Category Archives: Performance

“Kiki Seror at CB1 Gallery,” ARTPULSE Magazine. Vol. 4 No. 16. Summer 2013.

Kiki Seror

Hysteris

CB1 Gallery

 

Pornographic tastes are often some of the most telling things about a person. But porn isn’t a media that begs much self-reflection from its audience; the tantalizing pictures are too busy doing their job to worry about you. Thankfully, art and psychoanalysis often does this job for and with us. Using the power of both, the artist Kiki Seror’s recent exhibition Hysteris, takes the digital porn universe as a starting point to turn our gaze and our thoughts inward, while at the same time examining larger social phenomena wrapped up in complex online and real life sexual subjects.

 

Seror’s videos in this exhibition call attention to how we imagine our libidinal selves through the bodies of others. For these works Seror paints parts of her body in a saturated color and then uses real-time digital video software to color-key out parts of her body, replacing these sections with the real-time video feed of her “partner” on Chatroulette, a site that allows people to randomly video chat with others. In the videos, we see Seror using this self-erasure to throw back her Chatroulette friend’s gaze. Streams of men see their bodies where hers should be. Some are into the strange performance; they sit erect, fascinated by Seror’s ability to superimpose her floating eye, mouth, and remaining body parts on theirs. Other guys are un-amused and leave the chat, perhaps aware they are being recorded. With this work Seror deploys a kind of digital camouflage to subvert her partner’s – and the viewer’s – expectations of where a body begins and ends.

 

Seror complements these videos with a series of still photographs of pornographic GIFs, looping short videos made specifically for quick viewing on the Web. Seror takes her photos directly off the computer screen using long shutter speeds to blur movement. The most striking images, like Face of a Virus /gif/ifeelmyself/08, which shows a mass of interlocking flesh-like limbs and faces writhing on a bed, confuse just enough visual information to demand the viewer complete the picture. In this way, Seror’s photographs function like Rorschach tests, making one reflect on the reading of the image itself.

 

It’s difficult to discuss Seror’s work without acknowledging the famous German photographer Thomas Ruff, whose own photos of porn at first glance bear a striking similarity to the photos in Hysteris. Though they have similar subject matter, Ruff and Seror speak to different concerns. Ruff’s big, sofa-size photos capture a pornographic scene as if it were in-between frames, resulting in a double image. His photographs seem to be more about porn as an artifact of visual culture and in the stale white cube of the gallery they create a neutered engagement with the erotic body, the spectacle of objectification with little carnal pay off. Now some of Seror’s works participate in a similar process, duplicating porn’s aesthetic appeal while negating its function. This happens in images where the viewer can easily discern all elements in the scene, like in Face of a Virus /gif/interns/01, where two women fellate an erect penis. But thankfully in many of Seror’s other photographs the indistinct gesticulating body, made possible by an open lens (a stand-in for the voracious human eye) does something Ruff’s photographs don’t: they become other and challenge the Real, creating room for generative contemplation about bodies unmoored from prescriptive language and rigid connotation. They don’t moralize or admonish porn in a conservative sense; instead, they make you self-aware of your erotic imagination. Depending on how you feel about your own sexual appetites this can be a very rewarding process indeed.

 

Tucker Neel is an artist, writer, and curator in Los Angeles. He is also the director of 323 Projects, a voicemail gallery that can be reached anytime by calling (323) 843-4652.

 

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DESERT SHINDIG: Shenanigans at Shangrila, Artillery Magazine, November 2013

Like its Himalayan literary counterpart, Joshua Tree’s Shangrila is a utopian vision; part dream, part tourist destination. Concretely, it’s a one-bedroom residence on Shangrila Lane, overlooking a seemingly endless expanse of undeveloped, government-owned desert. It’s remote enough to seem completely isolated, yet close enough to civilization that you can feel the earthquake-like blasts from simulated bombing raids at the U.S. military fake Iraqi training village in neighboring Twentynine Palms. Originally a homesteader cabin built in 1947, the Shangrila lot was decrepit when artist and curator Drew Dunlap purchased it in 2005 while enrolled in Otis College’s MFA program. In addition to envisioning his future home as a vacation rental, Dunlap also wanted to establish a sporadic artists’ residency where one could create works inspired by epic surroundings. Today Shangrila resembles a mid-century modernist spec house with a swing set and three conspicuous shipping containers in the back yard.

In 2008 Dunlap executed his plan, inviting a few dozen artists for a weekend of experimentation and imaginative planning. They planted the seeds for what would become “Shangrila”: the art event, which debuted in June of 2010. For this first weekend event, Dunlap curated art and performances investigating questions of utopia. I participated in this show as an artist, and again the next year (which, in the spirit of full disclosure, probably dulls my critical edge a little). While there were many fine works on display in that 2010 show, Rob Faucette’s intervention stood out as particularly poignant. Faucette invented Girlfriend Beer, a fictional company that “sponsored” the event. The artist stuck DIY labels on cheap beer cans, posted roadside ads, and distributed free branded koozies to visitors. I couldn’t help but take his work as a preemptive inoculation by satire against corporate sponsorship.

As the perennial art happening matured, Dunlap shifted his role, co-curating “Shangrila: New Moon” with artist Michelle Chong in June of 2010. During the day, Veronica Duarte’s iconographic self-guided tour relayed meandering information about Joshua Tree and its history, while at night Taylor Tschider’s galaxy in a cardboard box beautifully echoed the Milky Way above. In early fall of 2011, Dunlap turned the event over to the collective Durden and Ray, who put on “Shangrila: Oasis.” I missed out on this iteration, but stories of naked BBQ cooks, stalagmite campaign signs by Elizabeth Gahan, and Brian Thomas Jones’ glowing super-phallic inflatable tube confirm that I should have been there.

Unlike other desert art events like tech-yuppie Burning Man, or the more elite High Desert Test Sites, Shangrila remains emphatically emergent and wonderfully unpredictable. Somewhere in between the blazing Friday sunshine and the hungover Sunday drive home (after a transcendental visit to the Integratron sound bath a few miles away), Shangrila morphs from nervous art opening into a temporary autonomous zone where people transform in strange ways. I’ve witnessed buttoned-up academics get shit-faced and near-naked with people navigating in and around in-situ artworks pursuing nocturnal trysts.

This year, the curatorial team of Steven Bankhead and Jesse Benson organized “Shangrila: Burrito Deluxe,” which included 50-plus artists. To manage the expansive undertaking, they enlisted other curators. As Bankhead notes, “Jesse and I both distinguish ourselves more as organizers… We weren’t so interested in curating specific types of art but rather organizing a group of artists that are doing interesting things.” On Friday, Calvin Phelps hosted “Supper,” a performance/gourmet meal inspired by the desert. The collective Elephant created an impressive temporary stage resembling their LA outdoor space. And with the help of Michelle Chong, Elephant scheduled a series of performances throughout the night, many of them by members of the LA sound art organization, SASSAS.

One of the greatest things about Shangrila is the ability to encounter work in the surprising desert landscape. As Benson puts it, “While some works were immediately recognizable in the environment, others were more difficult to ‘discover.’ Stumbling through the desert at night with a flashlight and encountering a work is of course different than seeing a work in a gallery.”

This experience is a welcome invitation to create site-specific installations, exemplified this year by Fatima Hoang’s small inflatable sun, which kept rising and falling throughout the night, commenting on the promise of new beginnings while comically punctuating Joshua Tree’s picturesque vista.

Like any event incorporating lots of artists with multiple agendas, Shangrila always has hits and misses. While some works fall flat in their new desert context—especially those that cling to the safety of the property’s shipping containers, which mimic the white cube—others remain indelibly memorable because they reimagine our relation to the desert landscape. In the end it’s the strange weekend-long event that creates the critically important space for contemplation.

NO SAFE ZONE: Dino Dinco

“NO SAFE ZONE: Dino Dinco,” Artillery Magazine, April/May 2012. Vol. 6 Issue 2.

by Tucker Neel

When it comes to understanding the LA performance art scene, there are few people more knowledgeable than Dino Dinco. As someone who grew up seeing legends like Ron Athey and Vaginal Davis perform at LACE, and seeking out impromptu and illegal performance spaces in downtown LA back in the ’80s, Dinco’s roots run deep. Recently, Dinco’s interest came full circle when he made his way back to LACE as the venerable art institution’s Performance Art Curator in Residence. I was able to catch up with him recently over a pot of tea, and talk with him about this residency, and what he thinks about performance art today.

 

One of the highlights of Dinco’s residency was his “3x6x3” series, which allowed for groups of six viewers to experience three works by three performance artists in each of LACE’s cavernous rooms. Skeptical of the spectacle that comes with mass viewership, Dinco describes this series as, “an experiment in spectatorship, changing the way people experience performance. I wanted to prevent the opportunity for someone to feel safe or anonymous in a big crowd.” So, when an artist like Samuel White rides a mechanical bull while reminiscing about anonymous sexual encounters with men vomits, then gets back on the bull— the audience is right there; it’s hard to maintain a distance.  Dinco observes, “One of the things that attracts me to performance is how the corporeal bodily component shifts how we feel about ourselves when we watch it.”

Performance art lends itself to collaboration, something Dinco encourages in his curatorial endeavors. One of these, A Composite Field, paired up the installation and sound artist Yann Novak and dancer/performance artist Taisha Paggett to create a site-specific installation in a modernist box atop the Mackey Apartments’ garage. After nearly a year of conceptualization, the resulting performances feature Paggett employing impenetrably slow butoh-like movements that break down and build up her body. Novak’s improvised acoustic soundscape, created from recordings made in situ, accompanies Paggett with textural renderings that are imperceptible, yet, once heard, unavoidable. A solid chromatic projection illuminates the ceiling, changing glacially over time, casting a glow on everyone in the room. This paring was meditative, almost transcendent, and when it was over I couldn’t tell if 10 minutes or an hour had passed. The experience made me aware of my living body in time and space.

This, in the end, may be the heart of performance art, no matter its actors or venue: to rejoin you with yourself and make you aware of the bodies around you, to remind you of life with all its pains and pleasures, boredoms and excitements. But none of this matters if you’re not there in the first place. Fortunately, L.A. has people like Dino Dinco to help make experiences like this possible.

 

“Los Angeles Goes Live at LACE” Artillery Magazine

“Los Angeles Goes Live at LACE,” Artillery Magazine, April/May 2012. Vol. 6 Issue 2.

Tucker Neel

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.