Performance artist Sindy Butz at Lumen

Performance artist Sindy Butz at Lumen (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

By midnight, we all had salt in our shoes: men and women were rolling down the 10-foot-high salt pyramids, artists were walking back to the ferry after a day’s worth of preparation and performance and John Bonafede had finished his piece “Color Cycle 2,” after biking in place for six straight hours.

Bonafede picked up the paper from under his locked-on carbon-fiber road bike and looked at his work. The work had swirls and globs of watercolors painted by visitors mixed with the runoff of his sweat. “I like it,” he said. He placed it on the top of a small wall. “I’ll leave it where it wants to be.”

This was the third annual Lumen Festival on Staten Island, and the first year it took place at the Atlantic Salt Company on the Richmond Terrace waterfront. From six in the evening on June 23 to 12 in the morning on June 24, hundreds of visitors watched performance art, video art, dance and music organized by the Council on the Arts & Humanities for Staten Island and curated by artist Christopher Eamon, with Brooklyn’s Grace Exhibition Space.

At the venue, old, brick smokestacks stood dormant, creeping bugs and animals crawled in and out the broken windows of rusted warehouses and bulldozers sat parked in rows by the side of the walkway. Pyramids of salt standing in the shipping yard and massive iron containers from the decks of freighters played host to over 20 performance artists and 30 video artists.

“I thought the turn out was great,” said Ryan Hawk, speaking about the crowd, “especially considering the amount of people I spoke with who traveled out from the city.”

Hawk, 19, is an intern at Grace Exhibition Space, a student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and a performance artist who participated in Lumen. He was also a co-curator of the performance program at the festival.

“The great thing about festivals is it enables the unexpected of performance art,” he said. “It’s unpredictable, it makes it all random and gives it the essence.”

Hawk explained that he had wanted to include a wide range of performers, from new artists to more established ones, and from many different places. “I didn’t want it to be just New York artists,” he said.

Visiting artists included Victoria Eleanor Bradford, from Chicago, Ola Ignasiak and Andrzej Sieczkowski, from Poland, and Celeste Marie Welch, from Philadelphia.

Celeste Marie Welch performing along with Mariann Colonna, Liz Cole and Bobby Andres

Celeste Marie Welch performing along with Mariann Colonna, Liz Cole and Bobby Andres

Welch’s piece, which ran from 6 to 9 pm and included the help of Mariann Colonna, Liz Cole and Bobby “Kimmie B. Monsoon” Andres, involved her lying in a long, rectangular glass tank filled with green packing peanuts. Colonna, Cole and Andrew all wore long blonde or brunette wigs and were dressed in white lab outfits. They surrounded Welch and the tank, pouring ice on top with ladles every so often and handing out flyers that mimicked a death report of a Jane Doe.

Welch said that although she had been performing for many years, she had never done a festival before and had to get through “the fear of the venue,” holding her composure through the many reactions the piece received.

“What is this? Is this real? She moved!,” Colonna, Cole and Andres said, in unison, listing people’s reactions. They added that children had been less discriminating. “They take things for what they are,” said Cole.

Across from us, a couple of drunken visitors started climbing up one of the salt piles. We tried to warn them that it wasn’t normal salt, that it was toxic and filled with chemicals. They shrugged us off.

“People are so strange,” Cole said.

Artist John Bonafede performing "Color Cycle 2"

Artist John Bonafede performing “Color Cycle 2”

Bonafede, a painter and performance artist, got many warm responses from viewers, including adults, children and bike enthusiasts.

His work, which he calls endurance performance, involved him riding a road bike on a stationary trainer for all six hours of the festival. Under him was a piece of sketch paper, on which he invited viewers to spread watercolor paints. As he perspired from pedaling, the sweat would drip onto the paper and mix with the colors. As midnight approached, a group of people stood by and helped count down.

Some of Bonafede’s favorite questions came from kids, who asked him how fast he was going, how far the distance was (a little over 100 miles, he said) and what the paint was for. “You’re adding the paint and I’m adding the sweat,” he said, “so we’re collaborating.”

Most of the 12 salt piles were destroyed by the end of the night, crumbled down from artists using them in performances and visitors climbing up them to have some fun. Cords, cables and lights were packed up, and the many people who had been in the shipping yard either had left or were leaving; a few stopped to take the last pictures of the night, and a few waited and rested at the food tables. John Bonafede began his trek home to his Midtown studio, biking past the headlights of cars and into the dark.

Lumen 2012 took place on June 23 at the Atlantic Salt Company on Staten Island.

David LaGaccia is a journalist, covering art events and news stories in New York City. His interests are in performance art, film, and literature, but it's his curiosity and the art of the interview that...

2 replies on “Lumen Festival: Scenes from the Salt”

  1. This is a great recap! I wish I’d gotten there early enough for Celeste Marie Welch’s performance as I was curious what was going on with the empty tank full of packing peanuts and topped with crime reports. I did indeed find salt still on my shoes the next day.

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