of transition that Cuba will partake in the near future. However, a loss of an important historical opportunity resulted from the defensive reaction of the Cuban authorities, to her wish of creating a moment of public freedom. The artistic community from the continent and, in particular, those who recognize themselves with the traditions of the left, should support, as a basic element of the verve of our societies, the artistic activism stemming from artists as Bruguera. In a complex context of political views and considerations over the future of the continent, it is reasonable that her performance could be controversial: that is the nature of all artistic action. But, above divisions and sectarianism, we share the common basis to think that a free culture is essential for the development of our societies. Please, support this letter to ask the Cuban authorities to rectify their position concerning Tania Bruguera. So that the discussion about her work, belong to only to the realm of critics’ debates.”

Many took to the platform provided by the Nasher and spoke honestly, fervently, and directly. There was a Cuban artist who spoke from her heart about the problems she has experienced herself in her native Cuba. She shared a few stories related to the ways in which the Cuban government continues to suppress artists voices. Her hope is that as a result of President Obama’s desire to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba things will change; that her people will gain possession of their country, own lives, and all the rights that humans inherently possess.

Others spoke out similarly giving their support and proclaiming their desire for change and reformation in Cuba. My hope is that this isn’t the only means we take to affirm our backing not only for Cuban artists but for the citizens of their nation.

Update from Deborah:

She tells me that there is comfort in knowing that at least the government feels the pressure and they know what the movement in support of Tania is doing.  Deborah so hopes this will finish soon and is happy to report that there are forty European Deputies who have signed a letter of support.

 Stand up and speak out in support of artist’s freedom of expression.

Noah Simblist

Noah Simblist, writer, curator, artist and an Associate Professor of Art at Southern Methodist University.

Leigh Arnold, Assistant Curator, Nasher Sculpture Center

Leigh Arnold, Assistant Curator, Nasher Sculpture Center

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Justyna Gorowska @ Cydonia

Cydonia is a contempory gallery in Dallas that has caught my attention. The owner and director Hanh Ho is delightful, intelligent, educated, witty, interesting, and understandably passionate and dedicated to her mission “supporting the careers of emerging artists whose practices have international relevance and to show artists that have cultural and historical significance, conceptual rigor, or are the singular voice of their generation”. Dallas has a new gift in Cydonia.

For the exhibition Ho brought in Polish born artist Justyna Gorowska to show seductively captured stills from prior documented performance work and live work which the artist performed the evening of Friday, April 17th. This body of Gorowska’s work is based on her discovery of and artistic connection with photographic work by Francesca Woodman. Ho describes the Polish artists affinity as one of understanding and identification. Gorowska isn’t interested in copying Woodman’s work but responding as a means of what I deem as artistic kinship.  Viewers of Cydonia need not necessarily be familiar with Woodman’s photographs but Ho states that it might aid in understanding Gorowska’s process and work in this series.

Rome 1978

Francesca Woodman
Self-Deceit-3

As an artist that makes and directs performance I am interested in knowing something about another artists practice and intention. This can be important in experiencing the work. Here from Cydonia’s website on Gorowska:

Justyna Gorowska is a performance artist whose practice is focused reconciliation of the post-humanistic condition. Her practice explores a new model of living where humanity can evolve past its privileged place in the universe, where the individual can become one with her reality, as the artist poetically describes, “as water in water.” Delicate, precious objects, videos, installations and performances are founded upon the belief that culture creates humans, that culture is but another level of nature created in evolution. Art is biological. Obsessed with creation of taut emotions in her viewers, Gorowska uniquely finds the precise movements and actions to tease out and control the viewer’s sensitivity, reminding us of our most primal and perhaps, evolved desires. The bedrock of existence for all life is different than the basis for survival. There is no violence, there is no competition for resources because her goal is to reconstruct a “lost vision of the world.” She insists we should reinterpret what it means to be human when we think that culture is the antithesis of nature, that which seems wild, uncivilized, or depraved. For her, ethically, all living, sentient beings are part of culture.

As in Woodman’s photographic work, Gorowska’s video stills rarely if ever reveal her face. The artist is not interested in fashioning her body as celebrity, superstar, or model but as human.  During a gallery visit the day after Gorowska’s live performance I gained even more understanding of the artists process as Ho described her work.

“This work goes beyond mymicry. In order to re-stage Woodman’s actions you have to, in the best way possible restate the best way to feel the emotion of the work. A copy is a copy but this work goes beyond that because Gorowska is restating the emotion and sensation of Woodman’s photographs”, says director Hah Ho. Gorowska’s sensitive work is based on a very intuitive process which provides for her a way to respond to Woodman’s work yet make it her own.

Francesca Woodman

Francesca Woodman

Friday evening the gallery was filled with people, many with connections to the University of Texas at Arlington and other artist friends and acquaintenances from the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Prior to the performance we were informed not to take photographs during the performance, something I have come to respect in the age of social media.

Gorowska performed live at Cydonia among her enchanting black and white video stills of her performing elsewhere, a haunting video of work made prior in response to the Woodman photographs. Here I digress just for a moment. Often performance artists are included in exhibitions among the work of other artists, as if we were the entertainment for the evening. Why must performance art not be given it’s own space as a sculpture or installation or exhibition of paintings? Performance art is work. It is the work of artists who have invested just as much of themselves in the creation of the work as object makers or those working in new media.

Although Gorowska performed among work, it was her work thus it seemed cohesive and not distracting to have objects and digital media sharing the space with her body. We, the audience watched quietly, not through the screens of our smart phones but with our eyes directly on the artist.  Gorowska’s piece was short but seemed to linger in the room, in the air, in the imaginations of us all. I was mesmerized by her work.

The Lily | The end of the wall where Gorowska sat

Performance art is experiential and one of the most confrontational fine art medium. The art and the viewer are on similar planes, the third wall (the stage) is collapsed, and the art (the body) is the medium, the performance or “act/action” the work. This type of work also challenges conventional notions of art such as painting and traditional forms of sculpture. It is a means of  dematerialization of the art object and the departure from traditional media. Yet the body being the work of art too is the ultimate of material. Performance art has a sort of antipodal personality which continues to intrigue and challenge me. One of the reasons why I continue to make and support others who make this type of work.

Words on paper cannot provide the experience viewers may have had during the live performance of course, thus my intent in describing Gorowska’s performance at Cydonia is an attempt to present her action through my lens. That evening the barefoot artist walked into the room dressed in a loose fitting black shift. Entering the room from a separate space in the back of the gallery she carried a single white calla lily and placed it stem down on the floor and leaning on a short interior wall then she left the room. Gorowska returned with a camera on a tripod placing it on the floor facing the lily. This act most likely was not intended as part of the live work but her movements allowed me to consider it. Once the camera was set she undressed with ease embodying only a hint of what felt like hesitation. Her slim naked body appeared to float across the cold cement floor over to the wall where she sat, her back against the wall, knees folded up to her chest and long slender arms wrapped around them. She situated her long wavy hair behind her ears and then looked down. After a few moments she began to speak, almost chant. She uttered phrases including the words never and able to indicating a finality to something. Later I learned that these words were for Woodman, who took her life at the age of twenty-three.

This work was a final performance dedicated to Woodman, thus ending Gorowska’s work in response to the artist’s photographs. According to Ho, Gorowska is not interested in pursuing the work of another artist to create a new work. She is making work that is related to something very different as she ends this series.

Gorowska’s exhibition at Cydonia continues through May 8th. If you missed the live performance a video of that work will soon be displayed among her other work. Contact the gallery for more information.

Also see: Francesca Woodman Page on Artsy’s website:  Francesca Woodman

Cydonia167 Payne St Dallas / Fort WorthTX  2142964848
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Reviews of “In The Room We Discovered An-Other In The Corner”

A couple of writers contacted me with interest in viewing and eventually writing about the month long exhibition. No reviews have been written by them. I’m guessing because they didn’t even attend. In the art world it is helpful to have something written about your work. My hope was that would occur this time. The last performance art “festival” entitled Inside)(Outside, was during the summer of 2014. PerformanceSW (Courtney Moezzi Brown and me) organized and curated the exhibition. Brown and I spent months preparing for this event. We are essentially pleased with they way things unfolded though some of the performances changed from our discussions with the artists and ended up less successful than we imagined. This is what can happen when working with live bodies and live audiences. A few articles were written about the exhibition one felt snarky and the other focused on the unsuccessful live works thus seemed one sided and in fact the writer didn’t even see all the performances. One article written by a non-art writer left us feeling accomplished and understood. That was helpful as well as affirming.

Remembering this last article lead me to search the internet for anything that might have been written by anyone who attended even just one of the performance events of In The Room… I found a few and am linking them in this post as well as including a some of their comments.  Thank you to all of you who attended the live events and to those of you who took the time to write your thoughts out in the virtual world. I appreciate the support.

Dark Entries 2/5/15

We also watched a performance called Tessellated Fold at Beefhaus. This performance was part of a series called In The Room We Discovered An-Other In The Corner, which will feature a different performance every Saturday in February. Tessellated Fold was very beautiful – it was a collaboration involving sound, video, textile, and dance. The singer, Lily Taylor, had such a beautiful voice! I finally sat down and read my latest copy of Arts+Culture magazine that I picked up, and coincidentally she was mentioned along with her husband, Sean Miller, who did the video. They have a gallery in Exposition Park – Midway Gallery. I need to visit that gallery soon!
Kieone Young (This was posted on facebook) Kieone was a drop in and wanted to take photos.

The final performance which really caught me off guard at first actually happen to be the one that I connected with the most. The story that the young man was telling was an expression of anger he felt in the loss of a friend or loved one due to either racism or police brutality and he took his anger out on two doors that was stationed in the center of the room and he punched the doors until his hands became bloody and it was almost like he was painting the all white doors with his blood to tell his story about his pain and I really connected with this one I don’t really know why but I understand where he’s coming from. Good job and kudos to him. Thank you Alison for having me…

 Canvassing, by Darryl Ratcliff. The second article he’s written about the February exhibition at BEEFHAUS.
Time Based Art Forms. This month has been a revelation for time-based art forms, and specifically in regards to performance and video mediums. … the Alison Starr-curated “In The Room We Discovered An – Other In The Corner,” are about to enter their final weekends. Don’t sleep on these events. They represent exactly the type of programming that the City of Dallas needs more of in the future. Hats off to all involved.
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“In The Room…” a mention in: Canvassing….

 gallery rankings

Nice mention here:  http://bit.ly/1EEZkVr

By Darryl Ratcliff : Community Engagement Associate, NCAR and Initiative on Arts + Urbanism at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas

” 2. Beefhaus (Last month: 24). Compared to the the McKinney Avenue Contemporary’s Medianale (more on that in a bit), the Alison Starr-curated “In the Room We Discovered an Other in the Corner” here was a bit less polished and more homegrown, and yet nonetheless an excellent month-long series that pushed performance art into the consciousness of the Dallas art scene. Congratulations to everyone involved on a great show.”

BEEFHAUS!  http://artbeef.blogspot.com

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