“Los Angeles Goes Live at LACE,” Artillery Magazine, April/May 2012. Vol. 6 Issue 2.
I haven’t worn heels so high in years. The men’s size 11 red leather pumps I exchanged my high-tops for after entering Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions produce a sensation like a tiny saguaro growing rapidly between my toes. I’m in pain and I’m willing experiencing Cheri Gaulke‘s Peep Totter Fly, a performance work, installation, and video on display as part of LACE’s ambitious Los Angeles Goes Live: Performance Art in Southern California 1970-1983, a series of exhibitions and performances, itself a component of the Getty-sponsored Pacific Standard Time leviathan that has consumed the Southland’s art institutions (and perhaps worn out its welcome). While PST may have become PTSD for Angeleno artists weary of ubiquitous nostalgia, LACE’s performance art extravaganza doesn’t linger on the past too long, and instead frames the present as a proving ground, providing a fertile space for new work to flourish.
But back to the shoes. I’m a good four inches taller but it may as well be a foot and a half. A handful of Japanese tourists wander into the gallery and giggle at the bearded dude taking notes in fuckmepumps. Gaulke’s work has its intended effects; I am extremely self-conscious. The work activates the phrase “walking in another’s shoes,” but rescues it from clichéd expectations by investigating preconceptions of gender and performance not with some sort of PSA, but in the real experience of the visitor/performer, and in the their proximal audience as well. I am as much part of the work as those tourists. While the artist’s video accompanying the piece, shots of the shoes traipsing around urban and rural environments, provides enigmatic, perhaps predictable, context to the proposition that high heels come with their own gendered baggage, you truly have to wear the shoes to get the work. This is one of the deeply debated paradoxes of performance-based work: documentation, artifacts, and narratives never really measure up to experiencing things first-hand. Thankfully, this is one of the problems embraced and excavated with Recollecting Performance, an exhibition of artists’ costumes and props, curated by Ellina Kevorkian, part of the LA Goes Live initiative.
Recollecting Performance is a room of ghosts, empty outfits standing motionless, artifacts from performances bearing witness to the presence of absent human bodies. A costume by Johanna Went stands like a scarecrow, a garish holly-hobby conglomeration containing a knit sweater, a floral skirt, Tide box, and two small plastic great white sharks devouring a decaying mannequin head. Without the back-story behind this outfit, and the others in the room, the work remains relatively impenetrable. Thankfully the exhibition provides a phone number visitors can call to hear the artists discuss their work, an empowering gesture returning the power of analysis, allowing these artists to speak, with some hindsight, to the work they made decades ago.
It’s only been ten minutes and the pain from these heels demands I sit down in one of LACE’s cavernous galleries and watch projected stills and videos cycle on the wall. Some performance documentation is familiar, like an image of Suzanne Lacy in front of her 1976 RAPE Map from Three Weeks In May. But other images are from works completely foreign to me, like Carole Caroompas’ Five Fables from 1978. I am much more familiar with Caroompas’ kick-ass paintings than her performance past, so seeing a photo still from this performance, with blindfolded women seated flipping through books in a stark environment, certainly makes me realize I’ve got some research to do. While this slideshow and sporadic videos do inspire a desire to know more, I wish they were more in-depth, shown in full, and perhaps accompanied by more explanatory text.
Perhaps LA Goes Live’s greatest asset is the performance series generated over the course of its nearly half-year run. For this endeavor LACE commissioned performance artists, some of them younger artists with no first-hand experience with work created between 1970-1983, to create new works relating to performances form the past. One of the most impressive of these cross-generational reinterpretations is Heather Cassils’ Cuts: A Traditional Sculpture. For this work Cassilis re-interpreted Eleanor Antin’s influential feminist performance work, Carving: A Traditional Sculpture, but instead of documenting weight loss, as Antin’s work did, Cassils packed on muscle by pumping iron, eating tons of protein, and taking a steroid regiment to produce a muscular “masculine” body-type. The installation includes video documentation of Cassils’ workout regiment, and the protein powders, eggs, and other food the artists ate to transform into an androgo-Atlas. The results are astonishing as evidenced in Advertisement (Homage to Benglis), a photograph of Cassils, in heavy makeup, flexing while topless in men’s underwear. The artist placed this image in magazines targeted at a queer audience as a nod to Linda Benglis’ famous Artforum ad, which featured the physically fit, nude, oiled-up Benglis holding a humongous dildo inserted in, and emanating from, her crotch. Cassils’ work avoids derivative undertones by refocusing Benglis’ commentary on masculine body stereotypes, asking who gets to possess the phallus (both real and symbolic) and the muscles (actual and imagined) that supposedly come with it.
Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, the telephone-based gallery I run, 323 Projects, co-sponsored OJO’s Cave Out (In Three Parts, All At Once), one of the new artworks created as part of LACE’s PST program. For OJO’s project the members of this art and music collective asked participants to call a phone number leave a message, recording the audio resulting from a set of actions focused on wishes and movement. The group then assembled the collected audio into a 7” 45RPM record available on the night of their performance at LACE. And what a performance it was, with looping sounds from the group’s earlier solo concerts in historically charged public sites around LA, accompanied by audience finger snapping, and the destruction of an acoustic guitar/contact-mic drum. OJO played so intensely that blood was shed, adding a fitting addition to the uproarious, almost devotional nature of the event. Truly performance at its finest.