Native Strategies – Brian Getnick helps us look at Performance Art in LA

When Asher and I made our appointment to meet at Swork neither had a visual reference for the other. I arrived 45 minutes early, and sat making notes on my pad -sketching out possible questions. It got late and I recognized my inability to... recognize Asher Hartman. Hmm. It is good that my pockets are always stuffed with things - bits of bent metal found in the street, pieces of paper that blow across my path, and in this case one purple prismacolor soft lead pencil and a black ball point pen. I made this sign and kind of tentatively held it up, turning it so fellow coffee drinkers might see. A man next to me put down his I-Phone and said, "Oh. I like that! I'm Asher. You must be Geoff?" And off we went. Yay.

When Asher and I made our appointment to meet at Swork neither had a visual reference for the other. I arrived 45 minutes early, and sat making notes on my pad -sketching out possible questions. It got late and I recognized my inability to... recognize Asher Hartman. Hmm. It is good that my pockets are always stuffed with things - bits of bent metal found in the street, pieces of paper that blow across my path, and in this case one purple prismacolor soft lead pencil and a black ball point pen. I made this sign and kind of tentatively held it up, turning it so fellow coffee drinkers might see. A man next to me put down his I-Phone and said, "Oh. I like that! I'm Asher. You must be Geoff?" And off we went. Yay.

First off, I offer you several notes from conversations and email with Brian Getnick, beginning in December, 2010 and continuing through March, 2011:

“Dear artist,” Getnick begins in that first email back in December…

“I’d like to invite you to participate in a performance series I’ve organized with fellow curators Zemula Barr and Molly Sullivan at LACE for March and April of 2011 titled So Funny It Hurts. The show will feature 2 artists paired for 4 nights on Thursday evenings (March 10 and 24, April 4 and 14). Each night’s show will run approximately 2 hours with the possibility of a Q and A afterwords. As part of the show, a catalog will be produced containing images of your work as well as an interview with each of you. One of our main priorities is to generate critical writing about your work and have it contained in the catalog. This show aims to fill a gap of (in print) critical inquiry into Los Angeles based performance which explodes conventional definitions of performance art, theater, humor, and spectacle.”

And a bit later,

“Second, I’ve decided the publication will be volume one of a biannual journal on performance art in Los Angeles. Each journal examines contemporary movements in Angeleno performance art spanning generations, ethnicity, gendered communities and folk cultures.”

And later still,

“The working title for this series is “Native Strategies”. Each issue will be released in concert with a curated show of the same title and contain interviews conducted with the artists, images of their work and short essays. Volume one of Native Strategies is appropriately titled “So Funny it Hurts” The goal of the journal is to be a current resource for curators, institutions and the general public interested in performance art in LA and also a forum for pairing writers with artists. I feel, and I think this goes back to what we were discussing at our last meeting that LA performance artists are generally difficult to write about because our work is such an exultant mess of theatrical, comic and cinematic forms. “Native Strategies” seeks to remedy that by inviting analytical voices to focus on the ideas and powers of our work.”

Over several bottles of wine one evening after work,

“This first event and catalog are very much “us,” (that is curators Getnick, Zemula Barr and Molly Sullivan) for future performance events we would like to invite curators from within a particular performance community. Necessarily some of these will be communities with which we are not familiar so one challenge will be to locate and meet people. LA has a huge and disparate set of these communities all of which are separated – often by boundaries of venue – be it a fine art gallery, a night club, coffee shop, neighborhood hang out, dedicated performance space or theater; they are separated by boundaries of ethnicity, of class, education – many are the opportunities for missing each other! That one or another doesn’t follow the main stream of “Performance Art” makes it that much more important to document what is happening on the ground. If history can only be what is left behind then we need to make a record and we need that record keeping to be generous and open-ended while maintaining a thoughtful and critical relationship to the work.”

“Do you know that when (insert name of local performance venue here) hold what they advertise as an “open call” for auditions they do not accept submissions from individuals who lack a graduate degree? Performance is such an elemental practice that it seems crazy to exclude people who do not have an academic background!”

(Big old mixing of metaphors alert on the following sentence! Who lets me write like this???) (“That is a leading and dangerous question to ask of one’s audience, Geoff.” ed.)

My conversations with Brian Getnick have helped me to fan the flames of my nascent interest in performance, and I might add that sharing with him my discomfort about performance has inspired me to gird my loins to attend and do the good work of looking and interacting. (Much of “performance” is sooo awkward to stand and watch! Good lord what if somebody makes me do something? What if I laugh at the wrong time? What if it is hideously boring or painful to watch and listen to? Aaaaugh. So much easier to look at a painting.)

My own participation in this venture began when  Getnick invited me to interview Asher Hartman. Hartman is an artist that I’ve heard alot about over the years and I felt lucky to meet with and talk with him one night at Swork in Eagle Rock. We spent an excellent two hours getting to know each other with me completely neglecting to take notes. Sad one am I sometimes… He said fascinating things about mediumship as a metaphor for artistic practice, and in fact Hartman makes use of mediating (mediuming?) in his own theatrically based art performance practice. Hartman is also one of the queer artists who have been making work about difference for long enough that a new generation looks to him as a founder and thoughtful leader.

On that note I leave you with the work I did with Asher Hartman over a lucky and fruitful several week process of meeting and emailing an interview back and forth. An edited version of this interview will appear in So Funny It Hurts to be published by Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) later this spring.

Oh! But wait! This Thursday, March 24 at LACE Nathan Bockelman and Lauren Weedman will each perform as the second in the four part series So Funny It Hurts. For more about Bockelman and Weedman, see the LACE website or this past Notes on Looking post which has various links to performance videos for each of them.

Complete Native Strategies and So Funny It Hurts posting:

So Funny It Hurts, March 9, 2011

So Funny It Hurts, Part 2, March, 17, 2011

Native Strategies – Brian Getnick helps us look at Performance Art in LA, posted on March 20, 2011

NoL: April 7 thru tbd, (scroll down to “Someone’s finally tellin’ mah story…” for Asher Hartman review), April 7, 2011

So Funny It Hurts, last night, April 15, 2011

Paul Outlaw, So Funny It Hurts performance April 16, 2011

Nathan Bockelman: UCR Thesis show and So Funny It Hurts performance posted on April 19 and 23, 2011

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