a few recent performances

Alejandra Herrera, image from The Action Bureau

Jumbled and fuzzy are my memories of and feelings about performances that I have seen at Human Resources and at LACE in recent weeks. it’s like I’ve got a backseat full of interpretations resembling those kitschy stuffed or bobble-head creatures you place on the rear deck of your car – and every time I apply the brakes to think for just a moment one or more of them come flying into my consciousness.

Alejandra Herrera set at Human Resources, image from The Action Bureau

Alejandra Beatriz Herrera Silva presented tableaux at both spaces and then took action within and on these poetic, even elegant settings. At HR on October 13, the gallery was brightly lit and terribly white. Herrera dressed herself also in white, and her clothing was as revealing of the architecture of the artist’s body as the gallery’s uniform of white paint is of that space. There was tension in this contrast, in my mind it became a frottage – the artist was not so much a separate body acting on various implements in a contained space, rather – with everything colored snowy white – she was part of a singularity that moved within and against itself.

Alejandra Herrrera from The Action Bureau

Aah, and those implements. Red wine and roses, white dolls, dishes, a bookshelf and a gallon of milk. Fully charged and allusive to their cores.

At some point Herrera manipulated what looked like air vents, and music, south of the border style music, played.

I recall Herrera stepping then crouching behind a large and pink bouquet of flowers. Standing, she appeared to curtsey – to the flowers perhaps, and I thought of the origin of the word curtsey in courtesy, as in a courtesy one pays – to a dance partner or an elder. The artist took wine into her mouth and let it stream over her lips, down her chin, beneath the collar on her top and then it seeped out like heart’s blood from above her breasts and continued running and staining on its journey toward the floor.

I heard a crash as Herrera swept the bookshelf clean and dishes smashed on the ground. Herrera swept the broken dishes into a pile, this made a nice repetitive series of small unique smashes that accreted in my ears and mind into a larger, ongoing thing.

She invited an audience member to join her – plucked a woman from the crowd actually. There was whispering, Herrera held long stem red roses in her mouth and the semi-volunteer poured the gallon of milk over the body. The artist’s body as it breathed heavily, making bubbles in white liquid, gripping with her teeth the roses, possibly shivering with the sudden drench, her body becoming at once more visible and also more obviously clothed. It was as though suddenly I became aware of the woman before me because of her sudden liquid cloak. Her body and her clothes were separately present, where previously I had seen only white on white, a figure-less object in space.

The order of Herrera’s actions may entirely be otherwise sequenced than I have written.

Alejandra Herrera, Sagrado y Profano, 2011.

I heard a wailing in the dark. Was this a call? It sounded Irish and ululated like… keening, or… a siren or the adhan of a muezzin. More sounds ensued, a snare drum, small objects rattling on the ground and against speakers. The sound of the wailing in the large empty space was gorgeous – I began to worry about the woman singing. Such force she used! And it continued, growing, fading, wandering and repeating for most of an hour.

I supposed the singer to be the performer as Dawn Kasper moved into and out of the back room, carrying and distributing stuff on the floor, she was arraying it around the singer like things the wailing woman might use if she ever completed her spell. I thought that it was nice of Dawn to help the other artist.

Forgetting – briefly – Dawn Kasper, I was again riveted by the singer. Still I was drawn to glance at Kasper as she came and went from the scene. My attention was being pulled and stretched in a way I was unwilling to countenance. Something is mistaken here. What is happening. The singer is riveting. Dawn Kasper is riveting. This tension became untenable to me.

Slowly I accepted that the performance was Dawn’s. This knowledge came into my consciousness like a dream that leaves in the morning, and when I tried to think back to a former way of understanding, my dream was lost and I could see only Dawn Kasper as she quietly and with care placed tools, a ladder or two, planks, audio equipment, just stuff all over the floor. Sometimes she would glance at a thing already placed and return to fuss – this gesture I recognize from previous performances – I think at once that it is a brilliant strategy to get me to pay attention to something; the movement is also probably a way for Kasper to negotiate time and planning. I think these familiar activities demonstrate Kasper’s profound, seemingly innate understanding of abstraction.

I had a brief Dawn Kasper experience at one of Dino Dinco’s LACE events which pair artists with three or four viewers for an intimate performance. Dawn’s room for this performance was full of stuff, as is usual for the artist. She looked at and played with a record player, a few other things happened, and mostly she plucked from their packaging individual squares of white, unscented Kleenex. She attempted to replace them in their packaging. Music was playing. This ten minute experience made sense to me the way Clyfford Still’s paintings make sense –  not at all when I try to parse it, but emotionally and intellectually for sure when I stand in its presence. Hence my understanding of Dawn Kasper as a variety of abstract artist, albeit one without oil and canvas or a resulting object.

Kasper is famous for her violence and her sense of danger and her destructive and self-destructive acts, and I do not know why. Each movement the artist makes is chosen and performed with care. (At one moment part way through her performance, as I had been taking notes all along, Kasper carried in a wide pine plank that was partly wrapped in translucent plastic. Glancing around the artist selected an open space and laid the plank down as though it might be a child, or a fallen comrade. The plastic audibly ruffled to the ground and the heavy wood barely thunked on the concrete floor, again like a carefully placed body. I wrote no more, I could only pay attention.

The only haphazard, out of control things in Dawn Kasper’s performances are our and my responses to her choices: I become nervous, I get angry, I cry, I am swept up in her rhythms and I dwell in the beautiful space that Dawn Kasper creates.

She was fussing again, this time with a microphone stand. She declaimed Frank O’Hara’s To the Harbormaster.

“I wanted to be sure to reach you;
though my ship was on the way it got caught
in some moorings. I am always tying up
and then deciding to depart. In storms and
at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide
around my fathomless arms, I am unable   
to understand the forms of my vanity

Later on she read, or recited from a scientific sounding text. Each of our perceptions and experiences are stored as memories it seems, but in bits and pieces. These parts go off to separate parts of our brain and are reassembled each time we recall a memory. These actions, of recalling and reassembling become so embossed on our neural structure through years of use that the person and the memory become one and the same.

All of which says what about Kasper and her muchness of assembled bits and her sounds? For the sounds continued and they became more complex as the long performance evolved. At some point I recognized that Kasper had been performing what I wanted to name “Dawn Kasper – Concerto for Human Activity: A Life in Three Movements.” It’s funny to me that such a formalization of Kasper’s work helps me to understand, and allows me room to misunderstand and sometimes to be completely left behind by the performer.

The bits of memory scattered around the floor as well as the sounds and the works I had experienced added up, to what? To a thing that I cannot name, just as when I recall an experience I recall only my own story for that event. This recollection makes sense  because it brings with it feelings and physical sensations. Memories, useful ones, are not pictures and words – they are scattered bits of my life that make me feel, or re-feel what I once experienced. Dawn Kasper knows this and so makes her art in a way that leads me to an emotional, subconscious understanding. Typing this sentence about Dawn Kasper’s abstract work reminds me as a writer that my own words are useless if they share only the facts and tell a story, for to me what has value of what I do is what shares a feeling.

Thanks  Dawn for reaffirming my belief in the intelligence behind random acts, the importance of things which often are barely considerable.

Dawn Kasper’s Meditations in a Fucked Up Emergency featured Karen Adelman and Tara O’Neil

Action Bureau website: http://actionbureau.tumblr.com/

Human Resources website: http://humanresourcesla.com/

1 Comment

  1. I grabbed all the photos for this post from The Action Bureau. If you know the photographer(s), please help me credit them. GT

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