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Is it better to see a man walk on broken mirrors until his toes leave bloody red prints across the panes, or listen to the mirrors irregularly shatter in darkness? That’s the choice you got last Friday evening at Grace Exhibition Space when duo VestAndPage performed as part of the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival.
After selecting whether you wanted to experience “Thou Twin of Slumber: Chrysalis“ blindfolded or not, you entered into the dark room where the NASA Voyager 1 recordings were playing from the speakers while a woman was contorted in a box and a man was using a pulley to raise himself up by his feet to the ceiling. This was German artist Verena Stenke and Venetian artist, writer, and curator Andrea Pagnes, respectively, who work together as VestAndPage. The space transmission noises were punctuated by distortion from a speaker in the box, and the alteration of sound would be a focus of the evening, whether with speakers swirled in jugs of water or capturing the mirrors breaking, but I found the most interesting component to be the visuals.
The performance was part of VestAndPage’s seven-part Thou Twin of Slumber cycle that’s continuing this fall at DFBRL8R Gallery in Chicago, the LIVE! International Performance Art Biennale in Vancouver, and the Kunsthalle – Taidehalli in Helsinki for a seven-hour culmination. Taking its name from the line “Come o death thou twin of slumber” in a Bach cantata, it’s focused on death, sleep, rebirth, and human fragility.
The “chrysalis” title for this particular performance may have indicated that it was part of the transitional stage of transformation in the cycle. However, independent from the cycle’s statement, it seemed to be much more about a contrast of escalating self-cruelty and the personal experience of performance. You could spend the whole time there blindfolded and not see the self-inflicted pain by Pagnes, from holding fire to balancing on a rock to slicing the skin on his face so tears of blood ran down his cheeks to stabbing out the windows of a door between his fingers so each remaining frame was dripped with blood. (His whole area was protected from the blindfolded audience by strings adorned with tiny bells, so you would only hear echoes of this and not risk stabbing or mirror walking yourself.) However, you could hear Stenke stalking around in her dress of bells that she put on after leaving the plexiglass box, approaching strangers who were blindfolded or asking others to close their eyes for an intimate encounter among the crowd.
And the crowd did make it more interesting, for all Pagnes’ poetic pain, like the kid slumped against the wall with his iPhone not even looking at the half-naked people covered in blood and bells in front of him, or the blindfolded participants charging around at quick paces, apparently totally giving themselves over to the trust that everyone would either get out of their way or be up for a colliding encounter. It all ended with Stenke presenting an illuminated jug of honey to the door where Pagnes had just burned a book between his hands. After, she beamed to the crowd in thanks and lit a cleansing white sage smudge stick while Pagnes used some of the gauze hanging down from the ceiling to dress his wounds. It was somewhere between occult ritual and an intense experiment in what we want to watch, and how involved we want to be.
However, it was those visuals of the space that were the most powerful. Sound/participatory experiment aside, I was just fascinated to watch the calm and cruel progress of the evening. I didn’t find the blood or other visceral moments to be unsettling, and some moments were even beautiful, as VestAndPage are obviously a duo that values the visuals of their performance, even if they offer you a blindfold. Here are a few chronological shots from the performance:
VestAndPage performed Thou Twin of Slumber: Chrysalis at Grace Exhibition Space (840 Broadway, Bushwick, Brooklyn) on July 26 as part of the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival.