Perambulating the Bounds

Thursday, June 01, 2006

MTSU Performance Art

Cindy Rehm had her students present performance pieces at Ruby Green tonight they developed in a three-week workshop. True to the workshop’s name, Body + Process, most of the pieces either used the performer’s body as a central element and/or established a process of actions which the piece then played out.

  • Natalie Harrison set up a game piece. She sat on the floor with a laundry basket filled with shirts and then started to pull shirts out and fold and stack them. Three other members of the class stood across from her and took turns taking a shirt out of the stacks (messing up the stack in the process), putting it on, taking it off, and then throwing the crumpled shirt down. The game was Harrison trying to complete the task of folding in spite of the interruptions. The folding did proceed faster, so eventually she got ahead of it, and the piece ended with all four women facing the stacks, then one of them (I think) messing it up. On the one hand this was a piece that involved watching someone fold clothes. Tedious and annoying. But it was a bit complicated semiotically. In addition to its game logic which once started had to be followed in this obsessive manner, it mixed up shopping and household gestures, and also patterns of domination and humiliation. I was also very aware of how arbitrary the control/humiliation relations were. Any one of the four young women could have been the one folding the clothes.
  • Several of the pieces focused their actions on performer’s body. Erin Piper rubbed a viscous blue liquid on her lips and kissed her body wherever her lips could reach. It reminded me of a Tim Hawkinson piece that recorded the parts of his body he could see directly as he saw them, so the proportions were distorted. Piper does something similar by marking all the places she can kiss. And the action has other overtones: masturbation, isolation, even beauty treatments (“kiss your body”). And I couldn’t help but think this piece would be a lot shorter if I did it—in my middle-aged decrepitude, I’m not exactly a yoga master, so my lips don’t get around as well. Sarah Medsker had another simple and lovely piece, rubbing dirt over all of her body. It was a reversal of cleaning, and a kind of return to Earth, with a hint of self-damage as you heard the small stones in the dirt hit the ground.
  • Jeremy Braden did a complicated piece that involved a tower of stacked Crayolas that he exposed to a heat lamp, which he taped to his arm cyborg-style. He kept the lamp until enough melting occurred so it fell down. He did the exercise in a one-eyed mask and with a soundtrack of a couple of boys goofing around with a tape recorder, talking about Frankenstein and Dr. Seuss and just nonsense. Chris Davis said that the piece was about W letting the tower fall while he was just goofing around. I can see it. But I found this one kinda of tedious. It worked out that a good portion of it was sitting in the dark listening to the boys use up the tape. They were hilarious, but more so in small doses.
  • Jacqueline Meeks had the shortest piece, very clear. Dressed in black, she stepped into a basin of water and poured water all over herself with her cupped hands. Then she got out and laid down in a square of sugar she had spread on the ground. First her front, then her back, then she stood up, faced the crowd, licked her fingers and held her arms out like a T. The sugar formed this messy pattern on her black clothes like some sort of forensic trace on CSI or the Shroud of Turin. There’s obviously a lot of religion in this short piece: baptism, foot washing, crucifixion. And she turns herself into food. Sugar-coated. Her impression of herself on her own clothes was the single strongest image of the night.
  • Cindy Rehm also did a piece: dressed in white, kneeling on a small round table cloth, she had a stack of jelly doughnuts that she picked up one at a time, stuck her finger into, then rubbed the jelly on her lips and smeared it in a T shape across the front of her dress. She handled each successive doughnut more roughly. And after each doughnut, she lifted the back of each hand to her nose. The piece followed a rule set like many of the others, but it was less literal so it established more of an independent place for itself.

Glad to see the MTSU students doing this. Last year, Tom Thayer brought a workshop group to Angle of View, and it was very good to have some cross-pollination between them and the AOV scene.

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