Maximum Perception performance festival was one thing first and foremost: a lot of fun. As a coming together of performance artists, the crowd at the English Kills event packed the gallery on both evenings, with a noticeable overlap between nights, as well as between performers and spectators. Artists helped fellow participants set up, carry out and document their performances, spectators got in on the action once in a while and Hyperallergic editor Hrag Vartanian, myself and Daniel Larkin attempted to document the whole thing live, an experiment in itself. The vantage from our little blogging table wasn’t ideal, but thankfully I was in a pretty good place to see most performances. Here are my thoughts, five days later, on night one and the majority of night two of this year’s Maximum Perception.
Check out my account of Friday night at Maximum Perception for more details on how the performances went down.
The early highlight of the performance festival for me was Anya Liftig’s surreal yet cutesy “243 Eggs: 20 Years of My Period”. When Liftig came out from backstage decked in a plushy breast suit, I knew something fun had started. Maybe fun wasn’t exactly the right word for watching two black-clad assistants peg the artist with eggs. Even as Liftig started a series of slow ballet moves to begin the performance, a division was struck between being a child and becoming a grown up. Liftig’s costumes, signifiers of childhood, became complicated by the violence of the performance itself; as the eggs hit the artists body with audible thuds, this pain became the physical and emotional pain of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Add to that the cartoony props and you’ve got a no-holds-barred Dr. Suess coming of age tale on stage.
Hiroshi Shafer’s “If You’re Happy, Then I’m Confused” performance with Nijah Cunningham hit a chord for me as well: it was the acted-out story of flawed people with small discontents. What made Shafer’s staging into magic for me, though, was the soundtrack. Cheesy jazz, fit for an 80s Japanese coffee bar, and then a funky tribal samba provided background for participants writing down on cards what they were excited about. It was sweet, a little too twee for hard impact, but I really enjoyed it. Similarly, Akiko Ichikawa and Friends’ “Alison Knowles’s Event Score No. 3” was peacefully ambient, a performance actually made as a sort of background music, as per the title. Though there was no central spectacle created by the performers washing their hands, a wave came over the room as if we were all suddenly dancing to the same quiet beat that Knowles created. Yet all that existed in the room holding us together was Knowles’ image and the sound of silence. Named for one of the founders of the Fluxus movement, this performance was definitely among my favorites.
It was nice to catch Man Bartlett’s “#HamSkull” in person, as opposed to streaming in an internet browser like I usually experience the new media-friendly artist’s work. This improvisatory performance had some great high points for me: the soundtrack, remixing Obama’s latest speech with an extended Miles Davis track, was so seamless that it approached bland elevator jazz in an excellent way. Bartlett’s choice of a Hungry Man meal as a prop is also awesomely perfect, so normal and manufactured a product that it became for me a symbol of a plasticized, complacent culture. Man’s rambling narrative asked vaguely deep questions that provoked first thought and then denial of thought, an awareness that I was being lead around by the nose in the same way that the Hungry Man leads you to believe it’s a meal- there’s no final philosophical lesson here. I just can’t decide if a loopy meditative circle is a worthwhile goal for the performance or not. Maybe as a kind of Budhhist koan humor?
The problem for me with liveblogging Maximum Perception came with trying to balance an immediate gut reaction to the work with the knowledge that initial feelings often change when considering an artwork. It’s tough to be attuned to the possibilities of how a performance piece might open up on later reflection, especially when the initial moment of reception is crowded by a packed room and too much noise, both audio and visual. That’s what happened for me with AA Bier’s “It’s Personal”.
From my vantage, intermittently standing on a chair to see over the crush of spectators, I was so overwhelmed with the spectacle of the two girls in a single golden stretch suit and golden face paint stabbing bodies with golden knives that I couldn’t discern any particular symbolism. I think what prevented me in particular from making readings of genocide and communities banding together against others that other viewers did was the visual noise of the materials and the choreography of the performance. The all-over sparkly gold was so over the top, more American Apparel ad than political commentary, and the violence so exaggerated (by the end newspaper was flying everywhere and globes of green goop exploded on the floor. Souls?) that it became more about the image than the social critique. Though I see where the symbolic reads are coming from now, the whole thing hasn’t grown on me much. Part of the risk of a work of art you can only see live once is that possibility that some viewers won’t see it very well, especially in a crowd like this. It happens.
I didn’t liveblog the second night and wasn’t there for the whole thing. Check out the liveblog here, and Hrag will blog about it later today tomorrow. Here are my highlights, though:
Bru Jø GLDN $ecurity‘s “GLDN Shower w/ Bru Jø & Yassy Goldie”: I loved the afro-futurist visual vocab (all gold, all 80s, all the time), the cross-cultural patois (the Budhha figure, Bacardi Gold rum, Japanese snack food) and the apocalyptic, faux-religious voiceover. Absurd, punky, awesome. Too long and lost in its own narrative, but the imagery was among the strongest.
Rafael Sanchez‘s “Algiers Point Spectacle Number One”: Talk about imagery. A reverse strip tease into sparkly skintight latex, a disco helmet and bangin’ club jams, a desperate dance, while bullets fired. It shocked us all out of our performance-induced stupor and into a new world.
Faith Johnson‘s “The Alchemy of Moving Through”: To me, Johnson was the most magical performer. By that I mean that her quiet image-making, spreading black dye from her chewing mouth and removing a crystal lens to cast it into the light, were the most fantastical and wonder-inducing. No, I don’t know what it meant. But it brought me back to reading big paperback fantasies as a kid and dreaming away.